There is magic in early childhood. Given the proper chance, it's a time when a child can know with certainty that the woods are full of underground creatures called gnomes, that ash trees growing together by the side of a trail are indeed a fairy house that can be climbed into, that sand and mud can be pushed into mountains with endless vistas into another domain.
Young children see the world with such wonder. Even the smallest discoveries are huge and thrilling. To be reminded of how interesting the world really is -- that's one of the best side benefits of spending time with a small human. Since I live with a four-year-old, I'm a lucky person to be around that kind of excitement and magic daily (though admittedly between some rough patches typical of this age).
When I was thinking about this today, I wondered if Kingston's worldview has rubbed off on me a little. This is because I realized that I have developed a tendency to call many things "magic" or "magical," things which in adult eyes would seem utterly banal.
Somehow, for instance, I have started calling our dog "Magic Dog." He has taken to coming into Kingston's room with us to do the bedtime routine each night. If he doesn't, I find myself saying, "Come, Magic Dog! Time for bed!" He usually obeys and pads in after us.
If I had to tell you what is actually magical about our dog, well, I'm not exactly sure what that would be. He doesn't fly. He doesn't glow in the dark. He doesn't grant wishes. Maybe the fact that he is constant in his gentle mood and ever-loving toward us is magic enough.
Even scrambled eggs have become magical in our house. It began by necessity. Kingston would only ever eat egg whites and not the yolk. Initially I saved them for other things, but there are only so many recipes for using up yolks. In my wiliness, I realized that if I called the eggs I cooked "magic," Kingston might actually eat them in their entirety, yolks and all.
It's not just in the name, though. While these eggs may appear to be unexceptional, they are anything but that. The first time I made them, I turned to Marc as we sat down to breakfast and said, "These eggs are magical." He nodded in agreement, as he silently shoved another forkful into his mouth. I had cooked them with leftover Ethiopian spiced butter, or nit'er kibbeh, based on a version from Marcus Samuelsson. Originally, I had made the butter as I was getting ready to cook the Ethiopian chicken stew, Doro Wat (nit'er kibbeh is an essential flavoring ingredient for the dish).
The basic idea with nit'er kibbeh is to infuse flavors into unsalted butter by simmering the butter with onion and spices typical to Ethiopian cuisine, including turmeric, cumin and fenugreek. By the end of the simmer, you essentially have clarified butter with a beguiling aroma that provides additional layers of flavors to whatever you are cooking, be it a chicken stew, or in this case, scrambled eggs. Ni'ter kibbeh is worth making and having on hand for when you want to add a little magic to almost any dish.
For these eggs, use a gentle hand, cooking on medium-low to low, and they will be magically irresistable to anyone, including a four-year-old.
Serves 1-2. Nit'er Kibbeh slightly adapted from Marcus Samuelsson.
For the nit'er kibbeh:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
sprig or two of rosemary
To cook the dish:
3 eggs, preferably organic
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Ethiopian spiced butter
First, make the spiced butter. Place butter, onion, turmeric, cinnamon stick, garlic, ginger and rosemary in a small saucepan. Turn heat to low. Slowly melt butter, then simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Do not allow the milk solids to brown. Let the butter sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the solids to settle to the bottom. Pour butter through a piece of cheesecloth or fine sieve to remove most of the solids. This is your ni'ter kibbeh for cooking the eggs.
Whisk eggs until well beaten. Place an 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat and then add the butter. Allow butter to melt then pour in the eggs. Allow the eggs to begin slightly setting then use a spatula to stir and scrape eggs from the middle. I like to sprinkle a small pinch of salt over the eggs at this point.
Jiggle the pan so that the still-liquid egg from the other edges flows toward the middle. Cook for another minute or two. Scrape eggs and flip. Continue doing this until the eggs are cooked to your liking. I prefer my eggs quite soft, almost runny. Remember, they will still continue cooking after you turn off the heat. Serve garnished with some chopped herbs. Toast, which some would consider magical all on its own, is a worthy accompaniment.