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Nourish 2- Oats

How I love porridge.  It is rich and smooth and makes me feel full and warm and, strangely, loved. I take flakey oats, tiny slices of grain, and boil them in water; stir it and stir it and it becomes thick and creamy in a miraculous and straightforward transformation.  I don’t like it too sweet, so I steer away from the honey and brown sugar school. I prefer fruit, fresh, stewed or dried.  The consumption of porridge needs no justification, although perhaps using it as a blog topic does.

My thoughts this week run along the theme of Nourish.  I’ve been unwell and it’s been getting me down, so in the interest of reminding myself of all the wonderful things there are to be had from life, I’m starting small and, in a typical First-World attitude, I’m looking in the kitchen.  I’m reminding myself of the things that make me feel sated, soothed and enriched.  There are just some foods whose consumption make you feel really good: you feel wholesome and kind to yourself just for having eaten them. Like porridge!

Sliced pear and glace ginger

Fig 1: Sliced pear and glacé ginger

Fresh pear and glacé ginger — surprisingly zesty and fresh-tasting, refreshing and with some lingering reminders of summer.

I love porridge at lunchtime as well as at breakfast, but I feel self-conscious about having it at work.  Plus it’s a bit awkward when you’re standing in the work kitchen, grating apple and chopping dates, which is my default addition.

Apple and date

Fig 2: Apple and date

Grated apple and chopped, dried dates: ooooh, it’s so good.  The freshly-grated apple is all juicy and delicious, especially with cinnamon.  Fresh dates are even better, but more expensive.

Pineapple and pecan!

Fig 3: Pineapple and pecan (not easy to photograph)

One day, while stumped, I decided to try tinned pineapple and some chopped pecans and it was absolutely delicious; if I’d been more well-organised, I would have toasted the pecans first, but hey.  I’ve heard rumours of savoury porridge, but honestly, this is one of the few delicious things that I don’t want to dicker about with. I come back to it when I’m tired, depressed, sleepy or sick.  I keep rummaging through my brains for memories of eating it as a kid and coming up with nothing: I don’t think I ate it that much growing up, and only developed this addiction in the past couple of years.  Still, if you’re going to have an addiction, might as well be to porridge and fruit, huh?  (Hm, beginning to get an idea why all those invites to the really swinging parties are drying up.) Porridge is one of those foods that really embodies the idea of nourish: it’s delicious, warm, soothing and healthy.

Nourishing the self is tricky business.  It’s riddled with issues of guilt, hunger, frustration and self-justification.  For ages I smugly thought that I wasn’t one for comfort eating, because I’ve never been inclined to eat chocolate, mashed potatoes, nachos, chips, or any of the other typical comfort foods when I’m feeling rough.  But a couple of years ago, I realised it’s more about what you’re trying to achieve through consumption, regardless of what you actually eat.  I noticed that my weakness was compulsivity: bowls of mixed nuts were nibbled through with alarming speed; crackers and cheese, in twos and threes; spoons of yoghurt from the tub, swiftly mounting up; slices of toast, over and over.  All little increments, and leaving me feeling full and crummy all day long because I wasn’t leaving enough time between nibbles to let my body be sated. And then, because I was feeling crummy…well, you can see how it happens.  That’s my comfort eating.  It’s not nourishing; all it does is give your teeth and salivary glands something to do while you wonder why you feel rotten. Even directing your attentions to healthier grazing doesn’t change the underlying problem: eating for pleasure rather than to nourish.  (Which has the extra minus of making it harder to nourish yourself, because you’re full from grazing.)

To nourish is a better goal.  To care for the body through food is tricky, and to soothe the mind with food even harder: it’s so easy to identify foods as naughty or indulgent, and either therefore avoid them completely or gorge yourself on them while chanting “I deserve this because I feel lousy”. Neither works, really. You need to listen to your body and support it; give it the nutrition it needs to keep your mind calm and strength up, but give it the pleasure it can so easily take from food and let that soothe you and keep your spirits high. Nourish the body and the mind will settle.  I’m more prone to baking rather than eating as a response to stress or unhappiness now, but this can be a pretty academic distinction: it’s easy to see how one could slip into the other. I find it a treat to wrap myself in a scented act of creation, but I try and choose carefully, selecting recipes that I can scale down and therefore scratch the itch without presenting the challenge of finding people to eat the eight loaves of sourdough I’ve ended up with.

I think that’s how it works — a lot of these ideas are still pretty embryonic for me, as I learn and try new stuff and change my mind about things.  If I read back over this blog post in a year’s time, will I find it pretentious and misguided, the ramblings of a malnourished mind, or will I think I was finally getting onto the right track? Does that even matter?

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