bagels and breathing
Hi! Personal non-bagel related anecdote time. A couple weeks ago, I had a consultation with a speech pathologist. For years I’ve known that in combination with anxiety, my breathing patterns are not quite the best, and when anxiety is high, I get LOUD. You may say to yourself “ehhhh better to project than to get super quiet, right?”, and yeah, having a loud voice has been pretty great for karaoke, or drawing attention to a crowd of party people, but when coupled with gnarly anxiety, the decibel level feels out of control, usually in settings where being loud is not particularly welcome (y'all, back when I was a LIBRARIAN this would happen to me IN THE GODDAMN LIBRARY).
It’s something that’s made me insecure for a long time, and I had no idea how to exactly approach it outside of hoping some Professor Higgins-esque character would find me on the streets and give me free elocution lessons, finally turning me into a proper lady. But that has yet to happen and yadda yadda yadda, I googled and learned speech pathology exists and my insurance would cover a consult. ANYWAY.
So the consultation had its share of funny facial exercises, breathing tests, some “fways” and “fwas”, and then just some general questions about my feelings, what I’d hope to accomplish with speech pathology, etc etc etc. I mentioned I felt like an awkward, boorish, loud monster… I mentioned that a lot. By the end of it all, the speech pathologist agreed that my breathing is a little weird, and there are some small adjustments I could make that would likely manage stress too. But at the end of her evaluation she said “Also, one thing I’d recommend… stop beating yourself up. Maybe try framing yourself more positively? I don’t think you’re boorish, you seem pretty… effervescent?”
And then I cried. Haha. Sometimes, it can so much easier to just be critical to yourself and just beat ourselves down, yeah? But damn is it fatiguing...
Ok so, back to bagels! There are many variables when it comes to bagel baking. Use a starter or make a sponge, or maybe nix those altogether and just jump into making dough? How long do you let your bagels proof on the counter (and not to mention, what’s the temperature of your kitchen? A slight variation in the temperature and humidity can drastically change how long you need to proof those babies.)? How long do your bagel babies sit in the fridge? What’s the ratio of water to lye when you’re getting ready to boil? How long do you boil each side? Do you include barley malt in the water? What temperature do you bake your bagels, 450? 500? 475? What’s the heat distribution look like in your oven, should you move those bagels around somewhere in there? Also what’s your definition of “everything”- like, are black sesame seeds in the mix, caraway seeds, pepper?! Large dried garlic flakes or smaller garlic granules?! DO YOU TOAST BAGELS?
(ok, that last question is a joke because if you toast your bagel you’re a monster. Of course.)
But yeah, change one thing, change your whole batch. I’m still in the thick of learning what I can in my bageling- at this point I know I’ve gone beyond baking a thousand bagels. And yet, every single damn time I start a batch, I just hear this in my head, over and over and over-
“DON’T FUCK IT UP.”
And so I try not to fuck it up. And usually, I end up making a batch that makes people real happy. But even though people seem content, I overanalyze and over-explain myself. “These aren’t my best”/”I messed up proofing them so they’re not as puffy as I’d like them”/”I don’t think I’m very happy with the structural integrity”/"I don't know they could maybe be a little less chewy?"/"I don't know they could maybe be a little more chewy?"/etc etc etc. "I kind of fucked them up" is a phrase I've used a lot in my food presentation.
I know I’ve been a bit MIA the past few months! I went to the desert a couple times, talked with some cool local bakers, did taste testings with my bagel buds… oh, then I broke my right foot at the beginning of May! Coupled with moving to a second story garage apartment in the east Austin trees at the same time, and working hard trying to survive the legislative session in my dayjob, I was damn busy! But even with all that said, Jo Bagel kinda took the backseat in life priorities, honestly because this self-deprecation vortex I’ve been hanging out in has been wearing me out! Any entry I’d attempt would have an overlying theme of “Well, turns out I did fuck it up somehow!”. Former fun self-deprecation kinda turned into miserable, exhausting self-hypercriticism. Oof.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Julia Child’s My Life in France lately (uh great book, also I still need to write a wine fueled ode to JC here on JoBagel). There’s one part that sticks in my mind, where she tells a story of how she made some “vile” eggs Florentine. Emphatically, she says if something goes wrong in cooking, “never apologize”. Never explain yourself, never make excuses. Doing so “only make a bad situation worse” by prompting your guests, your critics to think exactly what you’re thinking and agree with what you feel are shortcomings. It also just makes the experience of sharing food not fun.
So anyway, I’m heading to the desert for a couple weeks like I so often do, but I’ll be back blogging shortly, and I’m pushing hard to just follow these simple words of Julia Child- “my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”.
Blog posts soon about pretzels (the training wheels to bagel baking), lye, and some of the cool bakers, coffee makers and more I’ve met in this town who inspire a lot of this project (and have really fascinating, compelling stories!)! Sorry for the vanish, but don’t worry, I promise I learned many things and made a couple hundred bagels in there… and you know what?! They were pretty damn good.