Friday, June 15, 2012

What do you think will happen next?

I think the best piece of advice I received during my last few months in grad school came from my friend Mitra, shortly after I had vomited a half-digested mess of PhD-related complaints and insecurities onto her sofa:  "Maybe you can just try to forget about all the other things and focus on finishing your thesis."  It seems trivial written out like that, but it's exactly the kind of mission statement that's easily forgotten amidst of dozens upon dozens of graphs and chapter headings and works cited, yet no problem to take as mantra after someone says it out loud.  And while I wouldn't say that the last month or two has been a walk in the park, I can definitely attest that I fell back on Mitra's advice more than a few times in the midst of 2 AM proofreading/soliloquizing.  If only Mitra had been there for Hamlet!  Claudius would have been toast by Act 2, Scene 3.

As Oprah once said:  "It is finished."  Well, not quite.  When I get tired of explaining the intricacies of thesis defense and paper publication and dissertation filing, which vary not only from school to school but also from department to department, advisor to advisor and student to student, I fall back on a nerdy joke: it appears that progress toward my PhD has become logarithmic in time.  So at the beginning of May I was 60% done with my thesis.  A week later I was 80% done.  A week later I was 90% done.  A week later I was 95% done.  Over the rest of the week I watched 97%, 98%, and 99% pass by from my kitchen table.  And now I can finally say, sitting here in the living room on the eve of my vacation to Europe, that I'm 99.9% done with my dissertation, a few grammar revisions and signatures away from fake-doctorhood (N.B., the non-degree-conferring hooding ceremony took place on May 13).  Of course, since we're talking logarithms here, that last 0.1% is going to take about four weeks to complete.  Until then...  I am the 99.9%?

Of course, I don't have only Mitra to thank for the completion of my dissertation.  I also have to thank oatmeal.  I kicked off my final week of work at Berkeley with a hearty bowl of Sunday morning oatmeal, my most comforting of all comfort foods, on a day when even God decided to make Himself comfortable.  Taking a cue from some yolk porn I had encountered earlier in the week, I decided to take the oats in a carbonarish direction:  bacon, eggs, cheese, and black pepper, with some lemon zest and scallions thrown in for balance.  Let me tell you, Baby Bop, this bowl of porridge was just right.  Three elements of richness and three elements that zing all played over a bassline of hearty grains.  I don't know where I was going with this metaphor when I started writing it three days ago, but somehow I was supposed to end up with the idea that this oatmeal is Roundabout.  Whatever.


Oatmeal alla Carbonara
(serves 2)

olive oil
2 eggs
3 slices bacon (or pancetta)
4-6 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
3 scallions, white and green parts sliced separately
zest of half a lemon
kosher salt
black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil until fluid but not smoking.  Add the oatmeal mixture and toast for 30-60 seconds, stirring constantly, until the oatmeal is fragrant and nutty but not burnt.  Add 4 cups of water to the oatmeal and a few big pinches of salt.  Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal thickens, about 30-40 minutes.

Heat up a pot of water and poach two eggs.  Keep them in a bowl of water at room temperature until the oatmeal is ready.  Keep the poaching water warm on the stove.

Cut the bacon into small pieces.  Add the bacon to a pan, cover with water, and place the pan over medium-high heat.  Cook until the water evaporates and some of the bacon fat renders.  Once all the water has evaporated, reduce the heat to medium and cook until crispy.  Drain the bacon pieces but save the fat.  If you're using pancetta, just slice it into small pieces and cook it until crisp in a pan with a little oil.

When you're ready to serve, add to the oatmeal mixture:  the scallion whites, 2/3 of the lemon zest, 1-2 tbsp bacon fat, 2/3 of the bacon, 2/3 of the parmesan cheese, and a lot of black pepper.  Stir well and cook for another minute or two, just until everything is incorporated.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  If the oatmeal is too loose, cook a little longer; if it's too thick, add a little hot water.

Portion the oatmeal into two bowls.  Reheat each poached egg for about 20 seconds in simmering water before tucking it into the oatmeal.  Garnish with reserved scallion greens, parmesan cheese, bacon, lemon zest, and black pepper.


  1. Any experience in cooking seven-grain oatmeal mix with a Zojirushi rice cooker and if so please tell me which setting. Admittedly I've set aside Google chrome tabs that have to do with seven-grain oatmeal ingredients and sold from Amazon. I'm almost ready to pull the trigger. Tangentially my top two would have to be Himalayan course salt and Cole and Mason inverta flip salt mill.

  2. Oops, people actually comment on my blog. I have never used a rice cooker, but any setting that keeps the grains at just a bare simmer with a few bubbles would probably be perfect. Roger Ebert wrote a whole rice cooker cookbook after losing the capacity to eat solid food. Maybe that would be a good place to start for info on rice cookery.