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Over the Top

In the airport bathroom, it seemed as though all the women were changing into sequined sandals and little knit shirts with white capris. I hadn’t quite thought through the outfit change scenario — the fact that the temperature when I left Seattle at 11 p.m. might be different than it is in St. Barths at 3 p.m. Driving to the villa, the roads were narrow and cars slapped against palm leaves and bougainvillea as they rounded tight corners. 70-year old women walked topless on the beaches and iced tea cost eight dollars. Dinners were always eaten out, and it was balmy enough to leave with a sundress on and nothing more.  Meals consisted of polenta fries, citrusy shaved artichoke salad, Sea Bream with butter and lemon, tuna tartare with avocado cream and thinly sliced radishes, lobster fritters cloaked in spicy aioli, and warm chocolate cake. And wine. Lots of wine. And then, with morning: a reset button.

A cup of strong coffee and a simple bowl of muesli and yogurt — the likes of which I recognized from home. Mornings felt nourishing and necessary, a way to break up the days of sensory overload. Muesli was the opposite of perfectly bronzed physiques, shiny yachts, and stylish cover-ups. It belonged in a whole other universe from the one of over-sized sunglasses, gold flip-flops, and wahoo kabobs. Muesli laid itself bare; It wasn’t hiding who it was or trying to be something it wasn’t: muesli was simply oats, nuts and seeds and was always there the moment I awoke.

Mosquitos would be out first thing in the morning, so the scent of citronella joined the more familiar smell of strong espresso brewing. The sun hot enough to burn your shoulders at 10 a.m., we’d finish breakfast and head down to the beach. And the day would unfold itself. During my few days in St. Barths, I read two books, swam in the ocean many times, found a nice collection of sea shells, and took showers outdoors. I ate wild boar risotto and drank Negronis. I might’ve worn gold flips-flops, but it depends on who’s asking. I might’ve worn a new floppy hat, too.

It felt like just the break I’d envisioned — but it also felt starkly different from anything familiar. Back home or otherwise. While I’ve traveled quite a bit, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about St. Barths that made it so so difficult to categorize. Because cruise ships don’t dock there, it really is serene, relatively quiet and starkly beautiful. But couched in that beauty is the sense that everything is over-the-top, from the plates piled with beef carpaccio to the long strands of onyx pearls women wear to the beach. Breakfast was the one time of day that felt familiar and easy, and not at all flashy.

When I returned home late Saturday night, Sam had a big vase of hydrangeas on the table, made me wilted arugula with a runny egg, and caught me up on everything I’d missed. I sifted through the mail and ambled around the house — I’d missed our house. And in the morning, Sunday morning, there was the paper. And I made a big bowl of muesli. There was a noticeable lack of sun, sure. And those gold flip-flops had made their way pretty quickly to the back of my closet. But it felt like the kind of morning I’d been having all week, except this time more familiar. This time, thankful for the tan and sea shells rattling around in my carry-on, but also really glad to be home.

Now, a few words on muesli: While you can certainly eat it much like you would granola (sprinkle it dry onto yogurt or add milk and treat it like a cold cereal), traditionally it’s a cold porridge of raw oats, nuts, and fruits that you soak in the refrigerator the night before serving in some combination of milk, apple juice, water, and/or yogurt. I tend to be a bit of a purist, but a lot of people like to grate an apple into their soaking muesli or toss in some frozen berries (they thaw and soften into the porridge).

I was doing a Marge granola tasting downtown a few weeks ago and a very sweet Swiss couple came up to my table and stared, astonishingly at the little cups of granola. The husband took a photo with his phone, the wife sniffed her sample and stared back and forth – first at me, then the granola. They didn’t speak much English, but eventually we’d established that they’d never seen granola before. The woman said to me in disbelief, “you burned muesli!” I tried to explain the draw of granola: it’s toasted and slightly sweet, and the clumps are ever-so-lovely in yogurt. I became granola’s national spokesperson for that one moment, and let me tell you, it wasn’t working. The astonished stares continued. There was another iphone photo of the granola. Then one of me (I can just imagine this being passed around their small town in Switzerland: proof of the American woman who burns muesli!). They couldn’t understand why you’d add maple syrup and oil to an already perfect mixture of oats, nuts and seeds.

And this, my friends, is why muesli can be a nice re-set button as we ever-so-slowly enter into the warmer spring months. I get the question a lot when teaching whole-grain breakfast classes and talking about muesli: why not just eat granola? And the answer is just as the Swiss couple indicated while walking away from my table: it can be nice to have the raw, stripped down version of something so great every now and again. If you want all of the nutrition of granola (good complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber) but are trying to watch your sugar or fat intake, muesli has your name written all over it. And once you find a blend you like and a routine for soaking it (if that’s your thing), it just might be something you look forward to in the mornings – I know I do.

3-Grain Fruit and Nut Muesli
Use this recipe as a template, substituting any nuts, seeds, or dried fruits you particularly like. If you want to avoid a trip to the bulk bins, feel free to use all oats instead of the three grains listed below – I happen to like all three because they add different color to each bowl, and I particularly love the darker flavor of rye flakes in the morning. Many people toast their oats and nuts when making muesli, too. If I’m soaking my muesli, I tend to skip this step because I find it all softens the same way into my yogurt, so it feels like an unnecessary step. But if you’re going to enjoy this dry much like granola, feel free to toast your dry oats and nuts in a 350 F oven for 7-10 minutes, or until fragrant.

Makes: About 4 cups

1 cup/100g old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)
1 cup/100g spelt (or barley) flakes
1 cup/100g rye flakes
¼ cup/ 25g ground flax seeds
¼ cup/35g raisins
¼ cup/40g finely diced dried apricots
½ cup/75g natural skin-on whole almonds
1/2 cup/60g sunflower seeds
¼ cup/35g pepitas
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, optional
¼ teaspoon ginger
plain yogurt/milk/nut milk, to serve
honey or jam, to serve (optional)

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Transfer to a large jar (quart-size Mason jar works well here), and enjoy as you would granola or any other cereal, adding milk/nut milks/yogurt as you please.

Alternatively, soak your muesli overnight: For a single serving, scoop out ¾ cup muesli and stir it into ½ cup yogurt and ¼ cup milk or apple juice. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to overnight. After soaking, remove muesli from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes. Add an extra splash of milk if you like your muesli a bit looser (I do), a dollop of honey or stir in your favorite jam.

 

  1. Dad
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Lyrical and beautifully written post and love the photos. Fish ce soir (but not Wahoo). Thanks for the muesli recipe….will try soon. Love, Pop

  2. Posted March 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I love muesli, it’s the perfect alpen-antidote to everyday life.

  3. Adriana
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    I’ve had a recipe for granola for a few years, the one I always make. It has the oats, various nuts and seeds, oat and wheat germs, grapeseed oil, honey, etc., but it goes raw, you don’t toast anything. Someone once told me it is better to have it this way because the nuts and seeds won’t loose their oils and thus keep all their nutritional value. I keep it in the fridge for days and is really good, what do you think?

  4. Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    I live in New Zealand and granola is a bit unheard of – we have toasted muesli and natural/plain/untoasted muesli. I’ve always preferred plain untoasted muesli to the toasted/granola sort but if you’re short of chewing time in the mornings soaked is definitely the way to go. I do like the look of your recipe, thanks for this post :)

  5. Posted March 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    I am cold. Less so, though, after reading this beautiful post. (“You burned muesli!” Awesome.) Hugs and shivers from Cambridge.

  6. Mary
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Ditto what your Pop said.

  7. Posted March 11, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I visited St. Barts once, long ago. It was off season and I enjoyed it. Your visit in March seems much different than what I recall. I bet your weather was much better in March than mine was in July. If only we could have the low glitz of off-season July with the weather of March…

    I’ve recently become addicted to muesli. I just ate some this morning. I haven’t tried adding ginger, but will now. Thanks, Megan.

  8. Posted March 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

    so lovely, and now i want muesli… glad you had a nice break. quick question, i’m trying to google st. barthes, but all i’m getting is st. bart’s… is there a different place?

    i’m so done with our winter here, though today is quite lovely out so i shouldn’t complain. but still, negronis and beach sound so good.

  9. megang
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Olga! You’re right about the spelling: thank you. Yes, that’s the one (and it’s close to you … not so much to me). Yep, I’m ready for some real, true Sunshine here in Seattle, too. I always find daylight savings helps a little. At least gives us all the allusion that it’s coming. Hope you have a great week, m

  10. megang
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Hi, Denise! Strangely they say the weather is the same year-round … I have trouble believing that, but then again, they’d know much more than I. I love muesli, too. I’ve been geeking out on all different combinations lately and am going to have to push myself not to turn this into a breakfast cereals blog. Have a great week! ~m

  11. Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you!

  12. Posted March 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Muesli is such a nice change from oatmeal every morning. Beautiful photos.

  13. Posted March 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    So funny because we hosted a lot of couch surfers from Germany and they always freaked out about my homemade granola, being they were used to muesli. I’m the opposite because soft cold grains don’t hold much appeal, but maybe my tastebuds have changed since I last gave it a go 15 years ago.

  14. Posted March 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    how precious is your dad’s lil comment :) I have never quite gotten my head around muesli but I love granola. I would have totally put up a little hassle to that Swiss couple! Maybe I would like it soaked…perhaps that’s my problem. Just can’t do the raw deal. Thanks for the tip, dear. So ever impressed by you’re writing. You are so good. xo

  15. megang
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Yes, J, I think it’s totally what we’re used to and what we grow up having, you know? Muesli’s just not as popular here in the States (or Canada, I presume) so it just feels odd to us: raw oats?! But as long as you don’t expect it to be crunchy and a little sweet like granola, it’s really quite pleasant … and yes, tastebuds change!

  16. Tara
    Posted March 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    your bowl of muesli looks absolutely delicious! i’m not sure i’ll like the texture, but who knows? your photo has certainly convinced me to try it. :) i’m curious, though. what is your yogurt like? i mean, the yogurt i eat is a little on the sour side (which i love) but i’m not sure it would pair well with muesli. thoughts? thank you for such a lovely blog! i love your writing!

  17. rachel keller
    Posted March 12, 2013 at 4:45 am

    So funny how these things go in waves, I just made my first batch of museli two days ago! I am curious about the blends how! And am quite the granola lover, so yes, it is a different morning path! But I do hope your concerns about not wanting to post too much about cereals doesn’t get it the way of sharing your experiments, as I would so love to hear about them!
    Thanks!
    Rachel

  18. megang
    Posted March 12, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Hi, Tara-
    Yes, I like really plain hippy-style yogurt, too (I tend to buy Nancy’s yogurt here in the states — not sure where you live). It is definitely a basic taste, which is why I usually stir in a bit of jam or a little honey on top. For some reason, the plainness of it all suits me in the mornings lately … it’s good morning belly food. Glad you’re enjoying the blog! ~m

  19. megang
    Posted March 12, 2013 at 6:19 am

    There’s a muesli trend, Rachel?! I’m on board! Glad you’re enjoying the site … and there will surely be more morning cereals to come. With occasional breaks for chocolate, too. Enjoy your week, m

  20. Posted March 12, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I have never made muesli, even though I really enjoy it. I will definitely have to try my hand at it.

    So happy you had a wonderful time. I have never been to St. Barts, only Thomas and John. I do love the islands down there – carefree with beaches made of powdered sugar. We so need a vacation – especially after reading this lovely post. Funny thing, when flying into Las Vegas, the women’s restroom has the same thing taking place …. as I walk in wearing jeans and a sweater!!

  21. Posted March 12, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Welcome home! Your Instagrams from the trip are just so beautiful, and really, even if it’s 12-hours each way, I’d do it in a heartbeat as well, just to be able to say “I’m headed to St Bart’s for the weekend”. So glamorous!

    See you in less than a month! x

  22. Carole
    Posted March 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Aren’t we humans funny creatures. We always think our way is the right way. I laughed out loud at the comment about burned muesli. I remember my reaction to my first muesli at a B&B in Scotland. I thought to myself, “that’s a cheap and lazy way to make granola.” I did have the good manners not to,say it out loud, however. I hadn’t made any in quite a while but got straight up and made a big batch after reading your blog this evening. Now I can’t wait for morning.

  23. Molly
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I’ve never tried muesli, but just last night I was wishing for a recipe for soaking oatmeal overnight to help speed up my pre-work healthy breakfast preparation, and lo & behold, today at lunch I read your post! I’ll be making muesli tonight to enjoy tomorrow!!

  24. megang
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Molly: Yay! You can even soak it in a small ball jar and just grab it and go (that’s what I did this a.m.). Enjoy!

  25. jill
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    I discovered muesli when I was travelling in New Zealand and became addicted. I have the recipe my NZ B&B used if you’re interested (they use orange juice).

    I often create a quick muesli for weekday breakfasts. I layer plain greek yogurt, raw oats, fresh or frozen berries, and a bit of dried fruits/nuts. I use an old glass peanut butter jar so I can feel like a real hippy. =) By the time is gets to work the oats have softened and the fruit, if frozen, is thawed. I suppose I could do it the night before but that is way too organized for me. In any case– Yum!

  26. megang
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Hi, Jill! I’d love to see the recipe if you have a chance (meganjgordon at gmail.com) And I did something very similar and equally hippy-ish yesterday with a little jar of soaked oats, nuts and seeds on the go. Tasted great! Have a great week, ~m

  27. Posted March 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I have never had muesli. There, I said it. I’m not really a breakfast person so maybe that is why. And I do like the crunch and sweetness of granola. But I certainly do see the allure. Such gorgeous photos Megan. Glad you got a little break from the rain. 12 hour flight for 3 days of sun doesn’t sound weird to me. :)

  28. Emily
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    So nice to stumble upon this… we soak oats overnight for muesli nearly every day, in kombucha or cider. The grated apple is as purist as it gets, btw–in the original muesli recipe it was at least as important a component as the oats.

  29. megang
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks, Emily. Yes: grated apples are so very good. I have yet to soak it in kombucha but I love the idea. Thanks so much for the great tip; enjoy your weekend, ~m

  30. Susan
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 6:27 am

    I have a smile on my face after discovering this new-to-me blog. To Molly (#23), who wanted an overnight oatmeal recipe. Soon after becoming hooked on steel cut oats texture and nutty taste,I found an easy way to prepare them: 1 cup steel cut oats, 4 cups water. Bring to a boil on stove in saucepan. Boil only for a minute or two, then cover, turn off heat and leave to soak overnight. You’ll awaken to perfect oats. Just microwave to heat or reheat on stove and add your fixings (mine: brown sugar, toasted walnuts, cinnamon). Refrigerate leftovers. :)

  31. megang
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Love this, Susan. Thanks so very much for sharing. I’m going to give it a go — because I often make my oats with part milk, I was always a little nervous to prepare them this way, but I suppose all water would be just fine and then the next morning I could cook them down with a bit of milk…

  32. Molly
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Thanks, Susan! I’ll try that. Megan, I’ve really been enjoying my muesli!! I’ve found I like mine soaked only in milk, not yogurt, but this has been a fabulous breakfast solution. :)

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