I have a confession to make. All those nice, local-food-inspired dinners I generally write about are great, but I am fueled every day by a divine and simple ingredient you can get at any grocery store: Oatmeal. Not even any special oatmeal, either. The $2.99 tube of unflavored quick oats. Yes, I said quick oats.
I've been meaning to write an oatmeal column for quite a while, and I routinely tweet about oatmeal with the hashtags #notgrueltome and #oatlife. So far, the two major oat producers I tag in every oat-related tweet have not responded. Not even a like.
I once had a great idea for an all-oatmeal restaurant to the tune of Chipotle, where you go in and customize plain oatmeal with amazing and healthy ingredients. (A former partner once told me this was too reminiscent of a bread line during the Great Depression. I disagree.)
Listen: Oats are not boring. They are not depressing. They provide 77 percent of your daily iron. One cup of cooked oatmeal (that's a half cup dry) is 158 calories. They are a good source of Vitamin B-6 (35 percent of your daily needs). They've got calcium (18 percent) and protein (6 grams! 12 percent!). That is an excellent breakfast base right there.
But this is a recipe column, so we're going to take that base and explore all the wonderful, and still very healthy, things you can do with it. In the fall, after making six or seven pints of apple butter, I stir one tablespoon into my oats every morning with a tablespoon of peanut butter. I am half convinced the molasses from the apple butter is keeping away winter sickness. Sometimes, I cut the water with coconut milk, which makes oatmeal rich and silky. Neither of these options add much in the way of calories, and both add nutrition.
So please, hear me out. Ditch your weird, pre-processed breakfast bar with God-knows-what-kind of fruit. Kick that muffin (that is really a morning cupcake) to the curb. Say no to a greasy breakfast sandwich laden with cholesterol. If you never eat breakfast, eat oatmeal for a week and see how good and strong you feel — and how much less hungry you are come lunch time. Take breakfast back, and go to work with a zip-lock bag full of dry oats and a bowl and spoon, if necessary.
It's not fancy, but it makes good sense — and one of those $2.99 tubes will keep you oat-rich for about a month, which is far cheaper than any other breakfast option I can think of. #oatlife.
Oats for the barely awake working professional
cup of oatmeal ( if you're extra hungry)
cup water (or one cup — two parts water, one part oats is the rule)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon apple butter or 2 teaspoons brown sugar
Mix oats and water in bowl, then microwave for 1 minute, 30 seconds. (I use quick oats but regular oats microwave just as well.) Stir in peanut butter and sweetener until fully combined. Eat as your morning coffee restores your brain function. Bask in the simple nutrition you have given yourself.
KICK IT UP A NOTCH: AMAZING OAT ADDITIONS
You can really add anything to a bowl of oatmeal. Some people are on a savory trend, but I stick to sweet. It reminds me of the sickeningly, maddeningly sweet cereal advertised to me as a child in the 1990s. Try one wet ingredient with one dry, or go crazy and make an Instagram-worthy oat bowl with 75 ingredients. It's for your health!
- Coconut milk: sub half the water
- Actual milk: Sub half the water
- Almond or cashew milk: of the water, since these milks are lower in calories and less thick overall
- Jams and jellies: Start with 2 tbsp, and customize to your own sweet tooth
- Honey: 2 tbsp
- Maple syrup: 1 tbsp (go light on maple syrup, which is also packed with minerals and is super-sweet)
- Other sweeteners like agave syrup
- Shredded, unsweetened coconut (or sweetened — just don't add too much sugar)
- Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter (almond butter is my favorite, but expensive)
- Chia seeds: 1 tsp
- Hemp seed: 1 tsp
- Any dried fruit — raisins, cranberries, even dried apricots chopped up
- Any fresh or frozen fruit (microwave first if frozen) but especially strawberries, blueberries, blackberries
- A whole banana (amazing with peanut butter and you barely need to add sugar)
- Sesame seeds: 1 tsp
- Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg: A dusting of each makes a chai-esque flavor, amazing when paired with coconut milk