And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s that time of year again. That time that immediately follows the holidays from Thanksgiving through Christmas through New Year’s. We go from celebrating and partying to viewing constant pokes on all forms of media about how we should be eating better and exercising more…and at the same time, we’re besieged with commercials about comfort foods. Warm, satisfying foods that can melt snowmen, make a wintry blast feel like the tropics, and turn the heat up on our insides while we crank the thermostat for our outsides.
Which is why, a couple weeks ago, when Michael asked me what I’d like to have on the grocery shopping list, I answered, “Oatmeal.”
Now I’m no stranger to the gym. Since the pandemic hit, I don’t often go two days in a row, but I do go. I joined a new gym a short time ago, one that has a pool, so I can use my new ability to keep myself afloat and call my frantic splashing and paddling exercise. I love it.
I eat fairly well, despite the fact that I have Oral Allergy Syndrome, which means I’m allergic to all raw fruits and vegetables, plus quite a few seeds and nuts, though I can still eat berries and green grapes. The allergy is spreading; this week, I reacted to a packet of taco seasoning my husband used when he made his famous nachos. I eat a lot of cooked fruits, but unfortunately, the most common place you’ll find cooked fruits is in pies and cobblers and crumbles. Yum.
But I try.
Lately, the temperature has dipped. It was two below zero when I left the gym last Monday night, and I was convinced my hair, still wet from the pool, would freeze and snap right off. We have snow on the ground. When I see that famous commercial of the snowman coming in from outside and slurping up a bowl of soup, which miraculously melts the snowman into a little boy, I immediately want soup. And chili. And hotdish and hot casseroles. And hot chocolate. Laced with crème de menthe.
When I was a kid living in northern Minnesota, oatmeal was a rare treat in my house. There was no instant version yet, and so my mother had to haul out the large cardboard canister with the white-haired guy with the funny hat plastered on it. She didn’t make individual servings, but a whole pot, for all of us, and she had to stir and stir and stir before dumping the wonderful- smelling, but disgusting-looking, glop into our bowls.
Then my dad doctored it for us, in a way I’ve never seen anyone else do. First, he put several pats of butter into our bowls, and we watched it melt into golden trails through the glop. He sprinkled on sugar. And then he added just a bit of milk.
It was amazingly good. I started drinking coffee at a young age (third grade, I believe), and coffee and oatmeal for breakfast made me not care that I was about to walk to school in snowpants, a heavy winter jacket, a hat and mittens, hood pulled up and tied under my chin, a scarf around my throat, big clunky boots on my feet. I was warm the whole way, and it wasn’t the attire that made me so.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was overcome with cravings for oatmeal. He was due on January 28th, and at Christmas, I left my job as a secretary for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Ozaukee County so that I could become a stay-at-home mom. Every morning, I hauled my very pregnant body out of bed, retrieved my own canister with the white-haired man with the funny hat, stirred and stirred and stirred, and then added butter, sugar, and milk. And then I made another bowl for lunch. And sometimes, a bowl before bed. Christopher was born ten days early, on January 18th, and when I had breakfast in the hospital, I requested oatmeal. It came without butter and sugar and milk. Bleah.
It was my mom that made the oatmeal. It was my dad that made it good.
And so, when my husband asked, I answered, “Oatmeal.”
It’s the season.
We do have that fabled white-haired man canister in our cupboards, but that’s only brought out when I make my meat loaf, which requires old-fashioned oatmeal. What my husband brings home to me from the grocery store still has that man on it, but the oatmeal is instant, and made individual serving by individual serving. I open a packet, empty it into my favorite bowl, add water, and stick it in the microwave for one minute and thirty seconds. No stirring, stirring, stirring. No big pot. No waiting.
I keep myself busy during the one minute and thirty seconds by preparing to doctor. I get out the butter and the milk. I forego the sugar and even the Equal, because the oatmeal I favor is flavored – maple and brown sugar.
When the microwave beeps, I do my best Dad imitation. Butter pats. Golden trails in the glop. A little bit of milk. I pop it back in the microwave for 30 seconds, because the milk cools it down too fast. In that 30 seconds, I pour my cup of strong black coffee. And then I have breakfast, like I did so long ago, not caring about the snow on my deck, the temperature my cell phone tells me it is outside, the wind whistling at the windows.
My father didn’t cook much, except for stints at the outdoor grill. But the man knew his oatmeal.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.