How to Make Your Own DIY Instant Oatmeal

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Long time readers will remember my trauma when I accidentally bought a box of “low-sugar” i.e. artificially sweetened instant oatmeal. I took it on a camping trip unawares, and ended up trapped in the woods with nothing to eat for breakfast except Splenda soaked packets of horror. Frankly, I’d rather be alone in the woods with rabid bears or hook wielding maniacs.

At the time, some of you pointed out, “Umm…why aren’t you making your own darn instant oatmeal, Mrs. Homegrown?” To be sure, you all said it more nicely than that, but this was my takeaway.

Well, you were right. I think the impulse to bring packets of oatmeal camping is the sort of thing which, once inculcated at an early age, is never considered again consciously afterward. But yes, of course one can make their own instant oats, and even pack them up in single serve packets. So last week I took a container of homemade instant oats camping and they were a big hit. They were so much better than the sugar stuff in packets. They were scrumpdillyicious, in fact–toasty, chewy, not too sweet. I liked it so much I’ve decided to keep it around the kitchen for everyday breakfasts.

oats2You’ll need:

4 cups of rolled oats, old fashioned or quick oats. See oat notes below

1/4 cup brown sugar. This much brown sugar will result in something barely sweet, much less sweet than the store brands, which have about 3 teaspoons of white sugar per tiny packet. Of course, you could opt to use no sugar, or more sugar. Or, heaven help us, you could use a sugar substitute.

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup (give or take) of various add-ins of your choice: the dried fruit family: raisins cranberries, apricots, cherries, apples, and freeze dried bananas or strawberries; seeds of different sorts like chia, flax and hemp; additional fiber such as wheat bran, exotic substances like cacao nibs, coconut, candied ginger and powdered milk. Nuts fall into the add-in category too, of course, but personally I like to toast my nuts and store them in a separate container to keep them crunchy until needed, because no one likes soggy nuts. But do as you please.

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Spread oats out on one cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to stir them half way through. You want some color, but no burning. This step is not found in all DIY instant oatmeal recipes, but totally worth it for the flavor it adds. I think it also makes the old fashioned oats more digestible.
  3. If using old fashioned oats, remove oats from the oven and grind some portion of them in a blender or food processor. I leave half whole and process the other half until some of the oats turn to fine meal while others are still partially intact. The finely ground bits make the oatmeal more “milky” and cohesive.  This is a personal preference thing–everyone likes their oatmeal in certain ways–dry or wet, lumpy or smooth. (If you’re using quick oats, this step unnecessary because they break down fast when soaked, so they don’t need any mechanical assistance in that direction.)
  4. In a big bowl, recombine your oats (if necessary ) and stir in the sugar, salt and cinnamon.
  5. Stir in your add ins
  6. Transfer to an air tight container, or portion into single serving bags.

To use, just scoop out what you need into a bowl and pour boiling water over the top until it’s as moist as you want it to be (It’s a good idea to give your storage container a shake or stir before using to make sure stuff hasn’t settled out). Let the oats sit for a minute or so to soften up before you tuck in. Add a little more water if it stiffens up too much. I’m sure you could microwave this, I just don’t know how.

I like to put a nice chunk of grassfed butter on top of my oatmeal after its mixed to anchor those carbs with some fat–and this is also when I add my emphatically unsoggy nuts.

I’m mulling over making a savory version of this to use as a quick meal/snack. Something involving a trip to the Japanese market for some seaweed and maybe a bit of instant dashi powder?

A note on oats. There can be confusion over oats. Whole oats are called oat groats. Don’t use those. Steel cut or Irish style oats won’t work either. You want the flattened kind of oat. Those come in two basic categories under different names. In the U.S., the classic kind is called rolled oats or old fashioned oats or some people refer to them as Quaker oats. These are oat groats which have been steamed and then flattened with rollers. The other category is quick oats, also called instant or minute oats. These oats have been steamed, flattened and cooked and then dried again so they cook up super fast. You can use either quick cooking or old fashioned oats in this recipe. The main difference is texture. The old fashioned oats will keep some fight. I like that very much, personally. Instant oats will have a softer texture, more like “real” instant oats.

Meet the Amazing Sierra Newt

Nature!!!!

I join generations of gobsmacked naturalists in saying O. M. G.

Meet the Sierra newt (Taricha sierrae). I’m a dryland girl and don’t have much acquaintance with the salamander family, though I have spotted these guys over the years during different trips to the mountains. Last week, I was camping in the Southern Sierras and saw several of them around the campground and out in the forest. The area seemed oddly newt-rich. One even waddled right past our fire pit late in the night, braving our head lamps and chair legs. I could tell by the look of them that they liked moist places, but I did not know they also swam. I had never seen them on river banks, only away from the water, in campgrounds and off trails.

So imagine my surprise when, hanging out by a stream (Water! Living water! I hadn’t seen any for months) I found one of these guys coiled up and still on the bottom of the stream bed. It looked so out of place–I thought it might be dead, dropped in there by a predator, perhaps? So I poked it with a stick — a favorite primate tool–and was surprised to see Mr. or Ms. Newt jump up all affronted and wander off under water. He (I’m going to call him he) didn’t swim. He walked. He had no gills. He released no air bubbles. He just wandered around under water like it was no big thing.

Call me naive, but for me, this was shocking. Miraculous. I had no idea these guys were aquatic. It was like seeing a human friend casually take flight and flap away. I watched him for a few minutes with my mouth hanging open, and then, like a good modern citizen, dutifully recorded the moment for the social media.

Back home with the wonder of the Internet, I was able to identify Mr. Newt and find out what was going on with him and his semi-aquatic lifestyle.  This type of newt is born in the water, and at that stage it has gills. When this newt matures, it will leave the water for some kind of amphibious rumspringa in the woods. They are crazy toxic if ingested–they excrete the same neurotoxin as pufferfish– so no one eats them except garter snakes, who are acknowledged bad asses.

(The toxin won’t hurt you if you touch a Sierra newt–which is lucky since I had petted them before bothering to look this up–but don’t lick your fingers afterward. Or the newt.)

Due to this indigestibility, I suppose, Sierra newts waddle around slowly, almost imperiously, right out in the open, like they don’t have a care in the world.  None of that paranoiac lizard-style scurrying from rock to rock for them. Sometimes, though, they get stepped on or run over in busy campgrounds, because evolution did not factor in hiking boots, distracted campers and Subaru Outbacks when designing the defensive systems of the newt.

When they decide it is time to meet a special friend and lay some eggs together, the newt returns to the pool from which they hatched–or tries to, since it might be difficult with all the pools in the Sierras drying up–but my guy found his way to the stream, and perhaps was napping, waiting for his lady newt to come by.

But here’s the best part–he was breathing through his skin. The gills he had as a baby are long gone, traded for fledgling lungs when he left his birth pool. But once back in the water, he dispenses with those clumsy organs altogether and draws oxygen out of the water straight through his skin, in a process called diffusion. That’s right. This handsome orange show-off breathes in three different ways over the course of his life: by gills, by lungs and, call it what you will, by magic, because this diffusion business is obviously pure sorcery. No wonder witches keep newt parts in their spice cupboards!

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

spark joy 3

I figure by now that there are few of you, at least those of you who have de-cluttering on your radar, who don’t know that Marie Kondo, author of Tidying Up, has a new book: Spark Joy. We’ve been shamelessly selling it in our margins here on the blog for a good while, but I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. Of course, we wrote extensively about our journey with Tidying Up here last year.

If you’ve read Tiding Up, your first question would probably be, “Do I really need another book by her?” and the answer is, no, in the spirit of decluttering, you could do just fine with the first book, especially if you are fully satisfied with the decluttering you accomplished with that book.

However, I think the second book is helpful, and I’m glad I have it. It has re-inspired us toward more tidying activities. We did some good decluttering last year, but we had sort of fallen off the wagon, allowing clutter to accumulate in certain hot spots and continuing to avoid working on our most dreaded clutter zones.

This book has me excited about tidying up once more. It also clarifies some of her philosophy and drills down a bit into the specifics of decluttering different types of things and spaces, like kitchens and craft supplies. There are also–praise be–diagrams of her arcane folding techniques. These things made the book worthwhile for me.

The book itself is interesting as an object. It’s smallish, and pretty. Inside, the illustrations are Japanese-cute line drawings. It doesn’t look like any cleaning or organization book I’ve ever seen, and that is what makes it special. Kondo understands that tidying is a spiritual activity, not an organizational activity.

spark joy 4

The same week we got this book, we also had a library book out about home organization. Erik had grabbed it off the new book shelf at the library without looking at it until we got home. It shall remain nameless, but we quickly realized it was just a copiously illustrated catalog of things you can buy to more efficiently store all of the junk that you’ve bought. And that is exactly what we over-consumers do not need.

Kondo wants to teach us discrimination–how do we tune in to what we love, how learn what “sparks joy” in us. She holds up a vision of us all living in homes which are self-constructed shrines dedicated to that which we truly love. In such a world, we would not own many things, but we would love the things we own, and be in positive relationship with those things.

Many of us feel overwhelmed or confused by our possessions, perhaps guilty that we have so much, but yet still unsatisfied with what have, and meanwhile guilty about the money we’ve wasted on things we do not use. Yet we keep buying as we search for happiness. This is the trap of consumer culture. Kondo offers us a way out by asking us to re-evaluate our relationship with our possessions. This re-alignment or re-evaluation is actually a very interesting spiritual maneuver. I need to think about this some more, and will do another post on that topic specifically. But in the meanwhile, yes, it’s a worthwhile read.

Let me know if you’ve read it–I assume many of you have by now, because I know we have some KonMari folk in the readership–and whether you have found it useful or not.

p.s. Thanks to Pilar for tip me off to this book to me in the first place!

George Rector: M.F.K. Fisher’s Dirty Old Uncle

rector
We struck gold in the depths of the library the other day when I dug up Dine at Home with Rector: A book on what men like, why they like it, and how to cook it, by George Rector, c.1937.

Rector (1878-1947) was a restaurateur and popular author. This book is ostensibly a cookbook–I don’t know what else it would be–but it doesn’t have recipes per se. Instead, he just mentions how to cook things as he’s steaming along. I’m in love with the hardboiled yet strangely comforting prose (though I do have to ignore the casual sexism and racism of the period).

Seems most cookbooks these days range from bland to, at best, passionately sincere. Old George is just in it for the fun. The pleasure of reading him is filed in my brain alongside the pleasure of reading M.F.K. Fisher, though he’s more like her dirty old uncle. Which is to say you’d happily read either them even if you have no intention of ever cooking anything ever again.

Speaking of casual sexism, I’m particularly fond of the chapter titled “When the Wife’s Away”, which steps befuddled menfolk from the basics of grilling a steak (“Steak is a good thing to begin on; don’t be scared off because it’s one of the aristocrats of the cow kingdom…”), to how to scramble eggs over a double boiler (“that’s the dingus Junior’s cereal is cooked in…”) to making “that noble experiment known as Rum-Tum Ditty” for the boys when they come over for cards. Rum-Tum-Ditty, I have to say, defies explanation. Let’s just say the ingredients include whipped egg whites, a pound of cheese and a can of tomato soup.

Speaking of befuddled menfolk, Erik is quite fond of this passage about making Hollandaise sauce (from the chapter titled “A Touch of Eggomania”), not least because it has introduced the term “hen fruit” into our lives:

For eggs Benedict, you need Hollandaise sauce, an additional contribution of the hen fruit to the pleasures of the palate, and to the confusion of cooks. Hold on to your hats and we’ll round that curve. Add four egg yolks, beaten to the thick, lemon-colored point, to half a cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Stir as you add the eggs and keep stirring–stir with the calm and temperate perseverance of the mine mule making his millionth trip down the gallery. That’s the secret–that and getting the water in the bottom hot as blazes without ever letting it come to a boil. Just before the mixture gets thick–timing again–put in a tablespoon of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste, and I hope and believe you’ll have a crackajack Hollandaise. Which is something to have, because it’s cantankerous stuff, as the tears shed by millions of cooks down the ages all testify.

How to polish your silver effortlessly–with Science!

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Tarnished flatware waiting for a bath

Here at Root Simple, we live high on the hog. We eat off of silver spoons every day. It’s true. I inherited a set of silver flatwear and utensils from my mom’s side of the family, and instead of saving them for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I use them every day.

This is fairly revolutionary, as I come from a family of Savers. Recently, I unearthed a set of six snowy white damask dinner napkins from the family treasury, painstakingly ironed into perfect squares, centered on a cloth covered board and wrapped in a lace cloth and tied with a ribbon. They’re so perfect it’s clear they’ve never been used.

These may have been a part of my grandmother’s wedding trousseau, or maybe even my great-grandmother’s. But whoever gathered them together so carefully, they never thought any dinner party in their entire life was special enough to use them.

Well, this attitude ends with me. Erik and I don’t have kids, and we’ve hit middle age, so I’m burning the bridges behind us. Everything must be used. No more squirreling and saving. Which brings me back to the silver.

We use silver every day, but it gets tarnished. It’s used too frequently to get that  heavy black tarnishing which afflicts unused silver pieces. Instead, our forks and knives and spoons turn a sort of purplish grey. It’s not real pretty.

Hand polishing the lot of it would only be fun if I could do it in the butler’s pantry in Downton Abbey while gossiping about the gentry upstairs. So I looked up that “foil trick” that was half-lodged in the recesses of my mind, and I discovered its a real thing, and it works like a charm.

Tarnishing happens when the silver combines with sulfur in the air and forms silver sulfate. The black stuff, the tarnish, is silver sulfate. When you clean silver by hand, using silver polish, you are physically rubbing off the tarnish–and some of the silver. When you do this trick with the foil, you are actually reversing the chemical reaction–turning the silver sulfide back into silver. In other words, you become a wizard. And I ask you, would you rather be a wizard or a scullery maid?

The caveat: This process strips away tarnish very effectively–too much so, say connoisseurs of fine silver and the gentle patina of age. It will strip all of the tarnish out of all the patterns and nooks and crannies on your silver objects, rendering the surface somewhat flat and new looking in its universal brightness. Just so you know.

The incredibly easy process:

My primary reference for this was this lecture demonstration from the chemistry department of The University of Massachusetts. There are many versions of this trick on the Interwebs, but some of them are unnecessarily complex or persnickety. You do not need vinegar! You do not need batteries!

This linked information is straightforward, and being from a chem department rather than some random blogger (like myself), it’s reliable. It also explains the science if you’re interested–seems like it’s an oxidation and reduction process? As an art major, I’m just waving my hands around at this point.

You’ll need

• A non-metal container to hold the silver to be cleaned. For flatwear, a glass or enamel baking dish works well. You want to be able to spread everything out.  (I hear you can also use an aluminum baking pan, like one of those disposable roasting pans. In this case you can skip the foil.)

• Aluminum foil

• Baking soda (sodium carbonate)

• Salt

• Hot water

1.Line your dish or other container with foil.

2. Arrange your silver in the container.  All the pieces should touch foil and be completely submerged. Don’t crowd them too much.

2. Stir a small amount of salt and soda into hot water. How much salt and soda? How much hot water? I don’t think exact quantities matter a whole lot except that you should use equal amounts of salt and soda, and don’t dilute it to a crazy extent.  Let’s say use a tablespoon each of salt and soda per quart or two of hot water. UMass used rather less, but this is what worked for me.

3. Pour the hot soda/salt water into the container and watch the magic!

silver 2

A minute or two into the bath–the color change comes quickly

You should see some changes right away. My not-so-tarnished flatwear only took a couple of minutes total.  A more heavily tarnished piece will take longer, maybe up to 10 minutes or so.

4. Remove the clean pieces of silver from the water and rinse with clean water and dry with a cloth. You could opt to further bring out the shine with some polish or a polishing cloth.

The solution is non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry about wearing gloves, and you can pour it down the sink without guilt.

Just FYI, I was able to do three consecutive batches of flatwear in the same water bath, although I could see some weakening of the effect by batch #3.

silver 3

Flatwear in the rinsing bowl, looking much better!