how to cook: or, an ode to oatmeal

I have a confession to make: until recently, I never cooked my oatmeal in a pot on the stove. 

I used a microwave.

Being someone who loves food and loves to cook, I feel silly admitting this little secret. Microwaves are often viewed as the tv-dinner device, the lazy method, and are certainly not regarded fondly by those who believe mealtime can be as awe-inspiring as a religious occurrence. Although I tend to avoid the microwave, for some reason, sleepy mornings led to its convenience--or, supposed convenience. 

Recently, while making oatmeal with my husband--who has adamantly cooked his oatmeal on the stove for years--I finally admitted to myself that my method took just as long as his, if not occasionally longer. Not only that, but while his oats became a creamy, lovely mess, mine would remain separate from their cooking liquid, soft but not nearly as dreamy--think watery soup instead of fluffy porridge. 

And so, that was the end of my hapless faux-romance with our microwave. Why I ever thought sequestering my most beloved routine to the cold, mechanical process of modern electromagnetic radiation would appease this sensory-stimulated foodie, I'll never know. To be sure, it was a clear mistake. I have subsequently surrendered to the powers of the pot (as in, the stovetop kind, mind you). And my morning breakfast experience has utterly transformed as a result. 

How can cooking on a stove feel like such an improvement from heating up food in the microwave? Perhaps it's because cooking is, frankly and truly, an art. Yes, even something as simple as a bowl of oats. Now, I don't profess to be an expert artist in this particular field--but even an amateur like myself can recognize the beauty of a pot stewing with nourishment. 

I love scooping the soft grains from glass mason jar to steel pot, submerging them in fresh coconut milk before placing the simple mixture over the range, listening as the stove awakens from its slumber and begins to buzz with heat in the early morning light of the kitchen. While the oats simmer, I take out our worn wooden cutting board and begin slicing up the fruit--fuzzy peaches in the summer, firm apples in the fall, a spotted banana in the winter and more than a few handfuls of rosy strawberries in spring.

I listen carefully to the bubbling pot on the stove, adjusting the temperature and only removing it once a frothy halo has emerged to the top of the porridge. I'm at a point where I can tell when the oatmeal is done just by the noise the pot elicits. Those carb-rich delectables, the simple way that they move in the pot, indicates to me whether or not they are the exact texture my tastebuds desire.

The routine has most certainly become a ritual, a meditation for me--one where I can clear my head, take my time, let myself breathe before the day begins. It's a far cry from my previous habit of sticking a bowl in a mechanical device, pressing a few buttons, and waiting for the buzzer to ding, alerting me of its completion. Rather, my new habit implores me to use my senses, my emotions and my intuition. No loud noises from the technology of modern life to disturb the quiet now (my phone is usually silenced this early), only the melody that easy cooking evokes.

It is my opinion that cooking is good for the soul, and that the way we do it matters. Our approach can either enhance our experience or detract from it. Personally, I never quite enjoy my meal as much when I've been rushing, distracted or exhausted. There is something magical, almost spiritual, that happens in the kitchen we are fully present. When we give our hearts, participate with intention. 

Switching from microwaved to stovetop oatmeal improved not only my breakfast, but my life. No, really. When we take the time to nourish our bodies with real, whole foods, we create an environment of ripple effects, where each mindful, healthful decision influences the next. Taking the time to cook instead of rushing through the process allows us a chance to reset and refocus. It gives us the freedom to enjoy something tangible and tasteful. It brings us back to the present.

All of that to basically say: thank you, oatmeal, for gifting me a rich daily experience. 

Or, if you'd prefer a poem instead of my rambling thoughts, here is an Ode to Oatmeal.