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.


 

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Quadruple Berry Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Quadruple Berry Mason Jar Salad“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

As an English teacher, I make a living out of helping my students find connections to the world around us. I serve as their guide in helping them to think critically and to use writing as a tool to make their thoughts, ideas, and dreams tangible. We use narratives, poems, articles, novels, and videos as a touchstone to connect with other lives, time periods, and cultures. Our writing becomes a mirror that we can hold up to our ambitions and possibilities. I always tell my students to examine the world with the astute eye of a writer. It makes us pay attention to things that may otherwise slip by.

As a new mother, I try to help my step-children make connections as well. The kids spend the majority of time with us and we try to make the most of our family time together. Since my husband John is a police officer his job often entails the challenge of shift work. However, he currently is on day shift which means that he is home for dinner every night. Last week he cashed in some very precious vacation time so he could accompany as a chaperone for the Winter Homecoming dance. After fall Homecoming, I promised Avalon that if she had high grades, strong attendance, and positive behavior that I would buy her a new dress and let her attend the Homecoming dance. She met and exceeded our goals and expectations – and I think it is fair to say that she felt like a princess dancing the night away.

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

How thankful I am that I work in such a family friendly environment. I think that it is a wonderful experience for Lukas and Avalon to interact with high school students and develop relationships and make connections with teachers, administrators, and others that will be stakeholders in their education through elementary, middle, and high school.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Avalon and Kori decorating the hallway for Homecoming.

Avalon and Kori make a great team.

As a teacher, I see firsthand the difference it makes in a young person’s life when their parents are actively involved in their education both inside and outside of school. Our first teachers are our parents, and I do not take my new role of mother lightly. I share John’s responsibility to help raise productive individuals that are kind, thoughtful, and independent. One of our family goals in the next couple of years is to construct an addition on to our house. In order to make this dream a reality, we are

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

trying to save money and stay financially healthy. I am teaching the kids how we can stretch our resources by grocery shopping (instead of dining out all the time) and by appreciating things that are homemade. John models hard work for his children and is a wonderful example of how much value things have when they are made from your own hands. John is extremely resourceful and can build anything. This weekend he put down new flooring in the kids’ room and he is currently building us

Sibling sweetness.

Sibling sweetness.

a sauna from a shed that we purchased from the Gwinn High School building trades class.  Since we live out-of-town we want to maximize our beautiful property and create our own personal paradise.

Last weekend I promised the kids that we would make Valentine’s crafts. We recycled jars and used Mod Podge and tissue paper to make “stained glass” candle luminaries. They loved being creative and suggested that we make more for every holiday. Setting a pretty table is important to me and I love that our Valentine’s centerpiece was created from Avalon and Lukas’ handiwork. I think that they will make our February family dinners even more special.

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Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Speaking of beautiful table settings, I recently became enamored by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond’s gorgeous table wear collection. Since John and I merged households (I moved into his cozy log home) we feel it is important to acquire some new items together to help tell our story. We have kept quite a few of things we both had (for practical purposes) and slowly are buying a few new things. I wanted new every day dishes, but I am extremely picky. I could envision vintage plates and bowls, or at least a vintage feel, and Ree’s collection went perfectly with our red, yellow, and aqua theme. I love how bright and cheerful they are –  elegant  – with just the right amount of country charm! Not to mention that they are extremely affordable (which works with our goal to not squander our resources).

This weekend, after sleeping in from our late night at the dance and a huge breakfast, John took Lukas ice fishing and Avalon went grocery shopping with me. I told her with all the money that we saved with coupons and smart shopping I would treat her to Starbucks. She is a wonderful shopper and helps me remember the items on our list and she’s a huge helper in the kitchen. In fact, the recipe that I am sharing with you today was one of the first meals that Avalon helped me assemble last spring.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

imageWhen I first started dating John, the kids (especially Lukas) were obsessed with the fact that I was a vegetarian. While they tend to be picky eaters and do not have a fondness for fruit and vegetables, I think they have made great strides in eating healthier. They love broccoli and green beans and for dessert they often will choose Greek yogurt and fruit. John, like the kids, has quite a sweet tooth but he loves to take a green smoothie to work and he enjoys my Mason jar salads. The combination that I am sharing with you today is his ultimate favorite. The caramelized pecans are a favorite snack of both John and Avalon and I often say that they are my way of “tricking” John into eating salad. While I do have a recipe for homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette, John prefers a sweeter store-bought version. I usually purchase Paul Newman’s Raspberry & Walnut dressing or Target’s Archer Farms Raspberry Vinaigrette – though I recommend that you give my recipe a try!

If you are new to jar salads, I recommend that you check out this link for helpful tips and tricks.

QUADRUPLE BERRY SALAD WITH CARAMELIZED PECANS & RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE

I layer the following ingredients in this order – into wide-mouthed, one quart Mason jars. I usually make 7-10 salads. I do not have exact amounts of berries for the salads. I usually buy a quart of strawberries and blueberries and a couple pints of raspberries and blackberries and divide them up into each jar (the more berries the better!)

*If you do not eat dairy you might want to try this Herbed Tofu, from Vegan Yak Attack which makes a great feta cheese substitute.

*3-4 Tablespoons of Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (depending on how much dressing you like. John likes a lot of dressing. I usually add extra vinegar or lemon juice at the bottom to mine since I like my dressing extra tangy)
*Sliced carrots
*Snow Peas
*Sliced cucumbers

*Strawberries (I use fresh berries. Once in a pinch I used frozen raspberries and they worked out – though they were not quite as good as fresh)
*Raspberries
*Blackberries
*Blueberries
*Feta Cheese
*Blue Cheese
(or gorgonzola)
*A handful of caramelized pecans (link to recipe HERE)
*Spring mix lettuce
*Alfalfa sprouts

This combination has turned John into a salad fan and I hope that you enjoy it too! While life is busy, we are never too busy to make healthy choices. Mason jar salads are a real game changer when it comes to meal prep. I got out of the habit this fall when my schedule got tight and my goal for the coming month is to make jar salads each week for work. I also want to bring back my weekly blog posts. I miss sharing with you, and since I use my blog as a teaching tool, I miss sharing my writing goals with my students. As always, I would love to hear from you. I hope you are meeting your healthy goals and intentions for the new year. Remember, we are worth it!

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John’s mom made us cooking aprons for Christmas.

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is such a sweetheart! Love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is beautiful inside and out – love her!

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.