WARM DAYS, COLD CEREAL
Yes kids, spring is in the air. When I was a kid this could only mean one thing, the end of the dreaded hot cereal season. Although hot cereal season wasn’t as bad as I made it seem. It started out fine and I was able to enjoy it for a while… a warm bowl of this or that. By the end however, I was praying for those mornings when it was no longer necessary for my mother to warm up her car. Unfortunately, in Northern New England not having to warm up your car often means June.
Bring on the Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops, Super Sugar Crisp, Frosted Mini Wheats, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Apple Jacks, Honeycomb, Trix, Lucky Charms, Frankenberry, Count Chocula, Booberry, Fruity Pebbles, Frosted Flakes they’re all Grrrrrrrrrreat…uh, not so fast. At least not in my house as these cereals were seen as something sent directly from the nether regions hand delivered by Lucifer himself (sorry ladies…or herself)…or so said my childhood dentist. My mom apparently concurred as she only bought “healthy” cereals. The honor roll of cereals included… Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, Total, puffed wheat, puffed rice, Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Life, Cheerios, Wheaties, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat and the always exciting Kix! *cricket’s chirping* Yeah, that’s what I thought too…
Let’s take a moment to highlight a few of these gems shall we?! And don’t get me wrong people I loved cold cereals, I loved them mostly I think because they were not hot cereals. Rice Krispies… let me get this straight, they’re supposed to be what, puffed rice? How about we call them what they are, puffed air with a toasted shell of nothingness and that’s how you feel when you’ve eaten a bowl of them…nothing. Not full, not empty, not anything…hell after two bowls you wouldn’t have the faintest scent of Rice Krispieness on your breath!
I once sat down on a Saturday morning with a full slate of cartoon watching planned, (This for all you young people, was when you only had three or four channels and two of them would play cartoons from about 7am to about 11am and only on Saturday morning…the other channels had candlepin bowling or news) going to the cupboard only to find a full box of Rice Krispies left. I had two serving bowls full then when my mom got up to make the real breakfast… I had that too! The following Monday morning was a bit of a surprise for her when she reached for what had been a full box of Rice Krispies only to find a handful left… the next surprise was on me as I was offered oatmeal that morning.
I think it’s safe to say puffed rice and puffed wheat also fit into the, “what the hell did I just eat” category, but as my father liked them both it was a staple in the cereal rotation. I’m not sure where why or how Kix got into the cupboard as I never remember seeing it advertised until I was out of school. Maybe it was one of those parent conversations I wasn’t privy to like one mother talking to mine and saying something like, “hey you know what I’m feeding my precious little angel and he’s not gagging or throwing up…Kix!” “I also noticed he’s got strong teeth, bones and a shiny coat!” Or, something like that, anyway Kix was there.
Raisin Bran was a favorite of mine, I guess because it had raisins in it which I love. I love it to this day, or so I thought. I was over my mom's house one day last year and decided I’d have a great big bowl…I guess aside from raisins the other thing Raisin Bran has in it… is bran. This might have been fine for my constitution when I was a kid but today as an adult bran is just another word for “don’t plan on doing anything for the rest of the day!” It must have ten times more fiber than coconut husks, only slightly more coarse and was nearly as flavorful. Note to self, no more Raisin Bran!
I guess my mom got the idea that these were all healthy cereals from the fact that the amount of sugar in them was less than in the nationally advertised “Fun” cereals, but must have forgotten that as she was setting the sugar bowl down on the table for my brother and I to coat our cereal liberally with. Once in a while the sugar ran out before mom would have a chance to go shopping. I never minded this as being New Englanders meant knowing at least fifteen different people whom all made their own maple syrup, so lack of sweeteners was never a problem...whereas lack of milk sometimes was. I was a “take a peek down the hall see if one of my parents were coming then quickly drink out of the milk carton” kind of kid…Ok let’s call it what it was, I was a milkoholic.
I Couldn’t get enough milk and it was a favorite drink of mine right up there with Kool Aid (no not the kind with sugar already added, these were the little packets of whatever dye/flavoring where you added a cup of sugar to cold water and stirred until your arms went numb and the sugar still hadn’t dissolved and besides sugar was cheap and so were packs of kool aid so why should I pay for them to combine them when I have two able bodied sons…kind) This milk addiction made for a few challenging breakfasts. Mom would judge how much or how little milk was left in the carton and make a decision…to add water, or evaporated milk and water or haul out the box of milk powder.
The only milk we ever had in the house was whole milk and at the time was just called “milk” and skim milk was something only that weird lady, on that weird exercise program, in the weird unitard, doing weird exercises while sitting in a chair would drink…or so I imagined. Watering down the milk wasn’t bad and I had always hoped that would be the outcome. Once in a while however…we got the watered down evaporated milk which tasted of sadness… or god forbid powdered milk. I’m not sure what is in powdered milk except maybe milk solids and what can aptly be described as…yak vomit perhaps? But powdered was never a viable route to take in my mind and would often just add some water and eat the cereal animal style like a duck on a June bug…so back to the cereal.
I never minded Wheaties or Total as they were both very substantial cereals that would carry me through until it was time for lunch. Probably my favorite of the healthy cereals was Shredded Wheat. This is the one that came three biscuits to a pack and you had to crush them up then add your milk and sugar. Whether you ate it right then and there or waited an hour, it always had the consistency of first cut hay. It brought to mind visions of cows chewing their cud. Often times my brother and I would stare at each other and moo, then laugh while trying not to blow shredded wheat out through our noses. My mother once tried adding Shredded Wheat to the winter cereal rotation as she saw a commercial where they added hot water to it, but this happily never caught on. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but I’d like for a hand written apology and for whomever, to subsequently be kicked in the hindquarters several times.
The person who thought hot water added to cereal also brought the idea to the good folks who make Grape Nuts and I actually applaud the thinking there as only time and hot water are sufficient in breaking down this gravel of a cereal. I like the flavor of Grape Nuts just fine, but if you have something planned for the rest of your day don’t go pouring more than a half a cup as you’re going to be chewing for a while. I don’t want to brag, but because of eating Grape Nuts when I was younger, I can now chew through a one inch steel cable. I applaud you fine makers of Grape Nuts, for you truly know mastication is not a dirty word.
Cheerios were a nice toasty cereal and I enjoy them even now with no adverse side effects. This cereal did bring out the OCD in me however, as in every time I get down to the bottom of the bowl where you just have them floating around in groups. When those groups fail to fill the spoon entirely I only eat them in even numbers because everyone knows if you don’t eat them this way the sun will burn out. I’m not sure where I got this habit from as it doesn’t mix well with my A.D.D. but what can I say…what can I say…what was I talking about?
Oh, so the “good” cereals are something I always adored yet somehow never really missed. Whenever I’d go over to my Cousin Wayne’s house his mom must have actually loved him, because they had Cap’n Crunch in their house. Man I loved that cereal, but what I could do without was having the roof of my mouth shredded by this stuff. You’d think after all the grape nuts I ate would have toughened my mouth up some aside from just my jaw muscles, but the telltale shards of skin told me otherwise.
There was an upside to eating healthy cereals however and that was when it came time for summer camp. Every year my brother and I would go to scout camp for a week or two and every morning when we weren’t off doing wilderness survival and feeding the mosquitoes or some such… there was breakfast. My Grape Nuts training had paid off, as there was always a big assed bowl of granola that would be on the table that nobody else would touch except me. Yup, unlimited and the only qualification you needed was to have a taste for bland cereal. The other time it was handy and garnered me extra sleep, was on camp-outs when we would buy the little variety packs of cereal. They had four or five fun cereals and three or four not so fun ones. Everybody would be up at the crack of dawn racing to get the “good” cereal and I could roll out of bed at the leisurely crack of nine or ten and get all the “bad” cereal to my heart’s content.
I know there are kids out there who still want cereals for the little game or toy inside and I suppose for a time when I was real young I was right there with them. Then after several years of not getting the toys I guess I stopped caring as they never seemed all that fantastic to begin with, plus the odds of them lasting past breakfast were pretty slim.
I don’t really buy or eat cold cereal anymore as its mostly empty calories and not very good for you besides that. I go down the cereal aisle now and wonder who in the hell is buying Smorz cereal or Honey Smacks. You really think that is honey in there?! Either way, when I do buy cereal these days, I usually treat myself to some shredded wheat or (looking around…) frosted mini wheat’s. I know they aren’t good for me and I know they have a goodly amount of sugar in them, but then again so did the Cheerios we would pour a dozen spoons of sugar on.
So with the birds chirping and warmer days on the horizon, I can’t help but think of those first spring days of my youth. The days when a light jacket would suffice, and the rock hard ground started to give a little. Mom would start talking to the squirrels while looking out the kitchen window and imagining what they must be thinking. My brother and I were done with the winter chore of carrying in cord wood to feed the always hungry wood stove. No more did I have to be wrapped in a snowsuit or a twenty foot scarf…at least not until the leaves were gone from the trees in late fall and then would come that familiar smell…OH GOD NO….OATMEAL AGAIN?!