Growing up in North Dakota, part of my elementary education included a certain amount of Native American history. While I don’t remember as much of it as I should, I do recall this: the circle is and was an important cultural symbol, exemplifying the life cycle (just to name one).
Turns out I’ve got the same kind of thing going on (sort 0f … maybe). Pretty much every day starts (life) and ends (death) the same – with cereal poured into a circular bowl, my personal dreamcatcher.
The consistency of consumption borders on OCD. My work day or overnight can be ruined without it, whether at home or on the road. In fact, I’ve been known to select hotels based on the availability of a continental breakfast, a strategy that has led me to bag a fair number of fleas.
That said, I’m not overly picky when it comes to selection. Nay, my cereal rotation is diverse and deep. There are probably 4-5 boxes in the pantry at all times, and they’re given a prominent position smack dab in the center.
* Wheaties. Initially, the whole sports hero thing was probably the hook, but I’ve genuinely grown to enjoy the taste and the crunch (milk proportion is key, here). Despite what the haters will tell you, they’re hardly comparable to Grape Nuts in the gravel department, and their offshoot Fuel is a tad too sweet for my liking. (More on that later.)
* Cheerios. This shouldn’t require an explanation. If we were playing Family Feud, even the Steve Harvey version, Cheerios would almost certainly be the No. 1 answer to “name a popular breakfast cereal.” We start eating it as infants because it’s easy to hold (and arguably good for the development of fine-motor skills) and continue into old age because it’s supposedly heart healthy. You may not love Cheerios, but there’s something wrong with you if you won’t at least tolerate them.
* Frosted Mini-Wheats. Probably the best and worst of the regulars. That is, the sugar count is considerably higher than the first two, but so is the fiber content. It’s also more filling than most, and that’s important for the those rare days when a bigger breakfast is appealing.
Others that are in the mix on at least a monthly basis: Honey Nut Cheerios (side note: Apple Cinnamon is under appreciated), Chex (several varieties), Kashi (when I’m in the mood for organic), Honey Bunches of Oats, Special K Red Berries, Special K Fruit and Yogurt, Berry Berry Kix and whatever sugar cereal my oldest daughter has on hand, some of the best being Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reeses Puffs and Apple Jacks.
Mixing it up injects a bit of variety into the otherwise staunch routine. I rely on the local stores to help with that, often letting the weekly sales dictate the direction in which I go. This brings balance and excitement – yes, legit excitement – to the grocery-store run, which is often conducted solo and late at night, a time that’s rife with restocking and colorful customers. (Fortunately, I’ve never had to commit a crime to procure any whole-grain goodness … that you know of.)
I’m also not above going with store brands in the interest of saving nine cents. In fact, sometimes those are better than supposedly superior originals. Honey Nut Chex is like that – the knock-off is vastly superior thanks to extra nuttiness. (Extra nutty? Sounds about right in this post.)
Nonetheless, there is a method to my cereal devouring madness. Balance is paramount. Don’t want to go too bland or too sweet in the same week or even the same day. That is, I’m apt to close a day that began with, say, Cheerios by taking down a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats. That’s plain followed sugary, and light followed heavy. And, yes, I drink the leftover milk – not that there’s much of it. A milk overdose can mess with the texture, make the cereal soggy or bait me into going back for seconds (or thirds, as it were). On a related note, I’ve gotten away from putting foreign objects, say, sliced bananas, into the mix. No extra scoops of sugar, either. Just a delightful bowl of plain cereal followed by a glass of O.J. and a banana.
Clearly, I’ve given too much thought to this. Why, exactly? What’s the origin of this obsession? It’s hard to say. Force of habit, probably. I grew up eating cereal while reading the newspaper. Now, I eat cereal and write for a newspaper. The two have gone together like, well, cereal and milk. (Not that I’m above eating it dry as a snack. Quaker makes a couple varieties that are killer by the handful.)
No other breakfast food has such long-term appeal. Never really been an egg guy. Meats take too long and can stink up the whole house. Toast is like a sandwich and therefore more of a lunch thing. For my money, cereal is the perfect man-made food– quick, consistent, easy and relatively cheap not to mention quiet, key for a night owl. It’s also good for you – or at least it’s not terrible for you, which is practically the same thing. A dietician friend once tried to tell me otherwise, and I have yet to forgive her for it. Blasphemous.
My favorite part about the self-serve frozen yogurt buffet fad? That it’s made cereal an acceptable dessert topping. To that end, why not slap some Crunch Berries on a pizza? Or flip that idea 180 degrees and create a new cereal that tastes like pizza? That would be one way to squeeze another bowl into my day.