This is Chipper-- a happy little Meyer's Parrot who loves all the usual parroty things like seeds, grapes, playful biting, and his roommates. He squawks and bobs and has the characteristic tuft of yellow feathers on the top of his head that reminds me of Rip Taylor every time I see him. There's only one problem-- Chipper isn't a "he" at all.
A little while back, I received a phone call from my friend Lyle:
"Hey, uhhhh... Mike? So... Cybele and I just got back from Mexico and saw that Chipper just laid and egg. Cybele was wondering if you wanted to come over and eat it."
I was a little stunned. Not so much because of the odd invitation. I was delighted, in fact. It was more at the thought of my refusal to believe that Chipper was not, in fact, male.
He's She's laid eggs before-- four or five over the course of her twenty-one years. I realized that I was clearly struggling with the bird's gender assignment and was frustrated that, since she is not as verbal as other breeds of parrot, I wouldn't be able to ask her how she felt about being a male trapped in a female body. Of course, it's more than likely that Chipper is completely happy in her female state. Thanks to years of therapy, I quickly understood that this was clearly my problem and not hers, so I moved on.
"Sure," I replied, "Why not?" The egg was collected and refrigerated. Arrangements were made.
When I arrived at Lyle and Cybele's home, I found still-warm-from-the-oven cornbread on the kitchen counter, along with freshly-made guacamole and salsa, some tortilla chips, and a pot of chili simmering on the stove. Chili. Oh, yes. I had forgotten it was Super Bowl Sunday. While millions of football fans across the country were preparing to eat their own chilis and nachos and what-have-yous, I had the feeling that we were possibly the only people in the country who would be eating parrot's egg.
"Do you want to see it?" asked Cybele. She placed a small blue ceramic bowl in my hand in which the egg had made its home for the past several days. It was tiny. I'm not sure what else I was expecting to come out of an eight inch tall bird. I wondered what the hell I was going to do with one egg that was smaller than a watch face.
I didn't have to think long. All the ingredients were right there on the countertop: the guacamole, the tortillas, the salsa. What else could I make but huevos rancheros? Correction: what else could I make but one, little huevito ranchero?
The trick, of course, was not to screw it up. Dropping it or breaking the yolk were out of the question-- this egg was too rare a thing to scramble. We discussed the best way to go about cooking the thing, which was to liberally coat one depression of a miniature muffin tin with olive oil spray, place the tin in a shallow amount of water, and heat gently-- very gently. I became nervous cracking the egg. It wasn't so much that Chipper had been let out of her cage to watch the action, but because, if I messed up, I would have to wait patiently for another two years before I'd get another chance to gourmandize the fruit of Chipper's womb. I gave the the shell a couple of swift taps with the dull end of a small knife. The shell was much softer and less calcified than a chicken's egg. I carefully peeled away the cracked bits that adhered to the thick inner membrane, making a window large and smooth enough to safely release the yolk and albumen, then let it gently slide into the warm, waiting mini muffin tin.
"Is it done yet?" asked Lyle as he peered over my shoulder. "It doesn't look done, but it has to be-- something that small shouldn't take so long. Is the heat on?" The heat was on and it didn't look done at all-- the white of the egg was still opaque. I was treating it like a chicken egg. Since I nor anyone in my acquaintance had any prior parrot egg-frying experience, the white of the egg seemed like a sensible gauge.
I touched the thing with the tip of my index finger. It felt done, so I pulled the tin from the heat and let it rest briefly as I prepared the egg's accessories. We were all pleased. I was surprised by how cute an egg dish could be.
It was, of course, on the small side. I could have fit the whole thing into my mouth at one go. Fortunately, I remembered that I was eating something very special and that the producer of this little pre-chili amuse bouche was perched directly behind me, making a mess of the bit of corn bread Cybele had just given her. I turned around and showed Chipper the plate. She cocked her head a little and then lunged at it. Would it be okay if she ended up eating some of her own egg? I quietly decided to myself that this was one moral question I did not care to find out-- I was too hungry and hung over from the night before to deal with such things. I merely thanked Chipper for the food I was about to receive. I felt as though I were saying some sort of Grace before supper, except, this time, I was saying it to an actual, living creature that I could reach out and physically touch, not an invisible deity. I turned my back again, uncertain of what Chipper's feelings might actually be regarding the matter, and tucked in and thought to myself, "Is this rude? Do farmers ever eat eggs in front of their own chickens? What's the etiquette here?"
I cut off a small amount of egg white and placed it on my tongue. It tasted oddly citrusy and I said as much. I asked Cybele what Chipper like to eat. "Oh, lots of seeds and grains. Oh, and grapes. Chipper loves grapes," she replied. The list went, but nowhere was anything in the citrus family mentioned. So the top note was this little birds own, special addition. Lyle and Cybele then each took a little taste. That's pretty much all one could do with the thing-- it was gone after that. One perfect little parrot's egg gone after three tiny, thoughtful bites. I sat there thinking to myself, "Is that... all there is?" I tried to remain as dead pan as Peggy Lee herself. I didn't want to offend Chipper.
Overall, I'm glad I got to try the egg. None of the pets I've cared for in my lifetime have ever given me anything as useful as something to eat. Sure, the cat had left several snack offerings, but sunbaked lizards and half-chewed finches are too much trouble to cook. And, before anyone utters a "How could you?", it's not as if Chipper was going to make use of the thing-- it was unfertilized. Perhaps we just spared her effort summoning any sort of maternal instinct the embarrassment of going through the motions of caring for something that would never become anything else if left to its own devices. Maybe it was better that we did let that egg become something else, like food.
Whatever the case may be, thanks Chipper, you've given new meaning to the term "pet food." I do hope we did your little egg justice. Maybe the next time around, we'll do something even more fun with it, like make a tiny soufflé studded with seeds and grapes in your honor or simply soft-boil it and serve it on miniature toast. We've got another two years to come up with a menu plan.