It’s a sad reality, but oatmeal is not a photogenic food. Have a look.
I suppose you can’t expect much beauty from a food that is often referred to as “nature’s broom.”
The thing is, it hardly matters. Oatmeal is the superlative breakfast food. It’s unbelievably good for you and it tastes…well, the way I make it, it tastes like an oatmeal cookie with cranberries and pecans thrown in for fun and fiber.
Not a bad way to start the day.
The key for me is to cook it for a very short amount of time–seconds, really. Basically, I just toss the uncooked oatmeal around in the boiling water. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but the flakes here are mostly intact.
I grew up in an “oatmeal household.” Both of my parents ate oatmeal regularly, especially when the weather turned cool, and they encouraged my brother and me to eat it too. There was never any chance of that. To me, oatmeal was the kind of food that was served in orphanages and mental asylums, the kind of food that a person with any say in the matter would refuse to touch. No amount of butter and brown sugar could compensate for that oatmeal’s most salient quality–its unrelenting mushiness. I was never able to stomach it.
Until, that is, I learned that oatmeal need not resemble flavorless paste. Of course, I had to leave home for that to happen.
Inevitably, a recurrent theme in this blog will be stories of how I have come to terms with the food traumas of my youth. What do I mean by “food trauma?” We all suffer from food traumas; some of us have lists of them. These aren’t exactly food aversions, although they can be. Specifically, food traumas are negative memories of those foods that your parents regularly served or prepared so badly that, decades later, you still cringe to think about them.
It seems to me that an especially large percentage of my generation suffers from food traumas because when so many of our mothers entered the workforce in the early 70s, a lot of them bought into the idea of processed convenience foods in big ways. Foods that saved time and energy were good, regardless of how they tasted. Remember Swanson T.V. dinners? The ones in the divided metal containers that you heated up in the oven? The rubbery fried chicken? The plastic mashed potatoes? The greyish lump of green beans? The mysterious fruit cobbler? They took an hour to cook, but the oven did all the work, and that qualified them as good food. Oh, heavens… My generation was on the frontlines of an American culinary revolution, and we have the scars to prove it.
These scars are mostly mental.
I look at the oatmeal situation now and can clearly see what the problem was. Their oatmeal was insanely mushy because my parents bought “instant” oatmeal. They did this because, as a modern couple, they reasonably believed that anything”instant” was better than anything “old-fashioned.” And they weren’t alone. Many of us were traumatized as a result of this kind of thinking.
But sometimes food traumas can be squarely faced. My oatmeal barely resembles the stuff my parents ate. I use “old-fashioned” oats, not the instant stuff that looks more like oat dust than oatmeal. I also cook it on the stove, not the microwave. I add crunchy and chewy things for textural variety and spice for–if you can imagine– flavor.
Here’s a quick recipe for two servings, one adult-sized and one toddler-sized. This oatmeal isn’t pretty, but it does taste good, in a solid, old-fashioned kind of way.
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
1/4 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit
8-9 tablespoons old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
A pinch of salt*
Milk or turbinado sugar to finish
In a serving bowl, combine oats, cranberries, pecans, and cinnamon. In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling gently, drop in the vanilla and pinch of salt (if using) and then immediately add oat mixture. Stir very gently. You’re just trying to wet the oats. Heat oatmeal through for about 30 seconds; you may need to add a splash of water. Remove from heat. Pour cooked oatmeal into waiting bowls. I add milk to my daughter’s oatmeal; my own gets a sprinkle of about a 1/2 teaspoon’s worth of turbinado sugar. Serve immediately.
*The salt is a matter of some debate in my household. My husband maintains that the salt contributes to the flavor of the oatmeal. It certainly does, but the pinch of salt also makes the oatmeal just a tiny bit mushy, which is why I do not add it. Given my history,who would blame me?