Saturday, March 1, 2008

Chalazae Baggage

Since we are getting to know each other pretty well, I feel it would be appropriate at this juncture to share another of my neuroses with you. No, not more info on bathroom or potty germs, although I could blog for days on the nastiness of those subjects. This particular neurotic tendency I can only blame on my mother. In fact, during one recent beautiful mother-daughter sharing moment, I did confide to her that of all the bags she handed me in my life, the one I wish she would have taken back is The Squiggle.

Woman sits in diner. Orders a piece of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie? You ask. Yes. Silly, little, innocuous, Thanksgiving-special, pumpkin pie. Woman cuts into pie. Is about ready to swallow bite. Wait…what’s that she sees? What IS that staring back at her from the custardy-goodness? It’s white. It’s stringy. It’s the dreaded squiggle. Woman puts fork down, still with bite attached. Disgusted, dismayed, with bile rising in her throat, the woman stands on bench in diner, (garnering only a few odd glances) and in Scarlet O’Hara fashion proclaims, “As God is my witness, I will never eat another squiggle again!”

[Real Time]
I’m not sure how many of you inspect your eggs, say when you bake, or crack them into a bowl for your morning scrambled, but there is, in fact, a white, squiggly, stringing looking beast inside every one of them. My mother’s personal life mission, (aside of, say, raising three daughters in a good and proper manner, or being a dedicated teacher) therefore became to rid our household of all squiggles. When I was a child learning to cook, my mother showed me how to break the egg into the bowl, get a spoon, and using your index finger and the spoon remove both squiggles from the egg before using it in your recipe. This process was not optional. You were never, never to leave the squiggle in, not even when it was difficult to see, or it slid off the spoon and back into the egg white. You searched for the sucker. You chased it around the bowl. You dove in there with your suit on dammit, and didn’t even think about coming up for air until you had your mits clasped tightly around TWO SQUIGGLES. This Olympic-worthy sport was to be performed whenever you used eggs. In cooking. In baking. And ESPECIALLY when eating them in pure form; scrambled or over-medium. In fact, when mom checked on your recipes, her questions weren’t, “Did you remember the baking soda?” or “Did you sift your flour?” but “Did you remove the squiggle before you put the egg in?”

Now I really would like to have been there, that day in the diner, when my mother’s psyche was damaged by the white, nasty squiggle. Maybe I could have helped her process what she saw: “No mom, I think you’re wrong. It’s not a squiggle. It’s probably a loogie.” Not that having throat phlegm from a sweaty cook in your pie is more appetizing, but it would be a neurosis I could handle. It would have been a lot easier to prevent sweaty cooks from coming in my kitchen and hacking in the mixing bowl, than trying to remove the little devils from every egg.

You can imagine the look of horror on my husband’s face, the first morning after our wedding that he makes me eggs, when I ask him, “Did you remove the squiggle before you cooked those?”
“The what?”
“The squiggle. You know that white, stringy thing in the egg?”
“No. Why would I remove that?”
“Because it’s nasty. Because all real cooks remove the squiggle. Because that’s what my mom does.”
“No. The squiggle is in there.”
“I can’t eat those eggs then.”

After a bit of research—in the form of watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats—I learned that squiggle is not, in fact, rooster sperm (as my uncle told me) or anything dreadedly nasty, but simply wound-up egg white. The proper term is Chalazae; pronounced (kul-lay-zee) and its job is to keep the egg yoke centered inside the egg white. The more firm and pronounced the chalazae, the fresher the egg. It starts to break down as the egg ages. So when you crack open your egg, and find that the chalazae is all milky looking, it must have come from a senior citizen chicken.

After all this knowledge, and being the grown-up that I am, you’d think it would be easy for me to let go of this chalazae baggage. Yes, I know I eat them all the time and don’t realize it. Yes, I understand that even fine restaurants don’t remove them. Yes, I am fully aware that when I blend it up with the mixer and bake it in the oven, it disappears and I will never know the difference. After all, it’s only a bit of spun egg white.

This knowledge helps me only a little. If I am baking something for the kids class, or the neighbors, or a party, I will crack the egg over the mixer and turn it on fast before I can change my mind and yank out the squiggles. However, just this afternoon, after cracking the eggs into the mixing bowl of brownie batter, I didn’t work fast enough. The chalazaes were firm and long and staring at me, and with bile rising in my throat, I went in with a spoon and removed them. And of course, if I am eating an egg in pure form, such as scrambled or over-medium, they must be, have to be removed. My husband—smart man that he is—has since learned to lie to me about the squiggle. Of course he removes it when he cooks. Of course those are eggs-sans-squiggle on my plate. Of course, of course, of course.
My husband really loves me.


Anonymous said...

I also learned from my Nanny(Grandmother) and Mom that the "white thing" is to be removed prior to adding to recipe.I guess growing up with chickens(Nanny not Mom) you just couldn't be too careful...because if you just poured it in you might accidentally add a fertilized egg...YUCK. However I am able to eat a squiggle but choose not to add them to my own cooking! Just another reason I love you !


Liz said...

Ew. I am definately taking the rooster sperm out from now on.

brandie said...

Rooster sperm is a term I just didn't need. SICK. I have enough difficulty with eggs. This doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, you pasted this insanity on to me when we were kids. For about half my life I chased the squiggle around in a bowl. For years I thought I would rather eat egg shells than that gross white thing (and I probably did).
Medication helps!
(in Flag)

Anonymous said...

This made me laugh, only because you taught me this at your house in Bellingham one time when you were cooking something! Every single time I use eggs I think of you! Although, I cannot say I am faithful about removing that nasty little squiggly thinger!