There comes a time in everyone’s life when we realize stress is getting the better of us, and we need to practice a little self-care.
That’s a lot easier to say than it is to do. It takes willpower to get up from the computer and go for a walk. To turn off the TV and go to bed on time. To cook a healthy meal at home instead of ordering takeout.
But you can start with baby steps — and breakfast.
For many, breakfast means coffee. Add a little cream or sugar and you can easily trick your brain into thinking you’re not hungry. Yay you cut some calories, but really you’ve just cheated your body on the chance to stock up on the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, things like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and good fats.
There are only so many meals in a day, and as the day wears on and we get busier and stressed out, it becomes increasingly easy to reach for processed junk to satisfy our hunger pangs, or cave in to a high-fat, high-carb, low-veg dinner (I’m looking at you, pizza).
Breakfast is your chance to preload your day with some nutrition, stacking the deck with good-for-you foods no matter what the next 10 hours bring. And that healthy choice in the morning can help strengthen your resolve later. Baby steps, remember?
Now, I know you think you don’t have time to eat breakfast in the morning. But you do — especially if you make porridge, the ultimate make-ahead breakfast.
If the only thing you know about porridge is that Goldilocks ate it, think of it this way: Oatmeal is porridge. However, not all porridge is oatmeal. In fact, there are a ton of grains out there that you can use to make porridge: chewy whole grains like buckwheat groats, hulled (not pearled) barley, and brown rice; flat rolled grains like oats (of course) plus barley flakes, rye flakes and wheat flakes; and teeny grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth and stone-ground cornmeal.
Each grain has its own special nutritional profile, as well as texture and flavor, which is why the best porridge has a combination of grains. Just be sure to pay attention to cooking times. I love porridge with chewy buckwheat groats and hearty barley and rye flakes, but by the time the groats are tender the rye flakes are mush, so I’ll give the groats a head start.
Cook up a large batch of porridge on Sunday night, then fridge it and reheat all week long. To keep things from getting boring, change up the combination of grains each week. And set yourself up with a few mix-and-match toppings, like toasted coconut, toasted nuts, and dried or fresh fruits.
Here’s another trick: fruit syrups. As much as I adore maple syrup, even I will tire of it after several days in a row. Instead make your own healthful fruit syrup by simmering some honey and fruit together, and add some spices to taste. Start with equal parts honey and water (about 1/2 cup of each), add a generous cup of fresh fruit, simmer and mash, then taste. If you like it thicker, keep simmering and/or add more honey. Stir in more fruit at the end of cooking for a chunkier mix. Or you can strain if you like.
The honey-orange syrup pictured above was a byproduct of making the candied orange peels we posted last week. The peels released citrusy flavor to the honey syrup as they simmered, making it incredibly delicious. After straining out the peels, I added the orange segments and juice, then popped it in the fridge. The oranges steeped in the liquid, absorbing the floral notes of the honey and adding their own burst of citrus to the mix.
These winter mornings can feel bleak. We need all the help we can get to rise, let alone shine. A bowl of warming, healthful porridge, with a drizzle of honey-orange syrup, a dollop of homemade creme fraiche (recipe here) and a sprinkle of chopped pistachios is definitely something to get out of bed for.
It’s a breakfast as good for the body as it is for the soul.
Buckwheat, Rye and Barley Porridge
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Buckwheat groats are simply whole raw buckwheat grains (actually they’re technically seeds). Kasha are buckwheat groats that are toasted. They have an almost savory flavor that can be a little strong on their own, but a delicious foil to sweet syrup. The choice is yours. Look for these and other grains in the bulk bins at health-centric grocery stores like Whole Foods, or check the baking aisle (or the web) for packages from Bob’s Red Mill. Feel free to use any whole spices you like, such as star anise, cloves, allspice berries, vanilla bean, even chai tea. Just be sure to secure the little spices in a tea ball or piece of cheesecloth so you can fish them out later.
6 cups water
1 cup buckwheat groats (raw or kasha)
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods, crushed and tied in cheesecloth or a tea ball (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup rye flakes
1 cup barley flakes
Milk or Creme fraiche
Syrup, such as maple, fruit or Orange-honey syrup
Chopped pistachios or toasted sliced almonds
Dried or chopped fresh fruit
Ground flax seed or wheat germ (for added nutrition!)
Combine water, buckwheat groats, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and salt in a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the rye flakes, uncover, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the barley flakes and continue cooking another 5 to 10 minutes, or until all grains are tender and all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steam for another 5 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and serve hot with desired toppings. Porridge can be refrigerated for a week and reheated in a microwave, or in a pot over low heat on the stove (add a little water to keep it from scorching).
Variation: Buckwheat, Amaranth and Toasted Oat Porridge
Combine 6 cups water, 1 1/2 cups buckwheat groats and 1/2 cup amaranth in a large saucepan (plus any whole spices). Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and add 1 cup toasted oats. (To toast oats, spread on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes). Simmer, uncovered, for 8 to 10 more minutes, until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steam for another 5 minutes.