by Kathy Larson
As a kid I ate a lot of oatmeal. Our family was large — eight kids, my mom and dad, usually a dog and one or two cats — and we were poor. Not destitute poor, or heartbreakingly poor, but with my dad being a Corporal in the Canadian Forces and my mom employed solely in the raising of us, well, there just wasn’t a lot of money.
Staple foods were a large part of our diet. Bread, potatoes, pasta, root vegetables, canned vegetables, hamburger, hotdogs, bologna, apples, oranges — these made up the base of many of our meals. And then there was oatmeal. Until I was in my teens and the financial situation got a little better in our house we had oatmeal almost every day for breakfast.
You’d think my brothers and sisters and I would hate the stuff, but there’s not one of us that does. For sure, they don’t eat it every day anymore, but in talking to them recently they all said how they love a bowl of hot oatmeal (with lots of brown sugar and milk, of course) every now and then.
The stuff my mom made was always the Quaker brand 5 minute oats — she could whip up a big pot of that in no time and we would all help ourselves from the pot as we filed downstairs each morning before heading out the door to school or play. The bag of brown sugar was on the middle of the table — a big old picnic table my dad had assembled in the kitchen — the only thing big enough to seat us all at — along with a bag of milk in its little plastic holding jug.
Bagged milk! Still sold in Ontario. Not sure about Manitoba where we grew up. It would be delivered twice a week to our door, two three packs at a time, and still we would run out in between. Eight kids — thats a lot of bones.
For a while after I left home I didn’t eat oatmeal at all. It was beneath me. Oh, the ridiculous ideas we have when we’re young. Then I got married and started a family of my own and oatmeal entered the picture again. It was the perfect food for a toddler — and I could put anything in it — bananas, strawberries, chocolate syrup — and my son would gobble it up. The only thing he wouldn’t eat in it was raisins. He would spit those at me every time.
Though I started out making the quick-cooking oats just as my mom had, one day I switched to buying the instant type oatmeal. It came in so many flavours and was so ridiculously fast to make that I couldn’t help thinking what a no-brainer it was. It was shortly after that that my son decided he didn’t like oatmeal anymore. And I had to agree with him, I no longer liked it as much, either. It didn’t taste like oatmeal should. It was gluey and salty and chemical tasting. I went back to making the stuff I had to cook myself, but the damage was done and pouring from a box was just simpler, so we switched to cold cereal. To this day I don’t think my son has ever eaten oatmeal again.
About 15 years ago my husband went through a phase of eating oatmeal. Every. Single. Day. He had read an article about what a super food it was and so once a month while watching Star Trek on television he would make up a month’s worth of little plastic bags of oatmeal mixed with raisins, craisins, nuts, dried fruit and artificial sweetener. Every morning he’d grab one of these bags, nuke his oatmeal in the microwave and eat it as he made the drive into town to work. We went through a lot of lost bowls during that phase. Eventually, he grew tired of eating the same thing every morning and those little bags of oatmeal languished in the pantry til well beyond the best-before date.
Despite not having oatmeal as a breakfast staple anymore I always kept a bag of it on hand. For cookies, to add to meatloaf, to add to bread when I baked it and for that occasional nostalgic moment when I longed for the feeling of comfort and home that nothing but a bowl of hot, brown-sugary oatmeal could supply.
Lately, I’ve returned to eating oatmeal most mornings. A couple of years ago my doctor prescribed cholesterol medication and that got me thinking about how to avoid having to take it. (Unfortunately, according to my doctor and a bunch of on-line research, avoidance isn’t good practice) so I grudgingly take it. Still, it made me take a hard look at what and how I eat and I’ve made changes. One of those changes is to include oatmeal in my morning routine.
Just about every day, after my morning glass of water and my first cup of coffee are out of the way, I make myself a bowl of oatmeal. I add a handful of seeds and nuts, some dried fruit, a teaspoon of brown sugar and splash of some form of milk alternative.
It’s not the same as mom used to make, but it sure is inspired by her.