I actually began writing this post a week ago as I sat at a small table in the back of my favorite café in northern California. I snuck into town last weekend for a quick 48 hours, thanks to a dear friend’s wedding. As I wrote, I continued to get reports from my snow-drowned home 3,000 miles away in Boston, rendering me utterly grateful for the quintessentially beautiful California Saturday I’d been given. The sun shining brightly in the pastel blue sky. A clear, crisp, perfect 50-degree winter day.
Of course, I now know that “winter” is relative. We Californians have no real idea what it’s like to face an impending blizzard, or real storm of any kind, stocking up on nonperishable foods, praying you don’t lose power, hoping hoping hoping your flight doesn’t get cancelled the morning you’re supposed to fly out for a wedding. On the other hand, as a west coast transplant, my notion of winter being a transition from flip-flops to closed toed shoes still affords me the overly romanticized images of what it’s like to be housebound, curled up on the couch watching the snow fall, the city shutting down around you. A mother nature-imposed peace and quiet.
I think this weekend I might get lucky enough to enjoy one of these quiet days that have become some of my favorites. It’s snowing again as I type. And believe it or not, I think we could use it. Nemo’s three feet of snow have already become grey and dirty and half melted. As it turns out, snow in a city is only romantic and beautiful for a short while! A couple of inches of sparkling white snowflakes would certainly pretty things up again.
This weekend promises to be wonderful for yet another glorious reason, though. Monday’s a holiday! One extra delicious day to lay low and play. Sleep, cook, run, bake, catch up on errands, chores, or whatever I’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s the red-eye flight that kicked off this week that’s made me so excited for an extra day this weekend, or maybe it’s the promise of snow. Either way, you can bet I’ll enjoy every minute of my at-home downtime with some fun in the kitchen. I haven’t yet decided just what that will entail, but one of my very favorite breakfasts may be in the works.
This baked oatmeal comes from Heidi Swanson’s cookbook Super Natural Every Day, and it hits the spot every single time. It’s easy to throw together in about 30 minutes, and after another 30 minutes in the oven your house will be filled with the subtly sweet fragrance of nuts and maple syrup and berries. Berries? But they’re not in season! You say. Yes! I know! It is, in fact, not berry season, but of the many things this winter has made me grateful for, frozen berries is certainly one of them. Frozen fruit and veggies get a bad rap, unnecessarily so in my opinion. While the food movement’s emphasis on “processed food is bad” is definitely a good move, and one that is making the public more aware of the food they’re choosing to consume, this word “processed” is often defined too broadly. It’s true, frozen produce is processed, and even comes in a bag. But in general, when produce is harvested fresh, blanched, and then immediately flash frozen, most nutrients are retained. So in the dead of winter—where “real” winter happens—when the only local produce you can find is some version of a root vegetable and you just want to make some warm, soul-satisfying baked oatmeal for a quiet snowy morning, frozen berries are a delicious, nutritious, Godsend of an option.
Very slightly adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups 1% milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups blueberries or mixed berries, fresh or frozen
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter the inside of a square baking dish. Any size under 9 inches should work.
2. While the oven is heating, place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully as nuts go from toasted to burnt very quickly. They’re perfectly toasted as soon as you start to smell them. You know, that delicious toasted nuts smell!
3. Mix together the oats, half the walnuts, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, milk, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla.
5. Arrange the banana slices in a single layer in the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Drizzle the milk mixture over the entire surface of the oats, making sure the milk mixture gets distributed throughout the dish. Scatter the rest of the berries and walnuts across the top.
6. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling along the sides. The oat mixture should feel set in the middle and not move much when you rock the dish side to side. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
7. While the oatmeal is cooling, reheat the remaining melted butter so that it’s pourable. Drizzle the butter on top of the oatmeal and sprinkle the top generously with turbinado sugar, giving it a nice added crunch.