Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Breakfast (Or, Trying Not to Fail at My Own Life Plans)

So here's a thing that is true: breakfast is good for you.

I know. Stop the presses.

Now, whether or not breakfast is, "the most important meal of the day," as our parents and most after school programming would suggest, apparently remains to be seen. There are studies and articles and what have you floating around out there making the case for lunch and/or dinner. My non-scientific opinion is that all three meals are kind of equally important, as skipping any of them tends to throw life out of whack and/or send me spinning into a blind rage.

And yet...

It's just so easy to miss breakfast. Even now, when I'm fully aware of the consequences, it's one of the first parts of my morning routine to get cut when I'm bargaining for extra minutes of sleep. I don't know what it is - the proximity of the meal to what's often the most rushed part of the day, the popular idea that breakfast is really just first dessert (why did we even let Pop-Tarts become a thing?)(because they're disturbingly delicious slabs of sugar and chemicals, damn them)(triple parenthetical), the government (I needed a third thing) - but, despite my best intentions, I am a serial cereal skipper (I know, I'm so sorry - not sorry enough to delete it, but still).

Well, no longer. I am making this bold declaration to the universe, the cyberverse, and the 4ish people I can mostly guarantee will at least sort of skim this post: I will make breakfast a legitimate priority. And I don't mean I'm going to have a cup of tea and merrily skip off to start my day, satisfied that I have achieved my goal. Simply throwing something into the morning meal time slot will not necessarily allow you to reap the benefits of being a breakfast eater. Am I saying ditch your coffee and never look at a donut again? No. Donuts are amazing. And I mean, I'm not at all fond of coffee, but I don't begrudge you the right to enjoy it.

What I am saying is that, occasional indulgences aside, it's just as important to consider the nutritional value of the first meal of the day as it is the second and third. Because again, in a world full of pastries and pancakes and something called toaster strudel (again, why did we even...?), it's so easy to forget that you're meant to start most days with purpose, and that maybe pouring a bag of refined sugar onto your soul isn't necessarily going to be conducive to optimal brain function.

Now, does this mean we all need to resign ourselves to eating nutritionally enriched cardboard and living lives of sadness? No. Promise. What I'm reminding myself, as much as anyone else, is that crafting a dish that is both functional and phenomenal in the morning is neither impossible nor complicated. Exhibit A after the jump.

Mostly-Raw Muesli
Since I discovered that I enjoy cooking, I'm always trolling for new recipes. After I made the vegan switch, it took awhile for me to realize that I didn't necessarily have to limit myself to books and sites and magazines that catered exclusively to my lifestyle. A lot of dishes can be veganized pretty easily. I stumbled across this recipe in the May/June '13 issue of Simply Gluten Free magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store, and while it happened to be vegan, most of the others were not - but could be, with a couple of substitutions.

The OG recipe, along with some other good stuff , can be found here. It's vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar free, and almost totally raw (technically, rolled oats do go through a pre-cooking process). It can also be made soy-free and nut-free.

1/2 cup gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I make my own almond milk - the recipe for that will be at the end of this post - but you can use soy, rice, hemp, whatever - just go with your preference)
1 Tbsp. whole chia seeds (these fools are loaded with Omega-3 and can be quite beneficial to your life)
1 Tbsp. raw, unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 Tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. maple syrup, to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped raw almonds (if nut free, use seeds - sunflower and pumpkin are awesome additions)
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced or chopped
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Note: The original recipe calls for 1/4-1/2 tsp. plain or vanilla stevia liquid. Stevia is an alternative sweetener, though the manufacturing process can make it a little less natural than we're often led to believe. Its liquid form is allegedly the closest you can get to its natural state - I say, "allegedly," not because I'm a conspiracy theorist, but because I'm not a scientist.

I'm not a stevia fan, as a matter of personal preference. As you can see from the ingredient list, when I make this, I just swap it out and use a wee dash of maple syrup instead.

In a cereal bowl, combine your oats, chia seeds, coconut, and cinnamon. Add the milk, vanilla extract if you're using it, and maple syrup. Stir and let soak anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight (in the fridge, if you go that long). I usually put it together when I wake up and let it sit while I shower and get my life in order.

Add more milk according to your preference (I usually toss in a bit more for a creamier consistency). Top with almonds/seeds and berries. Enjoy.

Super easy, satisfying, and tasty.

Almond Milk
Anytime somebody is impressed that I make my own almond milk, I shut them down because it's really the easiest thing ever, and it's no fun to pretend otherwise or else I totally would. Bypassing the middleman and making your own lets you cut back on packaging waste and gives you a bit of a purer product (even the organic, unsweetened brands have some additives). 

1 cup raw* almonds
3 cups water
1 date, pitted (optional)

Place your almonds in a bowl, cover completely with water, and soak for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight). Drain and place in a blender. Add water. If you prefer your almond milk a little on the sweeter side, add a date. Blend for approximately 3 minutes, until smooth. Strain mixture through cheesecloth or a sieve.

This yields somewhere between 2 and 3 cups of almond milk. Seal it in an airtight container and refrigerate it - it'll keep for about 3 days.

The almond grounds that you strain out can be used as compost or to supplement recipes - sometimes I toss it into cake/pancake batter or bread dough.

*Anything you do to your almonds will translate to the flavor of your almond milk. So if you bought, say, roasted almonds by mistake, it's not going to ruin your life. It will, however, give you roasty almond milk.

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