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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

The Right Thing to Do, and a Scary Way to Do It

I was feeling nostalgic this morning. Nostalgic and hungry. So I raided the breakfast pantry in search of comfort food. And I found just the thing I was looking for, but it wasn’t nearly what I wanted. Clearly, I shouldn’t be making decisions before noon. Or possibly at all.

What I found in the kitchen was a box of Quaker Instant Oatmeal Bakery Favorites Flavor Variety. I don’t know exactly what that means — my early morning sentence diagramming skills are sorely lacking, admittedly — but many of those words sound delicious. Breakfast bliss, here I come.

“It seems a lot of people aren’t interested in food with the color of grout and the consistency of phlegm, but I think it’s delicious.”

I should explain that I have a soft spot for oatmeal. I don’t eat it often — when you wake up closer to the ‘crack of noon’ than the ‘crack of dawn’, breakfast foods are usually not an option. Occasionally, I’ll find an all-day diner or a ‘brunch till two’ extravaganza, but it’s a rare treat. And finding oatmeal on the menu is even less common. It seems a lot of people aren’t interested in food with the color of grout and the consistency of phlegm, but I think it’s delicious.

A little less delicious after that description, but I’ll get over it. I’m a resilient guy.

I think my love affair with waterlogged breakfast grains goes back to my childhood. My mother cooked all sorts of foods for breakfast — waffles, French toast, even bacon, sausage and eggs before her ‘health kick’ kicked in — but oatmeal was always among my favorites. Maybe it was the brown sugar she sprinkled on top. Maybe it was the way the oats clung and soaked into the toast. Maybe she slipped a little vodka into the bottom of the bowl. Who can say?

All I know is that a big bowl of oats was always a welcome sight at breakfasttime. If I saw the cardboard tube with the picture of the guy with the floppy hat and the Betty White hair, I knew tasty oatmeal was on the way. And if I could now get that same oatmeal with ‘Flavor’, ‘Variety’, ‘Bakery’, and ‘Instant’, what could possibly be wrong with that?

As it turns out, plenty. I’ll start by quoting the product page, straight from the Quaker’s mouth:

Imagine taste, nutrition and convenience all in the same package. Now imagine Instant Quaker Oatmeal!

See how they did that? Imagine this thing, then imagine that thing over there. No association is expressed or implied between the two. If you, the consumer, choose to equate the two concepts, the floppy-hatted grinning Puritan company cannot be held liable for your culinary disappointment. It’s marketing genius, is what it is.

But I hadn’t seen the ad copy at the time. So I dug into the box and pulled out what looked and felt like a small packet of seeds. Great. Had I been bamboozled? Was I supposed to grow my own oats, and serve breakfast in eight-to-twelve months? Was this the X-ray specs fiasco all over again?

Luckily, no. Instead of a picture of oats or carrots or sugar snap peas on the packet, I found three sets of instructions. Apparently, depending on your personal definition of ‘lazy’, you had options with these oats. There were stovetop directions, microwave directions, and ‘sedentary idiot’-proof directions, which went something like this:

Tear packet. Pour contents of packet into bowl. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water into bowl. Try not to choke on your spoon while you wolf it down, fatty.

I went with the microwave option. I’m not allowed near the stove without supervision, and the idiot instructions made me tear up a little. It’s like they could see through to my soul, man.

Two minutes and a few splashes of milk later, I had… well, I’m not sure what I had, exactly, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. These are not your mother’s oats-mobiles, it seems. Specifically, there were three problems: volume, consistency, and taste.

And frankly, what the hell else is there to a bowl of oats? It’s not a complex culinary creation, when you get right down to it. If Joe Bag o’Boiling Water can manage it, we’re not talking about haute cuisine here.

To be fair, the taste actually wasn’t so far off. It was just a little difficult to hark back to the halcyon days of breakfast yesteryore while staring at the runny mess of fresh-nuked slurry coating the bottom quarter-inch of my bowl. But I’d probably eat it again — provided I use six packets of oats and four drops of water, to make a proper sticky meal of it.

In the final analysis, I give the Quaker folks credit for ‘Instant’ and ‘Oatmeal’ in their product description, and partial credit for ‘Flavor’. They get an incomplete for ‘Variety’ — I survived ‘Apple Crisp’, but have yet to tangle with ‘Banana Bread’ or ‘Cinnamon Roll’. I’m still not sure where ‘Bakery’ comes in, or how on earth ‘Favorites’ is ever going to apply to this stuff, but it turned out okay for a first experiment.

Maybe I should take a page from Mom’s book to spice up my oatmeal. A little brown sugar could do wonders. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the vodka. She claims her secret oatmeal ingredient was ‘love’, but if that’s the case, then why did naptimes last for three hours? Wilford Brimley would be proud.

Permalink  |  2 Comments

2 Responses to “The Right Thing to Do, and a Scary Way to Do It”

  1. RRaccoon says:

    I love oatmeal! Very few people do. I think it’s dandy.

  2. batty says:

    lol that’s classic! *returns to lurking*

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