June 1, 2022

Thoughts on Bagels

Thoughts on

I was only introduced to my first bagel when I was nineteen, a frosh at Wesleyan in Connecticut. I had gotten off the required meal plan as I had lost fifteen pounds my first semester, and gained one doctor's note, though I doubt they thought bagels would be my prescription.

My roommate Ilana and I would go to the University Cafe and split a plate. Plain, lightly toasted, served with cream cheese, I would place the thinly sliced red onions, capers and tomatoes on her half, while I enjoyed the generous portion of lox. Soon it became as addictive as my daily coffee and camel lights.

During my junior year, when I was an exchange student at UCSC, I had a brief fling with my dealer, who worked the graveyard shift at the Bagelry. I remember the burns on her wrists, our sleepless nights when we drove across the country, the incessant east coast joke, "time to make the donuts," another carb with a hole.

After my senior year, my next girlfriend and I crossed the country, stopping at her grandmother's house in Kansas City, Kansas. I pulled my Honda into the long driveway and Herb, Grandma Kay's second husband, came rushing out, yelling, "Haven't you ever heard of Pearl Harbor?" and made me park out on the street. Later, we all went to the grocery store for breakfast items. I picked up a pack of bagels, and again Herb confronted me, "What, you eat that Jew food?"

When we moved back to Santa Cruz, I rediscovered the joys of the Bagelry, including their fabulous Pink Flamingo smear. Cheaper than lox but packed with flavor, that and a can of coke became a lunch staple. However, I was only making minimum wage at Aries Arts in Capitola, a hippy store that sold tons of tie-dye, incense, and tarot cards. Money was tight, and I realized that for the same price I could get a six pack of Lenders onion bagels, a tub of cream cheese, a pack of sliced lox, and a six pack of coke. Lenders bagels were small, dense, and compact, but I didn't complain. 

Eventually I opened the Herland Women's Book-Cafe at 902 Center Street. We had the most amazing vegan ricotta basil tofu spread. I’ll find the recipe. I'd eat this daily on whole wheat bagel, which are even denser than the Lenders, but they burned nicely. I do like my bagels well done. After our four year agreement was up, I bought out my business partner. On my first day running the cafe by myself, a regular customer yelled at me for toasting her bagel. I burst into tears as she stormed out, never to be seen again.

Two years later, we lost our lease and I closed the cafe. The bookstore moved over to Cedar street, and I would hop on over to Noah's, where I would indulge in garlic cheddar bagels, toasted dark, with just butter. If I felt particularly flush, I'd add sliced smoked salmon. At some point I lost my taste for cream cheese.

Six years later, between Borders Books opening in Santa Cruz and  the recession after 9/11, I realized I was not making it as a single mom. I decided to close the bookstore and went back to school, exchanging retail therapy for hypnotherapy. During that time, my daughter only ate about five foods, all either white or yellow, and bagels became a manna of its own. I was always more tolerant than her other parent since I'd been such a fussy eater as a kid. 

Now, Chip and I tend to go to CostCo and get the two pack of bagels - one "Everything" and one Asiago. We slice them in two as soon as we get home, then freeze half of them. Pre Slicing has made a world of difference, because slicing a frozen bagel sucks, and they get doughy and weird in the microwave. 

I'm not a huge fan of the "Everything" bagel because I'm not fond of fennel, but these are the little compromises in a marriage. I'll cut the slices in half again, so that when we split the bagel we each get both a bottom and top. I'll butter up each piece, add freshly shmooshed avocado, a squirt of Meyer lemon from the neighbor’s tree, and a dash of celery salt. I pop these onto our favorite cobalt blue ceramic plates, grab the red poppy floral napkins, and present with a flourish.