Eggs!

My mother was a country girl who grew up on a small farm in the southwestern region of South Korea near Mokpo. My grandfather repaired bicycles and raised white sweet potatoes on the rich red soil. My mother and her friends often collected the abundant eggs scattered all over the fields from the chickens everyone in the neighborhood raised. She said that all the chickens, no matter how far they went, no matter how much they mingled with other chickens, came home at night to their own coops and families. No chicken got lost or confused or ran away to join the circus.

I’m an American city girl, but I don’t live in a big city. The downside of a not-big city is that the best of country life and the best of city life both elude you. I’m surrounded by farms, yet Chicagoans have better access to grass-fed beef. I’m surrounded by restaurants, but I can’t find dim sum. This is my way of explaining why it wasn’t until today that I finally got my hands on the kind of eggs my mother might have eaten.

Frightened Pastured Chickens In Danger eggs

Another wrinkle of a not-big city is that farmers who come here have just enough knowledge to know what sells but not quite enough knowledge to market perfectly to obsessive food-blog readers like me. My egg lady knew that putting up a sign that said “Free Range Eggs” would get attention. What she didn’t know was that a food nerd would cross-examine her. Legally, a free range chicken can be raised indoors as long as it has access to the outdoors, access that most free range chickens never use because they’re too busy with their Wii or whatever it is chickens do. So this was our conversation.

Me: Are your chickens pastured?
Egg lady: Muh? They’re free range.
Me: I mean do they, uh…run around outside ‘n stuff? [Wiggle forefinger and middle finger back and forth to emphasize my running point. Atticus Finch I am not.]
Egg lady: Oh yes. Well except at night, when they go in their coop. [Lowers voice.] See, I live near the woods.

Well that sealed it. If natural pastured chickens are great, pastured chickens in danger from woodland predators are downright awesome. How much more natural can you get than imminent death by fangs? Even my mom never ate eggs from frightened chickens. Her chickens had it good. A dozen brown Frightened Pastured Chickens In Danger eggs cost me only three dollars, a staggeringly good price for pastured eggs, especially in light of recent price hikes, not to mention the Danger.

The eggs are charming. They differ in size and shape. Some are evenly tan, some are freckled, some have spots. A few have bits of grass stuck to them or a misty white coating. I cradled one in my hand and realized that for the first time ever, I was holding an egg that had not been sanitized in a manner required by the United States Department of Agriculture, an egg that had not been transported at temperatures no higher than 45 degree Fahrenheit, an egg that had not been rinsed to remove the protective cuticle that keeps the natural pores in the eggs closed and allows for unrefrigerated storage outside the U.S. where this rinsing isn’t required, and egg that had gone through almost no processing, an egg that that had, I began to understand, come to me with little intervention, i.e., an egg that was fresh from the chicken’s butt.

Or wherever the egg comes out, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. You think it hurts?

Bulging bellies and other neighborly gifts.

Based on all the glittery holiday posts I’ve been reading, I think I’m supposed to be frying up crisp latkes, baking elaborate cookies, and constructing gingerbread houses that would make Martha Stewart gasp. I feel guilty that I haven’t. In fact, I let Thanksgiving go by without so much as a glimpse of turkey, pumpkin pie, or me in my sexy pilgrim hat. Instead I posted a photo of salt.

Squirrel glutton with hollyI can explain Thanksgiving—God canceled it. Or rather, my mom went to a church dinner that night, my bored brother fell asleep in the church basement (God wasn’t serving booze), and I stayed comfortably at home and dined on gnocchi with fried Spanish Chorizo sausage and roasted red peppers. That’s not Thanksgiving, that’s a pleasant evening in November.

The problem with the holidays is my waistline (barely visible, but it’s there somewhere). If I started gifting pinwheel cookies and peanut butter fudge weeks in advance of Christmas, my belly would inch across the state line into Wisconsin and, after I was done sampling the cheesecakes, force its jolly jiggly way into Canada. That’s a terrible gift for a neighbor. How do thin food bloggers do it? Willpower? Photoshop Svelte Me plug-in? Amphetamines? Elaborate restraint system using a cooperative family? That’s what I’d do if I had obedient family members.

“Mommy’s making truffles again. She says get the non-itchy rope this time.”

Squirrel glutton with presentBy the time I post any useful Christmas ideas, you probably won’t need it. So as weak compensation, here are two pictures of a squirrel doing exactly what I plan to do Christmas night: grab food twice the size of my head, bury my teeth in it, and let the crumbs fly. For all who celebrate, I hope you do the same. There are many starving people in the world who can’t, so for them, please donate to the Menu For Hope III campaign and maybe win a cool prize for yourself. It has been an honor to participate in something that not only helps the world’s hungry but brings back the joys of childhood again with all its greed for sparkly, shiny, awesome stuff. You know you want stuff too! Go for it! December 22 is the last day to participate.

Now take a good look at the two photographs above. Do you notice anything that seems out of place, maybe even unnatural? That’s right sharp-eyed readers—that tubby squirrel doesn’t have a visible waistline. The squirrel gut has left the country. See what happens when you start the gluttony early?

I’m so sorry, Canada. If you regift, send it to France. I still haven’t forgiven them for éclairs.

How to roast butternut squash rounds using domesticated animals you may have around the house.

Roasted butternut squash rounds

Step 1. Buy a butternut squash with a neck almost as tall as your cat. If you don’t have a cat, borrow one from a neighbor. Don’t tell them why you need the cat. Trust me.

Cat and squash

Step 2. Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Crush a garlic clove in a mortar or small bowl and pour a tablespoons of olive oil over it. Crush the garlic some more. Set aside.

Cut butternut squash

Step 3. Whack the round part off the squash and reserve for something else (or halve it, seed it, fill it with butter and brown sugar, and roast it along with the rounds). Peel the neck down to the orange flesh. If you haven’t peeled a butternut squash before, you’ll think it’s easy, then get more and more depressed when you realize it’s a lot of work. The cat cannot help you here.

Squash peels

Step 4. Cut the peeled neck into 3/4-inch thick slices. This is easier if you rock the squash as you slice through it.

Step 5. Lay the butternut squash rounds on a baking sheet and brush with the garlic oil. Flip them over and brush the other side with more oil. Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt, ground black pepper, and minced sage leaves.

Sage

Step 6. Roast 15-20 minutes or until tender. Pet the cat while you wait, maybe scritch it behind the ears. Cats like that.

Step 7. Eat the squash rounds.

Step 8. Return cat, if borrowed.

Recipe adapted from a catless version in Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville, via The Best American Recipes 2004-2005, edited by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens.