I really meant it when I said that Elinor flaps her arms like a penguin when she likes what’s she eating. Typically, the flapping is so vehement that the bottom of her high chair bumps against the floor rhythmically, leading me to wonder what our downstairs neighbors think we do in the kitchen every evening around 6:00. Creatures of habit, they must conclude. Truth be told, though, this expression (of Elinor’s, not ours, dear reader) is only in the mid-range of her food-love meter.
On the low end, she exhibits a baritone, staccato groan, a more perky version of the Bay’s foghorn—lips must always be pursed to keep the tone low and weighty. This pronouncement is applied to good morsels that are nonetheless quotidian, like the fresh sardines pan fried in butter that we have on weekday mornings. Then comes the aforementioned flapping. Soft-boiled egg yolk used to work but is now rather run of the mill. Figs, yes, I recall fresh Black Mission figs receiving a round or two of flaps last weekend. Quite near the highest end of the scale is a combination platter of sorts: the groan coupled with the flapping and the stomping. Braised beef has been anointed accordingly each night for the past eight.
But the real crowning performance—a full-body production eliciting simultaneous gyrations from some parts and a state of meditative bliss from others—is something I hadn’t seen until tonight. Here’s how to replicate it: When you know the food is coming, start to flap your arms vigorously. This helps to lift your feet, which you will then pound repeatedly on your chair’s foot rest. Once you’re feeling the rhythm, close your eyes and smile a wide, eye-squinting smile. Make sure to show all of your teeth, all five of them. Then open wide. And steady your head. Dream, if only shortly, about that most satisfying spoonful of food that will soon be deposited on your tongue. Dream, really dream it, knowing that within a second, the dream will become your reality. Feel the smooth, cool surface of the stainless-steel espresso spoon—which you dropped into your diaper bag at the neighborhood pizza spot to your unknowing parents’ surprise—sliding along your tongue. Then grind your teeth along the top of the spoon as it exits, leaving you a little bite of minced homemade sauerkraut. I didn’t think you’d be disappointed. My, how parenthood confounds our most basic expectations.
If you are a food and would like to get on Elinor’s meter—unlike, say, the heirloom apples roasted with freshly ground cinnamon that are bestowed, on a good day, mere entrance the venerable cavern—you must be noteworthy in some way. Perhaps it’s your color, like the orangey-red yolk of an early-fall egg. Or it might be the vessel from which you are consumed. For instance, chicken stock from a spoon is so-so, but chicken broth lapped from a ramekin—much more interesting. And if the food comes from Mom’s or Dad’s plate, well, that moves you up a rung automatically.
Now I would typically say that bland-colored mush simply won’t do. But if you are a few rolled oats that resemble flecks of paper, something otherwise off limits, your currency has increased. And if you piggyback on something cold and tart, like yogurt, and team up with a new flavor, like orange zest—though it may initially give rise to a contemplative, motionless pause upon initial entry—you will probably be elevated onto the meter; and I suspect her highness will at least bestow upon you a wide-eyed, closed-lipped groan. And if you then invite something vibrant-colored with a slippery texture, a strand of ripe Hachiya persimmon, for example, I would venture a guess that her arms may start moving. This is particularly true if you hire someone to compose a novel soundtrack and play it on cue with each act: “Muesli.” Bite. “Do you like the muesli?” Bite. “Would you like more muesli?” A new word, she with undoubtedly think. I’m so excited, I’d like to fly away.
This is all hypothetical, of course. I can’t really promise you that you are meter-worthy, Weekend Muesli, because Elinor isn’t dabbling in grains yet. In fact, this recipe is actually a pretty thorough list of what the baby-food czars tell us not to feed our babies: citrus (allergies), raw apples (choking), honey (infant botulism), nuts (allergies), dairy (ditto), grain (ditto). In a couple months more, though, this muesli will be directly on point for Elinor. But even then I’ll omit the honey because all of us baby-food strategerists agree that people shouldn’t eat honey until they’re at least one. According to my beekeepers, a better guideline is two years old, when a person’s digestive system is finally fully developed.
In the meantime, I will be enjoying this bright, creamy muesli on weekend mornings as I sit on our bed with Elinor and Dave, my semi-weekly cup of decaf coffee, and the most recent The Talk of the Town waiting to be read.
Adapted from How I Cook by Skye Gyngell
Good news: this recipe involves no cooking. Make sure to plan ahead so that the oats have at least eight hours to soak.
3 cups organic, whole rolled oats
Grated zest of one organic lemon
Grated zest and juice of two organic oranges
1 cup water
2 cups organic plain yogurt
1/4 cup raw, runny honey
A generous handful of chopped nuts, toasted
Fruit for topping
P R E P .
- The night before. Mix the oats, lemon and orange zest, orange juice, and water in a bowl. Cover and leave to soak overnight, in or out of the fridge. (I left mine out.)
- The morning of. Grate the apple, leaving the skin on. Add the apple, yogurt, and honey to the oats and mix well. Divide the muesli among four bowls and top with the nuts and fruit.
E A T | D R I N K . Eat in bed with a cup of joe or a heady Assam tea while catching up on the latest and greatest publications. If you have kids, just try to eat it, sometime, somewhere—eating breakfast is a small achievement in itself!
R E F I G U R E | V A R Y . No need to refigure. Just leave this in your refrigerator and eat it all week (or, for us, all weekend). As for variations, the recipe above is your canvas. Here are some ideas for adorning it:
- Cherries and almonds. Stew cherries in a bit of water until softened and starting to split. Add to the muesli with toasted, sliced almonds.
- Quinces and new-crop walnuts. Slowly cook cored and chopped quinces (or apples or pears) at 350°F in a baking dish with cinnamon, a glug of maple syrup, and water to cover the bottom of the dish by a 1/4 inch. Cover and bake until soft. Add to the muesli with toasted walnuts (if you’re so lucky, use new-crop walnuts).
- Sweet summer berries. Substitute mascarpone for the yogurt. Mash berries with fork. Add 2 teaspoons of orange-blossom water. Top with pistachios.
L I T T L E E A T S . This one is totally personal. Like I mentioned, I’m going to wait until Elinor is a year or more for this recipe. That said, except the nuts, the texture is soft and the pieces are small. When the time is right, pulse in the food processor, if necessary. Just don’t add the honey until at least one year and maybe two years; for kids over two, go crazy.
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