Sometimes Love is Right in Front of You, in a Bowl

In which the author comes around to the simple pleasures of oatmeal.

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As a child, I was indifferent to oatmeal. This was in the 1960s, and as far as breakfasts went, in particular the various hot and cold breakfast cereals, the choices were more limited. I was on hand for the launch of the Cap'n Crunch breakfast cereal, for example, whose creator described its particular taste sensation as "want-more-ishness," and at that time it was pretty much Frosted Flakes, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, or Cap'n Crunch. My want-more-ishness extended entirely to the sugary, non-nutritive start for my day. That was all I could endure. Oatmeal, to me, and several of its hot cereal relatives, such as Maypo and Cream of Rice, etc., were all essentially pulped wood, except insofar as they could serve as brown sugar delivery systems, in which case I dug deep (this was my particular plan with Cream of Wheat) for the lumps of hardened brown sugar, and avoided anything with a cereal consistency.

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My indifference in the hot cereal area continued in this way through the granola revolution of the '70s and into my away-at-school years, when mostly I skipped breakfast, anyhow, for sleeping until two, and because I was nursing a hangover. Who wants oatmeal with a hangover?

Before I indicate where I am now with the oatmeal obsession, I need for the record to be rigorous about one point, and that is the point that will be indicated with the words steel cut. After you become obsessed with oatmeal, you quickly realize that the conventional American oatmeal (sorry Quaker Oats!) is basically a thing from the fifties, milled the way it is milled for people with dental deficits, boneless, or what have you. Steel cut is the way they ate it in the old country (Ireland, for example), and it's the way you should eat it. Furthermore, there is the matter of slow cook or fast cook. If you want your oatmeal perfect, I find, you should put it in the water to soak the night before. But if that is out of reach, get the five-minute steel cut type. I tend to keep three different kinds around: slow cook, five-minute steel cut, and then, for the desperate times, some packets that can be thrown in the microwave. This last variety should not even be called oatmeal, really, but it does have the sugary non-nutritive feature, in case you are feeling the nostalgia.

Now, in galloping middle age, with my joints aching, and my hearing failing, etc., I find something incredibly moving about waking in the morning, and padding into the kitchen to turn on the burner to make the oatmeal, after which I tend to yell to my wife that it's ready. This morning I was playing Burt Bacharach while making the oatmeal. Know why? Because songs were better when they had more melody! My time is short, perhaps, or over half done, and it's the little rituals, with their evocations of devotion and predictability, that make life feel abundantly rich, at least to me. There's a want-more-ishness to these rituals. And so: I think I'll have some more oatmeal.

Rick Moody is the author of the award-winning memoir, The Black Veil, as well as five novels including The Ice Storm and his latest, Hotels of North America.

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