It's been thanksgiving weekend in the States. I read a lot of American food blogs/sites and I think the cranberry population's been pretty much decimated, pumpkins too and I guess turkeys as well (I only really read veggie blogs... but they're the tradition I know). Anyway, looks like a fun holiday, getting together for a meal with friends and family when it's vague November and Christmas seems just slightly out of reach.
I know that some people find it superficial, giving thanks on one arbitrary day of the year. That you should be thankful every day, but sometimes it's hard and you just need a reminder. It's four o'clock, you're sitting in class, watching the light fade away, the night moves in and you wonder where the day went. It's chilly out, the sun won't be up till 8am, you've got a hundred tedious jobs to do tonight, there are puddles by the side of the road, cars plough through, you get an icy blast of scummy water. I don't know if it's so much thankful as... I've learnt to see the beauty in things, I suppose. I'm not saying that there's always beauty in life: sometimes I feel like I'm walking through damp sand, one step forwards, two steps back, often my sky nothing but a blanket of dark clouds. Keeping my head up is not always natural, but I've taught myself how. My room is small, the smallest in the house, and it's ironic since I think I have the most stuff. A whole shelf of cookbooks, camera equipment, an ice cream maker (yes, in my room).But it's from my room that I can lie in bed under the big window, watch the stars all night in winter, I'm sure I slept under a constellation. Summer mornings, I open the window, listen to the birds, watch a little deer stroll across the lawn, wave to a warbler sitting on the roof of the car. The room is small enough that the fairylights strung to the bed frame light the whole thing up, that if the sun is coming in and I close the curtains, the whole room turns into a little cocoon of white.
I moan about the farmers who till the fields and the big rubber tyres of their tractors drag mud out onto the road. The bottom of my jeans are never clean anymore and after every walk I crawl around on hands and knees, scrubbing the dogs' paws. But the fields are what the make the place. We watch deer jumping on sunset walks, the same little guy, we called him Stanley. There was once a group of four stags so big we thought they were horses, running in the long grass. Sometimes I stand in the kitchen, the kitchen that I curse for the gray tiles and strangely big windows, and I watch a pheasant sitting on the back fence. The fence that's old with peeling paint, but it's heavy with ivy, little birds have built a nest in the bird house by that fence. I'll long for a dishwasher and stand at the sink, a little robin will sit at the bird feeder, I'll meet his eye. In the garden that's a muddy swamp from all the rain, littered with leaves that cover the lawn, I've watched a baby pigeon fight his way back to life after his nest fell in a storm, bunnies eat fallen apples and blackbirds sing from the roof of the shed that I deemed 'such an eyesore'.
When does a place lose it's beauty? I realize that maybe it looks like I'm just really ungrateful. Complacent, whatever you want to call it: I live in some countryside idyll and I moan. I don't want it to come across like that - not like those people who'll post a photo on instagram, them in their expensive gym clothes with their great abs at some trendy gym in LA and write about how 'blessed' they are to be off to yoga at 9am on a Tuesday morning. Or the people who post overhead shots of brunches at cute indie cafes in Hoxton somewhere, predictably with a beautifully plated avocado toast (on sourdough rye bread, naturally. with an almond milk latte) and also write about how 'blessed' they are to have the gift of travel, or something. Nothing like that for me. My jeans are muddy, my room is still small, it rains, I get splashed, I live a normal life. I think I cried a couple of times in the past week, I fought with my sister over something irrelevant, I found the jar of granola was empty (yes, this is a disaster), I missed a huge deal on a camera lens, I stayed up way too late reading a cookbook and was so tired I was shaky the next day. There are times I laugh with my family, times when I'd rather sit in my room, door closed. I've learnt and I've set out very intentionally to try and see the little beautiful things a bit more, since the sun is always shining somewhere above the clouds.
I drive home in the night, I like the bouncing flashes of the headlights and tail lights, the dark and the road signs make me think of car trips, adventure. It's cold but the heating is on, sometimes it kind of smells of musty, but that's ok since it reminds of when we first bought this house and it was all new and exciting. Tractors run me off the road but I just sigh and take a minute to pat the doggies' heads, see that they're ok. There are days that I forget to do any of this, that I just plough on, autopilot, blinkers, just keeping my head above the sand. But then I'm reminded and I see the sun for a bit, no doubt night always draws in, but I take a step back. Whether you need a day to remind of you of the light, or it's just something you can do, either way, go you. Plants grow towards the light for a reason, and sometimes, you've got to make the clouds part yourself. If you celebrated, hope you had a good Thanksgiving. Either way, hope there's a li'l bit of light in your next week.
a sure-fire way to make your own brightness? A good breakfast. Therefore, I present you baked oatmeal. This ingenious idea is not my own, lots of blogs have similar renditions which all come from the famous baked oatmeal in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day. But anyway, it's seriously so good. Berries, because I thought we could all do with a bit of a vitamin C and an antioxidant boost at this dreary time of year and also because I don't want to bore you with more apple and um, it's in the name. Also I'm going to go and upset a few people and mention that c word Christmas. Yes this could come in handy over that crazy festive season we have in store for us - it's great for family brunches or something since its gluten free and vegan (which is where it differs from the original recipe) and easily feeds 9-12 people. It keeps well for 5 days in the fridge, so you can make it ahead or freeze extras for once you've cooked yourself out. And serve it with whatever you like, too. I hope you try this, even oatmeal haters, this is more like a very lightly sweetened crumble than anything porridge-y. Warm or cold, with a group or on a weekday, it's a keeper.
MIXED BERRY BAKED OATMEAL
// gluten free + vegan (dairy free) // serves 9 or 12 less hungry people
A wholesome gluten free and vegan breakfast recipe that keeps well and is fun to share. It's lightly sweetened with maple and has a lovely crunch from toasted oats and almonds. Swap in any fruits, berries or nuts you have
2 cups / 200g rolled oats, certified gluten free if necessary
1/2 cup / 75g almonds, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups milk of choice / 400ml (I used almond milk, any plant or regular would work) – room temperature/warm*
1/3 cup / 80ml pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
2 1/2 cups (400g) berries**
// for serving: milk or yogurt of choice, extra maple, more fruit or other goodies
preheat your oven to 190’C or 375’F and grease an 8x8inch square pan well with coconut oil.
in a medium bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and half the chopped almonds. Set aside.
in a liquid measuring jug or large bowl, combine the milk, oil, vanilla and maple syrup, whisk till well combined.
add the berries to the bottom of the pan, then evenly scatter the oat mix over.
drizzle the wet mix evenly over the oats, it should look moist. Tap the pan on the counter so that the liquid spreads through the batter, then sprinkle the remaining chopped almonds over.
bake for 37-40 minutes, till the oats are set and the top is lightly golden. If you know for sure you’re freezing/reheating, it may be a good idea to undertake it slightly.
allow to cool completely and then slice for clean squares. Serve however you like – with extra milk, yogurt, something sweet or more fruit for garnish.
*the milk shouldn’t be cold because otherwise the coconut oil will solidify. What I usually do is put the oil and milk from the fridge into a glass measuring cup and heat them together in the microwave, but otherwise just leave the measured milk out for a bit and you’ll be fine
** I used a cup of blackberries and 1/2 a cup raspberries, both were frozen. If you can find fresh (in November? Where do you live?) you can of course use them and any combination of berries would work, blueberries or strawberries would be amazing. Or even apples I think would be really nice, you can’t really go wrong here.
This will keep around 4 days covered in the fridge, you can serve it cold or reheat it with/without milk in the microwave or over the stove. To freeze, I portion it out into freezer bags and then just reheat in the microwave for longer, or let it thaw at room temperature and eat it with yogurt. Still tastes really good and is so handy to have around.