Sunday breakfasts haven’t felt special in the same way since the pandemic began. A weekend breakfast is about having the time and energy to treat yourself (and anyone else who happens to be eating at your table, I suppose). I have nothing but time now; not always the same amount of energy, but I make do. I’ve been making a lot of Sunday breakfasts on Mondays, Tuesdays, and for lunch and dinner, too.
In the early days of quarantine, I would sleep, wake up, make coffee, check the new COVID numbers, do a crossword, then go back to sleep, and when I next woke, I did the whole thing over again—no matter the actual time. All my old meal plans disappeared. I wasn’t eating a lot of oatmeal in this fugue state.
I used those long hours alone to try and recapture some of my routines lost to the pandemic. If I couldn’t go out for a diner breakfast, I could make one at home. With my bank account flush with Canada’s COVID relief money, I bought bacon AND sausage, eggs, and potatoes.
It’s difficult to capture at home everything that’s great about spending a morning eating out, lingering over breakfast, drinking bottomless coffee, working on the Sunday crossword. But I want to try and recapture some of the joy of my favourite meal, so I’ll be sending you a new recipe every week.
Oatmeal became my breakfast routine when I moved into this apartment by myself, almost 6 years ago now. It’s cheap, it’s filling, it’s endlessly customisable. (I also decided to start eating vegan for similar, monetary, reasons.) I prefer steel cut oats when I’m eating them as oatmeal, but I also keep rolled oats in my pantry—better for baking applications. The only difference in cooking method is time.
For steel cut oats, I put 1/3 cup in a small pot, with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then when my kettle boils, I pour water until the oats are covered. This pot goes onto the same element where my kettle was, just until it’s boiling in earnest. Then put a lid on top, remove from heat, and let it sit for a while—probably 10 minutes. This is also the time to add dried fruit; I’m using raisins at the moment. Nuts and seeds, I save for later, instead of letting them soak up too much water.
If my measurements are correct, at the end of the 10 minutes, there should be almost no water left. The oats will be swollen—bigger and lighter in colour. I usually add a spoonful of peanut butter, mixed through until it’s made the whole pot creamy. Fresh fruit, if I have it, gets chopped on top. Jam, I’ll save for the winter months, when fresh stuff isn’t in season.
My mom made us oatmeal for breakfast during the cold months we had to walk to school (we always walked to school). She made oatmeal with rolled oats, in the microwave, more like the metaphorical porridge. Because it was hot, steaming, and we had little time in the mornings, we poured a milk around the edge to cool it down, then we were allowed a bit of brown sugar on top of the oatmeal island in the bowl. Like cold cereal with white sugar sprinkled over top, it created a sweet, gritty milk to drink when you were finished eating.
Steel cut oatmeal is different, more like a sticky rice, with each kernel retaining shape, while also becoming part of the whole. It’s not better, fancier, or more adult. It’s different. I still enjoy my mom’s oatmeal, though I don’t have a microwave with which to recreate it. Even when I use rolled oats in my pot on the stove, it’s never the same.
I chase childhood comfort, but there’s no going back to that moment, that cold morning, that rush before school, that trust in mom’s cooking. A warm bowl of oatmeal gets me closest, which is why the craving starts as soon as the autumn weather turns.
Last night, I didn’t know what I wanted to eat for dinner. I didn’t even know if I was hungry or just bored (why not both??) I ended up making a quick pasta with this summer’s tomato sauce from my freezer and a generous pile of Parmesan cheese. Then almost immediately after I had finished eating, I made some cocoa pancakes and ate them with peanut butter and banana for dessert. So I was definitely hungry.
But I was also flailing, searching, wanting something to satisfy me because, right now, it seems nothing else works.
Like setting out one’s clothes the night before, I put 1/3 cup oats into a pot with some water before I went to sleep. They soaked overnight, so now I have to cook them this morning. (Soaking steel cut oats cuts the cooking time by more than half.) I have to start my Sunday with oatmeal, raisins, and maybe a bit of brown sugar. That’s the way my mom used to make it, the way I make it now.