Can you stomach this?
Graham R. Cooper
Graham’s blog aims to give his audience an insight into one couple’s attempt to live in a more self-reliant way than most people do in the industrialized and economically advanced countries
In my last post I mentioned that in 1940, a certain Professor B.J.Marples initiated a study into the stomach contents of 240 Little Owls. If he had wanted to know what I had been feeding on and had said tell me or we’ll have to explore the owl option, I would have instantly told him. Death comes soon enough; I wouldn’t care to hasten it by being disemboweled to get at what I ate for breakfast.
Regurgitated food pellets of the Little Owl have also been examined to show evidence of its varied diet. I’d be happy to regurgitate my breakfast if it helped the forward march of science.
I say breakfast because I consider it to be, as far as my health is concerned, the most important meal of the day. So I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my breakfast.
Before I shuffle off this mortal coil
But first, let’s talk about death. Isn’t that the existential reason why I eat a decent breakfast? The notion that my breakfast is a potent weapon in the arsenal that helps me stay healthy and stave off debilitating old age and inevitable death. My all- time favourite line in this regard comes from that guru of aging well, Dr Andrew Weil: ‘… compression of morbidity’.
The older I get, the more keenly aware I become of my own mortality. The deaths amongst the elderly, in particular, as a consequence of contracting Covid-19, certainly concentrate the mind. As my youngest brother Mark quipped after reading about my ‘home office’ in my previous blog post: ‘Well, you need to keep properly isolated at your age’.
The elephant in the room
David Cohen, a journalist and author, writing in the ‘Comment & Analysis’ section of Radio New Zealand’s news site, mentioned several immensely challenging aspects of the Covid-19 crisis for our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. One challenge, as Cohen observes, has everything to do with death and dying:
The first is an existential wrinkle …
The prospect of mass illness is deeply, even metaphysically, distasteful to anyone. It’s distasteful because it reminds us that death is coming and might even be with us at the next tick of the clock …
Cheerful progressives like Ardern rely on medicines best outcomes. It’s their job to celebrate these things; it’s also what they usually campaign for office on.
But nature has its job to do, too. So now it falls to Ardern to elucidate the meaning and odds of death, in particular, rather than the kind of “improvements” to the health system that would usually be her stock in trade.
As Cohen says: ‘… nature has its job to do, too’. I could contract the virus and die. So could each and everyone of you. Likewise, people I care about deeply and those that have my undying love, one or more of them could die from having contracted the virus. But then again, any one of us could die from any number of things.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so … **
I’m not afraid of death. But I can’t truthfully say that I’ve overcome my fear of dying, though I fear it not so much these days. The extent to which I live well and enjoy life has always been about how good I think I’ll be at dying well. It’s a proportional relationship: the less afraid I become about dying the less afraid I become about truly living. Those of you who get to know me better through my blog posts will be good people to judge whether I was someone who learnt how to live well and enjoy life.
Let’s put death – the existential raison d’etre for my breakfast choice – on the back burner: I don’t know of any way of stopping death from simmering away in the background. Do you?
Let’s get down and dirty and look at my daily breakfast grind. Bugger off death. Let’s get breakfast merrily simmering away in the foreground.
Good things take time
Those of you who know anything about my breakfast routines will already know that it’ll be quite a while before I get it to the simmering stage. A few months ago, my sister Jane asked my son Joseph, what I was doing with myself now that I was retired. ‘He spends a long time over breakfast’, was his succinct reply.
I do! I decided to time just how long it does take. The results are recorded below. Recently, I’ve resorted to a quick munch down of muesli and milk whenever I’ve needed to get away early.
My regular breakfast starts the night before (4 min.):
- 1/2 cup organic steel-cut oats
- 4 dstsps home-made yoghurt
- 1/2 cup warm water
I stir the ingredients thoroughly before putting a saucepan lid on top of the bowl. I clamber to the top step of the kitchen stool and put the bowl on the top shelf of the warm airing cupboard to soak overnight. By next morning it’s partly fermented and ready for cooking.
Preparation and cooking (19 min.):
- put 1/4 tsp pink Himalayan rock salt in a small saucepan
- add 1/2 cup boiling water
- toss contents of bowl in boiling water
- stir until it starts to bubble
- turn heat down to simmer
- put large porridge bowl on top of pan (stops porridge from getting too thick and heats the bowl nicely)
- stir porridge every couple of minutes or so until it thickens to a lovely gooey consistency that sticks to the spoon (‘Sticks to the ribs!’)
While the porridge is cooking I have to get together all the other ingredients (included in above preparation and cooking time):
- 1 dstsp honey
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- black pepper corns (1/2 doz. grinds)
- 1 tbsp linseed (and the coffee grinder to grind up the seeds)
- an assortment of fruit from our trees and berry bushes (This morning it consisted of strawberries, blueberries, a peach, 1/2 a pear, and some stewed nectarines; out of season it’ll be bottled fruit and frozen blueberries and blackcurrants.)
- 4 tbsps yoghurt (made from milk from our goats)
I usually manage to have a wash and get dressed in-between times, but I’ve excluded those activities from the actual breakfast times.
Finally (phew!) sit down to enjoy my porridge and a bit of a read: (21 min.30 sec.):
- Put cushion on the chair (nice and comfy), and dining table mat on the table
- Grab my book* from the back of the dining room settee
- Sit down at last (after much back and forth exercise)
- Add yoghurt on top of all that fruit
- Guten Appetit!
Mustn’t forget to rinse my bowl and spoon (my breakfast remains are a sticky little number), makes it easier for whoever’s on dishes.
- Rinse bowl and spoon (30 sec.)
So there you have it, a blow-by-blow account. Came to three-quarters of an hour. June said she was surprised it wasn’t more like an hour. The cheek of it!
That’s it from Little Owl Gully till next time. Thanks for your company.
You’ll now have to wait with bated breath for next Monday’s instalment: Can you stomach this? Part Three.
*Breakfast read: I’ve just started China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston. It got rave reviews, and it’s living up to its promise so far.
**The opening lines of John Donne’s Sonnet X: ‘Death be not proud’