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Here's What I Do


[Breakfast, May 2010.]


All of a sudden it’s May (May!), the month swept in on a rush of sunlight and wind. I sat in the park yesterday for almost two hours, nibbling on milk chocolate and finishing a book, glad for once I hadn’t brought my else it might have blown away (the pages of my book were rattled around well enough — perhaps an argument for an ? — though not in an annoying way.). The weather is here but I’ve admittedly been a little under it, coughing my way through the weekend while peering round the mental fog to do a quick spring-clean and stare down the calendar at the next busy few months in mild horror; that clear-blue sky did wonders for my morale despite it all.

Also, I baked cupcakes, which seems to be what I do when I am slightly (don’t you?):


Just pretty plain-Jane vanilla cupcakes frosted with chocolate buttercream but man, did they (they? I mean the one — err, OK, fine, two — I ate greedily whilst licking the crumbs from the tips of my fingers and swilling rooibos tea in a valiant effort to combat the Sunday night blues) hit the spot.

+ = (one of) my ideal(s) of perfection

I also made a red quinoa soup packed with green beans, garlic, good vegetable broth, corn, mushrooms, and spinach, with a dash of soy sauce added at the end — it felt soothing and right and also made me feel less guilty about those cupcakes.

So that’s pretty much what I do when I’m sickish/worn out/have had a string of too-long days/come back from traveling/etc. I also, and this is more of an everyday thing but I think it stands addressing, eat oatmeal for breakfast.


During the day I eat pretty terribly. Well — the food I eat isn’t really terrible it’s just the way that I eat it is pretty wretched. I am one of those people — and oh! I know there are so many of us! — who eats breakfast and lunch at her desk almost every day. Now, I could get up a wee bit earlier and make myself a proper breakfast at home but then there’s the whole delicious bed issue, the tiny bit of early-morning yoga issue, the sometimes-going-for-a-morning-run issue, the occasional oversleeping issue, the never enough hours in the day issue … suffice to say it’s often just easier to eat at work. Which is fine! Honestly! It’s just that when I eat my near-daily bowl of oats en l’ofice they are (organic, Irish) microwaved (!) and no matter how hard I try I can never quite get the timing right (our secret) which means they lack that perfect oatmeal-y consistency — by which I mean they are hardly chewy at all (alas!) and I consume them more for fuel than for pleasure. It happens.

So at home, sweet weekend mornings I am not rushing off to do something I’ll treat myself to sitting down at my table with a cup of hot coffee and perhaps a bagel with cream cheese and avocado, a fried egg, the occasional … or a bowl of real, home-honest-to-god-made on-the-stove oatmeal. And I think that is my favorite kind of breakfast.


Whenever I cook oatmeal I think of horses. Younger, I loved them passionately with all the love a girl can hold in her heart, and read many a tome about them. (I went to Assateague Island just once, when I lived on the East Coast, and felt as though I’d already been there because I’d read all of ’s books about ships and horses and the sea.) I wanted a horse of my very own but my parents (perhaps wisely?) nixed that idea and instead I was given a kitten. The wish faded over the years, but from time to time I still wonder if I’ll have ever the space and time to take one on …

But there’s just something about eating oatmeal — but properly, not in that mad dash and maybe because of those old books? — that makes my mind fly out of my apartment kitchen and out into the fields north of here, to where the wind bends grass rather than the pages of my book, and there is all the time in the world for rambling. I’ll stand slowly stirring a pot of oats and find myself imagining early-morning stables shrouded in fog, the dusty smell of hay permeating the air, horses nickering softly over their stall doors waiting for breakfast. On grey, chilly days, oatmeal feels like just the thing. Or on sunny ones, too.

Here’s what I do for my oats. I don’t sweeten them (though once I had a perfect bowl of oatmeal cooked al dente in milk, with a touch of brown sugar, and it was exactly what I wanted, though I think I didn’t know it at the time) except for very, very rarely drizzling in a lick of honey. No — I prefer a teaspoon or so of natural peanut butter (for protein, and extra richness), a splash of soy milk (or regular, if that’s all I have), and salt. When I went to Scotland I had oatmeal with salt, the way I’d eaten it growing up, and it was — and still is — the only place I have eaten oatmeal prepared that way. (Which makes sense because my mom learned to make her oatmeal from her Scottish grandmother.) My dad likes his oats with brown sugar, maybe some cinnamon, a pile of raisins … and I know a lot of people like to put in fresh fruit (bananas, strawberries, kiwi) … or even some almonds or walnuts would be nice … but for me I like them pretty plain (like those cupcakes): nourishing, warm, touched with a bit of the sea’s salt.

The weather is here, for sure, and rather than moan about being under it I am going to forge on, armed with oatmeal, with cupcakes, with myriad cups of tea and plans for cookie-baking. It just seems to be what I do.

Oatmeal, for one hearty breakfast

Boil one cup water. Add a pinch of salt and 1/2-cup rolled oats. Lower heat and cook for about 5 minutes.

Add: a teaspoon to a tablespoon of peanut butter and mix. (Soy) milk and salt to taste.

A cup of tea is optional but highly recommended.


  1. I don’t recall a single argument we have ever had about e-books and/or digital readers :). However, I think you’d dig an iPad.

  2. How comforting to know mine are not the only heart, soul and tummy warmed by oatmeal on most mornings. Yes, it is ok to delay the gratification until seated at your desk because a bit of extra sleep and yoga are just as equally important to mind, body and spirit. My morning bowl of oatmeal comes to work with me each day, sometimes waiting while I get through the first calls and e-mails, sometimes being devoured right after I sit down! I mix my own recipes of whole rolled oats (not quick) with dried apricots, peaches or strawberries dehydrated from last summer’s farmer’s market. Sometimes I add golden raisins or coconut flakes and always a good shake of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamon. Weekend option: Replace rolled oats with steel cut oats cooked just right on the stovetop. Perfect with soy milk and a cup of coffee!

  3. Oh yes. I almost worship oatmeal. You are right – it must be made on the stove. It can be cooked in water, but cream must be added. Not even whole milk will do – cream makes it perfect. Peanut butter – yes. Oh my yes.

    I do like it sweet – just a little bit.

    Oh, and I use salt too. A pinch.

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