I knew I was done for the moment I strolled bleary-eyed into Llew’s parents’ kitchen Saturday morning after another sleepless night and Llew said, “I’ve just been telling Mum and Dad about your amazing omelettes.”
Now, Llew’s dad is the established Egg Aficionado of the family, justifiably proud of his unblemished record preparing eggs every which way they come. This rogue egg uprising could only spell trouble, and only for me.
“So I’ve volunteered you,” Llew continued cheerfully, the mischief making him smirk, “and now you and Dad are going to have an Egg Off.”
Please no, I thought, heart sinking, not this weekend. Please don’t do this to me on the tail-end of this hideous week. Please no. Because I have a funny track record with this sort of thing when it comes to Llew’s parents: something always goes horribly wrong. My pasta sticks together in a glutinous heap, my cakes don’t rise, my pans burn, and my foot presses the accelerator instead of the brake during a driving lesson in Llew’s dad’s brand new car that I beg not to take. In short, I turn into a raging incompetent, and even things I do all the time with the unforced skill of years of experience become completely beyond me. I think it’s because I want so much for everything to go right that somehow everything always goes wrong.
The other thing is, Llew’s dad has very fixed ideas about things. There’s a lesson P gave Llew when he was a boy that Llew has never forgotten, and which is very revealing of P’s own approach to every task: “Now, Llew, in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.”
In other words, I was doomed to make omelettes the wrong way before the Egg Off even began.
My tactical errors began early. The critical flaw was pan selection. I made a huge mistake: I went for the right size over the right surface, and by right surface I mean non-stick. This left the large non-stick pan for P, who was delighted, since this is his omelette pan.
“So what do you put in it?” he wanted to know.
“Two eggs, salt and pepper, and a bit of water per omelette.”
“Oh well, that’s the same. Nothing new there. But per omelette? Why aren’t you making one four-egg omelette since you’re making it for two people?”
“Well, I’ve been making individual omelettes.”
“But then they won’t be ready at the same time. That won’t work. You’d be better off making one omelette to share between two.”
“Di’s only take two or three minutes,” Llew piped up helpfully. “It doesn’t take any time at all.”
P furrowed his brow in either disbelief or consternation, or maybe a bit of both.
“That’s just the demonstration I saw,” I said hurriedly, apologetically, “and it’s been working pretty well at home so far.”
“And who was this?”
“Oh well,” he said sorrowfully. “Up to you.”
I mixed his eggs in one bowl and my own in two.
“So what filling are you putting in it?” he wanted to know.
“Just cheese,” I said, and P let out a derisive little snort. “I haven’t mastered fillings. I wasn’t aware I was going to be thrust into competition, otherwise I might have come a little more prepared.”
Llew laughed delightedly from the safety of the other side of the bench. By this time, I really wanted to smash him around the head with my heavy-based and totally incorrect pan.
“I sometimes put mushroom,” P began, “ham, tomato… but just cheese? Okay. Just cheese.” He inspected the mound of cheese I was grating. “You’re going to need more than that.”
Next came choosing the gas plate. I went for the inside, because P’s pan was so much larger I figured he’d need more room to move. But no.
“Okay, I’ll take the hard side, then,” he said. “Oh, you’re using butter. You lose points for that.” He brandished an egg flip. “This is what I’m using,” he said. “You’ll have to use something else.”
“I don’t use one,” I said, and with that, my fate was sealed.
The eggs went in. P calmly stood over his pan, which he sat over a lowered heat. He watched in serene silence and then once it was bubbling, he sprinkled over his cheese. I did as I have been doing with such uncomplicated success since the Julia Child revolution began, but it was immediately, painfully clear it was not working. Egg was simply sticking to the pan. All over it. Panicked, I reached for a utensil to try to ease the egg off the pan. P practically started humming.
“Fuck,” I blurted. Beside me, I felt P’s spirits soar. “This isn’t working. Wow. This pan really isn’t working.”
“Oooh,” came a unified chorus of disappointed-but-really-so-happy-we-can’t-hide-it voices. Then P added, “Oh? It’s the pan? It must be the pan.”
Seething, I scraped a messy lump of egg onto a plate and dumped the pan in the sink. I’d try one of the other pans.
“Doesn’t that look delicious!” cried K, Llew’s mum. “I’ll have that one!”
“Oh no you won’t,” I snapped.
“But that was the whole idea,” P said, his tone benign and patient. Gloating like the Cheshire Puss. “We’ll have yours and you’ll have mine.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Not when they’re turning out like this.”
I poured the second lot of eggs into the second pan. The exact same thing happened – absurdly, I felt like crying.
“I tell you what, though,” I said to no one, “it’s been working like a dream at home.”
Peter calmly prodded his omelette, unable to hide his smile.
“Isn’t it working?” asked Llew. “It must be the pan.”
“It must be the pan,” echoed K and P.
P eased up one half of his omelette and dropped it over the other. Then he halved it and slid each half onto two waiting plates. I scraped the second failed attempt onto the final plate.
“Yummy,” K exclaimed again. “Oh boy, I’m looking forward to eating that.”
“Can you please not?” I said. “Seriously, please stop it. Llew and I will eat these. They’re total train-wrecks. As if I’m eating yours and giving you these.”
I marched out of the kitchen. Llew stopped me on the stairs and I rounded on him.
“Wasn’t that fun?” I screeched. “Thanks so much for that, Llew, that was awesome.”
“Don’t be so uptight,” he laughed.
“That was completely humiliating,” I hissed.
“I think someone’s taking their eggs a bit too seriously,” he chortled, and I thought about pushing him down the stairs.
I took a deep breath, turned on my heel, and headed to the table for the moment of truth.
“Well,” I said brightly, sitting down to eat my lump of god knows what – scrambled eggs, I guess you’d call it, if you wanted to be charitable. “Wasn’t that an unmitigated disaster?” Everyone laughed heartily – including me – it was impossible not to, looking across at K and P’s perfect omelette quadrants and down at our spectacularly unappealing egg medleys. “Bon appétit!”