Sunday, March 25, 2012

Oatmeal #15: Specialty's

This is the first ever post written in Google Chrome. Look out for that. Not sure how, but do it.

Ahhh Specialty's, that grammatically odd beacon of hope. (I kind of wish it sucked just so I could call it "a beacon of nope". Maybe next time. I think I've used that joke before, but I'm allowed to recycle my own material.) Instead of giving you the history of Specialty's, merely allow me to tell you that this place is generally The Best. They make their own soups, bread, cookies, and pastries every day. Their sandwiches and salads are delicious. Everyone who works there is my best friend. They are only located in California, Washington state, and Chicago, so I can feel exclusive and refined eating here. Their cutlery is biodegradable or some nonsense. I order from them all the time for events at work. I recommend it to all out-of-towners. You can get alerts sent to you when their cookies are fresh out of the oven. Conclusion: it's pretty much my favorite place to go for breakfast or lunch in the Loop, but unfortunately, it is rather out of the way from my office, so it usually takes a special reason for me to go here. This is tragic.
  • Price: What a surprise that I can't find my receipt from several months ago. Luckily, I am well-versed in the ways of internet search engines (for example, a eu-google-y for "defective products" has helped me to realize that apparently, chains break a lot or something), and I have determined that the oatmeal here is $3.99. My total with a medium coffee (INTELLIGENTSIA, more on that later) and tax was $6.58, so coffee must be $1.95 or so.'s darn good oatmeal. And REALLY good coffee. But that's a lot o' billz, and I'm certainly not exactly pre-Episode 1 Lindsay Bluth Funke. (This is not a Star Wars reference.) (2) But it's partly my fault because...
  • Size: There are two sizes, and I picked the bigger one. Thanks, I'm an American. A "regular" is twelve ounces, and the "small" is eight, I believe. (What belittling size names. You're irregular if you want the small. Hahaha think up a joke about constipation and oatmeal and fiber and chuckle quietly to yourself. You're gross.) Definitely something less than twelve. The small is $2.99, so obviously that would be a more frugal choice. But prepare to deal with Low Blood Sugar Rage around 10:45am. (9)
  • Toppings: The choices are slivered almonds, raisins, brown sugar, and craisins. You can have as few or as many of them as you like, but they put them on for me because I'm actually five years old. I got everything but the raisins, because, you know, eww. Raisins are socially, morally, and edibly  acceptable in two places: in those cute little boxes in the lunch pails of various whiny and angry 8-year-olds, and in cinnamon raisin bread. So MINUS POINTS for that. Not a great selection, but what they do have is good. However, they did use a tiny bit too much brown sugar. Common problem, but still unforgivable. ("Unforgivable" would be a great name for a cologne. Oh crap. He would.) (5)
  • Texture/Appearance: Investigate photo. Check! Looks pretty good! Genuine, steel-cut oats well-cooked and not left to sit for days results in a creamy texture that is neither sloppy nor yogurty. Looking at the photo makes me want to eat it right now. Or sext it. (Christmas break means it's been several days since my last oatmeal fix.) (9)
  • Temperature: Near mouth burn!! (Err...don't Google "too hot". Especially not at work. K, thanx.) Really, this is remarkable, because the walk from Specialtys to my office is significant, so the fact that it's still hot by the time I sit down and start eating it is one hundred dollars' worth of perfection. (10)
  • Taste: Diggity. Delish fo sho. (Aside from the brown sugar overage.) You can really tell they put some effort into this, as they do all of their food. The oatmeal alone is a little bland, goes oatmeal. Unfortunately, when it comes to this blog, being good is boring. (8)
  • Calories: They have nutritional info for every item on their menu EXCEPT oatmeal. Oatmeal basically doesn't even get picked last for the kickball team. Oatmeal is still picking itself up from the floor because the McGriddles tied his shoelaces to his chair. But if I had to guess I'd say Never mind, I found it. Have I mentioned I know how to use Google? Apparently it has 200 calories (I feel like they say that whilst winking at me). PSHA! RIGHT! This must be without toppings, which I'm guessing add about 150-200 calories, which is not for the weak. (Please note that I inserted that strikethrough above by editing the HTML, NOT by using the strikethrough button, proving that I am, in fact, a real blogger and not some lazy homeless person.) 
  • Intangibles: They serve The Best Coffee Ever. I mean, seriously. I have walked great distances in sub-freezing temperatures to get Intelligentsia coffee, and, if you need further proof, one of my favorite bands also loves it. A barista there won the world barista championships or something so...don't mess around with them. Srsly. They put foam on their iced lattes and make designs in your coffee.  (9)
TOTAL: 2+9+5+9+10+8+9=52

!!! A new leader! Almost exactly two years after Cafe Descartes unexpectedly swooped in and knocked me off of my feet with their mysterious latte/oatmeal cyborg, good ol' Specialty's scores one for traditionalists everywhere. They apparently sell "group steel-cut oatmeal" that serves 8-10 people for $29.99. After reflecting upon this post, it is strongly tempting to purchase this on Monday morning and eat my way through it during the week. (Or I could have a sort of Paul Newman (mmmm....) in Cool Hand Luke egg-eating contest (or, to a much lesser extent, a Reese in Malcolm in the Middle peep-eating contest*) with myself and see if I could get people to pay me to eat it all in one sitting...any takers? No? Thank goodness.) I mean, if it serves me ten times, that's definitely a much lower price per serving! I'm only trying to be fiscally responsible, here.**

*Note that in the official peep-eating contest rules, you are disqualified if you puke (duh...what kind of contest is this?) but reinstated if you eat your own puke. Muse on that for a second. Thankfully, this didn't happen at this year's contest. Hands down, that's the best website I've ever seen.)

**Also, you can never get too much Paul Newman, so do yourself a favor and watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tonight, at the latest.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Oatmeal # 14: Sopraffina

Just look at that smoldering temptress carefully etched on that cup and tell me you don't immediately want to eat here. And would you take a look at the artistic daring of using a different font (and in a different CASE, for the love of mercy) for the f's in their name? Though honestly, with my fontal knowledge, it could be the exact same font, just someone had the idiocy/daring/burst of creativity to hit caps lock and ctrl-i before typing the f's. Well, it works, because it always makes me want to pronounce it "SopraffffffffffffffffffffffffffffINA!!!!!" Hopefully that distracted you from the dead-sea-creature-that-is-just-beginning-to-rot oatmeal that I have dared to present before you in .jpeg form. (This paragraph just made several graphic design people crawl under the nearest table in horrified shame.* Hehehe.) Let's completely ignore the stack of papers to the left, which clearly speaks to my level of importance at my job. You can see that they give me a phone, and, as the ubiquitous blue cord evidences, internet access. So they trust me to successfully interact with humans. But alas, I have already said too much, as you have undoubtedly now eliminated "rock quarry" from my potential places of employment, and that's just too close for comfort.

*I liked it until they showed the alien.

Sopraffina (or Sopraffizzle, for my under 30 readers, and Sopraffina Marketcaffe for my obnoxious readers) does not have a Wikipedia page, so my research sources are exhausted. (But my knowledge of Serafina and Children of the Vault has increased tenfold! Wait, a ten times increase of zero is still zero. So I guess my knowledge of those two things at least now exists!) As far as I can tell, it is only located in Chicago (Elitist and exclusive! Just the way I like it.), with a grand total of five locations, all in the Loop. It goes a bit above your typical soup/salad/sandwich lunch cafe, as it also serves pizzas, pasta dishes, and antipastis (yuppies). For example, you can get a roasted salmon platter for the REALLY important meetings or to show off your aristocratic taste buds to the people with whom you eat lunch. It also serves a breakfast that isn't just bagels and muffins, as I have actually seen them scrambling real eggs with mine own blue eyes. They apparently also have sausage, which, thankfully, I have NOT seen them making with mine own blue eyes. (Ha HA you were expecting a link showing sausage being made! Psych!) My friend NL, who speaks Italian, or at least is pretty good at faking it, informed me that "sopraffina" translates to "super fine," so use that word next time you are trying to woo someone of the opposite sex. However, I would not use the Sopraffina delivery truck for such a task, because it looks like it came down with automotive gangrene or trench foot** and someone had to amputate the front of it, and that's just not romantic at all. Trust me, someone tried that one on me once.***

**If you don't know what trench foot is, my high school history teacher just pwned the living daylights out of yours.
***Not true, though now I wish it were.

  • Price: $2.59, and coffee is a dollar with a breakfast item, so my total was $3.97. That makes it ten whole cents more than Caribou Coffee. $2.59, and they got rid of their coffee special, so my total was an over-the-line $4.93. (8 4! Those punks. This will cost them dearly, both in their total score and in their ability to relate to the commoners.)
  • Size: Yowzers. They basically give you a 10 gallon hat and let you fill it to the brim with oatmeal. Oh, think I am exaggerating, do you? Well, my friend AG once said about me, "She does not exaggerate. The world adjusts itself to her hyberboles." So next time I go in here to buy oatmeal, they'd better darn well give me a 10 gallon hat. Or else I will use the written word to shred them to bits in front of the entire audience of this blog, which is at least one person when I remind them to read it, and NO, it isn't my mother. (10)
  • Toppings: My initial reflections on this topic bring to mind the British rationing system during World War II (how about THAT segue, eh?). If you didn't have my high school history teacher and need a refresher course, simply go eat dinner at your typical American chain. What you eat at that meal will be approximately equal to what a British person was allowed for a whole week. (If there are peanut shells on the floor of said American chain restaurant, divide your food in half before making this comparison.) Point is, the toppings choices are sparing at best, and the portions are all discombobulated. You are given enough brown sugar to bake half of a batch of cookies (though a few times it has been so hard it was basically petrified), and then you can choose between a smidgen of mixed caramelized nuts or a pinch of dried cranberries. Admittedly, they are excellent caramelized nuts, but given the vat of oatmeal they give you, they kind of need to work on a balancing act. Now I must rid myself of the black cloud of guilt that has followed me for months and admit that there were a few times where I took BOTH the nuts and the cranberries, because they just keep them in these little containers next to the register, and it wasn't clear to me at the time how many you were allowed. Gosh, I hope they don't refuse me service next time. That would probably get me thrown out of the Oatmeal Alliance. (Ho ho ho and you thought I was making it up!) (3)
  • Texture/Appearance: Weeeell, I can't tell if it's steel cut or rolled (Side note: rumors abound that Ryan Reynolds loves McCann's Irish Oatmeal as well, which, because it's Ryan Reynolds, is unfortunate*, but supposedly he looks like this so...take that for what you will.), which is obviously a bad textural sign. It seems overcooked and mushy. The picture looks quite terrible, but I bet you're no spring flower first thing in the ole a.m. either, so back off. Though sometimes there would also be chunks of uncooked dried oats, so that's no good. (3)
*I think that's Ryan Reynolds, anyway. Hard to tell with that clever mask that hides his entire nose.
  • Temperature: They keep it in an enormous pot like soup in a cafeteria, so usually it's pretty hot, but since it is just sitting in this pot not getting stirred or anything, it tends to not be evenly hot. So, in a way, it's like a public pool that has some warm spots because kids have peed in it. (6)
  • Taste: It actually is surprisingly good, given the appearance, serving technique, and etc. It has a very nutty flavor and isn't sweet at all, which I always appreciate. I think I could eat this almost without any toppings. So it's basically like a cupcake with no frosting. (8)
  • Calories: They don't provide nutritional information for their oatmeal, but I am pretty sure it's just oats and water. Nevertheless, I suspect it's a disaster. The killers here are the caramelized nuts and the massive portion. I suppose I could just not use the nuts, but honestly, they give me little alternative. Perhaps you are thinking, "you fat American, just don't fill the container all the way." I can't believe you would make such an unpatriotic suggestion so close to our Independence Day.
  • Intangibles: I have a terrible suspicion that they just make a massive pot of oatmeal on Monday, reheat it every morning, and throw away what's left on Friday. I also have a terrible suspicion that I am the only person who gets oatmeal here, as I have never seen someone else even APPROACH the oatmeal area (though they do kind of hide it). But I definitely notice the oatmeal level in the pot slowly going down as the week goes along, and I am reasonably certain that Chicago's oatmeal consumption doesn't exponentially increase as we get closer to Friday. Shady. The oatmeal process was also incredibly confusing the first time I went. Yeah, you thought this blog was all fun and games, eh? Well, it's NOT. I had to ask no fewer than THREE people where the oatmeal was, because the sign said it's "near the barista bar," which, for a well-trained former Starbucks employee like me, means "near the coffee." And it was near the coffee, if we're talking about the coffee in the Dunkin' Donuts across the street. Because the oatmeal is right near the door, and the barista bar is completely across the restaurant. Naturally. But the coffee is good (except the iced coffee is PRESWEETENED, which is basically like smoking while you're pregnant. Give people the choice, eh?) once you solve the treasure hunt, and I actually really like this place for lunch. (5)
TOTAL: 4+10+3+3+6+8+5=39

Now, that may not be a great score, but it's at least as good as freestyle canoe dancing. (The "action" really starts at 1:20. I also highly recommend the interpretation of Phantom of the Opera in the suggested videos if you have the stomach for some REAL drama on the high seas. (High Cs? HAHAHAHA nerd joke.)) Just check out that crowd! People flock around my desk at work in a very similar fashion to watch my oatmeal taste tests. That or they are just coming to use the combination printer/fax/copier that is right in front of me. Sometimes it's hard to tell. But if I've learned anything in my 3+ years at my job, it's that we DON'T have to dial 9 to send a fax.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Am Not Lazy #6: Toasted Oatmeal, i.e, My Most Favoritest Oatmeal EVER (So Far)

Prepare to have you life dramatically altered. Prepare to have your mindset challenged. Prepare to rethink everything you thought you knew about oatmeal, especially since I'm guessing the only things you know about oatmeal are what I've told you. Prepare to love breakfast even more than you already do (if possible). Because despite what I may have said in the past, I am about to introduce you to my absolutest most favoritest oatmeal EVER (so far). (My spell checker is saying that "absolutest" is ok but "favoritest" is not. That makes sense.)

Maybe some among you are giggling right now because you know that I often use the word "toasted" to refer to someone who has been enjoying a bit too much of the ole' malted barley. Well, shame on you, imagining me philandering with drunk oatmeal! (Though oatmeal is similar to barley, and there are oatmeal stouts, so I suppose I can allow it.) My roommate sent me this post (It's a bit of a spoiler for this post, so maybe ignore it, please. I refuse to be unnecessary. Everything I do on this blog is totally original, and no one has ever done anything like it.) about toasted oatmeal a couple of months or so ago, and it has dramatically changed my life (as most oatmeal things do). I must announce that I have almost completely abandoned my former oatmeal methodologies in favor of this one, unless I am pressed for time or out of steel-cut oats. While this recipe does take the longest, it also requires the fewest ingredients, and is just the most gosh darn tasty of them all.

You just need steel-cut oats (rolled ones won't work for this, as they're already cooked), butter, and some sort of milk or milk-like product. You also need water, which I wasn't going to include, but that sneaky little sprite managed to work his way into the background anyway. (Speaking of which, I'm watching The Upper Class sashay its way through the Masters right now. Yup, I'm that elitist.)

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. The original post said to use two tablespoons, but I usually use one, and it's fine. This time I used almost 1.5 tablespoons because it was a Saturday morning, and I felt indulgent. The butter should be a bit foamy.

2. Toss in a cup of steel-cut oats. In case you have forgotten, they look like this:

As always, I am using McCann's Steel-Cut Oats, which are the best of the best. See the Slow Cooker Oatmeal post for my ecstatic expostulations on the stuff. Stir the oatmeal frequently while it cooks, until it is toasted (about 5 minutes). It will start to smell like popcorn and may even make a popping noise, but that's completely normal. It helps to leave the open oat container on the counter so you can compare the changing colors of the oats. Some pieces may burn a bit, but that's fine. It's impossible to toast all of the oats evenly, so once I start seeing burned pieces, I figure it's time to....

3. Add the water! Four cups, please. It will steam and sizzle, and, if you wear specs like I do on a lazy Saturday morning, fog them up. Do not be alarmed. Please admire this action photo.

4. Bring to a boil, lower the heat a bit, and let it simmer until cooked, which is generally about 20 minutes. You have to stir occasionally, but you can definitely walk away and do something else during this time, like make coffee (yum). It will thicken considerably and become like porridge. Once it has finished cooking, turn off the heat and let it sit for a minute or two to further thicken. (Sometimes I forget to do this. It's not a disaster, but definitely makes a difference.)

5. Spoon into a bowl (generously, obvs.), and then top with a bit of half and half. Unfortunately, my ingredients photo above is misleading, as my half and half was grossly expired (psych!), so I used a little (gasp) heavy whipping cream. Another Saturday morning indulgence. You can also use regular milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk (now on Amazon, naturally)...anything like that. The great thing about this oatmeal is that toasting the oats really brings out the flavor, so it tastes delicious without any other toppings. But I added just a smidgen of brown sugar and sliced about half of a banana on top, because I recently discovered that my diet is seriously lacking in the potassium, which apparently causes death or something. Yawn.

Anyway, try toasted oatmeal. I promise you won't regret it. I've been a bit lazy lately with this blog, but I'm hoping to come back soon with an actual post about an actual restaurant. I've found a pretty good one, but it's a secret, per usual. In the meantime...I'm just going to throw links at you like a monkey throws poo. (You know, people use that phrase a lot, but I've never actually seen a monkey throw poo. Huh.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Am Not Lazy #5: Slow Cooker Oatmeal

I don't want to spoil this post by showing the final result right off the bat, so instead I will show you a picture of my family's Christmas turkey from this year, complete with a bottle of wine. Now, onward!

OM snap, it's National Oatmeal Month! (Or at least it was when I started this post. Now it's well into Low Vision Awareness Month, which I would heartily laugh at were I not virtually blind myself.) Before you start throwing things at me and set me on fire with your rage, please understand that I only found this out myself a few days ago when alert reader RN sent me an email. Negative 15 points for the rest of you for keeping this secret from me. Well goodness, apparently this is a month of many important commemorances, second and secondmost being National Bath Safety run out and get your bathtub bar today, you grouchy old codger. I'm not picking you up when you slip.

Anyway, one of the many benefits of my new roommate is that she has every kitchen gadget imaginable (she also has bad sinuses, and since it is also National Sinus Pain Awareness Month, we apparently were destined), which has opened up entire new worlds, no, GALAXIES of cooking options for me. So when my sister sent me this recipe for slow cooker oatmeal, I obviously jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, that recipe was pretty disgusting, and I will waste no one's time with it. I will only post a picture of the final product, which will probably do a lot to convince you that I'm not a liar.

Mega gross.

So, per usual, I decided to edit the recipe to suit my own preferences, namely that it contain an absurd amount of cinnamon. So here are the ingredients:

1. Steel-cut oats. Rolled oats won't work because they cook too fast (as they are actually already cooked). I used McCanns, which is universally regarded* as the best. It did, after all, win "A Certificate of Award for Uniformity of Granulation**" (say that loudly at a party, and you'll meet your future spouse in mere seconds) in 1893 at the World's Fair in CHICAGO, and this certificate was approved by N.B. Crutchfield, so challenge it if you dare, you impudent miscreant (you won't). (OMG BONUS INFO: Quaker Oats were ALSO introduced at the 1893 World's Fair! Rivals from the start! As was oatmeal's incompetent and clumsy inbred cousin, Cream of Wheat. But we don't care about that. Survival of the fittest will take care of that any day now.) When I started eating oatmeal, I had no idea what the difference was between rolled and steel cut oats. Now I do, so I am allowed to call you an idiot for not knowing. Basically, it's exactly what they sound like. Steel-cut oats involve cutting the oat kernel into a few bits, probably with a pizza cutter. (Google image search for "pizza cutters" reveals that some people take pizza cutting Very Seriously. I prefer to just rip it apart with my bare hands.) Rolled oats involve rolling the oat flat under HEAVY ROLLERS. (Oh, look what someone helpfully did for us.) I prefer the steel-cut oats. I feel like they have better texture and more flavor. However, they take much longer to cook, and I am impatient. They're also more expensive: I think a can of the steel-cut is around $5, and it doesn't make as many servings. However, it is also a symbol of the bourgeoisie and denotes a person of high status, and therefore is necessary to own, like a large television. Anyway, a lovely can of McCanns just opened under terrible lighting looks like so:

Yum yum yum. It's like it's your mouth's birthday every time. Oh, p.s., you need one cup.

*My sister told me so, anyway.
**The first sentence of that post made my toes curl. But what else can you expect from someone "blogging" about something that happened 120 YEARS AGO?!?! Isn't that kind of defeating the purpose of blogging? I mean...I could wait for your next scintillating post on the Ferris Wheel that you'll do in a year when you get around to it, or I could read the Wikipedia article NOW.


3. Half and half. You need (this will be easy to remember) a half cup. I got mine from The Place of Wonder Known as Trader Joe's, so obviously it is the Best Ever.

4. Cinnamon--See previous post, "My Oatmeal". Use a lot.

5. Brown sugar--Please see item 4, "Cinnamon". Use a little.

You also need one of THESE:


OK, even if you aren't a good cook, this one is easy, I promise.

A) Dump ingredients into cooker.
B) Stir. (Optional.)

After completing step a (definitely) and step b (maybe), it'll look somesuch like so:

C) Turn slow cooker on low and leave for 8 to 9 hours. During this time, read something marvelous until you fall asleep and dream about oatmeal.

After said time period, it will look like this:

Do not be alarmed! It's just the cinnamon rising to the top and cooking up full of goodness and great-smelling wonderfulness! Stir it a bit (This is the one downfall--the oats tend to settle around the edges of the pot, and unless you want to wake up every couple of hours to stir it, they don't cook completely evenly and will need to be stirred some. Small price, in my mind.), spoon it into a bowl from Wal-Mart, and it will look like THIS:

There's a party in my tummy! So yummy, so yummy! (Those little brown blobs are Cinnamon Bursts of Delightfiality and should not alarm you.)

So that's that. You will probably also be happy to know that I survived my second blizzard of the winter incident-free, but a fellow Chicagoan still made sure that none of us were bored.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Am Not Lazy #4: My Oatmeal

I am writing this post for 4 reasons. A) I haven't written a recipe post in awhile. B) In a dramatically ironic plot twist, I actually have been sort of lazy lately (or at least busy), and it's going to be a bit before I get another "real" post done, so this is one I can write fairly easily to tide over my rabid fans. C) I have had numerous* requests and inquiries concerning how I make my own oatmeal, and why am I here if not to respond to the demands of my readers? D) I am in New York City for Christmas, but the Blizzard of 2010 is preventing me from doing typical new York things like get pushed into piles of trash and interact with the locals. There are literally cars abandoned in intersections with five feet of snow piled around them. All the airports are closed. The trains aren't running. People are roaming wild in the street. I expect a phone call from my employer any moment telling me that there has been a coup, and I, a lowly member of the steerage, now have a key role in the revamped ruling class, at least where accounting office politics are concerned. Hey, we all have to dream about something...


Anyway, you may recall that, in my very first post over a year (!!) ago, I mentioned that I make a large pot of oatmeal on Sunday night, which I then divide up into little containers that comprise my breakfast for the rest of the week. I'm now going to walk you through the rather boring process. But there will be quips!

Ingredients, complete with pictures, for you visual learners out there (like me!):
  • Oats. Lots of them. Note the following: I use the quick oats as opposed to the old-fashioned ones, because they taste better (I think) and are, obviously, faster to make. I don't have four minutes to waste just to make my oatmeal old-fashioned. If I wanted to waste time being old-fashioned, I'd be writing this on Internet Explorer (ho ho ho!). I also use rolled as opposed to steel-cut oats, also for time and taste purposes, as well as monetary reasons, as steel-cut oats are generally more expensive, and I'm a middle-class Midwesterner. Along those same lines, note that I also use generic oats. I buy them from Jewel, Target, Wal-Mart, wherever. I've tried Quaker, and I've discovered that an oat is an oat, and I won't be sucked into paying extra for the name. Finally, I get the largest container they have. I am not here to fool around. This usually runs somewhere around $2.50. (Consider this picture a spoiler of what is to come.)
  • Brown Sugar. None of this white sugar nonsense (vomalom). And certainly none of this artificial sweetener poppycock (double vomalom). Don't even try to cheat with brown sugar Splenda. Brown sugar and real brown sugar only. I guess raw sugar is great too, if you don't want to be too exclusive. (You know what brown sugar looks like. Please see above.)
  • Cinnamon. Lots of it. As you will see, I definitely splurge on the expensive stuff. I mean, come on, it says "Fine Spices From Around the World" right there on the label! It might be from Canada!

  • Vanilla. A recent addition to the ingredients list, so this is hot-off-the-presses gossip. I've only started using this in the last month or two. I'm not too particular on the type of vanilla, though I will note that the artificial stuff is generally nast. Probably worth it to get the real stuff. Currently I'm using vanilla that my old roommate JH brought back for me from Mexico, and it's pretty good stuff.

  • Water. Apparently Chicago's tap water contains all sorts of helpful things, so you can't possibly hope for your oatmeal to come out as flavorful as mine, but don't let that get you down.
  • Salt is optional according to the directions, but I never use it. If you do, I'm silently calling you a sissy over the internet. And shaking my head at your impending heart attack.
Once you have assembled all of those key ingredients, it's time for the magic. I make four servings at a time because the back of the oats container gives proportions for one, two, and three servings, so in a stroke of genius, I double the two servings proportions. I have never tried to figure out five servings (so hard), so one day a week I am left at the mercy of either instant oatmeal or picking up something along the way to work. I use these sweet Pyrex containers, because I reheat them in the microwave in the morning, and I'm not keen on cancer.
  1. Boil water. 3 1/2 cups. I have never read How to Boil Water, so who knows, maybe I go about it all wrong. Don't trust me on this one. However, I DO know that when you make more than one serving, you really shouldn't try to use the microwave. Sorry. Man up and learn how to use that stove. This is what boiling water looks like. I think.:

  2. Add 2 cups of oats to the boiling water. It makes a delightful sssssshhhhh noise.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium (This is optional. I usually forget, and obviously my oatmeal is still stupendous. The directions might even say reduce the heat to low. What do they know?) Let the oats cook, stirring frequently for one minute. A bit longer won't kill anyone. And you really do need to stir, especially if you neglect to turn down the heat, or it'll overflow. Take a look at this. I know, right, YUM!

  4. Turn off the heat. Not a picture, of this, sorry, but if you get stuck on this step and need a picture, email me, and I'll get you one.
  5. Add brown sugar. How much, you ask? Well, usually I am paranoid about following recipes, but for whatever reason, this is the one time I don't. I usually just proceed like so: And now my secret is out--I have fat fingers.

  6. Add cinnamon. If you're a normal person, probably a teaspoon or two. If you're me, you add a lot. And then you add more.

  7. Add vanilla. Again, I just kind of dump some in. The amount you need can really depend on the quality of the vanilla.

  8. Stir. (Note that this is not me. Plaid oppresses me.)
  9. Taste!
  10. Burn your finger and tongue. They will be healed by approximately Wednesday. Curse.
  11. Determine oatmeal needs more of something. Usually more vanilla and cinnamon in my case.
  12. Add more.
  13. Dump into containers. Because of the goopy nature of oatmeal and my extreme uncoordination, I usually end up with this: plops on the table (that would be a great name for a band).

  14. Lean over and lick spillage directly off of table because it is so warm and delicious.*
*Did I have you fooled? I swear I at least have the decency to wipe it up with my finger and then lick my finger.

Now, while I use cinnamon and vanilla 95% of the time, in the past I have used peanut butter, Nutella, pumpkin spice, a nutmeg/allspice/cinnamon combo, M&Ms, dried fruit, and almonds. You can experiment if you like, but keep in mind that it will be a few days before you eat some of it, so fresh fruit is not really an option. Unless you are David Sedaris's dad. Final result: delicious!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Oatmeal #12: Caribou Coffee

This post will reference neither Justin Bieber nor Willow Smith. Merry Christmas.

OK, so, yeah, you've never gotten busy and not had time to do completely superfluous things like write about oatmeal? Cause, I mean, you know...I have. It's completely inexcusable, I know, but I do have my excuses. I 1) went on vacation (that is an on-location shot), 2) moved (still in Chicago, however, so the name of the blog is not in danger), 3) got promoted, 4) had a baby named after me, 5) got some sort of bizarre virus that meant I could only eat bland food for several days (reason#753 why oatmeal is awesome--I could still eat oatmeal), 6) worked a lot, 7) went to Cedar Point (obviously life-changing) and went from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds (If you don't scream, your lung will burst. I am not making that up.), 8) worked some more, 9) painted my new kitchen, 10) bought a ticket to Spain to visit my friends MG and CM (The astute among you have surely deduced that frequent blog star CM has moved to Espana), 11) reached that point in the year where I just cease to get out of bed, 12) actually went to Spain, which is a lovely place, excepting the fact that they DON'T EAT OATMEAL there (Let's all silently judge the Spanish.), and 13) purchased a new computer, because the power cord (inside joke, loser) on my old one was frayed (bahaha) and it couldn't charge. Therefore, I am stuck attempting to review an oatmeal I ate on July 20th. This is an unfortunate trend, but so is The Jersey Shore, and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. (The fact that a Google image search for "Jersey Shore" actually turns of pictures of the Jersey Shore and not The Orange People gives me hope for mankind. A little.)*

*I would like to note that during my busy period of blog inactivity, this little blog celebrated its one year anniversary. I honestly had no idea what I was doing when I started this thing, and I definitely didn't really expect anyone to read and/or care, so thanks for sticking it out and helping me develop the Strangest Thing About Me.

Anyway, this quarter's oatmeal is from Caribou Coffee, a friendly coffee chain that is the second largest in the nation, after the Bucks. I had never had it prior to moving to Chicago, because, as it was founded in Minnesota, it is only available in more northern areas (and I think fifteen states in total). Keeping with the Minnesota theme, the interior is always quite log-y and fireplace-y, and their drinks have names like "Northern Lites" and "Reindeer Drinks". (Stupid.) I've honestly never been a huge fan of Caribou, and not just because of their slightly crackpot logo. (I mean, how is that animal going to remain upright with such a huge antler on its head, much less merrily prance through the snow. Kind of reminds me of that part in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch ties the huge stick on the dog, and his head sinks to the ground while his back rises like a see-saw. That caribou in that logo should be floored. But what do I know about anatomically correct caribou. Nothing, I'll admit. Because further research has show that apparently they do have pretty big antler horns. Shut up.) Anyway, back to why I don't like this place. Sometimes I do actually have legitimate reasons. I always feel like it is slightly overpriced and that their espresso drinks taste a bit funny. Plus, their drink sizes are just weird. For some things, there is nothing smaller than 16 ounces, which can be quite husky for a coffee drink. A minor point, you say? Well, resume feeling stupid! Nothing is minor when it comes to oatmeal. The main reason I go here, frankly, is they have $1 coffee on Mondays, so I go pretty much every Monday, because their drip coffee is good. They also just started a promotion for $2 oatmeal on Mondays, so, even if what I have to say about it isn't great (true), at least you can try it yourself rather cheaply.

Well, moving past whatever personal vendettas I may have against Caribou, they introduced oatmeal at the beginning of the year (probably as a direct result of feeling left out of this blog), and I have had it several times since then. I actually tried more toppings here than anywhere else, I guess hoping that ONE of them would be really good, because I thought there was a lot of promise. But people keep repeatedly trying to invade Russia in the winter, and that never ends well either, so I don't know why I won't learn. Stupid freezing winters (That's what a Google image search gave me, ok? Sometimes you must lean with it and also rock with it.) and gelatinous breakfast cereal toppings. Equally as horrific.
  • Price: $2.45. Daaaaaaang, boy.* That is cheap. Plus, with their bundle-age dealness, my coffee was only $1. So my total was $3.87. I think this sets some sort of Best Price Record. (9. Not a 10 because there is still the possibility that some place will just give it to me for free.)
  • Size: Standard 10-ish ounces. Boring. But not even close to full. I hate them. (3.)
  • Toppings: They are a bit weird with their toppings. Instead of giving you a choice of ten (or however many) things to pick and choose as you please, they have preset "flavors," I guess you could call them, that involve some sort of crazy mixing of about 12 different things that makes the barista look like they are creating some sort of Snape-tastic potion. Choices are: classic (also known as "bland" to those of us not in the marketing business), blueberry almond, banana walnut, maple brown sugar crunch, apple cinnamon, and very berry. They used to have a couple of others (cranberry orange and something else) that I guess were discontinued. I have tried them all except blueberry almond, but this review will be based on the very berry flavor. I couldn't exactly tell what goodies they were mixing into my oatmeal, but it seemed like they had some sort of strawberry compote, various dried fruits, and almonds. A good idea, in theory, I suppose (as so many oatmeal-related things are). However, the execution was rather flawed. First, they use WAY too many of the toppings, and the compote was WAY too sweet. The toppings only served to overpower the oatmeal itself. It's also disappointing that so much of the fruit is dried (the banana walnut uses dried banana chips) and the strawberries in the compote were like slimy vampire eyeballs exploding in my mouth. Gross. It's nice to have so many flavor options, but I wish a) I had more control over what went into each flavor, b) that the toppings could be a bit simpler and used less liberally, c) that they weren't all a combination of a dried fruit and a jelly. Initially, it SEEMS like there are a lot of choices, but essentially it boils down to the Curse of the Sub-Par Italian Restaurant--a seemingly varied menu that you suddenly realize is four different kinds of pasta, a mediocre marinara sauce, and a couple of different types of cheese (mozzarella and Parmesan, mayhaps) combined in every way imaginable, making everything taste basically the same. You can tell that their oatmeal is structured around the ability to ship everything to the stores in bulk, and that's really unfortunate. This was just a word vomit about toppings. Goodness sakes. (3)
  • Texture/Appearance: I think there was birdseed in mine. Or something very much like it. You can choose between "whole grain" or "classic" oats, and I have always gotten whole grain, which apparently is taken quite seriously, because it really does look like your friendly Little Robin Red Breast's Christmas feast. Also, because it doesn't get hot enough, I don't think the oats fully cook, so they're still pretty crunchy and raw. In the words of Kenneth Parcell, "No, thank you, sir!" And in the picture above, it looks like the toppings are trying to drown in the lukewarm milk just to end their miserable existence. (3)
  • Temperature: Frigid. (What?) Cold as a dead fish.** I want to kick these people so hard their eyebrows fall off. Seriously. I have watched them make this oatmeal several times, and the methodology definitely includes steaming real milk with real heat and adding it to the oats. Now, I don't know much anymore about osmosis or reverse osmosis or diffusion or homeostasis or any of that scientific balderdashery, but I DO know that when milk is steamed to a very warm temperature, combined with oats and toppings, inserted into a brown bag, and literally carried next door, it should NOT get cold, even when combining it with the oats and toppings appears to be some 37-step process. Gosh, I am SO ANGRY. (2)
  • Taste: Well, if you can slog past the basically freezing globs getting stuck in your throat and the vampire eyeball toppings exploding in your mouth, you may actually think about how it tastes. That would be a mistake. As I mentioned, it was way too sweet. I do like that it's made with milk, but really, who cares? I think maybe just the regular oatmeal with no toppings might actually be good (well, if you took a blow torch to it first), because I do like that they use the multi-grain oats, despite the unfortunate birdseed side effect. The last time I went here to get coffee, there was a "build your own" oatmeal option that I feel has a great deal of potential. But I have been burned enough! Sometimes you just have to give up on fitting a really round and really big peg into a less round much much smaller hole. (4)
  • Calories: Think of the maximum number of golf balls you can fit in a Volkswagen Beetle
    and then DOUBLE it. There aren't that many calories in this oatmeal, but there are still a LOT. 480, to be exact. COME ON. That's basically two candy bars! That alone is enough to make me never get this stuff again. Fools. That's just terrible. I mean, come on. You think you're ordering something sort of healthy, and instead you might as well get the Sausage McGriddle wrapped in bacon and then covered with gravy or something. No excuse. I could not have been more offended if this oatmeal had called my mother names. In fact, I am pretty sure it did call my mother names.
  • Intangible: They do have that $1 coffee on Mondays. I guess is the best thing they've got going for them, because if it that offer didn't exist, I would never go there. Most of their staff at the location I frequent are quite friendly. When you leave, they say things like "see you tomorrow!" which, admittedly, does make me want to come back tomorrow. But I pride myself for not falling for cheap marketing ploys! I will NOT come back tomorrow, thank you! However, one thing they do really have going for them is they got free wireless at every location a long time ago, while most other coffee shops were busy being stuck in 2002 (I'm looking at you, *$. I mean, yeah, the 2002 Olympics were totally freakin' awes, and the Olympics may be the one thing I love more than oatmeal, but let's all grow up here.). Obviously, this means everyone brings their computers here, and they also were one of the first places to realize that this means they should have tons of electrical outlets. So bravo to Caribou for realizing the obvious. However, I did a great deal of CPA exam studying here, so the wireless internet was a detrimental distraction then. This place can't win. I refuse to let it parade in my rain. (4)
*Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, I cannot love this more.
**I doubt it.

TOTAL: 9+3+3+3+2+4+4=28

Whatever. "Caribou Coffee" is a stupid name anyway. Plus, this oatmeal makes me cranky. I think it just has so much sugar and fake stuff that I don't get the nutrition one needs for the active, rough-and-tumble life of editing spreadsheets, so my blood sugar gets low, and that makes me an unpleasantly raging work companion by 10 a.m.

Also, look out. It's hittin' the wall, folks.

Finally, because it's almost the end of the year, I feel like I should present some sort of a list. It's just what you do. Last year I gave you some of my favorite books of the year, but I didn't read as much this year (For Whom the Bell Tolls was really good though, if you're curious, as was The Corrections and Running With Scissors), so instead I will provide you with some of my favorite blogs. Despite what this blog might imply, I generally go for the very short and to-the-point Tumblr sort of blog. I also go for funny over serious or provocative, because obviously this blog fulfills any Serious Blog Needs I might have.

When Parents Text
I Love Charts
STFU Parents

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And always remember--having fun isn't hard when you have a library card!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oatmeal #11: Freshii

Welcome to this edition of Oat and About, or, as frequent blogstar AL calls it, "How to Visit 30 Websites in 5 Minutes."

Here we have the first oatmeal that apparently has been entered into the Witness Protection Program. (There should be a special type of Witness Protection Program for anyone who makes movies like that, in order to protect them from anyone who is forced to watch. And Sarah Jessica Parker* already should be removed from society, anyway. Hmmm, that antecedent is ambiguous. Well done, writer.) For whatever reason, they don't want anyone in the world to know that you are eating their oatmeal and drinking their coffee, so they are completely logo-free. Maybe they just wanted to avoid any possibility of having a terrible logo. Maybe it is some sort of political statement**. (Except my bag had a logo, so, you know...posers!) Or maybe the restaurant's founder has a fear of anthropomorphized creatures telling you to eat something (understandable). Hard to know. Regardless, if I wanted, I could cruelly keep the restaurant a secret from you. This is the kind of POWER I WIELD. But, luckily for you, my post-naming conventions don't allow it.

*OK, I admit that one is rather mean.


Therefore, it's time for me to studiously ( make sure to scroll down) and thoroughly pass along the important information*. This post's oatmeal is from Freshii, which is another one of those super-healthy, organic, wheat-germ-selling, 10k-run-peddling places that are becoming very popular these days. It's a lot like Protein Bar (see the previous post) in the types of food that it offers and the kind of atmosphere it has. It's also a lot UNlike Protein Bar in that it doesn't suck. One opened about a year ago a block or so from my office, and I tend to patronize it frequently, mostly because it is the only place open when I'm working late. But I only recently realized it had oatmeal, because their breakfast menu is bizarrely located on a totally different wall from the rest of their menu and is about the size of a postcard. It's almost like they are trying to hide the fact that they have oatmeal from someone. I think they're onto me...

*Please note that I am writing this 24 hours after oral surgery to get one of these Awesome Things That Don't Hurt At All, so I am going to strive for just below mediocrity, and you are going to accept it. (A tooth was getting fresh with me by fusing to the bone incorrectly and had to be shown who's boss by being extracted by something that seemed similar to a car jack. That sentence had may clauses.) However, allow me to point out Reason Number 382 Why Oatmeal Is Awesome: it is one of the very few things you can eat after oral surgery. BAM. Take that, lame other breakfast foods that require teeth!

  • Price: $3.95, and then you got a medium coffee for 80 freakin' cents with a breakfast item (Awesome), so my total was $5.30. $3.95 is pretty expensive for a fast-casual restaurant, but the portion was MASSIVE and the grand total was still pretty reasonable, since the coffee was so cheap. (6)
  • Size: Ginormititious. This picture doesn't do it justice. It seriously took an hour to eat it. It was like an excavation to get to the bottom of the container, except in the cruel world of oatmeal consumption, you don't get to take home a random hunk of lead and a miscellaneous bone when you're done. All you get is a crumpled biodegradable (hopefully) container and a new countdown to when it is socially acceptable to eat breakfast again. (9)
  • Toppings: I apologize for (and am ecstatic about) the extensive list: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, mangoes (What is this, LOST?), apples, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, coconut, almonds, walnuts, granola (What is this, a commune?), sunflower seeds (What is this, A BASEBALL GAME?), cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup (What is this, VERM-- ...oh, that got old quickly, didn't it.), and honey. Some of that stuff I would never consider putting on oatmeal, but they also serve frozen yogurt, so it seems they just thought, "Why not?"* I like that attitude. (Oh, Pearl Harbor is on television. So you can be assured that I am giving 100% of my attention to this post right now. This is not a joke.) You got to pick two (50 cents extra for each one after that), so I got almonds and dried cranberries, because I am not a risk-taker. The cranberries were exceptionally good, because they weren't completely dried, and the almonds were, I suppose, quite almond-y. And they were pretty generous with them. All in all, top notch! Really, quite lovely. Though I wish they had a chocolate option, as always. (9)
  • Texture/Appearance: Think we're in for smooth sailing, eh? Well, the wheels just came off the bus. Let's use every trite idiom in the books, because I've got an ax to grind! You'd better cross your fingers and hope for the best! (Yup, done with that.) Basically, this was the worst slop ever. It was like lentil soup (Yeah, I totally hunted around for the grossest-looking picture. I can do that.), which, unfortunately for Freshii, I can no longer eat after a The Vicious Food Poisoning Episode of 2009**. I am not sure that the picture accurately portrays this, but I think I could have drunk it with a straw. And I would have, except I was at work, and that would be unprofessional. And I am ALWAYS a professional. Not only was the texture terrible, but it really doesn't look that appetizing either. You can't even really identify it as oatmeal. I'd say that's a critical error. (1)
  • Temperature: It was sooooo freakin' hot.*** (9)
  • Taste: Actually, given the above, it wasn't so bad. Rather good, actually. It was pre-sweetened, but not too sweet. Basically, I have concluded that if you eat it with your eyes closed and have a tongue that only tastes but doesn't feel texture, this oatmeal would be the one for you. But I guess if your eyes are closed, your other senses will be heightened, so it would seem that we are all doomed. (7)
  • Calories: The oatmeal alone has 215, probably due to the gigantic serving size, plus the toppings probably add another 150 or so. Rather a lot. How rude of you, supposedly healthy place.
  • Intangibles: The kid working called it "oat-MEAL", with heavy emphasis on the second syllable. It was disarming. And unprofessional. But, actually, I really like this place, and I go here for a lot more than snotty oatmeal (They have delicious fro yo, for example.), but the coffee was only so-so. Also, their elitist attitude bothers me, so I always feel slightly trashy when I go here because I don't generally eat things like Szechuan soy nuts and $4 bags of hemp chips (or whatever). Plus, they are just expensive in general, which annoys me. And their lines are always really long at lunch, so I will unreasonably dock them points for being a popular place to eat. And, they don't have this guy. (Definitely one of my all-time favorite commercials. I have been looking for that video for years. I spent probably half of my junior year of high school saying "OK, bring the kids!" Sorry about that, BT.) (3)
*Miss Indiana, anyone? Exclusive reference Number 1.
**You don't say...
***That is Knut Hamsun, Nobel Prize winner, awesome name owner (if he were alive today, gossip tabloids would have a heyday reporting on the social finanglings of "Handsome Hamsun"), jerky Nazi, and the subject of what I will declare to be the first documented case of a picture being photoshopped. Look at that monocle/pair of glasses!! you think those were originally there? Heck no! And that string attached to them? NO. Knut would never have worn that. It kind of looks like (for whatever reason) he was wearing half a pair of glasses on the left side of his face when the picture was taken (for comedic effect, I'm sure), and someone didn't like it and tried to photoshop in another half, to great success.

TOTAL: 6+9+9+1+9+7+3=44

Another safe, middle-of-the-pack result. Definitely not going to garner any ecstatic expostulations that morph into sobbing fits. (Yeah, you've probably seen it, but it's always worth another watch.), and I probably won't get it again, but no one came out of this encounter worse for wear. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for these people. Watching something like that makes you wonder how creatures as apparently stupid as humans have managed to survive for more than a day or two. (Quite sadly, it doesn't include my favorite such video of all time, which showed an old woman trying to lift her enormous sewing machine over her head to hem her curtains while they were still hanging over her windows. I'm not sure how she had managed to escape the vicious claws of Survival of the Fittest and live a day past age 2. 7 trillion Schrute bucks to the person who finds that video for me.)