Time for eggs! The sunshine hours are lengthening in anticipation of the upcoming vernal equinox, in which the hours of light and the hours of darkness will be poised in balance before the sun starts its crawl upwards to midsummer's apex. Longer hours of daylight flip a switch in the instinctual brains of our feathered friends, chickens both urban and rural among them, and the stingy-to-nonexistent egg-laying of the winter months suddenly turns into a bountiful flood of fresh, beautiful eggs for spring.
Last week, the chickens of Marin Sun Farms' home ranch in Inverness were chattering and clucking like a posse of glamour gals from Gossip Girl, crisscrossed by a handful of strutting roosters. Eve Love, who runs the kitchen at the company's butcher shop and cafe in Point Reyes Station, gave me a springtime gift of a half-dozen jumbo eggs in every color from palest buff to aqua-green. Every egg was double-yolked, a good-luck charm from their happy hens. Love is also starting her own flock of quail, with three hens in a pen, and along with the jumbo eggs she gave me three dainty speckled quail eggs. Seen side by side, they looked like that Annie Leibovitz picture of basketball star Wilt Chamberlain and jockey Willie Shoemaker.
Dainty and speckled, quail eggs, which can be found in specialty grocery stores as well in Asian markets, invariably put me in mind of the centerpiece of plovers' eggs decorating Sebastian's rooms in Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited.
Sebastian lived at Christ Church, high in Meadow Buildings. He was alone when I came in, peeling a plover's egg taken from the large nest of moss in the centre of the table.
'I've just counted them," he said. 'There were five each and two over, so I'm having the two. I'm unaccountably hungry to-day.'
The party assembled. Each as he came in made first for the plover's eggs, then noticed Sebastian and then myself with a polite lack of curiosity which seemed to say: We should not dream of being so offensive as to suggest that you never met us before.
'The first this year!" they said. 'Where did you get them?'
'Mummy sends them from Brideshead. They always lay early for her.' "
I've never seen a plover's egg, but I imagine them something like these, a little shy and wild, a woodland morsel out of a fairytale. Or, like a quail's egg, something very chic, displayed on a square black plate, ready for peeling, with matching saucers of sea salt and smoked paprika for dipping.
It's easy to hard-boil quails' eggs. Put them in a pot and cover with at least an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn off the heat, and let sit for five minutes. Drop the eggs into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking. (This helps prevent that unsightly gray ring from forming around the yolk). Once cooled, chill, then let your guests peel their own, sprinkling each bite with salt and smoked paprika. (This is a nice chance to show off whatever expensive crunchy salts you were gifted over the holidays, by the way.)
Once you've made your fill of scrambles and frittatas, over-easy's and sunny-sides-up, you can try a batch of these lovely, tender pancakes, made with cottage cheese, lots of eggs, and just a hint of lemon. Similar to lemon ricotta pancakes, these were a family specialty when I was growing up, served interchangeably for breakfast and Sunday-night supper, usually rolled around a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of warmed Bing cherries.
After calling my mom for the recipe (which she found, scrawled in my teenage handwriting, on the flyleaf of one of her cookbooks), I made them again, for the first time in decades. They were exactly as I'd remembered: moist, tender, delicate and mess-free, with a taste somewhere between a crepe and a blintz.
All you need is a blender (or a bowl and a whisk) and a frying pan. Happy spring!
Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Measure your ingredients right into the blender, then buzz and go! The pancakes can be served with maple syrup, powdered sugar, or lemon glaze. If you want to keep your pancakes local, use Cowgirl Creamery's excellent, Marin-made cottage cheese, made from organic Straus Family Creamery milk.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total time:10 minutes
Yield: 10 pancakes
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
grated rind of 1 Meyer lemon (optional)
1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as grapeseed or canola
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Butter, for greasing pan
3 tbsp butter
juice of 1 large Meyer lemon
1 tbsp sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup pitted cherries, liquid reserved if canned
1. Combine all pancake ingredients in a blender. Blend at high speed for 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides once.
2. Cook on a hot, lightly greased griddle or frying pan, using a 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Bake for approximately 2 minutes per side, until well golden browned.
3. While pancakes are cooking, make glaze. In a small saucepan, melt butter with lemon juice and sugar, cooking over low heat until butter is melted and mixture is slightly syrupy. If using cherries, warm in their liquid until plump and heated through.
4. Serve pancakes immediately, drizzled with glaze. If desired, fill each pancake with a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of cherries. Roll pancake up around filling. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or drizzle with glaze.