I am not a breakfast person. I am a coffee person. I recently learned of a word, jentacular, that means “related to breakfast” and makes it sound almost jolly. But to me it is not jolly. It is sad.
You’re thinking it’s a struggle for me to be up and conscious so early. But that’s not it. I think it may be because my father sometimes made breakfast—pancakes, French toast, always in a big black cast-iron skillet—when I was little. Later, he abandoned the family, running off with a neighbor lady who was French born and produced exotic food like crown roast of lamb. Once established with her in a Mexican expatriate community, he wrote a breakfast cookbook for men.
The project never flew. And thank God for that. I couldn’t have stood it.
So breakfast leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As for other meals, my mother must have done the bulk of them. Yet I can’t remember a single thing she made for dinner; I remember only the lettuce-and-mayo-on-white sandwiches she put in my lunch box when I refused to eat anything else, and the milk toast with cinnamon she brought me when I was sick.
She was a professional woman, as was her mother. Work, not food preparation, was her heart’s desire. She provided nourishment—who else was going to do it?—but without pleasure or flair. She stood over the stove with considerable bitterness. She cooked because she had to.
Today, there’s ostensibly more of a choice for the kitchen-averse, and yet…I still feel, as no man does, that I should cook more skillfully, or at least more often, with less angst and fanfare. Not doing it means I’m selfish, unnurturing, barely a woman at all.
Aren’t social roles always this way, damn it? When you perform them well, there is that glow, that moment of fulfillment: a perfect fit between you and the world’s expectations. At the same time, they loom as burdens, an unwelcome destiny based on gender alone rather than desire or talent. I’m sure men feel the same way about the expectation of work success. (My father wasn’t much good at breadwinning. Maybe that’s why he resorted to breakfast.)
In my teenage years, my mother forced banana whips upon me at 8 a.m. (sometimes I dumped them in the toilet). In my 20s and 30s, I never ate anything in the morning. Then my jentacular habits improved. For a while, I was addicted to bagels (too hard on the teeth) and granola (sugar overload). Finally, a few years ago, I fell in love with oatmeal.
I know: What a strange grain to have a crush on.
Admittedly, it’s an uninspiring color and texture, like an extremely basic dress that needs accessories to have any oomph at all. I use the steel cut variety, modified so that it takes about 12 minutes rather than 40. I add yogurt, fruit, nuts. And perhaps because I have to cook it, and wait for it, the whole process feels as if I am caring for myself: like a ghostly mother sending me off to school with a good breakfast in my stomach.
Katherine B. Weissman was formerly copy chief at Cosmopolitan, executive editor of Mademoiselle, and contributing editor at O the Oprah Magazine. She has contributed to the collection In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life After 50 and is working on a novel. Her website is https://katherineweissman.com.
Oatmeal For One
generous 1 c. water
1/3 to 1/2 c. Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats: “The Golden Spurtle” (The name always makes me smile; these oats take less time to cook than most steel cut varieties.)
sprinkling of flax seeds
0% yogurt, plain or flavored
a couple of prunes
fresh fruit (peaches or nectarines are especially good) and/or nuts, and/or a sprinkling of granola
Bring water to boil.
Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, on low flame for 10 - 20 minutes, depending on how soft you like it. (I prefer it somewhat al dente.)
Let it sit, covered, for 2 - 3 minutes. It sort of coalesces.
Put in bowl and accessorize.