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.