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For quarantine cooking, I'm skipping the novelties and keeping my sunny side up

May 1, 2020 Robert H. Peck

There are a million kinds of cooking videos, articles, and guides flying around the world right now in response to the sheer number of us who, stuck at home with little to do, have decided to become home cooks--even if the fancy of such a thing never quite stuck us before now.

Naturally, most of them are bunk.

You've got your much-too-difficult recipes, with their 37 different pans, bisected flanges, and dehydrators.

You've got your far-too-fancy recipes, too, all creme fraiche and castelvetrano olives.

And you've got the endless menagerie of novelty makes: "Great Depression cooking," "The Solar Chef," "Recipes of the Ancients."

My favorite of these by far has been "smooth bread," a carb-shaped gelatin molded into the colors of a loaf to discernible end. It's enough to make my eyes glaze over, much like smooth bread's crust if left out in the air too long.

But I, too, aspire to spend time cooking in the crisis.

So in search of something simple, straightforward, rewarding--and, most of all, actually practical and useful to make at home for a meal--I've turned, as we so often do, to the egg.

I have set myself the task of mastering new ways of making an egg this spring and summer.

So far, I've progressed to about half mastery of one new style: the sunny-side-up egg, whose exquisite, almost prop-ish appearance and savorable runny yolk have hitherto defied me.

I've been a scrambler all my life, the bane of non-stick pans the world over. But I've learned to keep my sunny side up, at least a bit, in quarantine.

It's so satisfying! And I will keep going at it, too. That's the beauty of this task: The egg is all about technique, not ingredients or equipment.

It's something you can learn and try again at without feeling as if you've wasted thirty bucks and an afternoon on some elaborate concoction. It's just an egg.

Burned? Try again. Too soft? See if a different method works better. Too hard? Ditto. There's no pressure, and you'll soon find outstanding results.

Plus, it's hard to truly ruin an egg. If you're trying to fry it and it goes south, just switch to scramble. Going for soft-boiled and had to take a call? Your now-hard-boiled egg will work wonderfully on a salad.

Used too much heat, forgot the seasoning, ran out of the bread you were planning to serve alongside?

These things are not the deal-breakers they might be in other foods.

The egg is ideal for self-quarantine, where our resources may be scarcer than we'd like.

So if you're looking to break out the pans on house arrest, give the YouTube sensation on fermented oat curd with a side of fungus a miss.

Look into the ever-humble and most simple ingredients in your fridge and pantry, and try out some low-stakes tricks to make things of them you haven't had the time or patience to invest in before.

I guarantee you the results will be more pleasing to your palate than smooth bread.

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Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a faculty member at the University of Iowa, teaching in the Department of Rhetoric, where he also is the co-director of the Iowa Speaking Center.

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2020-06-03

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