Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal / by Chelsea Zwieg

I had the most wonderful thought in the world as I got home from work the other day. This is the first time in my life that I am working and not waiting for something else to happen. I think I mentioned this in my last post but I recently got a job as a baker at one of my all-time favorite bakeries and for the first time ever I can say that it is exactly where I want to be. Up until now, all of the other jobs that I've had have just been a placeholder. A way to buy groceries until something else happened. I worked a couple jobs in high school and that was to prepare for when I went to college. I worked in college and that was to support myself as I studied in preparation for something else. After college I worked at Starbucks for a year, my temporary solution to a what-should-I-do-with-my-life problem at a very hard time in my life (more on that in another post). And now, for the first time, I am working at a job for the sake of working there. I'm not biding my time until this happens or that happens. And I just have to say, I feel so content. I don't remember the last time I felt this content. 

Cooking has always been a major part of my life. I have loved it as long as I can remember and up until the summer before college, I planned to go to culinary school and devote my life to cooking. And then I changed my mind. There's no other way to explain it, but I looked at my other interests, at writing, at art, at academics in general, and I was afraid that a life spent as a chef (with late nights, ridiculously long hours and curse words I've never even heard of) was not a life that I wanted. So I decided to study journalism and theatre. It seems like a major flip, and it was, but I really thought I could see myself in one of those careers. So I studied, and interned and studied some more and then I graduated. I had two degrees and no idea what I wanted to do. I burned out on theatre before I even graduated college. I have all the respect in the world for people who do it, but I don't think for one second that I ever had the aggressively outgoing personality and i-will-die-for-this-part mentality that is needed to get anywhere in it. So I set my sights on journalism. But in all the hours I spent looking through job postings, I never once found one that I was excited about. Sure, I was qualified enough, educated enough but if the thought of having the job already sounded terrible before my first day, how could I send in my resume? How would I feel after my first week? After a year? 

And so I found myself in a place where I was waiting for something to happen, but I had no idea what that even was. As any recent college graduate knows, you can't come into contact with another human being without them asking what you plan to do with your life and for the number of times that I repeated one of my standard robotic standbys ("I'm not really sure what I want to do" "I'm still applying for some different things" "I'm still figuring it out"), I could never get rid of the gnawing feeling that I might never actually figure it out. 

But through all of this, I have had this blog. And I've cooked, baked, read my food magazines, written recipes and learned everything I can get my hands on about food. I've never stopped loving it and when I applied for this position as a baker on a total whim (telling no one, because I was 100% sure they would not want to hire the journalism graduate) and then got it, something felt right in the way that I knew I had been waiting for. 

That's not to say that I think, "yes, I will be working this job until I retire". And it doesn't mean it's the only thing I want to do. Maybe I want to own my own bakery? Teach other people how to bake? Do more food writing? Cookbooks? Learn more photography? I really don't know. But for once it's not, "I don't know" in the panicky, stomach churning where is my life going way. It's "I don't know" in the I'm learning so much and am so happy where I am that I cannot wait to see where it leads way. And sure, there's still things like student loans and other problems that will always be popping up, but if God brought me to this point in my life, which I never saw coming, I can only trust that He's got everything else under control. Right? If the story I just told is any indication, I think He does. I do know one thing, I could not be more thankful.

 

Now, what was that? You actually clicked on this post to get a recipe for oatmeal, not to hear my entire life story? Ok, I guess I can tell you about the oatmeal too. I have been hardcore into some baked oatmeal lately. It started with a carrot cake baked oatmeal, then a banana walnut version and then (because I see 60s in my 10 day forecast, so it's officially fall, don't even argue) this pumpkin version. Oatmeal is one of my main food groups. I mean I am essentially an 85 year old woman (I too go to bed early and slip getting out of the shower) so I might as well eat like one too. But this is not your run of the mill oatmeal. It is thick and creamy from the pumpkin and milk with a perfectly browned, almost crispy top, loads of cinnamon and spice and just a little bit of tartness from the cranberries. It is so perfect fresh out of the oven, but my favorite part is that it is equally perfect heated up with a little extra water or milk for days afterwards. Nothing makes me happier than making breakfast once and having it for the whole week. Because I may love being a baker enough to get up at 3:15, but there is no way I am getting up a second earlier to make breakfast. 

Baked Pumpkin Oatmeal  

Inspired by Oh She Glows

Serves 6 

| Ingredients

Note: I recommend using almond or cashew milk in this because it has that mysterious level of creaminess  that regular milk just doesn't have. For my first two rounds, I used Silk unsweetened vanilla almond milk and for the last one I used Silk unsweetened cashew milk. Both were good, and I can't say I tasted a difference between using vanilla flavored and not. In the future I will probably stick with the vanilla purely because I like drinking the leftovers. That unsweetened cashew milk might be sitting there for a while. 

  • 2 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (alternatively, you could use 1 tsp. cinnamon/1 tsp. nutmeg)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 cups almond or cashew milk 
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree 
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

| Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375. 
  • In a large bowl, combine oats, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine. 
  • In a medium bowl, combine milk, pumpkin, maple syrup and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir thoroughly. Pour mixture into a 9" cast iron skillet or a (greased) casserole pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until oatmeal is completely set. Serve warm.