More than about an achievement, today I’m telling you about an endeavour, a continuous fight to wake up early.
I usually set my alarm for about six o’clock. I hit the snooze button twice, three times, until I find the courage to put my feet on the ground. Luckily I have a warm carpet in the soft tones of beige, which immediately alleviates the pain of the first step and of my awakening.
I stumble downstairs, in winter wrapped in a blanket, and I open the window shutters. This is when the crisp morning air wakes me up. I greet the woods in the distance, the fields, and our two black cats, Wolfi and Pelù: I see them from up here, one in front of my parents’ door, the other in front of my grandmother’s one, waiting to be welcomed and fed after a wild night. Then it’s time for breakfast. A new day begins.
These are the days when I feel I hold my destiny in my hands. Then there are all the other days, and they are the better part.
My alarm rings two or three times, then in my sleepy unconsciousness I switch it off and I turn to the other side where I find Tommaso and my favourite place, where I’m more comfortable, between the hollow of his neck and his shoulder, and I keep on sleeping. Just like Noa, on her stuffed pillow under the window.
Seven years of self-employment and working from home, however, gave me some discipline: even if I would be well capable, I never go past eight in the morning during weekdays. The occasional time that it happens, I feel groggy and late for the whole day, I am restless, I move from room to room disoriented, like the White Rabbit, repeating to myself: I’m late, I’m late.
When I get up late, even if only for a few hours, everything is more exhausting.
At the university, if I had to choose in between staying up late to study for an exam or waking up early, often before dawn, I would choose the second option: wrapped in a blanket, I would bring my books on the couch and let myself be surprised by how my mind could be sharp and reactive at that ungrateful hour. Then I learnt to organise my time, and I did not get up early for an exam anymore.
In my mind, though, there are still traces of that sense of urgency and veiled despair of when you wake up and everyone is still asleep outside, except some vagabond cat.
Since then, when I am forced to wake up early for a business trip or for a work deadline that I have underestimated, I almost feel a physical pain, I feel the tears of a childish tantrum that rise to my eyelashes, and I whisper it’s not right, it’s not right …
Yet, despite this reluctance that I developed over the years, I still prefer to wake up early than staying up late. I am an early bird more than a night owl, but just because the dormouse option is not allowed. Usually after dinner, I get immediately sleepy, I need a couch, or a bed, I need to switch off my mind. My friends know it well, as when they come for dinner they see me wilting, my chatter fading away like the light of a candle that has burnt all the wax.
Morning: How to make time. A manifesto
Then, during our honeymoon, I read a book that made me think about the importance of the early mornings, and about all the routines connected to it, from a different perspective. It was Morning: How to Make Time. A manifesto, by Allan Jenkins. I brought this book with me across the Highlands, while we were visiting moorlands, lakes, islands, oyster and salmon sheds. I wanted that journey to mark the beginning of a new me in every possible sense. Allan Jenkins almost succeeded in the miracle.
“Early morning gives me time, hope, space. At a moment when they are all at a premium.”
Time, hope, space: all that I want now from my life is time to be creative, space to let projects and ideas develop and grow, not to die slumped in a corner, and hope. I truly, sincerely, fervently hope that I’ll be able to commit to realise at least a small part of all these projects. Could an early morning routine be the solution?
“You can do near anything you want to, almost anybody you want, the rest of the world is asleep. Loosen you shackles. For an hour or two feel free. There is nothing holding you back. Dawn is an enchanted world behind a hidden door, there if you want, fine if you don’t.”
“Sometimes I feel it as my secret, like Narnia, outside time or at least the rest of the day. I cannot believe everyone doesn’t know about it and take an occasione step through the wardrobe.”
The books I’d like to read, the stories I’d like to write, my book, the one I’d like to finally begin: they’re all behind that door, in a secret Narnia, which we can access only in the early morning.
Early morning routines and rituals
Reading the many interviews that populate the book, I got the feeling that the first step towards the early morning world could be to create a morning routine. In my case, this meant trying to prepare as much as possible the night before: I don’t want to spend the first precious moments of the day lost in indecision. I cover the marble table in the kitchen with a tablecloth, I decide what I will eat, if yoghurt and granola or toasted bread with jam, and I prepare my little teapot.
Tommaso, attentive to my needs and to the things I instantly like, noticed that, during our Scottish and Irish honeymoon, in the morning I would almost embrace every warm teapot on the table, so he surprised me with a British Maxwell & Williams teapot as soon as we got back home. In the morning I see my grey teapot there on the table, ready to be filled with hot water and black tea, and I feel pampered, as if I were still on honeymoon.
I try not to open my Social Media in the first hour. On this I’m still struggling to be honest, but they tend to water down the enchantment of that secret world I am so eager to access.
A book, a notebook and a pen, a teapot and a cup of tea: these are the companions of my mornings, when I succeed in waking up early.
I find myself attentive and receptive as when I woke up during the first years of university, but without the urgency dictated by the ticking clock, announcing that my exam was swiftly approaching. These mornings are still rare, but as Allan Jenkins recalls, it is important to at least try, once a week, or even once a month, to enjoy an unlimited source of creativity and wonder, to be able to dedicate those precious hours to what makes us feel better.
Which is your relationship with the early morning hours? Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you have a routine that works for you? In the meantime, I’ll tell you a secret…
The farro brioche bread of my breakfasts
This brioche bread made with farro flour and punctuated with raisins is a good reason to get up, even at six in the morning. I try to lure myself with food, as my good intentions often fail in the warmth of a blanket and the hug of my husband. When I can arrange my teapot on the table next to a my favourite jam jar and a brioche bread wrapped in a tea towel, I feel I can be more consistent in my intentions.
I can make this brioche bread in a few hours, when I feel I need a stronger motivation to wake up in the morning. I prefer it toasted, to almost caramelise the raisins, with a little butter and jam. And at least two cups of tea.
- 10 g of fresh brewer's yeast
- 250 ml of warm water
- 300 g of whole farro flour
- 200 g of farro flour
- 50 g of acacia honey
- 50 g of butter softened
- 60 g of raisins
- Zest of 1 organic orange
- 10 g of salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
Soak the raisins in a bowl of warm water.
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in half of the water, then add the two flours, the acacia honey and the grated orange peel. Knead, by hand or with the hook of a stand mixer, adding more water when needed.
Knead for about 5 minutes, then add the salt and a few drops of water and continue to knead until the dough has absorbed all the salt and the water.
When the dough starts to wrap itself around the hook of the mixer and becomes elastic, add the soft butter cut into small pieces. Keep on kneading until all the butter is incorporated, obtaining a smooth and elastic dough. Squeeze the raisins and add them into the dough, kneading just enough to distribute them evenly.
Let the dough rest for half an hour, covered with a towel and grease a 22-25 cm long cake mold.
Place the three balls of dough inside the buttered mold, cover with cling film and let rise in a warm spot, protected from drafts, for a few hours, or until the brioche bread is doubled.
Heat the oven to 180°C and gently brush the brioche bread with a beaten egg: you will certainly need less than half of it. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the brioche bread.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove the brioche bread from the oven and let it cool down completely. A secret in between you and me: I can not resist this brioche when it is still warmish from the oven, with butter and honey.
It keeps for a few days wrapped in a clean kitchen towel. If it becomes a little too dry, toast it on a hot pan.
More breakfast ideas from the blog
I baked a Tuscan bundt cake with farro flour, mascarpone and dark chocolate, as simple cakes and breakfast loaves are still the most appreciated sweet treats in our house. Mascarpone keeps the crumb moist and compact, helping the cake to last for a week, just if you manage not to eat all the slices at once. Farro flour is now my choice more and more often. Not only it is better than wheat flour health-wise, it is also a typical Tuscan grain, cultivated in the Garfagnana area since the Roman time. It is easy to bake with it and it will add a subtle nutty taste to all your baked goods, too.
These little buns are a soothing way to start the day, the dark chocolate makes them tempting and decadent, while the dried apricots add a fruity note that calls for a few tablespoons of a good apricot jam, spread on the slightly warmed slices. The buns team up nicely with a mug of Early grey or with a strong coffee, a homemade breakfast for the whole week.
When I held the little almond and chocolate roll in my hands, still warm from the oven, I started squealing, I could not believe my eyes, it was exactly what I was searching for. Now this is my recipe for when I feel like baking a soft brioche, making a cozy breakfast or surprising my mum with one of her favorite sweet treat. You can arrange your rolls in a traditional round pan, in a rectangular loaf tin or even in single muffin moulds: the result are small chocolate brioche rolls, perfect for your breakfast, for an afternoon treat with a cup of tea or to sneak in your bag for a sudden hunger attack.
Breakfast in bed can turn every day of the week into a different day: just imagine a thick yogurt and a joyful cascade of home-made granola, crunchy cereals glossed with honey and enriched with nuts, dried strawberries and coconut shaves. Believe me, the world can wait five more minutes, you can enjoy a special moment sinking the spoon in a creamy yogurt, while the crunchy granola adds colour and flavour and the coconut makes you feel on holidays, in a huge bed with white linen sheets and the sea that paints the landscape with a Mediterranean blue.
- Here an article on Morning and an interview with Allan Jenkins.
- Here Bee Wilson writes about Allan Jenkins’ first book, Plot 29, something I want to read soon.
- Here you can read more about the difference between Early Birds and Night Owls.
- Here a brioche Parisienne made by my friend Rossella with sourdough starter and whole farro flour. It is as good as it looks.
- This is Samin Nosrat’s granola, we’ve been making this often recently.