My family loved eating food closer to raw than cooked. Beef, for example, oozed with red juice, reminding my overactive imagination of blood. I could finish my meat if I smothered it with ketchup or barbeque sauce. Much worse, however, was having to devour undercooked eggs.
We lived on a farm, including chickens. I remember watching my father kill one for dinner. After twisting the hen’s neck, he placed it upright on the ground. She ran around for a few seconds, headless. I was aghast. Perhaps Freud would say it was the beginning of my negative reaction to anything chicken-related. It’s true that I hated being given a drumstick or thigh to eat. I’d close my eyes and see the animal, like a pet. So I’d tear off the white meat and mix it with mashed potatoes. Better yet, give it to me in a chicken pot pie. If it didn’t look like an animal, I was happy.
Breakfast caused me daily pain. Everyone else seemed happy with the bright orange center of a softly cooked egg. For me, one look and I’d start to gag. Touching it with a fork made it leak all over my plate, looking like an artist’s palette specializing in mixtures of orange, white, and yellow goo. The idea of putting the concoction into my stomach terrified me. Mother didn’t allow for individual requests or not finishing food placed in front of me, so I dunked toast in the mixture and tried not to throw up.
On Sunday mornings, Father cooked while the rest of us readied ourselves for church. Honoring my need for well-done food, he’d break the yolk and fry it until there was nothing runny. Its white borders turned slightly brown. Life was good.
When I moved out of our family home, I learned to prepare my own eggs: hard boiled, hard scrambled, or hard fried with a completely broken yolk. And I began to experiment with ordering eggs in restaurants, but only when dining alone, or with friends who knew my idiosyncrasies. My request was not typical:
“Okay,” I’d begin. “I’m a little odd. I’d like a fried egg, but it has to be cooked really hard. There can’t be anything runny. The yolk has to be broken. You can’t overcook it. You could step on it. That’d be O.K. But nothing runny.”
Good servers took careful notes on their pads, and usually laughed. Still, the translation between the individual who placed the order, and the kitchen staff, wasn’t always smooth. Sometimes my food would arrive with a broken yolk, but not hard. Still a little runny. I’d eat around the traces of orange or yellow and leave the rest. Then I’d go back to restaurant pancakes or cereal for a while. Ordering specially cooked eggs wasn’t working.
Omelets were even riskier, with a large potential for soft or semi-liquid centers. Yuk! And ordering eggs in another country, where the language wasn’t English? Impossible. I’d give up and go without them until I returned home.
I passed some of my oddities to my daughter. When she was six, she spent a Saturday night at her closest friend’s house. Duplicating the tradition of my youth, the father was the Sunday morning cook. When I arrived to gather Alicia, Gilbert wanted to know how to cook a “fried, scrambled egg,” my daughter’s request. Although it was started by accident, this was our household specialty. Unlike my mother, I was willing to adhere to my child’s specifications. One particular morning, however, she requested a scrambled egg. Not being known for my focused or skilled cooking, I became distracted and started to fry it instead. Midstream, realizing my mistake, I quickly tried to mix it up, and she loved it. That became her favorite, so here I was now, trying to explain how to cook a “fried, scrambled egg” to a man I barely knew.
For a while, Alicia stopped eating eggs altogether. “They’re embryos,” she’d say.
Not a good image for me.
My late-in-life solution? I’ve gone vegan, which avoids the problem. Now scrambled tofu’s my favorite morning meal. There are times, however, when I still look longingly at egg dishes in my vicinity – as long as there’s nothing runny.
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