Hello everyone! My name is Christina, and I am honored to be named as Oatmeal Enthusiast for the month of May. It is my birthday month, after all! I was born and raised in Maryland, where I still live today.
As a child, I ate oatmeal from the Quaker packets on an occasional basis, but my go-to breakfast was cold cereal. I LOVED cereal! Not only would I eat several bowls for breakfast, but I would have cereal as an afternoon snack, and again after dinner. There was a segment on Sesame Street called “Cereal Girl,” as opposed to Madonna’s “Material Girl.” My mom called my sister and me “cereal girls.”
My cold cereal addiction continued through my first two years of college. I was a regular poster on a website for cereal connoisseurs called the “Empty Bowl.” (The Empty Bowl went defunct around 2006). I borrowed a book called Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal by Scott Bruce and Bill Crawford from the university library, and read it in the study lounge instead of studying for my exams. A couple semesters later, in an English class, we were given an assignment to write a personal essay with a research component. I wrote about my love of cereal, and used Cerealizing America and the Empty Bowl (among other sources) for my research.
By the spring of 2004, my cereal addition began to wane. I do not know what triggered it. Maybe my body had had enough of the processed food and begun to crave healthier alternatives. There were several convenience stores on campus. One day, I bought a couple boxes of oatmeal packets – one box of regular and one box of Apples & Cinnamon. My issue with the oatmeal packets was that one did not make for a very filling breakfast. I had previously tried making two together, which provided a more generous serving of oatmeal. However, I wanted to do something to cut back on sugar and calories. I mixed one packet of regular and one packet of Apples & Cinnamon. The flavor was surprisingly good! The Apples & Cinnamon packet provided sufficient flavor and sweetness; I didn’t even miss having two of those packets together. My first oatmeal experiment was born.
We had a large canister of Quaker quick oats at home. That summer, I began to experiment with the quick oats. One of the first flavors I tried – and still haven’t been able to get right to this day – was applesauce. I added ½ cup applesauce to plain oatmeal. The applesauce added texture, but not flavor. I tried it again with cinnamon applesauce, but was still disappointed. I realize that applesauce is a popular oatmeal add-in, but I’ve never been able to come up with a recipe that satisfies me. Another early oatmeal experiment was adding hot chocolate mix to oatmeal. The smell was right, but the oatmeal did not taste chocolately enough. I gave up on chocolate oatmeal until 2013, when I came up with a version that worked, based on the hot chocolate recipe on the Hershey’s cocoa can.
One glorious success came from a user on the Empty Bowl site. Make plain oatmeal and add a dash of salt, a couple teaspoons of sugar, and a tablespoon or more of peanut butter. I tried it and was dazzled! I got so hooked on that recipe that I did not do much experimentation after that, save for adding a banana to plain oatmeal.
Another early favorite was inspired by a friend who made delicious oatmeal using whole milk, cinnamon, and sugar. I normally made my oatmeal with water, so the milk was a novelty to me. Her oatmeal was the basis for one of my own creations. I used ½ cup quick oats, a dash of salt, ½ cup milk, ½ cup water, two packets of Splenda, and a generous amount of cinnamon. I have mixed feelings about artificial sweeteners. Much has been written about their safety, or lack thereof. There used to be a warning on the Sweet ‘n Low packets that saccharine could cause cancer. I do not care for Equal because it has a strong aftertaste. I am partial to Splenda, and believe – like other food additives – it is okay to use sparingly. I tried making the cinnamon oatmeal with regular sugar, but had to use way too much to get the same sweetness I did with the Splenda. I credit the Oatmeal Artist blog with helping steer me away from refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. A ripe banana, maple syrup, or honey provide sweetness, and I don’t even miss the sugar/Splenda. It’s still fun to put candy or cookies in oatmeal, though. I also am a big fan of flavored yogurt (even lite versions). My oatmeal creations use all of those ingredients, although I do keep additives in mind. Everything in moderation.
My oatmeal recipes tend to have a few things in common:
- I use the microwave, not the stove. The microwave is faster.
- I use quick oats. I’ve tried old fashioned oats, but they took too long to cook, and I did not like the texture as much. The same was true for steel-cut oats. Even the “quick” variety took entirely too long to thicken.
- No weird, expensive, specialty ingredients. I like to make oatmeal using pantry staples – cinnamon, honey, vanilla extract, etc. – that can be found at any grocery store. I don’t want to pay for a fancy ingredient from Whole Foods, and then end up not liking the one recipe that uses it.
I’ve adapted many of the recipes from the Oatmeal Artist blog, and have also found (and posted) recipes on the website Mr. Breakfast. Other recipes are inspired by desserts or snack foods, combine elements from existing recipes, or completely made up on my own. I have so many favorite oatmeal creations that it’s hard to pick which seven to share. Nevertheless, I tried to include a variety in my selections below, and use whatever ingredients I had on hand.
Sunday: Strawberry Shortcake Oatmeal
This recipe was inspired by the Strawberry Shortcake oatmeal recipe on the Oatmeal Artist blog. For the base, I used ½ cup quick oats, a dash of salt, ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon honey, and a dash of cinnamon. On top of the oatmeal, I added six strawberries, cut in to small pieces. The white fluff on top is Yoplait Greek 100 whipped yogurt in vanilla cupcake flavor. I’m conscious of additives, but the oatmeal tasted so good! It was like eating strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.