Theres something about food that brings me back, immediately, to the necessary sensualities of life. The smell of fresh fennel as I slice it for a salad? It releases me from thinking about those bills I should pay or the emails I want to answer. The crunch of the crust of the brownies I just baked? If I stop to listen, that sound (crunch, then a soft thud) becomes the entire world for a moment. Food helps me to be alive.
Still, even I need a break. After all, I write about food, think about food, talk about food with the Chef, and most of all I eat food. He feeds me, well. If you added up all the words I spoke or wrote all day, Im sure that at least 50% of them would have to do with food.
The spring sunlight was flying through the windowpane. And even though I always have more work to do, I decided to do something I havent been able to do in months.
I read a book, on the couch, in the afternoon.
When I was a kid, I could sit on the couch, my legs tucked under me, and read one book after another, like a bowl of Tootsie rolls slowly disappearing. One night, after I was supposed to go to bed, I waited until my parents had checked on me on their way to bed, and then I pulled out my book. In order to read the biography of Helen Keller I wanted to devour, I had to lean out of my bed and twist my neck toward the little lamp in the hallway. With the book suspended above my head, I read the entire book in one night. Always, always, I had a stack of books next to my bed.
But these days, I dont read nearly as prodigiously as I did when I was a kid. I love words and stories just as much as I always did. Its just that I dont have the time for indolent afternoons, my feet dangling over the arm of the couch, my arm stretched out toward the coffee cup. This the best year of my life hasnt brought much nothing-doing time.
Still, I am inspired by my fellow writers. We need to read. The copy-edited version of my manuscript is coming back to me soon, and then Ill be buried in my own words again. I wanted to sink into the warm waters of someone elses vision of the world.
Too bad I couldnt swim in it for long. Sprawled on the couch, I reached for the book I had found at the library the day before: Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine. (I cant seem to stray too far away from food.) This biography follows the life of Bernard Loiseau, the three-star chef in France who killed himself in 2003. Sad, complex story and sentences that drew me in.
But about ten pages in, I read this description:
“Place a lump of fresh butter in a pan or egg dish and let it melt that is, just enough for it to spread, and never, of course, to crackle or spit; open a very fresh egg onto a small plate or saucer and slide it carefully into the pan; cook it on heat so low that the white barely turns creamy, and the yolk becomes hot but remains liquid; in a separate saucepan, melt another lump of fresh butter; remove the egg onto a lightly heated serving plate; salt it and pepper it, then very gently pour this fresh, warm butter over it.”
Fernand Point, as quoted in The Perfectionist
Forget the book. I had to cook.
Goodness knows we love our eggs around here. But Ive never been a big fan of fried eggs. Fast and crispy, greasy at the edges, and always faintly tanging of the grill they recently left, fried eggs in restaurants never made me grab my fork. A bad flu when I was sixteen made me swear off fried eggs for decades. (You dont want to know why.) And since I never ate them, I never grew good at cooking them.
This description enticed me. It seemed fussy and perfectionistic, and Im neither of those. But the afternoon was beautiful, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to try it. The Chef has been teaching me through doing knowing the right techniques makes an enormous difference in the food. Why not?
Fifteen minutes later, I still had not eaten my egg. But I had been standing by the stove, all that time, watching, fascinated. The clear of the egg had seeped into creamy whiteness. The jiggly yolk had stayed in place and grown more sunny. There were no burnt edges or greasy bits. Before me lay the archetypal image of the fried egg.
After I drizzled warm butter over the egg, I had to take a photograph. Flecked with pepper and studded with salt, this egg seemed as glamorous as any egg I have ever seen. And with one forkful in my mouth, I was convinced.
This fried egg really tasted like an egg. It was rich and full, bereft of anything else other than egg. It was, simply, the best egg I have ever eaten in my life.
The Chef sent me a message after I told him: The best egg youve ever eaten? And I didnt make it? Cry.
Oh, he will learn to make it better than I can, Im sure. But for right now, I am the egg woman.