A timer goes off in the living room. I leave the kitchen, and the endless whir of a food processor, putting on a turquoise oven mitt as I move. It’s been another nine minutes of baking time for my homemade cereal, and as I pull out the tin foiled tray, another golden sheet of baked dough greets me. My apartment is now a factory, and the beta version is running smoothly. The recipe is set, the process is in full swing, and I want you in on the not-so-secret methods of DIY cereal-making.
Now, you know me, Mike St. John. You know my thesis project, A Simple Cereal (…a little fuzzy? here and here and here should help). I will refrain from delving back into the conceptual and theoretical aspects of the work. I want to focus on the artisanal method, the culinary nuts and bolts. How do you make A Simple Cereal?
Easy. Start with four ingredients: wheat flour, cornmeal, honey, and butter.
The wheat flour-to-cornmeal ratio is three-to-one. One and one-half cups of wheat flour with a half-cup of cornmeal yields plenty of cereal dough–enough for a couple of mornings, I would say. This grain mixture is given three and one-half tablespoons of honey and a tablespoon of melted butter too. All of this finds its way into a food processor.
Now, I am going to let you in on a little secret: I am not a baker. My girlfriend is the enlightened one in the culinary arts, and I have been in close collaboration with her on this straightforward recipe. In fact, we have gone back and forth on certain elements about the cereal.
What about salt? she asked. We need to use salt.
No salt, I said. Where are there local salt mines that I can grab a pinch?
Vegetable oil? What about just a little sugar?
Nope and don’t think so.
It has been a puritanical struggle to achieve a balance of local ingredients that can make A Simple Cereal. Could it taste better with some salt or sugar? Oh, you bet, and maybe I will add them, down the line. For now, the challenge of the art project collides with American kitchen habits, a constraint that yields a new, stripped-down formula for cereal. It is not the most efficient in time. It does not have a long shelf life. However, you can pronounce every ingredient and count them all on one hand, and that was the point–simplicity. Michael Pollan would be proud.
In terms of recipe, the steps left to the finished product are as simple as they come. After processing, the dough can be molded into fist-shaped balls to be rolled out flat (an eighth of an inch is perfect). Those sheets can be put on cookie trays and baked at 375 for…you guessed it…nine minutes in a convection oven. Voila, you have made cereal.
The only thing left is to break up the sheets into flake-sized bites for your morning, which is what I did after the first shift in my apartment factory. The difference between my industry and yours is that I will be making enough cereal for at least 500 people for the upcoming thesis exhibition (just to be on the safe side). Sure, there is a diverse array of topics to discuss in connection to this project–agriculture, sustainability, economics, health, labor, etc. The thing itself though, the cereal, is a very simple thing indeed. Everyone can make it. I want you to make it, and make it better.
Simplicity and empowerment. What a combination to find in art. I can only hope it shows through for my work.
(Speaking of good work, you should check out my girlfriend’s blog, The Flex Foodie, for her very own awesome recipes.)
A timer goes off in the living room. I leave the kitchen, and the endless whir of a food processor, putting on a turquoise oven mitt as I move. It’s …