Not enough people in America are stirring hot sauce into their oatmeal. I'd wager to say that’s simply because it's never occurred to them to do so. Hot sauce is almost universally beloved by right-thinking humans, and oatmeal is a glorious tabula rasa for savory, funky, or spicy condiments. But brown sugar, syrup, honey, and the like have a psychological stranglehold on the morning meal in a way that's never quite sat right with me (I mean that physically—I'm toast if I sugar-load early in the day). So, for most of my life, I just assumed I didn’t like oatmeal

Then one fateful, frigid autumn day, I tucked into a bowl of shrimp and grits—pretty much my favorite dish on the planet—that I’d made with a simple recipe including butter, lemon, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. (That’s my go-to, but if Sriracha, Cholula, Louisiana (a.k.a. Red Dot), Crystal, or Frank’s is on the table, I’m surely not complaining.) It was so damned soul-stirring that I woke the next morning craving that same burn. My guests and I had scarfed up every last bit of the grits, but there was an unopened tin of quick Irish oatmeal on the top of the fridge, bought ages before in a fit of healthy ambition. Might as well try it.

Luckily for me, the contents were still good and shockingly bug-free (seriously, does this happen to other people, the whole grain weevil thing?), and the light capsaicin rush from the hot sauce was exactly what I needed to shove me out into the chilly, gray day. Honestly, in the bleak, dark months, as seasonal affective disorder sinks in and glues my bones to the bed, it’s indescribably important to have an opposing force yanking me away from it. 

When warm, hearty, whole oats meet the sting of pepper, something magic happens: a short shock of hope at the start of the day. I’m not expecting that my server is going to plop down a sauce caddy alongside the syrup jug and butter pats the next time I order oatmeal in a diner, but I can dream—and wake up happy when I do.

A few more savory oatmeal combos I’ve enjoyed:

Cacio e Pepe Oatmeal
Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, salt, tons of black pepper, butter

Korean-ish Oatmeal
Gochujang, fish sauce

Thanksgiving Oatmeal
Bell’s poultry seasoning, butter, fresh herbs if you have ’em

Curry Oatmeal
Your favorite curry powder blend, ghee

Barbecue Oatmeal
Sauce or rub, chopped leftover meat

Hot and Sweet Oatmeal
Maple syrup, hot sauce

Caesar Oatmeal
Pour some Caesar dressing up in there. No one is stopping you.