breakfast casserole

What do dying cats and awesome breakfasts have in common? ::::

I awoke to the sound of a dying cat. At least, that is what my nightmare just before waking up was telling me, putting me in an immediate state of alert. I kept my eyes closed and listened, straddling that line of wake-sleep, dreaming-not-dreaming. There were voices, too, calm. Were they helping the cat die? Was it sick?

“Sam? Sam!? Put that back” I heard an adult voice say. Some scurrying around. A woody, hollow sound. More howls of the cat. Only these howls were vaguely familiar. Ti. Mi. Re.

My violin.

As a teenager, my church had a very strong choir program, every summer driving two large tour buses around the U.S. to sing in various churches. At the end of each nightly program, we were paired with families to stay with for a night, opening their homes to us from every walk of life. We had the Southern genteel with swimming pools. We had the Puerto Rican church in New Jersey with little money but huge hearts. We stayed with lonely elderly women talking non-stop about cats and friends who were sick, no family left except the church. We witnessed the Holy Spirit move us in song and the congregations in their willingness to host a crowd of boisterous teens. We saw it all.

My role was in the choir as an alto but I also provided some accompaniment on the violin for some of the more traditional songs in the beginning of the program. One night, we sang in that family-friendly church in Midwestern suburbia. Violin pushed aside on the pulpit after the first few songs and violin case in the choir warm-up room, I headed to the choir loft to take my place as an alto for the remainder of the concert. The family-choir member pairing often took place right in the sanctuary where we just sung or sometimes in some other room with plenty of chairs and water for thirsty choir members. This night was different: we were shuttled off to another room as the church maintenance crew did some stage breakdown in the sanctuary. After our standing ovation and readiness to rest my tired voice, I headed to the narthex like everyone else, violin in hand, to get paired up with my host family.  The violin case was forgotten as we met with our host families. And locked up. Maintenance crew gone, my host family had no key in order to retrieve my case. I carried my violin and bow in hand to their home. It was placed safely in the spare, unused room, door closed. I was given the endorsement that it would not be touched, safe from young children’s view.



Curiosity tried to kill the cat-violin of this family’s eight-year-old son, however. Sam’s focused inquisitiveness apparently did not come into their minds when they gave me the advice to place my violin where I did. It was a blur at this point. Now awake, I accosted this boy, Who told you you could play that?  I demanded. Mother nearby, she immediately looked embarrassed and mortified that Sam had stealthily stolen the instrument, played it,  all while she was awake, fully dressed, and fixing breakfast. Had she not noticed the sound of the dying cat? Was this sound normal for her household? She retrieved the instrument, we placed it carefully back in its now exposed safehouse, and she went off to talk to Sam about other people’s property.

Fully awake now, I inspected my violin and bow. Not cracked. Not scratched. Strings still mostly in tune. And then I noticed the breakfast casserole. The big, blooming pan of eggs and sausage in the kitchen. It’s no wonder Sam’s mom was distracted; she heard nothing of that dying cat, only the slip-slop  of the savory egg custard she was preparing. The scent of sage sausage tickling her nose. Sharp cheddar. Violin? What violin?


breakfast casserole
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-12
  • ½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing baking dish
  • 1 (1-lb) package bulk breakfast sausage (not links)
  • 8-x4-inch sized loaf crusty bread (I used French mini baguettes)
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 24 large eggs (yes, 24 is correct!)
  • 1 cup whole milk (or 2%)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 large bunch scallions, chopped (1¼ cups)
  • ¼ lb sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (1 cup)
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter bottom and sides of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
  2. Cook sausage in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps with a fork, until browned, about 10 minutes. Pour off fat from skillet, then cool sausage to room temperature.
  3. Cut half of loaf into 1-inch-thick slices and reserve remaining half for another use. Pulse butter and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Spread a thin layer of garlic butter on both sides of each bread slice, arranging bread in 1 layer in bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle sausage on top.
  4. Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until frothy, then whisk in scallions and half of cheese. Pour egg mixture over sausage (bread will float to the top), pushing down on bread with a spatula to help it absorb liquid. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  5. Bake, covered with a large sheet of buttered foil (buttered side down), 30 minutes, then carefully remove foil and bake until top is slightly puffed and eggs are cooked through in center, about 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes, then cut into 12 squares.
Dish can be assembled (but not baked) 12 hours ahead and chilled, covered with buttered foil. Bake as directed above. I actually did it this way and it worked beautifully.



  • YSC January 17, 2012 Reply

    Ha ha — I love your little taglines — so readable and always pulls me in to read the post!

    • story January 17, 2012 Reply

      Thanks! Actually, this is a food memory I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. I’m glad I finally did.

  • Karla January 22, 2012 Reply

    I’m having a tiny problem I can’t seem to be able to subscribe your feed, I’m using google reader by the way.

    • story January 22, 2012 Reply

      Sorry! I’ve been working on this. Are you clicking on the orange “Be in the know” icon on the right column? Or trying the icon at the top of the home page? The orange one should work. Let me know if you have more trouble. (The icon at the top of the page has given me problems for a long time for no clear reason.)

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