Once September arrives and the temperature steadily dips below 58 degrees there is no question: breakfast means oatmeal. It’s a time to rejoice! Because you are not eating gloop-y industrial slop. Nor are you are eating a trendy breakfast which functions solely to keep you fuller longer than a bowl of Cheerios (!!). No, you’ll have none of that. Instead, you’ll have a simple, nourishing meal that soberly and indulgently satisfies both body and mind.
Oatmeal is not a master of first impressions. Beige, bland and a bit lumpy, it won’t win any beauty contests. Unfortunately, the taste rarely earns a blue ribbon either. Too sweet, too salty, too rich, too watery: your first encounter with oatmeal will likely end with an unfinished breakfast. But then you meet your bowl. This meal has that texture, that warmth and that flavour. You realise this relationship is meant to be nurtured. That’s why, on those brisk fall mornings, you eat your oatmeal and happily forget that it will keep you fuller longer than a bowl of Cheerios.
As with any canonical dish, there’s a learning curve before you can call yourself a master, but, fortunately, with oatmeal the learning curve isn’t steep. Prior to turning on the stove, you’ll need to choose the proper type of oats. With the myriad versions available, this seems a formidable challenge. Steel-cut oats may be the current ‘it’ cut — that powerful chew! — but boast an impractically long cooking time for rushed mornings. Old-fashioned, or rolled, oats are larger, flatter, and less exciting than their steel-cut cousins — these are the ones that come in the cardboard canister that you probably have already in your cardboard — but they cook up quicker with a softer texture. Then there’s the oatmeal you dreamed about as a child bored at the supermarket: instant oatmeal from the overpriced variety box. Instant oats look like a pulverized powder studded with fake-sugar sparkles that, with mixed with a glug of boiling water, magically morph into a bowl of gluey mush. This is your cast of characters and how you treat them dictates your breakfast experience.
Say you choose rolled oats. They’re a classic, easily available, quick and cheap. And those are just the superficial reasons to cite. Their pillow-y texture and soft chew makes them the ideal morning whole grain when you don’t want a tough jaw workout. Save the tough, chewy whole grains for dinner and lunch. Save them for those meals when you want NOURISHMENT!! In the morning, when you can barely open your eyes to stir, the soft relaxation of a perfectly cooked, ideally mushy bowl of oatmeal speaks its mind without screaming.
Grab your pot, a small one will do, and casually line up the other things you need — bowl, spoon — on the counter. Scoop out anywhere from a third to a half cup of dry, rolled oats and combine them in a pot with a double volume of liquid — water, milk, orange juice, what have you. Turn on the heat, medium is good, and let them warm up, stirring occasionally until the water boils and the oats reach your perfect texture. Loose is nice, tight is good, and, if you want, you can obliterate them into a mushy lump. Turn off the heat, pour them into your bowl and ready your spoon. That’s it.
At this point, you could let the steam rising from your bowl of plain, well-cooked oats lick your face, or you could parrot a fro-yo bar and pour your cupboard’s contents on top. That excess is fine for the weekend, but overwhelms your bowl of simplicity. Leave the crumbled muffins, handfuls or granola, or incongruous fresh fruit to magazine editors recycling the headline ‘be creative with your breakfast.’ You’ll stir in a teaspoon of both cinnamon and cardamom during cooking. Perhaps you’ll throw in a few raisins as well. Topped with a dollop of almond butter, yogurt, or jam, a satisfying breakfast is a pantry staple.
In a chaotic world filled of bright lights and loud noises, oatmeal is the ideal quiet, muted indulgence for jumpstarting the day. Beginning with a hyper-sugared pop tart or heavy bagel fatigues the palate before daily, life-in-the-twenty-first-century chaos commences. While pounding grains into submission and submerging them in a watery broth may no longer be necessary to make your stomachs feel artificially full, ground grains remain popular. Rough oatmeal, velvety polenta, and soupy daal — porridge is staple dish that appears in myriad cuisines. So the next time you stick your face over a bowl of creamy, classic oats remember: you’re not just readying yourself for the day, you’re participating in a culture larger than what’s in front of you.