Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
A few months back, I was reading this book. And in this book, one of the protagonists takes a moment to drip scorn on her father’s daily ritual of waking early to read the papers in peaceful solitude. Now, coming from an eleven-year-old genius with a penchant for philosophizing, I expect that there was some great insight I was supposed to take away from her disdain. Whatever it was, it was lost on me. Because in my then-sleep deprived state, I was totally transfixed. What luxury! To spend the morning in anything but a frenzied state. I saw what my life could be: like this fictitious, French, penthouse-dwelling older gentleman, I too could wake up early, disapproval of my fake children be damned. I set my alarm for 6 AM and prepared for my life to be transformed.
Since then, I’ve been up by 6 AM once. Apparently the allure of extra sleep is not something that I, at least, can overcome through sheer willpower alone. So, over the past few months, I’ve been doing more to achieve an hour’s wakeful relaxation in the morning: an earlier bed time, a less indulgent approach to the snooze button, and bircher muesli.
Bircher muesli is the invention of a health-minded Swiss physician, who combined oats, fruit and dairy and let them sit overnight to make for a soft, naturally sweet sort of porridge, cooking not required. What’s more, it’s a reminder of the power of time as an ingredient and of waiting as a technique.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself cooking with near-instant gratification as the end goal, with no pause between preparation and completion. But so many things are made better with time — cheeses ripen, the tasty morsels in a marinade transform, and a curry is almost always better the next day. Add to the list Bircher muesli: the overnight action will leave you with a wholesome instant breakfast that affords you more time to read the paper than a comparable bowl of fresh-cooked oatmeal.
Though the original recipe is still kicking around, the tendency these days is to follow the general method but adapt the ingredients and proportions as you see fit. The basic idea is to combine a big handful of rolled oats with fresh fruit (grated apple is traditional), just-cover them with liquid — milk, yogurt, juice or some combination of the three — and let the mixture meld and soften in the fridge overnight, before being topped with fresh fruit, nuts and anything else you’d drop overtop oatmeal.
The variations are endless: rolled oats can be replaced with instant for a smoother finish, or steel-cut for more chew; I’ve seen the apple replaced with mashed banana (grated pear would work too); the oat-and-fruit mixture is often augmented with nuts, dried fruit, honey, spices, bran, flax and so on; and I’ve once eaten at a hotel brunch a decadent, berry-topped version that I’m pretty certain was made with heavy cream.
I’ve given you a basic, health-minded recipe as a starting point, but feel free to simplify or complicate it as much as you want. If your pre-work morning is measured in minutes, as mine still sometimes is, consider keeping a big batch of pre-mixed dry ingredients on hand, and preparing your morning’s portion in a half-litre mason jar for extra portability — anything for a few more minutes of sleep.
Bircher Muesli, FoodHappy-style
Makes 1 serving, and scales up easily
1/2 cup rolled oats (the kind that take 10 minutes on the stove)
1 tbsp wheat bran
1 tbsp oat bran
1 tbsp dried fruit, cut in pieces if not already bite-sized
1/2 an apple, peeled and finely grated
3/4 cup milk (for extra richness, I often swap out 1/4 cup of milk for 1/4 cup of plain yogurt)
1 tsp honey (optional)
Toppings (fruit, yogurt, nuts, etc.)
1. In a small bowl, stir together oats, wheat and oat bran, and dried fruit.
2. Mix into the oat mixture your grated apple, until the apple is evenly distributed through oat mixture.
3. Pour milk (and yogurt, if using) and honey overtop the oat-apple mixture, stirring to combine.
4. Cover muesli and let sit in the fridge until the oats are soft, typically overnight but you can go for as little as an hour if you’re using rolled or quick oats.
5. After the muesli’s done sitting, give it a stir, top it with whatever toppings you’re using (I went for bananas, pecans and honey) and serve!