Way back in the spring of 2002, Tim and I took our requisite newly-married-as-yet-childless jaunt through Europe. We traveled via train through the Rhine River Valley in the western part of Germany, and then made stops in Switzerland and Austria as well. During our stay in the Swiss Alps, we ended up at a hostel in a tiny village recommended to us by Tim’s Dutch cousin, and he swore we would probably the the first Americans to ever stay there.
I didn’t believe it was possible, but I think he was right. The German-speaking hostess could not understand a single word of our English, which lead to some frustrating attempts at communication (I took German in college, but that was at least 10 years ago, maybe even longer, and I couldn’t remember much). But even amidst our language barriers, she managed to understand a deep need in me — either from female intuition, my sluggish appearance, or maybe just hundreds of years of breakfast tradition.
See, we made our stop in the Swiss Alps after at least a week of visiting relatives in the Netherlands and basking on the cool riverbanks in Germany. And during that entire time, we were pretty much served one thing for breakfast: bread, with cheese. Now don’t misunderstand me: I love my dairy and carbs, like just about every other American. But I’m not used to eating white bread and cheese for breakfast, no matter how fresh the baguette may be or how spreadable the cheese. It was a delicious and welcome change, for the first few days — I felt so European — but soon I began to grow weary of the weight of it, and was desperate for something more, I don’t know, whole. And digestible.
This hostel in the Alps was postcard-picturesque; straight from the pages of Hansel & Gretel. We had an attic room, with a single tiny window, which was unheated. We rented a giant down comforter for the night, which was more like a mattress that we slept under. The weather outside was COLD — it was May — and misty; a weather system of wet fog hovered over us the entire stay, which meant we never actually saw the Alps. The first morning, we awoke warm and toasty under our mattress in a 40-degree room, and quickly bundled up to walk downstairs to the heated common room for breakfast. When we walked into the room, the hostess brought us coffee and juice, and then a few minutes later brought to our table a giant bowl of muesli. She had taken rolled oats, dried fruits, and nuts, and soaked them overnight in a mixture of cream and a little orange juice. The texture was less mushy and amalgamated than our version of oatmeal; it was still hearty and filling, but softened and enriched by the cream and juice. It was, without a doubt, the best breakfast I’ve ever had. I’m sure that sometime I’ve had a breakfast meal that was more adventurous or successful as a pure culinary feat; but the combination of fulfilled desire, unique setting, and the fact that it wasn’t bread and cheese (we had that for dinner, in the form of a Swiss-made fondue — outrageous!). I remember almost weeping while eating it.
I cannot make what we had that morning, and even if I knew exactly how, it wouldn’t taste the same. But in the winter, I do tire of our regular, cold granola. And try as I may, I am still not a person who likes to eat eggs for breakfast — any other time of day I love them, but not first thing in the morning. So the in-house welcome switch comes in the form of soaked muesli. It’s easy to prepare, just requires a bit of forethought the night before. In the morning, it takes five minutes on the stovetop, and you have a filling, creamy hot breakfast, ready to be sweetened as desired.
When we toured Europe, we swore we’d go back within two years to attempt once again to see the Alps — surely our luck wouldn’t bring us bad weather two trips in a row? But then, as the story goes, children came, and moving, and jobs, and all those things that tend to postpone plans, and we’ve not yet returned. And now the dream of returning actually includes all five of us. We sit at a family-sized table in a Swiss chalet, looking out the breakfast window, over a valley, to the peak of Monte Rosa in the distance. The sun is out, and it’s later in the season, so flowers have begun to bloom in the flower boxes of our room windows.
Plus one last fantasy detail: my children all eat, and enjoy, the muesli. A mother’s gotta have her dreams.
Muesli, Swiss-style (adapted from Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon)
serves 2, with maybe a bit leftover
- 1 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
- 1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds, or finely-chopped nut of choice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups warm water, plus an additional cup for cooking
- 2 Tbsp plain yogurt, buttermilk, or whey (for dairy-free, use lemon juice or apple cider vinegar)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup raisins (I used golden — use any dried fruit, chopped if large)
The night before, place oats, nuts, coconut, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, stir together 1 1/2 cups warm water with the yogurt, and pour this over the oat mixture. Stir to combine, cover, and let sit at room temperature overnight.
The next morning, bring 1 cup water and salt to a boil. Add the soaked oats and raisins, and simmer for about five minutes. Serve topped with butter, cream and honey or maple syrup.