Years ago, more than a decade ago, in fact, I attended my first Pride festival. Montana is a vast state with hundreds of miles between towns and cities, and very few people for the size of the state (it just hit a million!). It wouldn’t make sense to split up the queer community by having a Pride festival in Missoula, and another in Bozeman, and another in Billings, etc. So, the queer organizations in the state wisely pool their resources into one location. That location moves every two years so that it doesn’t unfairly burden one particular part of the state, except the far eastern side, which doesn’t have any towns of significant size and is by far the more conservative half. My first Pride was in June of 2007 in Billings, the largest town in Montana.
I left work early on a Friday afternoon and drove from Bozeman to Billings, a short (by Montana standards) two-hour drive. I was still married to my husband at the time, but it was complicated, and I was attending Pride anyway. I needed a place to stay, and reached out to a friend from college, Allison. We had already graduated and soon Allison would be off to an MFA program in Arizona. She seemed amenable to my staying with her at her family’s house, and I was grateful for a free place to stay.
What I didn’t realize was that Pride weekend coincided with Father’s Day that year. What I also didn’t realize was that Allison was very close to her father, and that I would be accidentally enmeshed in their annual Father’s Day breakfast.
I was deeply embarrassed when I realized I was crashing their family tradition, and I wanted nothing more than to throw my gym bag full of sequined rainbow attire into the car and speed down I-90 back to Bozeman. Allison’s family wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, they welcomed me to their table.
Her mother and father were in the kitchen preparing brunch. I watched them with utter fascination from the dining room table. They weaved in and out of each other’s spaces like waves approaching and receding from the shore. Allison joined, and soon, so did her brother. The four of them told jokes and hearty guffaws filled the vaulted ceilings.
They were making eggs benedict–actually, they were making what they called “Eggs Benedict Arnold.”
“See, we throw asparagus on under the egg. It’s a sneaky eggs benedict. A traitor, if you will,” Alison’s father explained to me.
I had never eaten eggs benedict, and, truthfully, it looked vile. I wasn’t a fan of runny egg yolks then, or Canadian bacon, or probably even English muffins. I grew up eating run-of-the-mill toast and scrambled eggs. This was way out of my food element.
But her family was so generous in letting me join them, and so insistent that I stay, and so persistent that I would like the dish so lovingly prepared that I agreed to try it.
I don’t know if it was the food itself, the wonderment of being among a family that enjoyed each other’s company, or the high of participating in my first Pride weekend, but eggs benedict became my favorite brunch dish from that day forward.
I have become somewhat of an expert on eggs benedict, having ordered it dozens of times from restaurants that span the country. Yet, I had never prepared it, because I knew it was a complicated dish better left to the professionals.
Two summers ago, I was determined to learn how to poach an egg. I read blog posts, recipes, watched Youtube videos, and even polled friends on Facebook. Some people said to use vinegar, others said not to, some said salt the pot, some said no salt, some said stir the water to create a whirlpool, some said that was a waste of time. I settled on doing what the majority said to do: bring a pot of water to boil, turn it down to a simmer, add two tablespoons of vinegar, swirl the water, and gently lay the egg into the water, white first.
I did just as the directions said. The eggs turned a blue-ish tint, and when I pulled them out, they became a gelatinous glob. I tried again and again, but all of them looked the same. I found myself crying on the kitchen floor in the middle of a sunny summer afternoon, Alton Brown’s face smirking down at me. Never again, I thought.
When Abbie returned home from work that day, I told her of my disastrous egg poaching.
“Which bottle of vinegar did you use?” she asked as she furrowed her brow.
“The one downstairs, next to the laundry,” I replied.
“The bottle that is right next to the dryer? Or the one on top of the rack?”
I was becoming annoyed.
“The one next to the dryer! Why does that matter?” I yelled.
“Honey, that’s homemade fabric softener. Remember?”
She started laughing first, and when the sting of embarrassment wore off, I joined in. Abbie was going through one of her green phases in which she was determined to do household chores in a more environmentally-friendly way, and making her own fabric softener with a vinegar base was one of them. Even now, I make sure to clarify which is which before grabbing a bottle of vinegar.
I hadn’t tried poaching an egg since that day. Even though I knew my attempts at poaching were foiled by something that was out of my hands, the fear of personal failure still loomed over the task. I know it may seem inconsequential to you, but it wasn’t to me. It still isn’t. I decided that there was no time like the present to try again.
So on New Year’s Eve morning, Abbie and I set out to make eggs benedict. I was in charge of poaching the eggs, and Abbie was in charge of making the hollandaise sauce.
We both experienced some failures. Even though we bought a brand new carton of farm eggs at a local fresh market, they still weren’t fresh enough. A few of them looked like egg massacres when I pulled them out of the water. Abbie’s first hollandaise sauce broke–the butter curdled when she added lemon juice.
One thing both of us learned? Fuck Alton Brown. That little man don’t know shit.
We started over. We drank mimosas, danced to John Legend, and laughed at our failures. The sun, after weeks of being overcast, streamed in and lit up the stove as we worked. Abbie rubbed my back when I realized that the eggs weren’t fresh enough, that no matter how precisely I followed the directions, or how quickly or slowly I swirled the water, the egg whites would never wrap around the yolk the same way a fresh one would. Instead, upon entering the pot, the yolks sank almost to the bottom, while the whites floated on top, swirling and gathering around nothing, fruitlessly yanking the yolk along the way.
When I dished one out and rolled it onto the paper towel, Abbie cried out. “It looks good! They may not look great in the process, but this looks like a poached egg!”
She was right. The egg wasn’t perfect, but it would do. It was poached!
So I dropped in a few more eggs, one at a time. Two ended up slightly overdone, but the other two had silky yolks and fluffy whites. Abbie restarted her sauce, and used the New York Times’s method of blending the lemon juice and egg yolks while slowly pouring in the butter. She may have oversalted the sauce just a bit. And starting over may have meant that our original, perfectly toasted English muffins had to be scrapped, which led to two new ones being tossed in at the last minute. And we may have neglected the potatoes. But we had a finished eggs benedict dish when all was said and done; it was delicious. And messy.
I didn’t want to go anywhere for New Year’s this year. I haven’t wanted to leave the house at all lately. I’m usually the one pushing for us to go somewhere, get out of the house, see people, be amongst the crowds. But not this year.
After cleaning up, Abbie and I took the dogs for a cold, icy walk through Manito Park. Then we came back and made Irish coffees, one of Abbie’s family’s holiday traditions, and we put together a puzzle.
That evening, we tried another first–we made homemade steamed clams (and a few mussels thrown in for good measure) in a butter, garlic, and white wine broth. Just like other kinds of seafood, clams are alive when you first purchase them, which I should have, but didn’t, realize. As I scrubbed the shells, they pulled their soft parts inside and shut out the bright kitchen light. Watching and feeling them literally clam up took some getting used to, but I scrubbed every last one. Next time we’ll make a thicker broth and buy a harder-crusted bread, but our first try was a success, nonetheless.
After dinner, we worked on the puzzle a bit longer, then decided to switch gears. Abbie built a fire, I made us some grapefruit cocktails with fresh citrus sent to us by her grandmother, and we played a long, competitive round of Trivial Pursuit.
We rang in 2018 with a glass of champagne and a kiss as we cuddled under a blanket together and watched the ball drop on television. In the morning, we made French toast, finished the puzzle, and busied ourselves with putting away holiday decorations and tidying up.
Our New Year’s Eve and Day were not glamorous. I’m sure no one had any serious FOMO looking at our Instagram posts. But, to me, it was perfect.
More than any other year I can remember, the start to this one feels right.