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BEST OF THE SOUTH: Ode to Crystal Wedding Oats

southern food oatmeal

I moved to New Orleans because my Tarot cards told me to. It’s true. The selection of cards I drew fell into a particular configuration that meant, according to the attending psychic, I should go. Two weeks later, my best friend, her plucky dog, and I moved into our new shotgun apartment in the heart of NOLA. I should tell you this rash life-decision making isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for me—I moved to Mississippi because Barry Hannah appeared to me in a vision when I was living in a high school in the French countryside while reading Airships in a bathtub. It’s just how I do it.

The really crazy part is how it’s always worked out. I stepped off the plane in college towns of Montana, Florida, and Mississippi and fell instantly, deeply in love.

But not this time. Part of the problem was that I’m allergic to everything: gluten, dairy, broccoli, garlic, dried fruit, fake sugar, every item in a 7-Eleven—you know, Life. I had moved to the greatest food city in the world and couldn’t eat a thing. I also just flat out didn’t like it. I had imagined myself dressed as a Tennessee Williams character, swanning around in silk kimonos and fanning myself all day, fitting right in. I would wear hats. But that’s not how it turned out. In 2012, New Orleanians wear less white linen and boaters and more tattoos and asymmetrical haircuts. There are a lot of dirty patchwork skirts. Yes, the houses are beautiful, but then they get covered with Mardi Gras muck (Mardi Gras loot is tacky. Sorry! Purple, yellow, and green all together hurts my eyes). I had imagined the city looking like it did in the film Pretty Baby. It doesn’t. 

And the city can be dangerous. A man got shot in broad daylight along the bayou where I walk daily. On Halloween, my students told me I couldn’t go to the haunted house in the cemetery because I would get “snatched up.” On another occasion, the police arrived to handcuff and drag away a student from our FEMA trailer during a quiz on logical fallacies. 

All this leads me to Crystal Wedding Oats. I love oatmeal. I find it calming. I eat it dry. Whenever I get a stomachache, I have a little oatmeal and feel better. Nerves attack? Try oatmeal. Carsick? Oatmeal. Can’t sleep? Have a handful of oatmeal. Medicine taste gross? A spoonful of oatmeal will wash it down. I keep a baggie of oatmeal in my purse and another in my car’s trunk for emergencies. I am eating oatmeal as I type.

On a particularly sad day last fall in which my nutso boss called to accuse me of never having attended the night class I’d been teaching for months, Crystal Wedding Oats and I found each other. I had gone to the grocery store for a heartening steel-cut treat, and there it was in all its sherbet-colored glory, snug between the regular Quaker and a can of Baby’s Coffee.

Back at home, digging in for my third handful, I pulled out a little pink faux-Depression-style cup. Oatmeal with packaging that hadn’t been reimagined since the 1950s and a prize? This was heaven. 

Crystal Wedding Oats aren’t Southern, but they should be. Folks as far down as Sarasota bid serious money for old containers on eBay. And the tumblers inside? Paula Deen herself collects them in vintage jadeite. In the 1930s, back when all respectable foodstuffs contained adult prizes, Anchor Hocking Glass Corporation made the cups in the Early American Prescut pattern especially for Crystal Wedding Oats. Today the tumblers are plastic but maintain a retro charm.

Crystal Wedding Oats are special. The texture’s different from other oatmeal—it’s smoother, a bit crisp. The taste is a little bit woody. It is free of mulch. Can oatmeal be elegant? It’s elegant. I think I taste a note of something. Cypress?

I didn’t fall for this place right away, but my affections are growing. I got a job at a fancy Uptown college so I have something to brag about, and I feel like I might even have a place here. The owner of a chichi antique store advised me to see the psychic with whom he meets weekly if I was interested in talking to any dead people, and a pregnant student confessed she eats baby powder. My people! 

I’ve also collected seven pastel glasses—almost a set. They are at this moment shining prettily in a stack by my kitchen window, the afternoon sun pouring in.

Another confession: Part of my falling in love with a place includes planning my someday wedding there. In Montana it would happen at the hot springs, in Oxford at Faulkner’s family chapel. Here in New Orleans there will be a second line of course, and Angelo Brocato’s Italian ice cream for dessert; I don’t have to eat it. I’ll be happy as long as it’s presented nicely. The Crystal Wedding tumblers will be perfect.

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