It’s tough being a World Cup fan in Australia. Apart from that one glorious moment when South Korea and Japan hosted the 2002 World Cup (and we had the absolute luxury of a southern hemisphere time zone), in general, the Australian football fan who wants to watch the World Cup tournament has to adjust to the northern hemisphere time zones. This means our World Cup experience is mixed with the usual euphoric highs and obsessive football fever but also includes a lot of disruption to our natural circadian rhythms and extreme sleep deprivation, which turns us all slightly bonkers for the duration of the tournament.
The first group stage is the most grueling: three matches a day, with kick off times ranging from 2am to 8am (with the one exception of an 11am start!). So, many decisions to make… to sleep, or not to sleep. It’s not even like you can go to bed super early and get up for a 2am kick off with a few hours of sleep, because there is the 9.30–10.30pm World Cup Show on SBS, hosted by Les Murray and Craig ‘Fos’ Foster, which is must-watch television for the discerning Australian football fan. Sometimes, you’ve got to make the crucial decision whether the get up for that 2am match or grab an extra couple of extra hours sleep. It’s all about trying to survive with some of your sanity intact until the end of the Cup. Some people might argue that it’s not necessary to watch the match live but I think part of the joy of the Cup is the sense of communion with the rest of the world. Everyone from a remote village in China or Africa, to the globalised cities of London and Paris, is watching the same match at the same time.
This spinach and cheese strata is just about the perfect World Cup breakfast food. A ‘strata’ is basically savoury bread pudding which can be prepared up to 24 hours before you actually bake it (brilliant! …everyone knows when you’ve got football to watch, you can’t be messing around in the kitchen). Half an hour before you want to bake, it you take it out of the refrigerator. Then you pop it in the oven and 45 to 55 minutes later (just in time for half-time), you take it out and there you have it – a mess of eggy custard, toasty bread cubes and greens. It’s like the breakfast equivalent of a onesie, which you can eat with just a fork and plate, in front of the telly for the second half. You don’t have to miss a moment of the match, which is a good thing because everyone knows a football game can turn on a moment and you don’t want to miss a single match-winning one of them.
Spinach and cheese strata
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 300 grams (10 ounces) package frozen spinach (thawed, squeezed of liquid) OR 2–3 bunches of fresh spinach (depending on how spinachy you like it) blanched, liquid squeezed out and roughly chopped.
- 1½ cups of onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 300 grams (6 ounces) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (2 cups)
- 100 grams (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan cheese (1 cup)
- 8 cups of bread (Vienna or French) cubed in 2.5cm (1 inch) squares (about 300 grams)
- 2¾ cups milk
- 9 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Saute onion in large heavy frying pan until translucent (about five minutes).
- Stir in spinach and add ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and nutmeg stir through and cook for about a minute before removing from heat and set aside.
- Generously butter a 3 litre (3 quart) gratin dish or other ceramic baking dish. Place ⅓ bread cubes in the dish, top with one ⅓ of cheese and ⅓ of spinach and onion mix. Repeat layering twice more with the rest of the bread, cheese and spinach.
- Whisk together eggs, milk, mustard and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper. Pour over strata as evenly as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and chill strata in refrigerator for at least eight hours and up to 24 hours.
- Take out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan forced). Bake uncovered in the middle rack until golden brown and cooked through for 45–55 minutes. Let rest for five minutes before serving.