over easy

Can Overnight Oats Make Mornings Less Excruciating?

Oats, pre-overnight. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

I have never once in my life woken up refreshed. Every morning for the past 27 years, I have woken up (lucky) and groaned, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Regardless of how much rest I’ve gotten, regardless of how excited I am for the day ahead, the prospect of peeling my heavy carcass up and out of the sweet, gentle embrace of sleep feels, for the first five minutes at least, Sisyphean.

It doesn’t have to be this way, apparently. I’ve heard rumors, from friends, and celebrity trainers, and my former classmates involved in fitness pyramid schemes, that it is possible to wake up feeling energized and raring to go. Are they telling the truth? I hope so. I would love to bound out of bed in the morning, instead of slithering to the floor, bleary-eyed, hissing angrily at anyone who dares approach me. Being, however, unwilling to go on any of the cleanses or detoxes which often seem to be prerequisites for such early morning refreshment, I had to find some other potential motivator, something delicious to coax me into wakefulness, that would also require zero assembly in the morning. I decided to try overnight oats.

My first experience with overnight oats was three years ago, when I was staying at a friend’s house for a few days. She made batches for us each night, throwing together oatmeal, almond milk, greek yogurt, bananas, and blueberries in bowls, and then covering them and putting them in the fridge. The whole process took about five minutes, and in the mornings, even through my dense fog of sleep, I could tell that the oat mixture was creamy and sweet, but not cloyingly so — a soft, cozy blanket of texture and flavor to ease you into the day. I thought my friend was a genius and I tried my best to tell her so, grumbling praise in her general direction.

Since then, overnight oats have become a wellness staple — they’re easy, nutritious, and generally come in camera-friendly mason jars. Even Wellness Empress Gwyneth Paltrow included a recipe for them in her cookbook, It’s All Easy (though hers don’t actually sound that easy). Currently, there are over 586,000 #overnightoats posts on Instagram, many of which include captions about starting 2019 off right. I too wanted to start 2019 off right.

Part of the appeal of overnight oats is that there are, conservatively, 8 million possible toppings. For my toppings, I decided to try the overnight oats with coconut, dates, almonds, and honey from Claire Saffitz at Bon Appetit, because it seemed like it would taste kind of like a breakfast cake (very appealing).

The first step, for me, to get cute little jars to contain the oats. This isn’t technically necessary, and as you’ll see if you scroll through some of the 586,000 #overnightoats posts, tupperware also works just fine. But I wanted to start my 2019 off right with photogenic jars that I would, in all likelihood, use three more times and then never again. I found some at the convenience store up the street from me, in an aisle next to the nail polish, and across from the underwear.

The date mixture. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

At home, I started by making Bon Appetit’s base overnight oat mixture first, pouring a cup of rolled oats, two tablespoons of flaxseeds, ½ cup of plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, and 1 ¼ cups of almond milk. While that sat, I pitted and chopped four Medjool dates, which was a rather sticky process, cut up roughly ⅓ cup of raw almonds, and then mixed them in a bowl with two tablespoons of melted coconut oil, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup of honey, and dried coconut flakes. I was wary of how the apple cider vinegar would interact with the other ingredients, but when I tasted it, I found it gave the sweet toppings a pleasant zip.

I poured the regular overnight oats into my four cute, newly acquired jars, spooned some whole milk yogurt into the middle of each, and then topped it with the dates and coconut mixture, screwed them shut, and put them in the fridge. Altogether, the whole process only took about 15 minutes, and then five more minutes for me to take pictures and let people know I’m starting 2019 off right.

The next morning, even thought I knew a delicious breakfast awaited me, I spent the first several minutes after my alarm went off wondering about the logistics of renting a remote cabin where I could go sleep for three months, uninterrupted. Concluding that it would probably be too expensive, and impossible get the time off work, I slid into the kitchen and grabbed one of the jars. Saffitz recommends warming the oatmeal before serving, but I forgot this time, so I just ate it cold. Even cold, it was hearty and comforting, sweet and smooth, and the crunch of the coconut and the almond prevented me from feeling like I was feeding myself baby food. The next morning, I still wanted to dissolve into dust when I woke up, but I remembered to heat the oatmeal this time (one minute in the microwave), and it was even better. The heat elevated the flavor of the honey and the vinegar, and gave the oatmeal more complexity, which I was somewhat able to appreciate as I scrolled through emails.

The next couple of mornings were much the same. Maybe I’ll never wake up refreshed, and surfacing from sleep will always feel like pulling a tooth. But having something filling and tasty to grab in the morning that requires zero effort makes the whole process significantly more pleasant, and when I can finally retire to my remote cabin to sleep for several months, I will bring with me the makings of overnight oats, for whenever I finally wake up.

My Report Card
Preparation: A+
Taste: A
Mornings: B+

My Overall Performance: A-

Can Overnight Oats Make Mornings Less Excruciating?