If you had been in my kitchen at 6 o’clock this morning, you might have seen me sneak in in my socks, pull down a tub of shredded coconut from my cupboard, and go at it with a spoon for a minute or two (or ten). This is the kind of thing that I do — my at-home behavior is characterized by my constant opening of kitchen cabinets for oh, just a spoonful of coconut flakes, for maybe a nut or two, for just a very small handful of rolled oats. I am a domestic scavenger.
I bought the shredded coconut the other day in the bulk dry goods section at my co-op and, as usual, wrote the wrong PLU number on the container. The cashier was looking at his computer screen with noted confusion as he typed the same four numbers over and over on the keyboard. “This is probably not a grapefruit, is it?” he asked. And we both agreed that, if it had been, it was the oddest looking grapefruit either of us had ever seen.
Which got me thinking a little bit about the difference between coconuts and grapefruits, of which, of course, there are many. But I was thinking about them mostly in the context of myself — where did they fit in? which moments tasted like them?
Grapefruit is easy. I love its tartness, it’s sweetness, its pithy, unpeelable mystery. It is a sphinx of a fruit, and one that, for me, is suffused with considerable nostalgia. I remember my mother cutting the grapefruits in half for me, showing me how to dig out the fruit with the special little hook-tipped knife she had bought especially for that very task. I remember the little toss of granulated sugar she would throw on top, the way it felt on my teeth, the way it dropped to the bottom of the bowl, and the way I always drank the puddle of juice at the bottom in order to retrieve it.
Coconut, though… its role is not as defined. It is something that I’ve always loved and have recently come to really adore. Of late, my life has been slathered in coconut oil, spread with coconut butter, dunked in coconut milk, and sprinkled with coconut flake. It is my everyall. I can’t get enough.
About a hundred and fifty years ago (four or five), I took a trip to Hawaii with a guy who I was, at the time, dating. It was a typical Hawaiian vacation, with perfect weather and lots of brightly-tinted Mai Tais. We were staying in Honolulu at some resort, but we wanted to get around and see the island. The concierge talked us into taking one of those day-long bus tours, a decision about which I remember being rather reluctant at first.
The next day, predictably, we were offered bright purple leis as we boarded the bus — our uniforms for the day. It was Hawaiian kitsch, but in one of those sort of wonderful ways. We saw a lot of remarkable things that day — Hanauma Bay, the Halona blowhole, the Byodo-In Buddhist temple, the Dole pineapple plantation — but one of our final stops is always the first to come to mind when I think about our trip as a whole. It was a quick stop, and it was made late in the day when we were all tired and had been reduced to a pathetic assembly of wilted leis. It was a visit to North Shore Beach, a famous surfing spot, where, in the winter, the swells regularly reach 30 feet. It was mid-summer at the time, though, and the waters were calm, the beach lined with swimmers. I noticed a queue of people waiting beside two surfer-guy types, who were pulling coconuts from large coolers stashed in the bed of their pick-up truck. Both guys were armed with machetes, with which they were slicing open the coconuts. Once opened, each coconut was adorned with a straw and an umbrella and exchanged for several dollars. I figured it was probably a lot of hype, but I was curious, and figured that, six hours into a guided coach bus day tour, embarrassingly lei’d and uncomfortably sunburnt, I was already on the bandwagon anyways. So I bought one.
It wasn’t hype. In fact, it was the most extraordinary thing. I had had the coconut water they sold at the grocery store, and I always thought that it was delicious. But really, honestly, it was nothing like this. This coconut water, sipped right from the shell through a straw that matched the flowers hanging round my neck, was cold and fresh and clear and unambiguous.
This variation on overnight oats is clearly a far cry from the fresh coconut water I drank that afternoon at North Shore Beach, but it is very good. I promise. It very quietly recalls an Almond Joy candy bar, which is never (never ever) a bad thing.
Overnight Oats with Coconut, Almond, and Cacao.
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (from the box, not the can)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon whole chia seeds
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon sliced almonds
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs (or carob or chocolate chips for added sweetness)
- Pour the oats, milk, seeds, and salt into a jar with an air-tight lid. Shake the contents very well to prevent the seeds from clumping and then put the jar in the fridge overnight to set.
- In the morning, shake some more. Pour into a bowl and top with coconut, almonds, and cacao.
Note: Overnight oats are best when shaken, not stirred. So do be sure to prepare them in a jar with an air-tight lid, for optimal shaking capability.