I’ll say it: life as a columnist is exhausting. By my count this is my twelfth published column, which is 11 too many attempts at saying anything meaningful about my health or your wellness. I’ve been grasping at straws ever since I wrote about “The Sound of Music” in February. May the higher powers pray for whatever awaits in April.
At the moment there’s no need to worry. Often the best ideas are formulated over breakfast. Accordingly, even if my following piece of advice might not actually be useful, and although that breakfast proverb was made up and has no factual basis, I have one more dish of wisdom to offer up. Literally. That dish is bagel and lox, and it stands at the very summit of life’s hacks. It’s as if comfort food was a drug. Similar in scope to Kanye West’s addiction to human transcendence, this dish is all the motivation I need to keep going. More on that later.
If you’re asking yourself what makes bagels and lox so special, first familiarize yourself with the toppings. You’ve got decisions to make, and there are correct answers. Begin with a poppy seed bagel. Unless you enjoy hell, please don’t trip on the sesame option. Sesame bagels are, in fact, icky weapons of flavor destruction. They’re offensive to foods that do taste good. Dentists probably HATE sesame bagels! So does floss, or at least people who regularly floss.
Now that that’s settled, I must make clear the importance of the schmear.* This step in the process allows for more flexibility. Growing up my mom always served “low fat” cream cheese, and to this day, even though I don’t know exactly what constitutes a “low fat” cream cheese (presumably the spread is lower in fat than that of its regularly-fatted cream cheese brethren), I now roll primarily with a chive cream cheese base. Chive provides a really nice onion-garlicky complement. It also guarantees horrific breath for at least a few hours.
Next? Capers. For some reason capers are visually jarring each time they appear on a bagel. My uncle always referred to the raisins in our challah** as “doody balls,” denoting an unnecessary and otherwise gross presence in the Shabbos treat. Capers, also aesthetically displeasing and relatively raisin-sized, are actually the anti-Doody Balls, although an epicurean with incorrect tastes might claim otherwise.
Capers fill the space that red onions leave unmarked. I can’t find the words to describe red onions — the bagel’s penultimate topping — not because they have a taste beyond description or anything like that, but because I literally cannot figure out anything of note to mention about red onions. In any case, you should definitely still include red onions on your bagel.
And Lox. Mhhhm. Lox. Lox deserves all the shine. Lox is brined salmon and lox is incredibly delicious. Lox is so good that it (and bagels) should displace peanut butter and jelly as the default analogy for perfect pairings. It's so good that Jews should consider lox as a replacement for the Torah as our primary religious text. If I could, I’d listen to music with Lox in my ears instead of AirPods.
And God forbid we neglect to mention lox and bagel’s situational versatility. Consider it the Jewish Swiss (Swiss-Jewish?) army knife; an icebreaker at Shiva*** or a conversation-ender when you need to escape a schmooze**** with your pediatrician at Kiddush,***** the sandwich is a true mechanism for social good. It has also had a ubiquitous presence in my life, and for that I’m very thankful. The first bite of a bagel and lox — that singular moment of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy goodness — holds a very special place in my heart.
Last year I spent a semester Berlin — you might already know this because I find a way to mention it in every conversation I have and in each column I write — and I can honestly say that my foremost anxiety leading up to the trip was the potential for a bagel-and-loxless four months. Luckily my sanity remained intact when, halfway through the stay, my roommate and I discovered Fine Bagels, a delectable bagel cafe and vibrant bookstore all in one that served as the perfect nightcap, or, rather, morningcap meal after clubbing hours in surrounding Friedrichshain.
Yet I still find myself afraid of the chaos that could’ve transpired had we not stumbled upon Fine Bagels. For now I’ll cherish my schmear because the terrifying hypothetical consequences of its absentia from life should probably be left unspeculative. As with all motivations great and grand, it only makes sense to be thankful for the sheer existence of it all the first place. In other words: I guess we’ll never know.
*Spread on the bagel.
**Delicious special bread eaten by Jews on Shabbat. Also the reason for perpetual childhood constipation. Is that too much information? That might be too much information.
***Mourning ritual when someone Jewish dies. The gatherings are always stuffed with food. Too much food. So, so much food.
*****Prayer routine and meal after Shabbat services. Again, food.