Canada is famous for its winters and chilly mornings turn my thoughts to the winter warmth of a wood fire, steaming kettles and a good breakfast.
Traditionally that means a cooked breakfast, but "warming foods" in Oriental medicine are those that build warmth within the body. If you have ever eaten curried soup with hot peppers for instance, the sweat appearing on your brow is testament to this. In fact, any hot soup heats the blood.
For a slower, more enduring warmth, such foods as ginger root, butter, eggs, whole oats, quinoa, whole brown rice, spelt, parsnip, squash, cabbage, onions, kale, garlic, dates and cherries are better choices than hot spices or peppers. These foods gently move blood and energy to the surface of the body, as do hot cooked foods, warming the extremities and limbering muscles.
Whole food breakfasts are nutritionally superior to processed foods and affect blood sugar levels differently. Refined sugar, added to most processed foods including breads and cereals, passes quickly into the blood stream giving a sharp energy boost. Unfortunately it’s not long lasting and over time excessive sugar contributes to acidosis, high blood pressure, mineral depletion, diabetes and heart disease.
Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, root vegetables and bananas) release sugars gradually into the blood, giving a smooth energy rise that endures through the day. These are complete foods, nutritionally balanced by nature and thus do not strain the body’s capacities for digestion, assimilation and elimination.
In my experience as a nutritional counselor, I quickly realized that everyone’s needs and responses concerning breakfast are different. There are big eaters, small eaters, people with cast-iron digestion and those with sensitive stomachs. That big bowl of porridge with cream and maple syrup may be rocket fuel for one and a heavy undigested lump for another. In addition, ill-chosen food combinations drain our energy as the body struggles to sort things out, defeating the purpose of a good breakfast.
With these things in mind, here are some winter breakfasts I have often made and recommended over the years. Keep some cooked rice and millet on hand in the refrigerator when you need to make something in a hurry. Cook them when you have time, always using the whole grain.
Pancake and Pudding
Apple-jack pancake can be a quick breakfast for your child on hurried school mornings.
In a bowl grate one medium apple, add half a cup (125 g) of cooked millet and half a cup (60 g) of whole wheat flour (or spelt or oat flour). Mix well. Add one lightly beaten egg, two tablespoons (30 ml) of olive oil and about half a cup (125 ml) of water to make a batter the consistency of thick porridge. Pour the batter in a hot, oiled 10 to 12 inch (250 mm to 300 mm) pan. Cook on both sides. (To turn the apple jack put a plate over the almost cooked pancake, turn it upside down and slide it back into the pan.) Serve with a light topping of maple syrup.
Another fast breakfast is rice pudding. Take one or two cups (250 to 500 g) of cooked short grain brown rice from your fridge and put in a pot. Add some organic raisins, a dash of cinnamon, a few chopped walnuts or pecans and a cup or more of whole milk. Simmer on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. For a thicker pudding, mash the rice a little before cooking, or let it sit covered for a few minutes before serving. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey if desired.
Oatmeal or Omelet
For bigger eaters traditional oatmeal is a filling breakfast.
Grind one or two cups (250 to 500 g) of whole oats in an oat flaker or coffee grinder. (Grinders are great tools to have on hand for oats, buckwheat, millet, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, lentils and all grain flakes.) Add enough water to cover the oatmeal and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few raisins or nuts if you like and top with a little whole milk or cream. Whole oats preserve their essential oils and vitamins in contrast to pre-cooked oatmeals.
Another hearty breakfast is an omelet, with the addition of extra proteins from beans, seeds or nuts. In a pan saut?n onion either in olive oil or water. Add some precooked black or pinto beans and chopped almonds. In a bowl beat two free-range eggs with one quarter cup (60 ml) of water and pour over the beans and onions. Sprinkle crushed basil on top and some grated goat cheese. Cover and simmer on low heat until done. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds can also be included for a mineral boost.
Try Light Soup
For lighter eaters, 15 minutes will produce a lovely vegetable soup in the Japanese tradition. It’s both warming and filling. I use a wok to lightly saut?n onion then add chopped greens such as kale, cabbage or leeks. Add a few sprigs of wakame seaweed or dulse and enough water to make a soup. Simmer 10 minutes. Add one half teaspoon (two ml) of miso just before serving.
For a thicker soup cook some parsnip or squash with an onion and chopped garlic in a pot with water to cover. Then blend the soft vegetables to a mush. Use this as a base to simmer other vegetables such as carrots, snap beans, or leeks adding some cooked grains (rice, millet, barley) to the mix. Finish with one half to one teaspoon (two to four ml) of miso and your favourite herbs. Let sit for 15 minutes and serve.
Soups can be made the evening before and quickly heated for breakfast. If time is pressing, stir one and a half teaspoons (seven ml) of spirulina and one half teaspoon (two ml) of miso into two cups of hot water. Add a handful of cooked rice or millet, a sprig of dulse or wakame and mix well. Voila! Instant and nutritious soup. Serve with a slice of whole grain toast.
Experiment with breakfasts until you find the ones that your family enjoy and that boost your energy, feel light in the stomach and digest easily.