Thursday, May 25, 2006

Deviled Eggs Done Properly

It’s been over a month now, but one day, I came home and found a note on my door. My neighbor – I don’t know her well, but I do like her with her Caribbean accent and friendly demeanor – needed help with a recipe. Since a majority of my interactions with her have involved dropping off treats for holidays, she thought I might be able to help.

I changed into casual clothes and wandered over, wondering what we were going to make. She’d been to a church potluck, she informed me, and had deviled eggs for the first time. They’d never made them in her family for whatever reason, but she liked them. Did I know how to prepare such a treat?

“Of course!” I said with a smile, relieved I could be of assistance without consulting google. “It’s not even difficult – just going through several steps.”

I frowned thoughtfully and started to list ingredients. “We’ll need eggs, of course. Mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar. Paprika. What else?” I paused to consider, picturing Mom’s kitchen – just before Easter – at home. “I think that’s it.”

She put a carton of eggs on the counter, and went to gather the rest of our needed items.

“When did you buy your eggs?” I asked, picking them up to make sure none were stuck to the carton. Does anyone else do that? Stand in front of the refrigerated section, open your prospective eggs and nudge each one to make sure they’re not broken or stuck in their Styrofoam nests? My mom does it, so I do too.

I frowned when she told me they were new. “Is that bad?” She asked, noting my expression.

“No. My mom says it’s harder to get the shells off if they’re fresh. We try to use older eggs for hard boiling. But fresh ones will work.” I soothed. “We’ll be fine.”

But I couldn’t stifle a gasp when I noted her ingredients. “Oh, dear.” I said, looking them over. “Um…OK. My mom uses yellow mustard, not Dijon. And this balsamic vinegar is very nice, but it should be white. The big jug you also use to clean your coffee pot? That kind. The mayonnaise is fine though.”

“I don’t have a big jug of vinegar,” she told me in her beautiful voice, “and we like spicy mustard, so I don’t buy the regular kind.”

I sighed, twisted my mouth and thought. This just wasn’t right. I briefly considered – seriously – walking next door and retrieving my vinegar from under the sink (the special vinegars are kept over the stove with the spices, but the white vinegar is stored separately. Like my mom does.), and grabbing my yellow mustard from its perch on the door next to the spicy variety. I too enjoy the more expensive items we rarely used in my childhood, but you need the standard stuff too! Especially for deviled eggs!

I scolded myself for being rigid and forced a smile. “This’ll be good.” I said firmly, trying to convince myself. “Just so you know that I’d normally make them with white vinegar and yellow mustard.”

She patted my shoulder and found a pot I requested. We carefully placed the fresh eggs therein, covered them with cold water (“Something about minerals in the hot water pipes.” I told her with a shrug. “My mom always starts with cold water.”), waited for a rolling boil, then covered them and waited. We had glasses of sweet tea and I smiled sincerely and nodded when she asked if I wanted to see the nursery she was preparing. The baby is due next month. I still need to find an appropriate gift.

I touched all the pretty furniture, covered in padding and pretty pastels. “A little girl?” I asked wistfully, picking up one of the soft cloth dolls. I thought briefly of the two extra bedrooms in my house that I rarely use. Accustomed to a one bedroom apartment, I tend to find myself in the living room or master bedroom. The office is rarely used apart from Chienne's daily napping tour, and I closed the door to the guest room since I never use it. Either one could be used as a nursery had my life turned out differently, I pouted, feeling sorry for myself.

After the required egg cooking time (plus a little extra because I know that the very old, very young and those who are reproducing shouldn’t eat undercooked food), we placed the pot in the sink, removed the lid, and ran cold water over the eggs.

“Can we turn off the water now?” Julie asked after a moment, smiling sweetly when I frowned once again. I sheepishly acknowledged I was being weird and she laughed easily.

“I don’t know.” I mused. “I leave it running for a while.” She nodded understandingly when I said, “That’s how my mom does it.”

Cognizant of saving water, I slowed the flow to just a trickle. After the eggs felt cool to the touch, I showed her how to roll them on the counter to crack the shell.

“See how it’s sticking?” I showed her the egg I had rolled and she frowned over it. “Older eggs don’t do that. They’re more ready to let go of their shells. The new eggs cling.” So we nudged carefully with our fingertips as we took turns under the cool water. Some of the whites tore off with the shell when someone (fine. It was me.) got too impatient. But we eventually looked at the smooth white orbs settled on a paper towel. A few of mine were a bit marred, but I have a different analogy for patience or my lack thereof.

Carefully cutting them in half, I was pleased to see the yolks were all the way cooked – no dark gummy spots mixed with the bright, crumbly texture. She tried to get hers out with a spoon, but I told her that it was easier to get them out with your fingers. Deform the white just a bit, then gently pull the edge of the yolk so it dropped easily into a bowl.

“Mom taught me.” I said softly, focused on removing the yellow from the white. I glanced over to see Julie concentrating as well, abandoning her spoon to mimic my mother’s method.

We added the mayonnaise first, then I let her squirt in the brownish speckled mustard, wincing a bit because it should have been bright yellow. The balsamic vinegar turned the mixture even more brownish and my nose wrinkled further. Stirring and mashing happily, Julie presented it for my inspection. I giggled with her, and nodded approvingly. She was pleased with it, and that was the most important.

“Taste.” I told her. “It might need salt.” So she tried, pronounced it perfect, and allowed me to lightly sprinkle salt over the whites before we carefully refilled the cavities. This is my favorite part, and I allowed myself a thought about education. Taking the raw material, adding some extra ingredients, then mashing and stirring it almost beyond recognition before dumping the new material back in. I sighed. No wonder grad school was so painful – all that mashing. Then I smiled fondly at myself because as a whole, this little outing left me feeling a bit freakish. The need to note Mom's instruction, wishing over a child I'm far from having, a silly analogy over egg filling.

We each sat to have an egg since there were three that wouldn’t fit in her container.

“Very good.” I told her, and her husband was similarly pleased. I came home shortly after, and murmured in my head along the way.

“Very good…but wrong. The taste was at the same time more mellow and more sharp than it should have been. The flavors weren’t those I loved. And we can’t even discuss the color – a yellow muddled with brown rather than the bright sunny color as is clearly more appropriate." I was sadly shaking my head when I gasped. We forgot paprika! I smiled and dropped the hand I had pressed to my lips in dismay, acknowledging that I was being overly dramatic.

So what’s the analogy? Why the long story? If you were around for the red velvet cake story, you should have predicted this was going somewhere, right? It’s the answer to Maggie May’s long ago comment. Why I want to have children. Why I’m pretty sure I’ll be a mother even as I fret over finding a man to love. I am, after all, resourceful and driven. If I decide I’m having a child, I’m quite sure I’ll have one. Eventually. Not yet.

But as to why I know I want one? How I’m pretty sure I’ll do reasonably well at the task of mothering? It's hard to explain, even to myself. After holding the Little One for the very first time – feeling more loving than uncomfortable holding such a small person for the very first time at age 25 – I was sure. When I feel overwhelmed with pride and happiness and hope as I look at her, sing songs, read books – I just know somehow. And my feeling is that it’s a lot like the darn eggs.

It feels right. I’ve seen it done by women I love beyond description. Paid attention when I was taught. I know I should give more than I take. I don’t make people feel badly unless sorely provoked. I find something I like about it. I love children. I want one or two of my own. I smile and say good morning to strangers. I frown disapprovingly at people who enter elevators before the occupants have exited. I know I’m to use yellow mustard and white vinegar, because that’s how we make deviled eggs. It just feels right for some reason.


CharlieAmra said...

I looooooove deviled eggs. . .especially done properly!

post-doc said...

Likewise, Charlie. Even done differently, they're quite good. But yes, properly is always better. :)

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