“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.
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
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.