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Breakfastime musings about cereal.

Cereal Eats: We Admit Our Cereal Habits

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

The casual cereal eater may assume the process of eating cereal is simple. Pour dry cereal into bowl, pour in milk, eat. All there is to it, right? Oh, no no no. This is only just the beginning!

You see my friends, in this great wide world of cereal, variety is not just about which cereal to have, but rather every step from box to bowl to spoon to mouth. Let's talk cereal habits!

Dry Cereal

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I love dry cereal almost as much as I love cereal in milk. In college, when we were "done" studying, my roommate Erin and I would do what any normal college student would do: go for a long drive with snacks.

While she would go for some type of sandwich or savory deal, I always went for one of those little containers of dry cereal. Usually Cinnamon Toast Crunch, because it wasn't enough that I had a bowl of it after every meal. A word to the wise: don't look at the calorie count on those little guys.

I'm a cereal snacker. I almost never eat by the bowl, just by the handful. One cluster, flake, or nugget at a time. Before school it used to take me half an hour to eat a cup of cereal, one flake at a time. Sometimes I'd crumble a few flakes on top of yogurt, eat the yogurt/cereal, crumble a few more flakes on... I don't buy cereal anymore, though, because it can disappear pretty quickly one handful at a time. Despite my love of dry cereal, there is no bigger crusher than when you are in the mood for a big old bowl and you find there is NO MILK! —Carey

Milk Type

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Well, I think I've said it enough times but I'll say it again. I like my milk skim and icy cold. I don't need any sort of milk fat getting in the way of this combo. Well, except if it's Grape Nuts, then I can abide thicker milk. Or when I'm at my grandparents' house and they only have 2%, I "struggle" through.

OK, If I'm honest with myself, it's really not so much about preferring skim, it's just that when I consume such large quantities I need something streamlined like skim. I know there's a group out there that thinks skim is basically the same thing as water. I think this very same group eats cereal with whole milk. This kind of repulses me but I may have also just trained myself not to like this, for calories sake. It must be icy cold though.

Also I'm vehemently opposed to any sort of soy, rice or almond milk. I do not care for the sweet flavor it adds. And I still deal with PTSD from childhood after a two-week period when my mom decided to cut down on dairy and we only had Rice Dream in the house! I seriously cringe remembering it and for the rest of my days growing up in that kitchen I never, ever took milk for granted. NEVER.

Milk straight-from-the-fridge chilled temperature. Definitely not lukewarm. I like 2% or soy milk, so it brings some of that fatty, nutty flavor to the bowl to enhance the naturally sweet, grainy cereal flavors. I was raised in a house of skim milk (aka water-milk) drinkers but cereal tastes so much more decadent and delightful with a fattier milk. Erin

Sometimes it's strictly almond, which I will admit makes me feel I have more of a "budget" for eating more of the decadent cereals like Peanut Butter Puffins. Other times, it's after I've had cereal at a friend's; with real milk (skim, 1% or 2%) that I remember how good it is in comparison. Jessica

Milk Pouring

This may seem a bit technical but if you're a serious cereal eater, it's important. Actually, I didn't even think about it until Maggie brought it up.

When you pour milk, do you pour in a circular motion to make sure every part gets milk on it (like my husband does) or do you stir (like I do)? Maggie

After thinking about it, I think I do a straight pour. What I am most concerned with is the cereal to milk ratio. Do you like to drown your cereal and have cereal milk to spare? Or do you sparsely cover them until they are just moistened? I work on about a 60/40 milk to cereal ratio. Or how about this; I've heard of some strange people that pour the milk in first! Crazy talk.

Mixing

This is one of those love-hate things. I'm sure many of you out there grew up in households where half empty boxes of cereal were consolidated, resulting in an often unwelcome cereal surprise. (Didn't happen to me, but I've heard tales.)

I personally love mixing cereals. I'm all about a lot of texture. I like chips on a sandwich, I lose interest in soft serve after the last sprinkle. I love Grape Nuts mixed with Honey Nut Cheerios or some type of shredded wheat. Mixing cereals can also help when you don't want to commit to a full bowl of sugary cereal and mix a couple in with a more virtuous cereal.

Fact: It's also the only palatable way to eat Fiber One.

Cereal Dust

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Cereal dust is basically the dry cousin to cereal milk. The treat at the bottom of the box after all the cereal is gone. Personally, I LOVE IT. I think this love stems from my childhood consumption those too-small mini boxes. When the cereal was gone too soon, there was the precious gift of cereal dust at the end.

I love it dry, pouring it into my mouth like you do with a bag of chips (sometimes I do this in public) or mixing it in with the last bits of cereal in milk and letting it get soggy. As the years have gone on, I'm a bit more discerning with my dust—I like one with a little structure and integrity. My favorite dust is that from the end of a box of Frosted Mini Wheats. Powdery sugar and pulverized wheat mixes with stray strands. I'm far less interested in a dust that's just pure sugar.

I wouldn't eat a whole bowl of dust (unless I had no teeth?) but if it's mixed in with the last few full-bodied flakes or nuggets or clusters, I'm a fan. It provides some of that soft, disintegrated cereal texture in between crisp bites. Erin

I love finishing the box entirely, polishing off the crumbs and everything. It is especially tasty for when you drink the milk at the bottom of the bowl. It makes me really sad when people don't finish the cereal, and throw away crumbs. But it's a temporary sadness because the discovery usually means that I'm about to finish the crumbs for them! Jessica

What about you all? Skim, whole or soy? Dust: hate it or love it? Any habits I forgot to mention?

About the author: Aside from doing an awesome job with her role as Advertising Sales Manager, Leandra Palermo secretly harbors a lifelong passion with all things crunchy and served with icy cold skim milk. This column represents the culmination of that love affair.

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