Get your oats

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Sunday, March 23, 2008

You could call it comfort food - or discomfort food for those with bad memories of lumpy, cold, or stodgy breakfasts. But porridge made from oatmeal has got to be one of the most nutritious and hearty ways to start the day, particularly if that day is rather cool.

Having just spend a few months in NZ and Australia - where both were enjoying record hot summers (it was 38 degrees in Melbourne on my way back to China) - I now find myself in winter high in the mountains at 2500m and in need of some warm and nourishing breakfast.

For some reason, most of the oats on sale around here in Yunnan seem to be from Australia - or at least claim to be. I came across some local rolled oats at a bulk bin of a supermarket which were a lot chunkier and cheaper, so have been using these slower cooking ones to start my fire each morning.

Of course, just like Goldilocks, each person has their own preference for porridge - creamy, powdery, solid, liquidy, rough, smooth, etc - or none at all. There's lots of different versions of how to prepare oats, though I imagine few people do it the traditional Scottish way, the way crofter made their porridge each week and then stored in a drawer, occassionaly slicing off bits to take into the highlands or lowlands.

Some recipe call for salt to be added, and reject the notion of having milk, cream or even sugar with the stuff. Other recipes call for fancy ingredients from dried and fresh fruit, dairy in its miriad forms, seeds, nuts, spices, sweeteners. had it right when she tasted each bowl of porridge before settling on the version she deemed tastiest. It's all down to the choice of oat and cooking method - everyone has their own way of cooking it to their liking.

The most common porridge oats are rolled, rather than crushed during processing. The oats determine how hearty the finished porridge will be and how long it will take to cook. Basically, the finer the oat, the quicker the cooking time. That's why the instant porridge varieties, which are made from fine oats, tend to have an almost powder-like consistency.

As I am using rough-rolled oats, I soak overnight in an equal ammount of water (this releases enzyme-inhibitors and makes it more digestible). Then I add the soaked oats into a caldron of a cup of boiling water, with a pinch of salt. After bringing to the boil, I simmer and then let cool, before adding other toppings and things. Ginger, sultanas, cinnamon, grated apple, yoghurt, sunflower seeds, banana, dates, pumpkin seeds and brown sugar are my favourite additions. But then who am I to say . . .

Here'a a recipe from the current Current World Porridge Making Champion, Duncan Hilditch, Chef/Proprietor of the Ecclefechan Bistro, Carrbridge:

Take one cup of oatmeal and put into a saucepan with four cups of cold water. Stir gently over a medium heat until it reaches simmering point, lower the heat and continue to stir - to avoid any lumps - for five minutes. Add half a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of sugar, and half a cup of buttermilk or cream. Give a final good stir and serve in a warm bowl.

Duncan's ideal way to enjoy porridge... Wait for a grey, cold day in winter. Sit down with your porridge, sprinkle with some soft brown sugar, drizzle some double cream round it, put on a Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain tape and eat your porridge. For a short time at least you'll think that you're in heaven!

ps if you want to read the Goldilocks story go here

Speaking up for herself after years of silence, Goldilocks confirmed her intent to "sue the pants off" the three bears. "I've undergone years of therapy," said the golden-locked beauty, "I'm sure you can imagine, post-traumatic stress and all."

Goldilocks, who is being represented by attorney Robert Shapiro, filed suit against Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear earlier this week. "My attorney said I have multiple grounds for my case," explained the blonde. "First, Papa's porridge was so hot that it gave me blisters of the mouth. Secondly, you may recall that Baby Bear's chair broke into pieces when I sat in it, clearly a homeowner's liability issue. And of course, there's the obvious stress of being awakened and chased away by three hungry bears. I can't leave out the total humiliation of hearing my story told over and over throughout the years."

After his attorneys explained that Goldilocks had a rock solid case against them, Papa Bear said, "We should have eaten that little brat when we had the chance."

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