Bedeviled by deviled eggs

Billy Ockham might prefer the classic

Jeffrey Denny

Split a hard-boiled egg. Squeeze the yolk into a bowl. Meld with Hellman’s and a dab of French’s. Spoon into the egg-white half shell. Dash with paprika. Serve lightly chilled on a platter.

Like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea, the classic deviled egg releases childhood reveries that comfort, inspire or pain. Deviled eggs were part of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Picnics. BBQs. Potlucks. Cocktail parties fueled by Manhattans and Rob Roys. Neighbors gathering just because. Farewell receptions to colleagues beloved and otherwise.

Guests swarm deviled eggs. I do shamelessly (once toppled a toddler as I was rushing the plate, but she knew it was her fault). We eat two, three, four — ok, just one more — because deviled eggs are an “appetizer.” Appetizers don’t count as the meal we’re appetizing for. They’re calorie-free digestive prep, setting the stage, calling all enzymes, almost medicinal. Even if two eggs is a complete breakfast, we’ll eat four before dinner.

Comedian Louis C.K. did a bit about why, if sex is our all-time favorite thing, we don’t have sex all the time, every available moment of every day. Not to compare sex with deviled eggs (park that for now), but if we love the latter so much, then why do we indulge only, max, three times a year?

Are deviled eggs like bowling or miniature golf, things we say we love but actually rarely do, and maybe only to remind us why we don’t do them more? Do we love them because we rarely do them?

Why, if we love deviled eggs, do we make them only to bring to a special occasion, but never for our daily consumption at home? Have you ever met someone who spends time making deviled eggs for personal enjoyment? If dating, you met someone and eventually opened date’s fridge to find a customized deviled egg plate arrayed with fresh deviled eggs, would you see a red flag while also wondering whether date would notice if you ate one?

(“Damn. Who the hell makes deviled eggs for herself? These are for parties. This is just too weird. She must be crazy. I gotta get out of here. Yum — what’s in these? Is that bacon? Crumbled bacon? With a hint of white truffle oil?”)

Readers, if any: For this piece, I’m not just spit-balling as usual, inventing facts and indulging my penchant for cheap jokes and onanistic wordplay. Deviled eggs deserve more.

So I conducted deep research into the origins of the deviled egg, spelunking the footnotes about the footnotes about the footnotes, delving musty archives and library stacks to explore the history and cultural significance, thrilling in the revealing moments when our greatest historical figures partook and declared on the deviled egg. (Moses: “Pretty, pretty, pretty good. Maybe just a schtickle more salt.”)

Actually, after four minutes on Wikipedia (I’m a slow reader), I’m ready to write a peer-reviewed paper about deviled eggs that will be distorted by the failing New York Times and topped with a grabby Week in Review headline like: “What Trump’s disdain for deviled eggs says about the president, our nation, our future, and our racial and gender identity.”

Summarizing my research paper about deviled eggs for a TED talk that won’t be scheduled because I don’t have the cool graphics or enough slimming black clothing, my main insights about deviled eggs I cut and pasted from Wikipedia because I can’t do any better are:

· Deviled eggs (US) or devilled eggs (UK), are also known as stuffed eggs, Russian eggs, or dressed eggs are hard-boiled eggs that have been shelled, cut in half, and filled with a paste made from the egg yolks mixed with other ingredients such as mayonnaise and mustard. They are generally served cold as a side dish, appetizer or main course, often for holidays or parties.

· The term “deviled,” in reference to food, was in use in the 18th century, with the first known print reference appearing in 1786. In the 19th century, it came to be used most often with spicy or zesty food, including eggs prepared with mustard, pepper or other ingredients stuffed in the yolk cavity.

· In parts of the South and Midwest, the terms ‘stuffed eggs’, ‘salad eggs’, and ‘dressed eggs’ are used instead. The term ‘angel eggs’ has also been used in association with deviled eggs stuffed with ‘healthier’ (less fat and cholesterol) alternatives.

Speaking of health, deviled eggs now are low-carb perfect for the Atkins/South Beach/latest keto diet that says we can never eat a glistening, delicious donut. We can load up with everything protein-rich produced by anything with eyes and parents. And we should for our health if not theirs, however happily free-ranging they might be during the egg-laying, milking or slaying and rendering.

(Sidebar I: I heard about someone who will never eat duck because she was on a bus in China where people were gnawing fresh-killed ducks that still had their beaks. Their beaks!)

(Sidebar II: The animal revenge for our slavish protein-rich diet might be chronic, painful kidney stones, slimming pants that make us feel sexier than we really are leading to embarrassing reality checks, or nightmares involving unicorns deciding whether we’re worthy of heaven and asking every departed soul of every animal we ate.)

Back to my point: Deviled eggs today— like most things — are not what we remembered.

Our time offers bewildering creativity and global choices in dining, supping and everything else brought right to our neighborhoods and homes, from anywhere, any day, any time.

Growing up, mustard was French’s. Mayonnaise was Helman’s or the miraculous Miracle Whip. Eggs were eggs. We didn’t know that paprika was made from bell peppers, or that thousands of pepper variations existed, from Aji Amarillo pepper powder to Szechuan peppercorns “from the berries of a small ash tree that have a woody, spicy and delightful citrus aroma that gives a tingling sensation to the tip of the tongue,” per spiceandtea.com.

We didn’t have bok choy, let alone baby bok choy. We had broccoli, but not broccolini. Cauliflower was torture, a big boiled wet chuck of prefrontal cortex, not sliced, brushed with olive oil, sea-salted, grilled like a steak and relished by foodies. As for relish, it came from Vlasic to dress a Ball Park Frank, not from an Epicurious recipe tossing hand-chopped cucumber and onion, apple cider vinegar, coriander, kosher salt and sugar.

We had tomatoes, but never tasted a fresh-picked vine-ripened tomato fruit (right up there with sex). We had insulting mealy peaches that would make the bottoms of our trousers roll, and bitterly boiled Brussels sprouts that turned our faces turn inside out. We had pasta, but it was ravioli in tomato sauce canned by Chef Boyardee, now a division of Conagra, launched by a real chef, Hector Bioardi, who opened his Il Giardino d’Italia restaurant in Cleveland and grew to a national brand from customer demand. (He changed his brand to Boyardee so Americans could pronounce his exotic name).

We had Chinese food, but it was canned La Choy chop suey, originally tsap seui (杂碎, “miscellaneous leftovers”), culturally appropriated by Chinese Americans, and also now owned by Conagra.

We had cheese, but it was cheddar, Swiss or Kraft Parmesan from the round green table shaker, not locavore artisan goat crusted with fennel and lavender. We had Hickory Farms salami and banana chips, but not Trader Joe’s gluten-free, non-GMO, nut-free, sensitively raised, free-range Chianti red wine artisan salami and roasted plantain chips. We had Bob Evans breakfast sausage links, not knowing there was a real-deal Bob Evans down on the farm and the only Ohioan honored three times by the National Wildlife Federation.

We never imagined delicious, yeast-free cocoa, date and vanilla superfood rolls. (As Floralfoods.com extols, these rolls are super because of the hidden Baobab powder from the naturally dried fruit that grows in Africa Savannah on the Adansonia tree that some call “The Tree of Life.” And Baobab is better “added to smoothies to boost it up with the extra potassium, calcium, vitamin C, Vitamin A, magnesium, fiber, B6.”)

We also have specialty olive oil and vinegar stores … sushi at the Walgreens … MacDonald’s re-branding with a new protein menu … and Popeye’s using the sous-vide (water bath) method of preparing its rosemary-brined, cornmeal-crusted fried chicken. Ok, I made the last one up.

Even the Trump Country Piggly Wiggly grocery chain offers food-paired and curated wine selections. Actual ad: “Looking for a wine that will please many palates? The hottest trend this year in wine is Moscato. It is a sweet, easy to drink wine. There are White, Pink, Red, Bubbly and Asti versions of this wine. The Bubbly Moscato and the Moscato Asti have a slight effervescence that lends well to spring/summer get-togethers.”

No sense yet how Piggly Wiggly might regard the new Willamette, Oregon pinots.

Deviled eggs are blessed/ruined by this trend of the best of everything for everyone everywhere all the time.

Top restaurants now offer deviled eggs as kitsch with a twist to make the mundane sublime.

Bethesda Magazine, a fat lifestyle glossy that covers the wealthy Bethesda-Chevy Chase Maryland ‘burbs and old leafy Northwest DC, extolled the best deviled egg offerings just within a square mile. I quote:

Boldest: Whipped with Boursin and cayenne, and capped with roasted red pepper, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and red onion, Blue 44’s Mediterranean Style Deviled Eggs pack a peppy punch. Chef James Turner has also crowned the halves with lobster, fried capers, lardons or house-smoked salmon, and has served a version with arugula-colored yolks and crispy pork called Green Eggs and Ham.

Classiest: Simple and understated but with a bit of a twist, Macon Bistro & Larder’s deviled eggs are like a black dress with a stunning choker. Pureed with the traditional mayonnaise and sweet pickle, the egg yolks are piped into a gentle swirl and topped with a necklace of red bell pepper marmalade, tiny bacon bits and a drizzle of homemade hickory-smoked olive oil. Lovely.

Most Decadent: You might not even notice the eggs in Terasol’s swanky take on the simple dish. But they’re there, buried beneath they’re there, buried beneath salad made from jumbo lump crab and finished with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Sprigs of frisee surround the two ice cream-size scoops, along with a tangle of sweet pickled red cabbage to cut the richness. It’s a glamorous way to spend $12.

Drooling? Me too. And I had to look up “lardons.” (“A small strip or cube of pork fat (usually subcutaneous fat) used in a wide variety of cuisines to flavor savory foods and salads.”)

But while we delight in our explosion of deviled eggs and other choices, we struggle too.

Menus are a blur of adjectives, adverbs and ingredients I’ve never heard of (starting with argan oil, boletes and cardoon). The waiter’s walk through the chef’s complicated specials might as well be in ancient dead Etruscan translated by a dog for a cat.

Our embarrassment of riches may no longer embarrass, but we worry they can’t be good for our souls or humanity. Having everything we could want, and learning new wants from makers and marketers, eventually overwhelms and promotes ennui and existential angst, not to mention gout.

I’m certain that ancient Greek and Roman theater that I’m too uneducated to know or lazy to Google warned what happens when we get too much of what we want. (Spoiler: Tragedy or comedy or tragicomedy ensues.)

Actor Mae West is oft quoted that “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Later she said “too much of a good thing is taxing.” She did not mean, ergo, that taxes are wonderful. Likely she just got tired of all those good things.

For me, when things get too complicated and choices overwhelm, I get tired and default to simple.

For example, I’m too simple to completely understand or explain 12th century William of Ockham’s famous theory — respelled as Occum’s Razor — that the simplest approach usually is the right one. But I shave every day with his razor and try not to overthink things.

Perhaps Friar William would prefer the original, simple deviled egg, with the Helman’s and French’s, instead of with the lardon, arugula, frisee and piping into a gentle swirl.

Yes, Occamism taken too far becomes pride in ignorance — what I don’t know that I don’t know makes me smarter than the over-educated weenies and experts who have done the work and have the experience. What’s too complicated, what I don’t get, must be a bunch of bull. My common sense beats your PhD any day. Without devolving to political, I worry that we see a lot of revenge against the revenge of the nerds today.

In any case, I’ll take any deviled egg offered by anyone, any time. With or without the lardon. If the gentle swirl is available, by all means, throw that in.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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