There are many rubbish things about working every day - the commute, the queues at the bank at lunchtime, the fact that you have to, well, go to work every single day, yes even on your birthday - but one food-related problem is that it totally removes the possibility of a good breakfast. On weekends and holidays, a special breakfast feels like a cast iron promise that you're going to have a good day, whether it's a proper fry-up, sticky syruped pancakes with bacon or even just some fresh bread or croissants.
But before work? In the fifteen bleary-eyed minutes between finally getting out of bed (already three Snooze settings down) and getting in the shower, while my eyes are still 90% closed and the Today programme is a jumbled mass of noise not making sense in my head, that is not the time for a good breakfast. I'm thinking quick, automatic, filling and easy. But mostly quick.
I've always gone in for long, monotonous cycles of breakfasts - I can pretty much divide my childhood into the Fruit and Fibre, Bran Flake, and Marmite on Toast years (I know, rock and roll!). If I was feeling like I needed a little bit of a treat, it was always peanut butter and banana on toast, the breakfast/snack/any time food of champions. And Elvis.
But now that I'm a Grown Up I have to think about boring things like my sugar intake and slow-burn carbohydrates and cholesterol and that means I've got stuck on porridge. Every morning, exactly the same. 35g of Waitrose essential porridge oats (Jordans are too fine, jumbo are too coarse), 5g of Mornflake Oat Bran, water, splash of milk, 2 minutes in the microwave, stir in more milk, shake of cinnamon, eat, done. Yes, I am that regimented about it and yes, it is because I can't trust myself. Both my mum and my cohabitee pointed out that, without weighing it on the scales, I was making and eating easily three times the recommended daily portion EVERY DAY. Need I mention the havoc that ensued when I let myself loose with the golden syrup or jam? I can't be trusted first thing in the morning.
But don't think that my porridge pattern is totally joyless. Yes it's mechanical, but it works and it's delicious - creamy, comforting, warming and enough to power me through to lunchtime. However, much as I love my porridge, it starts to feel really out of place as the weather warms up and the thick fleecy dressing gown is swapped for a coquettish silky slip of a thing. How am I going to be virtuous and oaty in the summer months?
I think this muesli will be the answer. I know bircher is a popular choice - and I've tried it, don't get me wrong - but it just tastes like uncooked slop to me and it always comes up a bit too sweet. As for granola, it's nice but if I'm going for extra fat and sugar, it will never replace peanut butter and banana on toast in my eyes. As far as I can see, the Golden Breakfast Mean of Summer + Oats * Virtue - Guilt = Muesli. It doesn't hurt that it's delicious and, once I've made a big batch, it'll hit my quick/automatic/filling/easy target in one fell swoop.
The inspiration here comes from a recipe in Nigella's Feast and she says that it makes her feel like "some intellectual, beautiful free spirit". To be honest, calling it a "recipe" is a bit excessive - all you do is toast oats, nuts, seeds, add some dried fruit and a teenytiny amount of sugar and put it in a jar. With milk though, it all comes alive and with yoghurt and fruit compote, even better. Now if it can just shut John Humphries up a bit, it would be the perfect weekday breakfast.
Adapted from Nigella's Feast
- 100g mixed nuts (I used what I had, which was hazelnuts and desiccated coconut)
- 100g oats (again, I used a mix of jumbo and rolled)
- 40g of seeds (I had some healthy snack mix, so used that)
- 75g of raisins
- 1 dessertspoon of brown sugar
Toast the oats, nuts and seeds on a baking tray in the oven for 10 minutes. Once cool, mix in the fruit and sugar, then put in an airtight jar or tupperware.