I’ll Let You Handle That

Jenny called me at work a couple of weeks ago, on one of those gray afternoons when the temperature never rises much above 10 degrees and the dog refuses to go outside.

“I’m freezing,” she said. “How do I turn up the heat?”

“In the house, you mean?”

We’d lived in this house for ten years. This was not our first winter there.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Okay, do you see that box on the wall? The one in the living room, near the fireplace? It has digital numbers on it. That’s the thermostat.”

“I see it,” she said. “Now what?”

I’ll spare you the rest, but let me ask: Does this seem weird to you?

I could tell you how weird it seemed to me, too — how do you not know where the thermostat is?! — but I’d be lying. The truth is, it wasn’t that weird at all. I have to believe that most families have these random-seeming divisions of labor which, if you really step back and look at them — or write about them publicly on a blog — do seem pretty weird. Our house, and our marriage, is full of them. It’s practically built on them. Some of this is probably evolutionary (we have only so much bandwith, so we pool resources to survive, etc.), and some of it is probably just being happy to let someone else deal. Here are some other things that Jenny never does in our house: Replace light bulbs, pay bills, sweep the kitchen floor, cut the kids’ toenails, change the filters on our air conditioner, realize that our air conditioner has filters (and that they need changing), clean the tank of Abby’s beta fish. And here are some things I never do: Braid hair, iron anything, realize that anything needs ironing, organize closets, manage our calendar, feed the dog, sort the recycling on Wednesday mornings, hang up coats that get piled on the chair next to our front door, turn on the dreaded Sonos system.

This ad-hoc division of labor applies to our lives in the kitchen, as well. There are certain things we just close our eyes and rely on the other person to execute. (Q: And what if that other person isn’t around to execute it? A: We buy it.) For me, the idea of making, baking, and frosting a cake: unh-uh. Same goes for latkes — and for deep frying, in general. Have never done it, don’t know how to do it, don’t intend to learn. Jenny, on the other hand? She doesn’t make coffee. “Can you make some of your coffee?” she ask me on Sunday morning, as though “my coffee” is some rare, magical potion and not a matter of pouring some hot water over ground beans. How strange does all this get? Consider this: Jenny’s favorite breakfast of all time is a bowl of steel-cut McCann’s oatmeal with a little cream and fruit, AND SHE HAS NEVER MADE IT IN HER LIFE. Or, she tried once and wasn’t happy with the result and gave up forever, ceding all future oatmeal duties to me. Oatmeal is not hard to make. There is no real art to it. I am pretty sure she could (a) figure it out in about five seconds, if she tried, and (b) become a thousand times better at it than I am. But that’s not how it works, when it comes to the division of labor. Oatmeal is my thing. Mud cake is her thing. And as long as we stay in our lanes, we keep moving forward. — Andy

Andy’s Oatmeal Instructions
The only downside of steel-cut, real deal oatmeal is that it takes a while. If you’re trying to get it on the table on a Tuesday morning, as the kids are packing their backpacks and the dog needs to go out and orchestra practice starts in 25 minutes, this will not make you happy. On a Saturday morning, however, with the kids watching some SpongeBob and a cup of good coffee in your hand, and a rare “nothing day” stretching out in front of you: Yes. This humble little grain will do you right. Note: As much as I love oatmeal, I also believe that it’s all about the toppings. There must always be fruit — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bananas — or, if you’re in a pinch, dried cherries or cranberries work well, too. There must always be something sweet, as well, and here are my go-tos, in descending order of favoriteness: Maple cream, maple sugar, high-test maple syrup, dark brown sugar, agave. Jenny likes a few chopped almonds or pecans. Some people like a sprinkle of cinnamon. I am not one of those people.

1 cup steel cut McCann’s Irish oatmeal
3 cups water, plus another cup in reserve
1 pinch salt

In a medium saucepan, add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of oatmeal and stir. Reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping along the sides of the pot with a rubber spatula, for 25-30 minutes. If it looks like the oatmeal is getting too thick, add a little more water and stir. I like it to be almost like porridge: thick but not too thick. Top with a drizzle of milk or cream, and the toppings of your choice.

Related: You Make it, You Own it.

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love the idea of staying in your respective lanes.

is the recipe correct? Shouldn’t it be 3 cups water to one cup oatmeal? Just wondering. Or perhaps that is why Jenny can’t make great oatmeal the way you can–you’ve given her the wrong proportions?

Jan @ Family Bites

My mother in law has never put gas in her car in 49 years of marriage. Gassing up the vehicles is “his” job, in her opinion, and she is very happy to let him do it. I confess that I also don’t pay the bills, clean the kitty litter, wash the cars or change any kind of filter (seriously – air conditioners have filters?). I do make the oatmeal though, and have to agree with Jenny – something crunchy is a must in my bowl.


My parents wanted me to be a self-sufficient woman, so they taught me things like how to change my car’s oil, how to pay taxes, etc. Yet, now that I’ve been married for 10 years I have forgotten how to do those things. It’s funny how a couple divides up random things in their lives!


I love steel cut oats. I have mastered the overnight method which makes the weekdays more tolerable. 2 cups oats toasted in 1 tablespoon of butter, add 6 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, turn the heat off and cover with lid. In the morning add 1 cup water and 1 cup of dairy type product (I have used milk, 1/2 and 1/2, almond milk…they all work). Slowly heat and you are done. A week’s worth of oatmeal ready to re-heat each morning as needed!


I like to use the ‘night before’ approach to McCann’s — that way I get the fresh oatmeal but it only takes 10 minutes instead of 30. Put the water and oatmeal in the pan, bring to a simmer for 1 minute then stash it on the freezing porch ’til cool, then in the fridge overnight. The next morning I finish the simmering while I make the kid’s breakfast/school lunch. Easy peasy fresh oatmeal.

And I never make coffee or cut my kid’s toenails either…


Glad we are not the only house with clearly divided lines of duty 😉
For a quick oatmeal I like to soak the oats overnight in the fridge with milk. And we always top with butter, brown sugar and milk at our house. Oatmeal is so comforting.


Have you tried Megan Gordon’s steel-cut oatmeal method (I found it posted on http://orangette.blogspot.com/)? She toasts the oats in butter before cooking them, and honest to god, it was the best bowl of oatmeal I’ve had in a long time (and I love oatmeal)!

Also, I’ve definitely done the slow-cooker steel-cut oats for weekday mornings, and they are fantastic!

Laura @ Rather Square

This is so true in our house as well. Except my husband is my daughter’s hair stylist in addition to handling the heating and cooling duties (she will only let him do her “ponies” every morning!).


Actually, I think it IS pretty hard to get oatmeal right. My husband and I have had actual disagreements about this before, as ridiculous as that sounds.


We love morning oatmeal, too, but not the time to make it. Enter the slow cooker. Overnight oatmeal that is silky, never dry or gloppy, and ready when we wake up.


I love these silly divisions of labor, every couple has them.

for me, and this is a realllyyy weird one. but I never ever ever peal/chop/press/anything with garlic. I have the ability to, I can do it very well…but every single time it’s like something is wrong with my fingers and they soak up all the garlicky smell for DAYS. doesn’t matter how much I rub them against the stainless steel or wash them in scolding hot water…they smell like garlic.

so my husband has very kindly taken the task, and he never smells like garlic!


my husband and i have had the EXACT same conversation about the thermostat. i have no clue how to use it. partially because i am uninterested but more importantly because i am terrified of the thing. my mother watched it like a hawk when we were kids and it was put in the category of her favorite scissors, the hot burners and alcohol — do not touch ever.
ps the oatmeal sounds perfect on this snowy day.
pps just for fun: http://semiweeklyeats.blogspot.com/2014/02/work-outfit-9.html


Really enjoyed this! We have them also, and these separate lanes we travel in are actually essential for showing the other we care. Our “buy in” if you will. Thanks for the visit!


I’m obsessed with making steel cut oats in my rice cooker. It is completely foolproof. Set it up at night and set the timer for breakfast time.


Andy – we would LOVE to send you a free sample of our awesome oatmeal that you and Jenny will love. Check out our website and let us know where to send all the goods. We have the toppings Jenny will love and we will make your life much happier and easier.


Another vote for overnight oatmeal. Only I toast it dry in a tall pot — stir frequently, pour in hot water, bring to a boil, cover, remove from heat, and go to bed.

In the morning, top with a little liquid of choice and cook for 10 minutes. Weekday oatmeal!

Nina Max

I love that you wrote about this! After 10 years of marriage, my brain is no longer willing to accept any information about the car. My husband probably can’t tell you whether I change the sheets weekly or annually. Delightful post.


I have the thermostat programmed so my husband is frightened to touch it. He’ll ask me to turn it up if he’s cold. We joke that I am the man in the family.


This sort of post is why I read you guys. The recipes are great, but these perfect vignettes of married life with children are the real treasure. Like the post about dinner party etiquette (aka no kids present) or the reports cards where you both admitted to crowding the pan. Yup, blogging perfection. Thank you for sharing.


saturday morning oatmeal is a tradition in our house! i love that it takes time to make, that’s what makes it so special…but personally i prefer no toppings, except a little brown sugar…can’t wait for saturday!


I’m going to refer to this the next time my partner shakes his head because I don’t know how to get to Netflix on our TV


We have been married for 31 years and we definitely still have our things that we do exclusively. That list has winnowed down quite a bit – especially after our kids have grown and gone out on their own. It is almost like a new relationship after that point. New rules 🙂


Have you tried the Trader Joe’s Quick Cook steel cut Oats? They take 5-7 minutes and taste just like regular steel cut oatmeal. Delicious. Unfortunately not the 8 yr old’s cup of tea…

A Life From Scratch

Totally follow this – we have ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ tasks in our home. I wouldn’t even remotely know how to change a filter and he wouldn’t even remotely know where to begin to manage the family calendar.


Just had steel cut oatmeal this morning. The secret? A nice rice cooker with a timer feature. Put ingredients in the night before, set timer for when I want to eat it in the morning, and boom – a quick stir and it’s ready to eat in the morning when I want it.


I, too, have no idea how our thermostat works. And I just avoid them in general, at work and at home. My husband is about to do some international travel for work, and these little tasks are the things that concern me the most about him leaving!

Lea @GourmetMommy

Haha, I love that. I have never taken out the trash a day in my life, but I’m pretty sure my husband thinks groceries magically appear in the fridge when it’s empty. I love steel cut oatmeal; have you ever tried making a muesli with it? Greek yogurt, uncooked oats, fruit, let it sit overnight. It’s my Tuesday oatmeal fix.


Pork Tenderloin in Bourbon Sauce, pg. 71, for dinner tonight.
Swear to God, its saving me from an unrecoverable case of SAD.

Melissa M

I also have no idea how the thermostat works, only to yell at my husband when the bill gets to high because he has never paid the bills. He also is the best breakfast maker in our house. Scrambled eggs, OATMEAL, and pancakes. He makes the most amazing pancakes, from a Bisquik box no less.

Amber FJ

What is your favorite maple cream? There are so many options online and I would love a tip! Sounds dreamy….thanks a million.


I *love* steel-cut oats! I make mine at night, divide them into three 12.5oz Weck jars, let them cool, then refrigerate overnight. In the morning, I simply reheat in the microwave and add delicious toppings. My favorite combination is honey + cayenne pepper + ginger powder + dried cranberries + walnuts (or pecans). Sometimes I do blueberries instead of the dried cranberries. (This combination = really good in plain Greek yogurt, too!) My other favorite oatmeal combination is brown sugar + strawberries + cinnamon + pecans (and sometimes a tiny drizzle of maple syrup, too). SO GOOOOOD.


I second Gwen’s comment. Toasting the oatmeal in butter makes it sublime. Nutty, toasty goodness.