September 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
After my sweetheart, breakfast is my first love of the day. Every one. I love the idea of breakfast, too, the possibilities for the morning meals of special occasions— scones and yogurt and granola and omelets and almond croissants and buckwheat pancakes drizzled with boiled cider. But I only rarely eat any of those things. They are punctuations on a landscape that is determinedly routine. What I really love about breakfast is that I don’t have to think about it, and yet it delights me every single day. I don’t want variety or choice in the morning; I want an anchor. I found it in muesli.
I came to muesli a little late… never keen on the boxed versions, with their 15-line ingredient lists, that suggest, of all things, serving it doused with milk, which, if I may say, completely misses the point. Dry muesli, those not-quite-granola mixtures of dried fruit, nuts, seeds and dried grain, is, though perfectly nice, nothing special. And muesli sugared and toasted, that’s just muesli trying to be something it isn’t. It wasn’t until I started making muesli along traditional lines, soaking rolled oats overnight, that I got it. Muesli is about taking something humble and unassuming and making something revelatory with it. Soaked overnight, oats turn tender and springy; filled out with grated apple, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and raisins, bound with a bit of honey, they taste something near decadent. I have, on more occasions than I can recall, thrown off bedsheets in a panic and run down to the kitchen at midnight, half-naked, because I forgot to soak the oats for the next morning’s breakfast.
But this was all before I began rolling the oats out myself. Because I am prone to culinary obsessions and one of my favorite local growers starting bringing oats to market, I bought a little Italian grain mill and began rolling the oats every morning at home. Fresh oats are a little lower-maintenance, in one way—they don’t require overnight soaking; they rather suffer for it, so all they need is a brief 10-15 minute turn in a splash of liquid just after rolling. The texture is different: they’re chewier, and the flavor is earthier, but also more complex, a little floral, a little mineral. I make them this way and Tim soaks the store-bought overnight, and we take turns so that nobody’s way is best.
One last thing: I am impatient; otherwise I would have waited until fall’s apples started rushing in to post about muesli. In part, what I love about muesli is its adaptability—it is a reflection of where you are and what you have. When apples aren’t available at my local markets, berries or peaches are fine stand-ins. But there is something brilliant about muesli with grated apple, something in the contrasts of taste and texture, and that’s when I think I could really eat a bowl of muesli every morning, happily, for all my breakfasts. Except for an almond croissant or buckwheat pancakes, just every now and again.
Muesli translates, roughly, as “little mush,” the original version being little more than grated apple and a bit of oats that had been soaked overnight in condensed milk. So I would argue that dry muesli, really, isn’t muesli at all. A few notes: blending in some rye or barley flakes is a good idea; soaking the oats in kombucha is awe-inspiring. A sprinkle of cardamom is splendid. You can use water with lemon in lieu of the cider or nectar if you’re a purist, or cheap. Don’t forget the pinch of salt.
1/2 cup rolled oats (and/or rye or barley flakes, optional)
apple cider, fruit nectar, or kombucha to cover, barely
pinch of salt
raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, pecans
1 small or 1/2 large apple, grated—tart, crisp varieties, like Gold Rush, Grimes Golden, or Pink Lady, are especially lovely (or, when apples are out of season, berries or peaches; something with good acidity)
Soak the oats overnight with the salt in a bowl large enough to accommodate the rest of the ingredients. You can, if your memory failed you the night before, soak them in slightly less liquid for 30 minutes or so, though they won’t become quite as tender, which isn’t necessarily the worst. Stir in the remaining ingredients; use as much or as little of everything as you like. Sometimes a bit of plain, full-fat yogurt spooned on top is just the thing.