I’m dying to tell you all about what I made last night. DYING. But I can’t.
I know, what a way to start, right? But I just can’t tell you yet. You see, I have to wait two whole weeks before it’ll be ready. And if I have to wait for two weeks, you have to wait for two weeks. I’m sorry. Them’s the breaks.
Instead, I’m going to talk about oatmeal. (Wait, where are you going?)
Specifically, the politics of oatmeal. (No, come back!)
Bear with me, because I’m about to make a statement that just might be downright un-American: oatmeal doesn’t have to be sweet.
In his latest New York Times column, Mark Bittman discusses what McDonald’s has done to oatmeal. By slapping the “wholesome” label on what is essentially a bowl of sucrose, they have managed to completely devalue the notion of healthy eating. As Bittman notes, oatmeal is a stunningly nutritious and sustainable grain; but the instant, over-sweetened, sticky-gooey bowls of mush that we often call oatmeal bear almost no resemblance to it.
I smell a conspiracy, people. They’re trying to convince us that healthy tastes sweet and bland and familiar, keeping us hooked on what they’re selling. And, let’s face it, unsweetened instant oatmeal is basically gruel. If you’re unwilling to wait the extra two minutes for rolled oats to cook, you might as well be wearing a dirty newsboy cap and whining, “Please, sir, I want some more!”
Honestly, I’m perplexed by this, because for me, oatmeal and sugar have only rarely gone hand in hand. Growing up, the only time I had sweet oatmeal was when we stayed in hotels. At home, I got accustomed to rolled oats flavored with nothing but salt. Extravagance meant a sprinkle of cinnamon, and–if we really wanted to get CRAZY–a handful of raisins. This is still my ideal of what a warm breakfast should be: heat and luxurious softness and a little bit of texture, with the flavor of the base ingredient shining all the way through. The only way you can get that is with actual oats, which are cheap and quick-cooking enough, and so powerfully healthy, that there’s really no excuse for instant anything, ever again.
The other great thing about ruling out the brown sugar and maple syrup is that a whole new world of flavoring options open up to you. My personal favorite oatmeal is a variation on Elvis’s apocryphal favorite sandwich: peanut butter and banana, with a little salt and cinnamon to make the whole thing sparkle. But there are of course a thousand and one variations, if you’re willing to go a little outside the box.
Okay, maybe it’s not un-American. But sticking it to the man sure feels good.
Elvis’s Favorite Oatmeal (serves one)
1/2 cup dry old-fashioned (rolled) oats
1 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 banana, sliced thin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Salt to taste
Cook the oatmeal according to package directions, making it as chewy or creamy as you like. While the oatmeal is still warm, stir in all other ingredients and mix thoroughly so that the heat from the oatmeal melts the peanut butter. No other instructions. Om nom nom.