Amuse-bouche: Living on a shell-tered diet

February 24, 2011

Today’s kitchen kingpins really bust their thesauruses to describe eggs. In various cookbooks and TV segments, I’ve heard eggs lauded as rich, hearty, creamy, savory, decadent, delicate, firm, tender, runny, flexible, lively, interesting, versatile, vibrant, fudgy, super-loose, zesty, fatty, buttery, brothy, foamy, piquant, nutty, inspired, and spirited. Egg descriptors have even bordered on the sexual: arousing, tantalizing, voluptuous, titillating. Self-proclaimed eggophile Wylie Dufresne once told New York Magazine that he would like to rub Hollandaise sauce all over his body.

But I have never eaten an egg—or at least, not one that I can remember. I have been deathly allergic to them since I was three years old, when my dad made me zesty, super-loose scrambled eggs and I wound up curled in the fetal position on our family room couch, quietly moaning. Of course, I had also eaten an eraser off the end of a pencil that morning—as one does when one is three—so it took some aggressive parenting to convince me that eggs were the culprit, and not a writing utensil. But by lunchtime, my parents had properly conveyed to me that I could never eat eggs again.

The next 10 years taught me that eggs attack in many forms, whether they are hard boiled, whisked with buttermilk to coat fried chicken, or baked into cake. I can’t eat waffles, pancakes, cupcakes—any cake—brownies, or the thousands of varieties of cookies that you can buy or bake (with the merciful exception of Oreos, because there is nothing remotely resembling organic material in an Oreo). Ice cream is off-limits, except for poor to middling brands, as are most sauces and dressings.  Luckily, bread rarely contains eggs, and I can have dairy, because eggs are not dairy (despite the shocking number of people who believe the contrary.)

What to make of this? Many react with pity when they learn that I have never eaten a slice of my own birthday cake. These people, who have Norman Rockwell-eqsue memories of gorging on the remains of Santa’s cookies on Christmas morning and raw dough from Mom’s mixing bowl, assume that my allergy made my childhood very sad. Not so. Aside from that time I threw up at a Girl Scout meeting after eating a banana-flavored Laffy Taffy—that one was a real surprise—I never felt that I was missing out.

Eggs are just a cultural and culinary blind spot to me. I never got into Friends, I have never played Farmville, and I have never had a brownie—but my life has never felt empty as a result. The deepest thought I have ever had about the absence of eggs in my life is this: people cannot tell you what food tastes like.

I mean that. There is a well-worn arsenal of codewords that foodies use to tell one another whether or not they liked what they ate, and it is ridiculous. The bread at the new bakery—is it airy, with an open crumb? Are the grains in this risotto discrete, yet part of a coherent dish? Really, it doesn’t matter. The secret language that gourmands use to describe a great meal is less about communicating taste than telling you—and reminding themselves—that they loved their meal. They can talk for hundreds of words, and often they will, but you will never have eaten that meal with them.  They may as well tell you that those snow crabs were awesome. It makes no difference.

Every once in a while, a kind soul will try to tell me what eggs taste like, but I know better. Eggs have schooled me in postmodernism. I know exactly how to tell you what a superb scrambled egg tastes like. But real scrambled eggs, the kind that my dad makes on Sunday mornings—I will never know what those taste like. No one can ever adequately recreate the experience of eating an egg for my understanding. No matter how explicitly Wylie Dufresne describes his sexual fantasies to the press.

Bake Molly some eggless, “special” brownies at mredden@georgetownvoice.com


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