Our Little Table and Blueberry Baked Oatmeal
For the three coldest seasons of the year, we enjoy of our meals, both breakfast and dinner, inside at a wooden table tucked into the backmost corner of our hundred-year-old house. The thick edges of the round table are smooth from the care we took refinishing it by hand, together. Our chairs—his with the arms, mine without—are comfy enough for lingering if there’s time: a Sunday morning crossword puzzle, Greg’s famous waffles so light and crisp, a warm jug of Pennsylvania maple syrup, coffee for me, and kombucha tea for my waffle maker. Or the less predictable, occasional dinner where the conversation with the man I’ve spent fourteen years with is surprisingly and satisfyingly endless.
A hot-water radiator hiding just below the table top keeps our feet warm and toasty. Above the table a large window overlooks the now barren yard. With our waffles we watch the woodpeckers that come for the suet Greg feeds them each winter. At night the silhouette of our giant cottonwood tree is cast against the indigo sky. It towers above our house, like a sentry keeping watch over us while we sup on a wild mushroom risotto and single serving salads—his with extra nuts and blue cheese, mine with extra greens and salt.
The table is built for two; so small that I could easily reach across the table for Greg’s hand in the way I might if we were at a restaurant. Our chairs—his facing south, mine facing north—are close enough that he could feed me a forkful of something delicious in the way he might if we were at a restaurant. But I never reach for him. And he never brings his fork to my mouth, not here. We act as though we’re confined to these spaces with the candle in the center of the table serving as our demarcation line. Still, it’s a warm, happy space where dreams are hatched, plans are made, and all life’s easy puzzles are solved. Perhaps that’s why I never noticed the line. Or maybe it just settled into the space so gradually it went undetected.
While the line may have formed with subtly, it was lifted swiftly and without ceremony on an ordinary Tuesday morning by a small dish of golden baked oatmeal. In fact, this milestone oatmeal, my first-ever baked oatmeal (inspired by a recipe at Brown Eyed Baker), was placed in the middle of our table in the exact spot where the candle had been just the night before. I get it. This doesn’t sound extraordinary, because, well, because we’re talking about oatmeal, and maybe because putting a hot dish on the table isn’t such an uncommon thing to do. Except that it is uncommon around here.
When we first moved in together, before the table for two, before I could tell a woodpecker from a starling, before…we ate in the dining room. I had yet to master the fine art of cooking for two. At dinner time I’d lug giant casserole dishes brimming with my spin on my mom’s recipes to the big table. Even when we were satiated, the chicken and biscuits sitting just inches from our empty dinner plates seemed to beckon, “Just one more spoonful.” Well, the spoonfuls added up faster than the miles we put on our running shoes, so for the last decade we’ve taken to divvying up our dinners and plating them in the kitchen, no seconds.
(Unless it’s pizza night!)
On that Tuesday morning my oatmeal emerged from the oven perfectly golden and lovely, the top punctuated with bright red cranberries that had burst while it baked. I wanted Greg to see it before the surface was marred. Besides, what harm could come? My days of meals fit for an army were long over; the recipe for this gem had been adapted and scaled down to two hearty servings. And so I carried it to our little table.
Greg was puzzled when he took his south-facing seat, his bowl empty and a casserole staring back at him.
“It’s baked oatmeal,” I offered.
“What’s in it?” he asked with his eyes fixed solidly on the oatmeal.
This is a little dance we do when I make something that Greg doesn’t recognize. He acts suspicious as though I’m pulling something over on him. In turn, I fuel his paranoia with sarcastic retorts, “Well, I started with a cup of hemlock.”
“And then I added a handful of cranberries, some toasted walnuts, and a pinch of cinnamon.”
He scoffed then scooped some oatmeal from the dish and into his bowl marking his trail with a juicy cranberry that “jumped off” the spoon. It was a small scoop to start, but I already knew he’d be back for more. I filled my bowl and the usual morning chatter started. In short order, he was spooning the rest of his portion into his bowl, carefully scraping the spoon along the side to catch a few stubborn walnuts that were clinging there. As it turned out, Greg loves baked oatmeal, especially the recipe I finally arrived at below. More important, the dish, or rather the sharing of that dish, brought an intimacy to our little table that we hadn’t even noticed was missing.
That night when I reached for our his and hers salad bowls, I remembered our baked oatmeal and pulled out a pretty white serving bowl instead—big enough for a salad meant to be shared at our little table.
Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Almonds
If you like to tinker with a recipe, this one is for you. Make it once using the ingredient ratios that follow so you have a baseline. Then let the tinkering begin: peaches and pecans, raisins and walnuts, dried cherries and fresh apple, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg. Go! Like your oatmeal on the dry side? Cut back on the milk. Or soup it up with an extra splash. Almond milk is our go-to milk around here. Whole milk and soy milk work too. If you enjoy your oatmeal on the creamy side, treat yourself to whole milk. Many baked oatmeal recipes include melted butter. The ones I tried were all delicious, but the flavor and texture differences didn’t warrant the added saturated fat and calories.
3/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup of your favorite milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sprinkle the blueberries over the bottom of a small (3-4 cup capacity) baking dish or non-stick loaf pan. (I reserve a few blueberries and sprinkle them over the top before it goes into the oven.)
- In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla extract, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oats, baking powder, and almonds and pour the mixture over the blueberries. Use the spoon to evenly distribute the oats and nuts. If you have a few blueberries left, scatter them over the top.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden and the blueberries are near bursting. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 hearty servings.