#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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