Maybe this is a weird thing to be proud of, but I didn’t write any lead-up to Thanksgiving post this year and it felt really nice. So much of the writing about Thanksgiving is unnecessary: seriously, anything you need to know about turkey or cranberry sauce or stuffing has already been written. The fact that it’s a “new spin” on whatever is really just an opportunity to get you to click, buy, forward, ReTweet, etc. So I avoided all that and then went to Boca Raton, Florida where my family lives and where I promptly fell ill with a mini-flu—chills, sweats, the works–and laid on the couch while my mom got me chicken soup from Too-Jay’s to supplement the bagels and rainbow cookies from Way Beyond Bagels. As for Thanksgiving dinner, it was a simple one this year, and that was a good thing. Mom brought in food that I helped heat up and everyone was happy; Thanksgiving really isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about hitting the marks. This meal did that and my plate shows you what you want to see: the turkey, the stuffing (cornbread-based), mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, and vegetables that I infused with a little garlic and olive oil (OK, I didn’t just heat everything up). Here’s our whole family in one picture that my dad arranged with a timer:
In the top row that’s me, Craig, my uncle Mark, yet another Craig Johnson (my sis-in-law’s dad!), my dad, my mom, my brother, his wife Tali, their dog Lulu, Tali’s mom Gila, then moving left my grandfather, my grandmother, and my aunt Ellen. Despite my illness, it was a lovely Thanksgiving and way more fun to talk about after the fact! Hope yours was great too.
The Jewish diaspora is the kind of phrase you only use in college, and even then you’re not sure what it means. But I know this much: Jews in Boca Raton, Florida make good bagels. I’ve long sung the praises of Bagelworks on Glades Road near the Turnpike–my favorite bagel destination when I visit home (I always get “the works” with two scoops of white fish and one scoop of nova spread)–but, traditionally, my mom always buys bagels for the house from Way Beyond Bagels on Jog Road, next to the Starbucks.
For years, I’ve hounded my parents to let me videotape the inside of their refrigerator, a barren wasteland of processed foods and Tupperware containers filled with pre-chopped onions. (For those late to the story, my parents do not cook.) This Mother’s Day, they finally relented and the video above offers you EXCLUSIVE access to a world of Egg Beaters, sugar-free Concord jam and a strange plastic bag hidden in a drawer. Thanks, mom and dad, for granting us access; and to all the mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
[Note: the sound gets muffled at the beginning, but stick with it. I think I had my thumb over the microphone.]
1. It must be dark, like you’re underground. The consumption of red meat is such a primal, bodily act that darkness–like darkness in the bedroom–opens one up to experience pleasure with reckless abandon.
2. There must be a piano player with a bad toupee singing Neil Diamond songs or a cheesy duo of guitar player and female lounge singer doing their best cover of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Even Edmund White, in his classic “A Boy’s Own Story,” describes such a figure when his family takes him to a steakhouse, “a place where the overweight ate iceberg lettuce under a dressing of ketchup and mayonnaise, steaks under A.1. sauce, feed corn under butter, ice cream under chocolate, where a man wearing a black toupee and a madras sports jacket bounced merrily up and down an electric organ while a frisky couple lunged and dipped before him in cloudy recollections of ancient dance steps.”
The bagel you see in the picture above is the result of Twitter. To wit: I announced on my Twitter feed that I was in Boca Raton for Thanksgiving (that’s where my family lives) and Shuna of eggbeater responded: “You’re in Boca?! Will you make a stop at Way Beyond Bagels? Have an egg onion for me? and Veggie schmear?”
Comfort of comforts–the white fluorescent lights, the angry senior citizens shoving in line–is there a taste more sweet than the taste of a Bagelworks bagel, shmeared with lox spread and whitefish salad, topped with sliced tomato and onion and washed down with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice? Welcome to Bagelworks in Boca Raton, the locus of my happiest eating from ages 11 to 18: from middle school through high school, with several visits between college and now. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I asked mom to take me here before going to my dad the dentist for a cleaning. The past flooded into the present as I entered that sacred space: a space that knew me as a gawky teenager, a first time driver, a failed candidate for student council president. There among my people–New York Jews transplanted to Florida–I eat the way I was meant to eat: with my hands, unafraid of bad breath, wiping cream cheese off my lips with a napkin and eyeing the waitress to refill my water. When I’m at Bagelworks, I’m at home
A huge thanks to everyone who showed up to my Boca book signing on Sunday. It was a treat to see my whole family there, all our family friends, and–to my delight–a few Florida readers who came out just from the tiny post I did right before the event. It was great to meet you all!