Oatmeal is breakfast's soup for the soul

There isn't much in this world, I've found, that can beat a day spent inside while snowflakes slowly but persistently work their magic outside. That being said, the day afterward has a little special something about it, too. You get up and are faced with a white blanket across everything: your porch, your steps, your cars, your street. It's daunting and grumble-worthy, but you get out there with everyone else on your street and you just dig in. Two hours later, everything's clear, and you can come back inside to the warmth, leave your snowy layers on the blanket or towel by the front door, and enjoy the rest of the day just as you did the day before. It's on days like these that I want those warm, comforting foods. We tested out a new waffle mix this morning (I'm still unconvinced that a box mix - even this all-natural one - is capable of holding a candle to the recipes I'm searching for, the ones that will produce the big, fluffy waffles and pancakes), but in considering what I wanted to post about this afternoon, I could only think of one thing: oatmeal. I know a lot of people who don't like it, or who only really like the instant kind. I've recently started experimenting with the Real Stuff, the oats from the big container, and they've almost all turned out incredibly well.

Over the course of the semester, I made a lot of different kinds, though all similar in their autumn essence. So, today I have not just one recipe, but three - or really, one back-of-the-container recipe, three different, very delicious ways: Ban-umpkin, Cinnamon Apple, and Banana Cider. I'm sure as pumpkin and apple fall out of season and new fruits make their seasonal debut, I'll have another batch post. But for now, I would highly recommend a batch of one of these recipes, enjoyed curled up at your kitchen table, perhaps even watching the snow outside from the same storm that just hit my home town.

Three-Way Oatmeal: The Base Recipe
Yield: 1 serving
The Ingredients
1 cup milk (any fat content; I use 1%)
3/4C oats, not the instant kind

The Method
Bring the milk gently to a boil, whisking every so often and keeping an eye on it to prevent scorching. Once the milk is boiling, add in the oats and stir, allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so - just until the oats have cooked up and absorbed a fair amount of the liquid. This can be flavored or sweetened to your liking - anything from sugar (brown or regular), syrup, cinnamon, extracts, etc. I would keep each individual sweetener at around 1-2 teaspoons, and cinnamon and extracts no more than 1/2 teaspoon each - though this can, of course, vary according to preference.

Ban-umpkin Oatmeal
Yield: 1 serving
The Ingredients
3/4 cup oats
3/4 - 1 cup milk
1/4 cup apple cider
1 small banana, mashed
1/4 cup pumpkin yogurt + 2-3 teaspoons pumpkin puree
cinnamon for sprinkling

The Method
Prepare oatmeal as you would for the base recipe, adding the cider to the pan at the same time as the milk. Meanwhile, mash the banana and add it to the pumpkin yogurt, then set aside. When the oats are ready, remove from heat and stir in the banana-pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Yield: 1 serving
The Ingredients
1 cup milk
3/4 cup oats
1 apple, diced (skin on is fine)
1 teaspoon brown sugar, divided
scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
scant 1 tablespoon walnuts, chopped
2-3 tablespoons apple sauce (unsweetened or homemade preferable)

The Method
Prepare as you would plain oatmeal, adding the diced apple and half of the brown sugar and cinnamon along with the oats. When the oatmeal is done cooking, stir in the apple sauce and top with the remaining brown sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts.

Banana Cider Oatmeal
Yield: 1 serving
The Ingredients
3/4 cup milk
1/4 - 1/3 cup apple cider
3/4 cup oats
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 small banana, sliced
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 - 1 teaspoon maple syrup
dash nutmeg

The Method
Prepare as you would plain oatmeal, adding in the cinnamon and nutmeg along with the oats. Once the oats are ready, turn down the heat to low and stir in the apple sauce, the banana slices (optional: leave some out for a garnish), and the maple syrup. Garnish with extra apple slices and a light sprinkling of cinnamon.

All of these offer warm, hearty, and wholesome breakfasts. They're filling and full of fiber without being too heavy. All three versions are mildly or moderately sweet, but not overly so. You can also keep things new and different by using different spices, different liquids as the base (though I would stick with water or milk as the primary ingredient), and various fruits. Even dried fruit would work nicely.

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