Real Cooking

January is “National Oatmeal Month.” I know this because I thoughtfully read the signs and notices that our elementary school kitchen staff posts for our nutritional edification.

Every work day, as I pass by the cafeteria, I scan the placards that decorate the doorways. Not, I might add, because I’m such a conscientious person, but because I’m always on the lookout for something that might trigger a thought for this column.

January is “National Oatmeal Month” because-I actually looked this up myself-more oatmeal is purchased in January than any other month of the year.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, January is suppose to be cold and blustery, and what better way to start the day but with a steaming bowl of hot oatmeal. Maybe with some raisins stirred in or topped with a crumble of brown sugar.

But for me, January is “Oatmeal Month” because-hang head in shame-my cholesterol levels have crept up to a point where some aspects of my lifestyle, mainly diet and exercise, must be addressed. Like most Americans, my diet has been too high in fats-the bad kind- and my exercise too low. Well, OK, almost nonexistent.

But, since I’m no longer in the kitchen all day cooking for parties and such, I’ve found that food isn’t quite the problem for me that it was. For one thing, there isn’t any leftover cheesecake beckoning from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

And even though the house painting has taken its toll on my gimpy shoulder, I seem to be slowly getting over the persistent aches and pains that have plagued my legs and back for so many years.

Standing on my feet all day and carrying loads that were way too heavy for me to safely tote brought my body to a place of continual pain where whole muscle groups were left injured from overuse.

It’s only now that I feel the urge to stretch. So, here we are in January, and it almost seems trite to share my resolve to live healthier. Well, be that as it may, I’m giving it a try.

But please don’t hold me to too high of a standard. I didn’t feel guilty at all when I devoured a caramel-coated nut roll the other morning at a coworker’s birthday celebration.

I mean, really, I don’t want to go overboard. I don’t want to be super-model thin or run a marathon. I’ve gone down that road before and it made me just as unhealthy as I am today. Probably even more so because, other than this cholesterol thing, I’m in overall good health. I just need to be more aware and do what’s right for me.

January is “National Oatmeal Month.” So Wilfred Brimley and I will be safeguarding our health by eating oatmeal for breakfast. And I’ll throw in some oatmeal in anything else that might lend itself to a little bulking up. Hopefully, the soluble fiber contained in the oatmeal I’ve been consuming will suck up any cholesterol that it happens to come into contact with while floating down my bloodstream.

Eating all this oatmeal has brought back some memories of days gone by. I remember my mother making oatmeal to feed to the dog during the winter. Don’t ask me why, as the dog always had a plentiful supply of kibble stored in the utility room at the back of the house.

I know this because my sister used to dare me to eat it, and I can vividly recall standing near the washing machine with a handful of Nutrena crunchy chunks in my mouth.

Anyway, after dinner every night during the coldest part of the winter, Mom would stir up some oatmeal to feed to the dog. He seemed to like it. I guess she thought he needed a hot dinner to ward off the cold.

During my high school years, one of my best friends lived directly behind our house; our backyards were divided by the back alley and a picket fence. We got in the habit, especially in winter, of taking turns inviting each other over for breakfast before heading off to school.

I remember Susie’s favorite breakfast was a bowl of hot oatmeal with bacon on the side. Many a day I would watch from the window to see my friend trudging through the snow that covered her backyard. When she hopped the fence, I knew it was time to dish up the oatmeal so that it would be waiting to warm her from the blustery northern wind.

Now when I eat my morning oatmeal, I remember Susie. And wish longingly for some bacon.

Funny, I never feel the urge to dig into the Science Diet.

* * *

When I was researching why January is “National Oatmeal Month,” I ran across this recipe, if you will, on the Quaker Oats Web site. I thought it might be fun to run instead of the usual recipe. Maybe some evening, while our family waits for the wall paint to dry, we’ll give each other facials.

Well, maybe Meg and I will. Have fun.

* * *

Basic Oatmeal Facial

Mix 1/4 cup ground oats (about 1/2 cup Quick or Old Fashioned oatmeal, unground) and 2-3 tablespoons of water until the mixture is a smooth, spreadable paste. Add more as needed. Apply the oat paste to a clean face, avoiding the eye area. Leave on for 15-20 minutes, wash off with warm water followed by a rinse with cold water.

To customize your facial, add any of the following mix-in ingredients. You can use one mix-in or several. A good rule of thumb is the more liquid the mix-in ingredient is, the less you use. If the paste gets too thin, add more oats. If it’s too stiff, add more water or mix-in. If you are allergic to any of these foods, don’t put them on your face. Duh.

For dry skin, mix in: avocado, mashed; apricot, mashed; banana, mashed; peach, mashed. Don’t use skins. Olive oil (start by adding 1/2 tsp.), whole milk (start with 1/2 tsp.), sour cream.

For oily skin, mix in: strawberry, mashed; papaya, mashed; tomato, mashed (use the meat of the tomato); honey; egg white; cucumber juice or pureed cucumber; vinegar; non-fat plain yogurt; lemon juice.

For exfoliating, mix in: cornmeal; papaya; plain yogurt; apricot, mashed.

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