Stuff I like – April

Brooklyn Boy Bagels

As a postscript to the festival of Rosalind yesterday, this brief little missive pays homage to another beloved family institution, the Sunday bagel. We were a secular Jewish family, with only the occasional foray to synagogue for high days and holidays – chiefly to show off in our new dresses with matching hair ribbons and black patent shoes (me and my sister, that is; my parents weren’t the ribbon-wearing kind, at least, not that I was aware of).

We ate ham, bacon and pork sausages (though, oddly, never roast pork – perhaps that was just too close to the, um, bone) with as much relish as we did salt beef (corned beef), latkes and new green or sweet-and-sour cucumbers. On Sundays, uncles and aunts and cousins would often arrive for afternoon tea, so Dad would head out in the morning to the decidedly non-kosher seafood stand somewhere along the Hendon Way (a north London suburb whose only claim to fame is as home to the Metropolitan Police training college) to pick up buckets of prawns and scampi. Or perhaps smoked salmon and cream cheese, chopped liver, egg and onion, and schmaltz herring from the Stanmore deli (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the London Underground’s Jubilee Line).

And there were always bagels. Plain white, dense, chewy bagels with patent-leather crusts, which we pronounced ‘buy-gels’ – a remnant, presumably, from London’s East End cockney pronunciation. I’d never heard them pronounced ‘bay-gels’ until I moved to Australia. And certainly, the running ‘Dad joke’ that my friend Manda’s dad, Martin Block, had with his daughters as they left for school each morning: “Bye girls!”, with which they’d respond with a chorus of: “Platzels!”, certainly wouldn’t have provoked such regular hilarity had the East End lingua franca not held sway.

Anyway – at long last, I’ve found a reason to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning and go buy some bagels of my own. While the Wellington cake shop in Bondi Road has always made a fair fist of them, Michael Shafran, the Brooklyn boy of Brooklyn Boy Bagels, has nailed ’em good and proper. Chewy, shiny and probably far healthier than the ones Dad used to buy back in the day. There are even ones with caraway seeds on them, a little outré for purists, perhaps, but nicely reminiscent of the proper rye bread that our mountains of hot salt beef used to be slapped between by the (usually surly) geezers at the salt beef bar in Edgware (a suburb whose only claim to fame is that it’s at the end of the Northern Line).

So, to all my friends in the old country on the Jubilee and Northern Lines, it’s finally safe to come over and visit. All I need to track down now is some decent salt beef…

A Mexican harpist walks into a bar…

Victor Valdes – harpist extraordinaire

It’s been ages, ain’t it, mes blog-amis. With so very, very little occurring since last we rendezvous-ed (for me anyway – I’m sure you’ve been leading fabulously full and stimulating lives, particularly Gosstronomy’s Michael Shafran, who seems to have finally cracked the bagel – which is not a sexual euphemism, although would that it were…). Congratulations, Michael – I look forward to a proper chew soon.

Two weeks of man-flu to start the month (I’m the one who gets it in our household, naturally), coughing up my lungs watching the DVD set of series one of Homeland. Just the ticket – in much the same way as the dressage was last year during the London Olympics (although Homeland was less stressful and has way better music), when I was last hammered courtesy of the transmission of bodily fluids by someone I’ve never met, somewhere I’ve never been. Use a hanky, goddammit, someone.

I have a lot of empathy for Carrie Mathieson (Driven CIA Operative Chick), but that had nothing to do with my flu. I would like to spy on people too.

Not so much Brody’s wife, Jessica, whose eyebrows traumatised me from day one.

I am a little bit in love with Bearded Kind-Eyes CIA Guy. But I am also sure that he is EVIL and will have to be destroyed, but I’m now only up to episode two of series two, so what would I know…

I should be watching Prisoners of War, on SBS, I know, but I’m building up to that.

Been to a few restaurants – one great, one disappointing, one not disappointing.

And a new one – Méjico – right next door to Jamie’s Italian in Pitt Street. It’s long and high and young and brash and bright, designed by Tom Williams and Elizabeth Wong of Juicy Design. It’s sure to be a roaring success, not least for the black-and-shocking-pink-stripe features, which were almost my favourite part.

My actual favourite part was Victor Valdes, one of only two Mexican harpists in Australia, who played at a meejah launch there this week. Májic.

Although hoisting him up on a trestle table in the middle of the long and high and young and brash and bright young things seemed a little harsh.

I liked Méjico – in the same way I like Jamie’s Italian and Jamie, and Nigella. Although, for me, Jamie has it all over Nigella for one fundamental reason – his mum and dad own a brilliant pub in Essex. Nigella’s dad was Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

There were a few long and high and brash and bright old things at Méjico too. Me mostly, although I wasn’t high – certainly not as high as the open kitchen, from which teeny tacos regularly descended. I had to keep myself nice. I was driving.

It’s been an overhaul kind of month (that’s what you get for only just surviving January). My maiden voyage to a dermatologist this week for that inevitable middle-age skin cancer check-up, for starters. I now have blisters the size and shape of Uluru on my leg and arm. Skin Cancer Man came at me with his liquid nitrogen gun with the fervour of Kevin Khatchadourian at the school gym. He says I’m one of the lucky ones – having spent my formative years in England choosing to avoid the sun on our two-week summer holidays and instead flirt with young Italian waiters in the cool darkness of the hotel. Only in England in the sixties could you get berated for not going home with third-degree sunburn as a summer-holiday badge of honour. “Your father didn’t spend all this money for you to go back without a tan.”

Now I have to take Vitamin D tablets so my bones don’t crumble. That’ll teach me to flirt with Italian boys.

And finally, today, the triumph of vanity over sense – a visit to Specsavers to procure (sensibly) two pairs of new spectacles – one of which is a pair of prescription sunglasses (all the better to squint enigmatically at you in nightclubs, my dear). Plus my first middle-age-crisis sortie into the squidgy mysteries of the disposable contact lens. Yes, dear in-focus readers, I will now be able to dine prettily and network shamelessly without having to resort to fumbling for my glasses to read someone’s name tag because I can’t remember who they are. At last, I will be able to pretend I remember them and, better, introduce them to the someone I’m already talking to. That they won’t know who the hell I am is neither here nor there.

I will be able to achieve all this with only a slight headache and swimming of the head, as Reading Eye (left) and Distance Eye (right) battle it out. But I hope to look slightly more the glamorous for it. Small steps, people, small steps, in this networking world of mine…

Must be time to crack a bagel.