Fig and Honey Bircher Muesli

bircher muesli #voraciousvander

I used to be one of those people who grabbed a coffee on the way to class or work and called it breakfast. Somewhere around the time that I began my first full-time job and started to run for exercise, I decided to try behaving like an adult and make breakfast a priority. I haven’t looked back since.

Breakfast during the week is what I dream about on my morning run, it’s my fuel and nourishment. On the weekends it’s a recreational activity – going out and getting the freshest bread we can find, trying a new restaurant, meeting up with friends, making something warm and slightly elaborate and enjoying it over too much coffee and the weekend papers.

Any way it’s had, breakfast is a happy part of my day.

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Coconut Granola

When I go for a run in the morning, music is a necessity. I try to pick songs that make me want to dance, which is my way of tricking myself into thinking that this repetitive straight forward motion is akin to dancing and it feels great!

I take playlists seriously. Like really seriously. I intentionally put a totally rad jam on at key time markers – like around 20 minutes in, when I know I’ll be deciding whether to make it a long or short run, I’ll bust out Bootylicious. (I’m going through a 90’s nostalgic phase right now.)

But a lot of the time, good music isn’t enough to keep me occupied for 50-60 minutes. (Ok, 45 minutes.) I need things to think about, figure out and bounce around in my brain.

Some days are inevitably more interesting than others. I’ll plan what I’m going to wear out to dinner that night, try to come up with an idea for a blog post, or suddenly realize that Aretha Franklin is totally my spirit animal…or maybe it’s Hugh Grant when he’s dancing in Love Actually. Can a movie scene of an Englishman dancing be a spirit animal? I mean, why not?

Bam. I just ran 4 miles.

Most of the time I just think about food. What I’m going to cook for dinner today or tomorrow, and what I want for breakfast.

There are few things better than having a good workout behind you and digging into a big bowl of fruit and yogurt with a sprinkling of crunchy, slightly sweet homemade granola. That’s treating yourself right.

I’ve been dreaming about an extra coconutty, honey-sweetened granola for a while now and the other day during a run, I decided that was the day to do it.

I didn’t put any dried fruit in this granola because we’re coming into mango season in Sydney, and that’s pretty much all I want with my oats these days.

But if you’d like to add some dried fruit to yours, mix it in after your granola is baked and cooling. I used both coconut flakes and shredded coconut for extra coconuttiness and flavor…which might be a little obsessive. Feel free to omit one or the other, based on what you have at home.

Make some granola this weekend, you deserve it!


adapted from Two Peas in Their Pod

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup honey (warmed so that it’s more liquid-like)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 300 F/150 C. Line parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut, pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together coconut oil, honey and vanilla. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are well-coated.

Pour the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread granola into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until granola is golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes. Let granola cool completely. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 month.

Makes about 4 cups of granola.

12 Things I Learned in This Past Year of Life and a Birthday Cookie Cake

SO! I had a birthday last week.

This sort of thing doesn’t usually get me all introspective, but the past couple of years were pretty big for me… so I feel like I should have something to say for myself.

I lived my dream of quitting my job and traveling Europe with my favorite guy. And at the end of all that, we settled in sunny Australia – very very far from my home, my city and my people.

And while I am not even close to having much of anything figured out…I think I’ve learned a few important (and some unimportant) things this year.

1. I can live in Australia without melting into a puddle of homesickness and tears.

2. Feeling homesick can be really frustrating and tough. Be nice to yourself.

3. A mustache tattoo on one’s index finger is a good omen.

4. I need a dog.

5. Sometimes gelato is an acceptable Saturday lunch.

6. Buy the fancy butter and salt. You won’t regret it.

7. Don’t throw house parties with white carpets and people you don’t know.

8. Magpies are evil winged creatures that are out to get you.

9. I can successfully make a souffle, pulled pork and pavlova.

10. Travel is amazing, but nesting can feel just as rewarding.

11. Regularly counting the small things you’re thankful for can make a big difference.

12. It’s totally OK to make your own birthday cake.

For my birthday this year, I decided to make myself a blondie/cookie cake studded with some of my favorite things: dark chocolate, coconut, banana and pecans bound together with brown sugar and butter. Not a traditional birthday cake, but I couldn’t think of anything more perfect.

Unfortunately final product photos didn’t happen due to late-night overzealous cake consumption. Forgive me, it was my b-day, and I was being selfish.

I was inspired by Joy the Baker’s Banana, Walnut & Chocolate Cookie Cake – she’s got the good looking cookie-cake pics going on too, if that’s something you’re into. Which you probably are. I hope.

Banana, Pecan, Coconut & Chocolate Cookie Cake
(makes 1 8-inch cake)
adapted from Joy the Baker

– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
– 1 cup brown sugar, packed
– 1 large egg
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 1 ripe banana (mashed)
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup spelt flour
– 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
– 1/2 cup large coconut flakes
– 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
– a pinch of sea salt flakes

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat oven to 350 F/175 C.

Melt butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Stir in sugar  and vanilla extract and remove from heat.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Allow mixture to stand and cool for about 5 minutes.  The mixture should not be super hot when the eggs goes in, or the egg will cook.

Add the egg and whisk together until smooth.  The mixture will be glossy and no longer greasy.  Add banana and cinnamon and stir to combine.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir carefully until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Add the chocolate, coconut and pecans and fold together.

Spread mixture across the pan creating a somewhat smooth top. Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt. Place in the oven.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until mixture is dry on top, but still slightly soft in the center. Under-cooking this cake is where it’s at! Think over-sized gooey cookie.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Top with ice cream and serve warm.

Here’s to another excellent year of life!

Chewy Coconut Muesli Bars with Figs and Almonds

There is a window of time about 15-20 minutes long between when my blood sugar dips and hunger takes over. If something is not consumed within this time (anything – a single large Brazil nut – something) I become downright unpleasant. It’s like I’m possessed by some crotchety old spirit. Except it’s just me being…extremely disagreeable.

Have you seen those Snicker’s commercials? All of the sudden I’m an extremely sassy version of Aretha Franklin that you DO NOT want to be in the car with. (For the record, I would LOVE to be Aretha Franklin all day every day. But I don’t want to detract from the example.)

That’s real life.

I’ve learned to harness this monster (a Joe Pesci-like monster) by carrying snacks with me at all times. Most of the time it’s a piece of fruit and some homemade trail mix I keep in my purse. But sometimes I get a little fancy.

This is my go-to muesli bar recipe. Great for long car rides, picnics, brown-bagged lunches and safely escaping the hunger window. I love their soft and chewy bite, toasted coconut flavor and the fact that they’re easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

There’s no baking involved, they can easily be made vegan, they’re cheap and you know exactly what’s in them. They also happen to be a favorite of Mr. F’s, so I like to think that they make up for all the times I’ve turned into ArethLeah.

When I first started making these I used butter to keep them together, but I think I prefer the coconut oil version – adding an extra layer of coconut flavor. (I’ve started putting coconut butter on these babies too – I’m a woman obsessed.) The day I made them the texture was slightly crumbly but after another day or two in the fridge they were perfect – becoming slightly dense, chewy, oat-fruit-and-nut-packed squares of coconutty goodness.

Chewy Muesli Bars
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1 cup shredded dessicated coconut
– 1/3 cup wheat germ
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/2 cup coconut oil (or melted butter)
– 1/3 cup honey or maple
– pinch of sea salt

Optional add-ins (feel free to swap any of these out for what you have on-hand)
– 1/3 cup dried fruit (I used: figs and golden raisins
– 1/4 cup chopped nuts ((I used: almonds)
– 1/4 cup seeds (I used: sunflower seeds)

Add-in suggestions:
– dried cranberries, cherries, currents, blueberries, chopped dried apricots
– chocolate chips or chunks
– walnuts, macadamias, peanuts, cashews, pecans
– pepitas, sesame seeds

Line a 9 x 9 inch (23 cm) baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large pan mix oats, coconut, wheat germ and cinnamon and toast over a medium-low heat until coconut is fragrant and has turned slightly golden.

Remove from heat and place in a large bowl – allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Mix in sea salt and desired nuts, fruits and seeds.

In a small sauce pan, warm or melt coconut oil (depending on what form it’s in) and honey over a medium heat. Allow oil and honey to simmer for about 5 minutes and remove from heat.

Pour oil mixture over the oats mixture. Mix well until all ingredients are evenly coated in the coconut oil and honey. Pour into the prepared pan and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the mixture.

Allow to sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but ideally over night. Cut into squares and store in the fridge for about a week.

Tropical Quinoa Breakfast Bowl

Guess what? I live in Australia.

If you know me in real life or have taken the time to read my About Me page, you’re probably all, “well duh.”

But I have to remind myself of this fact all. the. time. Walking down my street is the best time for this.

For months it has smelled like vacation on my street. Ok, that sounds weird. But someone is always barbequing, I swear. And the scent of foreign plants and flowers reminds me of my first visit to this country. So sometimes when I’m walking home I like to take a deep breath and say gently to myself (in my head), “hey girl, you live here. That’s kind of cool.”

But despite people saying ‘mate’ all the time and other obvious and personal reminders, I still can’t seem to fully internalize my location.

I know I’m to blame.  My, ahem, voracious consumption of food blogs is a major factor. Many of my favorites are based in the US, or else in the Northern Hemisphere. I inevitably end up reading about a slow-braised meat dish here, and a roasted root vegetable there, and before I know it I am aching to turn on the oven for hours on a hot summer afternoon. Like a crazy person.

I must tell myself to wait…be patient…put these recipes on the list – or PIN them (btw, thank you Pinterest for making me a less frenzied recipe collector.)

One warming, cold-weather food I refuse to put on hold is hot cereal. I love the blank canvas that oatmeal or a multi-grain cereal gives me.  Sweet, savory, seed-studded, cream-laced, peanut butter-topped, or with a big pile of fruit – I find it hard to tire of.

One of the many great things about Australia is the fresh fruits and vegetables. We have access to tropical-type produce that normally has to travel a long way to reach me in New York. But now, things like bananas grow only a state away. And passion fruit? If ever there were a nectar of the gods! For serious.

To keep me in check but satiate my need for a warm breakfast, I made a tropical version of my normal oats. I used light coconut milk, swapped oats for the more exotic-sounding quinoa, and topped it with kiwi, banana, toasted coconut and almonds.

The real key to making this “tropical” is the coconut milk with a little vanilla – it’s just dreamy. The rest of the components can be negotiated based on where ever you happen to be in the world.

I like to combine a mixed-grain cereal (I like Bob’s Red Mill 6-Grain Hot Cereal with flaxseed) with something more structured like traditional rolled oats or quinoa to add extra creaminess but still maintain a good texture. But you could make this using just one type of cereal or grain.

Tropical Breakfast Quinoa
Serves 2

– 1/2 cup quinoa
– 1/4 cup mixed grain cereal
– 1/2 cup coconut milk
– 1 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
– pinch of salt

Put quinoa, cereal, coconut milk, water and pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Stir in vanilla, honey, cinnamon and cover. Bring down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add a little more coconut milk towards the end, if desired. Serve with the toppings of your choice. (Toasted coconut is highly recommended.)

To toast coconut: sprinkle a layer of coconut in a dry pan over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden and fragrant.

Garnish options:
– toasted coconut
– toasted almonds
– toasted cashews
– banana
– kiwi
– pineapple
– mango
– passion fruit  pulp
– papaya

BOOM! Tropical up in here.