Home Made Special: Historical Porridge

In a shameless ploy to get Baby Chino’s History and Live some attention, I agreed to have him make me breakfast in bed. Aren’t I nice?

This morning we were travelling back in space and time to Ancient Greece, through the tried and true portal of porridge. According to the authors of The Classical Cookbook ancient greek women who knew about herbs could use this porridge, or kykeon, for dangerous purposes – like sending men to sleep, or worse!

It is likely a breach of copyright for me to post the actual recipe, so the things that went into this dish are: semolina (soaked, drained), ricotta cheese, honey and some egg. The combination of those ingredients in quantities approximating 1 : 3: 1/2 : 1/2 grams, and heated to almost boiling point, looked like this:

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I had an immediate insight into how the Athenians built the Parthenon, how Pythagoras birthed his theorem and how Sappho had the strength to articulate her passionate poetry: they were all essentially fuelled by cake. I could not contain my delight at having an excuse to eat such a thick, creamy batter for breakfast. There was a pleasing grittiness to this pale, slightly cheesy mass. A hint of honey transported me to the Elysian fields; as if I were lightly traipsing through them, sunlight reflecting dazzlingly off the golden fleece I’d be wearing, as well as off my perfect Grecian curls. That was all in the first mouthful. Subsequent mouthfuls became more and more laborious; indeed, Heracles would have been proud of me for eventually finishing such a task. It was exhausting, luckily I was already in bed so I could comfortably lapse into a food coma. Baby Chino thus truly succeeded in channelling those Ancient Greeks, or at least the women who knew about sleep herbs.

I would not recommend this as an every day food, at least not for anyone who wouldn’t use the subsequent energy to throw a discus or run a marathon.

Solid Porridge, Greece!

– MM

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Miss Muesli in the Sticks: Wimmera Round-Up

For the last month or so I have been living the country life in Horsham, Australia’s tidiest town in 2001. Things really are pretty tidy for me here; I’m living next to my place of work and when I’m not working everything I need is a mere brisk walk away – the gym, the cinema, fried pumpkin cakes at the local fish and chip shop. The sky is tidy too, it is so refreshing to look up at night and be greeted by the Milky Way, wave hello to Orion and chuckle at the Moon. Yep, that old Moon is quite the joker; he keeps me from going stir-crazy while I’m away from Baby Chino and the rest of my life. Ahem.

Anyway, to fully experience life out on the frontier, I have endeavoured to visit some cafes and bravely order the muesli. What follows is my account of the state of Wimmera cereal in 2015.

Café Jas – 37 Robert’s Place, Horsham

 Café Jas is convenient because it is right opposite Coles, a locale that I visit almost daily due to not being disciplined enough to plan to have enough food when I need it. It is deceptively large inside, with a clean, simple dining décor and almost no pretensions. I say almost none, because there is a stock of T2 products at one end that looks suspiciously upmarket, and gives the place not quite an air of sophistication. So what I’m saying is by Horsham standards Café Jas is a bit pretentious. It is accordingly expensive, and table service is not included in that bill, which I shouldn’t complain about but it sure makes ordering stressful. Only joking, ordering is never stressful when you know you want:

The muesli, please.

Here is what that was quite literally translated into:

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Simple fare. No, there were not any fruit hiding under those oats unless you count a few tiny sultana afterthoughts. There were more oats hiding under those oats, some bran for good measure and the obligatory raw nut for crunch. The beige-ness of this meal was startling, there is something to be said for a touch of brown cinnamon, a dash of pink strawberry or green kiwi fruit. The yoghurt was a thick, creamy vanilla which suited the plain muesli well. I would recommend this muesli if you are in the days following a bout of gastroenteritis, and are starting to get sick of buttered toast.

Cafe Jas on Urbanspoon

Natimuk Café – Natimuk

I must admit the visit to this dear little shop along the main street of Natimuk, a tiny town about 20 minutes out of Horsham, was a blur as my night-shift addled brain was screaming for sleep on an impossibly bright and cheery morning. I refrained from screaming in person and was thus able to join waking society and sit for a pleasant breakfast with my colleagues, who at that time were also creatures of the night. Natimuk Café is colourful and eclectic. The computer used to take orders is embedded in a large rock, there are postcards and drawing adorning the walls, as well as corrugated iron in parts. Shelves stacked with nick-nacks are seemingly everywhere and are illuminated by light streaming in from the large front windows. It is a homely institution and the staff are warm and friendly.

Although I had been eating dinner at 5am for the past few days, I thought I’d treat myself and still give the muesli a try:

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Like the muesli of Café Jas, this was quite a plain breakfast with little in the way of garnish or spice. However the Natimuk muesli wins over by virtue of a sliced banana and natural yoghurt mixed with honey on the side. I suppose the bar wasn’t set particularly high, but it also had small slivers of desiccated coconut and prisms of dried fruit so that excited me. There wasn’t much to this muesli, but it tasted fresh and contained some actual fruit so it was the best I had had so far. If you do find yourself in Natimuk, bypass the muesli and grab a big slice of one of their cakes and use it as energy to go on to climb Mt Arapilies (or as a reward for doing so).

Natimuk Cafe on Urbanspoon

Chic Pea – Pysnet Street, Horsham 

You can take the strong, independent woman out of Melbourne but you cannot take the expectation for quaint, homely chic out of the said empowered adult. Basically, Chic Pea is as close to home as it gets; light timber furnishings, water in glass vessels of various shapes and sizes, pastel walls and even a wall papered with simulated raw bricks. There are various locally made jams, chutneys and preserves for sale, and the staff wear a uniform of jeans, casual shoes and country-cool. Like Melbourne, men with beards are frequently spotted lining up for coffee; unlike Melbourne this hair alights the ruddy faces of farmers, whose hands are large and calloused, and whose utes are muddy and filled with tools and whatever else people use to run farms – border collies?

I unashamedly love Chic Pea, and have been known to visit twice in one day, and five times one particular week. The problem is that muesli is not a fixture here! They did, for some reason, make it especially for Mother’s Day which I scoped out when I dropped in, motherless, to grab a coffee. Luckily, Lady Grey came to visit the day after and I eagerly asked after the muesli I saw on display the day before. The staff said they had some left over and, no doubt seeing the look of desperation and longing in my eyes, humoured me:

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Serving it in a jar – why, oh why? This level of impracticality, however only endeared Chic Pea to me further as really going for it in terms of trying to create a hip café vibe, in a place where no such vibe previously existed. This breakfast was packed with juice-soaked oats, bran and puffed rice which created a solid cereal vehicle for cranberries, plump sultanas and pepitas. Finally, fruit, glorious fruit! The strawberries and kiwi fruit quickly disappeared to reveal pear nestled cosily amongst the oats. Alongside this was something that Lady Grey told me was candied citrus peel. Maybe it’s a rural thing, but the peel was just too peely so after a few chews I daintily spit it aside. Apart from the inedible faux-pas, the Chic Pea Mother’s Day muesli leftovers were the best I have had in my two months away from home.

Cafe Chick Pea on Urbanspoon

Comfort Inn – Firebrace Street, Horsham

I have spent an inordinate amount of time at the Comfort Inn during my stay in Horsham. I visited there two consecutive weekends, the first with Lady Grey who I suspect booked a room with two beds to enable me to stay with her so she could hear my night-time “snuffling”. That would be cute, however she also remarked I managed to form the shape of a double-decker bus under the covers. Not a single-decker, but a double one. Thanks for the self-esteem boost, mum. The very next weekend Ms Sourdough happened by and decided to also stay at this motel. No second bed this time, so it was an evening of football, knitting and then a sleepy drive back to my own temporary accommodation with the promise of a continental breakfast to entice me to return the next day.

The Comfort Inn dining room was functional, and had an unnervingly large, well-placed mirror wall that initially succeeded in tricking me into thinking I was in a much larger space. The real space contained an array of pastries, fruits and cereal which included the:

 Home Made Bircher Muesli

Excited to see that the Comfort Inn bother to soak their oats, I bypassed the croissants and eagerly scooped some of the wet breakfast-goop into my bowl, then topped it with pear and the fruit salad that sat nearby.

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So moist! It was refreshing find a wet cereal after weeks of the dry stuff. My compliments go to the Comfort Inn for taking the concept of a continental breakfast seriously and giving their oats the Swiss treatment. Juice-soaked and mixed with yoghurt, my teeth tingled with the excitement of having to do little work to transform this mush into something swallowable. Instead I got to enjoy the soft, grainy texture with the rest of my mouth. A pleasant surprise! This did not, however, prevent me from ordering pancakes and then eating a jam crumpet. It was a buffet breakfast, after all.

Final word: There are many reasons to make a tree-change and live in the country, none of which should rationally include the expectation for better breakfast food. Come to Horsham and the surrounds for the long walks in the bush, the climbs up various large rock formations and the unadulterated (unless you count the atmosphere) view of the stars. If you want a warm cafe experience, my recommendations would be Chic Pea or the Natimuk Cafe – both have tasty coffee and cake; if only Chic Pea did regular muesli!

Room for oaty improvement, Wimmera!

-MM

Home Made Special: Lord Marmalade’s (thankfully) Marmalade-Free Muesli

One of the best things about being a muesli-blogger is that family and friends alike suddenly come out of the woodwork as being  muesli-makers. It warms my heart to receive portions of their creations, and so I have acquired a small collection of different muesli packaged in ways that causes me to fondly reflect on some of the donor’s idiosyncrasies: tiny jars (meticulous hoarder), old yoghurt containers (pragmatist) and tupperware (trusting, perhaps too much so as they might not ever see this container again). I feel quite privileged!

This morning’s home-made special comes from Lord Marmalade who, despite being my inspiration for ordering “The Works” at Shepparton Pizza Hut the other week, has become a real health food and exercise guru these days. I was very excited to try his muesli which contains things like:

Oats, bran, almond, pepitas, sultanas and pistachios

I soaked it overnight in milk and here is what I was greeted with in the morning:

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This was a very raw, earthy muesli which was elevated to gourmet status by a smoky savouriness imparted by the pistachios. The addition of salt is surprisingly pleasing in breakfast dishes, and while I won’t be adding salt to my weetbix any time soon (or will I? Maybe that is what will make weetbix take off as a cafe food!), salt in porridge and muesli (in the form of pistachio) is genius. Despite being soaked overnight, Lord Marmalade’s muesli was resilient to mushiness and instead was densely crunchy, adding a jaw workout to the health benefits of his dish. The only thing I might include in this breakfast next time would be a sprinkle of cinnamon (though would this blend with pistachio?) which would complement the almonds and any added banana.

Final word: If I was giving out stars, this would get 5 gold ones. As I am a star-witholder (anyone who has played Super Mario 64 knows you don’t just hand them out once you find them), I’ll say for those at home: pistachios in your muesli are worth the investment.

Good Muesli, Melbourne!

-MM

Home Made Special: Carman’s Muesli

I have to open this post with an apology to Carman’s:

I’m sorry this post is a year late. Basically, after my phone met its demise (with my unwitting help) my reviews were lost and I drowned my sorrows in the many varieties of muesli that you generously sent me. This has weighed heavily on my conscience and so recently, when it was on sale at Coles, I bought your muesli to re-review. Hopefully this can smooth over the awkwardness that I imagine exists between us.

Whew. Now I know why people go to confession – conscience clear! Let’s now turn to the muesli:

Carman’s Fruit and Nut:

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Look at it all, nestling snugly within the cool embrace of my second-favourite bowl. This muesli was generously endowed with nuts (ahem, almonds and hazelnuts) which provided big crunches subtly accompanied by smaller crunches of sesame seeds. This textural fiesta was also attended by sultanas and dried fruit pieces which erupted in a satisfying squish of cinnamon and slight sweetness with each bite – flavours that I think were enhanced by the overnight soaking process. I would recommend adding banana to this muesli as the cinnamon tinged oats complement banana perfectly. A great muesli!

Carman’s Gluten Free: 

Unlike those of  an increasingly visible subset of the population, the immune cells in my small intestine have no problem with the proteins that make up gluten and so I exist mostly in a bubble of my wheat-enriched existence. Sometimes, however, I am enticed to try the offerings of the gluten free world (the little muffins they give you at the blood bank are great!), such as Carman’s gluten free muesli. The best part of this muesli were the chewy bursts of sweetness provided by the sultanas imbued with the vanilla-cinnamon flavour that I feel is a Carman’s hallmark. The rest was a little stodgy to be honest; I’m not sure that the barely or corn puffs hold up well being soaked overnight. It must be difficult making a gluten free cereal and I think there is still a little bit of work to be done here.

Carman’s Fruit Free:

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Why would anyone want to exclude fruit from muesli?! This is a strange concept, however my inquisitive mind would not let me pass this by (also it was initially free). To stay true to the theme I excluded grated apple and the berries or banana that would normally perch atop my yoghurt. The abundance of hazelnuts and sesame seeds gave this muesli an impressive crunchiness, and the cinnamon overtones added an autumnal feel to the breakfast. While I enjoyed the richness of the flavoured oats, in the end I could not get over the lack of fruit – it’s like driving without music, enjoyable but no one is singing and taking it to next-level happiness. What I would like to do instead is use this muesli to make muffins, or stuff some in an apple and bake it. Actually, being fruit-free might make this a very versatile muesli!

Carman’s Bircher:

The bircher offering was surprisingly light on the Carman’s vanilla-cinnamonness, which actually made for a refreshing breakfast. The almonds, sultanas and apricots in particular added the majority of the non-oat component of taste. I enjoyed the raw oatiness of this muesli, however, as it is nice to revel in clean simplicity once in a while. I realised that I was enjoying the fruit that I added more, which could have something to do with me daringly adding both banana and frozen blueberries. Sometimes I surprise myself with how edgy my breakfasts can get. Carman’s bircher is a basic, utility muesli to be eaten on a regular day (or perhaps after a bout of tummy-trouble, as a means to wean off dry toast).

Final word: Carman’s provides a wide range of muesli that aims to suit everyone from fruit-haters to wheat-avoiders. Do not follow my example and wait until you find yourself in a perfect storm of guilt and thriftiness to try the fruit and nut muesli (in particular) as it is a store-muesli marvel.

Good Muesli, Melbourne!

-MM

Mixed Business: Muesli Good Enough to Buy Shares In

My return to the Melbourne breakfast scene took me to a part of Clifton Hill that was both familiar and strange to me, depending on which side of Queens Parade we look at. The familiar aspect of this northern arterial road lies to the East in the form of the bizarrely architectural Clifton Hill McDonalds (I do love art deco, and a sneaky caramel sundae). The Clifton Hill Mac drive-thru and car park has served as the setting for at least two firsts for me – my first desperate car-knock for jumper leads to start a flat battery caused by eating sundaes with the headlights and radio on; and my first encounter with a brothel (to eat, we always park out the front of Scarlet Lady or “Scarly”, the other den of iniquity apart from the McDonalds). I had so far overlooked the West side of Queens Parade as it tends to go by in a blur of frantic U-turning across this busy road in order to make it back home. Having the opportunity to actually walk on this side of the road revealed a pleasant strip characterised by many bikes, a quaint little florist and Mixed Business, the cafe where I was meeting the world-beating Madame Macchiato for a final breakfast before she jets off to study disease in a foreign land.

Mixed Business has a clean, raw retro feel. The decor appealed to the obsessive in me with a pervasive neatness in the arrangement of the crockery, baskets and cafe knick-knacks on the simple timber shelving adorning the wall behind the counter. Even the plants had a simple neatness of growth and arrangement that made my brain very pleased to look at (and some people call me highly strung – I don’t see it). Finally, and I don’t often mention this, but the staff were as warm and friendly as a sunflower tablecloth (which was not present here, probably for the best – too much of a good thing etc etc).

Excited by the prospect of breakfast in friendly surrounds I ordered:

House muesli with strawberries in rose water syrup, honey yoghurt and pistachios

My hopes high, and with the promise of a quality dish by Mme Macchiato from past experience, I eagerly received this menu-reality:

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The almost UFO-sighting quality of this image belies the excellence of what my eyes actually registered (though this is less blurry than what my unaided vision would have picked up so let’s just say I was trying to convey “frustration of myopia” with this one). You don’t need 20/20 vision, however, to appreciate the deliciousness of this muesli. Mixed Business have got it right, from the creamy yoghurt used as a medium to convey a subtle hint of rosewater and honey sweetness into the power combination of pistachios, coconut and oats. The strawberries add a refreshing coolness and berry-ness to the mix that complimented the heavier smokiness of the nuts. And as you can see, Mixed Business did not skimp on the nuts which to me conveys a customer-care at a level beyond friendly service. The staff can be as accommodating as can be, but if at the end of the day my mouth has been largely devoid of nuts, I will be going home disappointed (a mentality that surely must be shared by patrons of one of the above-mentioned establishments).  To top it off, having the liberty of tailoring the viscosity of the muesli with a separate milk jug is a thoughtful addition to this breakfast experience.

Final Word: Queens Parade has much more to offer than the late night Maccas run. Wake up, walk to the other side of the road and have the good people at Mixed Business fix you this muesli. Caution: they do not have a drive-thru, so you will have to wear pants.

Good Muesli, Melbourne!

-MM
Mixed Business on Urbanspoon

Home Made Special: RAD Muesli

To finally finish my intrepid dissertation on the oats of Canberra I turn now to home made muesli. Straight after the lacklustre offering of Mocan & Green Grout, my lovely companions and I headed to something called the Old Bus Depot market for some good old fashion money spending. Apart from buying this very thoughtful present for Baby Chino:

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I also set out to taste what was on offer food-wise. I was not disappointed as this market had such an abundance of free samples, I almost didn’t know where to start. Naturally, I went straight for the…sausage. Then, after trying at least 6 different types of sausage and realising that there was no way I was going to get any of them home to Melbourne without generating the accompanying Botulinium toxin, I came across a muesli stall so cheery (and orange) that my spirits were instantly lifted. The vendor here was an honest-faced guy who was so keen about muesli that when I mentioned my modest reviewing endeavours he immediately offered me a jar of his RAD Muesli. I was heartened by his generosity, and it cemented for me how enamoured I feel about Canberra – free muesli will do that to a girl.

So here is a picture of the (now mostly eaten) jar of muesli he gave me:

And here is a few pictures of what I made out of it:

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This muesli looks a bit different than my other home made efforts, because I have discovered that I like eating frozen blueberries and will unapologetically do so at any chance. This was a great, wholesome muesli. What immediately struck me was the nuttiness of it, with macadamias (what a treat!), whole walnuts (no shells, a plus) and a satisfying density of seeds. The puffs of barley in amongst the oats gave a richer, grainy taste. There was a hint of sweetness added by the coconut and dried fruit, but this was in no way overbearing and would allow for the breakfaster to tailor the sugar content to their liking. I like it low (but that depends on how much sugar is in frozen blueberries), and so this felt like a very raw, healthy way to start the day!

Final Word: RAD muesli is pretty special, and not just because I got it for free (thanks, Protia-man!). If you live in Canberra and are feeling like a Sunday market trip, visit the orange stall at the Old Bus Depot (you can’t miss it) and treat yourself to a jar of this muesli. If you live elsewhere and earn enough money to not care about shipping costs – give it a try.

Good Muesli, Canberra!

-MM

Home Made Special: Launched!

Disclaimer: I should begin this cereal adventure by stating that, in what is perhaps my greatest achievement to date, the oats used in this production were not paid for. I will endeavour to review them objectively, however even the cold mistress of reason will find it difficult to temper the glow that comes from eating free food!

My aim here is to compare some of the muesli that can be  made in the comfort of the home. This is not something that I was able to do on a whim, it required careful planning and preparation as before starting this journey I had little idea of how to make muesli, with my regular breakfast involving little more than scrunching two to three weetbix into a bowl and cutting banana over them.

To appease my science brain and leave as little room for confusion on my part, I will be making each breakfast using the same method, passed down to me one cold Autumn morning by the lovely Cherry Capone (more on that in the Coles oat review):

Miss Muesli’s (Borrowed and Adapted) Method for Making Muesli:

Ingredients:

–       Rolled oats or muesli

–       Granny Smith Apple

–       Unsweetened natural yoghurt

–       Frozen berries

–       A spoonful of sugar

–       Sunflower seeds, almonds (optional, to be used if muesli does not already contain them)

Method:

1. Before Bed: Lovingly transfer a serve (your discretion) of oats or  premixed muesli into your favourite breakfast bowl. Immerse in milk until just saturated. I like skim milk as I find the wateriness refreshing.
Note: if your muesli will be based on rolled oats alone, mix with seeds and nuts before dousing with milk.
Apply your Granny Smith to a sharp grater and go to town on it. You can peel the apple beforehand however you will be missing out on the tart chewy texture, and also some vitamins. I do not recommend depriving yourself of these. Mix the slivers through your soaking muesli.
Cover with Glad Wrap (or Aldi equivalent) and put in the fridge to incubate overnight.

2. Upon waking: Take a shower. Muesli is best appreciated when both ingredients and consumer are fresh.

3. Take some frozen berries (again, your discretion but overdo at your own peril – these are a garnish and not the main event!) and mix with a sensible amount of sugar in a microwave proof vessel. Cover to avoid splatter and the cook with the awesome power of micro-waves on high for approximately 45 seconds. Mix the resultant hot, soft mush and voila! Berry compote.
Note: If you have time and are so inclined, or if you do not have a microwave (the horror), this can be done over lowish heat on the stove.

4. Reverently remove the matured muesli from the fridge and peel off the plastic (you will not be able to proceed with breakfast unless you do this). Dollop yoghurt on top and garnish with your steaming compote.

5. Take your favourite spoon (see below) and use it to enjoy your homemade muesli.

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Await now with bated breath the coming set of home grown reviews!

(Anticipating) Good Muesli, Melbourne!

MM