Saturday, 9 February 2013

Dear Jeffrey Eugenides (1960 - ),

"In bed on a Friday night, wearing sweatpants, her hair tied back, her glasses smudged, and eating peanut butter from the jar, Madeleine was in a state of extreme solitude."
-- The Marriage Plot

When you write a novel about English majors who spend their Friday nights reading, it's probably going to appeal to English majors. In particular, it will appeal to English majors who spend their Friday nights playing hooky from their required reading. Thus I came to "The Marriage Plot". I read it guiltily one night, my eyes scanning defensively over the pages, my pile of thesis books looming judgementally in the corner of my vision. It helped, though, that the main character Madeleine, with her distracted, absorbed slovenliness, was very relatable for me. Why is that? Well, she lies around reading books, mainly, and doesn't make any effort to look good doing it.

She has the excuse of a recent break-up: I do not.

But I maintain that, emotional trauma or none, Friday nights are the time for smudged glasses and sweatpants, and eating things out of jars. But not just Friday nights, oh no. Anytime when I have my nose in a book is jar-eating territory. Especially when I have piles of thesis books to read, the thought of eating something that isn't ready-made and close to baby food is far too much effort. When I enter the fug of fiction familiar to literary scholars, what I want of food is this:

a) it has to be easy
b) it needs to be relatively healthy, since it's acting as brain food
c) it must be easy to consume while distracted
d) preferably, it should taste like a chocolate thickshake.

After much experimentation, I have stumbled upon the perfect foodstuff to tick all the boxes.

What? I hear you ask. A healthy chocolate thickshake? Yes, I tell no lies. It tastes, hand on heart, like a sinful slop of ice-cream and chocolate syrup, but contains mainly the ingredients you would use to make a hearty bowl of porridge. A postgraduate student's dream.

The secret is whole oats, which bulk up the shake and give it thickness, and frozen bananas, which make it chilled and creamy. Add some cocoa, milk, and peanut butter, and you've got an indulgent, chocolatey thickshake with actual nutritional benefit. If I'm feeling particularly hungry, I add some yoghurt; and if I'm particularly thesis-stressed, a shot of energising espresso.

I don't mean to pull Madeleine from her jar of peanut butter - we all know the primitive pleasure of scraping a jar. But there's something to be said for pulling away from the books for long enough to add chocolate.

Madeleine's Oaty Brain-Booster

Serves two as a snack; or one as a whole breakfast

1/4C oats (the real kind, not instant porridge oats)
1C milk
1 banana
1 tsp smooth peanut butter, heaped
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2C thin yoghurt, optional
Shot of espresso, optional


The night before you want to drink your brain-booster, soak the oats in the milk and store in the fridge. Peel and roughly break up the banana, and freeze it. (I keep a bag of frozen banana chunks in the freezer permanently for just this purpose.) If you don't have the foresight to do any of this the night before, it doesn't matter too much - your drink will just be slightly thinner and maybe a bit grainy if the oats aren't soft enough to blend well. Still tastes good.

When you're ready to drink, combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend away. Serve in a tall glass or empty peanut butter jar.

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