If someone were to ask me what my favorite breakfast food was, they’d probably expect me to say something like pancakes, french toast, or waffles. Don’t get me wrong, I love something that’s fluffy and light on the inside and crispy on the outside once in a while. But I need something reliable, something that doesn’t feel too much like dessert. And when I’m in a rush or feel lazy, I need something that isn’t too time-consuming. My go-to breakfast is oatmeal. Not the plain, bland, mass of mushy-water-soaked oats that some might think of, but my special recipe. I love oatmeal because it’s so customizable. The oats can take on different flavor profiles depending on the different toppings and ingredients I throw in. It’s up to me to figure out what works best. The result is a breakfast that’s not too sweet or filling. It feels healthy, but it also acts like a comfort food as it warms me up in the morning. The oats are a blank canvas, and I can add whatever I want.
During the busy mornings of my middle school years, pre-packaged Quaker oatmeal made a frequent appearance alongside the always trusty Honey Bunches of Oats. I enjoyed the Apples and Cinnamon variety the most. But I definitely didn’t have enough cooking experience back then. Most of the time, the oats came out slightly overcooked, and I always ate them without toppings. Although the sheer sweetness of the added sugars provided enough flavor to mask the questionable texture, all those years took a toll on my favorite breakfast. There were only so many mornings of pre-packaged oatmeal I could take. I abandoned it for a while in search of a more texturally sound morning meal. For a long time, English muffins with peanut butter and different varieties of breakfast sandwiches replaced the sturdy oat.
Only the dark ages of quarantine could persuade me to change up my breakfast routine once again. Getting a break from smoothie bowls and omelettes gave me something to take my mind off of TikTok dances and whipped coffee. This time, there were no packages of oatmeal in sight. It was up to me to finally try to assemble the dish from scratch and find the right combination of toppings. I started by mixing oats and water and microwaving them until they soaked up all the liquid. Then, I topped them with chopped strawberries, almond pieces, and vanilla yogurt. It seemed like a good blend of textures and flavors. I placed the bright red strawberry pieces in one section of the bowl, spread the yogurt on the other side, and sprinkled the almonds in the middle. A scoop of peanut butter in the center was the final touch. The mix of colors and the perfectly arranged toppings combined with the natural light of the kitchen in the morning made for a great photo. But while the contents of the bowl were visually appealing, the combination of toppings didn’t taste as good as they looked.
I soon discovered that the yogurt cooled down the temperature of the oats, making them lukewarm instead of nice and hot. The almonds added a certain dry saltiness that didn’t exactly pair well with the strawberries. And the oats, after all this time, were still overcooked. What had I done wrong? I thought that making my own recipe would improve this journey back in time— a blast from breakfasts past.
It all came down to the oats. The foundation of the dish. If they didn’t have good flavor, the dish was ruined. The Quaker packaged oats had been too sweet, and the homemade oats too bland. I needed to find the perfect blend. I suddenly remembered a method that I had used a while ago to make overnight oats that would work for this recipe. Mashed banana and cinnamon would enhance the flavor of the oats as they cooked. First, I added milk to a bowl instead of water to make the oats creamier. Then, I whisked cinnamon into the bowl to infuse the milk with more flavor. After that, in went the oats and the mashed banana. The banana added the perfect amount of sweetness because of the sugars it released while cooking. It also added some moisture to the oats to keep them from drying out and overcooking, and enhanced the overall texture to make the oats less chewy. I topped the oatmeal with blueberries and peanut butter while it was still hot so that the peanut butter melted a little into the mixture. Since developing that recipe, I haven’t looked back.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Lexi’s Clean Kitchen.