Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elemental

My child eats dirt. Also wood. And sand. Small pebbles and gravel dust as well. Oh, and mulch. I don't just mean he puts it in his mouth. This kid chews and swallows.


If you walk around our apartment and look closely, chances are you'll see one of two things: bite marks or duct tape. The latter's where we've tried to cover up a favorite gnawing spot. Unfortunate revelation about this strategy: Owie eats duct tape, too.

The nadir of my life as a parent of a dirt-eater occurred about a month ago. I was in the early weeks of courting a new mom friend whose child, I hoped, would become Owie's first pal. I had begun to fear that the fledgling relationship was in danger due to sporadic unnecessary roughness on the part of Owie, put down for so long by his own brother that he now seemed to smell blood when in the company of the slightly younger child. But the true test of friendship would not come in the form of a poke or a push. Owie had something more ghastly in mind: a Fear Factor-esque display that would strain the mettle of all who witnessed it.


The question: How much grossing out could our new friends take before they fled from us in horror, all hope of future playdates dashed?

The scene: A nature center on a cool March day, along a paved woodland path with, naturally, a grate.*

(*Note: On to the Official Toddler Fascination Index, grates easily trump all lichen, turtles in tanks, and stuffed squirrels, as well as most playground equipment and even certain heavy machinery.)

The moms chat while the boys contentedly toddle around the grate, slipping first mulch, then pebbles through the narrow openings. They revel in the satisfying plop their treasures make as they drop into the dark puddle below. Next it's dirt they're sprinkling into the grate, and then Owie's clutching a big clump of it in his fingers. I think he's going for the grate, but instead he brings his fist up to his mouth and casually takes a bite. It is as natural as if there's a blueberry muffin nestled in his little hand. I think to myself, Don't react. He won't take another bite. He takes another bite.

"No, Owie, NO!" I hurtle to his side, brandishing crumpled, possibly used, jacket-pocket tissues. "Spit it out! PLEASE Spit It Out!"

Our new friends look on in what I can only imagine is a mixture of bewilderment and revulsion. I myself feel a bit dizzy as I realize that the bites of dirt have mixed with saliva and turned to mud in his mouth. We all watch in horror as the substance oozes from his lips, his little chin obscured by dark, thick mud. It drips down his neck and pools on his jacket. His eyes are a mixture of delight and dismay.

He dutifully spits a few times, and I splutter and wipe and try in vain to erase the troubling image from my mind: little, cherubic Owen gushing mud the way guys in the movies do blood after a blow to the jaw.

*

The doctor pronounced Owie not sick, just curious. Our friends just laughed and called again the next week. And I began to think about cravings and oozy things and the right balance of comfort, curiosity, and creativity. And I kept coming back to eggs.


Amidst fears that my child is weird or, worse, ill, there is something calming in an egg. Eggs are quiet, simple. M. F. K. Fisher said that there is nothing more private than an egg before it is cracked. They are basic, unitary, and--not unlike dirt--elemental.

Time transforms moments of crisis into mere frames in the slideshow of a childhood--pebbles tossed into a grate. On a plate full of disparate piles and dollops, eggs do the same: they bind, meld, smooth.

And so it is in the spirit of cravings, and things that ooze, and comforting things like understanding friends and the laughter that succeeds revulsion and perhaps a little fear, I bring you: The Poached Egg. I have had a bit of a craving myself lately, you see. And I am not above reveling in a good ooze, but I prefer mine golden and on toast, or, better yet, leftovers. With a proper napkin beside me for dabbing errant drops of yolk.

I like my chin clean.

*

Poached Egg on ... Anything
If the act of cooking elevates a meal, making it special, the egg allows us to do that perhaps more quickly and easily than any other food. Lunch lately has consisted of a poached egg perched atop whatever leftovers appeal. (It helps to strategically make leftovers, a.k.a. ingredients, on Sunday, as detailed here.) My favorite combo so far is detailed in the recipe below. Any combination of leftover vegetables and/or starch will do. A splash of red wine vinegar might not hurt. Or a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. And when no leftovers are present in the fridge, a golden, crisp piece of toast will never disappoint. What follows is a compilation of tips I've encountered in my continuing quest to master the art of egg poaching. If you want a great tutorial, with photos, click here.

1 tsp vinegar
pinch of salt
1 egg
leftover vegetables (optional)
leftover starch (optional)
buttered toast (optional)

Heat a pot of water almost to a boil. Ideally, your water should be several inches deep to keep the egg from sticking to the bottom. Crack your egg into a little ramekin and set it by your pot. Once the water is just beginning to simmer, salt it and pour in a splash of vinegar. Use a slotted spoon to create a little whirlpool in the almost-boiling water. Gently slide your egg into the whirlpool. Don't worry if it spreads out. The whirlpool and the vinegar will do their best to keep it mostly together. If the egg seems to be sticking to the bottom, gently nudge it back into the water after about 30 seconds of cooking. Watch your egg cook. It will take about 3 minutes. If you think it's done, pull it out and touch it. Look at the white. If it's still clear in parts, then it needs to cook longer. With a poached egg, you want to err on the side of undercooking, however, as there's nothing more dissatisfying than a poached egg with a yolk that doesn't run. Sprinkle your egg lightly with salt before eating.

*

Poached Egg over Polenta and Garlicky Greens
> Serves 2-3

1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 polenta rounds (I used a store-bought roll, but you can make your own), approx. 1/2-inch thick
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
bunch of swiss chard or spinach
lemon juice (optional)

2-3 eggs for poaching (see recipe above)

Set a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and heat until the oil is very fragrant and little bubbles are starting to form. Carefully plunk polenta rounds into the pan and let them fry until a golden crust forms, 4-6 minutes on each side. (If you have a splatter screen, it will probably come in handy here.) While the polenta cooks, grate the cheese, chop the garlic cloves, and wash and chop the greens. Heat up your broiler and place a rack several inches from the broiling element. When the polenta is crusty and golden, you may drain the rounds on paper towels to get rid of excess grease, but this is optional. Next, lay the rounds on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle each one with parmesan. Broil until the cheese melts and begins to turn golden in spots. (At this point, set your egg poaching pot of water on the stove over high heat.) While the polenta is in the broiler, add a bit of olive oil to your hot saute pan if necessary, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute the garlic for 30 seconds to a minute. Lightly sprinkle in the red pepper flakes, if using. Add the chopped greens, raise the heat to medium, and cook, tossing frequently, until they are wilted but still bright in color. Remove from the heat and squeeze a lemon wedge over them, if desired. Set polenta and chard aside and move on to egg poaching (see recipe above). When the egg is ready, situate a couple of polenta rounds next to a little pile of greens on your plate. Add any other leftovers you think might go well. Gently lay your poached egg over top, sprinkle with salt and pepper, poke the yoke, and enjoy.

2 comments:

  1. I am no stranger to having children display their vile or embarrassing behaviors (proclivities?) in front of friends. And my kids really, bring it! So I find friends who have their own brand of crazy going on at home. It works.

    And now I want eggs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha, ha! Yes, I thought of your piece when I wrote this. I think all of us who live with small ones have some version of crazy going on at home. It's great fodder for writing, no?

    ReplyDelete