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Romancing The Bagel

by Ruby Bayan

I had a cinnamon-raisin bagel with chive-and-onion cream cheese for breakfast. I remember my first encounter with bagels, a pastry we donít have in the tropical islands where I grew up. It was on one of my overseas trips a long time ago.

The airline crew served us a snack Ė a piece of chewy doughnut-shaped bread (from one of my readings, I recall this must be what they call the "bagel") and a packet that said, "cream cheese." I figured I was supposed to eat the bread with the cheese. That was easy enough, so I opened the cheese packetís foil cover, and I grabbed the bagel. I tore a small piece off the bread, carefully used it to scoop out a dab of cheese, and popped the morsel in my mouth. Hmmm!

As I was chewing my first experience with this unusually tough doughnut-wanna-be bakery product, which I assumed became tasty only because of the cheese, I glanced at a prim and proper lady across the aisle fussing with her own snack.

She stood the bagel on its side, and with the airline signature white plastic knife, she meticulously sliced the bagel from one edge to the other. I found it a little OCD-ish because I thought, why would she go through all that trouble slicing a doughnut-shaped pastry horizontally?

After she came up with two open-faced doughnut slices, she proceeded to spread cream cheese on them, making sure she evened out the quantity of the cheese packet over the two half bagels. Then she very gingerly picked up one of the half bagels, cheesed side up, balanced it ever so carefully on her fingertips, and with poise and grace, bit on it.

I kept tearing on my now sausage-shaped pastry, dipping the torn portion into the cheese pack, and wondered if the ladyís bagel tasted better than mine because of the love and care she put in prepping it. I thought maybe she just had to go through the motion to make eating this ho-hum airline snack a treat.

When I finally settled in the Land of Milk and Honey, I discovered that bagels are always sliced horizontally, the open faces covered with cream cheese, and eaten graciously by balancing the slice on oneís fingertips. I even found bagel slicers in the kitchen stores. Humbled, I felt I needed to apologize to the lady in the plane for thinking she was obsessing on romancing her bagel.

Needless to say, I donít tear on my bagel anymore. I have now acquired the fine art of eating this breakfast delicacy. Must practice some more though, because I just dropped half of my half-bagel on the carpet, and it fell cheese side down.

[First published in my online journal.]

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