Sophie Henry

I used to eat oatmeal for breakfast. Every. Single. Morning.

At 8 a.m., I trudge through the vacant JE dining hall and stop at the deep silver pot of Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal. My half-asleep mind dimly registers the watery substance floating atop the grains. Grimacing, I stir the contents of the pot around, hoping that maybe that’ll make it look just a little more appealing. I pour one and a half ladlesful into my bowl. In goes a spoonful of the Yale Housemade Bakery Granola for sweetness. The final step: sitting down with my breakfast and shoveling it down.

This was my routine. It was simple. Healthy. Foolproof. It was one of those things that I never questioned, like brushing my teeth twice a day (why not three?) or getting up at 7:15AM (every weekday since primary school). That’s why it took me a while to realize that I did not actually enjoy eating oatmeal. In fact, I kind of despised it. The seemingly innocent grain was subconsciously dampening my mood every morning.

Maybe that sounds dramatic, but food has always been the source of a lot of my emotions. Last week at Little Italy in Boston, I got pistachio and coffee gelato, but it wasn’t gelato at all, more like sweetened milk with ice granules and food coloring. That made me irritable (thanks to my brother for putting up with it) until dinner, when I had some gorgeous rigatoni with tomato and mascarpone sauce.

As I was eating my routine breakfast one ordinary day, a radical thought struck me—why am I eating this watery grain? I don’t know what triggered it. But once the question came to me, I couldn’t unthink it. I could stop eating oatmeal. Just like that. The realization was liberating. It was a paradigm shift. Think about it: realizing that you never had to do something that you disliked, after having done it for weeks.

The next morning, I trudged to the JE dining hall as always, but got myself a round plate instead of the usual bowl. I was faced with a sea of breakfast options: waffles, bagels, baguettes, yogurt, fruits, cereal and muffins. After around three minutes of walking back and forth between the isles, I decided on a raisin bagel. I used the toaster for the first time and slathered my gloriously browned bagel with butter and honey. I further pushed my boundaries by adding a side of Greek yogurt topped with cinnamon, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds. All of it was sublime. I’m quite sure I was smiling while I ate.

Since then, I’ve tried just about everything that the JE continental breakfast has to offer: toasted baguette drizzled with olive oil and a side of grapefruit. Bagels topped with generous spoonfuls of cottage cheese and dried fruits. Waffles with Greek yogurt, Nutella, and pineapples. Toast with a thick coating of cream cheese, topped with boiled egg slices and pepper.

I see now that a large part of my boredom with Yale and my inexplicable yearning to get out of campus last semester (the cause of my many walks down Orange Street) stemmed from the repetitive and mediocre food of Yale dining. Today, I love brainstorming ways to make the food appetizing. One of my favorites is adding roasted mushrooms to plain Sweet Potato Soup, then topping it off with some arugula and sliced almonds. I also love getting creative with the salad bar—a bed of spinach and mushrooms, topped with orange wedges, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and pecans, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar: a dish worth serving at a fancy café. I think I complain a little less about Yale dining now.

I’m not saying oatmeal sucks —I know there are some serious oatmeal fanatics out there. All I’m saying is, you can always create something marvelous out of the ingredients offered, a flavor worth waking up to in the morning.

Mao Shiotsu | mao.shiotsu@yale.edu