Stasis, Reflection And Bagels
We’re in stasis, or at least it seems that way. It’s that moment when you float in-between it all, the time between now, and what’s next. The pause between the old and the new. Things are changing, I feel it and talked about in my blog post last week, but we’re not quite there yet, or at least it’s not quite meant to be.
After inklings of fall last week, we were pulled rather abruptly and harshly back into the throws of summer. The heat returned with a vengeance this week, and the desert dry with it, roasting the garden that had only just gotten relief by a tease of rain. There’s at least another week of this before cooler temps (and possibly more rain) prevail. Looks like we’re stuck in that cycle for a while longer.
Then COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head again, with French hospitalization numbers finally (inevitably I guess) starting to tick back up again. It’s only a small increase so far, but the trend has already sparked talks about local lock-downs. Hopefully we’ll avoid the worst, but either way we’re definitely stuck with that one a little longer.
But we had a bright spot too. This week we received the final (and I really do believe it might be the final, this time!) approval for our septic tank installation. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out, and of course I remain objectively skeptical (for the sake of my mental health). As I used to say in sales “the order is not in the bag, until it’s in the bag”. But if this really is the final piece of paperwork and everything goes to plan, then work to install the septic will start next week. YESSSS!
So this week we’re just floating, and waiting, hopeful in anticipation, but also somewhat stuck at the same time. I know changes are coming, but we’re also not quite there yet. It’s a set-back, but not a halt. Such is life sometimes. In between it all we have a moment of pause which has allowed me to indulge in a moment of reflection, making this past week rather interesting, despite it all. You could say I went on a journey, even though I stayed right at home. And it was in large part, thanks to you….
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Two weeks ago you guys (yes, you, my dear blog readers!) started me on a journey. It was my post about French grocery stores that launched it all, and more specifically the comments that followed.
Two eagle-eyed blog readers pointed out Philadelphia cream cheese on one of my pics, a brand new item in our local store that I hadn’t noticed before. It was a total revelation!
This kind of new stock happens from time to time, and it’s always rather exciting when it does. My biggest coup prior to this was when our local Carrefour starting stocking Hendricks Gin, a higher-end gin that I’d only managed to procure through online shipping prior to that. It was a happy surprise that happened late last year, and it was followed (even more happily) by the stocking of Fever Tree tonic mere months later. Score! I seem to be the only person who ever buys these two items, but our local stock continues to thrive. Happy days, happy hours..
But the discovery of this new gem, of real cream cheese in the depths of rural France (yesssss!) was a whole different kind of excitement that took me down a completely different route.
Within days I started having intense flashbacks to New York City, and the years we traveled there in the RV. I remembered a crisp autumn morning walking Polly along the New Jersey waterfront by the Hudson River with views of the big city sparkling in the background in the early light. I could hear the bustle of river ferries, the buzz of morning joggers and commuters on their way to work. I could smell the local coffee shop churning out fresh Joe, and I was inundated by the taste of just-baked chewy, dense bagels, toasted and loaded to perfection with layers of unique NYC flavor.
“Cream Cheese and lox with everything on it, please”
Oh yeah, that’s some seriously good stuff….
So my memories turned to cravings, and my cravings to an obsession and an idea that I could not shake. Perhaps my pandemic baking skills had progressed enough to make bagels? Actual, real NYC bagels? Could it be possible to get anywhere close, to re-create that memory? Clearly, there was only one way to find out.
The Bagel Experiment
So I started researching, and thinking, and experimenting.
New York Bagels are astoundingly simple in their ingredients. A good bread flour (T65 here in France), yeast, water, salt and just a smidgen of sugar. The secret is their smoothness and chewiness, the first made possible by creating a dense dough and kneading/working it into a completely smooth ball, the second made possible by boiling the dough in water before baking it. Also, apparently New York Bagels need a full 2-minute boil on each side, a specific extra that creates their particularly dense-chewy texture.
After extensive deliberation I settled on this recipe from Sophisticated Gourmet and followed it to a tee. I made a few miss-steps along the way (not enough rise the first time around), but in the end the bagels turned out brilliantly. A bit on the small side and not quite perfect, but aaaalmost perfect, and more importantly their taste & texture was spot on. I was even able to reproduce the result a few days later, the ultimate test of any good recipe. A very happy success!
New York Bagel experiment….done!
The Cream Cheese Trial
Of course I found cream cheese in the store thanks to you guys, but just for extra credit I stumbled across this ridiculously easy cream cheese recipe from Bigger Bolder Baking, and decided (for science purposes, naturally) to give it a try.
It’s a super simple recipe that only requires whole milk, lemon and around 5 minutes of cooking time. The lemon creates instant curdles which you simply strain, and then whiz up with a touch of salt into a creamy result. It’s not an exact cream cheese replica (no cultures involved), but it is SO easy and it really is a wonderful approximation. If you ever have the chance, give it a try.
Cream cheese trial….achieved!
A Figgy Topping
The last part of my bagel adventure was creating the ultimate jam topping, and for that our fig tree came in for the win.
As I mentioned last week figs grow almost wild here, and right now they are going….so-to-speak…bananas. Our garden tree is around 10 feet high and has already generated around 25 lbs of figs so far with no immediate end in sight.
Of course we’ve eaten a ton directly off the tree, although we’ve had to curb that tenancy just a smidgen for the sake of our septic system. You see figs are known to have a rather….errrrmmm…stimulating effect on the bowels, in fact a very stimulating effect. So besides giving you a sugar high, they will also provide you with a bonus internal cleanse, if you eat enough of them.
So we’ve been freezing them (you can freeze figs whole, as long as you lay them out on a baking tray to freeze individually first), making salads with them (fig and feta cheese is a match made in heaven), adding them to greek yogurt (simply yummy if you smash them up a bit first) and of course giving them away.
For the final hurrah, we’ve cooked a bunch into a dense, thick, delectable jam.
Once again, I found a good online recipe, this time from The Spruce Eats. It’s a classic pectin-free mash of figs & lemon juice + lemon rind, which is then cooked slowly for an hour, then heated to 220F (for gelling) before it’s canned. I modified the recipe with a dash of balsamic vinegar (for depth of flavor) and it turned out perfect.
And Of Course A Lox Ending
So yeah, we’ve been gorging ourselves on New York City style bagels this week. Bagels for breakfast with fried eggs, bagels with cream cheese & fig jam, and of course the ultimate New York statement….bagels with cream cheese, lox and everything on it, including capers, of course (no sane person would go without).
I have to admit that when I took that first bite, I was immediately whisked back in our old RV, with our 2 kitties, Polly and Paul.
It seems like so long ago, even though I know it was only a few years back, and yet it also felt like yesterday. So much has happened in our life since then, so many miles traveled, a country moved, a worldwide pandemic, a life in rural France and of course our kitties who have crossed the rainbow bridge. But that past is also an indelible part of us, something we’ll carry with us forever more.
In this pause, this moment before the next, it was nice to take that trip back in time again. To feel, hear, and taste that beautiful memory. It may just have been a simple pic of some cream cheese, but my-oh-my it took me on a wonderful adventure this week. And for that, my dear blog readers, I thank you.
My question for you this week -> Do YOU have a favorite travel food memory? Something that immediately whisks you back to somewhere you’ve loved? Perhaps something you cook at home to re-live that? DO comment & share below!