A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment

One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.

Fresh Picked Blackberry


Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt
Baked Oatmeal with Fresh Berries and Yogurt

When I cook, many of my ideas are a hodgepodge of inspiration gleaned from reading cookbooks, studying menus, ogling food blogs, listening to food podcasts, and hearing stories of wonderful meals cooked by other people.
The only real way to discover what works and what doesn’t, is experimentation.
There’s nothing I love more than brainstorming ideas for a meal with the odd assortment of things I might have in cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I like the challenge of pairing ingredients on hand, rather than always following a recipe.
One beautiful aspect of cooking is the way we inspire each other, one idea sparking a meal for someone else—an endless cycle of inspiration and nourishment.

What follows is a collection of ideas and musings that I hope will inspire you to get creative with your breakfast.

In addition! A recent friend—Nikki Drake— overheard my homesick wishes for pickled beets, and on her next trip down to the island she surprised me with a jar. Not only was it a happy, delicious, and soul-satisfying surprise, it was also a wonderful way to connect with someone. Now we have this shared food moment/experience in common.
So. I’m putting out a little challenge to my readers: If you’re visiting Isla Mujeres, feel free to bring down an ingredient of your choice for me to use, photograph, and feature on my website. I would like to give you recognition as well, but if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, simply let me know.
My hope is that this little food writing project will serve as inspiration for my kitchen to your kitchen, and create a network of people connected across the globe through food.
Delighting in pickled beets from Wisconsin in my Mexico kitchen…what a wonderful thing.
Thank you.

Oatmeal Inspired Breakfast Ideas:

Many believe that eating healthier is more expensive, which is indeed often the case. But not with breakfast. Many also believe that oatmeal is bland, plain, and gross. But it doesn’t have to be.
What follows is a collection of ideas and ingredients for a delicious, healthy, sustainable, inexpensive, versatile and adaptable-for-you oatmeal breakfast.
The purpose is to give you ideas to create your own version based off of what you have available/in season. Mix and match. Play. Then write me and tell me what worked and what didn’t—I would love to hear from you!

Fresh Picked Blackberry
Fresh Picked Blackberry

Breakfast: The meal to eat lots of healthy things that taste yummy and sustain you for the day.

Oatmeal

A warm bowl of sweet, creamy oatmeal in the morning can be like dessert for breakfast, while also being simple to prepare, especially if prepared ahead of time and reheated.
I’m Scottish, and it’s a well established truism in Scottish culture that a bowl of “parritch” (porridge) is a necessary component to your day to: “keep you regular.” I stand by my people on this one.
Processed foods create havoc on our insides, and a bowl of oatmeal every day or so goes a long way to help keep your insides on track and moving along.
Especially as a new mother, the benefits of oatmeal for breakfast are innumerable, particularly as oats are known to help fortify breast milk and the additions mentioned below are also beneficial.

Topping the oatmeal with sugar free, organic/local yogurt is a simple, tasty way to do something beneficial for your health every day. Yogurt has active cultures—probiotics—that are good for your digestive system, and ladies, this GOOD bacteria is also good for your lady parts.
Make sure the yogurt is sugar free, as added sugars can decrease health benefits. That’s an issue I often have living in Mexico: finding yogurt that doesn’t contain sugar.
In terms of texture and flavor, I always go with full fat Greek yogurt. You’ll be glad you did too. It’s creamier and more satisfying.

Many cookbooks have recipes for specific cooking times for the different grains, and the packages will as well, but I’ve found that adding the grains to hot water (making sure there is at least a cup more of water to grain ratio) works just as well.
I like to make up a big pot ahead of time, and keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of days so that it’s easy to reheat.

Oatmeal Grain Combinations:
o Rolled Oats
o Steel Cut Oats
o Scottish Oats
o Whatever other kind of Oats…
o Quinoa
o Barley
o Amaranth
o Flax Seeds
o Chia
o Hard Wheat Berries

Use one, two, or a mixed combination of these different grains and seeds for both added health benefits and textures.

Chia!
Chia!

Spices/Flavors:
o Add a splash of vanilla and/or a dash of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice.

Sweeteners:
My husband likes his oatmeal so drowned in brown sugar that the milk turns brown—and I get it. But there are also ways to accomplish making your oatmeal taste like dessert without giving yourself immediate cavities:

o Local honey is always a good option. Eating local honey has many health benefits such as helping your immunity to local allergens, as well as tasting delicious.
o Maple Syrup. Despite being from California, my husband has a passion for homemade maple syrup. Luckily for him, my Michigan family makes it, so he has a direct source.
o I’ve recently experimented with coconut sugar. It tastes a bit like molasses. If you live in the north, this might not be the most sustainable option, but for those further south it’s a good sweetener.

Milks:
I’ve tried it all, but unsweetened coconut milk is my favorite. I also really love a high cream content milk, which makes oatmeal taste really decadent.
Be aware that some of these milks have high environmental costs (almond especially). Research and educated choices make a big difference as a consumer.

o Milk/Cream/Evaporated Milk
o Coconut
o Soy
o Almond
o Rice
o Macadamia

Fruit Toppings (Fresh and Dried):
If you’re using dried fruit, a lot of times they’re already sweetened, so be aware of that as you add them. Dried cranberries in particular. If they’re organic they’re often sweetened with pineapple juice, but if not they’re heavily sweetened with sugar. These fruit toppings can make your breakfast oatmeal taste even more like dessert.
o Dried Cranberries
o Dates
o Figs
o Raisins
o Blueberries
o Raspberries/Blackberries
o Cherries
o Mango
o Strawberry
o Peach
o Apple
o Banana
o Papaya
o …And more!

Fresh Picked Blueberries
Fresh Picked Blueberries

Toppings:
This is a good place you can mix and match ingredients for flavor so your routine doesn’t become too bland, and for health purposes. When studying nutrition, I’ve noted repeatedly that those cultures who eat regular, small quantities of nuts are often healthier, and breakfast is a good way to add this healthy component to your every day routine.
o Almond
o Pepita (Toasted pumpkin seed. One of my favorites)
o Walnut
o Cashew
o Macadamia
o Pecan
o Pistachio
o Peanut

Other Toppings:
More health/flavor ingredients:
o Ground flax seed
o Sweet potatoes
o Shaved coconut
o Hemp Seeds

Recipe!
I’ve titled this crazy breakfast combo: “South American Influences Oatmeal.”
Oatmeal cooked with:
o Quinoa
o Ground Flax Seed
o Vanilla
o Nutmeg
o Ginger
o Cinnamon
Topped with:
o Yogurt
o Coconut Milk
o Pepitas
o Dates
o Dried Cranberry
o Diced Roasted Sweet Potato (I also bake up a big batch of Sweet Potatoes and keep them in the fridge to snack on whenever I feel the urge.)

It is my sincere hope that reading “A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment” has given you inspiration in some form, whether it’s to be more experimental with your breakfast, trying sweet potatoes with oatmeal, or packing a food item and bringing it down to Mexico to become famous on my website.
It’s what I’ve always loved about food: When recognized, it can be so many things: whole health, satisfaction, and our connecting point.

My Kitchen Table
My Kitchen Table

Author: Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills is a freelance writer/writing consultant/English Professor/Creative nonfiction writer from Michigan's Upper Peninsula living on the island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

2 thoughts on “A Little Shared Inspiration: The Great Breakfast Experiment”

  1. Hi Rachel –
    We met at North of 45.. Last night, I read your “Good Human” post, several times in fact. It was interesting that I had been thinking about similar issues yesterday afternoon.

    For me, an underlying theme was how we rate ourselves in comparison to others. How do I measure up to others and to others’ expectations of me? It is a weighty question, since who I am is a jumbled mix of DNA, experiences, environment, what I’ve been taught…the list goes on. But I have reached some conclusions – ok – well, maybe temporary conclusions until I learn more. My friend refers to these explorations as AFOGs – another f***** opportunity for growth. What I have learned:

    1 As are all of us, I am a complex composite of my DNA, the environment that not only I was raised in, but also that in which my parents and all of the people I’ve come in contact with through my life were raised in. I, too, am a child of the PE (Puritan Ethic) which was defined through the actions of my dad as ‘no fun until we’ve suffered enough and rarely have we suffered enough’. I am the recipient of endless messages from the media, social networking, magazines, and ‘experts’. I am a sponge and absorb messages consciously and unconsciously, continually. The only brief respite is when I meditate. Even when I am hiking alone, I am thinking about what I should be doing. (I’m wary of the tyranny of the ‘should’s’)

    2. I want to be liked and I want approval from others – reassurance that I am, in fact, a ‘good human’. I have not felt qualified to determine that for myself. For much of my life I have attempted to contort this body, mind, and soul into a person who would obtain that classification. As defined by others, of course, because they know more than I do about what a ‘good human’ is.

    3. I mean, really – I have spent most of my life believing that others knew more than I did about what characterized a ‘good human’ and what standards I should be meeting. The interesting revelation to me was that I was getting hundreds of messages about what a ‘good human’ is from hundreds of different people and I was supposed to meet all of these standards. But, (drum roll) taa-daa, not all of those people met all of the standards, just the one(s) they felt were important. I couldn’t do it. I was supposed to be Martha Stewart (or Rachel Mills) in the kitchen, buy (or want to buy) the high-end (and high price) items on Oprah Winfrey’s ‘My Favorite” list, command and control like Mary Barra, speak, inspire, and encourage like Michelle Obama, be perfectly coifed and made up like Halle Berry, have a body like Helen Mirren, write like Ann Patchet, and organize and clean like Marie Kondo…and have time left over. Ain’t gonna happen! But I tried and gave myself failing marks. I failed as a human!

    3a An aside – during my formative early 30s, I had a friend who seemed to have it all under control (p.s. she didn’t). She was a great hostess, so, of course I wanted to be a great hostess, too. She told me that I was insulting my dinner guests if I didn’t have two hot and three cold hors ‘d’oeuvre. Before dinner. (of course by dinner no one was hungry). I went crazy trying to meet this expectation, and have a spotless house to greet them, And, I guess it makes sense that we didn’t have company for dinner often. Well, one night after dinner, as the women guests and I were talking, they kindly told me I was doing too much and they couldn’t live up to my standard. Much to my horror, I was sending a message that a few nuts with drinks wasn’t good enough. I truly was horrified at myself. I was making them feel like others made me feel! We agreed that nothing mattered except whose feet were under the table. But it was a good lesson to me that messages come from unintended places. Among my close friend now (the initiator of the hors ‘d’oeuvres rule has long since moved on), the line ‘two hot and three cold’ means to chill and let go.

    4. So, I have viewed myself through the eyes of people who I credit with knowing more about me than I do. I have given them credit for being a greater expert on who I should be than I give myself. When I say it like that, it’s all pretty clear that I have the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. I dare say I am not the only one to do so. Alcohol and drugs (I never depended on them) mask this realization, I suspect – meditation and yoga have helped me clear my mind to see myself more clearly.

    5. I always believed, and stick with me on this, that my value was in what I do and not who I am. I couldn’t even grasp the concept when my therapist presented me with this. What value could I have if I wasn’t doing? I occasionally get the sense of it, only to lose it, again. But it is worth thinking about. If you have any clues, please help.

    6. There are things that need to be done. Yes. But, I don’t have to make it burdensome and I don’t have to keep my home spotless. I have a dear friend who does; her home is a show place and always perfect – no dust bunnies, no finger prints on the windows or smudges on the walls, no stacks of magazines. She loves keeping it that way and I am happy for her. When I said once that I admired her tenacity, and that I couldn’t manage it with the other things I enjoyed (i.e. we are different, that’s all), she was surprised that I had other things that occupied my time. As Maurice Chevalier would say “Viva la difference.”

    7. What this all means – other than an opportunity to write out a train of thought – is that I wished I’d learned a half a life ago that (a) we are all different and have different strengths and God forbid everyone be like me, and (b) I will determine for myself whether I am a ‘good human,’ thank you very much. I possess all of the information I need to do so. I will decide if I should be spending my time responding to an interesting blog or scrubbing floors, or sitting and staring at the trees bending in the breeze, marveling at how they manage to stay grounded and sway at the same time. And I will let you decide that for you, and support you in your decision, oh, and maybe remind you of the good you do – and are in the world. (But of course, if you were to ask, I’d prefer to spend an afternoon nurturing a baby than doing anything else. But you didn’t ask.)

    My best to you in your journey-
    Maggie

    1. Dear dear Maggie,
      Thank you so very much for your thoughtful, lovely response. I’ve read it over twice now and appreciate your thoughts, wisdom, and insight so very much. You’re spot on in terms of how we let other people influence our ideas of ourselves. I too am compulsive about my house and being a good hostess, and I’m working on not apologizing for how dirty my house is when someone comes over, because in reality, it isn’t dirty and like you point out, that can make other people feel self conscience about their own spaces—and having you over! My sweet husband said to me recently, when I was complaining about the house being dirty. “Honey, the house isn’t dirty and I think you should work on not saying that because our son will hear you and I don’t want him to grow up thinking the house is dirty when it’s not.” That stopped me and made me think about that scenario in a different light.
      It’s not easy to change those mindsets that are so ingrained, but the long term benefits are certainly worth it.
      Thank you for reading, but most of all for reaching out and responding. It made me so happy.

      Hugs,
      Rachel

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