old fashioned porridge in the country

porridge

It’s been a long time since I last put metaphorical pen to paper in this food diary of sorts. Too long. I’d offer excuses, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t click on this post to read about my annus horribilis (if you did, well… I’ve written previously about my elevated work stress and injuries, blah blah. Ironically, I’ve also found myself unemployed this week – one week shy of Christmas. Life, huh? It keeps on giving).

On a more pleasant note, I began writing this post two weeks ago from the confines of Green Cottage, an original shearer’s cabin in country Western Australia. Located on an 80 acre farm property, it was rough logged and tin-clad, full of cracks, dust and rusted fixings.

It was perfect, in an imperfect kind of way. The kind of place you visit to escape from cell phones and schedules. We booked the farmstay as a creative family retreat: for Aaron to draw, me to write and for Loki to… well, connect with nature as only a city dog can. It was beautiful to watch him embrace paddocks, sheep and dry horse manure with bright eyes and tousled fur. He’s tucked in beside me as I write, his little body heavy with sleep and wild forest dreams.

lokipathhaus apples

One of the main reasons why Aaron and I booked this particular cabin was the presence of an old cast-iron stove. A ‘Homesteader’, I think they’re called, with compartments for hot coals and kindling.

After booking our accommodation, I began planning meals of hot smoked potatoes, herbed damper and roasted vegetables with saffron aioli (in fact, I packed ingredients for most of these things into our vehicle, excitedly unpacking them into a mini-fridge upon our arrival). On night two, I was determined to make it work.

homesteaderb2

Fast forward to night four: I had set off the smoke detector three times, blackening my fingers and a depleting pile of kindling. Despite multiple attempts, the only by-product of my efforts were ash and disappointment.

I eventually abandoned the ‘Homesteader project’ for the hooded gas barbecue on the front porch, occasionally relieved by an ageing microwave. Both were effective in feeding us over the course of five nights, with reduced chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

homesteaderb

By the end of the week, we created barbecued homemade pizzas with goats cheese, artichokes and pesto, various smoked barbecued root vegetables and a barbecued garlic ciabatta loaf. I also steamed beets and potatoes in the microwave, serving both with herbs and butter.

There were no further kitchen incidents, unless you count the unauthorised consumption of two pears, one banana and Aaron’s jam donut in the dead of night. We assume the culprit was a wily rodent, though any beady eyes escaped investigation (some sad evidence towards the end of this post).

My favourite cooking experience by far was also the simplest of our five nights in the south west. We collected kindling from the surrounding karri forest, stoked a fire in the front garden and drank wine whilst the larger logs caught aflame. As the sun descended in the sky, we prepared the most beautiful, basic dinner of barbecued local Italian sausages, rosemary fried onions and warmed, buttered Manjimup bread with mandatory condiments. Oh, and a little crumbled Cheddar because, cheese.

After eating our fill, we snuggled in plaid blankets with Loki at our feet. We sat, talked and laughed until our candle died and embers flickered in quiet, inky blackness. The best kind of country evening.

firepit1 sausages saucebreadhotdog closeuponions lamp

Whilst the original intention of this post was to laud the greatness of a cast-iron stove, I now admit that I’m rather inept at keeping the home fires burning… or even lighting them to start with. Despite retaining my fascination for ‘old-school cookery’, I’m more comfortable with modern heat sources which can nevertheless yield some rather old school results. I’ve produced many smoky dishes, slow cooked meals and charred crusts with the aid of a ceramic stone, gas oven, modern cooktop and good quality cookware, so rather than focusing on Homesteader cookery in this blog post, I’m praising something very old-school that can be made in any modern home: traditional porridge.

Despite being consumed for hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years by varying methodology, porridge (or oatmeal, if you’re American) can be easily recreated on a gas or electric cooktop, or even in the modern microwave. I’ve been eating it since I was tiny and despite experimenting with various commercial evolutions (such as packaged quick oats and flavoured concoctions) my traditional childhood bowl reigns supreme over all imitations: full cream, slow cooked, simply topped with honey (my mother) or blackberry jam (yep, that’s dad).

lauraloki lokigrass

We prepared porridge frequently during our few days in Green Cottage. Despite being summer, the weather was unpredictably cold and wet which provided perfect opportunities for warm breakfasts, scalding cups of Builder’s tea and evenings by the traditional pot belly wood burner.

The first porridge morning was Aaron’s idea, after he discovered a jar of oats in the cottage pantry. I was already crumbling some Weet-bix biscuits into my cereal bowl, so I left him to his own devices until waterlogged oats overflowed from the boiling pan. Being Aaron, he ate the oats anyway with a glug of milk and some banana. I spent a few minutes scrubbing dried oats off the cottage cooktop. The next morning dawned with a cool breeze and a request for some tips on perfect porridge. He’s been using these ever since.

porridge2

Despite being more of a ‘guideline’ than a recipe, I’ve included my default method for porridge below with suggested quantities. I’ve also listed a few porridge toppings that rock in our household, my favourite being nut butter (pure peanut or tahini) and sliced banana.

I’m quite aware that my method contradicts that of Scottish purists (who advocate for only salt, oats and water whilst cooking). Despite my Scottish surname, I’m going to come straight out and say that I use milk for the entirety of the cooking process which creates extra creamy, delicious oats. Do as you will, I say.

horses apple2Wishing you and yours a beautiful, peaceful Christmas and a blessed start to 2016. May there be plenty of porridge.

– Aaron, Loki and Laura x

My kind of Porridge

Serves 2

  • 1 cup wholegrain rolled or steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups full fat milk (either dairy or plant based, I like coconut or almond milk but Aaron prefers creamy cows milk)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • a pinch of sea salt

to serve: dairy/plant milk or cream, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup to drizzle, ground cinnamon, fruit (sliced banana, blueberries, grated apple, sultanas, sliced figs, mango and toasted coconut), toasted nuts or seeds (I like toasted, crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds), nut butter (peanut butter with sliced banana is divine), cacao nibs, chia jam or French conserve

If you’re organised, add your oats to the milk and soak overnight in the refrigerator (in a covered bowl or airtight container). Transfer to a small, heavy based saucepan in the morning with a splash of water to loosen. If you’re pressed for time, place the oats directly in the saucepan and soak for 20-30 minutes to produce creamier porridge.

Crank your burner to medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low, add a little more water to loosen and stir regularly, watching your porridge thicken and ensuring that no oats stick to the bottom of the pot. Keep adding water until the oats are soft, smooth and creamy (around 20 minutes).

Spoon your porridge into two bowls, top with a splash of plant or dairy milk and any other toppings you desire. For more inspiration, I’d suggest that you head over to my dreamy, super-mum friend Heidi’s porridge archive on Apples Under my Bed (second to my parents, she is my porridge heroine).

maushaus

sheeps

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22 responses

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your job loss Laura. I hope that one day you are able to look back and be grateful that it ended because a fabulous new opportunity was waiting just around the corner. Life can be funny like that sometimes…

    Your holiday looks just gorgeous. The south west is a beautiful part of the world. Xmas blessings to you and yours xo

    • Hi Sam, thanks for taking the time out to write this. I appreciate you heaps! You’re completely right, the end of each chapter in life is the start of something new and fresh. I’ve really begun to trust that things will be ok, even throughout uncertainty (my husband is really good at reminding me of that, alongside my faith!). Hope that you had a beautiful Christmas, all the best for the new year! xx

  2. Your little get-away sounds idyllic, wood-fired oven or no (it’s super-cute though – worth it just to be in the same room as it). Clint and I renovated an old farm house (for 8 years!). We installed a Rayburn cooker in the old kitchen. It fed us, kept us warm and provided us with hot water, but when the babies came along we didn’t have time to collect and split wood anymore, so we went SMEG! Your little sweet-toothed visitor had good taste. I’d be making a B line for the doughnuts too. I adore porridge. I eat it almost every morning (incl. 42C mornings – insert crazy eyes). Mine is a mix of oats, buckwheat, flax seeds and toasted sesame seeds, topped with banana, figs and manuka honey. Great start to the day. Have a lovely Christmas Laura. I hope 2016 is full of good things for you all. Jen x

    • You are so right – it was such a beautiful oven, even though I couldn’t actually cook with it! Maybe next time we stay, I’ll actually get a proper tutorial from the people who own the cottage. Your old farm house sounds beautiful! Definitely understand that such a labor intensive way of cooking/heating wouldn’t work with little ones though (not to mention some of the inherent dangers of fire/wood/sharp objects around tiny people!). Love the sound of your default porridge… nourishing and delicious! Definitely worth sweating over on a hot day. Hope that you guys had a gorgeous Christmas too, Jen. Sending you hugs, thanks for being such a good friend in this blogging game xxx

  3. I love you and I love this post!! Seriously. I read it, savoring each word, as I love your style of writing and your photography, as always, is fabulous. Also–oatmeal, porridge–choose your name, but I’ve gotten to where I eat it most mornings. Nothing like that hot bowl of cereal to start the day. I had to laugh at your thought of baking on the wood stove and doing the primitive route. It’s a long story, but it brought back memories of a weekend trip we had with my best friend and her husband to this “quaint” cabin in the woods for a weekend retreat. Sheila and I had these glorious ideas that basically transported us into our favorite childhood book, “Little House on the Prairie”. We even named the weekend after the book. After about 3 hours, we knew that perhaps we had gone just a little overboard on our daydreaming, as this place was not what we envisioned. Bygones! We still had a great time with fun memories, as I’m sure you and Aaron did, too. As far as your job–we both know that this is just another stepping stone that God is using for you. Jerry (husband) works for Caterpillar, and they are having massive layoffs. They offered anyone over 55 a special buyout program, if you will, to entice them to retire (Cat is eliminating 10,000 jobs in the next 2 years). So, that’s what he did. However, he still needs a job, and has found himself at the age of 63 looking for another full-time position. We’ve learned in our years that God ALWAYS sees us through and has a plan for our lives (Romans 8:28, as I’m sure you know). It’s easier for us in our older years to be able to look back and see what He has done for us (although those moments of doubt always creep in unwanted). Our message yesterday ended with Pastor holding up a fork as an analogy that as a child he looked forward to dessert–the best part of the meal–and his grandmum (he’s Welsh) would tell him “hold onto your fork”. So, he gave us all a fork and the word that God is saying “Hold onto your fork. The best part is coming!” Merry Christmas, dear girl. I’ll be praying for a better job for you and peace throughout the transition. xxx

    • Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to write this Julie. I appreciate you heaps and I’ll be praying for this next transition in Jerry’s life too! Our health service (where I was working) sounds like it’s in a similar predicament to CAT. Voluntary redundancies are being pushed and there have been many, many jobs lost over the past couple months. More to come next year too :( You’re completely right that we have a massive privilege in knowing that God is in control of these things, that He knows our needs and will be with us through each transitional phase. I’ve been reading a lot about trust as the year is coming to a close and in a way, I welcome this change as it’s drawing me closer to God in the midst of it. Love your story of the ‘Prairie’ cabin, haha! It’s funny how our idyllic notions don’t quite turn into reality! Hope that you, Jerry, Stephie, Alex and the rest of the family had a beautiful, restful Christmas. I will be praying for a blessed new year ahead xxx

      • Happy New Year, sweet girl. May 2016 bring nothing but blessings to you and Aaron. It’s been such a privilege to get to know you. Some day, we shall meet in person. Until then, I’ll see you on Instagram. xxx

      • Thank you so much lovely. Same back to you! May this new year be a blessing and a testament to God’s faithfulness (I know it will be, He is faithful and I’m grateful for more opportunities to draw close to Him). Sending you hugs xxx

  4. I believe things can happen for a reason and there is something better for you waiting. I really enjoyed reading your post, sounds really relaxing. Pemberton is a world away. We stayed in an old cottage over winter with a charming cast iron stove, it kept us warm and was good to fry up bacon and eggs for breakfast but we smelt of smoke the whole time. Would do it all again though.

    • Thanks so much Lee, I appreciate the kind words! Haha, we smelt like smoke for the week too. Despite the failure with the stove, we did light the pot belly and fire pit, both of which provided a bit of smoky ambience! Definitely a gorgeous part of the world. We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful part of Australia. Hope you had a lovely Christmas x

  5. Laura– gorgeous photos (as always) of a truly beautiful tranquil place. It looked like a perfect weekend of quiet and beauty. Glad you got away. And sad to hear about your job loss. We’ve had that same moment in our family and it can be scary. Pray you’ll move ahead into a new job that suits you and your gifts– and that brings you joy in doing it. Really lovely post. So glad you’re back!!

    • Thanks so much Rhonda! I appreciate you and your prayers. I feel really lucky to have found some Christian friends via this blog, it’s really providing a lot of peace for me during these transitional times! Hope that you had a gorgeous, peaceful Christmas. All the best for the start of 2016 xx

  6. What a gorgeous post, so dreamy. Well, besides the work stress and job loss. I hope things are ok, lovely. They will be soon, no doubt. Sending love. I haven’t visited your site for a while, but it’s so lovely when I do, I adore your photographs and words! Thanks for the kind words too. x

  7. I do believe that 2016 will be a much better year for you, Laura! The thing I love about you is that you just keep going and (seemingly) never let everything get you down.

    This country stay looks like it was just what you needed. I l love oatmeal, and the addition of blackberry jam is brilliant. (Thanks to your father!)

    I am so sorry about your job, and I really wish you, Aaron, and Loki the best new year ever!

    • Thank you so much David! I appreciate it, thanks for being a lovely friend despite my continued absence and inconsistency this year! You’ve been creating so much beauty, both in a photographic and culinary sense. It’s been a real pleasure catching up on Cocoa and Lavender intermittently. Hope that you and Mark have a wonderful start to the new year, sending you a big hug! x

  8. Pingback: autumn + poached quinces « Laura's Mess

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