Now that we’ve covered oranges, let’s rewind a bit and discuss oatmeal. Before the desire for tangy vibrancy and a bright hit of vitamins come the craving for something soothing and bland with which to fill your belly.
I’m on day six of a nasty sickness, so, naturally, I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal.
Illness humbles us, takes us back to the fundamental state of our being (vulnerable, weak, fragile, absurd), strips us of our pretensions and affectations. And oatmeal is the ultimate humble food, unsophisticated and comforting in equal measure. In our healthy lives, we may be aesthetes who favor the subtleties of a particular ras el hanout blend, prefer chocolate bars with 85% cocoa, and say words like “gamey” and “nubile” when talking about wine. Sickness brings more basic cravings.
I associate oatmeal with my maternal kin, who often make it for breakfast. It was a staple in the kitchen of my pragmatic and health-minded grandma, and both my mom and my aunt make it regularly. They prepare it thick and hearty, cooked al dente so the individual grains retain the slightest hint of chew. My mother has a touching habit of saving even the tiniest bit of leftover oatmeal in diminutive Tupperware.
Personally, I prefer to make my oatmeal into a thin, soupy gruel, especially when I’m ailing. In happier times (winter mornings when I’m full of vigor and healthy appetite, for instance) I like to make it thicker, and dress it up with toasted pumpkin seeds and almonds, in addition to the obligatory dried fruit and cinnamon. On days like this, though, when I don’t want to be challenged, when I crave only ease and reassurance and simplicity, I’ll add a few raisins for sweetness, some flax seeds for added nutrition, and a splash of nut milk to cool it before serving.
When Sherman Alexie spoke at my college, he made reference to “anorexic white women in oatmeal-colored fleece,” and robust, festively dressed black women joyfully embracing at Obama’s inauguration.
A friend of mine once asked me why oats are flat, and was astonished when I told him that they are rolled.
Ancient Scottish universities observed Meal Monday, a holiday that fell on the second Monday in February, so their students could go home and replenish their oatmeal rations.
My grandpa called it “goatmeal.”