By Maria Speck, "Wake Up to Whole Grains,"January/February 2010
I was raised by a German father and a Greek mother. This makes for a split breakfast personality. While my dad would celebrate the start of the day with a nourishing feast of cold cuts and cheese on dark crusty bread, I don’t recall my mom ever having breakfast—except maybe a corner of feta cheese with her coffee. To this day many Greeks rush to work with nothing in their stomachs but a strong kafedaki, a tiny cup of intensely dense black coffee. So it is perhaps no surprise that I followed in Mom’s footsteps, surviving on caffeine fixes for much of my early adult life. To the dismay of any nutritional expert, I would routinely down loads of coffee for breakfast, next to a plate of hot air, while working long, grinding days as an ambitious young journalist.
It was my husband who changed my stubborn ways. I met him when I moved to the U.S. and we connected through food immediately. Over time, he quietly succeeded in transforming my morning routine. It certainly helped that I had noticed that my hollow “caffeine diet” seemed to affect my blood sugar, leaving me drained at my desk by lunch.
Slowly, I started to remember how much I enjoyed the whole-grain breakfasts of my upbringing. Germans pride themselves on their centuries-old whole-grain traditions, especially in bread baking. And starting your day with whole grains makes sense. Whole grains have staying power. Unlike in refined grains and flours, the germ and bran of the grain kernels are not removed in milling—retaining valuable vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, plus protein and fiber. Studies have shown that a diet rich in whole grains reduces the risk of chronic diseases, such as stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What follows is a spread of whole-grain breakfasts, infused with the flavors of my mom’s native Greece. Some are for leisurely slow-paced Sundays with your family and friends. Others will nourish you on those hectic Monday mornings when you need a kick-start for the day. You can fly out the door with an almond-honey power bar in hand or a fig-studded muffin with a sweet surprise filling. Both can be prepared ahead. Or whip up a bowl of creamy, warming, orange-infused polenta to feed you fast on chilly days. For Sundays, when you are less pressed for time, treat yourself to a richly aromatic walnut cake, inspired by traditional Greek cake recipes, which feature lots of walnuts along with cloves, orange juice and olive oil. Or line up for crisp homemade waffles made with whole-wheat flour and topped with hot cherry sauce. Who doesn’t love waffles, after all? So be sure to enjoy these breakfasts or, as I say, “kali orexi and guten Appetit.”
Maria Speck is working on a whole-grain cookbook for Ten Speed Press.