I naively thought that after working for a US telecoms giant for a number of years that I would be reasonably fluent in American English. But I was proved wrong. In a bid to escape an unspeakable ex, and a long-standing unhealthy and addictive relationship, I found myself in the late 90s volunteering to set up a recruitment business in Silicon Valley. Well, who wouldn’t? As a ‘tech’ recruiter, Northern California was the place to be at the height of the Dotcom boom. I wasn’t to know that the crash was soon to come. My youngest daughters were persuaded to come along for the ride. One was ecstatic, being an avid fan of the tv series ‘Beverley Hills 90210’, one was dragged, kicking and screaming. By the time we had to return to London, neither wanted to leave.
I rented a small, but perfect, cream clapboard house built into the cleft of a valley in Los Trancos Hills. The house, surrounded by terraces of wooden decks, had large plate glass windows with views out onto the Foothills National Park. We arrived in winter when the property was surrounded by bare trees dripping with lichen that dipped their roots into a brook fed by icy streams from higher up the range. The noise of pebbles being tossed down the fast flowing water course soothed us to sleep at night. With seven neighbours, a school bus that stopped at the top of the road and only 15 minutes’ drive to Stanford University and the flatlands of Silicon Valley, not only was it the most idyllic of locations, it was the refuge from life I had been looking for.
Food shopping, however, was a less than perfect matter. I had visited the US regularly over the previous ten years, so I knew enough to import from the UK my favourite coffee and a good supply of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. I remember the children buzzing with excitement as we made our first trip around the small Roberts supermarket in Portola Valley. Everything seemed exotic, colourful and different. Wide-eyed, we filled our baskets with cheap sugared cereals, brownie mixes, and buckets of Oreo ice cream. The art of identifying which colour tetra pack contained full fat milk and buying quantities of little sticks of butter were soon conquered.
We learnt that one globe artichoke was enough for two as they were as big as cauliflowers and that salad leaves, freshly misted, had to be paper bagged up and then weighed. But It didn’t take long for the processed American foodstuff to pall. My daughters tired of school lunches made up of corn dogs and pizza squares were soon demanding packed lunches and sugar-free cereals. As for me, experiencing a problem with hormonally aching breasts, I searched for suppliers of hormone-free, grass-fed beef and organic chicken. Our food bill increased accordingly, but we were eternally grateful for Trader Joe’s, and the fruit and veg stall on Alpine Road stocked by a local farm.
Portola Valley is in ranch country. As a consequence, there was little in the way of public transport. I had to drive everywhere and as much as my American friends told me that they lived around the corner, the corner, I found, was miles away. In London, I had walked everywhere. This enforced lack of exercise wasn’t great for my energy levels, never mind my expanding waistline. A personal trainer, I was told, was what I needed. One who would fit training sessions around my day.
Enter Brien. A trainer who had a holistic view of personal fitness, from stamina to strength, to flexibility and most importantly nutrition. Going around the supermarket with Brien was an eye opener as he pointed out the sugar content and additives hidden in the small print. The juice bar where my daughters loved to go, served syrup-laden fruit juices with enough calories to feed an adult for a day. He had me stock up my car with sugar-free power bars, in case I missed lunch and I collected a supply of ‘vitamins’ that had me swallowing 10 capsules a day. Brien didn’t do ice cream, he ate frozen yoghurt, the sugar-free variety. He didn’t do cake either – well, that is, until my leaving party when he had three slices. My personal training sessions were exhausting but brilliant. I felt so good afterwards that I not only signed up for his group classes but also the Sunday friends-only meetings at Stamford football stadium, just so that I could run up and walk down the bleachers. Brien, as far as I was concerned, was the business.
So when ‘egg white’ omelettes were mentioned as an essential part of my new healthy eating plan, perhaps it was silly of me to assume that I knew what was meant. To be fair, by this time I had already had a couple of translation mishaps. Did you know that a cafetiere is called a “French Press’ in the States or that if you requested a pair of secateurs from the charming Norman Rockwell look-alike owner of the local hardware store, he might mistranslate your English into sex..ateurs and try and sell you something else other than the hand pruners you were looking for.
Anyway, to my mind, egg white omelettes was the dish I had made at school. Simple omelettes made more substantial by whipping the egg whites before folding in the egg yolks. How wrong could I be? It was several months later that I eventually tried the Californian egg white version, lunching with a client in a restaurant beloved by venture capitalists in Palo Alto. I couldn’t believe how flat, and unpalatable it was. Like eating an old bath mat.
So, for the purpose of this post, I’m sticking to my version of an egg white omelette, a soufflé one. If you are looking for a ‘clean’ eating omelette you will not find it here. One thing to bear in mind is that it must be brought to the table straight from the grill for maximum effect and folded directly onto the plate. Making it for more than two doesn’t work unless you have multiple hands or a very large grill. As it feels thicker than a normal omelette I recommend quite a strong tasting filling. Dessert soufflé omelettes used to be common fare in the 60s, filled with jam and sprinkled with icing sugar. Now Brien definitely wouldn’t approve of those!
Chilli, Crab Souffle Omelette – enough for two. Preparation time 15 minutes
4 medium eggs
200 gm cooked crab separated into brown and white meat
1 chilli – deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
A handful of chopped coriander
Ground salt and pepper
Turn the grill full on so that it has time to heat up. First, cook the filling. Sautée the chopped chilli and garlic in a splash of oil for three to four minutes. Allow to cool and then add the brown crab. Put the mixture to one side in a small bowl.
Clean out the pan with kitchen towel. Then separate the eggs. Whites into a large bowl and yolks into a small one. Season the yolks with salt, pepper, chopped coriander, and the white crab meat, then beat with a fork.
Put the omelette pan back on a low heat to warm through. Beat the whites until they form soft peaks. Using a large metal spoon fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. Add butter to the pan, swirl it around and turn the heat up. Then add the egg white mixture to the pan, shaking it from side to side to even it out. After about a minute loosen the omelette with a palette knife around the edges and into the middle. Sprinkle over the brown crab meat, as evenly as possible. Leave to cook for another minute.
Place under the pre-heated grill for approximately one to two minutes. I poked a hole with a skewer in the middle to see if the inside was cooked. The mixture should puff up and take on a golden tinge.
Slide a palette knife around the edge again and fold the omelette in half, slip the whole thing onto a plate. Cut in half to serve.