If there’s ever a season in which one should embrace creamy, steamy bowls of oatmeal, I’d say winter is the season.
I’m not really sure what to expect from winter this year. I was surprised to start wearing my winter peacoat down here in Texas, and I was even more surprised to find myself wrapping a scarf around my neck, stepping outside, and then wishing I’d worn my matching hat as well. It gets cold down here, people! Cold and windy, just like the city I left behind. The wind is the killer, though, because it just cuts through me like an icy knife, slicing the warmth right out of my body. I’m tough enough to deal with the cold, but the wind makes me whimper like a baby. Waah! I hate winter.
Oh, that’s not true. I don’t hate winter. I love the sweaters and the cookie-baking, the mugs of hot chocolate that taste heavenly as your skin turns pink and toasty after a nice romp in the snow. I love how winter gives us permission to relax and rest after working hard all year long. Winter is the season of dreaming, of planning for the new year, of gazing out windows at delicate snowflakes falling softly to the frozen ground. I can’t see snow now without thinking of Matt and those first few sweet visits we had together, the ones where his flight touched down in Chicago in the middle of blizzards. I remember trudging through ankle-deep blankets of snow, so excited to see him again and yet still slightly irritated that something was dragging me out of my cozy apartment into a damn snowstorm. But his smile, his hug, his joy—those are the things that reminded me why I feel so lucky that we met and why I don’t care if we have to find each other in snowstorms. Then there was my favorite part, after we trudged through the snow to my apartment, teased each other about the snow (“Why did you bring me a snowstorm?”), stripped off the wet clothes, and settled down on the couch together. We lay on Big Blue (the couch) and watched the snow fall, thickly and steadily, and I listened to the sound of his breath and his heart beating.
I will miss the romance of winter this year because Matt and I won’t be finding each other in the middle of blizzards in January. There may be a few specks of snow, and it may be chilly, but I have a feeling those cozy snowbound weekends are a thing of our past. They were beautiful and sweet, and they were sad too, because there’s no place colder than an apartment in winter after your lover has left. It’s so much easier for me if, after Matt has hit the road, I can lace up my sneakers and go for a run. In the bitter winter cold, all I want to do after he leaves is curl up on the couch where he slept and cry into his pillow.
I’m relieved not to have to face another long awful winter, even if it means I miss cuddling with my favorite Southerner. I think a mild Texas winter might be just right for me: I’ll get to show off my sweater collection, drink my favorite hot teas, roast potatoes for dinner, and by the time I’m starting to get a little tired of winter, it will gently fade away as spring’s warmth infuses the air. I’ll also have just enough time to get my hot oatmeal fix, which is good because I’ve fallen pretty hard for a new spin on oatmeal: creamy and porridge-like, with a generous tablespoon of pure maple syrup stirred into the oats while they cook. It’s nothing fancy, but I think it’s delicious. Sometimes, I think that when I stick with a particular recipe for a long time, like my go-to oatmeal recipe, Daphna’s Banana Oatmeal, I forget that there are other ways to enjoy the same food. I still love D’s recipe for its thick texture and sweet fruity flavor, but in the wake of all those banana oatmeal mornings, a new oatmeal recipe feels utterly refreshing. This Maple Oatmeal Porridge has a simple, rich flavor and it goes down nice and easy on cold, dark winter mornings. I’m so happy to share it with you.
Maple Oatmeal Porridge
Meticulous readers of this site may wonder if this oatmeal is derived from other oatmeal recipes. The answer is yes, of course. Many, many of my recipes are tweaked versions of other recipes that inspired me in text or in taste. Nigella Lawson once wrote that originality in cooking is highly overrated, and I’m tempted to believe her. I often think that the real purpose of food writing and sharing recipes is just to remind the reader that she should make this really tasty thing that she already knows about but maybe hasn’t thought about making recently.
Nevertheless, I’m always curious about the details behind someone’s cooking, so that’s why I like to write detail-oriented recipes. It’s not because I believe you must make my recipes my way, OR ELSE!, but rather that I love the little things about cooking. Once you understand the basic framework of a recipe, there’s so much room to play! Cooking should be fun.
Back to the recipe at hand. I’ve gotten in the habit of soaking my oats overnight, mostly because it means less work in the morning. Some say that overnight soaking makes them more digestible—I don’t know if that’s true, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to do it. With an overnight soak, the oats don’t need much cooking time. I just bring them to a bubble and cook for maybe a minute longer, which means less stirring (perfect for a lazy cook like me). If you don’t soak overnight, your cooking time will be longer.
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (I’ve been using 2% milk here and it makes for a really nice, creamy oatmeal)
2 pinches of salt
1/4 tsp. of vanilla
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
Toppings, such as peanut butter or this fruit-and-nut (and grain-free) granola (I like both here)
1) Pour the oats, water, and milk into a glass measuring cup. Stir, cover, and leave out overnight for the oats to soak. (Don’t worry—the milk here won’t spoil if left out overnight.)
2) Pour the soaked oats and all the liquid into a small pot. Add the salt, vanilla, and maple syrup. Heat over medium-high heat and bring to a bubble. Turn the heat down, stir, and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute until the oatmeal is hot, smooth, and creamy.
3) Scrape the oatmeal into a heat-proof bowl and top with peanut butter, granola, or anything else you’d like.