On Emulsification

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

Attention:Leslie Leyland Fields is offering our HighCalling book club participants a special price on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God. Just email her at [email protected], and she’ll send you the book for $22, including shipping! Thank you, Leslie!

This is week three of our book club discussion on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. Join us every Monday morning as we dig into this feast!

When I was a girl, my family kept a small coop of chickens. My two brothers, my sister, and I were fascinated by those noisy cluckers. We would stand outside the wire fence and watch them strut, or recoil in horror at occasional episodes of aggression. My sister had a favorite hen, which we named Charlie. We would visit Charlie and talk to her over the gossipy bawking of her roost mates. Once, a stray dog got a hold of one of the chicks, breaking the tiny bird’s leg. We were able to nurse that little guy back to health by using a Popsicle stick as a splint and keeping him separated from the flock until his leg healed. We called him the “Little Man.”

The chickens not only provided entertainment, occasionally they gave us the main course for dinner too. Butchering time was always a family affair. It took all of our hands to make the process go smoothly. After the birds were butchered and hung by their feet for a few hours, we helped mom dip them in buckets of hot water and everyone pitched in with the plucking. It was a tedious, unpleasant job but many hands made short work. To this day, the smell of wet feathers stirs memories of all of us together, sharing in this simple work.

Perhaps the greatest gift the chickens gave us, however, were those little oval pockets of goodness called eggs. Each day, we took turns visiting the nesting boxes and gathered whatever treasure was left there for us.

I adored eggs. But they were rarely wasted on us children. My mother saved what she needed for baking or whatever recipes she had planned for the week. She also made egg sandwiches for my father to take to the plant for lunch every day. Our breakfasts consisted mainly of amorphous pots of oatmeal, sometimes reheated for several days. After she had gotten my dad off to work and fed us kids our globulous bowls of grain, my mother would finally sit down at the table for her breakfast. Her usual fare was a cup of tea, two slices of toast, and two eggs fried--over easy.

I used to watch as she dipped the toast into the soft yolks and slowly savored each bite. I thought eggs were only for grown-ups. I thought the golden yolks were a delicacy for only the most deserving.

Eggs. They are emulsifiers, you know. In his essay, In Praise of Hollandaise, Chef Fred Raynaud explains about emulsifiers. He tells us that hollandaise is an emulsion sauce, or one in which one substance is suspended in another. The egg yolk is the emulsifier—the substance that binds the two liquids incapable of mixing (oil and water) into one homogenous sauce.

Raynaud goes on to compare the emulsifying process to our human condition.

…This dilemma parallels a problem that has plagued creation since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It is the curse: eternal separation between God and humanity. Because of the curse, humanity was expelled from the presence of God, and an eternal void entered into the heart of man. God and humanity had become two unequally yoked entities, two substances that repelled each other. Like the acid and oil in our hollandaise, they were separated and in need of a mediator, an emulsifier to unite God and man again.

Chef Raynaud tells us Jesus is the egg yolk...The Great Emulsifier that joins us with God. And so I began thinking of food. Isn't it one of the emulsifiers in life? Each essay in our reading this week revealed this quality of food--how it can not only bring us closer to God, but also to each other and to our histories.

Alissa Herbaly Coons understands this emulsifying effect. In her essay, Tasting the Animal Kingdom, she discusses her struggle stepping away from a vegetarian lifestyle. When she finally decides to succumb to eating meat, she is reminded of the hands of those she loves.

…With chicken fat under my nails and the scent of bird-death on my hands, I thought of my parents and of all the poultry they prepared for us when I was a child—my mother’s delight at finding sale chicken and buying it in bulk, my father’s satisfaction in salvaging the remaining meat after a meal of whole turkey or chicken. As I picked over the carcass, seeing for the first time my hands as a continuation of his hands, I found the oysters…

I think of Nancy J. Nordenson’s essay, Things that Fall and Things that Stand, and her grandmother’s Swedish pancake recipe: Arthur’s Favorite Pancakes. The recipe is named after Nordenson’s grandfather.

Nordenson weaves the story of her grandmother’s pancakes into the story of the 2007 I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. The bridge collapsed just moments before her son arrived at the scene to cross. For Nordenson, the closeness of the tragedy brought home the realization of how sacred the moments with family are. As she prepares her grandmother’s Swedish pancakes for her husband and two sons, she contemplates.

We’ll soon get up from the table and do who knows what and drive who knows where for all the rest of our lives. But here, now, the wholeness of this moment, dense and round as a concrete piling driven deep into the bedrock, anchors our paths. This is what it feels like when all is well. A mnemonic of experience as real as any. Might not a person just tip right over from the weight of fear or angst without this ballast at the other end?

This morning I fixed my youngest son fried eggs. Over-easy. He’s never had fried eggs—always preferring the scrambled. I talked him into trying something different. I placed two pieces of whole wheat toast on the edge of the plate. I watched as he ate around the yolks. When he was finished, two yellow eyeballs stared up from the plate. He left the table.

Without a word I dropped another piece of whole wheat bread into the toaster. When it popped up, I sat down in the chair my son had just abandoned. Very gently, I dipped the crust of the toast into one yolk…then two.

All I needed was a cup of tea.

As a special treat, Laity Lodge’s Executive Chef, Tim Blanks, will be sharing some of his recipes with us during our book club discussions. Thanks, Tim! Enjoy!

Mango Mojo

This is a fruit Mojo (MO-ho)--a Cuban table sauce. Try it with grilled fish and poultry.

1 large or 2 small mangoes, peeled seeded, and cubed (1 cup). You can use frozen mango if you like.

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (wear plastic gloves)

1 large clove garlic

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

In a food processor or blender, combine cubed mango, mint, chili pepper, garlic, brown sugar lime juice, and cilantro. Puree until smooth. Serve within a few hours. Best served fresh.

**Next week we’ll be discussing the next four essays, that is: Fitting Food, Choice Cuisine, Cooking Chicken Wat, and The Soul of Soul Food. Please join us!

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Photo by pauljmuk, used with permission via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess, author of The Wings of Klaio series.