Coffee and Bagels

November 12, 2007

For an incorrigible snob I like a fair number of decidedly unsnobby foodstuffs. Or rather, I can be surprisingly undiscerning in regards to the quality of even my favorite consumables. For example, despite appreciating a really exemplary cup of coffee, I'll guzzle down diner coffee, bodega coffee, instant coffee with condensed milk with equal appreciative gesticulations for all. This contradicts my inability to eat dumplings from anywhere except Prosperity Dumpling without mentioning that better dumplings could be had, or to derive equal pleasure from Gordo's and El Farolito. Maybe a leniency when it comes to coffee as opposed to burritos is attributable to a crippling need for coffee however I can get it and an undeniable attraction to someone dumping mass quantities of cream and sugar in my cup without batting an eyelash in judgment.

Despite my equal opportunity approach to coffee I am still baffled by how many New Yorkers seem numbed to whether or not their coffee is tasty. Given the superior attitude of New Yorkers (I'm not knocking it, assuming said attitude in good company is one of the reasons I like living here) I'm not sure why they don't seem to have demanded excellence where coffee is concerned. Plus, coffee is such an easy thing to wax snobby about, effortless elitism! For people who will rant about fluffy bagels until the cows come home, lattes masquerading as cappuccinos and abominable chai don't seem to irk them much.

Which brings me to bagels, an article to which I claim absolutely no attachment. Bagels were not part of my regular childhood diet, I have no fond memories of getting piping hot bagels with my parents every weekend and piling them with lox and whenever I found myself in Noah's I usually got a bialy or some rugelach. That said, I still understand the controversy surrounding traditional bagels versus the puffy interlopers. My problem with the puffies is not that they buck tradition, but that there is absolutely no point in eating a bagel unless it is of the small, dense, crisp variety and liberally piled with a cream cheese varietal and preferably some smoked fish. With these combined elements, a bagel becomes something special, an actual dish. Without them, you might as well eat a piece of good toast or munch on a baguette. You could get away with just buttering a bagel, but it had better be a damn fine bagel or it is a veritable waste of caloric intake. I'd rather eat slices of flank steak plain than construct a sandwich of wonderbread, and I'd rather eat lox with my fingers than put it on a pillowy excuse for a bagel.

End rant.

Lucky for me there are two places in the Southish Slope that allow me to feel superior in both my coffee and bagel intake. The first is Café Regular, a pint-sized little gem that serves up La Colombe coffee straight and to the point. Aside from orange juice and an assortment of pastries from Baked and Sullivan Street, the offerings are coffee and only coffee. While small enough that you can reach over and touch the bar from the bench running along the wall, it is a pleasant place to sit and steeped in faux-Parisian-ness. Clichéd as it may be, you can't argue with the comforting nature of the décor and the cumulative effect of warm wood panelling, bric a brac that could have been lifted from a grand-mère's attic or twentieth-century train station and a piping hot double cappuccino.

After securing your caffeine, hit up the Bagel Hole. Don't be dissuaded by the lack of ambiance, the energy here goes into the bagels. Sporting little other than a counter and wire baskets of bagels, the Bagel Hole serves up the densest, most flavorful and inevitably warm from the oven bagels I've found in New York. They don't need a toaster because the bagels are always warm and crisp, they don't skimp on the spreads and the price is right. I don't see myself regularly trudging down to the Bagel Hole, but if I do eat a bagel I make it count.

Demand the best! Enjoy the worst! Here's to inconsistent yet unyielding snobbery!

Café Regular - 318 11th Street between 4th and 5th
The Bagel Hole - 400 7th Avenue between 11th and 12th

We Are Celiac

November 6, 2007

Roommate John had confirmed last week that he has celiac disease, a revelation that was welcome in that it finally answers why he hasn't been feeling too hot but unwelcome in that it strikes things like soba noodles from his diet. In the spirit of continued indulgence in the face of perceived limitations, I decided to make him a treat to show that living gluten-free does not have to mean living treat-free.

I settled on cookies after realizing that any bread or cake-like enterprise would involve at least two types of flour. Eschewing flour altogether seemed even more decadent than layering several varieties, so flourless peanut butter cookies it was. Though the dough gave me some cause for consternation (being essentially a wet blob of sugary peanut butter), these cookies emerged from the oven solid and delicious. The recipe can be simplified or dressed up however you like, and made glutenous if you must.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by a recipe from Gluten-Free Girl and doubled and dressed up a bit by me.

Adding two full cups of sugar made me feel a bit gross so I decided to replace one of the cups with half a cup of honey. After the success of the ginger snaps I switched out a bit of the honey for maple syrup at the last minute. There's nothing wrong with sticking to the sugar, but personally I liked the way the hints of maple and honey played with the peanut. In terms of choosing what type of peanut butter to go with, obviously if you prefer not to have peanut chunks then go with creamy, and if you decide on a salted variety then you don't need to add salt yourself. If I'd thought a little bit more ahead I would have put in some fresh chopped peanuts and next time I'm going to toss in some chopped pecans.

2 cups unsalted chunky peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup maple syrup
3/8 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup Sunspire rich dark semi-sweet gluten-free dairy-free chocolate chips
turbinado sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350.

Cream the peanut butter and sugar thoroughly by hand, then add the honey and maple syrup.

Beat in the eggs one at a time followed by the salt and baking powder. Make sure that each ingredient actually gets mixed into the dough and not just pushed around on the sides. Use hands if necessary.

Add chocolate chips and mix.

Roll the dough into balls. I used about 1-2 tablespoons per ball, but acceptable cookie size is open to interpretation.

Dredge balls through the sugar and place on baking sheet lined with wax paper.

Gently press dough balls with fork to flatten them and create a pleasing ridge pattern.

Bake for about 10 minutes. The cookies will be soft when you take them out so leave them on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Attempt to let cookies harden completely before eating, or just chow down. Milk is advisable.