Monday, December 22, 2008
Porridge and Other Comestibles
Brrrrrrrr...today is a porridge day! Now, from late Spring to mid-Autumn here in southern New Jersey, the air is so thick with humidity that it resembles porridge. But, in the winter, it gets nicely frigid enough to necessitate eating porridge in order to fortify oneself properly for the long, cold day ahead. Today is just that kind of day. It's 17 degrees outside and the wind is blowing with an angry bluster all about the house. The wind actually woke me a few times in the night and keeps making the wreaths on the outside of the windows (which, miraculously, have not blown away) scratch furiously against the glass, startling me.
But I have nowhere to go today and am snuggled up with my cozy slippers, my warm, red plaid robe, a big bowl of porridge and a hot cup of tea. Of course, the tea. I drink tea even in the summer. But it is especially lovely in the winter. Do you like porridge? I know, I know, we Americans call it oatmeal. But, to me, "oatmeal" calls to mind images of little envelopes of dried-up, overly-sweet, over-processed, preserved flakes of cardboard that get soggy and lifeless when you pour a little water from the kettle on them. You know what I mean, right? I hate that stuff. It tastes terrible.
"Porridge" is quite a different animal altogether. The very word sounds more homey and cozy. There are no "instant" or "peaches-n-cream" (which tastes nothing like peaches or cream), or "weight-loss" or "reduced sugar" varieties. It is just pure, unadulterated, perfect-in-their-simplicity oats. You have to boil it, whether for an hour or just a few minutes, and its smooth blandness provides the perfect opportunity for personalization. You can add almost anything you want to it, your taste buds are the only limitations! The Viking likes it sweet and chunky with nuts, dried fruits, maple sugar and/or honey. I like it creamy and salty, like the Scots eat it (so I hear). A big dab of butter and a liberal sprinkling of salt are all I need to be in porridge heaven.
I used to buy Irish or Scottish steel-cut oats, which, in my opinion, are the Rolls-Royce of porridges, but they do tend to be expensive so I've compromised by buying the store brand of Old Fashioned Oats. They are, to be truthful, not steel-cut oats, but they are a far cry from instant, ridiculously flavored dust envelopes.
Now, I have heard that you can make perfectly blissful porridge practically effortlessly in the Thermowell of any Chambers stove. Allegedly, before you go to bed at night you can just dump the oats with a certain amount of water or milk (I always use milk; there just is no point in eating porridge made with water) and salt right into the pot, lower it into the well, put the lid on and go off to bed without even turning the gas on. And, also allegedly, the oats magically cook themselves simply from the heat of the pilot light while you are in sweet slumber, dreaming of the smooth, silky, sexy oats plumped by a nice, long milk bath that will greet you first thing in the morning when you lift the Thermowell lid. I have yet to try this wonder. I agree it is scandalous that I have had this stove for two winters and have never utilized its magic porridge-making capabilities, but, obviously, the problem lies not with the stove, but its owner. I admit, I am not organized enough to make preparations for breakfast the night before. I know it would make my life so much easier, would increase the likelihood of the entire family being able to sit down to breakfast together, and make me feel like Mother of The Year, but I can't do it. I can barely make sure there are clean clothes and towels for the next morning and see to it that homework is in folders and in backpacks before dragging myself off to bed. But I am getting sidetracked...
Usually, I think of putting oats in the Thermowell as I'm turning over to fall asleep. And by then, only the smoke alarm or the wail of one of my children can pry me from my bed. Oh well...maybe someday.
So, now that I have written an entire post about the wonders of porridge, let's move on to what can only be a more scintillating topic (there's nowhere to go but up, am I right?): Christmas dinner!
What are you having for your Holiday feast? What is the traditional menu in your home? Is it Prime Rib? Rack of Lamb? Honey-Glazed Ham? Turduckin? Or Thanksgiving Dinner Part II like in our family?
We have always had the same things for Christmas Dinner that we just had a short month ago for Thanksgiving Dinner. I never understood that, personally. There was never any variety! Never! I understand having to have turkey for Thanksgiving; I could never imagine that any other way. But Christmas? Christmas seemed like an opportunity to something else special.
It may, perhaps, be related to my general taste for turkey. I know it's unAmerican, but I'm not wild about turkey. Oh, I like it enough to enjoy one day a year, but if something were to go dreadfully wrong and, say, the dog ate half of the turkey before it made it to the table, or the bird turned out to be otherwise ruined and Thanksgiving had to go on without it, I wouldn't complain. Unless I had been the one to spend $30 on the ruined meat.
Which brings me to my other point. If I'm going to spend $30plus on meat, maybe I want to spend it on meat that I would actually order if I were in a fancy restaurant. I have never ordered roast turkey when eating out, not once. I don't like it enough for that. So why would I spend that kind of money on something I'm just kind of ambivalent about?
I know, I know, I'm not the only one eating on Christmas Day. But, I've actually asked around this year and no one seems to be horrified at the idea of having something in place of the turkey. Especially given the possibilities of alternatives I am considering.
If I were a more experienced cook, I would consider a roast goose. I've always wanted to try it, it sounds so festive and Charles Dickens-ish! But I've heard it can be gamey and I don't think I want to experiment too much on Christmas Day.
I was leaning very much toward Prime Rib before The Viking informed me he doesn't like it. I was all astonishment, I must say. What red-blooded Viking man doesn't like Prime Rib, I ask you? But, he doesn't like it, and as I cook largely to please his palate, it was sadly eliminated.
Then there's lamb. I find this terrifyingly intimidating. I love lamb (not to be confused with I love lamp) but turn all puddly when faced with even the notion of preparing it. Probably because it is one of The Viking's all-time favorite foods on the planet ever. He had a Henry VIII-sized hunk of lamb at a pub our first night in England and every meal since that fateful day has been measured against that one...and come up painfully short, I might add. He was never more Vikingish than he was tearing into that lamb.
Our final nominee is the just-as-tasty, just-as-fancy, but much less intimidating Tenderloin of Beef. And, I can't help but think, "Arise, Sir Loin of Beef. Arise, Earl of Cloves. Arise, Duke of Brittingham. Arise, Baron of Munchhausen. Arise, Essence of Myrrh...Milk of Magnesia...Quarter of Ten." Somehow, Beef Tenderloin seems a bit of a cop-out to me. I know, I must be crazy. Beef Tenderloin has done nothing to deserve such malignment. Who doesn't love Beef Tenderloin? I know, vegetarians, but we don't have any in the family so that is a moot point.
Well, considering this is Monday, December 22 and Christmas is a scant THREE DAYS AWAY (how can this be??? It was just Halloween!) I'd better get my rear in gear! Maybe any of you reading this can help me out...I think I need a poll! You may have seen it already and wondered, "What the...?", it's up at the top of the page, up there on the right. Got it? Let me know what you think, especially if you know me and my capabilities and limitations!
On that note, I'm off to wallow in the miseries of my woeful time-management skillz, or lack thereof. I want to find a stellar pie crust recipe and make several to have ready for pie baking tomorrow afternoon. I need to make beds, clean the bathrooms and sweep the floors. I will probably wander around aimlessly trying to decide what to do first before escaping by taking a nap or playing some mindless game like Spider Solitaire and hate myself the rest of the day. It's anybody's guess, really.