Kitchen Sink Oatmeal and Thanksgiving Prep

It’s sweet potato city in here. Escapee cranberries are meeting slow squish-deaths underfoot. All four burners and the oven are blasting, so when Matt gets back from the store with the forgotten ingredients and opens the door, he’s going to have to Kurt Russell that Backdraft.  With two prep and cook windows in my work schedule between now and sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner – right now and Wednesday night after 8 p.m. – it made sense to get started on the dishes we’re contributing immediately. Plus everything I’ve read about bread dough seems to imply that patience is key, so desperation-kneading late on Thanksgiving eve didn’t sound like the best idea.

No time like the present, so this evening is unfolding to a long stretch of cooking in a sweltering kitchen accompanied by good playlists and healthy, energy sustaining snacks:

Shout out to RCocomon for introducing us to Jack Honey at Rath and Aimee’s wedding. Hot sauce in my bag.

In this cooking marathon, I’m running out of counter space, vessels, and Gruyere – Gruyere for snacking, not cooking. One can’t live on Jack and gourmet mallows** alone. Besides the twin benefits of an cheese/sweet consumption and whiskey swilling, if you cook early for Thanksgiving, you might find yourself with a little extra this and that, perhaps enough to cobble a teeny taste-test version of the big dish you’re contributing. Happy early Thanksgiving!

But the purpose of the post is to offer a suggestion for how to start your Thanksgiving morning. With a little fiber-filled breakfast, it’ll be easier not to binge on the cheese log (or brie en croute with lingonberry jam, pinky finger UUUP) and other appetizers and wreck your appetite for the big meal. So may I suggest a little kitchen sink oatmeal? It involves a mix of steel cut oats and rolled oats (a solution for random ingredients throwing off the ratios in a ragtag “recipe”), the end-piece of an overripe banana, that last little fourth cup of coconut milk lingering in the fridge, the teensiest knob of butter, the bottom of a few bags of nuts and dried fruit, and honey.

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal
Serves 4

1/2 cup steel cut oats
About a 1/2 cup rolled oats – you’ll use these to sop up whatever extra liquid the steel cut oats don’t absorb
1.5 cups liquid – could be all water, or a mix of water and coconut milk/regular milk/cream (if you use cream in your Thanksgiving morning oatmeal, hats off)
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 overripe banana, mashed
1/3 cup mixed dried fruit – I used dried cherries and these weird Turkish apricots that Matt bought, they are dark brown and frightening
1 teaspoon honey
Dash of cinnamon, cardamom (just a teensy bit!), and vanilla, if desired
Little knob of butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts, lightly toasted – I used pecans

Bring water (and other liquids) to a boil. (Bob’s Mill recipe recommended filter water, so use that if you’ve got it). Add salt and steel cut oats, reduce heat to a simmer, and put a lid on the pot. Cook for 10 minutes, then taste-test for desired amount of chewiness.  (There will be extra liquid in the pot). As soon as the steel cut oats are slightly chewier than your preferred texture, add mashed banana, dried fruit, spices, honey and vanilla, and sprinkle on rolled oats to sop up the extra liquid. Stir, cook for another 5-10 minutes until the liquid is soaked up, then add the butter. Put into bowls, and top with toasted nuts, and random toasted coconut left over from a fried rice experiment, should you have it.  Tada! – (everything but the) kitchen sink oatmeal.

**Laziness means you can’t bear walking another 3/4 miles to the normal grocery store to buy normal marshmallows at normal prices.

Of Half-Sour Pickles and Reubens at Sunrise

If you ever find yourself driving on 84 just north of Hartford at the front or tail-end of a hefty road trip, shore up your stomach with a little detour in Vernon, CT to visit Rein’s Deli.  Over the past decade of making multiple annual hauls between Boston and Philadelphia, I’m sure at least sixty friends, strangers, acquaintances, people on the 86 bus, people on the next treadmill, etc., urged a stopover at Rein’s. But somehow we never made it happen.

This year I remembered, just at the crack of dawn as we barreled down the highway trying to beat the inevitable Thanksgiving rush. While visions of matzoh balls danced in my head, Google maps showed that by maintaining our current semi-illegal speed, we’d hit Rein’s just as it opened at 7 a.m.  And arrive we did, to a line of ten inexplicably cheerful people already waiting outside the shuttered building.

The place is by no means a well-kept secret. That the on/off ramp of the highway deposits you into the front entrance probably doesn’t contribute excess anonymity either. But the lights came on, the door was unlatched, and we rushed in with the other ten to see a straight-faced staff three times our number clearly preparing for battle. To their credit, they didn’t blink at an order of 7 a.m. Reuben, potato knish, and breakfast bagel with a huge bucket of half sours to wash it all down.

It might not have been the best thing to start what is already an indulgent holiday, but it was worth it. So worth it that we stopped by again on our way back to Boston to see the midday crush waiting in a DMV-sized line for lunch. Now wily veterans, we skirted the crowd, and instead grabbed some frozen pints of matzoh ball soup and another bucket of pickles to enjoy later in the week.

We’ve since decided to make the Rein’s Deli stop our new family tradition.  So we’ll see you there in December, other 79% of the holiday highway traveling population!