To Scrambled Eggs
by Alexanda Bullen Coutts
Growing up outside of Boston, Sunday mornings meant pancakes. My father – the one and only chef in our family – would gussy up his flapjacks with a reliable selection of add-ins, which we were required to identify after the very first bite. Apple, banana, blueberry, pear… we each had our favorite, and would eye the kitchen counter for stray peels or a telltale absence in the architecture of a picked-over fruit basket.
I appreciate a stack of pancakes pooled in syrup as much as the next gal, but it wasn’t Sunday morning that I looked forward to the most. Saturday mornings were more my style. Saturdays were all about eggs.
Part of it may have been in the timing. Weekday breakfasts were quick and hurried, taken in turns and often standing up. Cereal, pop tarts, packaged bars and instant oatmeal were all in regular rotation. With our parents already gridlocked in early morning commuter traffic, my younger brothers and I fended for ourselves; whatever was fastest and required minimal clean up generally prevailed.
But Saturday morning heralded the beginning of a different, slower pace. Music – usually classical or bluegrass – played on the kitchen stereo, coffee gurgled in the pot, and my Dad sat quietly with a crossword puzzle at the table, waiting for the first of his pajama-clad customers to pad across the tile floor.
Saturday eggs were made to order. Occasionally they were fried and layered between English muffins, a slick of mustard and maybe a slice of cheese on top – my Dad’s answer to the “Egg McMuffin,” which I was fairly convinced he had trademarked until I met my first fast food.
But more often than not the eggs in our kitchen were scrambled. And the scrambling of the eggs was never a task taken lightly, not since my dad had been schooled in the ways of a plump, no-nonsense Greek lady: my mother’s mother, Yia-Yia.
As a child, I didn’t realize there were other ways to scramble an egg. I’d never known the dry, flat, stepchild of an omelet popular at diners. Or the fancy, herb-laced folds of pale yolks I’d later order with a mimosa at brunch. I thought all scrambled eggs were Yia-Yia’s eggs: wet, full and dotted with feta cheese, not to be enjoyed without a piece of toast and a tall glass of orange juice nearby.
The trick to Yia-Yia’s eggs was never in the ingredients. Eggs, a splash of milk and a handful of crumbled feta hardly a recipe make. The secret was the technique. I can still see Yia-Yia at the stove, in one of her billowing, printed housecoats, palming the handle of a skillet and working it slowly over the top of an electric burner. The pan was always moving, the heat low, the scrambling more of a lazy whisk, and always done with a fork.
For years, I have tried to master this technique. I have tried to angle my wrist just so, to get the heat just right. I’ve sourced the Greekest of feta, the kind that floats in liquid, the package embellished with Hellenic font. It’s in my blood, I figure. If my dad could marry in to the perfect scrambled eggs, surely I can recreate them.
Alas, and as my children never fail to remind me, my quest continues. My efforts are diner-worthy at best: dry, flat, lacking in substance and style. I’m probably too impatient, not yet able to slip into the laidback, Saturday morning rhythm that my grandmother and her studious son-in-law knew so well.
But in addition to having the market cornered on scrambled eggs, Greeks – even half-Greeks – are notoriously stubborn. And I’m not giving up yet.