An eggs-cellent journey

I love eggs. I cannot remember the first time, at what age, who first fed me and in what way it was cooked; all I know for sure is that by itself, and depending on how it is prepared (there are maybe more than a dozen ways), eggs can be some really nice kind of wonderful, and that folded into sauces and soup, cake batter and cookie dough, something delicious happens.

Growing up in our home on Bonifacio St., I remember very clearly the daily breakfast scene — the round table with the white Lazy Susan, the checkered table napkins and on them, our vitamins for the day, the wrought iron stand in one corner that held all sorts of food stuff — tins of biscuits, bowls of fresh fruits, trays of vitamins and supplements. For breakfast, we always used melamine plates in a pretty retro design that could very well belong now in a series like Mad Men (hi, Don Draper!) and (I wonder who still uses them now) eggcups.

You know, those little footed vessels that held the lowly egg royally, as though it were some princess. Our eggcup was a beige color, I’m not sure anymore if they had little blue flowers painted on them, but we had them for a long time. Knowing my mom, unless they all broke and got lost during the great flood of 1991, they are probably still there in storage somewhere. The eggs that sat on them could be hard or soft-boiled, all we had to do was tell Manang Kessin (the cook) how we wanted it. I found it bland at first, truth be told, a bit too runny for my taste, until I saw my sister Caren’s yaya, Yaya Ning, empty out the egg from its shell onto a mound of white rice. With a flourish she would sprinkle the top with rock salt and suddenly, the taste shifted from just okay to delicious. There you go. I was hooked.

Through the years many versions of this experience would find a way into my meals. Eggs were delicious mashed and then mixed with mayonnaise, stuffed in between slices of white bread. Someone taught me to add a bit of fresh tomatoes and mustard to that mix and it works wonderfully, too. Daddy would come home from tennis games, a balut vendor in tow, and we would sit by the steps of the front door with the drivers and our playmates, sipping the broth from the freshly-cracked shell of the balut, again sprinkled with salt. I would be fascinated at the way these eggs were handled — like babies in a basket, Moses-like, kept warm and swaddled in folds and layers of white cloth made of cotton. They were treated like jewels. I liked it until I found out what else was lurking innocently in there and I pretty much just shifted to penoy. At least that one is all just pure egg.

I learned to eat and genuinely like the taste of eggplant because of eggs. I saw Tita Naida in Cebu once slice the purple vegetable, dipping the same in beaten eggs seasoned with salt, and then frying the lot. Eaten hot from the pan it was lovely — musky and nice and simple. When Lola Apyang, our father’s nanny, watched over us when our parents were away on short trips to either Cebu or Manila she would allow us to endlessly eat Maggi noodles if that is what we wanted. She was very indulgent that way. She was always feeding us, and did not question what we wanted. As long as we ate and exhibited a good appetite, Lola Apyang was happy. So it was Maggi this and Maggi that a lot of times — on rice, by itself, and yes, with an egg dropped into the very hot broth. She was already fortifying even when that was not the norm.

Of late, I’ve happily found yet another way to enjoy eggs — this time, the maalat one. Instead of the de rigueur tomatoes and onions and native vinegar, my husband — he who adores going to the grocery or the deli and who, from trips to faraway places, brings home bottles of oils and vinegars and maple syrup — taught me to drizzle some balsamic glaze over the halved oval. It is an interesting way to enjoy it, with rice and tuyo, or by itself with crackers and toast.

Eggs are so ordinary. And I cannot tell you why they can be so magical. Maybe it is the way its taste reminds me of a cozy home, or how in the deepest corners of my heart I hold sacred the memory of Lola Carmen feeding me torn pieces of bread that had been soaked in gently poached eggs, its center freshly pricked with a fork to allow the golden liquid to flow freely. Maybe it is the delicate and perfect oval of the thin shell, the same one that, for all its fragility, wickedly never breaks if you press it from both ends of the long side. Perhaps it is the taste, velvety and smooth. I really cannot say for sure. I just know it is what it is, and maybe somebody out there who loves them as much as I do will understand exactly what I mean.

My pleasure in them is subtle, and constant. I can be passionate about describing other sophisticated dishes but my relationship with eggs is one of those quiet, constant ones — like a friend you keep till you are both 85, sitting on rocking chairs and crocheting the prettiest things for your children’s children. Whether they come to me straight from the pan or scrambled gently with milk until it is delightfully squiggly, whether it is layered upon other delightful things and called such names as eggs Benedict or egg en cocote, they always please me. I never want to change my mind about that.

 

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