Parallel Work + Steel-Cut Oats

I’ve long been a fan of writer dates. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, so in graduate school, a group of friends and I would get together to work in tandem at coffee shops. A friend labelled this parallel working, much like when young toddlers get together for parallel play:  not really playing with each other, but rather next to each other, learning to play around other kids, a stepping stone to playing with them.

Parallel work functions the same way:  we write near each other, not in collaboration. For me, this was a great way to meet my need for human interaction while still hunkering down and writing. When I need a break and I come up for air, there are friends nearby. We encourage each other with our own work.

Truth be told, writing dates are one of the biggest things I miss since moving away to California. Gone are the days when my writer friends and I would meet up at a local coffee shop, or in one of our living rooms, and work, tapping away at our computers, stopping every so often to float ideas out there, or to seek encouragement, or to express frustration. In California, I write on an island. Thank goodness the island has Wifi.

But my writing dates have been replaced by a very acceptable substitute, a different kind of work:  crafting.

It might seem unusual to think of crocheting or quilting or knitting as work; except in cases of professionals, we tend to think of these as hobbies. But I think back to period films, like Pride & Prejudicewhere a woman’s work was embroidery. To us, these days, that might seem like a hobby, but when the only way for a cushion to be embroidered, or a bonnet to be made, or a dress to be repaired, was to do it yourself, that became work.

I recently read The Paris Wife, a fictional retelling of Hadley Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. She played piano, and Ernest referred to her playing as her “work.” It struck her as funny at first; she hardly thought of it as work because she had not been brought up to think of playing piano as work. But when you begin to think of your particular form of artistry as your work – something you work at, something you enjoy and are learning proficiency with – it all makes sense.

And my parallel work dates may not involve writing much these days, but I have found that getting together for crafting dates is equally wonderful, and they function the same way. Some low, good music helps set the tone. Comfortable seating and good light are essential. And a warm beverage and a delicious bite to eat nourishes body and soul and moves the work along.

Recently, I got together for a crafting date with my friend Angela. She intended to knit while I crocheted. We went to our favorite indie coffee shop, but since they were only serving vegan brunch, we relocated to Panera, where I got coffee and their seriously delicious Steel-Cut Oats.

Panera Steel-Cut Oats:  delicious.
Panera Steel-Cut Oats: delicious.

When I sat down to start this post, I left myself this note:

(And in the meantime, work on replicating Panera’s steel-cut oats because OMG that’s delicious.)

And y’all:  it is delicious. And I did set about recreating it. And thank goodness, because it’s one of my favorite things.

Panera’s steel-cut oats are sprinkled with cinnamon-crunch topping, the same spicy-sweet blend that’s used in their cinnamon-crunch bagels, which are easily their most delicious bagels. Beyond that, the recipe seems very basic:  steel-cut oats, cinnamon-crunch topping, fruit and nuts.

So that’s what I did. And really, this is so simple, I can’t even really write a recipe for it. But here’s what you should do:

1. Mix about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon with 1/4 cup brown sugar. Adjust quantities based on your tastes. This worked out well for me.

2. Prepare some steel-cut oats. A good measure here is to go with the 3:1 ratio – three parts liquid to one part oats. For me, that was 2 cups water, 1 cup vanilla soy milk, to one cup of oats. Add a dash of salt to the liquid, bring to a boil, add oats, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 10-20 minutes, until tender enough for your liking. It will make lots of leftovers for you to enjoy during the week.

3. Scoop yourself some oats. Sprinkle with a spoonful of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Top with fruit and nuts.

My version. All my mornings shall be happy from now on.
My version. All my mornings shall be happy from now on.

Grab a friend, and your notebook, needlework, or a book, and enjoy this comfort in a bowl.

5 thoughts on “Parallel Work + Steel-Cut Oats

  1. Oats = way yummy. I have to eat them the way my mother made them when we were growing up – with lots of brown sugar sprinkled on top. Not all that different than the recipe you’ve got up above, though she always stirred in an egg.

    I hear you on the parallel work thing. Last week, I went to baking school for the morning just so I could get re-inspired/bounce some ideas around. And thank goodness I’ve got my sister HADLEY (named after Hemingway’s first wife, of course) to yell at me/support me in writing. Because sometimes, when at home alone for hours on end… well, stuff just doesn’t happen.

  2. I can’t imagine writing with anyone else around. When I write, I am like a crazy person: Pacing around, talking to myself, waving my hands around, rummaging through books.

    When my wife was still here, we had to move my office so that it wasn’t directly over the living room. I can’t write in a room OVER a room where someone might need to hear something.

    I don’t know how I would do with crafts around other people.


    1. Haha! I definitely have my bouts of writing where it seems like a bomb is going off, but most of the time, it’s a quiet endeavor, and being quiet with others has its own level of comfort. And crafting with others makes me feel über-old fashioned, which I love. A lot.

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