Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the languages is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with the “hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.”
-Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex)

The narrator of Middlesex (Cal, Callie or Calliope–they all blur into one) makes an interesting point about emotions. When I think about my own life, the emotions that I feel in certain situations or even on a daily basis, it’s never quite as simple as I’m happy, or I’m sad. There are the days when I get an email from my dissertation adviser and I’m overcome by immense horror at the prospect of reading it…So, to delay the process, I’ll open each and every email surrounding it. We could call this a mild form of panic, but I like to think of it as self-preservation; something like “calming the nerves so as not to go into cardiac arrest.” It may seem weird, but, come on, you must do it too…right? It’s totally normal, especially in my line of work.

There’s also the cloud of doom that you carry around for a few days after getting any kind of feedback. To go on–to know that you must return to and fix your work–seems like a herculean task. Maybe a cold makes it worse. Or the fact that you had to have your pupils dilated because Health Services insists on such foolishness on a yearly basis. The thing is, though, that people are funny that way. We insist that our work isn’t good enough, that we shouldn’t have done this or that, but, when somebody suggests the very thing that we ourselves suspect, we get worked up into a tizzy about it. Suddenly, we’re brimming with confidence and anger. Even injustice! And then, poof, just like that, it’s gone. Nobody has the emotional energy to maintain that kind of intensity. Give it a day or two and it’s back to business as usual. It’s like my grandpap would always say whenever I found myself involved in some silly teenage-girl squabble with friends: “Maybe she’s mad now, but, don’t worry, she’ll be glad again.” Those words have never failed me.

I often also experience the need, after a rough day, to get a good night’s sleep and to start the next day off right. Coffee, of course, is key; as I like to say, it’s my life-blood. There’s also the desire for a nice breakfast–something that will stick to my bones and propel me into the day. It’s odd that this has become a source of comfort for me because, when I was in high school and college, I would often snub breakfast, thinking that I never had the time for such luxuries…But for the past few years, I’ve embraced it: pancakes, waffles, banana bread, oatmeal! You name it, it’s most likely been on my menu. However, nothing could have prepared me for Heidi Swanson’s Baked Oatmeal. We could call my first whiff of it baking in the oven “the tickling sensation of a soon-to-be blossoming love.” My first bite–“a cinnamon- and berry-induced swoon.” And just like that, I too was glad again. By glad, I mean “pacified and, with the delicious taste of oats, protein and berries lingering in my mouth, certain that things couldn’t really be as bad as they had seemed.” And when, bolstered by the oats, you return to the very source of your agitation, you often discover that it wasn’t even worth an ounce of angst. But when it brings you to a breakfast as good as this, you know you’d relive it all for just one bite.

Baked Oatmeal
Ever so slightly adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day
Yields 6 servings of one of the best breakfasts you may ever have (N.B. no exaggeration)

The changes I made were minimal: I didn’t have walnuts, so I went with pecans. I had only one banana instead of two. Seasonal berries were also a no-brainer. Also, since I have yet to make a proper trip to the grocery store, I didn’t have much maple syrup and agave seemed like a healthy and reasonable alternative. Even with only 2-3 teaspoons of maple syrup, I didn’t feel cheated on the maple front. In short, this is so good that it could probably withstand all kinds of modification and its integrity would still be intact.

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans (I used salted pecans because of my love of salty-sweet things)
1/3 cup agave nectar, plus 2-3 tsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fine-grain sea salt
2 cups 2% milk
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large ripe banana
1 1/2 cup raspberries and strawberries

-Preheat the oven to 375.
-Generously butter the inside of a square (or, as I used, rectangle) baking dish.
-In a bowl, mix together the oats, half the nuts, the baking power, cinnamon and salt.
-In another bowl, whisk together the agave, maple syrup, the milk, eggs, half of the melted butter and the vanilla.
-Cut the banana into slices and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the baking dish.
-Arrange 2/3 of the mixed berries over the top.
-Cover the fruit with the oat mixture.
-Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats.
-Gently hit or shake the baking dish so that the milk is spread evenly throughout the oats.
-Scatter the remaining berries and nuts across the top.
-Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden and the mixture has set.
-Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
-Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve.

One thought on “An Oat-Induced Swoon

  1. I love this (and I, not even a grad student have done the read every email around the scary one, it is totally normal ;). A hearty breakfast can make everything feel ok, or failing that at least better.

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