Sometimes you just have to write…
We’ve left New York now, the students and I. We’re in Bellingham, Washington, for the remainder of the trip. But while we were in New York, we had breakfast every morning in a very special place: Bagels and Co.
The first morning, I went out in search of a bagel. What I had been looking forward to most about being in New York was eating a bagel. You see, bagels in New York are unlike bagels anywhere else. I think it has to do with the water. Bagels are essentially just plain old bread, but they’re prepared differently: first boiled in water, then baked. Because of the boiling phase, they come out chewier than ordinary bread, and the bagels made in New York City have a flavor and consistency all their own. The only explanation I’ve ever heard for why they’re different than the same recipe followed elsewhere, is that the New York City water changes the flavor somehow.
Bagels were part of my childhood. Every Sunday morning my father would drive down to Gold’s Deli to pick up an assortment of bagels with cream cheese and sometimes the lox (smoked salmon) to go with them, a bit of a splurge because the lox was so expensive. The bagels at Gold’s were shipped in early each morning from New York, and the lox (smoked salmon) wasn’t the pre-packaged kind, but was sliced from a whole smoked salmon by Gold’s employees.
So I found Bagels and Co. right around the corner from our hotel. This place was a slice out of my childhood. Not only did it have a full range of different kinds of bagels, but it was a full Jewish deli, the kind without meat, so primarily for breakfast. There were knishes in the window, and blintzes, and a dozen different kinds of lox spread, and rugelach, a sort of small Jewish danish, and lots of other familiar foods from my childhood. I had no desire to eat a knish or a blintz, mind you. They’re terribly heavy food, but I had a perfect New York bagel with cream cheese and lox spread (a cheaper version where the cream cheese is mixed with very small bits of lox). It was lovely: just what I wanted.
I went back to the hotel that first morning, and the students had gathered in the meantime in the lobby. I had already told them about how I was looking forward to eating a bagel, so I told them about the place around the corner I had found. Curious about what I was so enthusiastic about, they decided to go there too for their breakfast.
I took them there, and the owner of the deli, not surprisingly a Jewish man, and the employees, all Hispanics, welcomed me warmly when they saw the number of people I had brought. I explained the choices to the students and they ordered.
I felt some misgivings about this. When you have a favorite food from your childhood, that doesn’t always mean it’s good food. I like, for example, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but I realize that for people who didn’t grow up with it – for whom it isn’t comfort food – it might indeed taste nasty.
Nevertheless, the students loved the bagels. So much so, that most of them went back to that place every morning, and some also bought bagels to take with them for their lunches.
None of us ordered a single knish. Knishes are another piece of my childhood, but we didn’t have one often and I remember them as being tremendously heavy and rather bland. Nevertheless, there was a certain comfort in the familiar: the fact that the knishes were there made me feel at home.
What are your comfort foods?