Breakfast. They say that’s the most important meal of the day. As I was brushing my teeth this morning after having scarfed down this amazing oatmeal that, btw, TASTES LIKE BREAD PUDDING, I flashed back to the crappiest, junkiest breakfast that I can recall. Mama made the four of us go to catechism until our freshman or sophomore years in high school. I don’t know about my sisters or brother but, when I was in junior high, I had to go to catechism Saturday mornings to prepare for the sacrament of Confirmation. The classes for catechism were held in our church’s parish school, Saint Anthony; an old, Spanish style building with plenty of graceful arches and columns and creaky, glossy wood staircases. Our church is gorgeous, so is the school, and we love them. There were two other girls in my catechism class I had grown up with, Susie N., whom I graduated with from Happyland Kindergarten, and Donna W., who lived an island over and joined Susie and me at East Side Elementary School I think around third or fourth grade. I don’t remember. But anyway, in preparation to receive the sacrament we had to read, learn, discuss and pray about the Holy Spirit, aka Holy Ghost back then, every Saturday morning… and I mean every. The three of us were good girls… maybe naughty good girls describes us better. But we never did anything bad. I think the worst thing we did up to that point was steal our parent’s liquor and vomit in the canal, the water behind our houses. Well, it got to the point the three of us were over spending our precious weekend morning talking and thinking about God and the Holy Spirit and being good. I mean, really, that’s what it was all about and it was torture to us. Plus we still had to go to church with our families on Sunday! I guess we got sick and tired of it because, at some point, one of us said, “Say, why don’t we cut class and walk over to the 7-11 to get Slurpees and stuff?” Stuff being candy. We hadn’t graduated to cigarettes yet. Off we went, in our cotton shifts and Bernardo sandals, hair shiny and long, under the arches, past the columns, through the gates and… omg! We’re cutting class… we’re leaving campus… Pandora’s box has been flung open. Y’all, the treats we bought! We stayed together by the Slurpee machine, each reaching for the smallest cup, (you had to budget SOMETHING for candy!) then we each pulled down the serving lever for the flavor of choice. Typically, coke, grape and cherry were offered. Cherry was my favorite but, honestly, I liked all three. From there we separated, every girl to herself. I agonized over Lemon Heads, Fireballs, Mary Jane’s, bubble gum, Rollos, wax candy, (remember the little wax coke bottles filled with sugar syrup? Yum), Sweet Tarts, Jolly Ranchers, Neccos, powder candy straws and candy cigarettes. You’re never too old for those. God, I’d play-smoke and eat one right now if I had one. I loved that hot pink color on the end of the cigarette that was supposed to be a glowing ash. We took our loot to the counter where we paid with quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies we had pinched from our parents. The man behind the counter, and it was always a man, rang us up and handed us back our breakfast candy now safely tucked into small, brown paper bags. He always looked at us as though we were troublemakers… gang members, bad seeds. Smh. It couldn’t have been later than 9:30 a.m. as we slowly, oh, so slowly left the store munching on our sweets and sipping our liquid sugar Slurpees, our morning drink of choice. No one said all that much, our pace significantly slower. The three of us were like the Slowskys. Everything had to be eaten and disposed of before we walked back through the school gates and were picked up by our mothers. We waltzed out to our waiting cars, our halos bright and shiny, not once did our moms have any idea what we had been doing nor where we’d been. That adventure set a precedent for future Saturday mornings. How we managed to get confirmed I’ll never know but we did. At no time during our Saturday morning outings did anything out of the ordinary happen to us. Just three young girls cutting class, buying candy and junk food with stolen monies, enjoying a little freedom. We truly were blessed!
This wondrous dish is all about clean eating but to taste it you sure wouldn’t know it. Warm from the oven or cold our of the fridge, these baked oats are perfect for a morning food junket, the banquet called breakfast. No butter, no oil and no flour make this an incredibly low-fat meal. In tandem, all of the oats, nuts and fresh fruit raises the nutrition and health benefits of this power-packed dish. But it still comes out of the oven creamy and rich, just like bread pudding. You must taste it with a drizzle of milk. Positively sinful. And yet… it’s not! It’s incredibly easy and quick to prepare. Most of the ingredients may be swapped out and you’ll still have a brunch-worthy offering. Your favorite nut can be used in lieu of almonds as can vanilla or other flavored extracts rather than almond extract. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, apples, bananas, peaches, whatever fruit you like works in place of the pears and raspberries. I love freshly grated nutmeg in my baked oats but cinnamon is also quite lovely. And, of course, any kind of milk is fine, from nut milk to cow’s milk, even evaporated milk will do. These ingredients all play on and complement each other in a creamy-dreamy kind of way. The berries are sweet yet tart enough to cut through the richness of the almond flavor. The addition of eggs and milk give the dish the luxurious velvety texture of bread pudding. And, of course, oats are the nutritional work horse of any dish. A much more balanced breakfast than a giant jawbreaker and a mouthful of DoubleBubble, don’t you think?
Almond, Pear & Raspberry Baked Oatmeal
- 2 cups old fashioned oats
- 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted and divided
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups milk of your choice. I use almond milk.
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 large ripe pears (2 generous cups), peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- Pre-heat oven to 375°. Lightly cover an 8×8, 9×9 or brownie pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium size bowl add oats, 3/4 cup almonds, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
- In a smaller bowl whisk eggs lightly to break up. Add milk, maple syrup and almond extract. Whisk until thoroughly combined and there are no streaks of eggs.
- Add pears to milk mixture and stir to combine.
- Scatter raspberries evenly over the bottom of the baking dish.
- Transfer oat mixture to baking dish and spread evenly over raspberries. Smooth top trying not to disturb berries.
- Pour milk mixture evenly over the oats and, using a spoon or fork, gently jiggle milk mixture down to the bottom of the pan. There should be no dry oats on top.
- Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of almonds over the top.
- Bake 45-50 minutes in 8×8-inch pan, 40-45 minutes for a 9×9 pan.
- Serve when cool enough to enjoy. A bit of milk drizzled over each serving is fabulous. Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator. Leftovers may be served warm from the microwave or served cold.