Monday, June 8, 2015

An Ode to Oatmeal

I have always liked oatmeal, but my love affair with it didn't really start until after I realized just how expensive it is to feed two toddlers Cheerios every morning for breakfast.  Not only would my kids (then 2 and 4) eat a whole box in 2 or 3 days, but they were always hungry two hours later.  I liked oatmeal well enough, but felt it was too hard to make up a pot of oatmeal every morning and then to clean up all the glop off the table left after my not so tidy eaters finished up.  We kept oatmeal on hand to make cookies or granola or for my husband and I to eat occasionally, but that was it until I saw that Costco sold 10lb boxes of Quaker "old fashioned rolled oats" for about the same price as their big boxes of breakfast cereal.  I was trying to cut down our food budget at the time and had just discovered how to make my own granola and oatmeal bars so I bought the box.  
Given the choice between homemade granola and cold
cereal L chooses the granola.
Since I had oatmeal in the house I started serving it more and realized that the days that I made oatmeal the kids frequently forget to ask for a morning snack!?!  Not only that, but I realized that I wasn't hungry until lunch either.  When snack time became less important to us all it made running errands and playing at the park easier.  At some point I just stopped buying cold breakfast cereal.  If we wanted something to pour milk over I would make granola, but mostly we started eating oatmeal, eggs or something like zucchini bread or pumpkin bread in the mornings instead.  At first I felt like I was just being cheap and felt a little bit bad that my kids never had Cheerios like all the other kids did, but then I realized that we were actually getting the better breakfasts most days, even if it was a bit more work.  Then came the real epiphany: you don't need to cook oatmeal in a pot, you can just pour boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes!!!  My husband was the first to figure this out when he started taking jars of oatmeal and dried fruit to work with him, but we quickly adapted it to home use.  Now the kids may not get to have bowl after bowl of cold cereal, but they do get to pick their toppings and sprinkle the cinnamon over their individual bowls of oatmeal before I pour hot water over everything and send them off to get dressed for the day while it "cooks".  They love this and there are so many variations that they rarely get bored.  My husband loves to throw in some pecans along with his normal salt and cinnamon and then drizzle maple syrup over it.  T and L both love raisins and dried cranberries with brown sugar and cinnamon.  A and I have been really enjoying adding frozen berries along with a drizzle of half and half.  If I want something with more protein I'll throw raisins and walnuts in with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pour some half and half over the whole thing.  Add in a mug of green tea for the perfect start to a cold, grey day (or to pretend that you have a cold, grey day when you really have a hot, humid day).
A chose raisins and dried cranberries while I went with frozen
berries for breakfast.  So much tastier than cereal!
For over a year we bought that 10lb box of oats every few weeks and enjoyed it a ton.  Then we decided that we really needed to take a close look at what we were buying that wasn't organic/local/fair-trade/etc.  When I realized that our grains were a glaring exception to our attempts to buy responsibly raised food I almost had a panic attack.  I could get organic oats at the co-op, but those little bags didn't last very long at all.  How would we survive without oatmeal and bread?  How would we afford paying so much more to source better oatmeal and flour?  The next week I saw organic flour at Costco with a giant "new" sign next to it at a price we could afford, but that big blue box of oatmeal kept mocking me.  Thankfully my husband thought to call our local co-op and ask if they were willing to sell us larger quantities of oatmeal than you could really get in the bulk bin.  Apparently the question wasn't as strange as we expected, they heard it all the time.  Not only were they willing to sell us an entire 50lb bag of organic rolled oats, but they offered a discount!  We ordered the oats immediately and then started looking around to see what else they have in their bulk bins that we might want 50lbs of.  Thankfully we waited to order anything else until our oats came in.  Do you know how much space 50lbs of oats takes up?  
I'm pretty sure I could fit in this bad. Added
bonus is that the bag can be recycled so
no trash went to the landfill!
We need more buckets before we can order more stuff, thankfully we were able to fit the extra oatmeal into some carboys that my husband has for brewing.  That was a month ago, we are now about 1/3rd of the way through the oats and planning our next order.  We are loving this step of our journey as much as the others, especially when I bite into the thick struessel topping on carrot-beet cake and know that there is plenty more oatmeal where that came from.
This is what 50 lbs of rolled oats looks like.  For scale, the
container on the left holds 5 gallons.