Sunday, November 26, 2006

Eating. eggs.

As a beginning photography student at my high school, one of my first assignments was to photograph eggs. You could use any background, as long as it was white, and any prop, as long as it was clear or white. Sounds impossible, right? White on white. But it was a lesson in creating contrast with light and shadow, with taking something as basic and simple as a white egg, and making it the focus of your picture. I still have one of the photographs from that assignment, an arrangement of eggs and clear blown-glass cognac glasses against a checked white tablecloth, all light and shadow and texture; I remember balancing the glasses and the eggs and arranging lights to cast the perfect shadow. Then I ate the eggs.

I love a boiled egg, either hard-boiled, peeled and eaten with a sprinkling of salt, or soft-boiled until the yolk is still bright and liquid, perfect for dipping your toast. In Patricia Wentworth's mysteries, Miss Silver is always telling horror-stricken young women to sit down and have some tea and toast, and perhaps a boiled egg. I love the smooth hardness of the shell in my hand, the way it cracks and peels away to reveal the firm white beneath, the yolk hidden within. I used to feed the yolks to my dog, who loved them, too, mashed up and sprinkled over her food. Julia Child taught me to place the eggs in a saucepan with cold water to cover, bring to a boil, and then take them off the heat, covered, so they wouldn't overcook, and to peel them under cold running water if the shell stuck stubbornly to the white.

There are, of course, many things you can do with a boiled egg. When I was old enough to stay home while my parents went out to dinner I would make egg-and-pasta salad, spicy with curry or fragrant with dill. Or my mother would make tea-cooked eggs, boiled eggs whose shells were cracked and then simmered in tea seasoned with soy sauce and star anise. The whites take on the look of veined marble, or that effect called craqueleure, the tea and soy sauce staining the eggs a darker color where the shell had cracked. They are a little salty and smoky and fragrant; I would eat them for breakfast, or with rice and sliced tofu for lunch.

At the small supermarket near my parents' home they sell deviled eggs, nestled in a plastic dish with shallow indentations to hold each egg securely, like those plates they sell for broiling escargot. The egg yolks are mashed with mayonnaise and perhaps a touch of mustard, piped into the hollow white halves with a flourish, and dusted with paprika. Today I cannot resist them, and when I eat them I think about that party I went to, ages ago, when R. topped each deviled egg with a dollop of caviar. The egg is a simple thing that with just a little something - a little butter, some caviar, or perhaps a few shavings of white or black truffle - can be made into something luxurious.

But what I love is just a boiled egg, perhaps with a sprinkling of salt, because I love things that are plain - bread, eggs, a bowl of rice. The taste of them, alone, without anything else to overwhelm or overshadow them. Just perfection.

1 comment:

Juanita J. Sanchez said...

Simplicity, perfection, truth. I wish I had your gift of appreciation for the fine details in everyday life, lifting the mundane and transforming it into art. You are amazing.