More Than Just an Egg Sandwich

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In Colorado, the holiday season was snow-white and the fireplace blazed night and day. There were deer and elk on the hillside, daily hikes into the National Park, a miniature snow-woman laboriously constructed from barely packable “dry” snow, and, of course, there were egg sandwiches.

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A multi-layered, made-to-order egg sandwich is staple breakfast fare when we are at home in the mountains. It is nourishment spiced with geography and longstanding tradition. The ritual evolved, as things often do, from something I read.

Twenty-some years ago I was immersed in the writings of M.F.K. [Mary Frances Kennedy] Fisher. She weaves autobiographical stories of people, places, and food into descriptive prose. Her mythologizing of Aunt Gwen’s fried egg sandwiches caught my imagination. It is the tale of a child’s realization that food and life lessons are inseparable from a strong adult mentor.

When Fisher was a young girl, several influential summers were spent with Aunt Gwen in Laguna Beach, California. As Mary Frances explained,

she taught us a thousand things too intangible to report, as well as how to roast kelp leaves, steam mussels, tease a rattlesnake away from a frightened horse, skin an eel after sundown, and stay quiet while a night-blooming cereus [cactus flower] unfolds…”

With Aunt Gwen leading the way, Mary Frances and her younger sister Anne hiked the hills and cliffs above the beach singing hymns and marching songs at the top of their lungs. There was always an egg sandwich or two carefully tucked into their pockets.

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the hills above laguna beach

In the good Laguna days, it was an exciting promise, to warm up the pan, ready the ingredients, and make fried-egg sandwiches. Aunt Gwen insisted that we have at least two pockets somewhere on us, one for shells, stones, small fish, or lizards, and one big enough to hold these greasily wrapped, limp, steamy monsters. Then we would race the sunset to a high hill. The sandwiches stayed warm against our bodies, and when we panted to a stop, and fell against a good rock or an old eucalyptus trunk, the packets sent out damp insistent invitations… We each had two sandwiches. The first we gnashed at like fairly well mannered puppies. The second was for contemplation, as we watched all of the quiet empty slopes down to the cliff edge, and the great ocean with the sun sliding into it. —MFK Fisher, Among Friends, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1970

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sunset at laguna

What I love about this story is that it speaks of satisfaction beyond physical hunger. Fisher was learning, as a child, that the right combination of food, company, and spiritual nourishment was a metaphor for living well. The ingredients of those egg sandwiches included “equal parts of hunger and happiness”, a hillside sunset, and companions she loved.

There are no cliffs overlooking an ocean where our cabin is located, but cool summer mornings and cold winter ones stimulate good appetites. Mountain views, towering ponderosa pines and native wildlife are our spiritual geography. When home in Colorado, family and friends are often with us. A tradition was born around the kitchen table in winter and the front porch in summer—our mountain version of the fried egg sandwich.

Aunt Gwen’s recipe was well documented. It started by heating the grease from whatever was cooked the day before in a large flat-bottomed skillet. When the fragrant drippings reached a smoking hot temperature, an egg was dropped in, the yolk broken, and quickly fried so that the edges were crisply brown and barely digestible. Next, two slices of good bread were added to the pan and browned on one side only. The cooked egg was slapped into the middle of the bread slices and pressed together. Finally, the whole thing was wrapped in wax paper that partially melted into the sandwich, small pieces of which were consumed when bit into with hunger and a happy heart.

As an aid to digestion and modern taste preferences, this is our version.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN EGG SANDWICH  

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basic ingredients, before adding options

Ingredients [physical]

  • Thick sliced smoked bacon, cooked crisply                                                          
  • Eggs, preferably brown and free range
  • Jalapeño jack cheese or cheese of choice
  • Toasted English muffins or good brown bread
  • Salsa or fresh tomato slices
  • Fresh spinach or some kind of leafy green
  • Avocado slices or guacamole, optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional red pepper flakes as desired

Ingredients [spiritual]

Family and/or friends gathered on a sun-warmed front porch in summer, around the kitchen table or fireplace in winter. Laughter and conversation flowing easily with a cooked-to-order egg sandwich in hand. Appetites satisfied. Camaraderie shared. A new day begins.

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on the front porch in summer
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around the fireplace in winter

Method

Assemble ingredients. Cook bacon in well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Using the bacon drippings, crack an egg into round metal form and break the yolk. Season with S&P or red pepper flakes. When egg is set, remove the form and gently turn the egg over for just a few seconds. On toasted English muffin, layer a thin slice of cheese, tomato, bacon and optional ingredients [avocado, salsa, etc.]. Add cooked egg and fresh spinach leaves or other greens. Press the whole thing down to a manageable biting size. Eat immediately while hot, using both hands. A mug of strong coffee or tea is good accompaniment.

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crack egg into a round egg form
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break the yolk, season with red pepper if desired
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constructing sandwich in layers
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with a mug of coffee
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toasted bread instead of english muffin

Traditions are important to children as they grow up. Aunt Gwen’s ritualized hiking and singing and eating egg sandwiches at sunset on a beach created a symbolic tradition, which in turn mentored a young girl that living well and eating well are intertwined.

All I could now say about Aunt Gwen will never be said, but it is sure that much of my enjoyment of the art of living, as well as of eating, comes from her…as well as my certainty that the two are, or can be, synonymous. MFK Fisher, Among Friends

20 thoughts on “More Than Just an Egg Sandwich

  1. Deliciously written. I think we both love our bacon cooked past crispy…just as Gaga taught us. As she said, “If the bacon does not scatter when you bite it, send it back.” Well said, Gaga.

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  2. Enjoyed this post and agree with the sentiments. I will try to elevate my son’s favorite “bacon, egg and cheese” sandwich to a new level based upon your recipe. I also enjoyed the photo of the “snow woman”. Creative! My thoughts are with you and Mark during this very tragic and turbulent time in Paris.

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    • The recent events in Paris are another whole story for reflection. Perhaps not for the purposes of the blog, but a different conversation for sure. Thank you for your thoughts and concerns…

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  3. I have a sudden hankering for a bit of waxed paper! Wonderful post, Wendy. I like the idea of egg sandwiches for supper, too!

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    • Betty, you are sweet to reflect on both of these posts. I love knowing what resonates, when it resonates. Thank you for always stepping up to share what you are thinking and feeling…

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  4. Savory breakfast food is my favorite especially in winter. Sometimes the simple things in life are the best! Thanks for taking me away for a few moments and feeding my imagination. Aaron

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  5. Wendy, what a timely and beautifully composed read. After a bout with the flu, I had trouble recovering my appetite, but the egg sandwich made me want to go out to the kitchen and start cooking! Thank you!

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  6. We want you to keep writing. Our reason is simple enough. Everyone needs the reminder of how food, people we love, time and place offer both the joy and even unexpected reverie in our lives. How nice to be reminded that the lesser egg and crispy– if not overdone– bacon, brought together with love, have the power to bring us closer together with lasting traditions and the best of memories.

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    • This is a thoughtful comment, and I thank you for that. Additionally, I admit to liking my bacon cooked to the point of crunchy, perhaps a bit past crispy, as the photo illustrates. Such an individual thing, our taste buds…

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  7. It’s amazing how enlightened memories from our childhoods remain with us the rest of our lives. They become part of our lives and hopefully continue through our children. Great post and I am making the egg sandwich for dinner tonight!

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