It is a rainy, cold, wet spring day here in Wisconsin, but hey, what spring day in Wisconsin isn't rainy, cold, and wet? I've been feeling as though Wisconsin has been picked up and plopped down in the Seattle area these past couple of months, minus the mountains, Pike's Place Market, the Space Needle, the amazing food, the enormous trees, and overall wonderfulness of the Pacific Northwest. You know. All the stuff that makes the cold, wet, rainy-ness bearable; acceptable, even. But alas; we have not been somehow magically superimposed over Seattle, so we must grin and bear it, and continue to make soups, stews, chowders, bisques, homemade granola bars, and many, many batches of oatmeal to survive the semi-vast barrenness of southeast Wisconsin in the spring. North Carolina? Are you still there? Please tell me you're out there somewhere, because someday I shall return to your majestic green mountains, 70 degree weather in the spring, glaring absence of snow, and excruciatingly sweet tea, WHICH I happen to love with every fiber of my small being. Someday...someday. In the meantime, it's time. It's time to talk about...OATMEAL!!
Now, now; please try to contain your excitement. For what could be more exciting than pot full of boiled oats? YEAH. YUM. Okay.
May I share a deep, dark secret with you? Up until a year ago, I truly detested oatmeal. Despised it!! Loathed it! I was totally grossed out by it. My parents loved oatmeal. I can still remember on cold mornings, there it was. The largest saucepan my mom owned, filled almost to the brim with that..that STUFF. My dad would saunter in to the kitchen, lift the lid, and say,"All right; oatmeal! Mary! Did you have some oatmeal? Do you KNOW how good this stuff is for you?? I'm tellin' you; oatmeal is the ULTIMATE for healthy breakfast food! It's good for your heart...and it tastes good!" I would stare at him while he would wax eloquently about the virtues of oatmeal, and when he had decided it was time to stop talking about oatmeal and start eating it, I would slowly, very quietly slink out of the kitchen and wouldn't return until I was sure he had moved on to bigger and better things, like greasing a 53-foot trailer. Then, and only then would I return to eat my honey bunches of oats, glass of water, and a cup of tea in peace. I had my routine, and I liked it. I never understood why everyone else in my family seemed to be on somewhat amiable terms with oatmeal, and I couldn't even stand looking at it. I would see the saucepan on the stove, and think, 'Oh no. No. Please no.' And it wasn't as though my mom didn't prepare it correctly- she did, but I just couldn't manage the thick, somewhat lumpy texture. My parents tried to coax me into trying different toppings: brown sugar, milk, and even raisins, but nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, could induce me to consume that odious stuff. Blech. Blargh. Barf.
Fast forward 13 years...
One sunny, muggy day in August of 2009, I was visiting my dear friend Sarah, and she was so kind as to introduce me to Trader Joe's. Words cannot describe my passion for TJ's. The only thing I am even more passionate about is finding a way to convince the City of Kenosha to build themselves a Trader Joe's, and STAT, PEOPLE!! *ahem* Anyway, we were toodling along, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over various culinary delights, when Sarah did something that just about shocked me out of my sandals. She PICKED UP A BOX OF OATMEAL, and said,"You should try TJ's oatmeal- it's really good!"
Okay, time to confess something to my dearest girlhood friend of some 15-odd years. "Um, Sarah? I actually cannot stand oatmeal."
Sarah: "No way! Well, you should give it a shot sometime."
And we left it at that.
Fast forward nearly 2 years (yes, sometimes it takes me a long time to wrap my head around an idea)...
I was agonizing over the severe lack of breakfast options in the house one day. No bread. No cereal. No fruit. No yogurt. Ack! What's a girl to do?
And then...I saw it.
That large, cylindrical container of...*gasp*...OATS.
Hey. Ya need oats to make oatmeal raisin cookies, am I right?
That is the one and only reason I had oats in my house. For cookies, and cookies alone!! But I knew that it was time. Like every other culinary adventure, it must begin with actually trying. So try I did. The children were beginning to eat chunks out of the kitchen table, and so I began to make...OATMEAL. For the first time in my life, no less! And all the while, I was thinking incredibly deep thoughts, such as,"What can I add to this stuff to make it more...more...EDIBLE??" And then, it came to me. Milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and dried wild blueberries. BAM BOOM, BABY. I scooped it. I ate it. I LOVED IT.
It truly was a revelation of epic proportions.
I liked oatmeal! In fact, I loved it! I was stunned beyond stunned, and the only thing that I found even more stunning was that my boys loved it. In fact, they even ask for it on a fairly regular basis. And now that I am older and wiser, I gladly oblige.
The Moral of This Story Is:
If it's been more than ten years since you last tried some kind of food (and you hated it), you owe it to yourself to give it one more honest try (Just make sure it's cooked right).
Those are my words of wisdom for tonight.
And here's my take on a Fairly Respectable Bowl of Oatmeal:
A Fairly Respectable Bowl of Oatmeal (Blueberry Cinnamon Oatmeal)
By Mary Jeanne Johnson, former gymnast and stable hand. True story!
After following the package instructions for cooking 2 servings of old-fashioned oats, remove from heat, and add:
1/4 cup milk (I use whole, but I love to buck the system)
2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon (don't even THINK about skipping this step!!)
1 heaping 1/4 cup of dried wild blueberries (see note below)
Stir well, and spoon into bowls. Eat, be amazed, and enjoy! Serves 3 hungry boys, ages 4 and under. If they are not ravenous, Momma can usually steal a few spoonfuls of oatmeal. We usually double the recipe.
A Word on Dried Wild Blueberries: I have experimented with several different brands of dried
wild blueberries, and the most superior brand BY FAR is Trader Joe's dried wild blueberries. I have also found Mariani Premium dried wild blueberries to be quite good, and I use them quite a bit. One brand to stay far, far away from is Archer Farm's dried blueberries. Chalky. Not very sweet. Eww. Thus ends a Word on Dried Wild Blueberries.
There you have it, my friends! What's your "oatmeal"? Have you ever overcame a long, deep, dark, loathing of a particular food? Inquiring minds want to know!