An Egg Learning to Fly

Just a note on this Tuesday, September 2, 2014:  my heart breaks for all the brokenness in our global world right now--from the conflicts in the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Africa.  While we do not have control over those events (or how our governments respond), we can join together and pray to God--to Love--acknowledging that we need him in our lives and requesting healing from our own personal wounds that can cause strife in our heartland and in the heartlands of others.  This isn't a fast response but a slow one--like yeast working through dough.   Today is a Tuesday, and here is my third post regarding my thoughts on An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler.  This week, the Gent and I were able to read another (almost) chapter entitled "How to Teach an Egg to Fly."  (It was getting quite late, and three pages until the end of the chapter, I noticed the Gent's eyes were propped up with toothpicks, and so, I decided to un-prop them and call it a night.)

I'm falling in love with the thought-provoking seemingly simple chapter titles.  The first thing that came to mind upon reading the title (since I had just watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone the night before,) was an egg-like Golden Snitch, wings an all.  The second thing that came to mind was linked to the chapter's quote by C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity:  "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird:  it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg."  That second thought was this:  I was simply trying to imagine all of that happening--the egg on its own power turning into a bird and then an egg trying to fly.  Seemed like both were impossible and yet mysteriously possible somehow (I know the latter since I know both actually happen!).  Past the literal and visually stimulating thoughts, I could appreciate the underlying meaning:  some things simply take time and process.

With my feet propped up on the wall and my head up on his chest, (his head was resting on a few pillows), we began to read aloud.  As we read Ms. Adler's words, what stuck out to me perhaps had nothing to do with the text:  I needed a slower reading rate than the Gent was at so that I could imagine everything.  This chapter involved many more steps than the previous chapter "How to Boil Water."  With fondness and appreciation, Ms. Adler profoundly extrapolates various steps that would otherwise be second nature (like how to crack an egg or better yet how to check if boiled eggs are done):

"When four minutes are up I remove one egg, drop it into the ice water, crack the shell a little, peel some off, and check for doneness by pressing on the white.  I think the perfect boiled egg has a firm white and a yolk that's just cooked enough to hold together when the egg's cut in two.  If the white's not firm when I check, I leave the eggs in the water for another twenty seconds or so, then scoop them all out into the ice water and peel them.  I still call them boiled eggs, soft and hard, because though it's not what they are, it's what they're called." p 21.

But this isn't a negative critique, this very detailed prose is thoughtful and allows the reader, if she or he chooses, to reflect in order to see what steps they're missing or to realise what has become second nature and compare that to new ways of doing something, say like boiling an egg.  On this note of boiling eggs as in boiled eggs (not as in poached eggs which also involve boiling an egg), I never really ever tested my boiled eggs.  I simply would put a pot of water on to boil with the eggs in them and then wait till there was a roaring boiling session occurring and estimate about three minutes from that point onward.  Sometimes my estimation was a little low and they'd come out with yolks cooked but a little soft (my preference) or perhaps my estimation was on target (or over) and the yolks would crumble away like moist chalk when broken into.  While reading, I asked my husband to slow down so that I could imagine everything, my brain could tell this was different than details in a story where there may be an underlying literary pattern.  This was her way of boiling eggs, and I wanted to be able see it in my mind.

The two parts of the chapter that have stood out to me thus far have been (1) the appreciation that the yolks can vary depending on the time of year and (2) learning about poached eggs.

Regarding the first one, any reader following this blog is well aware that I love the eggs I buy from Eatwell Farm each week.  The yolks are neon yellow.  However, what I haven't written about is that the yolks began to change.  I noticed this a few months back, I think.  They began to be a butter yellow (now they're back to being neon yellow).  Ms Adler has this to say, "First, an egg is not an egg is not an egg.  I don't know what to call the things that are produced by hens crowded into dirty cages, their beaks snipped, tricked into laying constantly.  Whatever they are, they are only edible in the sense that we can cram anything down if we need to; their secrets merit airing, but not eating.  Eggs should be laid by chickens that have as much of a say in it as any of us about our egg laying does.  Their yolks should, depending on the time of year, range from buttercup to marigold." - p19.  This calmed my qualms about wondering why my Eatwell eggs were no longer neon.  It then made perfect sense that given the time of year, and the various food available in the seasons, that the yolks would be a different color.  The Gent remarked on this too, since I had shared my observations (and if I'm honest my worries) about the color of the yolks.  I almost wrote into my farmer Nigel, but I didn't.

Regarding the second item that stood out to me, I openly confess that I really knew nothing about poached eggs.  If I really strain my memory, I think I recall asking my mother once and hearing her say that they're eggs cooked in water.  Trying to imagine that, I think I probably was a little bewildered since I thought perhaps they'd fall apart in water.  After all, raw eggs fall all over the place, definitely sliding right out of my hands.  As a grown adult, all I knew was that Sur la Table, a Seattle-based kitchenware company, sold little latex-looking, egg-like holders to cook poached eggs.  SO, last night when the Gent read, "Poached eggs love to be drizzled with good olive oil and grated with hard cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino, then a lot of freshly cracked black pepper, and topped with fresh herbs," (p22) and introduced us both to the upcoming section on cooking poached eggs, I said in excitement, "Oh yeah, the things at Sur la Table.  We'll have to get some!" with the implication that surely that is how Ms. Adler and anyone else cooks poached eggs since there is always an air around "poached eggs" that imply difficulty.  Surely that difficulty requires tools.

But I soon saw how quickly I was perhaps--and I mean this with the best of intentions--an American.  I am an American and I see Americans as always prepping and preparing for every possible kitchen scenario (just look at Sur la Table, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, CB2, not to mention stores below and above those price-points) or prepping and preparing for every terrorist situation or natural disaster.  All that to say, I quickly saw how there were going to be no tools to aid in poaching an egg.  Only the need-to-know facts:  how to get the right water temperature (boil then bring it down to a simmer), how to slide the egg in (first break it into a cup with a sharp edge like a tea cup and then gently pour it in), when to check it (a minute and a half in), how long it usually takes to cook (about three minutes, no longer), how to dress it (salt it right away and then one way is to add olive oil, hard cheese, fresh herbs--I used Eatwell Lavender salt as my salt...there will be another entry dedicated to this special little item soon), or a tip for newbies (before adding the raw egg to the water, pour an "unmeasured teaspoon" of vinegar...I did two for good measure.)

So, this morning when I arose, and because the Gent reminded us that this chapter would be good for us since we have three dozen eggs right now, I made myself poached eggs.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will say that poached eggs will definitely be part of how we cook eggs in our household from this day forth, never mind that the water took about an hour to boil on our little electric stove!





P.S.  A further reflection on the chapter title:  an egg learning to fly (or a human being learning to be its fullest, radiant human being) requires a gentle love, playfulness, and time.