“I still eat pizzas, I still like pies, I still have spaghetti hoops for breakfast… but it’s in moderation now“ – Shane Warne
My weekday breakfast was pretty much exactly the same for the best part of 10 years. A Starbucks Venti skimmed cappuccino and a skinny peach and raspberry muffin. Sometimes I would go wild and stop at Pret and have a croissant or pain au raisin but, by and large, Starbucks was my breakfast dealer of choice. I studiously ignored those articles in Grazia that told me how many pairs of Jimmy Choos I could buy if I stopped spending £5 a morning in a coffee shop. (I have just done the calculation of the cost of a coffee shop breakfast for 47 weeks a year over 10 years. It’s more than Jimmy Choo got for his stake when Tamara Mellon bought him out, give or take a few quid).
Amazingly though, I actually thought my choices were pretty healthy! It was a SKINNY muffin! Only 3% fat! Back in those days I hadn’t cottoned on to the “low-fat” equals tons of added sugar thing, and probably didn’t care that much anyway – 15 hour days, 20-something metabolism, burn all that sugar off, right? As it transpires, my so-called skinny muffin had 27g of sugar in. That’s nearly 7 teaspoons. Thankfully, the skinny lemon and poppy seed muffin was always too dry physically to ingest, thus saving from me its staggering 11 teaspoons. That’s more than a can of full fat coke. For breakfast.
But habits are hard to break. I may have kicked the Starbucks sugar bomb thing but I am definitely a certified member of the carbs for breakfast club. Yes, I would love to be a bit more Finnish and genuinely delight at the prospect of some liver paté or smoked herring first thing, or lay out a Germanic spread laden with an assortment of wurst and a fresh tomato every morning, but give me a hotel breakfast buffet and I will sail past the salami, cheese and pimpernickel on the way to the waffles, fruit and toast every time. Trying to muster up enough enthusiasm to cook eggs or otherwise incorporate some proper sort of protein (beyond a splash of milk) into our breakfasts has been one of the bigger challenges we have faced on our healthier eating quest, particularly being betrothed as I am to a man who would definitely cite my new veto on his daily toast and marmalade as an Irreconcilable Difference.
The tide is slowly turning. Eggs, smoothies, rye bread and avocado on toast are all beginning to make an appearance in the breakfast rotation, but some days you just want a big, quick bowl of carbs. This is where this comes in. A porridge for the spring/summer season (without the morning cooking time). It is a huge nutritional trade up from commercial breakfast cereal, but still the easiest thing in the world to make and, provided you remember to spend 5 minutes the night before adding the milk and apple before you go to bed, you can have this on the table in minutes. Oats are a fantastic slow-release carbohydrate, with lots of dietary fibre. They have a lot of other good stuff too (vitamin E, thiamin, biotin, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium, and iron) but for the body to absorb these efficiently you need to soak oats to remove the phytic acid in their outer layer. Cooking does also help break some of this down, but not as effectively as soaking.
The beauty of bircher is that you can throw in what you like to your oat mix. My version is below, and is basically the one from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks, Weekend Feasts book with a few small changes. I use ground flaxseeds (which contain loads of fibre, omega-3 and lignans but do add in moderation as too much and your muesli will taste like you’ve licked a cricket bat), whole pumpkin and sunflower seeds and whatever mixed nuts are in those Waitrose bags (almonds, brazils, pecans, walnuts I think), but you can and should throw in whatever you like (although I don’t think peanuts or cashews would work that well for some reason). Similarly, I have stuck with Gizzi’s suggested dried tropical fruits (I use the ones from Tropical Wholefoods) and they are delicious but you can use more traditional raisins or go with dried apricots, sour cherries or whatever takes your fancy. I wouldn’t add chia seeds unless you know you like soaked chia – they swell up into something resembling frogspawn/tapioca overnight. You either like it or you don’t. I really very much don’t. If in doubt throw your chia seeds on in the morning instead if you want to use them.
The trick is to make an enormous batch the first time you make it, so that all you have to do when you want to eat it is stick a portion or two in a bowl with milk and apple before you go to bed. This recipe makes about 1kg, which is about 20 portions. Gizzi suggests 100g of dry mix per serving. I use 50g and find that huge once it swells overnight. I tend to make the large batch on a Sunday evening, particularly now Homeland has finished because there is NOTHING on the television, as there is a bit of fiddling around weighing out and chopping the dried fruit (if you use tropical rather than something like raisins). It feels extremely virtuous to eat this on a Monday morning after a weekend stuffing our faces with cinnamon cardamom buns (there are some traditions I will gladly embrace from our Nordic friends) and sets us back on the healthy eating track for the week.
BIRCHER MUESLI (adapted from Gizzi Erskine’s Sunny Bircher Muesli)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low (but do throw in all the crazy if you want)
GLUTEN: This is (obviously) not gluten-free as it is but you can drop the oat bran and make this with gluten-free oats, which are fairly easy to find in the supermarkets. I have used Bob’s Red Mill oats for flapjacks etc and they were very good. Ocado and Whole Foods stock them.
For an approx. 1kg batch of the muesli mix together the following and store in an airtight container:
- 600g non-instant porridge oats
- 100g oat bran (or wheatgerm if you have it/prefer)
- 100g dried unsweetened pineapple, chopped into small pieces
- 100g dried unsweetened mango, chopped into small pieces
- 50g unsweetened coconut flakes (or use desiccated)
- 50g unsalted mixed nuts, toasted if you can be bothered, and chopped into pieces
- 25g ground flaxseed
- 25g pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds
To make up the muesli the night before eating (per person):
- 50g of the dry mix
- 50ml milk (or nut milk, although I find I need to add about 10% more if using nut milks)
- 1/2 apple
- squeeze of lemon juice
Add the milk to the muesli mix, grate in your apple (skin and all) and add a squeeze of lemon juice (to stop the apple going brown). Stir well. Cover and put in the fridge overnight. Don’t go wild adding milk if it looks a bit dry – it is easier to add some more in the morning to loosen it up than be faced with some milk oat soupy thing in the morning. Some people prefer to add the apple in the morning because of the turning brown thing but I have never had a problem with it when adding a bit of lemon juice.
This is slightly better given 10 minutes to come up to room temperature so get it out of the fridge and give it a stir before you make your cup of tea. Serve with whatever you like. I love it with yoghurt (protein!) and berries or poached fruit. I ate it last Monday with Coyo coconut yoghurt and some vanilla poached rhubarb (see picture). Honey, maple syrup, or whatever you normally throw on your porridge, wouldn’t go amiss either.
Kitchen Song of the Day: Robbers – Cold War Kids (Robbers & Cowards)