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02 April 2006

slow and easy, Sunday morning

poached egg on spinach, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Sunday mornings are supposed to be slow. The past four days, I’ve been away — in my own city — on a food-filled, fantastic adventure. I’ll tell you all about it soon, but today is not the day. Today, I need to move, sloth-like, through the afternoon, watching movies and reading the Sunday New York Times, one section an hour. All this week, I woke up extra early, worked at my job, then ran to the Convention Center in downtown Seattle, only coming home to fall into bed. So today, I barely rose out of that bed. Time to reconnect instead.

And this morning, as I rose, with sleepy-caked eyes, granular light shifting softly through the bedroom-window blinds, I only wanted one thing: a plate of poached eggs.

When I lived in London with the CFP (and for those of you new to this blog, that’s the Crazy Famous People; and no, I’m still not going to tell you who they are), I ate fabulous food for months on end. Truffles flown in from France. Caviar sent on a plane from Russia. Enough good champagne to fill a bathtub. But perhaps the best bite of food I ate when I lived in London was a simple poached egg on toast.

Toward the end of my time there, when Mr. CFP was off in another country, filming for a week, Ms. CFP decided we should all go on a raw foods diet. She was a lovely woman, a healthy size 8. But she was haunted by the skinny specter of the gaunt gamine girls of Hollywood. After all, Mr. CFP refused to marry her, and that infused itself into everything she did. He loved his food. So did she. But when he was away, she decided that she would lose a lot of weight in one week. And she insisted that everyone else in the house follow her.

Raw foods were just coming into trendy existence. She heard snippets of information about the health benefits of vegetables untainted by steam or the grill — she was convinced. Suddenly, she became the expert, lecturing everyone who listened about the evils of cooking. Ms. CFP convinced the family’s personal chef to prepare us platters of carrots and celery and pile them around the kitchen for easy access at all times. There was no fruit, except for a small sliver of orange in the morning. Ms. CFP’s personal trainer had warned her about the dangers of becoming addicted to fruit, and she listened. So there I was, living in a luxury home in Highgate, surrounded by decadence, nibbling on zucchini slices, all day long.

If we were good, raw tofu dip appeared before us for dinner.

Now, you may be wondering: why did I listen? Well, there was nothing else in the kitchen. I wasn’t allowed to fire up the Aga on my own. Madame made it a moral imperative to eat our food au naturel. She was the raw food police. This is how my only visit to The Ivy — one of the best restaurants in London — was ruined, because I was only allowed to suffer with a salad.

By day three, I couldn’t take it anymore. My head throbbed with pain from the lack of protein or calories. I felt myself growing crabbier by the minute. And I was becoming aware — acutely — that I was in the wrong place. I had to leave there soon. So, on the Sunday morning of that week, I left the house in my walking shoes. I rambled through Hampstead Heath, moved by its expanse and the chance to be in open air after the stuffiness of that house. The enormous vistas and lovely grasses cleared my mind. And by the time I had made it into Hampstead proper, I knew what I needed.

I walked straight to Giraffe, my favorite little restaurant in London. With its vivid orange walls, wide-open windows, and long wooden tables with communal seating, Giraffe invited me in. World music from the Putamayo label danced in the background of the vaguely African-inspired decor. Everyone in the place looked awake and relaxed, not a hint of the desperate frustration of the house I had just left behind. And on the menu: omelettes with goat cheese, organic sausages, and stacks of blueberry pancakes. Everything fresh and healthy. Everything cooked.

In the end, I decided on something simple: a plate of sourdough toast and poached eggs. When they arrived, along with a mug of hot, dark coffee (something else I had been forced to do without for days), I nearly cried. Perfect poached eggs, hot and waiting for me to eat them. I nibbled them, slowly, crunching and thinking, my mind slowly easing. By the time I had sopped up the pepper-flecked, yellow liquid with my last bite of toast, I had made my decision.

It was time to go home.

I left London a few weeks later.

Not every poached egg can be that cathartic. But every poached egg can taste that good. Of course, I can no longer eat poached eggs on toast — the toast would make me more ill than the week of raw-food diet I endured in London. But on this slow, Sunday morning, I enjoyed poached eggs on a bed of sauteed spinach. I thought of that morning in London, how trapped I felt. And I felt grateful that my gluten-free life in Seattle — more expansive than Hampstead Heath could ever be — is all mine.

Poached eggs on spinach

poached eggs

If you’re missing the toast underneath your poached eggs — or if you’d simply like to experience a new taste — try this, one of my favorite breakfasts. This time of the year, spinach is arriving at produce stands a muscular green, as dark green as the expanse of trees on the Olympic Peninsula. The taste of that green — faintly acrid, with all that nutrition packed into one bite — slithers with the salty liquid of poached eggs. I love to pop the thin veil of white of a poached egg, and watch the yellow yolk come slowly pouring forth, pooling at the bottom of the bowl with the bed of green.

Some foods demand to be pristine, presented perfectly. But not poached eggs. They spill and rush, the colors blending, the warm liquid mixing with the wilted greens.

For years, I was too embarrassed to admit to people that I didn’t really know how to poach an egg. It seemed too complicated and simple at the same time. I waited until I reached restaurants to eat them. But we all have gaps in our cooking education. That has been one of the joys of the past year for me — acquiring all this cooking knowledge. Thanks to The Best Recipe, I acquired my foolproof method for poaching eggs. Now, I enjoy my own poached eggs nearly every Sunday morning.

four cups of water
two teaspooons rice-wine vinegar
one teaspoon salt (I like kosher salt for this job)
two eggs
one tablespoon olive oil
one bunch of organic, well-washed spinach
pinch of salt and pepper

Set a deep skillet, full of water, on high heat. Add the rice-wine vinegar and salt. (You can also use white vinegar or white-wine vinegar, if you wish. The exact measurements aren’t so important here. You can use an approximated splash of vinegar and pinch of salt, if you wish.) Bring the water to a boil.

Break the two eggs into a small bowl. Turn off the heat and immediately slip the eggs, at the same time, into the now-simmering water. Put the lid on the skillet and set the timer for four minutes.

(A note here: I like my poached eggs mostly cooked, with just a bit of runny yolk, as in the photograph above. If you like them harder, cook them for four and a half minutes. Runnier? Three and a half.)

As the eggs are slowly poaching, fire up a second skillet on high heat. Add in the tablespoon of olive oil. Chop up the spinach, in rough pieces, then throw it into the hot oil. Remember that the spinach will wilt and shrink in the cooking process, so don’t be afraid to use the entire bunch. This makes your breakfast extra nutritious. When it has wilted into a dark green pile, take the skillet off heat.

Fill your favorite bowl or plate with the wilted spinach. Use a slotted spoon to lift the poached eggs from their skill and drain off the excess water. Place them down on the spinach. Eat.


At 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shauna: ohmigod, that story about your "raw" food experience in London sounds like my own private hell. Run, run, run screaming from that evil place of cold canapes!

It was nice meeting you at IACP- keep up the great writing. So funny.

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops. I meant "crudites" not canapes!

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like hearing the background about your love for the poached egg. It is almost like the poached egg became a comfort food.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Poach eggs are a super comfort food for me too! I really liked this post it cracked me up.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plus, many people with gluten problems often have iron deficiencies too. The egg on spinach is a great suggestion that helps get more iron in your system. Thanks.

At 8:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It also just occured to me that making poached eggs is like having a jack in the box game in your kitchen. Maybe that reference is only clear to me.

At 7:47 PM, Blogger I Am Gluten Free said...

Yes, that is what my gluten free diet needs! I love poached eggs. And putting them on a bed of spinach. How divine! That will be my breakfast tomorrow morning. I can't wait until Sunday to eat them. Thanks for the reminder.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

I've not heard of putting vinegar in the water for poached eggs before--any reason why? I learned to make poached eggs from the time I was young from my father, who in turned learned it from his mother. The secret, he said, to the perfect poached egg was to cook it until the white part immediately surrounding the yolk stops being jiggly when you jiggle the pan handle. The very second it stops jiggling, take the egg out right away. And it works every time! So if you don't have a timer, that's another method to try. I adore poached eggs, especially with lemon-pepper or a carrot-based hot sauce, like the Iguana Gold sauce.

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yummy, I love poached eggs! I have a little chef's secret on serving poached eggs for guests and keeping them nice and runny (or however you like it) because it can be difficult to poach many at a time without them getting entangled or cooking all the way through.

Poach eggs to the perfect done-ness, just like you said, and then put them in an icewater bath to stop cooking. You can actually keep them overnight like this (but who wants to?) in the cold water. when you are ready to serve reheat quickly in warm water or pour hot sauce over like hollandaise.

By stopping the cooking process you are then able to reheat at a lower temperature keeping the yolk runny for longer. You can also focus on other aspects of the breakfast.

I always love the emotions and memories that you share about your food experiences

Ms. Glaze

ps. the vinegar helps to keep the egg white intact and hold it's form becuase it reacts with the proteins – I think.

At 6:49 PM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

Shauna, I've been so preoccupied lately that I haven't been by in way too long.

Love the story - you are hysterical in your telling.

Love poached eggs, they're my favorite and now that I'm doing the South Beach Diet, I was wondering what I would do to replace the toasted challah I adore.

Thanks for sharing.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Kelvin said...

Kia Ora (Hello) from a "male" blogger down under in New Zealand.
A easy recipe even for a krazy person like me to follow, but I don't have any spinach, but the neighbours do !!!

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

add a little hollandaise sauce and you have a naked version of eggs florentine. yum.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Cerebrum said...

Mmmmmmm... Funny story, lovely food. As always :-)

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Shauna, this was delightful to read. I'm very glad that the CFP are definitely a past-tense part of your life. :)

I love poached eggs on greens, even more, I think, than poached eggs with toast. Nigella Lawson has a recipe I really love, in which you boil some shredded kale, drain it, cook some sliced chorizo sausages in a skillet (I have used both fresh and dried chorizo; the dried is a bit oilier, but both are good), add the kale to the skillet and stir it until it is just sauced with the pan drippings, decant it into a bowl and top it with a poached egg. I really, really love this. :)

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Pille said...

It must have been your gorgeous poached egg picture, but that's exactly what I ordered for brunch this morning (Eggs Benedicte, to be more precise)

At 1:50 AM, Blogger Schnozz said...

My mom has celiac disease, and I am loving your site. I recently visited Seattle and was amazed at all the gluten-free goodness to be had ... I kept wishing I had more time to research some foods for her. So I'm glad to see I can do some of that research here! :)

(I keep telling my mom that as a midwesterner, she lives in the wrong part of the country for celiac disease, but I haven't talked her into moving yet ...)

At 9:58 AM, Blogger patricia said...

I still really, really, really love this blog. I also really, really, really wish I were in Seattle and New York and London having all these good food adventures with you!

At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shauna, a customer passed along info to your blog. I run a company in Woodinvile, WA called Mona's Gluten Free which manufactures great GF baking mixes. If you'd be interested in samples please feel free to contact me at


Lisa aka Mona

At 12:50 AM, Blogger amesamac said...

After following your recipe, I am at this moment eating poached eggs for the first time in my life. I didn't have any spinach, so I used some leftover ruccola from last night's's absolutely wonderful. Thanks...

At 6:14 PM, Blogger mtgrl goes GF said...

mmmmm, this hit the spot! I added some other spring greens and it was soooo good I literally licked the plate.
I found your book on the "new" book shelf at my local library, it made me smile, thank you for that. Then my "new" friend found your blog and copied a couple recipes for me along with a CD of music from Italy, perfect!
It has been nice to find another GF grl with a fresh way of looking at it. Thank you for this blog.

PS-My favorite flour blend is Gifts of Nature @ I use thier GF blend cup for cup in cakes, scones, breads, i just add a little more xanthum gum, it is perfect. Tried it with epicurious's Double Chocolate Cake, Fabulous!!!!

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, do you know I actually cried when I saw that recipe...I love food and just can't eat wheat. The world is a better place now :-) Little Bean is her faces..Helen

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came across your blog by chance as i was procrastinating at work looking for dinner ideas - wow! love it!!! and this is one of my favorite recipes, double yum! Anyway just wanted to say - well done and great work!


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