Begin with the steps below, then finish with one of the variations that follow.

Oatmeal 101
In a small pot over medium heat, combine 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk (cow's, soy, or almond), and a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally, until oats are thick, about 5 minutes. If indicated, stir in additional ingredients until warmed through, then pour into a bowl and add suggested toppings:

Blackberry Pie Oatmeal
Near the end of cooking, stir in 1/3 cup blackberries.
Top with: 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, a few more blackberries, and 1 crushed graham cracker

Pumpkin–Cottage Cheese Oatmeal
Near the end of cooking, stir in 1/4 cup canned pumpkin and 1/4 cup cottage cheese.
Top with: toasted sliced almonds and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg

Chocolate–Coconut Oatmeal
Near the end of cooking, stir in 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon shredded coconut.
Top with: a few chocolate chips, 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, and a sprinkle of coconut

PB&J Crunch Oatmeal
Follow basic recipe.
Top with: 1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter, 1 tablespoon jam, and a sprinkle of granola

Bacon and Cheese Oatmeal
Follow basic recipe.
Top with: 1 slice bacon, cooked and crumbled, 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese, 2 teaspoons maple syrup or balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or rosemary (optional)

Bread Pudding Oatmeal
Cut a slice of fruity bread, such as cinnamon raisin, into cubes. When oatmeal just starts to bubble and thicken, add bread cubes. Stir in 1 tablespoon raisins.
Top with: a pinch each of brown sugar and cinnamon and 1 tablespoon cream

Fluffy Banana Oatmeal
Add a thinly sliced very ripe banana to oats at the start of cooking. As oatmeal bubbles, whip the oats vigorously with a fork until banana slices melt away.
Top with: 2 tablespoons chopped salted peanuts and a drizzle of honey

Cooking tip: The basic version is easily doubled and can be made in advance. To reheat, add a few tablespoons of milk to the oatmeal and microwave 1 minute. Stir, and heat for another minute.

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