Last week I stopped into BernBaum’s in downtown Fargo to pick up a dozen of the world’s best bagels as well as a bag of amazing rolled oats, which are featured in today’s comforting Old-Fashioned Oatmeal recipe.

With their dining room closed to the public, BernBaum’s has quickly pivoted their business model to takeout-only by adding an option to order online as well as delivery service.

Warm cinnamon-spiced oatmeal is a winner with kids when served with a generous swirl of peanut butter and jelly, topped with a drizzle of honey. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Warm cinnamon-spiced oatmeal is a winner with kids when served with a generous swirl of peanut butter and jelly, topped with a drizzle of honey. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

In these uncertain times, many restaurants are not able to adjust their platform as nimbly as BernBaum’s, whose menu is well-suited for takeout orders. But don’t let their friendly, calm professionalism fool you. While we may not see it, there isn’t a restaurant owner or employee on the planet today who isn’t experiencing some kind of meltdown on the inside — they’re just trained to smile through it.

As a former restaurateur, I know a little of how they’re feeling. During the epic Red River flood of 2009, at the same time that the economy was hurtling headlong into a recession, our restaurant, Sarello’s, was surrounded by floodwaters on three sides, forcing us to shut down operations for two weeks until the water receded.

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For eight years, we had operated successfully in the black, with metrics that were reliable, strong and solid. All of that changed just a few months into our nation’s economic meltdown, and we felt almost like bystanders, watching as our business shifted forever due to circumstances beyond our control. To follow that up with an epic flood would have been almost laughable, if we weren’t so terrified at the time.

We invited everyone on our email list to our reopening party and asked them to share the invitation with their lists to help spread the word that we were back in business. The party was an overall success, but there is one encounter which I will never forget.

Upon arriving, a prominent Moorhead figure greeted me warmly and expressed how happy he and the city were that we had made it through the flood. He then told me that he had thought about sharing our invitation with his email list of more than 30,000 contacts, but decided against it at the last minute because he didn’t want us to get so busy that we wouldn’t have room for him. I smiled and thanked him for coming, even as I died a little inside.

Gift card purchases are an excellent way to help local restaurants through this crisis and the perfect way to express gratitude. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Gift card purchases are an excellent way to help local restaurants through this crisis and the perfect way to express gratitude. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I’ve seen many people on social media ask what they can do to help restaurants right now beyond just ordering takeout food. One popular suggestion I’ve seen is to buy gift cards from your favorite places to be used at a later time. I love this idea and hope that you’ll use your gift card purchases to help your favorite restaurants expand their customer base. You’re already a customer, so instead of using it yourself, give the gift to someone who may not be — there will be plenty of people to thank when we make it through this crisis.

And when your favorite restaurants are fully back in business, visit them often and be delighted when they’re too full to accommodate you.

A drizzle of honey adds a final touch of sweetness to every bowl. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A drizzle of honey adds a final touch of sweetness to every bowl. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Sarah’s Old-Fashioned Oatmeal

LINK: Print-friendly recipe

Makes: 2 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 cup rolled oats or old-fashioned oats

1 ½ teaspoons honey

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of ground cinnamon (use ¼ teaspoon for peanut butter and jelly version)

*For sweeter oatmeal, add 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Topping Combinations (amount is for 1 serving):

Tropical:

½ banana, sliced

2 tablespoons shredded coconut, toasted or plain

Drizzle of honey

¼ teaspoon white sugar (sprinkled over top)

Fresh Berries:

¼ cup strawberries, sliced

¼ cup blueberries

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Splash of cream

Drizzle of honey

Peanut Butter and Jelly:

1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter

1 heaping tablespoon jam

Sprinkling of brown sugar

Drizzle of honey

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and stir in the oats, honey, vanilla, salt and cinnamon.

Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oats have softened and absorbed most of the liquid, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.

To serve, divide oatmeal into bowls and stir in the toppings; let rest for 1 to 2 minutes to cool slightly. If oatmeal appears too thick, add more milk or water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

To store: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To reheat, add a splash of milk and microwave for 1 minute on high.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.