Breakfast Memories

juggling.jpg My dad died when I was 6, so I don’t have a lot of memories of Father’s Day.

I recall being jealous of kids who bragged about serving their dads breakfast in bed. A good dad would eat whatever his kids tried to cook, however botched. A bad dad might refuse to, I guess.

One of the few food memories I do have of my dad is his trying to make the perfect fried egg. He had supposedly been a cook at the start of WWII. But military mess food then was powdered eggs, ersatz coffee, canned and mystery C-rations covered in “chocolate.”

My sister and I were 7 and 5 respectively when he decided to show us he could cook breakfast in our newly renovated “modern” (for 1962) kitchen. He braved the spattering bacon and fired up a separate frying pan for the eggs. He put a pat of butter in to melt and was explaining about the difference between fried, sunny side up and easy over, boiled, poached and scrambled eggs.

Any line or short order cook will tell you that working the breakfast rush is a particularly miserable gig because every egg order is a “custom” order. Every diner has a personal relationship with his eggs, given his childhood experience. “Scrambled” can mean “scrambled wet” or “ scrambled dry.” “Lightly beaten” can mean where threads of the whites show in the yellow. “Sunnyside up” might mean with a set, cooked skin on top gained by putting the pan in a broiler or salamander for the last 5 seconds. But "over easy" always means: “no popping the yolk.”

bacon_draining.jpg I stood on a chair and watched our dad demonstrate the proper way to turn over a fried egg in the hot pan. His first attempt broke the yolk immediately. Daddy put that popped egg on a side plate and instantly reached for another. That sizzled up nicely and he turned it at the right moment…but pop it went, too. He scraped it off into the side plate. He let us have sips of his coffee. He told my sister to drain the bacon on paper towels. Then he wiped out his pan, figuring something was making the egg stick to it. Then he cracked a new egg started again. And again. And again.

When it was all over, he had gone through the entire carton, and scored only two eggs easy over with yolks in tact. My sister and I had eaten up all the bacon. We had a nice caffeine buzz too. The side plate was overflowing with sloppy, popped-yolk fried eggs.

egg-carton.jpg Our mom screamed at Daddy when she saw this. In our family nobody wasted food. Especially not when trying to show off in front of the kids. The popped eggs looked kind of gross but Mom said we were going to have to eat them all anyway. Then she fried some rice and mixed the botched eggs into them with green onions and tomatoes.

He died a year later. Fried eggs and rice is still a breakfast dish in our family. (It turns out to be a common breakfast in Cuba, the Philippines and other former colonies of Spain.)

Sneak into the kitchen of any diner and you’ll find a pan or half chafer full of popped eggs. This despite all the advances in equipment, techniques and culinary school grads. You don’t serve botched eggs to customers. You make them believe professionals don’t pop yolks. Most places throw botched food into the trash.

In the event that I ever have to work a breakfast rush again, I practice egg cooking on my own. I experiment with different kinds of eggs, pans and fats (butter, pam spray, olive oil). Most restaurants and cafes use commercially raised eggs. These have the weakest yolks. No wonder they pop. The more expensive natural, organic and “artisan” hen’s eggs have incredibly strong, resilient bright orange yolks. You can just about throw one of these raw yolks on the floor and it still won’t break. Restaurants also use a lot of grease on the griddles and pans. They mop up the excess before they plate your food. They use greased cookie cutters or rings to make fried eggs uniform in size and shape.

Lesson #1: Use the commercial eggs for your scrambles, omelettes, frittatas and in baking. Save the organic and artisanal eggs for frying, boiling and poaching.

Lesson #2: Dads, please cook with your kids –- even if you think you can’t cook. Food, here, is your time. It’s the greatest gift you can give. You kids will savor every morsel.


Maria Elena Rodriguez is a TV and screen writer, producer and blogger. Her essays can be found at: