Saturday, 6 July 2013

For Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982),

"He had reached his sheep, now; it lay ruminating, its alert eyes fixed on him in case he had brought any rolled oats with him. The alleged sheep contained an oat tropic circuit; at the sight of such cereals it would scramble up convincingly and amble over."
     -- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

In Philip K. Dick's novel (best known as the inspiration for Blade Runner) the world is covered in dust after a devastating world war, and very few animals have survived. Most humans have flown off to other worlds; for those left on earth, their status in society is determined by the animals they own. But for poor Deckard, who can't afford a real animal, his troublesome robotic sheep has to suffice. It is programmed to behave like a real sheep, all the better to fool his neighbours. Hence, when he arrives with rolled oats, it 'acts' excited.

This is how I know I'm not a robot. My oat-inspired scrambling is not a programmed response. It is filtered through so many senses -- it builds through autumn, and peaks in July, and the oats prompt visions of thick, silky bowls of porridge and toasty cookies, warm from the oven and smelling vaguely of nuts. I can practically taste the cinnamon, the warmed winter fruits, I can even feel the full-belly satiety that comes only from a bowl of oats.

The only exception to this complex, sensory oat response comes on the five out of every seven winter mornings that are workdays. On those days, the oat response is simple. Wake up. Imitate consciousness. Prepare instant oats from a packet. Eat. But I swear, on those other two mornings, there is actual human brain activity involved.

So if I'm a robot, I must be very advanced. I could only be a robot of such complexity that the oat response hits all the senses. I would have to be built with a crazily complex mix of sense mechanisms, electrical impulses, and behavioural responses... oh, wait.

Perhaps it doesn't matter whether we are biological androids or some higher form of life. Perhaps I'm overthinking this. Perhaps I can just eat my damned porridge without falling deep into metaphysical / ontological / philosophical enquiry.

Because on the two mornings per week when I have time to make it properly, porridge is a sublime experience. This one combines rolled oats with apples and pecans cooked in maple syrup to form a bowl so filling, so comfortingly sweet/spicy, that I don't really care anymore what form of life I am.

Oats: sighted. Oats: consumed. Probability of oat recurrence: 100%.

Android win.

Pecan Apple Porridge

Makes 2 hearty servings

1.5C rolled oats
2C water
1C milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of salt
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/3C pecan nuts, roughly chopped
2 apples
Vanilla yoghurt and extra maple syrup, to serve


The night before you want to serve the porridge, combine the oats with 1.5 cups of water and leave to soak overnight.

In the morning, transfer the oats and soaking water to a saucepan. Add the extra half cup of water, full cup of milk, vanilla, cinnamon stick, and salt. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until thickened, but not homogenously smooth. Add extra water if needed to stop it getting dry.

While the porridge cooks, melt the butter and maple syrup together in a large saucepan. Cut the apples into wedges and throw them in the saucepan. When they begin to turn golden, add the chopped pecan nuts and cook until the apples are soft, and the nuts aromatic.

Remove the cinnamon quill from the pot and discard. Serve the porridge in deep bowls, topped with the apple & pecan mixture. Drizzle with vanilla yoghurt and extra maple syrup.

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