Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Birds and recipe (as two discrete subjects)

Just after Christmas, Mike and I flew off to Evansville, IN for a friend's wedding, and after that (thoroughly moving, delightful, enjoyable) time drove to Nashville, TN to stay with his uncle for a few days. We visited Cheekwood, an estate in the suburbs of Nashville, on a beautiful day that felt like early spring. We peeled off layers, lifted our chins to soft breezes, and greedily soaked up the sunshiny warmth. Meanwhile the mansion still displayed gigantic, gaudy Christmas trees (the child in Mike loved the tinsel and humongous ornaments, we both liked the electric train around one of the trees), and the garden was woefully bare. In the absence of lush, blanketing green, we noticed shapes, colors, and smells that we might have missed in summer. I think this effect accounts partly for why we especially liked the bamboo grove in the Japanese garden, pointed out interesting bark to each other (Mike is very tolerant/indulgent of my plant geekyness), and why we spent a while in the herb garden crushing morsels of the plants and offering them to one another to smell (okay, I picked them and offered them to Mike, while he chastised me teasingly for my casual thievery).
A side note: Mike has an amazing sense of smell, and often notices shades of scent that I miss entirely. He could be a parfumeur.
As we wandered into the last garden that day, we heard a cacophony of birdsong. Birds are such a nice surprise in winter! They are still so active and quick while everything else is dormant or sleepy. We saw a few tiny birds in the shrubs of this garden, but since we are unfamiliar with southern birds we called them all warblers. A lot of them probably were warblers, though I think I saw a house finch too (they have those twitchy tails that are almost perpendicular to their bodies, right?). As we continued wandering we learned that this garden was designed to attract birds (duh). There was even a little hut in the garden with nice illuminated informational placards.
I've often wanted to know how to identify more birds by their songs, so I tried to read "The Singing Life of Birds" by Donald Kroodsma (a visiting fellow at Cornell Lab of Ornithology). It is a well written book but does not seem to be intended for the casual reader, as it is very densely scientific (i.e. urging you to study shades of difference in sonograms to learn birdsong). Are there any learn-birdsong books that are easy to understand? I am also frustrated with books that say things like "sounds similar to eastern grosbeak, only more shrill and more frequently repeated." So I suppose I need something in between. Maybe I should stick to that audio guide my family has somewhere...

The Omelet

For breakfast on Christmas morning, I made everyone customized omelets. I fancy myself a pretty good omelet maker. Herewith and for one time only, I reveal the secrets of my omelet-making success.

THE PAN: I like a small pan. It does not have to be an "omelet pan" per se. I used a 8.5 inch anodized aluminum Calphalon pan.

THE FLIPPING UTENSIL: I like the flat plastic spatula made by Oxo. It is flexible and about 4 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick. Your utensil should be able to easily slide under the eggs, so flexibility is nice.

THE EGGS: Fresh as you can get them. Two (not three), large.

THE FAT: butter and olive oil together. Approximately 3/4 tablespoon of each per omelet (I confess that I have a bad habit of eyeballing my measurements).

THE SECRET: 1 tablespoon, no more, of sparkling water from a freshly opened bottle. The bottle should be room temperature and I usually use club soda. This, plus a teaspoon (aka small dollop) of cream, is all I add to the eggs, initially. The sparkling water makes the egg mix puff up a bit when it hits the hot pan, making for a lighter-textured omelet.

THE ADD-INS: Like making stir-fry, everything must be ready, mise-en-place style, so you can attend fully to the cooking of the eggs and the temperature of the pan. I suggest crumbled soft goat cheese, grated gruyère/emmentaler, pre-sautéed mushrooms/onions, roasted red pepper, morsels of cooked ham, chopped green olives (not cocktail olives, preferably French picholine or Spanish "queen"), a mix of herbs (flat parsley, cilantro, tarragon, thyme). And don't add too much filling! There should be space for the egg to flow around and envelop the add-ins.

1) In a small bowl, beat eggs with a fork just until the yolks are broken and the yolk/white is swirled together. About 5 vigorous rotations of the fork should do it. Add cream, swirl once with fork.
2) Attend to your pan. Before adding fat, turn the heat on to high, wait 10 seconds, then turn it down a tad to between high and medium-high. Add fat. Swirl fat around the pan with the spatula.
3) Add 1 tablespoon (no more!) sparkling water to egg mixture. Swirl once with fork. Pour egg mix into pan. Try not to splash it up the sides of the pan. Working quickly, sprinkle the egg mix with salt and pepper. Jiggle the pan gently, then as egg mix sets, begin to work your spatula under the edge of the egg mix and jiggle the pan some more. The point is to ensure that the egg does not stick to the pan.
4) Add filling. Avoid clusters of filling. Distribute filling evenly over the egg mix (not in a line, taco style).
NOTE: steps 3-4 should take no more than 2-3 minutes.
5) When the egg mix STILL IS WET AND UNSET IN THE MIDDLE, BUT ITS EDGES HAVE SET SLIGHTLY, slide your spatula under one half of the egg mix. In a smooth not-too-fast movement, fold the omelet in half. Count to 5. Flip the whole omelet over in the pan. Count to 5 again. Flip it onto a plate. Keep warm in an oven until ready to eat.


EEJ said...

Will definitely have to try this secret! Also, it was SO great to have you at the wedding!

booksandcoffee said...

"Morsel" is one of my favorite words in English. For me, it describes something precious that comes in small quantities because it is difficult to obtain and must be kept carefully. Such a good word. :)

Liz said...

I love morsel too. It makes me think of when you have a little bit of really good chocolate and you appreciate it even more because it is small, so you savor it more. :-)