Despite the fact that I was fussing about oatmeal the other day, the truth is that I truly don't hate oatmeal. That is to say, I don't hate oatmeal when it's made just right. The stuff I was making the other day was Not it. The oatmeal that I was raised on was Seriously Not, and I loathed it.
My mother's father came to the US from Scotland. My father's mother and father were also immigrants--from Northern Ireland and Ireland, respectively. You'd think that with that much Celtic influence, my mother could make a decent bowl of oatmeal. She could Not. Her oatmeal was like lumpy wet cement--in looks and in taste. I dreaded oatmeal mornings when I was a kid. But I was expected to clean my plate, so I had to choke that nasty stuff down, like it or not. In memory, I can see it all clearly--including the ugly melamine bowls decorated with concentric circles in colors of blood red, mud brown, and rotted avocado which did nothing to inspire digestion, although they were a good indicator of how quickly (or how horribly slowly) the bowl of grey sludge slopped with lukewarm milk was emptying.
When I went off to college, I was thrilled to discover that the cafeteria did not serve oatmeal, just grits. That was fine by me! No. More. Oatmeal.
Now, let it be said that Mother was a good, even clever, cook but she never did do well what she did not wish to do well and cooking annoyed her; the proof of that was, most assuredly, in her oats. Turns out that her preferred breakfast was Toast Soldiers (made with homemade bread, of course), and I happily made those for her very often.
It was only years later while I was in graduate school, living in a tiny rented mobile home in an equally small trailer park, on a crisp autumn morning, that I inexplicably wished for a bowl of oats. I could just imagine them--creamy and warm in the bowl with a pat of butter in the middle, and absolutely nothing like my mother's foul concoction. The notion took hold and wouldn't let go, so I went shopping and then I got cooking. I made the oats of my imagination, and they were just as lovely as I had imagined them.
There are times, I admit, like the other day, when I get impatient and end up with Mother-style sludgy oats. And then I figure that I'm getting what I deserve by being careless. Simple creamy oats just want a bit of patience.
I buy store-brand oats. The price is considerably lower (always a consideration) but, alas, so is the quality--they always seem unnecessarily laden with excess oat hulls. But even store-brand can be made into a good bowl of oats.
It seems a little silly to share such a simple recipe but I shall.
In a small saucepan, add 1/3 cup of old-fashioned oats with 1 1/3 cups cold water, a dash of salt, and a teaspoon of butter. Turn the burner heat to a setting just above the very lowest. Stir. Wait patiently. Check and stir every five minutes or so. After about twenty minutes (or more), the oatmeal will become creamy and bubbly. Stir constantly for a couple of minutes. Pour into your favorite bowl and shake a tiny amount of salt across the top.
Do not insult the oats by dumping milk in the bowl.
And, please, don't ruin them with a bunch of sugar.
Do something better.
Try one of these suggestions.
- Put a generous pat of butter in the bottom of the bowl before adding the oats. It will melt and bubble up in the most alluring manner.
- Put butter and a tablespoon of strawberry jam or marmalade in the bottom of the bowl. Again with the meltiness.....but you'll have to dive for the sweets--that's kinda the way life should be, don't you think?
- Dash the top with cinnamon sugar (heavy on the cinnamon, light on the sugar). Don't stir it in. Just add a bit on the tip of every spoonful.
- Pour two tablespoons of half-and-half over the top. Or, on holidays only, whipping cream (not whipped, just the cream--this is bad for you but okay for rare treats). Wallow in the luxury of it.
- Gently plop 1/3 cup of plain homemade yoghurt into the center of the oats. This is the best every day option, always--again, don't stir it in; just have a bit with your spoonfuls so that you can enjoy the creaminess of the oats and the tartness of the yoghurt independently.
Time. Patience. Kindness. Even store-brand oats will oblige by becoming something that warms the cockles of your heart.
And, yes, I was playing Mensch Agere Dich Nicht by myself at the dining table while I awaited the cooking of the oats. Yellow won twice this morning. That's my color.
Life is good.