I recently had four weeks off between jobs. As some of you may know, I don’t idle very well, so I put serious time into thinking about how to spend my month in a mostly productive way.
I came up with some good ideas and some bad ideas. Here is an abridged list:
+ Maybe I could read a book-a-day, I thought (and explore the Glendale library system while I’m at it!).
+ Maybe I could go on a different hike each weekday morning.
+ Maybe I could mimic The Rock’s day-in, day-out schedule, down to workouts, cod consumption, inspirational messages, shaved head and selfie videos, all the while calling myself ‘Soft Rock.’
+ Or, maybe I could get better at making eggs each day (or, “Eggery Day”), in the process breaking myself out of a delicious-but-stagnant sausage-scramble rut, developing a skill, learning more about cooking and food, and giving my wife something to snack on before her many-highway’d commute (The “I Love You” part of the title).
So, I went with eggs (and not just because it held the most potential for puns).
You Can’t Spell ‘Beginning’ Without Egg… Sort Of
For four weeks spanning July and August, I tried out egg breakfasts, egg bakes, scrambles, omelettes, frittatas, quiches, poaches, and even a drink and a dessert. Using the Egg Cookbook: The Creative Farm-To-Table Guide to Cooking Fresh Eggs as my guide, I set out each weekend to the grocery store to stock up on ingredients for my ever-growing list of egg dishes. Then, each morning I’d wake up at 5:45, get the water boiling for a Chemex coffee for two, and get to work.
I regularly dirtied two large and small non-stick skillets, two cast iron skillets, and every single one of our cutting boards. Cooking for two leaves a disproportionate pile of dishes – especially when I would get fussy about taking photos and plate the eggs on multiple dishes for the right aesthetic (full disclosure: there is a 29th dish – an apple omelet – that was simply too unsightly to be included). To that end, I aimed to get the meal plated by 6:45, so I had about 30-45 minutes to prep and cook everything.
On days with baked egg dishes, I was at the mercy of the oven, unable to do anything to speed the eggs along. On days with frittatas, each new ingredient needed time to soften and brown before the next could be added. I discovered that real-world patience does not always apply to the kitchen. On days where the recipe called for poached eggs, the dish could be ready in minutes (for that reason alone, Avocado Toast with Poached Eggs is a new favorite).
Eggery Day was engrossing. Each day, I felt challenged. I grew. I made mistakes (some delicious, some ugly, some unmentionable). I spilled. I did so many dishes. Then, I did it all again the next day.
So, without further ado, the dishes.
Buy Extra Ingredients – As I got past the first 10 or so recipes, which were mostly chosen for their uniqueness, I began to notice similarities in ingredients. Potatoes, bell peppers, onions, bacon. These “insights” are hardly revelatory to anyone who’s ever eaten breakfast before. But what was handy were the few days that for whatever reason (timing, mostly) I couldn’t do the preselected recipe, I could whip together an impromptu dish because I hadn’t purchased the bare minimum my other recipes called for. Again – these aren’t insights for people who actually cook, but I come from a background of baking where one is trained to think of the recipe as a scientific formula, not creative plaything, and while I had known cooking could be more improvisational, it’s another thing to experience it.
Cook Time, Prep Time, Total Time – reading recipes is not just about the steps to take, it’s about the time those steps takes. Because I was facing a deadline each morning (wife’s gotta go!), I calculated backwards using the recipe’s prep time and cook time. I didn’t always double-check the stated times with the times included in the actual recipe (it was 5:45! I was sleepy!), so there were a few instances of being doomed by typo to a just-cooked dish that had to be sent along for the drive in a steaming hot Tupperware. Additionally, some recipes listed “Prep Time and Total Time” while others listed “Prep Time and Cook Time.” These are helpful distinctions to understand.
Comfort Zone Cooking – We all fall into familiar patterns in our kitchens. We shop for the same ingredients. We make the same meals. We repeat the process. It reduces our mental strain if we don’t need to treat every trip to the grocery store as a brand new adventure, and for those treating food as fuel, that’s an understandable attitude. I wanted to break out of the few recipes that I had down, and this monthlong binge did just that. With just a week, or 10 days, I would’ve made some attractive looking dishes, and tried some new techniques, but I doubt that would’ve been enough to break the comfortable food orbit in which I was stuck.
There are all sorts of ideas about how many days it takes to make and break habits that apply equally well to breaking out of ruts. At a certain point in learning, whether it’s a language or a skill or a new position at work, you hit a plateau where each day isn’t necessarily as fun as the day before, and the process of handling that plateau can grind us down.
In facing our discomfort head on, though, and not backing down, we can break through toward delicious new frontiers.
The repetition and variety of this project, as well as its predetermined end date, all worked together to motivate me through this morning endeavor.
Whether I can maintain this type of commitment to cooking during a season of television remains to be seen. If all that comes of this cooking project is a few more seasonal frittatas and hashes on the weekends, then this will all have been worth it. It was creatively fulfilling, mentally stimulating, and, more often than not, quite tasty.
To all those who egged me on, thank you. You’re welcome to come over-easy to our “café” anytime.
Also published on Medium.