Philadelphia has a well-established reputation for grit. It worked out well that I spent the ages of 20 to 21 there being flat broke. I had no phone but the payphone on the corner, no tv, no bed, just a roll mat and a couple of chairs found on the street. My roommate, appropriately nicknamed Crumb—and I, used to ration out food at near-famine levels; granted, part of this had to do with my anti-everything attitude and some leftover punk rock ethos from my early teens. I could have always just gone back and lived with my mom if I wanted. Also, the beer, tobacco and other recreational supply money always seemed to materialize so don’t ask me where the hell my priorities were. These were different times. Everybody was talking about revolution, our boys were being shipped off to a senseless war, people were finding new ways to live and love… wait, no that was the sixties. I really didn’t need to be living this way.
The culinary outlook was as bleak as you might imagine. There was a lot of rice and beans, and then basically eggs. The scene in Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman’s character heroically downs fifty hard-boiled eggs inspired more than one foolish test of bravado. Thankfully Crumb’s British background came into use when he introduced me to a more refined way of eating eggs, Soldier’s and Dippy Eggs.
This appetizer consists of soft boiled eggs with the top cracked off, creating a natural yolk dish for thin slices of toast to be dipped into. Eating these can make even a poor man feel regal. They presented a drastic change from the way I would normally eat hard-boiled eggs and rice in the mornings for mere subsistence after a night of hard-drinking. Now, on many early mornings, I’d sit quietly in my chair by the morning light of my room’s window while letting the steam from the egg and tea, and smoke from a hand-rolled cigarette float around my head. A lot of philosophizing and soul searching probably happened inadvertently during those cumulative hours. I would head down the street afterward around 7:30 am to my groveling dishwashers job feeling a bit more enlightened than the position called for.
To invoke the vibe of a frugal-zen philosopher, pair with a dark cup of tea such as Earl Grey and a hand-rolled cigarette from decent tobacco like Bali-Shag.
The original English bohemian Syd Barrett should add the right feel.
If you don’t know anything about Syd, he was the creative force behind most early Pink Floyd. In 1968 he was institutionalized for suspected mental illness. After returning from the hospital he produced solo work that I have always preferred to Pink Floyd as a band. You can hear the looseness of his mind in the way the verses and melodies float over the rhythmic structure. The songs all have the pace of a smoky empty room. They sound unpolished and feel like a more direct expression than you would get from a Pink Floyd album. His solo music career was short-lived and he spent much of his later life with his mother in Cambridge, England making abstract paintings. I picture him sitting with his mum in a humble English townhouse sharing Dippy Eggs and Soldiers at tea time before heading back upstairs into solitude.
As you play the record above, try this recipe for a slight upgrade involving asparagus. You can also feel free to skip the asparagus and just thinly slice some toast for dipping. If you don’t have egg cups you can use regular cups or ramekins filled with rice to hold the egg upright. You can also just tear off a section of the egg carton and place them in there.
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 4 large free-range eggs
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- crusty bread or thin slices of toast
Gently drop eggs into simmering water and leave for exactly 6 minutes. Meanwhile, get your egg cups ready – dippy eggs will wait for no one once they’re done! Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the eggs and place in the cups, then tap each shell gently with a teaspoon and remove the tops. Serve straight away, with steamed or sauteed asparagus for dipping, thin slices of toast, or both. Use plenty of salt and pepper.