How to Boil an Egg

I’ve been lying in bed since the wee hours, allowing my mind to wander, staring out the window at snow-covered branches, and watching night give way to morning.

And I was wondering if I ever taught my sons how to boil an egg.

Life skills inventory

I’m running through the litany of life skills I’ve passed along to my children. How many did I miss? What about something as simple as boiling an egg? Did I say “Put eggs in the pot, boil water, give it 5 to 10 minutes and see how that turns out?” Did I resort to my (frequent) smart-ass humor and say “Forget boiling, fry the damn thing – it’s easier?”

Do I actually know how to boil an egg? The 7-minute egg? Or the elusive 3-minute egg with the perfectly runny middle for serving in a European egg cup? I can’t poach worth a damn. Have I deprived my children of the pleasure of the poached egg because I never mastered it?

I generally make eggs over easy, sunny-side up, scrambled eggs, or my son makes his best omelette on the planet. Is that an adequate lineup? Is adequate – well, adequate?

Teaching kids life skills

What other life skills did I inadvertently avoid? What of the critical skills for which I  shortchanged the details and consequently passed along a half-truth as though whole – a teaser in the name of completeness, or something utterly insufficient to get the job done? Will children fill in the knowledge gaps as they move into adolescence and then adulthood? Or will they unconsciously side step, because they have no foundation?

Last week, a friend came to our home to speak with my son about college and his future. My son asked one very direct question, and our guest’s response was: “I can give you the fish, or I can teach you to fish.”

My kid hadn’t heard that expression before. He smiled broadly and nodded. Of course, he got it. Was that one more thing I hadn’t gotten around to explaining? Was it like boiling an egg? For all that I have conveyed and modeled, for all that I have responded to with precise or open-ended intent, had I never communicated, through metaphor or otherwise, that to give him the tools for discovery results in a far superior gift than answering every question?

How to boil an egg (or fall in love)

Yes, I learned to hard boil an egg over the years. Through trial and error.

But I still can’t get that soft boiled egg right – the kind you can place in a porcelain egg cup, crack lightly on the exterior, peel the top, and then savor.

Oh, the beauty of the creamy egg white and the warm, liquid yolk in its own natural container!

It’s the same story when it comes to a poached egg. And I adore poached eggs! And this leads me to love and to falling in love and staying that way. You think: This can’t be so hard.

Then you learn otherwise.

So you’re more attentive to the next attempt, and the next after that. You’re still never quite sure what you’re doing: Partial visibility means guesswork, and naturally, you’re ignorant of the true state of the other’s interior. Timing provides some guidance. Likewise, poking around a bit without causing harm, just as you poke through the cloudy white bits of egg swirling in the pot.

But do we ever master something as simple as cooking an egg? Or parenting? Or being in love? Can we master just the right combination of simmering, time on high heat, environment, observation, intuition? And doesn’t the egg have to cooperate, at least a little? Doesn’t it have to be a “good” egg?

Hard-boiled is always less challenging: You surrender delicacy, vulnerability, the fluid interior. Or perhaps only the appearance of those marvels, this time around, with this particular egg. I wonder if I have taught my sons that lesson. And that we need both – hard-boiled and soft.

How to boil an egg

So here’s how I boil an egg.

  • Place eggs in saucepan, fully covered in cold water.
  • Bring to a boil. Leave at full boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Turn down the heat. Continue to boil the eggs another 7 or 8 minutes.
  • Dump out water. Run cold water over the eggs for 5 minutes.
  • Pop them in the fridge.

See? Not wildly specific. And while my hard boiled eggs are edible, I still haven’t mastered the 3-minute egg or the poached egg. Perhaps I’ll learn if I really put my mind to it or, as with so much in life, by trial and error, helped along with careful attention.

So how do you rate yourself on the nutrient-filled fundamentals for your family?

  • Do you worry about life skills you’ve forgotten to impart to your children?
  • Do you worry that you’ve passed along too little information, or sometimes, too much?
  • How do you decide when to give them fish, and when to teach them to fish?