June is six months old. She has two teeth, monstrous thighs, and is my favorite person in the world. Totally predictable, I know, but I really never thought I would say that about someone who spends most of the day drooling and pulling my hair. Sometimes she looks at me tenderly, places a dimpled hand on either side of my face, and then lunges forward, giggling, and savagely bites my nose. She suits me so well. Really, she’s perfect for me. We have a rhythm.
I sent my revised manuscript to my editor in the final days of February. A few days later, we lost our manager at Delancey and Essex. Though losing a staff member always makes me and Brandon feel mopey for a while, the timing was eerily right. I hadn’t been involved in the day-to-day operation of the restaurants since last summer, shortly before June was born, but suddenly, with the book out the door, I had some time on my hands. And anyway, I’m not very good at not having a project. So I’m back to managing Delancey and Essex. My job isn’t the kind of thing that most people fantasize about when they think about opening a restaurant; it doesn’t involve a chef’s coat, gleaming copper pots, copious booze, or anything that could remotely be described as badass. I do payroll, front-of-house scheduling, organizing, filing, e-mail tending, and polite whip-cracking. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I like it. I like the quiet aspect of it, the behind-the-scenes-ness of it, the tangibility of it, the fact that I get to make things work better. It brings a kind of satisfaction that’s very different from writing.
So the days are full. I’m at the restaurant during the daytime hours on Wednesdays and Fridays, and June and I also stop in most evenings, before she goes to bed. June drools on everyone within a ten-foot radius and, when she’s feeling sporting, lets me dance her along the bar like a marionette. I know she will see in us the many stresses and frustrations that come with owning a small business, but when I think about her growing up there, in that community, with so many people who care about her and have known her since she was born, I feel glad in a way that I don’t have words for.
In any case, it’s true what they say: there’s never a dull moment. On Thursday, I got a splinter in my tongue while using chopsticks to eat bibimbap. On Friday, I dreamt that my mother confessed that she doesn’t like my bangs, something I have long suspected. A few nights before that, I read a New Yorker article about Ruth Bader Ginsburg while taking a hot bath. I don’t like to make a big deal of it, but yes, the rumors you’ve heard are real: my lifestyle was the inspiration behind Katy Perry’s hit song “Last Friday Night.” Tonight I might throw caution to the wind and mix up the dry ingredients for tomorrow morning’s baked oatmeal.
If you’ve been in a bookstore or on the Internet anytime in the past couple of years, you’ve no doubt heard of Heidi Swanson’s wonderful Super Natural Every Day, and you’ve probably also heard of her wonderful baked oatmeal. I first tasted it shortly after Heidi’s book came out, when Jess came to visit and made a batch, and then Lecia brought some over one morning when we met for a walk, and now, for the past few months, I’ve been making it nearly every other week. Maybe you’ve been making it, too, but I wanted to mention it, in case you haven’t. Because you should.
There’s a tiny chance that some of my love for this oatmeal has to do with the fact that I can assemble most of it the night before. (I am not so great at making a hot breakfast with Tiny Nose-Biter around, or not unless it’s mostly done when I climb out of bed.) There’s also a tiny chance that I love this recipe because I will eat anything that involves oats. (The only way I would probably not eat oats is if I found them in my coat pocket, tangled in lint. Probably.) But mostly, I love this oatmeal because it pushes all the buttons that I like breakfast to push: it’s sweet but not too sweet and filling but not too filling, and it makes you feel totally virtuous about eating maple syrup and butter. Plus: the leftovers might be my favorite snack, whether hot, room temperature, or cold.
Happy week! Go forth.
I’ve made this oatmeal a few times with walnuts, as described below, but I also like to make it with almonds or pecans, either whole or coarsely chopped. It’s nice to toast the nuts beforehand – and it’s easy: just a few minutes on a sheet pan in a 350°F oven, until they smell fragrant – but I often skip it. No harm done.
I’m a big believer in whole milk, and I think this recipe needs its fat and richness. (I’ve had it with 1% and was disappointed in the result.) Actually, the next time I make this oatmeal, I might try replacing a cup of the milk with coconut milk. That could be exciting. I might also throw in a half-cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. I’ve added coconut before – about a quarter-cup, or 25 grams – and though I can’t say that I was aware of its presence, Brandon and I both agreed that the baked oatmeal was especially good that morning.
As for the fruit, you could use any berry, including frozen ones. I don’t even worry about thawing them first. I suggest a range of amounts for the berries below, one that’s very berry-y and one that’s less so.
Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the top third of the oven.
In an 8-inch square baking dish, mix together the oats, the nuts, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. (This part can be done the night before, if you like, to make things easier in the morning.) Scatter the berries evenly over the oat mixture.
In another bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, egg, about half of the butter, and vanilla. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple of thwacks on the countertop to make sure the liquid moves down through the oats.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes. If the remaining butter has solidified, rewarm it slightly; then drizzle it over the top of the oatmeal. Serve.
Yield: about 6 servings