#9 The Problem With Oatmeal

Ahhhh, Oatmeal.  Warm.  Filling.  Delicious.  There is nothing quite as satisfying to be had on a frosty winter morning.  I heartily enjoy the humble oat, not only for its tastiness, but for the pleasant memories it conjures up.  Eating a bowl of oatmeal always makes me think of sharing quiet Saturday mornings with Mom.

As you well know, there was no time for extended breakfasts on a weekday.  Before school, we were barely out of bed before we found ourselves sprinting down the driveway, pulling on our coats with wild hair whipping in the wind.  Mom served us breakfast as though she were handing off a baton in a relay race.  In our case, the “baton” was a piping hot piece of cinnamon toast, lovingly swaddled in a butter soaked napkin.   Mine usually ended up tightly sandwiched somewhere between the front of my body and the palm of my hand.  While a tad stressful, racing to meet the school bus each morning before it pulled away was certainly an effective way to squeeze in a bit of impromptu cardio.

Out of irritation courtesy, the bus driver would give a few obligatory horn honks as the big yellow beast was about to depart.  Luckily, our peeps on board had our backs, catching a glimpse of us at the start of our quarter mile run, they would scream, “Wait, wait, here they come!”  This was immediately followed by a flurry of loose change flying through the air, tumbling out of pockets, lunch boxes, and book bags.  Wagers would be placed on who would be the first to set foot on the bus.  It was a foolish gamble.  Unless you were feeling under the weather or unexpectedly taken out by a rogue patch of black ice, your six foot plus frame was guaranteed to soundly beat the efforts of your petite younger sisters.

Saturday was our one and only reprieve from this type of early morning torture.  On Sundays, we were once again scurrying around like mice with their tales on fire.  Trying to get five people out the door for church services left little time for breakfast.  There was also that questionable rule about whether it was actually okay or not okay to eat before mass.  Being raised Catholic, traditionally the faithful weren’t supposed to eat anything before receiving Communion.  Thought being, if you’re going to consume “the body” of Christ, it is slightly disrespectful to stuff him in there next to a bunch of leftover bits of strawberry toaster pastry.  The only problem was that the “eating of the blessed wafer” part of mass doesn’t come until the very end.  This led to quite a few starved souls with low blood sugar passing out cold in their pews.  Since numerous bodies falling over during worship was a somewhat disconcerting interruption, the powers that be decided to make an exception to the “everyone must fast before mass” rule.  The logic was that people might faint a bit less frequently if allowed to have a pre-prayer snack.  Despite the modification of this longstanding rule, parishioners were still slow to embrace the change.  On some level, the idea of sending Jesus to swim in a river of milk alongside those jovial guys named Snap, Crackle, and Pop still seemed a bit wrong.

After an hour of tummy rumbling, the Sunday service was always followed by some sort of sweet pastry or Dad’s world famous brunch or possibly both.  What am I saying, unless Dad was feeling under the weather or unexpectedly taken out by a rogue patch of black ice, it was always both.  That left Saturday mornings as our one and only chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before noon.

When I was really small, we would faithfully rise at the crack of dawn to catch our beloved Saturday morning cartoons.  Obviously, this was before animated viewing options were available 24/7.  Our children will never know the pain of having to wait six whole days to catch another glimpse of Hong Kong Phooey.  The menu?  We could always count on Dad to hook us up with a bowl of extra sugary cereal.  Not to worry if we were fresh out of Lucky Charms, two heaping scoops of sugar on an itty bitty bowl of Corn Chex was an acceptable substitute.  Shhhh…don’t tell mom.  Don’t worry Dad, your secret is safe with us…until five minutes after you leave the house.  When we accidentally wake our mother as we are flying around the living room like maniacs who just mainlined a vat of glucose, she will NEVER guess what happened.

After a few years, the draw of Saturday morning Sugar Smacks and binge watching Underdog was less compelling than staying in my warm, snuggly bed.  When I eventually got up, I’m not sure where the rest of the family was at…scratch that, all of you except for one can be accounted for with ease.  You were still sleeping in the Scott cave.  Dad was already at work.  Mom was puttering about the house, still in her pjs.  The one I am uncertain of is our sister. Was she working?  Away at college?   I can tell you that, unlike her slothy siblings, she was NOT sleeping late.  Truth be told, I am not entirely certain if she even likes oatmeal.  How can you live with someone for your entire life and not know whether or not they are fond of oatmeal?  I am obviously a terrible sister.  Note to self…initiate random “hey do you like oatmeal” text to find out and assuage sibling guilt.  (For inquiring minds who want to know, she texted back that she does in fact occasionally enjoy a bowl of oats in the A.M.)

Anyway, I have lovely memories of Mom and I sitting down at the table together to share a warm, satisfying morning meal of oatmeal.  She would stand in front of the stove sporting one of her many fashionable robes, gently stirring the pot of oatmeal.  When it was finally ready, she would serve it up in those cream colored bowls with the weird gold pattern that circled the rim.  Next, she would sprinkle a fair amount of crumbly brown sugar over the still steaming oats (not nearly as generous as dad mind you but someone in the house had to attempt to keep the sugar situation in check).   After the brown sugar, she would douse the whole lot in a deep pool of milk.  As you put a spoonful into your mouth, the mixture of the hot oatmeal and cold milk was absolutely sensational… unless of course the milk to oatmeal ratio was off.  Then you not only burned your face off but continued to sear your entire esophagus all the way down to the inside of your belly button.  Despite the risk, there was an advantage to diving in early before the oatmeal had a chance to properly cool.  It was the only way to find those grainy pockets of brown sugar crystals before they dissolved into the milk and disappeared forever.

Mom and I would eat our oatmeal together at the dining room table in our old house, looking out the window as the snow gently tumbled down from the sky onto our deck.  I say this not to paint a lovely picture, but truthfully, since snow was a guaranteed constant from late October to mid April.  And while I am embracing honesty, it would be more accurate to say that the snow was probably slamming into the window, being driven by a fierce winter wind, blowing and drifting against the patio door.  Exiting the house would most likely require one of us to shovel an escape tunnel after breakfast was over.  Seeing snow gracefully float down from the heavens was a much more rare occurrence in the snow belt south of the Great Lakes.

It should be noted that from time to time Dad also dabbled in the oatmeal scene.  His specialty was cooking for crowds when crowd is defined as a family of five.  He felt quite strongly that there was no need to measure when preparing a pot of oatmeal.  The recipe could easily be eyeballed and adjusted adding a bit more water here or a few more oat flakes there.  This was fine until he had worked his way through five increasingly larger pots ending with a cauldron of oatmeal bubbling away on the stove.  After the five of us had eaten our fill, we still had enough porridge left over to feed a small village.  Alas, oatmeal in this form does not hold well.  Since wasting food in our home was highly frowned upon, dad was relegated to only serving oatmeal from those little pre-measured packets of the instant variety.

While the pleasant tradition of making morning oatmeal on chilly mornings continues at my house, it doesn’t happen quite as often as I might like.  The problem?  The one thing that I completely and totally despise about whipping up a quick batch of oatmeal is what to do with the dreaded oatmeal pot.  There is no avoiding the lumpy, slimy film that coats the entire inside of the pot once you have finished serving it up.  As long as you tend to it immediately (which I almost never do) the slippery sludge wipes up with only a moderate amount of effort.  Unfortunately, it leaves your dish cloth completely ruined, covered with gummy smears of soggy oatmeal glop that is practically impossible to rinse out.  If you let the pot soak, the situation goes from bad to worse.  The oatmeal flakes become bloated and the water looks like a jar of gelatinous grade school paste.  Even worse, should you accidentally avoid forget it and the leftover oatmeal residue dries in the pan, procuring a chisel from the workbench is the only way to save the crust coated pan.

There are a few alternative solutions out there, but I have yet to implement them with any kind of consistent success.  If the pan is dishwasher safe, that might be an option.  That is if you happen to own one of those industrial, restaurant quality dishwashers that is able to miraculously vaporize oatmeal in a thirty second wash cycle.  Unfortunately, I do not own one of those.  In my experience, my lowly home dishwasher just blows half of the oatmeal goo all over everything inside the appliance.  The remaining half is left steadfastly glued to the bottom of the pot.  As an added bonus, the drying cycle cooks the oatmeal overspray onto every single surface it comes into contact with.  Now, not only do you still have to scrub out the gross pan, you end up rewashing most of the dishes as well.

There is a post oatmeal breakfast pot languishing in my sink right now as I type. I have very seriously considering just chucking the whole thing into the trash bin.  Unfortunately, it is one of my preferred pots.  I’ll eventually will myself to scrub the cold jiggly goo off of the interior of the pot so that it may live to see another day of soups and sauces.  To avoid using a pot altogether, I have also tried microwaving our morning oats. This works fairly well except it is not really a time saver since you have to nuke each bowl individually.  Also, you must watch it very carefully.  If you look away for even a split second, things can quickly get out of hand.  The oatmeal mixture can suddenly bubble up out of the bowl without warning.  When you frantically open the door in an effort to stop the impending disaster inside, a molten flow of oatmeal rolls out of the microwave.  It continues to ooze down the front of the cupboards and creeps across the floor threatening to completely envelop both of your slippered feet.  Cleaning a slimy pot suddenly doesn’t sound quite so daunting.

Preparing a pot of oatmeal is one of those things that makes you truly appreciate everything your parents did for you as a child.  After all, when you’re the grown-up, you rarely get to sleepily sit at the table, watching snowflakes fall, while someone else makes you breakfast.  Second, the dishwashing fairy never ever comes to clean up after meals.  (I mean I have given that stinking sprite every chance in the world to make her presence known, but still no dice.  I continue to believe but I must admit that my faith is beginning to wane just a tiny bit.)  So, as I stand unhappily hunched over the sink, saddled with the rotten task of scouring out the slimy remnants of breakfast, I realize the monumental weight of this unsung domestic chore.  My mother loved me so much that she was willing to repeatedly remove disgusting leftover oat residue from a pan, just so that I could have a warm, satisfying breakfast.  Now that’s true love.

While I adore my children, I must admit that I make oatmeal far less often than my mother did!  I really do love them but not enough to deal with cleaning up oatmeal scum more than once a month.  That is until I discovered this recipe for a fabulous, newfangled method of preparation…baked oatmeal!  While it obviously still creates a few dishes, for me, it pales in comparison to dealing with my nemesis, the oatmeal pot.  It is extremely easy to put together and it can be made in advance and reheated whenever you have a hankering for oatmeal.  So, even on days when you are running late, you can easily pop a piece into the microwave.  It will be ready before you even finish brushing your chompers.  I guarantee that with this recipe, you will never having to worry about your kitchen being unexpectedly overtaken by the blob when you open the microwave.  You can just grab a neat square of it with a napkin on the way out to your car.  It holds together fairly well, a bit like a soft granola bar.  Be careful of hot crumbs of course, but it is much more portable than a traditional bowl of oatmeal, which I would obviously never recommend trying to consume behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  In my opinion, the only way to improve this recipe would be to have Mom come to your house and make it for you!

Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients

2 cups oats

1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)

1/3 cup dried fruit (raisins, apricots, craisins)

1 Tbsp chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 cups milk (cow or soy)

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 Tbsp butter

1 egg, beaten

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8 inch square pan.
  3. Melt the butter in the microwave, set aside to cool.
  4. Mix oats, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix milk, applesauce, melted butter, and egg.
  6. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
  7. Pour into prepared pan.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.
  9. Slice into squares and serve warm.

I like the recipe because the ingredients are versatile so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand.  Clean up is also much easier than traditional oatmeal.  You can even eat the leftovers cold.  The soft consistency and browned edges kind of remind me of eating leftover stuffing…minus the poultry seasoning of course.  While some people might find that idea to be gross, since I know both you and mom used to meet up at the fridge to nosh on cold Thanksgiving leftovers, this should be right up your alley.  (P.S. I actually purchased and tried the soy milk in this recipe and it works just as well as the milk that goes moo.)  Bon appetit Bro!

 

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#8 Baby Boys & Bunny Milk

Okay, so I know that we typically do not discuss that you happen to be a grandfather.  It leads people to question if you’re truly as young as you claim.  (No comment, I am neither able to confirm nor deny the actual age of this man.  All family records have been accidentally destroyed on purpose.)  Anyway, since you totally adore bragging about your lovely little grandmunchkins, you of course acknowledge their existence.  Having the luxury of casually adding that the beautiful baby boys are actually your stepdaughter’s children helps.  Despite treating your own age like a carefully guarded state secret, you have no problem throwing your partner right under the bus.  Being involved with a muuuuuuch, much older man, it would be impossible for his children to be yours biologically.  After all, you were a mere lad of let’s say “seven” when they were born.  Since I feel it is not in my best interest to dispute this fact statement, I am going to just go with that story.  Seven? Seventeen?  What’s a decade or two amongst family?

After all, you’re only as old as you feel.  I myself feel much younger than I actually am.  In fact, the other day the Man Of The House (who as a sign of respect will be referred to as Mr. MOTH from here on out) and I were discussing the age of a certain haggard-looking actor.  I was in the process of making snarky comments about how old the dude looked, when the mighty oracle Goolge revealed the cold hard truth.  Not only could this aged thespian and I have gone to high school together, we would have been in the exact same grade.  That one stung a bit.

Speaking of youth, it is no secret that growing up, you were the most entertaining guy in the neighborhood. Extra impressive since where we hail from, a “block” included a few square miles.  Also, disregard the fact that half of your comedic competition happened to be livestock.  Even when you relocated to more densely populated parts,  your reputation for fun remained unmatched.  If you were a super hero, pied piper powers would have been yours.  Once you fire up the magic, children are drawn out of their houses and into the street just to catch a glimpse of you.  Mesmerized like cute little flying insects headed straight into the irresistible pull of the beautiful glowing bug zapper.  You’re like a walking talking Disney experience.  After all, no one earns the nickname “Happy Fun Scott” without consistently delivering quality material.

Living in the same house with you was like growing up with a combination of Peter Pan and Martha Stewart with a few splashes of the Captain thrown in for good measure.  (That’s usually Hook with the frilly shirt not Morgan with the boozy breath, although the latter did make occasional guest appearances.) The only stunt that you weren’t able to  pull off was actually flying.  However, with a few homemade ropes and pullies, you could come pretty close.  This nonstop fountain of fun seemed to flow from you effortlessly.  That being said, you don’t really need any tips or tricks to add to your already amazing repertoire.  However, should you ever find yourself having an off day when your seemingly endless happy fun reserves are depleted, here’s an easy path to awesomeness. It’s a guaranteed, kid tested home run.  Your nephew was an extremely willing guinea pig during the research and development phase of this post.  He wholeheartedly approves this activity and highly recommends that you share it with your little buddies the next time they pop over to Grampa’s house for a visit.

First, a bit of background…Mr. MOTH grew up drinking a mystery substance which he and his family referred too as “Bunny Milk.”  As a nursing mother, I’ll spare you the disturbing image that this conjures up in my breastfeeding brain.  I am obviously warped from sleep deprivation and providing  round the clock nourishment to my own baby bunny.  Anyway, “Bunny Milk”  refers to the rabbit that appears on those bright yellow packages of powder meant for flavoring milk, the strawberry variety in particular.  It is logical to wonder what they called the chocolate flavor in his house given the similarity of the packaging.  Derr…chocolate milk, of course.  I’m not certain why only the pink kind earned the “Bunny Milk” moniker as both packages are plastered with the exact same image of a giant rabbit, but that is a discussion for another time.

As you know, in our house, we make a considerable effort to “eat clean” as much as possible.  (Disclaimer: I never use that annoying phrasing in my real life.  It sounds like insinuating that other people out there are eating unwashed produce and old, moldy bread…or possibly enjoying snacks that were accidentally dropped on the kitchen floor after a glancing blow off the dog’s bum.) Anyway, we try not to regularly ingest artificial stuff that was developed in laboratories.  That doesn’t mean we NEVER indulge in fake food products.  An occasional box of Girl Scout cookies or Little Debbie snack cakes has been known to saunter across our threshold, but we do try to limit the number of invitations we send out.  Therefore, you can imagine my horror when Mr. MOTH brought home an entire carton of pre-packaged strawberry milk that just happened to catch his eye in the dairy aisle.  Since this particular shopping trip was a joint venture between father and son, the seed to sugartown had already taken root.  My son couldn’t wait to get his little lips wrapped around a big ole glass of the pink devil.  I mean really…I might as well have let the kid drink a bottle of corn syrup with a splash of milk added, followed by a chaser of red dye #7.  And by chaser, I do mean an entire pint glass of fire engine red food coloring.  Saying the beverage was brightly colored was an understatement of gross proportions, it was fluorescent freaking fuchsia.

Mr. MOTH and son happily sucked down this neon nectar of the Gods and even bellied up to the bunny bar for seconds.  After their initial bunny milk binge, it took a good week and a half to make it to the bottom of the carton.  This was largely due to the fact that consumption of the heavily processed pink poison was strictly rationed by mean old mama bear.  Once the daily limit of two shot glasses of bunny milk had been reached, there was no more to be had that day.  Needless to say, it was the last thing the little guy asked for before bed and the first thing requested upon waking.  He was 100% hooked.  A bunny milk monster had been made.

What’s a loving mother to do when her toddler has developed an insatiable hankering for an artificially flavored, highlighter pink drink?  Of course, with a bit of help from the old Interwebs, I set out to recreate a healthier homemade version of bunny milk minus the mystery ingredients and the magenta hue.  I say “healthier” but in reality, bunny milk maison contains a boatload mid-sized barge full of sugar so it’s obviously a treat and not an every day beverage.  Wait, what am I even saying?  As the grandparent in this scenario, you need not concern yourself with healthy nutrition and the rationing of sugar.  You are the Grampa after all…sugar is what you do.  To help you along in your efforts, here is my adaptation of this recipe for homemade strawberry bunny milk!  It is pretty easy to whip up, can be prepared in advance and get this… I was actually able to create three different tasty items out of this one quick recipe.  It is the strawberry syrup trifecta! With this bit of yumminess added to your already awesome arsenal of all things fun, you are guaranteed to instantly achieve greatest-grampa-ever status.

Strawberry Bunny Milk

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh strawberries, quartered

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

Place berries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil.  Continue to boil for ten minutes, stirring a few times.

Using a sieve, strain the liquid from the berries.  (Save berries for another use.)

Allow the syrup to cool.

Fill a glass with 3/4 cup of ice cold milk.

Stir in 4 Tablespoons of Strawberry Syrup. (Adjust more or less to taste.)

Ta-da!  May I present Grampa’s House Bunny Milk!  If that doesn’t make you the  happiest, most fun Grampa, I don’t know what will.  Just in case it’s a bust, here are a few extra credit ideas to help things along if the bunny milk doesn’t blow them away.

  1. The strawberries that you set aside earlier can be mixed into yogurt, smeared on hot, freshly buttered toast, or served up on top of a pile of crispy waffles.  (I would have said pancakes but I am well aware of how you feel about pancakes.  Ditto in the french toast department.  I have ceased trying to understand how waffles get a pass here.)  By the way, your favorite nephew and I did not bother with any of this fanciness.  We just plopped down with a spoon and took turns slurping up sugary mouthfuls of smooshed strawberries.  It pleasantly passed the time as we waited for the molten syrup to reach a drinkable temperature.
  2. After making two glasses of bunny milk, we still had some syrup left.  Obviously, we could have just made more bunny milk, but instead, we popped the leftovers into the fridge until after dinner.  For dessert, I crushed up some snowy ice in my super powerful blender.  I put a scoop of ice into a small bowl, doused it with a generous amount of fruity syrup, and voila…mini strawberry sno-cones for all!
  3. Finally, I will share with you my ultimate trade secret.  If you truly wish to be the coolest grandad on the block, you must invest in a milk frother (sometimes called a foamer). It is a relatively inexpensive stainless steel contraption that allows you to turn ordinary milk into that glorious pillowy foam that you find floating on drinks at coffee houses.  The device is extremely easy to use, easy to clean, and as a bonus the little guys can wear themselves out by helping to create the fantabulous foamy froth.  It is essentially a small metal pitcher with a special lid that has a built in handle attached to a round screen inside.  You vigorously plunge the handle up and down pushing and pulling the screen through the liquid about 100 times until you get a glorious mug of milky foam.  Owning this gadget has forever changed my life and my waistline.  Not only are you able to serve basic bunny milk, you can create beautiful glasses of fluffy bunny milk.  Tell me that is not a one way ride to Best-Grampa-Ever-Ville.
  4. One last thing, I did not forget that you are in fact lactose intolerant.  Therefore, for your own comfort (and the comfort of everyone around you) please feel free to rely on the milk substitute of your choice.  I have not attempted to froth any non-milk milks, so when and if you do, please let me know if they are indeed frothable.  (The Internet says they are, so it must be true.)
  5. Last, last thing.  The original author of the recipe used frozen berries in place of fresh ones with equal success. I have not yet tried it but I have some frozen blackberries hanging out in my freezer which I might try.  Review of Bunny Milk straight from the Blackberry Patch coming soon.  Supposedly, you can also use peaches, mangos, or any other fruit of your choice.  I imagine that the sugar content may have to be adjusted depending on the variety you select.

There you have it grandpappy!  Bunny milk is a solid winner, but the frothing part steals the show for sure.  Throw in the added bonus of apres-dinner sno-cones and the grandkids may never want to leave.  With all that sugar coursing through their veins, I can guarantee that their mom will be more than happy to let them stay at least until they come down off the sugar buzz.  Your step-daughter may not agree with your aggressive, over the top, sugar pushing ways, but she won’t be able to deny that there is one perk.  When the cuties finally crash into their little car seats, after the best day ever chez Grampa, they will immediately fall into a sugar induced stupor.  The upside to sugar overload?  A totally silent car interior before they even make it out of your driveway.  Now that’s a win-win!