Thursday, April 5, 2012

Oatmeal: Breakfast & Degrees of Processing

oatmeal at 3 levels of processing
From L to R: Steel Cut Oats, Rolled Oats, Quick-Cooking Oats
photo credit: Hanna's Vegan Kitchen
I'm not the best when it comes to breakfast. Most mornings, I sleep until the last possible minute and then end up running around like a crazy person trying to get out the door before rush hour gets bad. But I'm working on it and routines help. In the summer, I make a lot of smoothies in my vitamix to sip for breakfast. I put in fresh or frozen fruit and veggies like kale and carrots. Sometimes, I add non-dairy milk or yogurt. Other times, water and ice. I change it up and slurp up my daily servings of fruits and veggies through a straw on my way to the office.

whole oat grouts are the least processed form of oatmeal
Whole oat groats are the least processed
photo credit:  Culinate 
On cold New England mornings, I like filling my tummy with something warm. I used to enjoy farina, but ever since I read Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, I've been trying to cut down on gluten-containing grains. I also read KERF a lot, and my favorite food blogger eats a lot of beautiful bowls of oatmeal that provide oatmeal inspiration! There are so many kinds of oatmeal and lots of ways to prepare it, so it can be overwhelming to figure out your (it really depends on individual tastes) perfect bowl. You can opt for whole oat groats, which are the least processed, most nutritious, and also most time-consuming to prepare. Or you can go instant and zap your oats in 90 seconds (I don't recommend this!). I usually use rolled oats or steel-cut oats, which are minimally processed and easy to digest.

steel cut oats are oat groats chopped into smaller pieces so they cook faster
Steel Cut: oat groats chopped into smaller pieces
photo credit: Riverspitter
Here's what I do to make 2 pint-sized jars of hot oats that James and I both take with us to start our busy work + class days out on the right foot (I aspire to get up earlier and eat breakfast at the kitchen table every morning, but we're not there yet).

Before bed, I rinse and soak 1 cup of oats (either rolled or steel-cut). I use enough water to cover the oats by about an inch and put them in the medium pot I use to cook them, placing a lid on top. In the morning, I strain and rinse the oats. This process of soaking, straining, and rinsing, helps rinse away the phytic acid that is present in a lot of nuts, seeds, and grains and that blocks your body from absorbing the valuable minerals in such foods. Soaking also makes the oats cook faster, so if you can get in the routine of soaking your oats at night, you'll
save time and absorb more nutrients.
rolled oats are steamed and flattened with giant rollers
Rolled: steamed & flattened oat groats
photo credit: Purcell Mountain Farms

I add about 2 cups of fresh filtered tap water (I prefer water to milk and non-dairy milk since I like to 'save' on the calories) and a small handful of dried fruit (currants, raisins, and/or craisins), and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the oats have achieved my desired consistency (about 5 minutes for rolled oats and 10 for steel cut). The cooking time depends on the type of oats you use and is really subjective. I tend to like my oats a little soupy, especially because I take them to-go most mornings and don't eat them until I get to my desk, but how long you cook the oats for is truly up to you. When they look appetizing, turn off the heat.

quick cooking oats are oats that have been steamed and rolled flat and chopped or flaked
Quick: Steamed, Flattened, and Chopped or Flaked
photo credit:
Then I stir in my fixings. Typically, this involves at least 4 of the  following:
  • 2 tb chia seeds (A great source of Omega-3s, chia seeds also help you stay fuller longer!)
  • 1 tb ground flax seeds (I grind them myself and store the meal in the freezer in a pint-sized ball jar)
  • 1 tb maple syrup or raw local honey
  • up to a 1/2 cup of pureed pumpkin 
  • up to a 1/2 cup of fresh/frozen/freeze dried berries
  • 1 chopped banana
  • shredded coconut
  • 1 - 2 tb of nut or seed butter (almond and sunflower seed are my favorite)
Now that the weather is getting nicer, you can even make an oatmeal smoothie! Just skip the heat part altogether and throw the soaked oats in a blender with
Instant Oatmeal In A Spoon
Instant: Thinly flaked & pre-cooked
photo credit:
some ice, sunsational or other alterna-milk, and frozen berries, and you'll have a delicious, doughy smoothie full of whole grains and fruit! 

A Note on Gluten: Oats do not contain gluten, but are often grown near or processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing grains. If you are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten, just look for oats labeled gluten-free to make sure there aren't any traces of gluten in your oatmeal!

What are your favorite oatmeal toppings? 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Island Creek Oysters & More at Local 149

I got my oyster cherry popped last Monday at Local 149 in South Boston. I was there for the 13th Annual ALLocal Dinner to benefit the Boston Local Food Program. So many of my friends love oysters, but they've always intimidated me. So before I could slurp the slimy mollusk, I slurped down some local Greylock Gin in 149's Aviator, a delicious cocktail with fresh lemon and a luxardo maraschino. James enjoyed a Jefferson with bourbon, local honey, angostura bitters, mint, and citrus over a bit too much ice. Both cocktails were fantastic.
Local Gin Martini with Lemon and Bourbon Honey Bitters Mint and Citrus over Ice
We each went for refills. 
I didn't want to just eat my first oyster at Local 149. One of the reasons I was excited to try my first one there was that they were serving the acclaimed Island Creek Oysters. I wanted my first oyster to be a great experience all around, and CJ, AKA @Oyster_Dude made sure that it was by giving me the full story behind what makes Island Creek Oysters so delicious (hint: location location location). I learned so much about oyster farming from CJ, who encouraged me to chew just a little to unlock the sweetness. I was a little weary, since I got a lot of advice to just swallow my first oyster whole, but CJ is the expert, so I went for it and it wasn't bad at all!
Shucking Fresh Oysters
CJ Shucking Oysters
Local accoutrements included apple cider vinegar and juniper berry mignonette, greenhouse tomato cocktail fresca, and micro wasabi sprouts.

Island Creek Oyster Boat

If you're as curious about oyster farming as I was and want to know more about where oysters come from, how they grow, and what makes a good oyster a good oyster, check out Island Creek's 20-step slide show! CJ hand selected my first oyster to make sure I got a good one (they were all good!).

naked oyster on the half shell on ice
My first oyster!
I was a bit apprehensive, but that local gin soothed my nerves just enough to make this one go down easy.
my first time eating an oyster. delicious oyster.
Down Goes Oyster #1!
LOVE!!! I went back for oh... I don't know... maybe 5 more, sampling the different accoutrements, before we were summoned to our seats for dinner. The table was cute. Check out the chalk.
simple local centerpiece of local daffodils in a local hard apple cider bottle
Even the centerpieces were local!
I met some awesome people during dinner including Jo Anne Shatkin, CEO of clf ventures and Dr P.K. Newby, a local Nutrition Scientist and fellow food blogger who teaches at BU. The ALLocal Dinners provide some great networking opportunities for those interested in pursuing local, sustainable food. :-)

Boston Local Food Program Speech
The speeches at this ALLocal Dinner were shorter and sweeter than usual.
We also heard from some of the folks from SBN and from Local 149 during our meal. There's lots of exciting stuff in the works! For dinner, there was a choice of bone-in free range short ribs with a corn whiskey and Boston honey glaze with smashed white potatoes and sunchokes for the meat-eaters or a farmer's breakfast for dinner of poached eggs, crispy sunchokes, greenhouse tomatoes, sweet corn, and camembert cheese. Since James doesn't eat oysters, meat, or eggs, he got a salad made of all local greens and greenhouse tomatoes. It was different!

Baby kale and wasabi sprouts were some of the greens in this salad.
My eggs were delicious, though I found the sunchokes to be a little under-cooked. The flavors of this dish were interesting. The cheese added a real kick.

Poached Eggs with Sunchokes, Tomatoes, Wasabi Sprouts, and Cheese
Poached Farm Fresh Eggs with Greenhouse Tomatoes, Wasabi Sprouts, Sunchokes, Corn, and Cheese
For dessert, we had sassafras gelato with smokey goat cheese. It was yummy!

delicious sassafras gelato with goat cheese and berries

All of the ingredients for this dinner were sourced in New England. Some of the suppliers included:
Longfellow Creamery/Second Chance Farm in Avon, ME
Eva's Garden in South Dartmouth, MA
Thatcher Farm in Milton, MA
Vermont Butter and Creamery
Sunrise Orchards in VT
Boston Honey Company in Holliston, MA

PS: While writing this post, I did some research on oyster etiquette. If you're interested in further reading on the topic, check out this Vanity Fair article.