Small Differences: Eggs

We consume a lot of eggs in this house.  They are a great option for a quick but nutritious meal, however they are cooked.  We also use them in baking a lot, from the humble pancake to celebration cakes.  For some time, therefore, I have been pondering the fact that eggs here are uniformly white.  They have a chalky white look to them, opaque rather than a glowing alabaster that some eggs have, and the shells are thin and brittle.  Sure, they look all nice in a box with their uniform complexion but the nature of the shell means they fracture too easily and are, as such, a bit of a pain to use.  I am not sure whether this is to do with the breed of chickens being farmed here (do white chickens lay white eggs?) or if they have been selectively bred more generally so that chickens produce white eggs only.  It’s great for dying eggs for Easter, I am sure, but I am unclear as to what other reasons there may be for these peely-wally eggs to be preferential.

Perhaps it is not the case across the whole of Pennsylvania or the United States but here my local supermarkets do not stock any free range eggs – or at least none of the cartons I see clearly promote the fact that they are laid by free range hens.  That represented a bit of a culture shock to me since I have been buying free range eggs for my entire adult life and, indeed, I cannot even remember the last time I saw a batch of battery eggs for sale in Britain.  Battery farms still exist in Britain for the production of chickens for the meat market but I assume purchasing power led the way some time ago for farmers to produce free range eggs – at least for the domestic rather than food processing market.  I can absolutely tell the difference too: with some of the eggs I have bought here, the albumen spits a lot when being fried because of the water content and the yolk is thinner rather than thick, sticky and golden.

Definitely farming and processing practices differ between Britain and America when it comes to egg production.  Here, eggs are kept in the refrigerated section of the supermarket whereas back home in Scotland I would pluck them off open shelves.  What’s annoying to me personally about that is that it means I have to then store the eggs in the fridge too which was not the case in Scotland because the uniform temperature required to store them was just room temperature.  Indeed, it is actually an EU regulation that requires this because fluctuations in temperature – such as happens when refrigerated eggs are transported in a car and warm up just to be plopped back in a fridge – promote the growth of bacteria.  This becomes critical because, unlike British hens, most American hens are not vaccinated against salmonella, hence the need for refrigeration.  As a bit of an aside, American eggs are also washed and dried before they are packed for sale.  This is done for hygiene purposes.  The same motive is true in the European Union but, instead of washing and drying them, there the edict is that they should be left as they are since the assumption is that farmers should be operating at a high standard of cleanliness anyway and the natural cuticle that layers an egg when it is laid is believed to create an effective barrier between the environment and the interior of the shell.  It was not unusual, therefore, to open a box of free range eggs in Scotland and find tiny feathers or bits of chicken poop still stuck to the eggs.  I would simply wash them thoroughly just prior to cracking them.

So my note to self is that I need to educate myself as to American food labelling so that I can perhaps identify some free range, humanely reared and maybe even organic chicken eggs in the supermarket so that I can ensure I am buying the best possible eggs.  Even if they are all a boringly uniform white.  It is all these little things – the way I could instantly identify food labelling in Scotland but don’t have the foggiest here – that remind me of my “fresh immigrant” status.  I have so much to learn, so much, if even buying a humble egg can flummox me.

Storytime at the Library

My oldest three sons started elementary school just four days after we arrived in the US.  They mumped and moaned about it a bit but actually they thrive on routine and structure and on time apart from each other and me so jumping straight into school was in their best interests socially and emotionally as well as academically.  The school is fantastic and they are really enjoying it and have settled well.  Unfortunately for my youngest son, we have not been able to identify an affordable preschool option at this juncture so he is stuck at home with me.  We are doing the home preschooling thing, of course, but that doesn’t involve him mixing with other children.  He had been in preschool five mornings a week in Scotland and loved it so it has been a difficult adjustment for him to be home with me all day.  So my aim, until such time as he is enrolled in a Pre-Kindergarten programme, is to take him along to as many child-oriented events as possible.  Thus, this morning we headed off to the library for a story time session.

In Scotland, my preschoolers had attended Bookbug sessions in our small, local library.  They were great fun, parents and children all sitting together being led in song and rhyme and having a picture book read to us by the leader.  It was subtly promoting literacy but was also about engaging parents with their children’s learning through play, about socialisation and about fun.  I guess I drove off to the library expecting the storytime session to be if not a carbon copy then very similar.  It turned out to be really quite different.

The immediate difference was that the session was held in a side room just off the children’s section of the library whereas in Scotland our local Bookbug sessions had taken over an area of the main library, albeit in the children’s area, so that other visitors had to just put up with our screechy, pitchy renditions of “Ally Bally” and “Pop a Little Pancake”.  The next difference was that the kids were ushered to sit on the floor on a comfy rug while the adults sat on chairs that lined the walls. This both suggested and enforced the children being separated or disengaged from the adults who had accompanied them.  It was all about the children and just the children.  The major difference was that there were no songs or rhymes at all in the storytime session (though I guess the clue was in the title) just lots and lots of books.  The man leading the session sat at the front of the library and read the stories to the children – and my youngest was rapt for the entire half hour – but also ensured that they understood concepts like cover, illustrator and half-title page, questioned them about the problems being encountered by characters and engaged them in analysis of patterns and illustrations.

I assume the library sessions in Scotland are run in the way they are because they are aimed at children below preschool age and that means under three whereas, in our current school district at least, a lack of affordable preschool provision means that sessions like this need to attract and engage children up to Kindergarten age (though the flyer said the age range was 3-6).  So instead of literacy being learned through song and rhyme in addition to story, a little more academic rigour is appropriate.  For me, it was strange not to be participating in the session and I felt quite redundant but my four year old was engaged throughout and that was the critical element.  Comparisons are unfair anyway and actually I have no preference for the style of session but it was certainly an interesting and enjoyable first experience and one we will repeat.