Not too difficult today. Don’t necessarily know where this is going, but I like Tracy.
The eggshells were piling up on the counter. She knew she should contain them in some way; raw eggs, after all, were a bad case of Salmonella waiting to happen. But she continued to toss the eggshells straight onto the tiled counter anyway, their viscous insides oozing into the grout between the tiles. It would be hard to clean when it dried. She didn’t care.
The water was as it should be. It bubbled ever so slightly at the edges of the pot, tentatively, as if whispering in burbles. A shy fish perhaps professing its love. The water was also vinegared. This, supposedly, would make the egg whites solidify more quickly. That was what she was taught many years ago, anyway. But according to the internet—the Grand High Poobah of All Things Known—this “fact” was now up for debate. This held true for the water whirlpool.
“What are you making there?” the instructor said, watching Tracy whisk the water vigorously into a steaming vortex. “You making soup?”
“No, I’m creating the whirlpool bath,” Tracy said.
The instructor hissed a long breath out between her teeth. “You don’t really have to do that,” she said. “Why do people think they need to do that?”
“…Because that’s what we’ve been taught all of our lives?” Tracy said, with not a small amount of annoyance.
“Sure, but then there’s the story about the woman who cut off the ends of her meatloaf her entire life. Because that’s what she’d always been taught,” the instructor said. Tracy blinked at her. “It turns out her grandmother’s meatloaf pan was too small,” the instructor waited for a laugh. She received silence. “Okay,” the instructor continued, “my point being. What we’ve been taught our entire lives isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. Stop trying to make a black hole with the water. Just simmer, gently crack the egg into the water, and wait. That’s what’s needed for a good poached egg.”
The instructor turned on her heel and began to accost the student at the next station. Tracy stood over her pot, examining her water. There were fragments of her previous failed egg experiments. “Eggsperiments,” she thought to herself, then cringed. It was a horrible pun. Thin tendrils of overcooked egg whites danced and intertwined; they looked to Tracy like ectoplasm. “Who you gonna call?” she said into the water.
Tracy’s head snapped up. She’d forgotten there was another student to her right. She was supposed to partner with him, but she’d simply pretended he wasn’t there. Clearly, he was there to make friends. Even set up a date. Tracy wasn’t interested in making friends. She just wanted to reacquaint herself with the art of cooking.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was just talking to myself. I used to know how to do this. I guess I’m just out of practice.”
He nodded, then pushed his glasses into place. They were a little fogged from his own poaching work. “You’d think this would be easy,” he said. “I think of all the times I’ve ordered poached eggs at a restaurant. Never gave it a second thought. Now I wonder if the chef gets angry every time an order for a poached egg comes in.” He looked at Tracy. “It’s a big, fat pain in the ass, if you ask me.”
Tracy could tell he was trying to relate. To connect. Over eggs. She did not wish to connect over eggs. “I suppose you could look at it that way,” she said. “Eggs, in general, seem like they’re the simplest things in the world. Look at it,” she took an egg out of the container, sleek and brown, and held it up in front of his eyes. The orb reflected in his glasses. “What could be simpler? You crack it, and it’s composed of two things: albumen and yolk. Protein and fat. I mean, there’s some membrane in there as well, but mostly, just that white and yellow. And yet, we humans have decided there are specific ways it should be prepared. Fried—over-easy; sunny-side-up; over-hard.”
Tracy took a breath. The other student was watching her, but not unkindly. He seemed to be smiling at her. She ignored him. “And then there’s hard-boiled and soft-boiled. Have you ever tried soft boiling an egg?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “But poaching.” She paused and made a face. “We decided that poaching an egg was something that needed to exist. So here we are. Me and…” Tracy looked into his face and gestured in his direction, “you.”
“Matt,” he said. She noticed he’d stopped his work and had focused his attention on her.
“And you,” she said. “Here, on a Saturday night, with pots of boiling water, and cartons filled with the result of some hen’s strenuous butt efforts. That’s what we’ve got.”