One in a series of essays celebrating the cooking of our fathers.
Toward the end of his life at age 69, my father asked his doctor if he could eat a dozen eggs every week. His young doctor said yes. What his doctor didn’t know is that Dad had been in love with eggs for decades, eating them for breakfast almost every morning.
Now I look at Dad’s dented one-egg poacher and decide whether to get rid of it. It’s like a toy, this miniature saucepan that fits in the palm of my hand. The coppery top has been scrubbed so often it’s almost white. It doesn’t close well. Whenever I try to poach an egg in the saucepan’s cup, the egg white sticks to the sides and bottom, no matter how much oil I spray.
Why is this small gadget so hard to dump? It sounds silly to say it’s because of the way my dad made poached eggs, but there it is. Yes, there were ordinary eggs, with yolks and whites cooked firmly, but Dad soon grew bored. He wondered what would happen if he poured scrambled eggs into that metal cup, so out came fluffy yellow balls flavored with herbs and cheese, oozing a little bit of liquid. He even tried peanut butter once, mixed into the eggs. Dad ate both, but I wouldn’t.
Yet I took the poacher out of the giveaway pile just now, because I didn’t feel ready. My father died in 1980, and growing older means getting rid of small pieces of him, a bit at a time, and I don’t have many bits. When my mother died in 2004 and my sister and I cleaned out the house, I found this tinny little thing and took it home.
The poacher reminds me that when I was growing up in the 1960s in Vancouver, Dad’s job every weekend was to make breakfast for my younger sister and me. And he took to the job with joy, because breakfast meant an encounter with his favorite food.
He allowed me to assist, but only outside the kitchen. In winter, he dispatched me to our backyard, where, slippered in the snow, I snipped chives for scrambled eggs flecked with abundant green. When the yard was bare of chives, Dad improvised with minced celery leaves.
When it came to adding meat or dairy, there were rules. Being Orthodox Jews, we could eat meat with eggs or dairy with eggs, but not both at the same time. When my father chose meat, he fried it. Some mornings, he sliced hot dogs into rounds and blistered them until black around the edges. My sister and I called the coins “penny sausages.” We waited impatiently near the stove, swept away by the scent of burning meat, and watched him pour in scrambled eggs for a salty, fatty scramble. Sometimes he fried baloney slices, burned a little around the edges, to accompany plain eggs.
When it came to dairy, abundance was his theme. Dad cubed farmer’s cheese and brined it in quart Mason jars, for a salty accompaniment to plain scrambled eggs. He made labneh, the thick and sour Arabic yogurt, in repurposed mayonnaise jars that stood over the floor radiator in the kitchen. Dad’s family was Iraqi, and he grew up eating these foods. Sometimes there was a stand-in for Arabic khubz, actually a crispy flatbread he bought at an Armenian store, along with the braided string cheese of his youth.
He was just as fond of contemporary dairy products. Plastic tubs of cottage cheese and sour cream festooned the breakfast table when he decided upon a dairy meal. There were huge square slices of yellow Muenster and bricks of white feta, which he selected in an Italian deli. Sometimes he took my sister and me on his shopping quests, to seedy neighborhoods and dank stores with strange smells and the food he craved: cheeses, sometimes the stinkier the better; olives; hard kosher salamis.
Abundance carried over to serving sizes, not always to his advantage. Dad ate with abandon and obvious enjoyment at every meal, not just breakfast. Sometimes Mum put him on a diet of boiled meats and root vegetables, only to learn he had been eating doughnuts at the office.
I tried to like everything my father made because I wanted to be like him, someone who took risks in the kitchen and felt joy in creating a meal and devouring it with gusto. But today my tastes at breakfast are mundane, and sometimes I eat quickly and dash off. I fell hard for the faddish avocado toast, but then shunned bread in favor of green smoothies. I don’t buy baloney and rarely eat hot dogs. When I want comfort food on weekends, I make a fried egg sandwich with cheese, something Dad never discovered. And I don’t make poached eggs anymore, even though I returned the poacher to its place among my saucepans. Whenever I pull out the drawer, I see that tiny poacher nestled in among big pots, and I think of Dad and smile.
Jacob is a writer, editor and coach and the author of “Will Write for Food.” She lives in Oakland, Calif.
4 large eggs
1/4 cup whole or chopped celery leaves
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
Crack the eggs into a medium bowl. Add the celery leaves, salt and pepper; beat well.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Use a spatula to push the oil around so the pan is coated evenly.
Once the oil is shimmering, pour in the egg mixture. Use the spatula to immediately push the egg mixture toward the center of the pan, then tilt the pan so the uncooked eggs run directly to open parts of the pan to cook, about 1 minute.
Use the spatula to divide the just-set eggs into 2 equal portions, then flip them over; they will be slightly browned.
Turn off the heat; let sit for 30 seconds before serving.
Nutrition | Per serving: 180 calories, 13 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 370 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar
Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions to email@example.com
More from Food: