We just returned from a weekend in South Carolina, spending time with family and having a wonderful opportunity to see my cousin in his debut as the pitching coach for a major university baseball team.
It was an especially momentous occasion because it was the first time our entire family had been together since my other cousin’s wedding almost six years ago. We try to have Thanksgiving together at least every other year, but for some reason we seem to always be missing someone due to work schedules or hunting season. Even though it was a short visit, it was great to have everyone together in one place at the same time.
I grew up basically an only child, (I have half- and step-siblings on my father’s side, but I’ve not had a lot of opportunity to get to know them very well) so for me, my maternal cousins are like siblings. They are my family. As children, we spent good portions of our summers together at our grandparents’ house, running barefoot through the grass, digging worms and grabbing grasshoppers as they hopped between blades of grass (they make great bait for fishing), driving tractors and cooling off in the murky lake. We loved to join Granddaddy in one of the aluminum rowboats that he used to paddle around the lake, checking the trotlines for catfish, or watching in anticipation as he raised the catfish traps that hung from the end of the pier. A good haul meant fresh catfish for dinner that night, so we always had our fingers crossed for something more than the greedy turtles that liked to eat the bait (and the thought of the ever-threatened turtle soup just made us cringe).
My cousin Clint and I are almost exactly one year apart in age, so we were especially close as kids. I can remember getting up early in the mornings at Grandma and Granddaddy’s house and quietly creeping into the kitchen to whip something up for breakfast. We couldn’t have been much older than six or seven, but we were confident in our abilities. Fried egg sandwiches were our specialty – an over-easy egg with a thick slab of Velveeta (don’t judge) sandwiched between two slices of white toast that had been slathered with miracle whip. So good – and the fact that we’d cooked it ourselves made it even better.
I can distinctly recall standing on the step-stool that my grandmother kept in the kitchen (she was only five foot two, so it was a necessity for her) so that I could reach the stove. Melting oleo (it was the fat of choice in their kitchen) in a cast-iron skillet, then breaking the egg directly into the sizzling pan. It wasn’t until years later that I mastered the art of the gently fried egg, avoiding the frizzled edges that you get when your pan is too hot. As a child, though, it didn’t matter – all I cared about was being able to fend for myself. I don’t remember if someone taught us how to do this, or if it’s something we figured out on our own. Thinking back on it, I’m kind of puzzled that we were allowed to use a hot stove without supervision at that age, but things were really different back then. We were also baiting our own hooks and using pocket knives to cut fishing line, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked.
To this day, a perfectly fried egg is one of my favorite foods. Tonight, I wanted something simple. I’m currently having a bit of a love affair with swiss chard, so I quickly sauteed some rainbow chard leaves in about a teaspoon of butter until they just wilted and started to brown on the edges. I pulled them from the pan, then cracked my egg into the pan, using only the residual fat from sauteing the chard. After about a minute on the first side, I sprinkled some salt and pepper onto the egg, then flipped it over and let it cook for about 30 seconds more before slipping it out of the pan on top of the wilted chard. I had some whole-grain sourdough bread (made from my own starter, but that’s another post for another day) that I cubed and sauteed in a little bit more butter to make crispy croutons, and I served these on top.
The chard was so flavorful – smoky and almost meaty in it’s heartiness. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed that about dark leafy greens, but there’s something really satisfying about them – and when you roast or saute them, it really brings out the flavors. Topped with the rich fried egg and the tangy sourdough croutons, this was a very satisfying meal.
It’s amazing how something as simple as a fried egg can bring back so many memories. The sizzle of the egg as it hits the pan, the heat as it rises from the stove, the metallic taste of the yolk as it first hits my tongue – all of these things evoke feelings of nostalgia. Following on the heels of a family-filled weekend, where I got to witness my very talented cousin in his coaching debut, this meal was doubly satisfying.