Plain ol’ Porridge

Porridge 9

When we were growing up, porridge was a warm breakfast treat in the mornings that my mother could whip up in no time at all.  We weren’t limited in the amount of raisins we could apply to the steaming cereal.  It was heaven.  When I met the Pie I learned that HE had been allowed to put brown sugar on his porridge in addition to raisins, and this level of indulgence is my favourite to this day.

Some people don’t like porridge (or oatmeal, as you Americans seem to call it), and that’s fine.  I remember reading somewhere that Scots can take anything horrible and turn it into a practical virtue, and eating porridge was one of those things.

Porridge 7

Because porridge is so easy to make, though, it always kind of blew my mind to see the varieties of “instant” breakfast oatmeals available at the grocery store.  When I tried them, they always tasted gluey and artificial.  And really, two minutes in the microwave is not that much faster than five minutes on the stove.  Granted, you have to remember to soak your pot afterwards, but that’s not really a big deal.

Porridge 6

Let’s get to it, shall we, so I can show you how easy it is?  I tend to add all sorts of other grains to my oats to jazz them up, but today (and because we just moved and I haven’t restocked my pantry yet), I’m just doing regular plain porridge.  For this, you will need rolled oats (I’m using quick oats here but I don’t find them much faster-cooking than regular ones), water, and a pot.

Porridge 1

Oh, and a spurtle.  If you don’t have a spurtle (basically a glorified stick), you can use a spoon for stirring but you will find it less satisfying.

Porridge 4

The magic ratio for porridge is the same as it is for making basic rice: two parts water to one part grain.  The magic serving size for the Pie and myself is about 1/3 cup each uncooked.  Once cooked of course the oats expand considerably.  So for a serving for two, start with about 2/3 cup rolled oats.

Porridge 2

Plop those in a pot and then pour over that 1 1/3 cups water.

Porridge 3

Heat on medium, stirring frequently, until the porridge begins to thicken and bubble (this can take between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on what kind of oats you have and how many you are making — for quick oats it’s about 5 minutes).  Make sure to keep stirring or the whole mess will stick horribly to the bottom of the pot.

Porridge 5

Serve in bowls, garnished with a bit of milk or cream, and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  We topped ours with fresh raspberries because we don’t yet have any raisins.  Some people like their porridge buttered and salty, but I prefer mine sweet.  I also like to toss dried coconut and fruit into the pot when I’m cooking the oats (just add a little extra water), together with some ground flax and cinnamon.  Yum!

Porridge 8

Scottish Shortbread

The New Year was always more of a big deal to the Celtic grownups in our household than Christmas was, and to this day I still hold the door open at midnight to let out the old year and beckon in the new.  If you do this at midnight in one of the coastal cities, it is likely you’ll hear all the ships in the harbour in a chorus of horns.  It’s always been a very private moment for me, a wee superstition I have continued regardless of what is going on.

No matter what happens in our chaotic lives over the holidays, especially now that we are several families stretched out over thousands of kilometres, it’s a guarantee that at least one of us at some point will whip up our family recipe for traditional Scottish shortbread.  It makes a meaningful hostess gift when you’re wandering about over the holidays, and there are very few people who won’t be able to immediately offer a traditional shortbread recipe of their own.

This particular version is incredibly simple, with just three humble ingredients: 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups flour.  That’s really it.  That’s what makes this recipe extremely easy and almost impossible to screw up.

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

Make sure your butter is softened, but under no circumstances should you let it melt in any way.  It absolutely has to be solid.  Cream that sucker with the sugar in a bowl.

Add in about half your flour and mix well, then add in the rest of the flour and stir until all you have is a million flour-covered butter/sugar crumbs.

Stick your hands in and knead and squish those crumbs until they’re all stuck together.

Pound and flatten that lovely buttery dough ball into a rough oval on an ungreased baking sheet.

Flute the edges by pinching it between your fingers and prick the whole thing thoroughly with a fork.  Make sure the fork goes all the way to the bottom when you’re poking around.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough is a lovely golden brown.  It will be darker brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven and cut it into squares while it’s still hot (this will be impossible to do when it cools as it will be much harder and you’ll end up with shattered shortbread everywhere).

Take it to all your friends as host/ess gifts, still warm in a paper bag.  Mmm!

Have a safe and happy New Year everybody!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS
Robert Burns