Clara Peeters, Still Life with Shrimp and Eggs, ca. 1635.
It is nice when people offer to help and mean it. But I was sincere, too, when I said that no, I didn’t need help cooking the eggs. That it was a one-man job.
It’s true, I could have told him what to do. I could have instructed him to cover the eggs with an inch of cold water, and bring it just to the boil. But I know he would have been watching the pot anxiously, proverbially, and that the exercise would produce a stress all out of proportion to the scale of the job. Where to me, turning off the heat, covering the pot, setting the alarm, and then shocking the eggs in their ice-water bath don’t interrupt other thoughts, or even tasks.
I’ve never thought of hard-cooking eggs as something I enjoy. But the process is calming, in its way. Cracking each cooked egg gently against the edge of the sink and then breaking the hollow spot at its wide base. The satisfaction of finding the membrane and pulling the shell off in a spiral under a thin stream of running water. Then drying each one, and cutting into it to find the yolk is a bright yellow, slightly damp at its epicenter, with no hint of a dark ring.
He would find no pleasure in these unfamiliar tasks, it’s true. But he would also not understand that half the pleasure is that of contrasts, and that it can come only from doing so many other things badly, of feeling so often self-conscious and inept. That for some of us, competence is a rare luxury—and one we cannot afford to take for granted.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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