Very often when I tell someone I have a food blog, the first question they ask is, “Why food?” The answer, of course, is because I love food. I love how sensory it is. I love that food can be both tradition and experiment. I love the different experiences it has to offer–whether you eat at home, at a restaurant or from a cart on the street. I love the peace of cooking, and of enjoying a meal I’ve made myself. But more than anything, I love the moments food allows us to share with others.
Several years ago I bought a book at a used book store in Daytona Beach called Eating Through Literature and Art. Grouped like a cookbook, according to meal type, each section includes excerpts, notes and recipes from people like Franz Kafka, Allen Ginsberg and John Cage. I was flipping through it a couple weeks ago, and this breakfast entry by Steve Katz, a response to the editor’s request for a recipe, captured just exactly the feeling. It’s stuck with me ever since, and I can’t help but share it with you here:
Katz Curried Oatmeal
I never expected to express this as a recipe. I like to think of it as the culmination of a morning mode, following the processes of eyelid lifts and other sophisticated exercises that result in eventual verticality. One happy result of following these instructions with some sincerity is that you will find yourself vertical by a seascape so beautiful I wouldn’t trust a description of it to the world’s best writers. That’s the shores of Cape Breton, preferably at dawn–erect at dawn , supine by sunset. You go there to get the oatmeal, Ogilvie’s Scotch Style Oatmeal, generally for sale at the Co-op in Inverness or at McLellans. You can probably get it at other stores elsewhere in Nova Scotia and Canada, but I can’t see why you would want to. If you can’t go that far, and want to simulate the recipe, I suggest you avoid Quaker Oats and find some loose steel-cut oats in a health food or bulk grain outlet. Quaker Oats don’t give you the nutty texture you want for the awakening this dish ideally provides.
To cook 1 cup of these oats you will need 4 to 5 cups of freshly drawn spring water. This water is best from the hills of Foot Cape, but I am sure you can find an adequate substitute. Many people like to cook the oats in a double-broiler or on a low heat throughout the night. I have tried that and it made for some soft oats, but I prefer the texture you get cooking them directly over the flame, and stirring frequently. Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the oats, lower the heat to a simmer, and stir frequently. The oats foam up and threaten to escape the pot at first, but you will find that as you tend them, they will calm down and become quite tame to your attention.
These oats take twenty minutes to a half hour to reach their optimum texture, which for me is more or less “al dente.” When they are about half way you can add the spices. If you have a preferred curry powder you can stir in 1/2 to a full teaspoon of that, according to taste. I’ve liked some curry powders, but what I have consistently used and preferred is the following combination of 1/4 teaspoon each of cumin, ground coriander, tumeric, and cayenne. The amounts of each can vary according to taste. Add salt also to taste. At least five minutes before the oats are ready add 1/2 cup of diced dried fruit. I enjoy a combination of raisins, black or golden, preferably not treated with sugar, and unsulphured dried apricots. After you add the fruit check occasionally to see how much water it absorbs, and if the pot needs it, add some boiling water.
To finish the porridge saute some raw sunflower seeds in butter. I prefer the lightly salted butter of Tatamagouche, when I can get it. When the sunnies are light brown pour them into the nicely bubbling porridge. You will hear a heavenly hiss from the disturbance of steam that for the moment will drown out the sound of the waves breaking.
Four to six of your friends are sitting outside the tipi, or on the deck, or with their feet dangling off the bank, as they watch the early sunlight come over the hill to touch the crests of the waves. This should fill a nice bowl for each of them, that will warm their bellies for much of the day. Serve it to them with a bowl of yogurt, and some coffee brewed with cardamon. They are your friends, and there will never be another morning like this morning.
1 cup oats (Ogilvie’s Scotch Style, or steel cut)
4-5 cups spring water
1/2-1 tsp curry or 1/8 tsp each cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne
1/2 cup diced dried fruit
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
I am fortunate to know, and have shared a drink or meal with, most, if not all, of the people who read this blog. You are my friends, family and colleagues–and these are among my most cherished memories.