I've been sad.
The loss of our beloved black Lab, Henry, last year put me in state of 'just getting through' for a while. You know. You go about the business of your life because that's what you do, but it's with a heavy heart.
The joys of food and drink and company feel muted because you are just seeking comfort...a respite from the sadness. But in an inversely strange way, it also makes me feel grateful... for the kindness of friends, the everyday joy and companionship that our dear boy gave us, and the very awesomeness of his short, wonderful life.
The term "comfort food" really has taken on a fuller meaning as I've trudged through this time. There's been a bit of a retreat from dreaming of fancy dishes I'd like to try to a simple craving for food that nourishes in a quiet way. Which brings me to the uncomplicated solace of a bowl of porridge.
I have rather unpleasant memories of the oatmeal my mother would make when I was a kid. It was a gluey, bland mush of Quaker oats that just couldn't compete with a bowl of Captain Crunch. The 80s brought the worship of All Things Oat, which I duly ignored since I wasn't obsessed with my cholesterol levels. But then some time in the 90s I discovered steel-cut oats in a memorable Waldorf-Astoria room service breakfast for which I am eternally grateful. So I've been a steel-cut oat fan ever since, but not long ago I came across an ingenious recipe for 'porridge', as the English like to call their breakfast oatmeal, that puts the oats I've been making for years to shame. (Clouds parting. Chorus singing. Rays of sunshine. Applause.)
Hard to believe it comes from a cookbook called, A Girl and Her Pig. (Yes, there is a photo of the author, chef April Bloomfield, on the cover, draped in a dead pig. Calm down everyone.)
April's way with porridge is extraordinarily simple and oh so comforting. The beauty lies in cooking a mix of rolled oats with steel-cut in half milk and half water with a generous amount of Maldon salt. The resulting chewy, creamy texture when topped with a drizzle of maple syrup elevates things to porridge nirvana.
So for those of you in the frigid, polar-vortex'd Midwest and snow battered East, this hot breakfast will fortify you like nothing else for your next round of shoveling and for those of us who are feeling a little fragile at times it's like breakfast, with a hug. Some days that's just what you need.
adapted from A Girl and Her Pig, by April Bloomfield
(serves 4, if you're restrained, or 2 hearty appetites)
1 1/2 cups milk (April says whole milk, but I used 2%), plus a few splashes
1 1/2 teaspoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt
1/2 cup stell-cut oats
1/2 cup rolled oats (no instant or quick-cooking here, go with regular oats)
About 2 tablespoons brown sugar
A drizzle of maple syrup
1. Combine the milk, water and salt in a medium saucepan and set over high heat. As soon as the liquid comes to a gentle simmer, add both kinds of oats and lower the heat to medium to keep the oats at a steady simmer. Stir frequently and check the heat to maintain the simmer, for 20 minutes.
2. After the 20 minutes, turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar.
3. Spoon into bowls and let sit for a minute. Drizzle with a little maple syrup. That's where I finish and get ready to dig in, but April suggests carefully pouring a little cold milk around the edge of each bowl for little more of custard feel as the porridge sets near the cold milk.