Since moving to Scotland, porridge has become a feature of our lazy weekend breakfasts. As we eat about lunchtime, it’s also lunch. The porridge we make is a kind of instant version constructed from oats and hot water in each dish. We have our own likes and dislikes, – Pete’s is a glamourous version, with muesli, yoghurt, a banana sliced on the diagonal and a spiral of drizzled golden syrup. The result is very photogenic. But no matter it’s resemblance to something seen in a glossy foodie magazine, Pete begins by using his spoon to swirl the whole composition together in slow motion, stirring continuously until he has rendered it a milkshake and then eats the result.
In culinary terms, I am the polar opposite. I prefer nearly everything on the side. I don’t like meals that look like baby food. I value distinctive tastes, food that looks like a grown-ups. I don’t swirl anything. My breakfast is so many miles away from Pete’s it looks nothing like it. For starters, Pete won’t go near bran, which I cannot not have, because I am slightly sensitive to stodginess in food generally, so bran, or “farter-starter” as we know it, is non-negeotiable – on both our parts.
Sometimes, after a holiday – particularly a German one where delicious cakes and bread and Knödel noodles can stock up – more farter-starter than usual might go in to the porridge and sometimes so much goes in, there is no room for any actual porridge, and then the term is used very loosely. At these times, confusion can be caused by oat bran, which I recently discovered and which on the shelf of a shop, looks just like oatmeal. Also, it is very similar in texture to porridge oats when you add hot water to it - nothing like wheat bran. This is what I found myself explaining to Pete a couple of weekends ago, when, by dinnertime, long after my tailored breakfast of two brans, – wheat and oats, mixed together to form a “fools porridge” – I found myself famished. I was starving! …. and then, it dawned on me, all at once. “Duh!” I thought to myself, “Bran is bran, no matter the species – I’m dying of hunger because I’ve eaten the equivalent next to nothing! Where are the carbohydrates in two servings of bran with a little yoghurt?”
“I’ve just worked out why I am so hungry” I said to Pete.
“Oh yeah” he said.
“Yeah! All I’ve basically eaten today is two types of bran – there’s no nourishment in that!”
“Uh-huh?” he said. At this point, I thought I detected him edge slightly away.
“Yes, well, I’ve just worked it out! Do you want to hear my theory?”
“No” he said.
“Okay: well farter-starter is great, if you’re looking to start a fart; but if you’re after nourishment, it’s kind of empty!“
With that, we both fell on the floor clutching our sides, laughing our brains out, only soon I could see Pete hadn’t fallen over at all, and was motionless and upright. From the floor, I explained the theory again. “You see?”
His answer was yes, he saw, had seen all along and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing in this way (“Do you really get it” “Yes I do” “Then why aren’t you laughing?”etc) he managed to convince me of his full understanding by explaining my theory back to me. And hearing him say it made it even more true; it’s a special kind of distinction, porridge versus bran, a special kind of funny. And I eat a very special kind of breakfast.