It's egg-sactly time for Easter and, in case you couldn't tell from my bad word play, a perfect time to reconsider that in the food realm which is as overlooked as it is underplayed — the egg.
In this case — and that's how they order them at Whistler restos known for their brekkies, like Southside Diner where weekly they go through six cases of 15 dozen per case — I think it's the egg's wonderfully unassuming simplicity and commonalty that is its downfall.
To start, consider its simple, beautiful ovoid shape. I once spent an entire three-hour drawing class — one of the best three hours I've spent — using a crow quill pen and ink to render a single egg in pointillism. That's the technique where you use dots or "points" to draw.
Ink is often used today, but Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, who originated pointillism, put the full spectrum of colour to good use in their wonderful oil paintings. The point, ahem, is that you never draw or paint anything as harsh as a line, perfect for rendering an egg.
Next time you crack open an egg on the edge of your frying pan — so easy! it must be so fragile! — also consider this: The endless arch that makes up the shell's shape is a paradigm of strength.
Check out the web. A lot of fun and, I say this endearingly, nerdy science sites guide you through experiments with eggshells that prove their strength. For instance, carefully breaking the shells in half and using them to support a stack of magazines you weigh when done.
More to the point, the strength — and beauty — of the arch has been applied for centuries in bridges, aqueducts, churches and more. In fact, the dome of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, is based on a half eggshell, lengthwise.
If we were all still farmers living off the land like the world's population used to before it urbanized, we'd see eggs in a whole new light besides the fluorescent glare of the grocery store.
For one, did you know that at the most optimal time, as in, when the chickens are in their prime and it's summer when the sun is a-shinin', a conventional chicken will produce about an egg a day? And, sorry, boys, they don't need a rooster to do it.
"It's a funny thing, isn't it?" says Jennie Helmer at Helmers' Organic Farm in Pemberton. "It's the same as us [women] releasing an egg a month, really, except they release an egg a day in their fertile years, which starts around six months and goes on as long as they're alive...And they don't have to get fertilized."
As for that lifespan, conventional chickens in a factory egg farm are usually killed when they are just under a year, at the end of their peak production time. But the Helmers, who raise heritage breeds like Chanteclers (also bred by Delaney Zayak and Alisha Dick at Ice Cap Organics), have had them live seven years.
Throughout that lifetime, it's how the chicken is raised and what they eat that makes a good egg. Yes, the breed counts, to a point. But as Jennie and Sarah McMillan at Pemberton's Rootdown Organics both point out, it's chickens scratching around on the ground eating "insects and green stuff" that makes for a nice deep yellow yolk that stands up, and an equally firm white (the clear stuff around the yolk, more technically known as albumen).
Beware old eggs: you'll know right away for the yolks and whites will be runny like water. And don't be fooled by commercial egg tricks-of-the-trade, like adding "nature-identical" carotenoids (found in plants) such as apo-ester and canthaxanthin to feed to make the yolks yellower, without the best practices that back up the optics.
As for eggs raised from scratch, so to speak, other than local farmers' markets, where you'll find Rootdown eggs this summer, no one in Pemberton sells eggs commercially because it's a tough go. Most people resist paying $6 a dozen — which barely covers costs for ground-scratching chickens — when they can grab a dozen on sale for $1.99 at a big box store.
But what do you get for your two bucks?
Not exactly the beauty of a farm-fresh egg simply done up like this: "I think my favourite way is poaching," says Sarah. "I love — love — a runny yolk! If you can pop an egg in your mouth and bite it, and get that spurt of yolk through your mouth, I love that so much."
Here's a tip from Sarah: you can poach a perfect egg, as above, without a fancy-pants egg poacher. Just get a medium-sized pot, fill it as full as you can with water, bring it to a rolling boil and drop in your good eggs for two minutes. That's it. A good, firm fresh egg will hang together without its shell, and a bigger pot means the whites won't mix.
Jennie takes hers simple, too: soft-boiled at two and a half minutes is perfect, with the egg in the pot of water from the start.
But if you're like most Whistlerites, chances are you often take your eggs at a place like the aforementioned Southside Diner, where they figure that sous chef Charles "Chucky" Cadrin-Ouzilleau has cracked 600,000 eggs in his six years of doing breakfasts. They're going to buy him a T-shirt when he hits a million.
There the B.E.L.T.C.H is the top egg seller, a fried egg sandwich with cheese, bacon, ham, lettuce and tomato.
Over at the Wild Wood Restaurant, where they go through 1,500–2,000 eggs a week, the classic is the No. 1 choice: two eggs any style with a side of bacon or the like, as you like.
It strikes me as grand that both restaurants serve breakfast dishes until nearly suppertime — only at Whistler, you say, where all that partying needs a next-day mop-up.
"Absolutely!" says Wild Wood's head chef Cameron Hill. "That's why on Sundays we've got a big line-up and everyone is wearing their glasses, hung over, drinking their Caesars."
Or just cut to the chase at Southside and order The Sketcher — a triple Caesar with a hard-boiled egg, slice of bacon and piece of white toast on the side. According to the menu note, it's great for hangovers, says Les, as he gets them all the time.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who loves eggs for supper.
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