Purple People Eater

February 12, 2011

Sweet photograph of Mama and my grandfather, don’t you think? Ah, but don’t be fooled, gentle readers. What you’re really looking at is a 4-year old girl, minutes away from the Gulag.

Just after Mama’s fourth birthday, she was sent to Texas for the entire summer to stay with her maternal grandparents. On paper, this may sound rather nice but believe me, it’s not. Mammy and Papa, as they were called, were  sour, unsmiling creatures. To add insult to injury, Mama’s older brother Johnny, best pal and partner-in-crime, stayed behind.

Seems weird, doesn’t it? Why on Earth would a mother send just one of her children away for 3 long months?

As  Gramma Rhetta tells it, the reason Mama got the walking papers was because she was naughty. Blue-ribbon naughty.  Gramma Rhetta was pregnant with child #3 and bone-tired and couldn’t handle both of the kids, so she sent the troublemaker into exile.

I think this is hideous, but Gramma Rhetta remained unapologetic about doing so. She even told Mama, point-blank, that she was banished to Texas because she  was “full of piss and vinegar.”  Now don’t you reckon that all newly-turned four-year olds are full of those two things?

After a few hugs and a photo opportunity, Mama was sent on her way.  The Texas farm had cows, chickens, horses and a swimming hole, but not much else. What fun is a swimming hole when you’re the only kid for miles? Mama was stone-cold bored for 90 steamy days.

The only good thing to do on a farm with cows and chickens? Eat. Fresh butter, cream, eggs and home-churned ice cream kept Mama company that summer.  Mama greeted mornings with oatmeal topped with only the thickest of cream. When the afternoons became unbearably humid, she’d scamper to the ice house for wedges of watermelon and icy Orange Crush. Peach and cherry pie, molten and beckoning, sat on the kitchen counter.

When my mother was deposited back on her doorstep on Labor Day, my grandfather was aghast.

“Jesus!” he said. “What on God’s green earth did you feed that child? It looks like you’ve taken a bicycle pump to her, she’s so fat.”

Livid, he hollered for my grandmother. “Henrietta, come see what your mother’s done to Mary! It looks like she’s the one who’s going to foal.”  And with that, he huffed into the kitchen to fix a stiff gin.

Whenever I hear that story, I feel so lonely for Mama. What a homecoming, eh?  Mama can laugh about it now, but there’s a vein of sadness running through.

My grandfather had a thing about fat people. He told Grandma Rhetta, right before their wedding, “If you ever get fat, Henrietta, I’m divorcing you. Just so you know. Fat is grounds for divorce.”

He was typical Irish old-school: women were good for cleaning, cooking and prettying up a room.  He was also incredibly vain about appearances.  To him, a fat child was a personal affront.

Luckily for Mama, she was on the cusp of a growth spurt, and soon she was back to her skinny-legged self.  But the next summer, Mama and her older brother were sent to Texas. Johnny was given strict instructions to “Get Mary outside and run her, Goddammit.”

My grandfather could be a heck of a charmer, but this wasn’t one of his golden moments.

The following recipe will not fatten you up. Unless you pour tons of cream over the top, which I’m sure you aren’t going to do. If  you need a little extra padding though, go right ahead. The rest of us won’t mind a bit.

Last year, I broke up with oatmeal.  All my life, I’ve tried to like it. I have. But it just doesn’t do it for me. On winter mornings, Mama would cuddle up with a nice bowl of raisin-studded goodness, and I’d gag a little.  Even when topped with loads of brown sugar, oatmeal tasted like wallpaper paste to me.

I gave oatmeal a second chance when I embarked on Le Regime.  In all honesty, it’s still not my favorite dance partner.  But this recipe, with plump fruit and crunchy nuts and a little swirl of jam, goes down easily.  It’s got enough going on to keep things interesting, and heck, it’s awesome for the old digestive tract, so if you’re open to oatmeal, give it a try.

I made this recently on a -13 degree morning.  It was still dark outside, and the wind tossed the snow into frothy, ghost-like swirls.  The girls were still snug in their beds, lulled into slumber by the promise of a Snow Day. For a few minutes, I spooned warm oatmeal from a bowl and didn’t mind the sharp lick of winter.

Purple People Eater Oatmeal

adapted from Ellie Krieger

serves 2

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 3/4 cups water

dash salt

1/4 cup dried fruit of choice (I chose a blueberry/cranberry/pomegranate mix but cherries or peaches would work well, too)

2 tablespoons jam, preferably made with just fruit (I used blueberry, thus the purple color)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons chopped nuts, slightly toasted (I used pecans)

milk, for serving

Bring the water, salt, oatmeal and dried fruit to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until tender–about 5 minutes. Stir in the jam and vanilla and remove from heat. Spoon into bowls, add a few splashes of milk, and top with nuts.

*If you like your oatmeal on the sweet side, feel free to add a drizzle of honey or agave nectar.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Meister @ The Nervous Cook February 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I am so glad you write, and I’m so glad to read your writing. What a treat you are.


Winn February 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Oh, Kitch! What a horrible situation! Yes, 4 yr olds are h*ll, but the alternative is worse: no 4 yr olds. I’m so sorry for your mother, but also her parents that they didn’t appreciate her spunkyness fully. (I’m working on that here!)

Your oatmeal recipe almost has me converted. *Almost.* We’ll see….


BigLittleWolf February 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

This is more than a little heartbreaking – and sadly – doesn’t sound horribly unusual for those days. What we might call tough love today was often “normal love” 50 years ago. I think of some of the issues (words, treatment, etc.) inflicted on my own mother, when she was a pudgy child (the 1930s and early 40s) – no doubt, adding to her obesity as an adult. I think of some of the same nasty remarks made to me in the 1960s relative to food and eating – by my father’s parents (and others) – cruel, to say the least. And so unnecessary.

Have we done better by our own children? I hope so. We’re more aware at least.

And some of us love oatmeal – purple and decorated – or otherwise.


Mama Kelly aka Jia February 12, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Im not a lover of oatmeal, but I don’t hate it either. This looks a great way to eat it though. Thanks!


Jen February 13, 2011 at 3:32 am

I love how your stories twist and turn into a delicious treat. I love oatmeal…love it.


Mary Lee February 13, 2011 at 6:58 am

Good grief, your mother must have a lot of spunk to have come out of that with any self-esteem left! Give her a hug from me.

I was never an oatmeal fan until I tried Silver Palate oatmeal. I actually like that and all five grandsons love it. I’ll try your mix; I usually do dried cherries and nuts.

Have to say, however. .. there is still the issue of standing at the stove, the dirty pot, etc.


Tiff February 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

Me no likey your grandpa….he’s too familiar.


Katybeth February 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

Ok, I admit it…. I like your Irish grandfather-harsh for sure but so is growing up fat. He may have saved your mother a lot of down the road misery and health problems. Oh dear, I think I am in the minority–(I just read up. Now your readers are going to think I am a Tiger mom.)…and another thing how many grandparents do you know, these days that would agree to spend the summer with their 4 year old grandchild that was a “handful?” All the grandparents I know are in Vegas or off showing their dogs at dog shows.
Ok. I’ll stop or my comment will be longer than your post. BUT ..never mind, I’m in deep enough…care for piece of chocolate? ONLY 9 more days tell your birthday!


Mrs.Mayhem February 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Your poor mother!

I was looking at old family photos recently, and noting that everyone was dressed so nicely. My family was fairly poor, but they were always dressed up. I wonder if people were even more appearance focused then than they are now (when it’s common to wear yoga pants and sweats)?

Oddly enough, my kids love oatmeal. I think this recipe will be a huge hit at my house. Thanks.


tasteofbeirut February 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Parents sometimes cause a great deal of suffering and they are unaware of it.
I am like you with oatmeal, so I thought of grinding it to a flour and using it that way. Like what you did today.


Sherri February 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

You write with such a satisfying mix of bittersweet memories, yummy food visuals (can just smell the pies, ya know?) and “lessons learned” type humor. I love it. I have a crumble recipe that I was told to top with just heavy cream (not whipped, mind you – just cream), and it is soooo good. The thought of fattening up this oatmeal with a little pour of the cream you mention in the story is …. um …. tempting, to say the least. Glad to see you’ve “healthied” it up quite a bit :-) in your relaying of the recipe.


bryan February 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Oatmeal and I have a similar relationship to yours, I don’t always quite trust it… I see all the billboards on my way into work, did you know that Starbucks, Carabou and McDonald’s all have “designer oatmeal” now? To me it is still like putting lipstick on a pig, I just can’t get past the stuff. I do enjoy your writing, your poor mom coming home to “fat, fat fat” couldn’t have been fun at the time.


Liz February 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I can make this one! And I really will, since I actually like oatmeal and sorta make a similar concoction in the microwave….
P.S. Boiling quinoa right now, thank you very much. Ha. Who says I don’t cook?

And another PS…I felt so sad for your mom. It’s amazing what was considered okay “back then,” isn’t it???


camilla February 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I think your mum did the only thing she could while visiting Texas. Hell, if I had all that fabulous home cooked food just waiting at my door step, I’d eat it too!
It isn’t ’til later on in life you laugh, but having said that, it’s only later on in life you realise how shit adults can be…….why do we always hurt the ones closest to us? I guess that is why someone keeps telling me ‘it makes us stronger’…how strong do we really need to be?


Kelly February 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

“the sharp lick of winter” — be still my fluttering heart. The imagery throughout this post is beautiful, but that one made my breath catch. Beautiful!

(And as a kid who grew up being called harsh names by those who loved me has left me with a thick skin for all that nonsense. I’m glad we’ve learned to love with love and not meanness.)


Erica@PLRH February 13, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Kitch, I adore your family stories!

The kids and I love instant oatmeal. Probably because it’s loaded with sugar. :) I like cream of wheat… Does that count?

Oh, and your grandfather sounds like he might be related to my first husband.


Heather February 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Oh, mama… My heart was breaking for her. You truly moved me with this story.

I have a love hate relationship with oatmeal. It’s gotta be cooked just right. And I don’t have patience for oatmeal – shocker I know! I’ll give this a go, perhaps ;)


TexasTrailerParkTrash February 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Your mother’s face is so sweet in that photo. I felt a sharp pang of recognition in your lovely story too. After my Dad’s parents divorced, he was separated from his mother at the tender age of two to live with his father and his new wife and baby. Dad’s four year-old sister was packed off to live with an old maiden aunt while their mother got her life together. Dad’s sister lived with the old lady for four years until her mother, newly married by that time, came back to claim her.

I have oatmeal with a little brown sugar and milk every morning for breakfast. It’s the only thing that keeps me from being ravenous and eating everything in sight by eleven o’clock.


TheKitchenWitch February 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Texas: Oh my God, four years? My heart falls out of my skin, just hearing it.


Jane February 13, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Alas, one of the very few differences between us – I adore oatmeal. The plethora of toppings sends my head spinning.

But what a sad, touching story to accompany such sweet comfort food. Your mama and her inner little 4 year old self could use a little comfort – give her an extra hug for me next time you see her!


SuziCate February 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

That just makes me so sad for your mama. I wish I could go back in time and hug that little girl and tell her she is precious just as she is…and piss and vinegar usually grows up to be fiesty and determined which in my book is good!


TKW February 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

SuziCate and Jane–ah, yes. I have come to believe that piss and vinegar, tossed together with love and a good laugh, become gold.


Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole February 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Wow, what a story! Your poor mom. It’s interesting that she can kind of laugh about it now, especially since the rest of us are so appalled.


gigi February 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Ok, I have to focus on the oatmeal, sorry! I love oatmeal and usually make my steel cut oats in a slow cooker overnight. It usually overcooks which drives me bananas. I may give this a shot as a quicker alternative. Why have I not ever thought of putting jam in as an alternative to brown sugar or something else sweet?


Stacia February 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm

And still, decades later, there’s not much to do in Texas besides eat!


Jennifer February 13, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Oatmeal makes me barf. I don’t even like to smell it. But it is one of those foods I try over and over because of the health benefits. The minute I put it in my mouth I start gagging. Just ew.


From Belgium February 14, 2011 at 6:17 am

You have just made oatmeal eatable for me. Thank you very much. Now could you do the same for ricepudding?


Phoo-d February 14, 2011 at 6:34 am

Your poor mother. 4 is such a young age to be sent off for a summer. I think I would loose myself in the food too! The oatmeal looks delicious. Maple syrup and/or chopped dates are good ad-ins too. We do oatmeal quite frequently in the winter. It’s just too cold for toast!


The Curious Cat February 14, 2011 at 8:26 am

Your poor mum – at least she lost the weight eventually…some parents with their kids…

The oatmeal sounds nice – I’d make it if I had some time in the morning…maybe it will have to be a weekend experiment! xxx


Leslie February 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

Unbelievable – and on the other hand, an almost familiar story. My mother was schlepped from state to state starting so early she can’t remember it. In her favor, she had an aunt and uncle who were desperate to have her; on the other hand, they were otherwise unhappy alcoholics. As families and parents, our culture of attachment sure has changed.
And then there’s the “fat” stuff. “Run her?!?”


Jenna February 14, 2011 at 9:30 am

Your poor mother! You added humor to the story, but remained true to that vein of sadness your own mother has when looking back on it. Have I said recently that you’re a great writer? No? Ok, then–you’re a great writer.
And I love oatmeal.


Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts February 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

Lordy, you can tell a story.

Can you imagine shipping one of your kids off like that? Your poor mama. Glad to know that she grew up mostly unscathed, and raised a girl with such a big heart.

Oh, and the oatmeal looks divine too!


Chiara February 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

I’m always happy when I find out that there is other people that don’t like oatmeal just like me. But I loved your story so much I might even try your rendition of it ;)


Cathy February 14, 2011 at 10:38 am

I am surprised your mom took it so well. I think that speaks volumes to her parents’ general love for her. I always got told to “suck in my gut” or “tuck in my butt” – I’ve never recovered. Terrible things to tell a daughter.


Alex@LateEnough February 14, 2011 at 10:40 am

I was left at my grandparent’s for a month when I was about that age. But my grandma was AWESOME. I think she had more energy than me!


Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon February 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

Kitch, what a heartbreaking way to treat a child. If being full of piss and vinegar were the threshold by which it is determined if we get shipped out, then I think many adults would find themselves dislocated from everyone and everything they know.


Christine @ Coffees & Commutes February 14, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Do you know I would sit rapt with attention for any book you would right. I read this post as if it were the nourishment, never mind the oatmeal. I felt like I was there! What a life.



Christine @ Coffees & Commutes February 14, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Damn auto correct – that should be WRITE. Sheesh.


Paula (Salad in a Jar) February 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Just read the above comment. Have you ever written a book? You should. I am in awe of the way you can tell a story. I feel bad for your mama. I find it interesting that she still remembers so much about it. Just shows how much little kids take in when we don’t even realize it. Scary.

But I’m still not sure about cooked oatmeal. Just like you, I have always compared it to wallpaper paste.


A Canadian Foodie February 15, 2011 at 7:40 am

I am surprised your mother remembers so much of the time away – or even the boredom at such a young age. I imagine the story telling is how she remembers it. Not a great story for the grandparents to be so proudly telling their grandchildren, but, family is as family is – and each of us has similar stories somewhere down the line. I really enjoyed the read – and your grandfather was a handsome guy, for sure!
Oatmeal is a favourite flavour and texture of mine, so I need little to help it go down. But, your recipe looks like a yummy morning to me!
Now – were you on that TV show – did you compete?


TKW February 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm


It would take a million little needles stuck in my neck to get me to compete in anything, let alone television! You must be thinking of some other blonde. :)


Futureblackmail February 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I used to love getting shipped off to Grandma’s house! Then again, it was the 80’s and there was a TV and the promise of going to the playground “after a-wile” to keep me going.

In order for me to eat oatmeal, I need it to be baked into a cookie like form. :)


Maria February 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Kitch, Mama’s story is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how lonely she must have felt upon her arrival at Grandma’s and then the dissapointment in her return to a less than enthusiastic home…((Mama))

However, much like you, I cannot stomach oatmeal. I would rather starve than attempt consumption. There’s no amount of brown sugar or disguise that can make it into something I want to eat…Kudos to you for sticking to it in spirit of Le Regime…You are stronger than you let on, sister…


Jessica February 16, 2011 at 12:07 am

What a great post! Plus this oatmeal sounds delicious!


Barbara February 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

One of my boys was full of piss and vinegar….hmmmm. I had no grandparents to sent him to though, sour or not. God, I never thought I’d make it through his childhood. But we both came out on the other side just fine. But every time I look at him, I remember, just like an elephant.

You don’t need to sell me on oatmeal…I love it. Especially McCann’s. This diet doesn’t allow it. Never thought I would miss it so much!


elizabeth February 16, 2011 at 8:09 am

There’s a great Decemberists song (“Grace Cathedral Hill”) that has a great reference to the phrase “piss and vinegar”:

I’m sweet on a green-eyed girl/All fiery Irish clip and curl/All brine and piss and vinegar/I paid 25 cents to light a little white candle

Ever since I’ve first heard that song I’ve taken that comment to be a compliment of sorts, as it’s applied to those of us who are stubborn. :)

Thank goodness your mama can laugh those weight comments off now, because that can be so damaging, especially in an age where girls that age are conscious of their weight(!).


Justine February 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

Mmm…oatmeal I love. I remember being fattened up years ago too, except I wasn’t a kid then. It happened during my first year here in America. When I went home to visit my family the following summer, my weight gain was all anyone could talk about. Yeah…hello bulimia! Sometimes people can be rather insensitive, especially when they think they’re only talking to a kid. Hey, what harm can that do? They’re just doling out advice. Right…


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri February 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

You weave your stories KW. That is a gift. As a bonus for me, I love oatmeal and will ty this recipe.


theUngourmet February 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm

It seems like things were so different back then. My aunt gave her youngest son to her mother to raise because she had more children than she could handle. I can’t even imagine not being with my kids, they are my whole world! At least your mom enjoyed lots of yummy treats there.

I love oatmeal on a cold winter morning. This looks like a great recipe with the jam and all of the other goodies added in. ;)


Privilege of Parenting February 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Hey KW, I could resonate right along with you in feeling lonely for your mom upon her painful homecoming… relating all too well in my chubified return from a summer camp that I consistently confused with a concentration camp in my addled little-kid mind. Maybe I’ll make some oatmeal and engage in a little emotional eating.


grace February 17, 2011 at 3:14 am

i love the name of your tasty dish, and your commentary is always, ALWAYS enjoyable. bravo.


Velva February 17, 2011 at 8:04 am

I love oatmeal. Oatmeal on a cold day satisfies me. Your recipe looks really good.

Enjoyed your story. Thanks for sharing.



Ink February 17, 2011 at 8:53 am

This made me want to hug your Mama.

And you.



GEW February 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Your poor Mama. I once heard Toni Morrison say that it’s so important that our faces light up with joy when we see our children–in the morning, after school, after a trip, whatever. I heard her say that before I had kids, but I took it to heart.

Hugs to your Mama and to you. I feel like I miss you. Isn’t that weird?


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