The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. -John Muir (John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir)
Needless to say, May didn’t quite turn out as I had expected. While I had seen myself having free time to read, write and reflect, I was instead busier than ever. Truly, not a weekend or evening went by when we didn’t have something planned with the Greek’s parents and aunt, or when we didn’t have a cause for some sort of celebration. First, the Greek finished a draft of his dissertation, then he got all of the signatures, and finally he filed (three cheers to a dissertation-free household!)–obviously, all three were noteworthy and deserved to be toasted. Immediately after he filed, birthday madness descended upon us, complete with two fantastic dinners (the first at Frances and the second at Corso), a trip to Yosemite and a 30th birthday/dissertation ph(d)inishing (please forgive the Ph.D. humor) party for the Greek. Oof. As a person who thrives on quiet time and introspection, there were moments when it was all a little overwhelming, moments when I longed to reconnect with this space and the perfect solitude of blogging, but I also realized that it could wait. There are times in life when you not only have to disconnect in order to reconnect, but also when you have to live and step into the unfamiliar in order to have something to write about.
Yosemite was, to put it simply, pure magic in this respect. It was the first time I had been somewhere new in months and the very act of being there felt restorative–like sloughing off a layer of the invisible hardness that had formed while commuting and sitting in front of a computer every day. There was fresh air and the kind of silence that vibrates with possibility. Truth be told, it was hard to know what would next appear at our humble little cottage in the woods of Groveland. We were visited daily by a herd of a deer and in our midst was also a crop of the tallest mushrooms I had ever seen.
Yosemite itself was a wonder. When you see its towering cliffs and trees, its careening waterfalls and otherworldly landscape, you recognize the sheer bounty of California’s natural beauty. At moments like these, it’s easy to see why the state reminded the early Spanish conquistadors of the mythical island paradise Califia.
On our first day there, we hiked past waterfalls on paths marked by thistles and flowering trees; along the way there were horses, ground squirrels and bluejays too, as well as the music hidden woodpeckers were making It was a (welcome) far cry from civilization, but we still managed to find ourselves at a gorgeous luxury hotel drinking overpriced lattes and hot chocolate and snacking on gluten-free cookies (this, sadly, was all that was on offer; it seems that even the valley of Yosemite hasn’t managed to escape modern food trends).
Exhausted and ravenous from hiking, we found ourselves back at the cabin that evening ready for a feast. For those few days, I was in charge of the cooking and was quite eager to see what I could come up with. Although we ate simply while on the trail (sandwiches and granola bars), the cabin and its many amenities (gas stove, oven, dishwasher–not to mention a fair amount of cooking equipment. If only I had known in advance there was a waffle maker!) gave us the slight edge of “glamping.” We were well equipped for glamping, too; we had stopped and bought groceries on the way from Berkeley, and I had also decided to bring several of the leftover vegetables from our CSA box that had gone uneaten that week. With this bounty, I was able to let both my imagination and years of cooking experience (thanks to this blog, really) run wild. Our first night we had a rainbow chard risotto and roasted carrots with a basil and green garlic tzatziki; on our second, my sous chef fired up the grill (another fine amenity of this cabin) and made ribs and burgers to accompany a simple side of roasted broccoli that I threw in the oven while his aunt was teaching me to knit.
Each morning, in preparation for the hike ahead, I made a batch of April Bloomfield’s porridge, a recipe that has been written about so much that it barely needs an introduction, from A Girl and Her Pig. It was the only “recipe” I used while on this trip and this isn’t because I had snuck a cookbook in my suitcase. The truth is, it’s an easy, not to mention worthwhile, recipe to memorize and keep in your back pocket for either rustic weekend adventures or mornings when you want to eat both well and simply (I like Bloomfield’s food, especially her breakfasts). Rolled oats and steel-cut oats are combined in a simmering mixture of whole milk (or, in this case, half and half) and water with a generous pinch of sea salt and left to simmer for about 20 minutes. While this may not seem special, it elevates a simple bowl of oats into a dish that makes you sit up and take notice: it’s textured and creamy and downright deliciously filling. Topped with honey, brown sugar or even a spoonful of the strawberry jam that your grandmother gave you at your brother’s wedding, it’s the kind of breakfast you want to eat before driving up to what feels like the very top of the universe.
Not to be morbid, but at least in this case, should you fall from the dizzying heights of Glacier Point, you will know that you had eaten well.
April Bloomfield’s Porridge
Slightly adapted from A Girl and Her Pig
Yields 3-4 small, but ample servings; when serving more, the recipe doubles easily
Bloomfield, it must be said, likes her porridge on the salty side; the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons flaky sea salt. While I don’t mind salty porridge, especially if it’s going to be topped with something sweet, the Greek looked at me like I was crazy when I once made this for breakfast in its fully salty glory, so, since then, I’ve cut the amount down more than a bit. It doesn’t detract from the the porridge’s winning feature (its texture), though, so either salt or sweeten to your (or your partner’s) personal taste.
The issue of saltiness aside, it’s best to stick to the other ingredients Bloomfield demands; this porridge won’t be the same with any kind of instant or quick-cooking oats (either steel-cut or rolled). Even in terms of the dairy being used, you could use almond milk or a low-fat (2% or 1%) cow’s milk, but I suspect that, without whole milk, it might not be as creamy. At the cabin, we had only half and half (we didn’t buy any milk at the store), which made for a creamy and decadent porridge.
By the way, if some of you think it’s strange that I’m offering a recipe for porridge at the end of May/beginning of June, come to California and you’ll understand why: for us, it’s winter.
1 1/2 cups whole milk or half and half, plus extra for the very end
1 1/2 cups water
1 generous pinch flaky sea salt (I like Maldon)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
To top it off, a few tablespoons of sugar (brown or granulated), maple syrup or jam and/or toasted nuts
-In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, water and salt to a gentle simmer over high heat.
-Once simmering, stir in the oats and lower the heat to medium.
-Cook the oats, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes or until the rolled oats have softened completely and the steel-cut oats have just a tender bite.
-Remove from heat and spoon the porridge into bowls and top with the desired toppings (sugar, nuts, jam, etc.).
-If desired, pour in a little extra milk, half and half or cream to each bowl so that it pools along the edges of the porridge.