Friday, May 14, 2010

Egg Salad: A Meditation

Yesterday my husband, Mark, boiled six eggs and asked very kindly if I’d be willing to make egg salad for lunch. There’s a fairly complicated way that I make it that he absolutely loves and over the years I have never revealed to him the ingredients. It’s a little secret I hang onto, a pocket of history in our marriage that radiates something tender between us. He has also promised not to read this blog entry to honor my secret.

Egg salad is one of those comfort foods, like tuna noodle casserole or potato salad, that must be made just the way you remember it. I remember when Mark and I went on our honeymoon we encountered our first “his family’s way of making something” versus “my family’s way of making something” argument. Our honeymoon consisted of driving our little Datsun station wagon from Minnesota, where we got married, through Iowa, and into Missouri. We’d made no plans or reservations; we had a tent and a car full of all the wedding presents we’d received, and I lived in fear that someone was going to steal them while we slept. In fact, I was so worried about it that every night we unpacked the whole load, shoved it into whatever tent or cottage or motel room we were staying at, then reversed the process every morning. It was quite impractical, but so were we.

It was the way we did things back then: an open, spontaneous, winging it that carried us along to interesting places. One night near Branson, Missouri, we found a small resort at the end of a twisting gravel road. We took the last available cottage, then decided to make tacos for dinner. But that’s when we hit a snag. Mark was soft-shell tacos; I was Ortega hard shell in a box. Mark was kidney beans mixed in with the hamburger; I was just hamburger. Mark was cumin, chili powder, sautéed garlic and onion; I was 99-cent Ortega flavor pouches that turned the meat a delicious, greasy orange color. He let me win; we made the cheap crunchy version I’d always had in the trailer court with my family. But the victory was short-lived. As I opened the oven door to get the shells out, a big blue flame leapt out onto my face. The cottage instantly reeked with the sour smell of burned human hair; a good portion of my bangs had balled up into hard little nuggets. The flames had also licked underneath my eyeglasses and singed my eyebrows and eyelashes. A hot red patch appeared on my cheeks later that night, and Mark held a dish towel of ice over against my face while I leaned against his shoulder.

As time passed, we learned to forge our own recipes via a hybrid of what we grew up with and what we’d come to concoct on our own. In fact, our tuna noodle casserole now has a decidedly Asian flair with water chestnuts, chow mein noodles and sesame seeds—though it still contains, of course, the crucial cans of cream of mushroom soup.

Here are the ingredients for my egg salad:

6 hard-boiled eggs (bathed in cold water with ice cubes)

Coarse ground black pepper (I hate powdery pepper)


McCormick garlic powder (not garlic salt)

Clover Valley mayo (from Dollar General—it’s creamy and yellow and cheap)

Miracle Whip Light (our jar is almost always empty)

Kikkoman soy sauce

Lea & Pearins worcestershire sauce

White sugar

Pudliszki mustard (one of those weird German ones from Aldi)

I chop the eggs to bits while Mark sits at the kitchen table and reads either The Economist or The New Yorker that almost invariably comes in the day’s mail. He’s more prone to reading magazines than me, while I, on the other hand, keep a much brisker novel-reading pace. Magazines, for me, are for prettiness and pleasure. I grew up with my mother’s many women’s magazines lying around the house. I loved browsing through them, looking at cute ways to organize your closets with white storage cubes or how to make bird feeders out of 2-liter soda bottles or how you can entirely change the tone of your living room by adding bright red throw pillows. Magazines to me are for looking and dreaming. As a professor, I read serious books and articles for a living, and break them apart and look at them from every angle, so when I’m home I want Martha Stewart to show me the simple secret of how to fold fitted sheets. And I wish mine were such a lovely robin’s egg blue as hers are.

But back to the egg salad. I like to chop my eggs very fine with a serrated steak knife. I chop them right in the Rubbermaid container and then layer all the ingredients on before I stir.
Mark likes to toast his bread for an egg salad sandwich but I like to sink my teeth in soft bread. Sometimes we have fancy greens in the fridge and this time there is an arugula, spinach and radicchio mix. I just use the spinach. Egg salad should not have fancy greens associated with it.

My mother used to make not only egg salad sandwiches for dinner, but fried egg sandwiches as well. She fried the whites to a hard brown lace and the yolks to flat chalky disks. She fried them in butter. She made them with cheap white bread, then cut them into triangles, stacked them on a plastic tray, and served them with a bag of Old Dutch potato chips. The grease would soak through the white bread and make it look gray. She also fried onions to a brown caramelized state, but she and my father were the only ones who slathered such horror between the bread and egg. We drank thick white milk with the egg sandwiches and ate off paper plates. “It’s not like the Queen of England is coming over,” my mother would say.

Mark and I polish off the entire egg salad in one sitting. After our sandwiches, we dredge potato chips through it like dip. We can’t get enough, though finally I slide the container over to Mark. He always says the same thing. “Well, there’s not really enough to save,” he’ll say. And then I’ll say, “Yeah, you might as well kill it.” And he’ll say, “I might as well.”

And between us we will have consumed six eggs and countless moments sitting across from one another at the table like this, holding our secrets.


  1. I love this piece. Even though I don't eat egg salad I might copy the recipe for my hubby who loves it. And I'm glad to know that you, like me, don't like powdery pepper. Right now that's all we have in the house and I know now how important it is that I pick up the coarse stuff at the store.

  2. i guess that is what love it all about: bringing things together to make new recipes while also maintaining a few that all your own, your secret.

  3. Yes to coarse ground black pepper!