Refrigerator Oats: What Does Summer Taste Like?

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.” 
―Lemony Snicket 

WHAT DOES SUMMER TASTE LIKE?

As a writing teacher, I ask my students to think concretely about the abstract. In the first week of June, as the promise of vacation slides into our backpacks, I ask my students to describe summer. Their foreheads crinkle, review-packet- glazed-eyes squint, and the consensus becomes one simple word: F R E E D O M.

By the end of the school year I feel it too. Yet, “What does freedom taste like?” I press.“What does it sound like?” “What does it smell like?” “What does it look and feel like?” How can we make summer tangible in our minds and in our writing?

Ask my family what the freedom of summer feels like and my step kids will say a sticky river of watermelon juice flooding down their face. Or a cup of strawberry lemonade abandoned on the pool deck, now warm and syrupy, complete with a hovering dragon fly.

Avalon will say that freedom tastes like peanut butter cup S’mores – the marshmallow roasted to a golden brown on the fire pit in our backyard. Lukas will lick his lips and say it tastes like tuna steak, grilled to medium rare perfection by Dad, and a lemon sauce made with the dill he planted.

Summer looks like imagination as eight-year- old Lukas and I crouch down behind a stand of maple trees and slink around our pasture trying to out-sneak the alien queen. “Shhhhhhhhh,” Luke whispers,” she cannot see us with our cloaking devices, but she can hear us and she can smell us…”

Summer looks like an air mattress thrown next to the pond, so Avalon and I can memorize a swath of black velvet sky and wish on shooting stars until the grass grows damp and we fall asleep, John later rousing us to go inside.

It is a thick stack of books from the Peter White Library and a tent pitched by two industrious kids in our apple orchard to serve as a reading nook. It is flipping through each book at the end of the day to make sure a snake does not find its way into the house again as a stowaway. It is our lazy Golden Retrievers Ollie and Gracie lounging in a puddle of yellow sun, a whippoorwill’s mysterious call on the Whitefish River, and early mornings at McCarty’s Cove as we comb the icy, lace edged waves for beach glass.

July sounds like Shakespeare our rooster crowing under our bedroom window at 5:00 am as the decision arrives to either sleep in, or rise early (and indulge in an afternoon nap). It is a brown egg, still warm, in the palm of your hand as it plinks into the galvanized bucket to the soothing warble of a plump red hen. It’s the earthy smell of pine shavings in a freshly shoveled coop, the spicy aroma of star gazer lilies, and a humid thicket of sky that aches chartreuse and then bruised plum after an urgent rain storm.

It is a tear escaping your eye when you see veterans marching in the parade, goose bumps when you hear sirens of those who protect and serve, and it is gathering up camping chairs and beach blankets (sometimes for warmth) to watch fireworks sparkle and pulsate across the backdrop of the Ore Dock at the Lower Harbor, over Teal Lake, or in Trenary.

Can you tell that I am a summer girl? Summer takes my breath away and makes me feel that we are part of something magical. Yet, we all know how fleeting our summers are in Upper Michigan. Even when I find myself watering the garden, or packing for a family road trip to Muskegon to visit my in laws, I find that I am always pondering the upcoming school year and planning ahead. What worked last year and what will I repeat? What new resources do I have to gather? How can I more efficiently balance my schedule of work and family? How can I stay healthy and keep up with my classroom full of challenging teenagers?

Last year one of my secret weapons for keeping my energy levels up and being prepared for work was making sure that I had my breakfast planned the night before. We have been told forever that breakfast is the most important meal, yet many people will confess to grabbing heavily processed convenience foods or skipping the meal all together. That is why overnight oats was a game changer for both my husband and I. Since I can prepare the oatmeal days in advance, our mornings are reserved for coffee, taking care of farm chores, getting the kids up, a quick kiss, and hustling out the door to work.

The basic recipe that I am going to share is consumed cold (think yogurt and fruit parfait). I know it sounds strange to not cook the oatmeal, but it softens and takes on a pleasing texture in the refrigerator. If you would rather have a hot breakfast, you can find recipes for warm versions online, or you can omit the yogurt and heat in the microwave. I use wide-mouthed one pint mason jars and prepare them up four or five days in advance. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh, are easy to wash, I always have them on hand, and make the oatmeal visually appealing. I like to make a couple extra because my step daughter Avalon likes to take the oatmeal to school as a filling and healthy breakfast, lunch, or snack option. They are so easy to prepare that if I did not prep on Sunday, I can throw them together each night when I take care of the dinner dishes.

BASIC OVERNIGHT OATS

*1/3 cup of old fashioned oats (quick cooking oats don’t hold up as well)
*1/3 cup of milk (you can substitute almond, coconut, or any non-dairy milk)
*1/3 cup of Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt often has more protein)
*1 teaspoon of chia seeds (or more)

Add the above ingredients into the jar and stir well. Top with sliced fruit and/or berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, or any other toppings that you want to add.

The oatmeal provides you with filling fiber and packs a punch in helping your body fight cholesterol. The chia seeds and nuts give you Omeg-3 and fatty acids, the yogurt gives you a protein boost, and the fruit provides essential vitamins and minerals. How perfect is that?

When I prepare our refrigerator oatmeal, I often choose ingredients from what we have in the house. My family enjoys the Greek Gods flavored yogurts and I often buy fat free versions for myself. While I normally buy flavored yogurt, sometimes I will buy plain and stir in flavorings.

They are so easy to throw together that you customize them to fit each family member. You can make them healthy, or indulgent, and they are easy to grab and go for work, school, gym, or the beach.

Some of our favorite flavor combinations are:

RED WHITE & BLUE
*Strawberries
*Blueberries
*Caramelized pecans

CHOCOLATE COVERED BANANA
*Peanut butter
*Banana
*Almonds
*1/2 vanilla yogurt and ½ chocolate yogurt

ISLAND OATMEAL
*Mango
*Pineapple
*Coconut
*Macadamia nuts

ZESTY BLUEBERRY
*Blueberries
*Cinnamon
*Lemon zest and juice added to the yogurt
*Almonds

APPLE ORCHARD
*Diced Granny Smith Apples
*Maple syrup
*Brown Sugar
*Cinnamon
*Raisins
*Walnuts

CHERRY JUBILEE
*Cherries (Fresh in the summer and frozen dark sweet cherries in the winter)
*Couple dashes of almond extract mixed into the oatmeal
*Pistachios and cashews

Other ingredient options:

*apple sauce (put those Michigan apples to great use and make homemade apple sauce this fall.)
*protein powder
*flaxseed
*cocoa powder (great with orange segments and zest)
*pumpkin puree
*dried fruit
*Granola
*crushed graham crackers
*chocolate chips (great way to get the kids to eat healthier. You only have to top the oatmeal with a few chips)
*Granulated coffee or a bit of espresso for a mocha flavored oatmeal

What is your breakfast routine? If you are currently depriving your body of nutrition in the
morning, or simply need to change things up, these overnight oats are for you. Make sure to stop by my Facebook page  to let me know what you think and please share your favorite refrigerator oatmeal flavor combinations.

What does summer look like, taste like, sound like, and feel like for your family? Savor July because before we know it – we will be enjoying glorious Upper Michigan snow! Until then, you can find me weeding the hoop house, chasing aliens, or lounging in the pool and working on my teacher tan (as my husband John affectionately calls it). Memorize the feeling of July and enjoy the freedom we have to live in such a charming, wild, and beautiful place.


 

Advertisements

Setting Healthy Goals

Blue skies
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It is far from lilac season in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This fact is reinforced by the presence of our second snow day of the week today. Monday our spring break was extended with a day off and this morning the snow is billowing from the sky which granted us another snow day. A few weeks ago we were graced with mild temperatures and I was thrilled to see that the tulips and daffodils that I planted last fall, and the tiger lilies that I planted last summer, were beginning to emerge. Now they are covered with a thick blanket of snow. I keep telling myself that this will make their eventual blossoms all the sweeter.

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

 

Last week John and I took the kids to Lower Michigan and spent a night at Soaring Eagle Waterpark in Mount Pleasant. Needless to say, fun was had by all and we cannot wait to go back! The weather did not cooperate on our drive home, but thankfully the Mackinac Bridge was open and my husband who is an expert driver – got us home safe and sound.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can't wait to go back.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can’t wait to go back.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

The Mighty Mac.

The Mighty Mac.

We enjoyed our time downstate visiting with family and friends and while we were sad to leave, it always feels great to arrive home and be greeted by our pets. We have added a couple cuties to our farm. Finally, after a year of convincing, John agreed to get a couple of ducks. Avalon and I each named one. I chose Daphne and she named one Mo. I cannot believe how fast they have grown. This means that John will be adding a pond to his long Honey-Do list this summer.
imageimage

In addition to the excitement of spring break, John surprised me with a new camera. I have wanted one for YEARS and I had my first opportunity to snap a few photos at  the Pigs-N-Heat Fire Relief hockey game that John plays in each year. I am proud that my husband participates in an event that helps so many families in our community.

image

image

Thank you, John!

Thank you, John!

Words cannot express how thankful that I am for my camera. My lifestyle has changed drastically in the last year. As I adjust to my new role of step mom, pursue an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University, and continue my career as a high school teacher – along the way I have not made time for myself. The camera is one of John’s gentle reminders that I need to make myself a priority so I do not get burnt out. Photography is one of my passions and I cannot wait to record the world and share the images with my readers.

Along with taking photos I will continue to try to encourage my family, and my online family, to make healthy choices when it comes to food. While my step kids are fans of processed food and do not share my love of fresh fruit and vegetables, I have learned to take baby steps in encouraging them to eat healthier. One of the breakfasts that I made for them over spring break I call Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits.  🍓🍧🍓 I use The Greek Gods Honey Vanilla yogurt, strawberries, crumbled graham cracker, and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. To some people this may not be a healthy breakfast and I agree that it is more of a dessert. But getting my step kids to eat any fresh produce is a victory! 😉 For those that are watching their waistlines, the yogurt is indulgent and a little goes a long way – therefore, you can health-it-up and pile on the berries.

image

imageAs I have shared in my last couple posts, my healthy goals have taken a backseat to a hectic lifestyle. Therefore, I am starting small with re-establishing my healthy routines. For the month of April I am committing to a minimum of fifty ounces of water a day, thirty minutes of activity, increasing my vegetable intake, and limiting my consumption of bread, pizza (homemade pizza is one of our family favorites), and chips (tortilla chips are my biggest weakness). Like in the past, I hope that being successful with these goals will help them snowball into bigger goals. When summer comes we have a lot of plans and I want to have the energy to tackle all of our projects.

April Healthy GoalsI am a goal person and I find that when I set achievable goals for myself that I am unstoppable. When I attach a reward to my goals – I find success even more eminent. However, for now I am just going to embrace my goals and will set a reward for my May and June goals. I challenge you to set and share your goals here or on my Facebook page. Studies show that when we write out our goals, post them in a prominent place, and share our goals with others we are more apt to achieve them. I hope that you are enjoying your spring and I promise to give an update soon. As warmer weather approaches I look forward to gardening and sharing more of my fresh recipes with you.

 

image

image

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I am not dreaming. What a gift it is to live in such a wildly, beautiful place.

image

Our property is a dogs’ paradise. Is it any wonder why we have four dogs?

image

Ollie has such a sweet and loving personality. Look at how gentle he treats the ducklings.

IMG_1099

It is the best feeling to be greeted by a wagging tail and the boundless love of a golden retriever.

Rustic Fruit Sauce – Slow Cooked & Sweetener Free

Rustic Slow Cooked Fruit Sauce by Produce with Amy“I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words.”
~Jenni Ferrari-Adler

Unwinding, relaxing, and resting is how I have spent my past two days. In the midst of a hectic school year, suddenly all activity came to screeching halt. If you have been watching the news, or the weather to be more exact, you know that there has been a massive winter storm pounding northern states. In fact, the town of Negaunee where I live, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, received over three feet of snow. Yes, you read that correctly – THREE feet of snow and I have photos to prove it.

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq - 2003

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq – 2003

My husband, Mike, who is an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran — spent his Veterans Day removing snow from our yard.

The snow was wet and heavy and I appreciate all of his labor.

Today we woke up to several more inches of snow and he again had to dedicate the afternoon to snow removal. On the news they are reporting that lake effect snow will continue. Thank you, Lake Superior.

Mike - still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike – still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to leave the bird baths in our yard up since the birds were still frolicking around and using their basins to drink and bathe. Now the same bird baths have been swallowed up by the snow.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

Today’s snow day gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of the recipes that I have been enjoying for the last couple weeks. When I started Weight Watchers in 2006, I ate a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast. While I know that oatmeal is filling and carries many health benefits, I burnt myself out of oatmeal and for several years have only eaten oatmeal on occasion. As the weather has grown more cool, I decided that I would try to revisit oatmeal for breakfast and I decided that a rustic apple sauce topping would help me look forward to eating oatmeal again. It has done the trick.

Apples & PumpkinThe recipe that I am sharing today is versatile and you can add your favorite fruit – fresh or frozen – or whatever you have on hand. I do not have a strong sweet tooth so this recipe tend to be on the tart side. You could add brown sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup if you prefer it sweeter. It would also make a phenomenal topping for ice cream, or if you are dairy free, a topping for “nice” cream.

This recipe is inspired from a previous post that I have shared: Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal

 

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE

*2 sliced green apples
*2 sliced red apples
*2 sliced pears
*2 cups of frozen peaches
*1 can of pumpkin
*1 can of water
*1 bag of cranberries
*1 teaspoon of nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
(you can add more if you like extra cinnamon)

Add all ingredients, except for the pears and peaches, to slow cooker. Set to low for 5 and 1/2 hours. In the last 1/2 hour add the pears and peaches so they retain their shape and are not reduced to sauce. This recipe freezes well.

Printable recipe: RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE by Produce with Amy

Pin recipe HERE.
2

Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Rustic Slow Cooker FruitThis fruit sauce is simple to make and I love that it does not require any sweeteners. Not to mention the added benefit of making your house smell incredible. It is the perfect healthy comfort food and does not need to only be consumed for breakfast. At night if you crave something sweet it is the perfect snack on its own. If I have the taste for something a bit sweeter, this sauce is wonderful warmed up and topped with a few raisins or a drizzle of local maple syrup. I imagine it would also be lovely served over pancakes, waffles, or French toast. I might have to whip up a batch of pancakes this weekend for Mike – he did after all earn something special with all his work removing the snow in our yard.

Thank you for stopping by my blog and I encourage you to sign up for email updates and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like. Make sure you check out all my social networking links on the right side of the page. I look forward to sharing more healthy and plant-based recipes with you. Together we can incorporate more fruit and vegetables into our meal plan. Stay warm and safe to my friends in cold climates. For those that life in sunny locations, please send some sunshine our way!