There comes a point in every chef’s life when he or she understands that it’s all about the journey, that the process is more important than the product. Yes, they’ve been telling us this for years, and now it suddenly all makes sense. Invariably, this moment occurs when the chef’s ten-year-old son says, with a beaming smile, “This is so much fun!” while they make pumpkin bagels together. That’s right! Malcolm and I made pumpkin bagels. I was somewhat anxious at first about the outcome, especially after tipping in the better part of a bag of flour. “What if these don’t turn out? What a lot of ingredients I’m wasting.” Then along came my sous chef, who cheerfully agreed to wash his hands twice
in hot soapy water, and then helped me punch down the dough, and form it into balls, and poke holes in it, and shape it into bagels, and put them in a water bath, and time them in the water bath, and take them out of a water bath. Good times! Malcolm has been so sweet lately. I grumbled about my stomach-ache and he surprised me with a big hug. He shared his red licorice shoelaces with me, and I didn’t even have to ask. I get so distracted with chores and nonsense that I forget to spend a lot of time with the boys, and he hasn’t been letting me do that lately. He made
me cuddle with everybody on the couch to watch a movie. And he made
me play a video game with him. Listen to this – this is how well he knows me!! Each of us controlled an airplane floating over an island with castles and caves and such. We were supposed to be shooting each other, but he said, let’s just fly around. So we did! We just flew around, exploring the terrain, at a nice leisurely pace. We were in split screen, and sometimes we could see each other, and the computer would encourage us to fire on each other, but we’d just drift along, seeing the sights. I worry so much about Malcolm. He’s ten, but he acts like such a teenager sometimes. They all do! All the ten-year-olds. (It wasn’t like that when I was a lass.) I want him to stay sweet in a world that doesn’t always value sweetness, especially in boys. I want him to stay interested in interesting things, and not succumb to pretending to like what other people think is cool. I’ve seen him with older boys who thought it was funny to hurt birds or bugs or other animals, and I want him to be strong enough to know better. It’s a powerfully powerless feeling to lie awake in the middle of the night, thinking of all that my boys will have to go through in this world, all the ways they’ll have to prove themselves to themselves, all of the convictions they’ll have to form and keep. It would be easy to panic about it, because there is no instant solution. But it’s probably better to remember about the pumpkin bagels, about the journey – the process, not the product. You put every good thing you have into it, you have fun as you go, you remember the lessons you’ve learned, and you trust in the quality of the ingredients. Because, guess what? The bagels turned out absolutely delicious! David declared that they were the best he’d ever eaten. And when we ate them with curried chickpea and cauliflower, nobody said, “what a weird meal.” They said, what an American melting-pot of a meal, and said they went well together! And the boys have taken bagels and hot chocolate for lunch all week, to warm them in this freezing weather.
I’ve always wanted to make bagels, but assumed they’d turn out stodgy little rock-hard lumps. I’m glad I tried, because it was so easy and worked so well that I think I’ll make them myself from now on. I’ll whip up a batch at the beginning of each week. I decided to make pumpkin bagels because, obviously, everything is better with pumpkin. You could spice them any way you like. I wanted them to be versatile, not definitively sweet or savory, and so I chose to season them with a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of allspice. Cinnamon seemed like too obvious a choice, so I left it out, but I know they’d be good with cinnamon, too. I like them precisely as they are, though! Toasted with a generous layer of melty butter. Take that, 11 degree weather!!
Here’s the Menahan Street Band with Make the Road by Walking