Swiss Oatmeal

Jason is ColdIn my opinion, every recipe has its own story. In most instances, the story comes after you’ve made the recipe. Maybe you’ll forever remember the experience of making the recipe for the first time and then that first taste. For other recipes, though, the story comes before the taste and — in spite of how many times you’ve made the recipe since and regardless what occasions you’ve prepared it for — that story or memory that came before persists.

Today’s recipe story is one of those persistent, pre-tasting ones. It began on Winter Break in 2004 in a little college town in southeastern Louisiana. Enter my two best friends from college: Amanda & Nicholas. We were fast friends in our undergraduate years and had been through a lot of hardships and laughs together. By this time, Nicholas and I had graduated, but he’d moved out of state for work as a choir director while I stayed behind in the little college town and worked odd jobs (really, really odd jobs, I might add) while I tried to figure out what it was one was supposed to do with a music degree. As a last resort method of figuring that out, I eventually succumbed to the siren song of graduate school. Meanwhile, Amanda was still working through the very last phase of her undergraduate degree (a long-suffering struggle of Odyssian proportions in itself).

Amanda and I began sharing an apartment not long before this time. Somehow, the stars aligned, Nicholas was in town for a while, and the three of us managed to seize an opportunity to go on one last adventure Scan0001_0001together: spending New Years in Chicago.

I still remember renting the car and leaving town on a cold, dark December night. The sounds of cheesy music, all of us singing along, the sound of our laughter and Nicholas’ snoring in the backseat; these are all still so clear to me. I can remember being north of Memphis in the dead of night, chatting with Amanda about all sorts of things while Nicholas slumbered away in a world of his own. I remember feeling as though all of us were in our own little protective bubble flying through the darkness. The world outside, asleep, swirling past us at the speed of light as we traveled away from uncertainty, responsibilities we weren’t sure we wanted, and no telling what other troubles that might plague a 25-year-old mind and soul.

As it turns out, our trip had a dual purpose. Amanda and I were considering moving to Chicago — she to start her graduate degree and I to finish mine. A blank slate for the both of us, in other words. Maybe it was just what we needed. Whether or not that was the case was just another of the many uncertainties that kept me awake some nights, staring at the ceiling, turning my thoughts over and over, one by one. At least on this particular night, I was not alone with these thoughts and I knew I was not the only one having them, either.

After a nearly 14-hour drive, we arrived in Chicago sometime after sunrise. The weather, I remember, was very clear and bright and colder than anything Louisiana can muster in the winter. My first few breaths of Chicago winter, at least as I can now recall, felt clean, refreshing — somehow loaded with new-found hope. I’d expected to be terrified of the city — I’m still not much of an urbanite — but, instead, I felt a confidence that may’ve been a combination of naivety and sheer determination.

Amanda and Nicholas

Our two-night stay was fairly uneventful. We were college students, after all — it’s not as though we could afford theatre tickets or any real extravagances. We spent most of our time just wandering around the streets of downtown gawking at the skyscrapers, taking in the free sights and activities, laughing at and with one another.

On New Year’s Eve, we went to the lake shore at Navy Pier to watch the big fireworks show. As the fireworks built to an amazing climax, I could feel the blasts — so loud and colorful — reverberating all around me and the towering downtown buildings. The explosions were so powerful that I soon ceased to feel my own pulse. My pulse became the pulse of these thundering explosions over my head, lighting up the night sky, spiraling reflections out over the frozen lake, and welcoming in a new year… and a new me? Yes. In less than a year, I would call Chicago home — though I probably wouldn’t have guessed this at the time.


I’m not sure, but I think it was on New Year’s Day, in the morning, we happened into an eatery in downtown Chicago for breakfast. I saw an item on the menu that piqued my curiosity. It was called Swiss Oatmeal — served cold, with lots of fruit, yogurt, and spices stirred in. Casting aside my usual choices of hot, egg-and-cheese breakfast items, I opted for something new. I was floored by the taste — so fruity, so wholesome. I vowed to learn how to make this for myself!

Swiss Oatmeal
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 4

    3 cups low fat milk
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    1 dash of nutmeg
    1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
    1/2 cup raisins (or a mix of dried fruits)
    1/4 cup low fat plain yogurt
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon almond extract
    3 tablespoons maple syrup (grade B preferred)
    1 medium apple (gala or granny smith); cored and diced
    1 large ripe banana, peeled and sliced
    1/4 cup sliced almonds

    Combine the milk, salt, spices, and oats in a medium saucepan over medium heat. As the mixture begins to boil, stir in the raisins; continue to stir constantly to prevent oats from sticking or mixture from boiling over. Cook for approximately 6 minutes or until mixture is sufficiently thick and oats are tender.

    Remove from heat; stir in the yogurt, vanilla, almond extract, and maple syrup. Gently fold in the apple, banana, and sliced almonds (you want the banana to stay chunky).

    Divide mixture evenly into four coffee mugs or serving bowls. Cover and refrigerate overnight, if desired, or serve immediately.

This happens to be one of James’ favorite breakfasts even though he doesn’t have the same attachment to the recipe as I do. To be sure, I’ve told him at least eleventy times how it came to be. As it turns out, the idea has been around for quite a long time. This recipe is just one of many variations that can be found for the European cold cereal called müesli. However, a major difference is that traditional müesli involves absolutely no cooking. Traditionally, the oats are only soaked in milk or cream until they’re soft and then mixed with fruits and nuts.

A little about this recipe:

    IMG_1897* I prefer to serve this chilled, letting all of the fruit flavors infuse with the oatmeal overnight. I’ve been told it tastes sweeter when served chilled.

    * For the recipe photos you see in this post, I used a Northern Spy apple and — for the dried fruit — made a mix of dried cherries, dried blueberries, and dried cranberries.

    * Be sure to used old-fashioned oats (rolled oats) rather than quick-cooking oats, otherwise the texture will be far too mushy and uninteresting — especially if served chilled.

    * You can substitute vanilla soy milk for the milk in this recipe to add another dimension of flavor.

Throughout that final semester of graduate school in Louisiana, I slowly developed this recipe. Amanda and our roommate, Chris, were my guinea pigs. To this day, when I place the spices and the milk on the stove, stirring as the heat brings the fragrance up to my nose, I always drift back to January 2005 and that little table where I sat with my two best friends, about to embark on the journey that would be the rest of our lives. We’ve all changed so much since then, and yet all I need is this oatmeal to take me back. Can you really get all that from oatmeal? I think you can!


~ by Jason on January 10, 2011.

One Response to “Swiss Oatmeal”

  1. Glad you got to taste such great times ,And still tasting …
    Love you and miss your breakfast and lunch and dinner meals 🙂 but the preparing was so much fun watching you as I know you love to cook for others….

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