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Breakfast of Champions

Cereal Fueled Her Summer of Swimming with a Drill Sergeant in a Pith Helmet

March 11, 2001|PAMM HIGGINS | Pamm Higgins last wrote for the magazine about pancakes

One summer when I was little, I lived and breathed cereal. Every morning I dredged my bowl for sunken Rice Krispies, making a wake of milk with the business end of a Huckleberry Hound spoon that had cost me four box tops plus a week's allowance taped to an order form. Once I was iron-fortified, my mother drove me 10 miles to swimming lessons in Battle Creek, Mich. We passed through a cloud of grain exhaust from the very center of the breakfast-cereal universe.

The smell of corn, wheat and rice roasting in industrial ovens meant that we were approaching an annex to the former Battle Creek Sanitarium, where I was trying to master the butterfly under the watchful eyes of the pith-helmeted Mr. Sparks, the very personification of snap, crackle and pop.

My instructor could have been a holdover from the days when the "San" was a turn-of-the-century "spa" run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. A devout Seventh-Day Adventist and unrepentant masticator, Kellogg perked up thousands of flush patrons seeking cures for prewar malaise. His universal remedy: Sit up straight. Exercise. Partake of enemas. Swallow only grains, fruits and nuts--and do so only after subjecting them to oral flagellation on par with a cow's.

After doing so much to convert so many to a clean and vigorous life, John Harvey and his brother, cereal shill Will Keith Kellogg, would have wilted if they could have seen what befell their mission. By the 1960s, the sanitarium had evolved into an ordinary hospital of physicians who removed tonsils and ingrown toenails. If I looked through its shrub-high picture windows, I saw people with failing posture wearing podiatric shoes. People, I'm sorry to say, with no snap, crackle or pop whatsoever.

Mr. Sparks--known for his hard shell and squishy nougat--strutted up and down the pool's lip, arms folded, as I swam lap after lap to his baritone refrain: "Pull, Pull, Pull." First freestyle, then back, then breast, and finally, the fly. I dolphin-kicked until I had drained the energy from my morning helping of eight essential vitamins and minerals, then floated face-down like a dead man.

Today, aspiring swimmers might survive a grueling Mr. Sparks workout on the oomph from pasty protein drinks and gluey Power Bars. But where's the whole-grain goodness in that?


Serves 6

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup nuts (almonds or pecans)

3/4 cup Kretschmer wheat germ

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup sunflower oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces dried fruit, such as cherries, dates, apricots, apples

1 cup raisins

Spread oats on jelly roll pan. Toast in 350-degree oven 10 minutes, stirring once. Stir in coconut, nuts and wheat germ. Combine honey, oil and vanilla. Drizzle over cereal mixture, blending well. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring twice, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and stir in dried fruit. Cool. Store in airtight containers in a cool place. May be refrigerated or frozen.

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