steel yourself for winter

Summer day after summer day out at our family cottage, us kids would wake at 6 every morning to our grandfather’s porridge. He had put it on the old stove long before then, and retreated to the forest to chop wood or “putter,” as our parents called it.

Slowly, we’d rise, assembling one by one by the fire he’d made.

I didn’t love oatmeal as a kid, but I loved him and so I ate it anyway.

I’ll always associate the storied three-bears’ dish with him—doling it out into bowls for our crew of cousins. We’d sit out on the deck around a cracked wooden table, us girls in our baby-doll nighties, and him hovering with pot in hand. I’m not sure if it’s a photograph I see or a real memory.

I guess we all come back to porridge, because lately it’s all I crave for breakfast. I’ve also recently discovered the steel cut, or Irish variety, which is less processed and more “whole” than it’s rolled and instant cousins.

Calorie-wise there is no nutritional difference between steel cut and rolled, but the extra steps in the processing of rolled oats does diminish some of the micronutrients (like Magnesium and Selenium) that oats have to offer. Steel cut oats are whole groats that have been chopped into two or three pieces. Rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and pressed. Quick or instant oats have been chopped, steamed, pressed, cooked, and dried. Even the littlest bear doesn’t want that in her bowl.

Oats are a superfood like no other. They stabilize your blood sugar, meaning you won’t get hungry as soon after eating breakfast. They also lower your cholesterol, and are high in fiber and protein.

But besides health, steel cut oats are just so much better than the instant ones. I can’t even begin to explain it. They create their own starchy sauce while they cook, and when their done still have an al dente chewy snap that other hot cereals don’t hold a candle to. They also keep really well in the fridge, so you can make a huge batch on Sunday evening and have it for breakfast all week.

Making this hearty breakfast is a snap. For two servings, dry toast 1 cup of oats to give them a nice, nutty taste. You can do this right in the pot you’ll be using, stirring constantly over high heat for 2 minutes, or until you can smell them toasting.

Then add 3 cups of water to the saucepan (remove it from heat while you do this, or it might splatter, and watch out for steam!), stir, and lower the heat to medium-low. DO NOT ADD SALT. Salt inhibits the release of starch, and will stop your oats from becoming as creamy as they were meant to be. Now you can go take a shower or do what you need to do for about 20 minutes, without stirring them once. You’ll find the heat setting on your element that’s right for you…the stew should gradually thicken and bubble gently. The higher the heat, the faster they’ll cook.

When you come back to your oats, they should be nice and tender, and just beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s no problem if they’re sticking a bit, unless you have the heat too high, they’ll scrape right off.

Scoop a generous portion for yourself into a bowl, and sprinkle with a little good-quality sea salt (we’re lucky to have some from Slovenia kickin’ around right now, a gift from a friend). Salt actually increases the natural sweetness of the oats: you might not even need sugar! If you want it, add brown sugar or maple syrup to taste, a shake of cinnamon, and some milk.

And once, promise me at least once, you’ll try it with whole milk or a splash of cream. To feed a bigger crowd or have leftovers for mornings ahead, simply increase your oats and water proportionally.

grandpa’s googly buns

We have this iconic cookie in our family called the Googly Bun. My late Grandpa Ward coined them so, many years before I begun to appreciate their sweet burst of dates. I know there’s a story behind their name that now eludes me. (Ward family members feel free to comment.)

I grew up with those old-school cookie tins mysteriously appearing on the counter at the Ward family cottage. You know the ones . . . round, with pictures of butter cookies of the decidedly NOT homemade sort clustered on the front. Every time I lifted the lid of one of those tins I feared those hideous cookies staring back at me. But ohhhh I was a lucky child. I’d inevitably find instead any number of home-cooked things. If I was especially lucky, they would be of the Googliest sort.

I confess that I didn’t actually like the date-filled cookies Ahem Googly Buns until around the age of sixteen, when my tastebuds started to pine for things more nuanced than nachos and alphagetti (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Up until that point they were somewhat grown-up cookies. They were oatmeal, after all. Good grief. For any self-respecting kid it was chocolate chip or peanut-butter, thank you very much.

My first attempt at replicating these was my first big move away from home, to Vancouver. I was gathering with new friends one night for a potluck. But this particular potluck had a theme — intentional consumption. We were instructed to bring something special, something with a story. After I had listened to a woman reminisce about the soup she ate every day in Thailand, and after we had passed around a gourd of Argentinian Yerba Mate, I pulled out the Googlies. They were hard little pucks then, for I was a fledgling baker. But those people I barely knew indulged me, and convinced me that they liked my cookies. I’m sure my Grandpa enjoyed every minute of it.

Because even the best things can always be made better, I set out on a search for a slightly softer, lighter cookie than the one I’d grown up on. Over at Elise’s blog I found what looked like a reasonable candidate. I did a test run of a few plain ones, and I was an immediate convert. If you don’t have the time or energy for the date filling, just make these. (And that’s coming from someone who, in the great arena of cookie options, still leans heavily towards those of the chocolate chip variety.) These cookies, straight from the oven with the perfect hint of whole grain sweetness, might just be good enough to change your mind.

Continue reading