Meal of Steel: Steel cut oats

Oats is one of those foodstuffs that is overlooked and unappreciated that it could be considered underrated. Most know it as being good for you and as a start to the day, but for many it’s not appreciated or revered as much as it should be. I’m part of the smaller group that eat it gleefully. I thoroughly love the stuff. It’s versatile – oatmeal is part of the four pillars of cookie awesomeness, it’s also commonly used as a topping for cobblers. But its best and most simple use is as oatmeal, providing the most latitude for food greatness and creativity.

Sure you’ve probably eaten rolled oats (think Quaker), but if you haven’t dabbled into the world of steel cut oats, I’d highly suggest doing so. It’s not that regular rolled oats are bad, they just don’t quite have the joie de vivre of steel cut oats. Why? Well, rolled oats require a bit more processing than steel cut oats and they don’t have the depth of flavor or texture (crunchy) that steel cut oats are renowned for. In particular, McCann’s is the Quaker of steel cut oats. Steel cut oats are created from the inner portion of the oat kernel – their name comes from the steel discs that cuts these portions into smaller parts. So this minimal overwork creates oatmeal bliss in your bowl.

I always shied away from steel cut oats because of the long prep time compared to rolled oats. But I found this really easy recipe where you combine boiling water and oats the night before – warm it up in the morning and you’re good to go! Don’t sweat that it’ll be left out for so long, you’ll be fine, your heart and your tastebuds will appreciate it over whatever else you’ve been eating in the morning. Steel-cut oats are inherently full of nutritional value and are high in B-Vitamins, calcium, protein and fiber while low in salt and unsaturated fat.

What to do with your steel cut oats when you’re ready to eat? Serious Eats asked that very question and you’ll find all sorts of interesting ideas. The general consensus is some sort of combination of brown sugar, butter, and maple syrup. I also like to add Craisins to the mix. Bump up the fiber and clean yourself out by adding Benefiber and flaxseeds if you like. Basically the choice is yours on what you’d like to add.

If you haven’t already given steel cut oats a try. The texture and flavor rival oatmeal and the health benefits make it that much more worthwhile. Plus they have all sorts of fun names like Irish oats and pinhead oats.

Eat at Mom’s

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One of the important things to consider about food is how it’s a part of culture. That it can be a part of tradition, history, and nostalgia. This is one of the things I love about food. Considering this, we must also remember those that we said farewell to. Those that left an impression which you’ll remember years down the road. It could have been the meal that you had with friends where you remember everything. Or it could be the dish that reaffirmed how food can be lyrical and sing to you. Or it could be a restaurant that for some reason, you’ll remember long after your last meal there. This is the case for a place in Seattle called Mom’s.

For many locals the pancakes at Mom’s were the best in Seattle. And they loved this place too. Sadly, Mom’s as we remember it, is gone. Mom’s closed down about two and a half years ago to make way for a MAC cosmetic store. Ugh. They closed for a number of reasons, but I think they didn’t fit in the image that University Village wanted for itself, so out went a place like Mom’s. It took U-Village a while to force out Denise Breen’s restaurant – a fun story I learned in my retailing classes at the University of Washington. The U-Village people kept harping on Denise to either sell or remodel, for the vibe of Mom’s is distinctively retro. But she still kept making great numbers and withstood the gloss that U-Village has come to fabricate so well. In fact, Mom’s was a part of U-Village for 20+ years before it closed. Not bad for someone that didn’t have classic restaurant experience.

So with a bit of folklore, Mom’s withstood all sorts of changes to University Village. Not many locals remember this, but in the early 90s, U-Village wasn’t exactly a place that Seattleites went to visit. Heck, I went to school there and I rarely went to visit. If you jumped in the wayback machine, the U-Village of 10 years ago is radically different than the one today. But even with those changes, people kept going back to Mom’s again and again. Many went to visit for the hand-dipped milkshakes or the turkey sandwiches. I was devoted to the pancakes.

Ahh, the pancakes. My most favorite pancake in the city. These weren’t little discs or big, dense frisbees; the pancakes at Mom’s were more like a more robust crepe. Close to food perfection, they were definitely on the thinner side, but they did have forgiving denseness. Because they were cooked on a seasoned griddle that needed a ton of oil, they had a texture unlike most other pancake places. There were also lots of small little bubbles throughout the pancakes, sort of like little receptacles for syrup. And the butter and hot griddle helped to create crispy edges all around. This was the best part about the pancakes; crispy and airy, they held up to the stampede of maple syrup and butter. The whole combination of the size, flavor, and texture was like breakfast nirvana. And it wasn’t just me. I had a friend who worked out of the country for a few years and one of the things he most looked forward to upon getting back were the pancakes at Mom’s. Imagine how crestfallen he was when he found out Mom’s had closed.

Thankfully the recipe is still out there. Denise Breen seemed to be an open and available restaurateur who didn’t mind sharing. I love that the tradition of Mom’s can be continued. Warning though, the recipe is super-idiosyncratic, so lot’s of steps are involved. I’m up to the challenge and maybe I’ll give it a spin this weekend.

Thinking of places that shaped our love for food is always wistful and nostalgic. It never hurts to look back, and I’m glad I was able to eat at Mom’s when I could.