What Have You Done to My Bagel!?!Hey! I’m talkin’ to you. I’m from Brooklyn. And being from Brooklyn, I know a thing or two about bagels. And I’m tellin’ you that these days a decent bagel is hard to find.
Oh sure, there is no shortage of bagel establishments, but by and large, with large being the operative word here, the products they create and sell are just facsimiles of the real deal.
So why am I complaining about bagels when so many more important issues are at stake? Because pondering about politics or the COVID virus is overwhelming and sure to induce a migraine, while kvetching about the lack of decent bagels is something I can wrap my taste buds around. Besides, it’s a welcome distraction from the turmoil of the day.
Let me state from the outset that I am passionate about bagels. It’s a relationship that dates back to childhood. Back in the day in Brooklyn, I grew up one short block from an old-fashioned bagel bakery. I use the term “old-fashioned” because that was all they did, just make bagels. Bagel bakers were kings. They had a strong union. Why, a bagel baker from the 40’s or 50’s would be appalled to learn that today bagels and bialys are made in the same oven. Right away the integrity of the art form is compromised!
(Let me pause here and briefly explain the bialy, which, outside of New York City, never enjoyed the same popularity as its cousin. The bialy is not a sub-type of bagel, it’s a thing unto itself. Round, with a
depressed middle filled with cooked onions and sometimes poppy seeds, it is simply baked, not boiled first. The outside is matte, not shiny, and it doesn’t have that pull-away crust.)
Besides being weaned on hot out of the oven fresh bagels, there’s a human interest angle to my tale. The owner of the bagel bakery had two sons, who were my contemporaries. The older son, Marvin, had a crush on me, but alas, I was enamored of his younger brother. Marvin pursued me, while Marty ignored me. I don’t remember the resolution of this love triangle, but I have reflected many times during my search for a decent bagel, that I should have stuck with Marvin.
So what is the secret of a good, authentic bagel? I share with you a description written by a bagel maven and published in The New York Times:
A bagel is a round bread made of simple, elegant ingredients: high-gluten flour, salt, water, yeast and malt. Its dough is boiled, then baked, and the result should be a rich caramel color; it should not be pale and blond. A bagel should weigh four ounces or less and should make a slight cracking sound when you bite into it instead of a whoosh. A bagel should be no more than four or five hours old when consumed. All else in not a bagel.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. My problem with most bagels today is that they are too big, no doubt over four ounces, too pale, not crusty on the outside, and too doughy on the inside. Biting into a contemporary bagel is way too frequently akin to biting into an entire loaf of white bread. And when a bagel has this bulk and consistency, no amount of sesame seeds or other toppings can make it right.
Bagel eating is legendary in my family. Those of you who have sprung for the price of the my first book, “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and actually read it, might recall the essay therein entitled “Bagel Sunday.” The essay was written as a tribute to my husband and our two Labrador retrievers, Bette and Davis. Each and every Sunday morning the three would drive off in our SUV to bring home fresh bagels for breakfast. I was convinced beyond a doubt that the dogs knew when it was Sunday, and enjoyed the bagels as much as we did. Sadly, the dogs have died, but happily, my husband is still with me. And the Sunday bagel routine continues to this day.
No bagel essay would be complete without a mention of its latter-day relative, the flagel. Introduced sometime in the 90s the flagel looks like a bagel that has been run over by a car. It is, in fact, a flat bagel. It is crisp and less doughy, and comes with a variety of toppings. I have to admit that I find the flagel a worthy substitute for a mediocre bagel.
And so the quest for the perfect bagel continues. We have not yet exhausted all of the bagel establishments on the east coast, but we’re getting close. I wonder if Marvin is on Facebook?
“I’ve been clean for four days,” my friend blurts out as we’re walking our dogs in the park. “Wait! What?” is my shocked response. “I’m your best friend and you never confided in me that you had an addiction problem. What is it, drugs, alcohol?” “No,” she says, “the news, I’ve given up the news.”
Slightly bewildered, I look at her again. Am I wrong, or does she really appear calmer, more serene, more centered? Is she emitting a glow, or is that simply the sun in my eyes? As I reach to scratch a hive on my arm, I notice that her skin is, in fact, more radiant and the distracting blemish on her cheek near the left nostril has all but disappeared. Not knowing what else to say, I congratulate her.
Later that day I consider our conversation. Perhaps she’s really on to something. If she can dramatically improve her appearance in just four days, maybe I should also get with the program. And it’s way cheaper and less painful than a skin peel. I acknowledge the fact that I, too, am a news junkie, and it may well be ruining my life. So despite my somewhat limited capacity for self-control, I make the commitment.
It’s early morning. I lie in bed contemplating a strategy for my personal recovery. Last evening I asked my husband to join me on this journey. He flatly refused. I know this will make my rehab more difficult. Like trying to quit cigarettes when you’re living with a smoker. Nevertheless, I will persist.
So…. do I quit cold turkey, or do I gradually wean myself from the likes of Wolf Blitzer and Sean Hannity? Should the process include newspapers, web headlines, the satellite radio in my car? Do I give up podcasts? Political ads by candidates who approve this message? The scope of this endeavor is more vast than I realized. But I decide to accept the challenge. Cold turkey it is.
I leave the bed and stumble my way to the kitchen where my left hand (I’m left-handed, you see) reflexively reaches for the remote control. I catch myself just in time, although I do notice a slight tremor in my fingers as I prepared the coffee. This will not be easy. There’s a TV in almost every room of our home. Except the bathroom. Later that day, I turn on my computer wearing a pair of dark glasses in order to blur the news headlines that appear unsolicited on my home page. I switch my car radio from CNN to Julius La Rosa’s greatest hits. Limited, but soothing. That night in bed, I grab my iPad, insert my ear buds and find a Netflix war movie with enough exploding weapons to drown out the sound of the final hour of news my husband is watching before falling asleep. Day 1 is finally over and I have prevailed!
I awaken with new resolve. Believing I’ve made it through the most difficult 24 hours, I am empowered. I look in the mirror to determine if yesterday’s cleanse has diminished the worry lines in my forehead. I think I see a slight improvement. I am able to ignore the remote control in the kitchen as I make the coffee. I notice that today only one finger is trembling. Progress! I shall carry on today as yesterday, but believe I have the fortitude to spend less time in the bathroom. Also, I will switch the car radio station. “Three Coins in the Fountain” has run its course. Tonight in bed I tune into reruns of “Mrs. Maisel.” Not quite as loud, but way more amusing.
Definite improvement in my complexion, and I lost a pound. I hadn’t realized that a diet of politics could be fattening. Have a doctor’s appointment today and they have a TV in the waiting room. This could be a challenge. Hopefully, it will be tuned to QVC. To avoid watching the news, I’ve been engaging in other absorbing activities, like trying to teach Spanish to my dog. I think he’s doing well. Now he doesn’t respond to “Come” in two languages. I’ve taken up ironing. Did you know that pot holders look so much better when they’re pressed? Well, neither did I. But now I do.
I confess there was a lull in my day when I almost succumbed to the song of the Sirens luring me to the TV. But by sheer force of will I was able to resist. Instead, to satisfy the urge to indulge in small screen viewing, I rode to my local fitness store and test-drove a Peloton.
As I rise from my bed, I’m aware of a strange, but not unpleasant, sensation. It is unusual, but yet familiar, like something I remember from at least four years ago. It takes me a moment, but I am able to identify it. Calm. I am calm. My heart’s not racing, my pulse is normal, and my hives have receded. My aggression has abated. I’m able to recall the name of a certain politician and not precede it with a four-letter word.
I make the coffee without a single tremor as I stare down the remote which no longer has control over me. If I make it through today, that will be 96 hours news-free!
Detox accomplished! I call my friend to share the good news. “Listen,” she says, “I have to confess. I fell off the wagon. I watched the debate.” “You did?” was my shocked response. And with a great sigh of relief, I ask “So when’s the next one?”
About the Author
Susan is the author of two award-winning collections of humorous personal essays: “How Old Am I in Dog Years?” and “How to Complain When There’s Nothing to Complain About.” Check out her Author Page HERE.