Can you see that, dear readers? That cool, steely blue daylight stretching out onto the tablecloth above? That means it’s 6am on a weekday. 6am on a weekday, and I’m up. That’s a WHOLE HOUR AND A QUARTER EARLIER than my alarm.
It’s is a Monday-morning miracle.
When you’re not in the habit of being up this early, there’s this overwhelming sense that you’re the only person on the Earth who’s awake. You’re not quite used to the quiet because living in the city means you’ve become acclimatised to a morning soundtrack of cars honking, people yelling, toddlers crying and two-ton delivery trucks rumbling perilously down potholed streets. Admittedly, it’s a soundtrack that mimics the chaos of my morning routine. I fiddle with the snooze button far too much; I tumble over power cords on my way to the shower and almost systematically end up putting on one item of clothing inside out (yesterday it was a shirt, maybe tomorrow it’ll be underwear! Only Lady Fortuna knows!).
But early mornings like this one are different. I walked slowly to the kitchen. Casually, even. Right now, the only thing within earshot is the muffled sound of coffee brewing in the percolator, punctuated not by the shrill screech of a construction drill, but by the bright chirps of sparrows perched outside. It’s like a scene out of an old Folgers commercial. And it turns out I could live inside a Folgers commercial forever.
Sitting here, sipping coffee between bites of oatmeal, I decide I’ve got a little time to do some computer clean-up. I soon come across a folder of photos marked “Ireland/Berlin 2013” and it dawns on me that one year ago, almost exactly to the day, I was on a plane heading to Ireland for my brother’s wedding. I can hardly believe that it was a whole year ago. The details of those memories are still so vivid.
In the days leading up to the wedding, we stayed on a 17th-century estate owned by the bride’s family – an astonishingly beautiful and meticulously preserved cluster of buildings with guest houses that looked out onto a floral courtyard and green acreage, all of it surrounded by a hand-built stone wall and dense forest. You’d wake up to the sound of starlings and water trickling down the courtyard’s fountain. Afternoons were spent navigating the twisting paths of the forest. Wild deer would come out to graze at dusk. Over dinner, the bride’s uncle would regale us with the estate’s ghost stories and we’d all head to our beds with goosebumps, secretly hoping we’d have our own otherworldly encounter to share at the breakfast table the next morning.
The wedding itself was so fairytale-like, it would put any Martha Stewart magazine to shame. There was a heartfelt ceremony under a big willowy tree; bouquets made with wild flowers from the fields; Celtic dancing and a Viennese waltz; late-night fireworks in the yard and (because my sister-in-law is from Hamburg) elegant, well-dressed Germans everywhere.
The day after the event, my parents and I set out on coastline road-trip that took us from Sligo, to Dingle, down to the Ring of Kerry and Cork, up to Drogheda, through Belfast and all the way the northern-most tip of Ballycastle. We made ascents up treacherously thin, coastline roads that led to the most beautiful vistas – endless stretches of rocky beach, verdant hills dotted with sheep, vibrant pink sunsets, and strings of ancient stone castles that sat soulfully along the landscape. In the mornings, we walked through dewy fields and cobblestoned paths, before heading inside our B&Bs for breakfasts of black tea, Irish soda-bread, freshly-churned butter (oh, the butter), marmalade and warm oatmeal. Sometimes there’d even be a full Irish breakfast waiting for us, complete with fried eggs, bacon rashers, black pudding, a grilled tomato and toasted bread, each slice neatly arranged in a silver toast rack.
Mornings there were quiet and tranquil; they made me feel happy, hopeful, serene and, perhaps more than anything else, settled. All of it was like a dream – the mist, the smell of earth and grass, the mellow baying of barnyard animals.
I wanted to stay forever.
Today, on this early Monday morning – without the usual clamour of the city – the gentle magic the Irish countryside doesn’t seem so far away. It’s in the wind and the leaves. And in a quiet breakfast that doesn’t need to be rushed.
Happy (One-Year!) Anniversary to my brother and his bride. Hearts to infinity, plus one. ♥
A note on the recipe: knowing how my mornings usually devolve into complete bedlam, I made myself a pot of overnight oatmeal. It’s a nice thing to wake up to, particularly if you feel like a chicken with its head cut off between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00. Cold pizza for breakfast can be fun, but trust me, homemade oatmeal is better. One caveat: you MUST MUST MUST use steel-cut oats, nothing else. Otherwise, you’ll end up with nondescript sludge, instead of nice, toothsome, nutty bits of oats. Steel-cut oats are normally a bit of a nuisance as they take 45 minutes to cook (I know, yikes) – but if you use this overnight method you can avoid waiting around for breakfast because it cooks while you sleep. *Poof* Magic!
Overnight Steel-Cut Oats (3-4 servings)
- 4 cups filtered water
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- a handful of quartered strawberries, macerated in maple syrup overnight
- a handful of smashed pistachios
1) In a medium saucepan or Dutch oven, bring the 4 cups of water to a rapid boil.
2) When the water comes to a full boil, pour in the steel cut oats and salt.
3) Give a quick stir and let the oats cook for 1 minute.
4) After one minute, turn off the heat, give the oats a quick stir, cover and then let them sit on the stove overnight. Go catch some well needed zzzz.
The next morning: open the lid and observe the magic of perfectly cooked overnight oatmeal. Oooh ahhh. Bring the oatmeal back up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. There will be a bit of water in the mixture still, but the oats will thicken up as they sit (but if you feel it needs to be thinned out some more, add a little bit of milk or water to the pot). Ladle the oats into a bowl and spoon over the mascerated strawberries and pistachios.