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?

In search of lost lime.

Today is Bon Appegeek’s second anniversary. I’m marking the day with a long post that has taken more than two years to write. There’s a recipe at the end. I promise.

In search of lost seedsAfter several years of on-again off-again reading, I finally started volume 4 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), entitled Sodom and Gomorrah. After you spend your life reading mostly English and American literature, French literature is a shock to the system. I should have suspected something back in junior high when every single one of Guy de Maupassant’s characters engaged in rampant adultery or random copulation, in light of which I wonder why I didn’t read more French literature. Have I mentioned the whores? It should not surprise me that Proust covers these scandalous topics and augments them with the gomorrahesque twist, a popular American dance in the fifties (I might be wrong about that).

My complaint about Proust, wonderful writer though he is, is that he often writes about fine dining but rarely describes the food. He doesn’t even include photos. Recipes? Forget it. Oh sure, he can write ten pages about his love of hawthorn flowers and twenty pages about the beauty of a church facade, but an author who has nothing to write about, say, the delectable sauce atop a succulent pheasant, won’t get read as quickly as he might. Yet many readers, botanists and architects probably, claim he was brilliant.

In search of lost leavesProust’s greatest contribution to food writing was to glorify the madeline. I read the famous passage with all due attention and was riveted by it—not because of the madeline, which I’d already baked and read about a great deal by then (food bloggers adore madelines)—but because of the unusual tea he drank with it. Nobody discusses this magical elixir. True, the tea alone didn’t trigger Proust’s epiphany, but it did dissolve the madeline and release the flavor that would catapult the shell-shaped cake into food blog stardom and forever alter literary history. You’d think the tea would get at least as much attention as Robin gets in the shadow of Batman. (Nothing about Sodom or Gomorrah implied by that Batman and Robin reference. Until this parenthetical.)

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Unplanned dinners and other hair-raising tales.

Last year, Cook’s Illustrated offered a free subscription to volunteers willing to check their local grocery stores for the availability of specific foods. This was a fantastic idea. I’m a fan of CI and have subscribed to their web site for several years, but my biggest complaint has always been the strong East coast slant. All too often, they’ve rated products that I couldn’t find or ignored ubiquitous Midwestern brands. I immediately volunteered and was selected.

Bird[Pictured: This photo has nothing to do with this post. I’m so used to posting with a photo that I can’t not post one now. The bird is either very young, very old, or very stressed. Back when my hair was short, I woke up looking like that more mornings than not. Okay, I still do.]

It started out easy. CI would occasionally e-mail a survey about specific foods and I’d happily hunt down the items and write down the information they wanted. For the first time, I looked at shelves—really looked at shelves. You miss so much when you shop on auto pilot. Did you know that there are 100 jillion different crackers, from toasts to water to wheat free? I never noticed them because they’re stored above the cheese, and when you’re looking at delicious cheese, you don’t give a moo about crackers. Did you know that there are 100 jillion different cheeses?

Lately the surveys have become difficult. CI has to prepare months in advance, so they request information on out-of-season items, information that I can’t find just by browsing. I have to talk to people; that’s embarrassing when you aren’t intending to buy. So far I’ve managed to give the impression that I’m asking for future reference…until yesterday.

Me: Excuse me, but when do you usually carry bunch spinach?
Young, eager produce guy: You want the crinkly kind?
Me: I mean, do you usually carry it just in the summ—
Young, eager produce guy: I’m sorry, we have just the flat kind out now, but there’s a big box of curly spinach in the back! It’s fresh! I’ll get it!
Me: Oh! Uh—
Young, eager produce guy: [Runs off, comes back with box] This spinach is better for you than the flat kind anyway. It has a lot more iron and minerals!

In conclusion, I’m making curly spinach paneer tonight. Thanks for the extra iron and minerals, Cook’s Illustrated. I wouldn’t have done it without you.