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Sunday Morning Bagels
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Maggie asked, "What constitutes a decent bagel in your mind?"

A very aptly phrased query.

Now the moment I typed the words "decent bagel" I knew I'd have to explain and preferably on Sunday because the best bagels are ones bought along with a New York Times Sunday edition.

As is often the case with things, my ideal bagel is the first one I encountered, in Brooklyn, New York. Until I moved to the city to attend school, I'd never seen a bagel. Pierogies and hoagies and kielbasa are what you find where I grew up. I thought the only foods with holes in the middle were Life Savers and donuts.

I can't remember why I started to go out for bagels and a paper Sunday mornings. Probably someone told me that was what people did in the city. After you brave the elements practically after rolling out of bed -- especially in the winter when gales blow in off the water and down the streets -- and arrive back home with both physical and intellectual sustenance, you can feel righteous all day.

Decent bagels then, are ones you have to walk to the store to buy. I didn't have a car.

You can't find a real bagel at a bagel shop, let alone a supermarket. They're only sold in the sort of hole in the wall, corner grocery store where half the signs are in Spanish and the refrigerator case in the back is stocked with six-packs of cheap beers you've never heard of.

The bagels may be of different kinds but they're not segregated. They're all piled together in a wicker basket on the counter next to box full of those avocados you can't get around here either. You have to dig through the assortment to find the salt and poppy seed varieties.

A decent bagel isn't warm from the oven. It's cold from its recent long commute through the hinterlands and down Atlantic Avenue. It's heavy, like the Sunday Times. And tough, like New Yorkers. Fool around with a New York bagel you got yourself a broken tooth. Those doughy abominations they try to pass off in the supermarkets? Don't make me laugh. A decent bagel has some fight in it.

Real bagels don't get too fancy, but whatever they do have on them, whether salt, onion flakes, poppy or caraway seeds, there has to be enough so that you still have to brush topping off the last page of the paper when you get to it. And after you've turned all those pages it's not uncommon for the last bagel to carry a few inky fingerprints, though I don't know if that adds anything to the flavor.

All of which is a long way of saying that for me decent bagels are the ones you buy when you're in your twenties and living in a big city for the first time. I doubt I'll find them again.

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