Sunday 11 November 2012

Bagels - wholly holey homemade bread (part 1)

Mr B is Jewish. Not practising, more a Woody Allen sort of Jewish that largely seems to involve going to the doctor because he thinks he's got something, being told that he hasn't got it, then telling me that just because he didn't have it when he was at the doctor's being told he didn't have it, that doesn't mean he hasn't got it now.

Now, this poses problems for me (not Jewish) whenever I go anywhere near anything like chicken soup or cheesecake. Firstborn turns 7 this week and has demanded cheesecake instead of birthday cake, so I'm getting my kitchen implements ready in self-defence, and even though I shall follow Nigella Lawson's London Cheesecake recipe to the letter, I have already been told that Philadelphia cheese is not the right sort of cheese at all, to which I respond 'Phooey. Don't eat it then'. He will of course be unable to resist, and all will be well. Considering.

When it comes to bagels, I have *until now* drawn the line at making my own, and we often take a trip to the Jewish deli in Giffnock, the most marvellously named shop in all Glasgow, to get our bagel fix. It's called 'Hello Deli'. I come over all Barbra Streisand when I see it and burst into a spontaneous chorus of 'Don't Rain on My Parade'. If your only experience of bagels is of those branded multi-packs that you can buy in the supermarket, you really should hunt down some proper freshly cooked ones. They really are a different animal.

Being non-Jewish, and growing up in the English countryside in the 70s/80s, I'd never tasted a bagel until I reached adulthood, but since then, I have stored up many happy bagel-related memories. I think the first bagel I ever ate was lox and bagels from an NY diner, with a bottomless cup of coffee - my goodness, that was unthinkable in Britain in 1986! "A wha'? What do you mean 'as many refills as you want'? Are you mad?" How times have changed. New York bagels are supposedly the best - something to do with the water - though I imagine New Yorkers are also extremely good at bigging up their bagels. That was always going to be a hard act to follow, and so it proved to be. I had a job for a few years in a language school in London whose owner was Jewish, and she used to buy us bagels for lunch every day. Unfortunately, she left the filling of these to her Danish au-pair, who was extremely heavy-handed with the salt, to the point where they became almost inedible, and were referred to by the staff as 'The Dead Sea Bagels'. They must have been so buoyant that they could have doubled as lifebelts for drowning mice in an emergency...erm... mouse-drowning situation.

My other London bagel memory is of queuing up for hot bagels from the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery in Spitalfields after a night of clubbing (creeeeaaaak - none of that nowadays). See here for a great blog post and lots of lovely photos of this magnificent London institution. A good freshly-cooked bagel in the middle of a cold winter's night is a thing to bring tears of joy to your eyes. I absolutely command that any visitor to London should go there. It is splendid. In fact, I'm getting all nostalgic for London now. I'll be on Rightmove any minute.

Bagels, because of their circular shape, represent the continuity of life, which seems particularly appropriate at the moment, and not just because it's Remembrance Sunday today. Not only do we have a birthday in the house this week, which always takes me back to lying in the hospital in the middle of the night with my newborn boy, but we seem to be surrounded by death this year. We've lost two close relatives in the past 6 months, and more  going on besides. Time then to be thankful for what we have and appreciate the simple things in life. To which end, today I am making my first ever bagels. Mr B will despair, but after a 50-mile bike ride this morning, I dare say he'll manage to force one down.

Part two (with pics and recipe) once they're done!

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