Toasty Oats with Coconut // Not Without Salt

“I do so much for you guys and THIS is the thanks I get?!”

Ugh, I hated how mom-like I sounded as I heard those words come from my mouth.

I snapped. It happens, more than I’d like to admit. The cause this morning? It was the coconut that pushed me over the edge. You see, I failed to hide the fragrant flakes in their oatmeal well enough so that when the warm bowl of toasted oats landed in front of him I expected praise but what I got was: “Is there coconut in here?” In a tone that was layered with sheer disgust.

The day before the coconut incident I accepted their challenge: Make a flavorful bowl of oatmeal. They’ve grown tired of the microwaved version their dad very sweetly makes for them every morning. I’m always up for a food-related challenge especially one where it involves a few simple ingredients where flavor can be coaxed out of if you have a few tricks up your sleeves.

My first trick often has to do with butter. In a large wide pot I browned a good bit of butter. This step alone filled the house with a sweet nuttiness that somehow softened the harried feel that so often accompanies weekday mornings. To that I added oats, stirring to cover them in the scented butter. Soon the oats matched the copper color of the browned butter and rivaled its nutty scent with one of its own. I threw in a handful of coconut and toasted them along with the oats.

Next I poured thick maple syrup in along with a bit of vanilla and salt. The oats cooked until the syrup stuck to it like a slick jacket. When the bottom of the pot was dry I added whole milk, a little at a time initially then as the oats thirsted for more I added another glug. I was hoping that this process would give the oats a risotto-like creaminess. Once the oatmeal resembled a creamy porridge; thick but not stand-a-spoon-up-in-the-bowl-thick, I spooned it into three bowls, splashed a bit of cold cream in and topped their portions with a few frozen strawberries where ice cubes usually go. If your children aren’t opposed to golden raisins in the same passionate way that mine are I’d recommend adding those here too.

I served up the oatmeal in the same way they present me with a perfect spelling test; beaming with pride and eager for accolades.

“Is there coconut in here?”

My heart sank.

I wanted oohs and ahhs. I wanted to be praised and crowned the oatmeal champion.

But that’s now how parenting works. That’s not how love works.

Toasty Oats with Coconut // Not Without Salt Toasty Oats with Coconut // Not Without Salt

I have so much emotion wrapped up in the food I make. Each meal is like a love letter to them, wait, that’s not quite true – the occasional box of macaroni and cheese tells them their mom isn’t perfect and sometimes needs a break. But when my love in the form of a full plate of carefully prepared food is picked apart and eaten with a face that looks tortured and pained my desire to feed is threatened.

That was my first thought the morning of the flavorful oatmeal. “Why do I even bother? They never appreciate it.” My next thought reminded me that I don’t feed my family for their appreciation. As much as I adore the praise I get from diners who love the food I make, I can not feed people for the praise. That’s not how love works.

Love isn’t doing something because of the response it will receive. Love expects nothing in return. Love does. Day in and day out.

Now this isn’t to say that we aren’t teaching our children to appreciate things. I want to raise these three little people to see the simple things in our days as gifts rather than give ins. I do want them to appreciate all that their dad and I do for them and we expect a thank you from them in the same way we offer them thank yous.

But I also want them to feel abundant, unconditional love from me. I want them to be fed well and freely without expectation from me. I want to love well even when my ego is bruised and they hit upon my vulnerabilities.

They give so much back to me. And many times they really do appreciate the food I feed them. I have three of the sweetest children in the world but even if I never heard a thank you I want them to know that I would still love them completely. Day in and day out.




Toasty Oats with Coconut

Serves 4


The idea for toasting the oats comes from the brilliant mind of my dear friend, Megan Gordon. She wrote the book, Whole Grain Mornings, where I first read about this idea. It adds so much interest and flavor to what can often be boring – oatmeal. The secret to flavorful oatmeal lies in the toasting of the oats.


4 tablespoons butter

2 cups oats

1/3 cup coconut flakes

1/4 cup maple syrup, plus a little more for drizzling over top if you’d like

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

2 -2 1/2 cups whole milk


In a in a large saucepan or dutch oven brown the butter over medium high heat. You’ll know the butter is browned when is smells nutty and the milk solids sink to the bottom and start to turn golden in color.

Add the oats. Stir constantly until they start to toast and deepen in color, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add the coconut flakes and cook 1 minute more.

Stir in the maple syrup, vanilla and salt. Coat the oats in the syrup and cook until the bottom of the pan looks dry, about 2 minutes.

Slowly drizzle in the milk at first, while stirring the oats constantly. Add more milk as the oats absorb the liquid. After you’ve done this with the first cup or so of milk stir in the rest. For thicker oats use 2 cups for creamier, loose oatmeal add all of the milk.

Serve while warm.

You can serve the toasty oats with a splash of cream, raisins, more maple syrup, muscavado sugar, dark brown sugar, dried cherries – whatever you’d like. We keep it pretty simple here.

54 Responses to “Toasty Oats with Coconut”

  1. Michelle

    Beautifully written. It’s so true that actions based on love aren’t done for a response…but it’s always appreciated. I haven’t tried toasting oats yet, so thank you for the recipe!

  2. Sara @ Cake Over Steak

    Lovely. I know my brothers and I gave my mom a similarly hard time while growing up when it came to food. I’m sure my future children will do the same to me. 😀 The oatmeal sounds lovely! (And I don’t usually care for regular oatmeal). Maybe this one would change my mind.

  3. Melissa

    This is oatmeal our favorite meal, thankfully one Hallie still likes. She’s starting to exercise her opinion in the meals I feed her, and I’m just scratching the surface of learning this lesson you’re talking about. It’s so hard to divorce yourself from the work and intention you put into things, expecting nothing in return. Also, throwing away food makes my insides hurt. I have much to learn. And let go.

  4. Chelsea (@TheWholeBite)

    This oatmeal sounds fantastic! I definitely have to try this method. Toasting really makes everything better. And your words on love hit me right in the heart. Beautifully spoken and I love your honesty. Your kids are lucky to have you 🙂

  5. Megan Gordon

    Oh I so loved hearing this story last week in person, and obviously love to see it here along with your beautiful photos. As I’ve told you before, you juggle SO MUCH that I can’t even believe you’re toasting coconut for oatmeal in the first place. xox

  6. J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    Can relate to you all to well. There are times when I am convinced that if they just TRIED it, it would change their mind but…alas I guess there really are people who do not like coconut/raisins/mangoes/the “tiny gross seeds” in strawberries….

  7. Melissa @ Treats With a Twist

    I know exactly how you feel. I layer and layer so much heart and love and hope and anticipation into each meal I make, and I usually get: “ummmm” or “it was good” and it’s like my balloon is popped. Some people just don’t *get* it, and I need to have the strength to be ok with that.
    These look lovely. And absolutely amazing. And I love toasted coconut, so I’d eat at your breakfast table any day.

  8. Ashlae

    I find myself in the same situation with Thom, all too often. At the risk of sounding completely dramatic: it’s heartbreaking. To have a meal go unappreciated or looked at with a bit of disgust? Not a good feeling. At all. But it speaks volumes about you as a mother that you care so deeply about the food on their plates. You’re a good one, lady.. but I’m sure you knew that already. 🙂 xo

  9. dani | the love of vanilla

    Yum looks so good! I’ve never been a big fan of cooked oats but toasting them sounds like I might have to revisit this. Especially with the browned butter and coconut… YUM!

  10. Mary @chattavore

    I keep trying to like oatmeal, unsuccessfully. I’ve toasted the oats but, oddly, I’ve never browned the butter. I will have to try this!

  11. Julieta

    What a great post, thank you, I really enjoyed reading it as I feel so related to it. Can’t wait to try this recipe

  12. Sharon | Cheesy Pennies

    Oh, the piercing pain of the “is there coconut in here” question! And oh, the sweet feeling you’ll get someday, years from now, when you see that same kid asking you to make coconut oatmeal when he comes home from college over break. Food is love and food is memories, and you’re making both every time. Instant gratification is over-rated. 🙂

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Sharon, you have no idea how much I needed this comment. It’s been a rough day in Internet land and man, you just redeemed it for me. Thank you. Such sweet perspective.

      • Violet

        Ahhh, I could not agree more. I’m a college student. Everyday I dream of the boeuf bourguignon and black garlic sea bass my dad would make for dinner. As I slap some room temperature chicken and soggy vegetables onto my plate at the dining hall, I feel ashamed for taking the gourmet meals my dad would make every day for granted. Trust me, just because your kids don’t appreciate their coconut now doesn’t mean they won’t smile when the dining hall serves coconut oatmeal for breakfast and they’re instantly reminded of their beautiful mom who put love into every meal. They’re a little young to understand how lucky they are. I didn’t realize it until I moved away!

  13. jenny

    Oh yes. Needed this today. More than good enough, coconut flakes and all. 🙂

  14. Chrissy

    This sounds way better than the oats I just made myself for breakfast tomorrow! Maybe I’ll add coconut to it 🙂 Thanks for the idea!

  15. Cindy Rodriguez

    What a beautifully written post about the meaning of love. And the oatmeal sounds delish!

  16. Kiri

    My husband is in an oat phase at the moment. We have multiple conversations each day about new ways to prepare oats, what flavors work well, milk debates (cows milk, almond milk, etc.). I am definitely adding this recipe to the mix.

    P.S. Don’t worry – you and your son will laugh together about the ‘coconut oatmeal moments’ in the future. My Mom and I love laughing about those moments now.

  17. Abby

    What a beautifully written post, Ashley. Your blog is always such an inspiring place.

    And these photos are perfection!

  18. Saltandserenity

    Browned butter and coconut!!! You have my undying love. Beautifully written. Thanks for reminding us what love looks like.

  19. AmyRuth

    Though you say you don’t feed them for the accolades, every once in a while if there was a surprise “Oh Mom, this is so good!” It does kind of encourage the action, at least for me. It is a well stated position as a Mom who loves family, food and sharing. I get exactly what you are saying. Mine are raised and I’m an empty nester. To my surprise they actually like food?!! When they were young their palates drove me bananas. Keep plugging.

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      This is so incredibly encouraging to me. Right now it often seems like they’ll never appreciate food. I don’t need for them to love it in the same way I do but I sure do hope they appreciate it and see it for the gift it is. There was a point on our trip to SF when I see little snippets of food appreciation. It made me so happy.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment here and encourage my heart so deeply.

  20. Elyse

    Loving this: Each meal is like a love letter to them
    So true and so unnoticed by so many. Fab post.

  21. Diana W

    yum! do you think this could work with steel cut oats with the addition of more liquid? I usually save our rolled oats for making granola

  22. Jen

    Wonderful, delicious toasted oats! We sometimes just brown a knob of butter and toast the oats in it and stop there. They are delicious over fruit and yogurt, except that lately our four-year-old demands that the blueberries not touch the yogurt; they must be on the side, and they must be very cold, and if there isn’t enough honey on the top, we have a real problem. What I’m getting at is that I appreciate your post. 🙂

  23. thelittleloaf

    We don’t yet have kids but I can so remember conversations like that with my Mum. I wish I’d appreciated her cooking more, but now I’m al grown up I can thank her and her food is still as delicious as ever. 20 years from now you’ll all be sitting round the table and they’ll tell you how wonderful you are 🙂

  24. Expat Princess

    As the 50 year old child of a 76 year old gourmand, I can attest to having had some version of this conversation nearly every day until I went off to college. Eventually, I realized that cooking was my mother’s way of loving our family, a passion of hers, and a creative outlet. Although I remain a picky eater (sadly) this is NOT a reflection on my mother. It is how I am wired. She exposed me to wonderful food from around the globe and even if I still don’t eat broccoli, I know she loves me. My children, however, are the ones who have really benefitted. Keep paying it forward, Ashley!

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Thank you for this. That’s really all I want for my children – for them to see that this is how I love them. There are things that I do terribly as a mother but feeding them, that I can do and I hope they’ll see my weaknesses and see how I used my gifts to love them well. Thanks again for your encouraging word.

  25. Sonja

    ……so well said, your words brilliantly explained feelings of everyone who covers them by food for the closest and most loved audience………don’t give up, keep going, it will be returned……

  26. Kathleen

    I am banking on my children returning from college and begging me for certain foods. (I CAN’T WAIT!) I struggle the same as you. It’s tough when your expectations are set for praise. As accustomed as I’ve grown to complaints, I still feel sad about it if I’ve put forth great effort into a meal and think they’ll be pleased. I think that’s part of why I like baking for them more than cooking for them. I have a 99.9% “success” rate if sugar is involved.
    (We love Megan’s buttered oats here, too. So luxurious.)

  27. Pooja

    You just said out loud how I have been feeling all day. thank you!

  28. Vy

    Children are fickle when it comes to food. My toddler will love something one day and spits it out the next day. They might surprise you and ask for it. Or even like toasted coconut one day. When they have children of their own, they’ll think back and appreciate all the meals that you made for them. Thinking back, I’m so grateful my mom cooked breakfast for us almost everyday and she still does even though she’s almost 70!

  29. Maressa

    Wow are you in my head?! Amazing, love the expression of self, my sentiments exactly.

  30. Ann

    Coconut! The scene from It’s a wonderful life springs to mind. Where George Bailey responds to Mary’s dislike for coconut. That would be a perfect response to coconut haters!

  31. Ralph Smith

    This sounds really healthy and delicious, plus it is simple to prepare. Definitely on my short list of recipes to try.

  32. Lorna

    I’m starting to get fed up of my morning bowl of porridge, but it’s such a healthy, relatively easy method to start the day that I don’t really want to have to begin the search for a new favourite recipe. I’m printing off this recipe as I type, to see if my morning oats can still be saved!

  33. Libbynan

    What is it with kids and coconut? My sister and I both loved coconut from birth and we had five kids between us who wouldn’t touch it as children. Two of them ( ages 45 & 26 ) still won’t.
    As a mom, step-grandma, and step-great grandma, I can tell you that you have plenty of years left to see and marvel over your successes and failures as a parent. Every thing you do in love is a success, though it may take more years than you can imagine to realize it. Love them and insist on good manners. Those are the two best things you can do…. and grind up the coconut!

  34. Karen | Joyful Dinners

    I loved reading this, both for the story of your struggle with your children and for the amazing oatmeal. From the comments it appears that you have hit on a chord that many of us with children share. I am wondering at this point how my adventuress toddler who at the age of 4 loved the experience of living in France through a home exchange, eating her way through “stinky” cheese and delighting in trips to the market and the boulangerie, has become a teenager who won’t eat much of what I prepare. “Can’t we just eat normal food?” she asked while staring at a short rib laced risotto. But I know, as others have pointed out, that someday she will appreciate this. The lesson I want to teach her is not so much what we eat – it could be rice and beans – but that it was cooked with love. A love that is unconditional – I’m not going to stop infusing my cooking with love just because she doesn’t appreciate it. My love is not conditional on her approval. I learned this difficult lesson as a chef owner of a small restaurant. Talk about being vulnerable! Every day I would cook with all the love in my heart for whoever came to eat that day, and it took me a long time to not be crushed when someone didn’t like something or was critical. I had to just keep on cooking with love because I knew that it made all the difference in the food and in my own well being.

    Thank you for sharing.

  35. Colleen N

    Been there! Though my kids eat most things happily (kale saladby the bowl), so it always catches me off guard we someone bursts into tears at the food put in front of them. When I try to imagine getting that reaction 3xs a day like most moms, I think I’d throw in the apron. These oats, however, did not have that effect. They have been devoured 3 days in a row, with requests to have them for dessert. :). I toasted the coconut and replace some of the milk with a can of coconut milk. They say it tastes like cake/pudding. Thanks for the win!

  36. molly

    Oh, Ashley. I cheered, and moaned, and empathized when I first read your post. Then did it all over, reading the comments.

    For ballast? I’ve been told, by one of mine, that my chicken noodle soup (with home-poached organic chicken, long-simmered and well-strained broth, carrots, noodles, + exactly nothing else) was worse than his broken (4″ long jagged femur break, surgery, 12″ steel rod) leg. He wasn’t kidding, either. In seven years of trying, he’s never made it past one (infinitesimal) sip. What can we do but laugh?

    And take solace in the others — number two will eat said soup for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, by the bucket-full, moaning in pleasure the entire time. (This is why we have three!)

    I am convinced some people are wired to love and attend to and understand food. And that others are just as (really, truly) happy, not bothering with it all, subsisting on cereal. I’m pretty sure I have a mix of both 🙂

    Feed them in all the many ways they hunger, and know that it is always enough. Always.


  37. Rachele

    So I’m well into my thirties now, and yet my eyes still fill with years when I reflect on this…

    I went to small, private schools growing up and wore a uniform to school most days. My mom stayed home with us, and my dad worked hard for every dollar. As you can imagine, money was tight, but we were a family and happy.

    My mom can sew beautifully, and she used to sew my clothes. When we would get dress up or down days at school, so many of my clothes were homemade. My mom put so much thought and care into each outfit, even matching me with my cabbage patch doll (oh the 80’s, such a magical time). I can remember standing in the mirror in outfits she sewed for me…such beautiful outfits…crying and asking why we couldn’t just go shopping at the mall like everyone else.

    At that young, ignorant/naive age, i just didn’t get it. But now I remember how beautiful and special my clothes were, and wish I could go back and do it all over again. I’d be so proud of my clothes and loving towards my mom…

    It took a few years and a lot of patience, unconditional love and living by example on my mom’s part, but I get it now. I feel the love my mom was giving me then, and have a burning and aching gratitude towards her now for things she did for me 30 years ago. And most importantly, I have learned to be grateful in the now, because I can’t go back and do it over.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is this…You’re making an investment. You might not see or feel the reward now, but they will get it someday. They will see the blessings and feel blessed, and feel your love like an overwhelming bear hug, even in hindsight. They will learn to keep loving even when they don’t feel the love.

    And then you will see your investment paying off.

    Excuse me…I have to go drive over and hug my mom now.

  38. Meg Walters

    This happened a lot to me when my kids were growing up. “Jim gets polenta instead. Why can’t you make it?” Now my 27-30 year old children are all great cooks, show me worlds of food I did not dare discover when they were little, and they appreciate my homemade bread, desserts, and dinners as often as they are able. You are building people here, who are still growing. They will become who they will be, and you will always be the one who helped them achieve that.

  39. Sara

    Ahhhh! You captured that feeling so well!! I’d never thought of it in those words, but when I read “each meal is like a love letter” a million memories flashed before me of times when I had put myself on a plate and handed it down only to met with disgust. Here’s to loving well and trying again at the next meal. 🙂

  40. Akhil

    Speechless. I was drawn to this post because I am a huge fan of coconut + oats. This is the perfect marriage between the two. I think more than the pictures, or even the recipe, your story telling compelled me to write this comment. I barely comment on blogs because I prefer to make the food and move on. But, I think your talent is shining through so much that I want to not only make the recipe, but thank you in advance for sharing it in such a beautiful way. Best of luck to you!