How to eat Oatmeal

I had this printed out on my fridge for years, the website is down now, but I found a copy of the text.


How to Eat Oatmeal · 19 November 2001

When it comes to mornings I am a confident coffee-drinker, cigarette-smoker and pill-swallower; I am also a task-avoider, phone-ignorer and a staunch advocate of delayed rising. In negotiating the vast expanse of time that falls before noon I am also preoccupied with breakfast.

With the exception of kedgeree and white cake muffins, I like all known forms of breakfast, but I like oatmeal most.

There’s no point pretending that oatmeal is anything but a dour grain stigmatised by centuries of Scottish poverty and the feedbags of horses. But it must be eaten – for health and spiritual well-being – and it must be eaten right.

What you will need: a coffee cup, a clean cotton cloth, a bowl, a spoon, a heavy-bottomed pot (with lid) and a stove, water, salt, brown sugar, cream, and of course oatmeal: none of this ‘quick’ folderol in a cardboard tube or (for heaven’s sake!) instant nukable crap in foil packets with flavourings of fruit and spice. You will need oats. Rolled oats. You can buy them bulk, or in a bag, for not much money. You will need already to have consumed some of your morning coffee: this is careful work and you can’t make oatmeal in a haze.

Decide how many souls deserve your oatmeal this morning (it may only be you, it may only be you), and with the coffee cup measure out (cold!) water from the tap: two cupsful for each person, into the pot. When the water is measured out, dip your cup into the pot and steal some back. Onto the fire. Between your thumb and forefinger take a pinch from the ramekin of sea salt beside the stove and add to the water. (Should you not have a ramekin of sea salt beside the stove, you don’t deserve oatmeal.)

While the water heats, carefully dry out the coffee cup with the cloth, making sure not to leave a hint of moisture behind. Just as the water boils, add oatmeal, one cupful per person, in a gentle, rocking side-to-side pour (had you not dried the inside of the cup, there would be a sticky mess of oat crumbs inside, but because you did there’s only a dusting of oat flour, see? So much better).

With your spoon, stir. Turn the fire down to its weakest point, leave off the lid and go open the paper. Do not set a timer or consult the wall clock, because you are honing instinct. When all water has been absorbed, after, say, two front-page articles, turn off the fire, put on the lid, and read one more front-page article.

Note, as you scoop into the bowl, how the oat grains have puffed up to a lovely fat creamy consistency. Sprinkle brown sugar on, then pour cream (do it the other way around, you don’t deserve oatmeal).

–Dean Allen