To Start Afresh

January 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

How quickly mice-sized tasks mutate into lumbering elephants. A couple of illness-laden weeks and a post about tortilla de champignones, meandering through memories in Barcelona on its way, loses its sharpness and appeal. Next up, a life- and perspective-changing ten days leads to a whirlwind of emotion, leaving no corner of life unturned in its wake, and suddenly every single word I toil to produce is both of critical importance and yet an insufficient trope. And then, the proverbial cherry on top is the unstoppable march towards Christmas. All too bright, and sharp, and distracting; with its experimental cookies, and the best carnitas cooked and eaten in a cabin in the woods, and the final unraveling of a cake so booze-soaked it practically levitated out of its wrapping of headily scented parchment onto the Christmas table.


Just when it feels like life may from here on out blur into one long faded decoration of over-eating jigsaw-assembling reality-avoidance, January asserts itself with more of a whimper than a pop but audible and ready to be heard all the same. And here we are: three months of half-finished, outdated posts, too much to tell, and where to start? And this, friends, is how a dormouse of a post about muesli, and new beginnings, seems to call on mammoth reserves.


In such sticky moments of doubt, I recommend heeding the wise words of that great thinker Maria von Trapp, and starting at the very beginning. Right now, in January, as we box up the tinsel for another year, hope and potential is in the air. Breakfast is the meal that most encapsulates this mood, setting the tone for what is to come. My love for breakfast is no secret and while reviewing the highlights of the past year with friends over an earl grey gin cocktail (or three) at the new year’s eve table, Ollie and I had one overlap: breakfasting in Sydney. Languid, easy mornings took on the shape of homemade, ricotta-topped crumpets, bowls of yoghurt-heavy muesli and avocado-smeared toast. We would pass the first several hours of each day observing, waking to the rhythm of the city, nourishing whatever state we found our jet-lagged bodies in that morning. On holiday or at home, those hours so often set the tone for what follows: eating on the run, squeezed by the straight-jacket of time, or taking a more compassionate pace and view of the day.


So on that Monday holiday just passed – the brief stay of execution before the “official” start of the year – I tossed hazelnuts, whole and brown-skinned, in oil and coarse salt and roasted them until their aroma penetrated all corners of the apartment. Halfway through, a sheet of oats joined them, the heat warming their winter pallor to a hue more suited to summer months, or (not to brag, ahem) a California January. In a large bowl: quinoa flakes, wheat germ, and handfuls of dried cherries and cranberries. The whole lot, when mixed, filled a quart mason jar perfectly. It sits on the counter as a beacon of the bright hopes of the days, months, year to come and a reminder that you can start afresh every day, not just the first of the year.

Cherry and Hazelnut Muesli
Adapted from the wonderful Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

When ready, there are two ways to serve this muesli. One is to soak it overnight in milk or fruitjuice, which is the classic way to serve muesli. In the morning, just remove from the fridge and top with chopped fruits and a sprinkle of salt. Or you can treat it more like granola and just pour milk over the muesli straight from the jar. It will be crispier. Try both and see which you prefer. Either way, yoghurt and honey make excellent additional dressings.

1 cup hazelnuts, raw and whole, in their skins
1 tsp olive or hazelnut oil
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp wheat germ
1/4 cup quinoa flakes
1/3 cup dried cheries
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Heat the oven to 350F. Toss the hazelnuts with the oil and salt and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or thereabouts, checking on them a couple of times and giving them a shake to redistribute for even browning. The nuts are ready when they are a dark brown, but not burnt. Set to one side and, when cool enough, chop roughly, keeping a few whole. You can include the skins in the muesli too.

Spread the oats on a separate baking sheet and add them to the oven for around 8-10 minutes, again stirring halfway through. The oats should turn a golden brown. Remove and allow to cool.

Mix all but 1 tbsp wheat germ and the quinoa flakes in a large bowl. Toss the cherries and cranberries in the remaining tablespoon of wheat germ to prevent them from sticking and chop them roughly. It’s fine for them to be uneven and to leave a few whole. Add to the bowl with the wheat germ and quinoa.

Add the hazelnuts and oats and mix well. Tip into a mason jar or similar and cover only when cool. The muesli will keep, well covered and stored in a cool dry place, for more than 2 weeks.

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