we had nothing {and vanilla bean steel cut oats with brûléed apricots}

"We have nothing," I said. 

"But that's the best, that's seriously the best!"  My uncle laughed. We were at a backyard crazy-kids-screaming-water-everywhere pool party and this was one of the first times I had been around my extended family since I said "I do." When you go through a big change in life, like getting married, everyone wants to know how you're doing. 

"Our place is so tiny," I complained, "Like the tiniest place ever. And we only have a bed. We have no couch, no computer or desks or bookshelves or dressers, nothing. We probably wouldn't have a fridge or a stove either if the place wouldn't have come with it," I joked. 

"You don't need it! You don't need any of it." He interrupted me a few times by saying this, "Man I remember those days. We had nothing either. I mean nothing, we just had 4 walls and a mattress on the floor. We were poorer than dirt, but that was seriously one of the best times of our lives." 

He just didn't seem to get it. The lack of stuff we had seemed to be an outward expression of our bigger "problems."

After rent was paid we barely had enough every month to pay the basic bills. We had no cable, television or air conditioning. Costco cereal and Spaghetti-O's frequented our bowls like morning and evening prayers.

Born during our first few months of marriage was the world of instagram, and oh boy, did that do some major tugging on my heart strings. I found myself longing for lifestyles and furniture and clothes I never knew I wanted. What the hell is a selfie and WHY is everyone doing it? I felt slightly defeated in my tiny empty rental and beat up flats.

It took a while to muster the courage but eventually we would have a handful of loved ones over, lay out a blanket and sit picnic style in our family room sharing some pizza and good conversation. 

Not a single friend cared that we had nothing. They always complimented our home and said they "loved it here." 

Time went on and we worked really hard and started filling the empty spaces. We promised ourselves we'd only live in such a small place for a year. 

Four years have gone by and we're still here. In fact I was looking around the other day at our filled-to-the-brim-place with hanging pictures on the walls and closets bursting with nice things and I turned to John and said, "We don't need any of it." He laughed. It seemed contradictory to get rid of a few things we worked so hard for, but we found that they were just taking up space. It's amazing how little we actually use all the time, so slowly but surely we've been donating bags and bags of clothes, books, and things.

As I clear through the clutter I am taken back to the days when we had nothing... but everything... and I think I know now what my uncle was talking about. We really don't need any of it. ;) 

Steel Cut Oats with Vanilla Bean Infused Almond Milk and Brûléed Apricots 

Serves 2 generously 

Steel cut oats today because of their ability to look like "nothing" and be everything, but also for my mom.  A hot bowl of grains was always her Mother's Day breakfast request. Growing up I found it a boring food, but on special occasions mom taught me to dollop my bowl with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream and brown sugar. I remember watching the sugar pool and melt into the oats and suddenly it didn't seem like a bummer of a breakfast. Golden raisins (never regular raisins) are my moms favorite too, and something I would pick out of my bowl as a little girl, but now I can't get enough of them. I find that the apricots with the crisped burnt sugar and plump yellow raisins are a beautiful compliment to the hearty grains, nuts and flaxseeds. All of these toppings are just suggestions, please feel free to do whatever you like, but cooking the oats in almond milk steeped with the vanilla bean is a must; it makes the oats deceivingly rich and creamy with no cream, trust me mom will approve. Just two servings for this recipe as a nod to "mom and me time," hopefully well spent this weekend. xo

Special equipment: blow torch (optional) 

1 cup / 170g steel cut oats, uncooked
2 cups / 500ml unsweetened almond milk (vanilla or plain), divided
1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scrapped
1 cup / 250 ml water
2 apricots, one split in half to broil, and the other chopped into little bit sized pieces
2 tablespoons super fine sugar (regular sugar is just fine too)
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 teaspoons whole flax seeds
¼ cup / 125ml cream
small handful of chopped hazelnuts or any nuts of your choice. almonds, walnuts or pecans would be beautiful (optional)

Preheat oven to broil. 

Bring 2 cups of almond milk, 1 cup water and split vanilla bean to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the steel cut oats. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook oats (for about 20 minutes) until they are soft, but still have some bite and look creamy. You may need to add a little more almond milk as they cook so keep an eye on them and stir occasionally. 

Sprinkle apricot halves with sugar and place on foil lined cookie sheet. Broil until sugar is bubbly and brown. Watch carefully as sugar burns quickly. 

Before serving, split the porridge toppings of brown sugar, flax seeds, raisins, nuts and chopped apricots among the bowls. Finish each bowl with a drizzle of cream and top with a brûléed apricot half.

Serve hot, with more almond milk, or cows milk if desired.  

Bakers note: You can use a blow torch to caramelize and crisp the sugar on the apricots or your oven. Both work beautifully, however the oven is a little trickier and requires you to stay close by... and a blow torch is way more fun. If you haven't invested in one yet I strongly encourage you to. You'll want to sprinkle sugar on everything and burn it.