ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Should have blogged in 2013… Part 4

(This is part of a series of things that I should have recorded in 2013 – things which were highlights of the year, but which didn’t get recorded when they were fresh in my mind. Now you mostly just get pictures.)

Review: McDonald’s oatmeal

Last May, the Ordinary Family stopped for a meal at McDonald’s. (Forgive us! Our options were limited! It only happened once!) Since I’d previously reviewed the oatmeal at Starbucks and at Chick-fil-A, I thought I’d share my thoughts on McDonald’s version, as well…

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Clearly, I took some pictures for a review. And I may have taken some notes to help me remember my oatmeal experience. But those have long since disappeared. So here’s an educated guess at what I would have said…

The quick oats aren’t anything to write home about. The flavor is ok. The preparation was lacking (see the excess water in one picture). The option of adding raw apples is a nice touch. If you’re at McDonald’s, go ahead and eat the oatmeal. But why are you at McDonald’s?

Review: Chick-fil-A oatmeal

It’s been over a year and a half since I reviewed Starbucks oatmeal. Doing that review got me thinking: as a self-appointed oatmeal expert, I should review other oatmeal, as well. This was about the time that McDonald’s came out with their own version, so I wanted to try some of that. Well – I still haven’t gotten around to sampling McOatmeal. However, about a week ago I received an email from Chick-fil-A inviting me to try one of their breakfast entrées for free.* Behold! One of the choices was multigrain oatmeal. I decided it was time to don** my food critic’s hat.

* If you hurry, you may also be able to get a free breakfast at Chick-fil-A. As far as I can tell, the promotion lasts through the rest of this week. Quantities are limited.

** Every time I hear that word, I feel like decking some halls for whatever reason.

There isn’t a Chick-fil-A that is conveniently located close to my house, so this morning I took a little detour on the way to work and picked up my oatmeal.  Here are my thoughts…

What you get:

(Glass bowl not included.)

Here’s what Chick-fil-A has to say about its oatmeal

Warm & wholesome, our multigrain, steel-cut oatmeal is first slow-cooked in kettles the old-fashioned way. Anything but dry and instant, our hearty oatmeal has flax, whole wheat and buckwheat. Tasty toppings include cinnamon brown sugar, roasted mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts) and dried fruit blend (cranberries, blueberries, golden raisins, cherries).

I received one cup of “Multigrain Oatmeal” in a disposable plastic container that was sturdy enough that I might save it and re-use it. Do I give bonus points to Chick-fil-A for a container that I’ll use again, or dock points for using excessive packaging that nearly everyone will just throw away? I’m not sure. Anyway… in addition to the oatmeal, I received little packets of nuts, fruit, and cinnamon and sugar.

The oatmeal:

Ok – here is something that I find interesting: the online description of this oatmeal is that it’s “slow-cooked”. Indeed, I had to wait for my oatmeal (perhaps seven minutes?) even though I was the only person in line this morning. (This is not a problem for me. I have to wait at home when I prepare my own. I’m certainly willing to wait for a good bowl of oats.) The friendly (though not entertaining) employees even said that it was being prepared fresh for me. However, being a skeptical person, I tend to believe that the slow-cooking step occurred before I arrived at the store. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that the oats were a little bit more substantial than standard quick oats (which you’ll get at Starbucks). Perhaps the preparation involved more than a simple addition of hot water.

However, I do have a complaint. I was drawn in by the claim of multigrain oatmeal and was eager to see Chick-fil-A do something creative. Alas, my hopes have been dashed. When I removed the lid from the dish, I couldn’t find anything other than oats, and a careful perusal of the ingredient list reveals the following:

… contains 2% or less of flaxseed, buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour…

Please. What they’re saying is that even if I look closely through my cup of oatmeal, I won’t be able to find  more than a teaspoon of flaxseed. That won’t get you extra points in this review. I’ll chastise you for getting my hopes up and then not meeting expectations.

The nuts:

Chick-fil-A provides a nice mix of walnuts, almonds, and pecans. Interestingly, the walnuts and pecans are glazed. When I noticed this on the package, I was sure to test them out individually (which was hard since I had already mixed everything together). Indeed, they are glazed. Alas, you probably won’t notice this unless you eat them separate from the rest of the oatmeal.

The fruits:

A slightly creative mix of cranberries, golden raisins, dried blueberries, and cherries. In the end, I’m afraid that most of the benefit is from increased diversity in texture, rather than flavor. But I was pleased with what they provided.

The sugar:

Hurrah! The sugar also includes cinnamon! Good for them. It distinguishes this oatmeal from the Starbucks variety. Now, would someone please give me a little clove, or maybe some ginger or cardamom?


The intangibles seem to be somewhat intangible.

The take home message:

The oatmeal was fine; it made for a decent breakfast. The slightly above-average oats and the addition of the cinnamon make it better than the oatmeal that Starbucks serves. The “multigrain” claim turned out to be a disappointment. However, if you’re eating breakfast at Chick-fil-A, this is clearly what you want to get (since most of your other choices are fried).

To be honest, though, I’m not likely to be eating this oatmeal again. It wasn’t good enough to go out of my way to get it; there aren’t Chick-fil-A restaurants in places where I eat fast food (mostly travel plazas on interstate roads); they only serve oatmeal at breakfast (not all day); and Ordinary Spouse and I tend to avoid places with that much fried food on the menu.

Five for Friday… Herbs and spices

We’re going to make this week’s “Five for Friday” short, mostly because I don’t have the appropriate vocabulary to describe herb and spice flavors. I just know what I like. In traditional “Five for Friday” fashion, my actual list will contain more than five items. And we start out the excess with…

Herbs that would have made the list had they not already been listed on another “Five for Friday” list – Coriander (as cilantro) and rosemary were listed in my “favorite plants” list in September 2009, so I’ll exclude them from the five here. Otherwise, I would have needed to make room for them.

1) Odd Spice – Ha, ha! Right away with item #1, I’ve already got more than five: cinnamon, allspice,  cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. Those are the six spices that I mix together to put on my oatmeal. Collectively, I call them ‘odd spice’. And I get to count them as one.

2) Caraway – I love this in bread. And soup. And I just realized that this will become a theme.

3) Dill – Ditto: bread and soup. Also, mix it with yogurt for a nice dip.

4) Tarragon – Soup again. Or maybe mixed with some olive oil (and drizzled on bread!).

5) Kampot pepper – My brother- and sister-in-law will correct me if I get this wrong. This is a variety of black pepper from Cambodia to which they’ve introduced me. It’s tastier (and also slightly spicier) than your average black pepper. It’s great in every situation where you’d use black pepper – including soup! (And I manage to find a use for black pepper at most of my dinner meals.)

Hmm… it would seem that my culinary lesson for the day is that some foods are designed to be carriers for other flavors, rather than their own. I don’t know that I’ve thought about that much before.

A Day in the Life

After blogging some trips to parents and in-laws, and after a friend blogged about her day, I decided that I’d like to blog about my own day.  Ordinary Spouse astutely wondered who would like to read about my day except me. The answer, of course, is no one.  But that hasn’t stopped me from writing stuff on this blog yet! So loyal reader, here is the account of Thursday, May 28th…

0530 – My alarm goes off in a vain attempt to remind me to go swimming. I manage to turn the alarm off without waking up.

0601 – I wake up to Jack doing a happy dance on the bed. Soon he’ll start nipping at me, so I get out of bed to get him breakfast. I’m quickly distracted by Sudoku.

0615 – I decide that my brain is too fuzzy to do Sudoku, so I make my way to the kitchen and get Jack’s breakfast.

0621 – Now that the cat is content, I start my own breakfast (gourmet oatmeal!).  While that’s cooking, I start taking notes on the day’s play-by-play for this blog post.

0630 – Middle Daughter and Oldest Daughter make their appearance in the kitchen just before my oatmeal finishes. School becomes the first topic of conversation for the day. Middle Daughter shares a school project entitled, “Kindergarten Memories”. It includes these lines: “My favorite story was ‘Aliens Love Underpants'” and “My favorite song was ‘Buddy, My Beagle'”. Oldest Daughter wonders why the school district schedule two days of school after Memorial Day, because they won’t be doing much. I’ve wondered similar things.

0641 – The girls want to play with Playmobil toys before breakfast… on the breakfast table. I tell them that they’ll need to clean things up before they can eat. We’ll see how that works out. I clean up the yesterday’s remnants of some child walking around the kitchen eating watermelon.

0646 – Remember that oatmeal? Time to get it ready: grind nuts; slice ginger; and add papaya, odd spice and sugar.  Once again, I’m distracted from the oatmeal – this time to deal with bathroom and Playmobil emergencies.

0700 – I start eating the oatmeal that finished half an hour ago.

0703 – Youngest Daughter wakes up. I eat oatmeal with a daughter on my lap.

0711 – I’ve finished my breakfast, but spend some more time reading blogs.  I also help YD make a crown and listen to OD show off the latest math trick.  What started as a multiplication trick ended as a division trick.

0733 – Ordinary Spouse arrives in the kitchen to much fanfare.  Good morning, honey!

0738 – Time to finish getting ready for work.  I get distracted by Sudoku again, but have more luck this time.

0808 – After four minutes of good-byes, I’m off to work. The weather is incredibly pleasant after three days of hot and muggy.  (And the forecast is for this to continue through Memorial Day!)  I’ve got a Van Morrison in the CD player, and traffic is moving quickly today.  A good start.

0831 – At work, I make a quick check of the beamlines.

0840 – Coffee time! Mocha – while getting caught up on email.

0902 – Time to begin the day’s work. We’ve been in a maintenance period, but the X-rays return next Wednesday. One of the requirements for beamlines is that the have a very high vacuum inside – air would degrade the quality of the X-ray beam.  Since we were working on components during the shutdown, we had to break the vacuum. Much of my job today will be to make sure that the vacuum quality is back to normal for next week.

1020 – Argonne gives certain employees annual physical exams.  Today, it’s my turn.

1215 – The medical department wasn’t very efficient today.  But at least, they’re friendly.  Time for lunch.

1255 – More vacuum work.  In addition, our software developers have made a number of improvements in our data collection software, so I spend time testing those out, as well.

1600 – Our monochromator has been having some problems – probably a repetitive motion injury.  Happily, representatives from the German company that built it are working at another beamline, so I take some time to consult with them.

1640 – More vacuum work

1708 – The day is complete. Only one section of vacuum is still having troubles. I’ll work on it again tomorrow.

1732 – Ordinary Spouse asked me to stop for some salsa for this evening’s dinner (taco salad) on the way home.  At Meijer, I couldn’t decide what flavor or spiciness to get, so I purchased four different options.  I also picked up plain yogurt and tomatoes.

1754 – Home!  Hugs all around.

1802 – Supper time.  It takes five minutes to get everyone rounded up, hands washed, and to the table.

Here we are to thank you for this fine food;
Here we are to thank you for this fine food;
Here we are to thank you,
Because we know you’re with us
Right where we are.

1833 – Supper is finished.  Amazingly the table is quiet – just OS and I.  The girls have all scampered off somewhere.  We enjoy some conversation while cleaning up the dishes.

1856 – It’s time to pull staples out of the floor!* (That is a sarcastic exclamation point.) Joni Mitchell is the music of choice for this work.

2007 – I think I’m done pulling staples, but one never knows about these things.  Time for a few drinks of ice water.

2018 – The girls are getting ready for bed, so it’s time to read to MD and YD.  We have a funny book – funny because it’s about the human body, and it has transparent overlays so that you can take the body apart.  Reading is followed by teeth brushing (or is it tooth brushings?), bedtime prayers, and singing.

2101 – I check what’s happening on Facebook.  Not much apparently.  Maybe I should delete my account for a second time.

2127 – Time for me to get ready for bed.

2128 – Whoops!  I remember that the car is still parked outside, and that I need to clean the garage before moving it inside.

2204 – The lights are off, the teeth are brushed, the house is quiet.  I decide to take a few moments to edit my blog post.

2224 – I decide that I’m too tired to finish editing.  This blog entry won’t post until tomorrow.  It will have to be “Yesterday in the Life”.

Good night!

* Why would I be pulling staples from the floor?  That is another blog entry.

Review: Starbucks oatmeal

I have gushed before about how wonderful my morning oatmeal is, and I have also confessed to loving Starbucks mocha. So I could tell that Ordinary Spouse saw the wheels turning in my head when I found out what arrived in the mail yesterday – a coupon for a free serving of Starbucks oatmeal.

Breakfast this morning?

You guessed it – oatmeal and coffee!

And I thought, “Hey! Why not write a review of Starbucks oatmeal?” Some people are qualified to review books or music. I’ll review oatmeal.*

* And here we provide the obligatory disclaimer: As you are already aware, I did not have to purchase my oatmeal this morning. Starbucks sent me the coupon (unsolicited by me). I did buy the mocha (which was typically yummy, but which I’m not reviewing).

So, would I recommend Starbucks oatmeal? Let’s take a look…

What you get:

One cup (roughly speaking) of “Perfect Oatmeal” (Starbucks’ name for it). The label says,

Just the way you like it. Wake up to the warmth and hearty goodness of whole grains. Add to that a satisfying sprinkle of nuts, fruit, and brown sugar, and your choice of milk.

As indicated, I also received individual packets of nuts, dried fruit, and brown sugar. And had I been so inclined, I could have added milk in the store. I was not so inclined.

The oatmeal:

The oatmeal was a standard serving of quick oats.  My barista prepared it appropriately, which is about all you can say about standard servings of quick oats. (You’re not going to get bonus points for cooking oats, but you can lose points rapidly if they weren’t cooked right.) Starbucks could make the oatmeal slightly more interesting by mixing in other grains.

The nuts:

Here, I give Starbucks high marks for providing the same mix of nuts that I would have enjoyed on oatmeal that I prepared at home. They could have provided the bare minimum – a few ground walnuts. However, the package contained walnuts, almonds, and pecans. In addition, I believe that their labeling (“a satisfying sprinkle”) was conservative. They were actually slightly generous with amount, given the volume of oatmeal. Nicely done.

The fruit:

High marks for the variety again. They could have provided raisins. Instead, the package had golden raisins, cranberries, and zante currants, and cherries. One quibble: there was no need to add sugar as a separate ingredient. I understand that sugar is standard with dried cranberries, but I don’t care for extra sugar added by itself.  Also, as with the nuts, the amount of dried fruit was more than needed to make me happy.  (But it wasn’t excessive, either.)

The sugar:

Not much to say about the brown sugar. It was an appropriate amount. If I could have my way, I would have also had a spice packet – at least a little cinnamon, and maybe some clove.


If you like goofy baristas singing “Roxanne” off-key while you are still somewhat drowsy, then you’re in good shape. Me? I am easily amused by goofy baristas.

The take-home message:

Yes – I could have made a slightly better bowl of oatmeal a whole lot more cheaply at home, but I also buy things in bulk and eat it every day. In the end, this was a really good breakfast and not a bad price – $2.45, according to my receipt (had I actually purchased it). And when you think about the heart-attack-inducing breakfast sandwiches that you could buy elsewhere, this option is downright excellent. If you find yourself in need of a quick breakfast option on the road, I highly recommend it.

Oatmeal, revisited

Tonight, I needed to mix up another batch of my “oatmeal” – really, my breakfast cereal.  I’ve blogged about my oatmeal before, but I like it so much that I thought I’d do it again.  This time with pictures.

Here are my ingredients.  Aren’t they pretty?

Left to right, top to bottom: flax seeds, barley grits, flax meal, bulgur wheat cereal; nine grain mix (cracked), unsweetened flake coconut, quinoa, wheat germ; pearl barley, oat bran, seven grain mix (rolled), corn grits.

And here is the nearly finished product.  Nearly finished, because we pause first to appreciate the artistic presentation:


(Ok – I’m done gushing about my oatmeal now.  You all have permission to roll your eyes and regard me as crazy.)

Jack’s first night

Observations from Jack’s first night:

  • The three pieces of cat food left right at the top of the stairs were gone, so Jack at least made it that far.
  • The litter box was used.  That is a very important point.
  • Kitty litter likes to roam.
  • Jack’s food has displaced my oatmeal.  I guess I know where I rank.

The girls are now watching him while he hides behind our TV entertainment center.

And on the breakfast menu…

My wife reminded me this morning of another somewhat unique food that I like*, so I thought I’d add this post as sort of a continuation of last night’s “And now, some lighter fare…”

* And I’m sure that I’ll remember more foods.  So hey – more blog posts.  Not that anyone really cares what I like to eat (except maybe my mom, and she already knows).  There’s really nothing of value in these posts, except maybe you find out more about my eccentricities.  But it’s my blog, so I’ll blog what I want to.  Nobody’s making you read this babble anyway.

Continue reading “And on the breakfast menu…”

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