Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Guinea Plate Special
The first morning I woke up at the orchard, I took a great walking tour with Elane around their property, learning about all of the different trees and their fruits, the irrigation system, and all of the different creatures that live in the area with them. Actually, in later mornings, we spotted a Mama black bear with her two baby cubs on the other side of the mountainside not too far up the trail, only to wake up the next morning to a bobcat in one of the claw traps off the driveway. Who needs coffee in the morning when you have a few predators around to get your blood going?
Anyway, that first morning we ended our tour at the main house right beyond the cherry trees. Before we went inside, Elane brought me to the back of the house near the patio towards some of the strangest noises I’ve ever heard. It was a mixture of squaking, squeaking, clucking… with a slight twang of noises similar to a creaky old gate and a squeaky bicycle wheel. Overall quite a symphony. We approached two caged pens and I finally realized where these sounds were coming from – around 20 small chicken-like birds that were strutting around their area chatting away at each other and at inanimate objects. “And these are our guinea hens,” Elane explained. “Huh, they look like…chicken/turkeys,” I told her as I knelt down to get a closer look. They were the size of a regular chicken but had feathers and heads (complete with the red flappy thing on their beaks…to be technical) just like turkeys. “Yeah, you can call them what you want, but nothing can change how delicious their eggs are.” Now she really had my interest. We proceeded to walk inside and my stomach grumbled with the thought of breakfast.
I sat down at the table as Elane opened the fridge and pulled out a large cardboard crate full of golf ball sized eggs. “Oh wow, look how cute they are!” I said as I examined their petite size in comparison to the commercial chicken egg. Besides the nice tope background color to them, each egg otherwise had its own unique pattern of brown specks, dots, and splotches, or a lack thereof. “Just wait until you see the inside,” she said while swiftly whacking the egg on the side of the bowl (the shells are almost three times as thick as a chicken egg). A little, golden yellow yolk plopped into the bowl and a small part of egg white followed. “You see that? The yolk takes up most of the egg, and that color signifies a healthy bird that eats what it should eat naturally.” At this point I was cursing myself that I didn’t bring my camera with me on the walk. “Umm, Elane, wait just one second, I need to go get my camera. It’s just that, I, uh, like to document things and well… I guess if there’s one thing you’ll learn about me, it’s that I like to take pictures of food...a lot. You’ll see.” It was no real time for explanation and I hustled out the door.
Out of breath, I ran back into the house after retrieving my camera, only to see that three more eggs were cracked into a new white bowl now (to enhance the color of the yolk) with other whole eggs circling around it to create a nice little showcase of guinea eggs. “I thought it’d look nice for your picture!” This is when I knew Elane and I would get along just fine. After my first photo shoot, she began to whisk the yolks with some whole milk and explained to me that the strong thickness of the yolk, in addition to its color, was due to the bird’s high protein diet (mmm grasshoppers) which in turn makes it one awesome and nutritional addition to any meal.
Elane stood at the stove and I sat at the table next to her, sipping some chai tea with their own harvested honey as she prepared breakfast. Even though our discussion moved away from guinea eggs to other topics, I still kept a close eye on what was going on in the skillet since I was so intrigued by this new form of a breakfast staple. First she sautéed some red onion, mushroom, and fresh baby spinach in some melted butter until everything was a bit soft and wilted. She moved that onto another plate off the heat and added more butter to the skillet so the beaten eggs and milk had something to slide around on and take on its flavor once it was introduced. In they went into the skillet for under a minute just to get them started. Once the smell of cooking eggs finally combined with the lingering smell of the sautéed veggies, everything was mixed into the pan. With the finishing touch of feta cheese on top, our scramble was complete. Slices of rosemary sourdough toast popped out of the toaster just in time to accompany our warm eggs, and we took our plates out to the patio just behind the house.
The morning sun was just as bright as it was earlier, and now the air was warming up too which made the patio area a perfect venue to enjoy our breakfast. I looked beyond the chair across from me to admire the rows of healthy cherry trees that looked so beautiful against the blue sky - only to look to my left and see Lamborn and Lands End Mountain looking tall and mighty in their majestic setting beyond the other 120 acres of their land. And then there were of course the guinea hens still in their cage right next to us. I lifted up my plate and gave them a nod; “Thanks for the breakfast guys”. Elane came out with her plate and a jar of her homemade sweet and sour cherry jam she had made earlier in the season. I took a bite of it on my toast and it was nothing short of exquisite – such a great cherry flavor with the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and without the over-sugary taste you get from store bought jams. It was delightful, and I was so pleased to have it as a toast topper. I finally took my first bite of the eggs and I couldn’t believe the flavor difference that was going on in my mouth. Even though most of the ingredients she added to the eggs you could find in any other omelet we’ve probably all had before, the sturdy – but not rubbery – texture of these eggs made this one one of a kind. Not only that, but the flavor was so rich that it wasn’t drowned out by the strength of the feta or the veggies, nor needed any hint of additional seasonings whatsoever. Everything worked together so well. I never knew I could taste such decadency in an egg dish, and I attributed it to both freshness and the natural lifestyle these guineas were living.
I laid down my fork on my clean plate and sat back to digest my hearty breakfast. I was ready to take on the tasks of the day, knowing well that I had good fuel behind me to lead me through them all. That’s when I thought to myself; who needs Wheaties in the morning when you have guinea eggs? Perhaps they need to reevaluate the contenders for ‘The Breakfast of Champions’.