illustration of a hammock

Eggs and Limes

How a trip devoted to reading and beaches and seeing a man turned into a culinary epiphany.

I didn’t bring home any trinkets from Mexico, but I have been toying with the idea of making a Sharpied T-shirt that reads, “I went all the way to Mexico and all I got was this broken laptop and the habit of putting lime juice on my hard-boiled eggs!” Maybe it would have some hot sauce stains on it, for a little added personality.

I went to Mexico to see a man, I guess, and to sit on a beach and read, and also to try to write. That last bit didn’t happen because of the broken computer thing—it just stopped working once I got there. I had also been looking forward to rewatching Drive, a movie saved on my computer that stars my boyfriend Ryan Gosling. But it was fine: I have AppleCare and a smartphone and I’m good at pep-talking myself out of anxiety spirals. Instead, I learned how to slackline and finished all of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (which is truly excellent beach reading), and I finally watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, albeit a dubbed version. And then there’s the lime and egg thing, which is what we’re here to talk about today.

Even the most freshly hatched, locally snatched, orange-yolked egg can feel a bit dour at times, particularly if you’re medium- or hard-boiling it. (A plea: Can we stop calling them “farm eggs”? All eggs come from a farm, even those hatched by mutant hens.) Back at home, I had been lifting weights and trying to eat more protein—I decided my summer look was “protein powder goth”—and I was getting a little bored of boiled eggs. Yes, they are a nutritionally sound little snack that you can store in your fridge. And yes, they are easy to prepare and eat—and boy, are they cute—but sometimes they feel like an obligation. Like a tastier vitamin, or a husky shrub of cauliflower. (A friend of mine once called raw cauliflower a “satisfyingly punishing snack.”) Boiled eggs taste better than that, but the effect can be the same. Fine if you disagree, but regardless, a squeeze of lime makes them pluckier and sweeter and more exciting. The acid rounds them out somehow. How did nobody tell me about this earlier?

So here we were in a kitchen in Mexico, this man and I, pulling out boiled eggs from his refrigerator to snack on before dinner, and I got myself all the way through a competent Spanish translation of “Actually, it’s easier to peel an egg if you do it underwater!” just to be laughed at, ja ja.

“What’s the point?” he said. “I’m in no rush.” By which he meant: Why should you care so much about pockmarks on your boiled eggs? Why should you worry so much about quickness? I assumed there was no accurate way to translate the phrase “life hack.” And why would you, other than to explain that, where I came from, people bragged about using a straw to poke the stem out of a strawberry?

We sat and peeled our eggs onto torn bits of paper towels, wonky piles of scraps accumulating in front of us, gnarled eggs halved and spritzed with lime and sprinkled with salt, popped into mouths in singular, swift motions. Him explaining that this was his preferred childhood snack, that, Here in Mexico, we put lime and salt on everything. Why would eggs be any different? The yolks had those dark rings around them, sulfuric and bad; somehow this warmed my heart, the same way I’d giggle any time he ate a hot dog plain and cold and vertical, like when people eat string cheese incorrectly. Sometimes it’s nice when people care about something far less than you do, like putting food in their mouth, or peeling an egg.

He laughed at me again after lighting a cigarette and ashing it in a particularly large fragment of upturned shell. See, he smiled, if I’d peeled it your way I wouldn’t have this ashtray.

We’d met months before on my first trip to this island, sitting at the bar of the restaurant where he worked, which turned into a fishing trip the next day, which turned into an extended stay and shuttling my bags from an Airbnb to his apartment, where a hammock hung over the bed and the frogs kept me up at night. I came back because he asked me to, and I have a certain thing for reckless decisions and the ocean.

When I told him that my computer wasn’t turning on, he’d said something about how women never take good care of their cars, but I tend to gloss over that part of the story, because it’s more fun to focus on the dumb satisfaction of sliding a cheese quesadilla from a frying pan onto the plate of a shirtless hunk while frogs loudly chirp outside the window than it is to discuss the banal specifics of sitting alone on a foreign island wondering what you’re doing with your life. The first time I left this island, I was sobbing and forlorn—the second time I was just eager to do work and do laundry and be alone and see my friends.

My normal grocery store habit is to pick up an armful of lemons every time I buy food. But since I’ve gotten back, I’ve been trying to swap them out for limes, mostly just to be less boring (I can be so boring), and because of the eggs, which I’m eating with far less resentment now. I’ll boil a whole mess of them and use them however I can, maybe as a garnish for a salad or a grain bowl or whatever the kids are eating these days. I’ll dress the whole thing with a big squeeze of lime, and I recommend all of it, even the questionable life decisions and the quesadillas for dinner.

For the record, here is how I have come to boil my eggs: I put them in cold, salted water, bring them to a boil, and then boil them for four or so minutes. This makes for soft but not totally molten yolks, and whites that are cooked through but aren’t rubbery. I pour out the water and run cold water over the pot until the eggs are cool enough to peel. Sometimes, instead of peeling them, I’ll put them in a bowl in the fridge for later. I used to just plop my eggs into salted boiling water and cook them for seven minutes, which made for almost-runny yolks that were good for, say, a bowl of rice. But then a chef was like, “When you do that, the heat is not reaching the inside of the egg, and that’s why your egg is not cooking evenly.” So now one of the most grown-up things I do is actually watch my pot boil, and then set a timer once it does. (It’s my two cents!) Don’t forget to salt your water and wear sunscreen.

Marian Bull lives in Los Angeles.

Illustration by Paul Blow

Originally Published February 2017