Every so often during culinary school, we took field trips. When northern California is your playground, and food your subject, field trips are a pretty exciting thing. We went to Sonoma to learn about wine, of course, and had a gritty, raucous 4 a.m. tour of a fish monger at the end of one of the piers right near our school.

Then there was Pie Ranch. The name alone gets you going, and even though there was no pie because our visit was in January, it was still spring-like there and the bounty was coming alive. The drive south along the coast from San Francisco was breathtaking, and when we arrived we were taken all over the property to pick kale and collect eggs from the chickens. There was an outdoor kitchen where we cooked up a meal with our foraged treats, supplementing our picnic with an array of pates and chicken and cookies we’d made and brought from school. It was the kind of meal that you could think of having as your last.

The eggs that day were the real stand-out to me for their freshness. Our teacher, Frances, raises chickens at her home in Berkeley and kept us regaled of her adventure. I started buying eggs at the farmer’s market in San Francisco whenever I could, and this winter up north I love to buy them at the winter farmer’s market from a boy named Sam. He told me he raises 500 chickens, and he beamed with pride when I told him how much I enjoy his eggs. His label on recycled egg cartons has his local phone number, no area code needed because, well, this is a local venture. A kid who raises chickens in northern Michigan and sells the eggs on Saturday mornings is growing up a-ok.

I’m always shocked when I crack open a fresh egg from the farmer’s market, especially when I’ve been eating typical grocery-store eggs for a while. The farm market eggs stand tall in the frying pan, and the yolk is crazy bright orange. Not to mention the flavor, which is just pure, clean, fresh egg taste.

The basics to know about eggs:

  • Buy local, super-fresh eggs whenever possible
  • Eggs stay good in the refrigerator for up to three months, but performance in baking wanes as whole eggs age.
  • There is no difference in flavor between brown eggs and white eggs. The color difference is simply a matter of the genetic make-up of the chicken, like blonde or brunette.
  • The standard size for cooking is a large egg.
  • To learn lots more about eggs, check out this primer on egg advice at Cook’s Illustrated.

We’re going to make eggs later this week (after we have a Fat Tuesday cocktail), a wonderfully simple dish that’s so delicious you’ll want to add it to your repertoire, whether you’re making a Lenten fast or not.

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