Best Cook: Cooking with Oats
When Cheryl Wixson opens the door to her home in downtown Bangor, Maine, riffs from her stereo boom out into the cool air. She welcomes her visitor warmly, then dances down the high-ceilinged hallway of her big Victorian home, all the way into her kitchen — a big, colorful display that speaks of her love of cooking.
On the stove is a pot of cold oatmeal. “When my family sees oatmeal for breakfast,” she explains, “they know I’ll be making bread that day.”
Cheryl grinds her flour from wheat berries, organically grown in Maine’s Aroostook County. From a barrel in the pantry, she measures out enough to make the flour for her oatmeal bread. That goes into the grain mill, a footstool-sized machine that she sets on top of the counter. Within a few minutes, she has fresh flour. “Unlike other kinds of cooking,” she says, “baking is a science. You can’t fool around too much. It needs to be exact.” Into a bowl goes the oatmeal, then the molasses.
Cheryl has run a restaurant, done catering, and hosted two TV cooking shows for Maine Public Broadcasting. Now she teaches, inviting students — kindergartners to bankers — into her home for classes (visit cherylwixsonskitchen.org). Throughout it all, she’s been an organic farmer and currently serves as a consultant to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).
In her tiny backyard, she grows plums and apples, raspberries and strawberries, and asparagus and other vegetables in beds that edge her fence. “You don’t need a lot of land; you just need to use it well,” she explains. Her mantra for healthy eating is: local, seasonal, organic. LSO, she chants: “It’s only good when it’s grown in season, near where you live.”
Cheryl’s root cellar is full of produce that stays fresh until spring. What she doesn’t grow she buys from local farmers’ markets. Or she bakes it, into plump, brown loaves: whole grain, whole life.