Friday, May 1, 2009

Tasty Toasted Birdseed

Welcome to my breakfast cereal reawakening.

For years, before I discovered an easy formula for fruit smoothies, I sat down every morning to a bowl of cereal. I went through a ton of the stuff. While perusing the newspaper on a Sunday, I could single-handedly polish off half a box of Raisin Bran, pouring in a few more flakes to soak up the milk at the bottom of the bowl, then a little more milk to wet the extra cereal, and so on, until I'd downed a 1200 calorie breakfast.

Growing up, I loved Kix, Cheerios, and Rice Crispies. Raisin Nut Bran, sold in small, expensive boxes, was a luxury reserved for grown-ups, or special occasions like birthdays and chicken pox. Waffles, omelettes, bagels? Who needs 'em. The dinner menu at my fourteenth birthday party was Cocoa Puffs and chocolate cake.

Returning to veganism after several years eating dairy, I remembered how much I hate the taste of soy milk. It's fine for baking and in boldly-spiced chai, but I can't stand soy's beany flavor all over my corn flakes. Original Rice Dream (never vanilla) is the only non-dairy milk understated enough to serve its purpose in a cereal bowl without hijacking the flavor. Forgetting to put a carton in the fridge, I'd often skip breakfast rather than eat cereal with warm milk. When my mornings got busy, I switched to smoothies, which were portable and better for me anyway.

I hadn't bought cereal in over a year, but during a recent spell of stomach flu, Raisin Bran was the only thing that sounded edible. Reading the box, I was disappointed to learn that my old favorite was full of junk. The first three ingredients may be whole wheat, raisins, and wheat bran, but the fourth and fifth are sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, I bought a pricey box of organic cereal, sweetened with brown sugar, and some granola to go on top. The first bowl really hit the spot, and now I'm eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Those slim boxes of natural cereal do not last long; if I continue to be a sweetener snob, this is going to get expensive. In the spirit of frugality and independence, I decided to make my own müesli. (The umlaut is not strictly necessary, but müesli is Swiss, so we'll use their spelling. Any excuse for an umlaut, really.)

The primary difference between müesli and granola seems to be the size of the chunks: in granola, the oats and things are stuck together in clusters, but in müesli each oat stands alone. Müesli is easily prepared raw, with uncooked oats and fresh fruit. So that they wouldn't turn to mush in milk, I decided to toast my oats and give them a thin coating of maple and brown rice syrup.

This crunchy cereal highlights the subtle flavors of raw nuts and seeds. It's easily adapted to your tastes, so browse the bulk section of your natural foods store for ingredients. I recommend toasting wheat germ and coconut along with the oats, as they give the cereal a light, earthy sweetness.

A few nights ago, I was puttering around the kitchen and had just popped a tray of oats in the oven when my husband called, asking if I wanted to join him and a few coworkers for happy hour. "I can't leave now," I said. "I'm toasting müesli." At that moment, in my Common Ground Country Fair tee-shirt, cotton rag socks, and crocs, I became the world's most stereotypically crunchy vegan.

"Wait, that sounded silly," I revised. "Let me change into my hemp sneakers and I'll be right over."

So here's a recipe for hippies, vegans, birds, the Swiss, and anybody else who loves healthy homemade breakfast cereal.

Mary's Toasted Müesli

3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 cup finely shredded coconut
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown rice syrup

3 cups seeds, nuts, and dried fruit of you choice. I used:
1/2 cup large coconut flakes
1/2 cup pepitas
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 300F.

Combine the oats, wheat germ, and finely shredded coconut in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together the maple syrup and brown rice syrup until consistency is uniform, 2-3 minutes. Pour the syrup into the oat mixture and stir to coat.

Spread the oat mixture onto a baking sheet (clean-up is easier if you line the baking sheet with parchment paper), and place in the center of the oven. Toast for 40 minutes, until golden brown, stopping to stir the oats halfway through. This will fill your kitchen with a wonderful grandmotherly aroma.

Allow the toasted oats to cool for about an hour, then toss in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients.

Store in an airtight container. Makes 7-8 cups.

2 comments:

  1. I LOVE this part: ""I can't leave now," I said. "I'm toasting müesli." At that moment, in my Common Ground Country Fair tee-shirt, cotton rag socks, and crocs, I became the world's most stereotypically crunchy vegan."

    You're so funny! and that muesli looks great--sometimes granola can be a little too much, but muesli can be a little too boring, so this seems perfect! thanks!

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  2. That sounds delicious! I love cereals with dried fruit and nuts in it. Even though your recipe makes 7-8 cups I can guarantee that it wouldn't last long in my house.

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