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Migrating for Food

It really only makes sense to migrate for food if it's 10,000 BC. Or if you're a cookbook author.

NYC might be the food capital of the world, but I chose to leave for Portland because of the fresh and local produceNYC might be the food capital of the world, but I chose to leave for Portland because of the fresh and local produce (where else has anyone heard of a marionberry that wasn't a — groan — crack-smoking mayor?) and the vegan friendliness (Lebanese restaurants with the word 'vegan' on the menu? GTFO. Kibbeh here I come). But it wasn't just the actual food that brought me here, it was all that came with it. My tiny Brooklyn kitchen was closing in on me... literally. The walls where my pots and pans hung were turning into an Indiana Jones booby trap. The ceiling was sprinkling little bits of plaster over every surface like so much confectioner's sugar. My spices were battling it out with my cleaning supplies for space. It wasn't pretty.

In Portland a cook can stretch out, spin around without sinking the souffle, even lean against the counter; not because space was so tight that you had to but because, goddamit, you wanted to!

And then there's procurement. One can argue that the Union Square Farmer's market has some of the best and most interesting produce the world has to offer, and one might be right. But who besides your trust-fund co-worker and 87-year-old rent-control aunt live anywhere near it? I love to lug a hubbard squash around on the subway as much as the next girl or champion weightlifter, but come on. Enter Portland with its bike-friendly thoroughfares, myriad food co-ops and neighborhood farmer's markets. And if the all-vegan grocery store isn't anywhere nearby, well, even Fred fucking Meyer has an organic produce aisle. They seem to be lacking in any sort of Hannukah paraphernalia come the holidays, but cultural diversity is maybe an issue for another day.

And so when people ask me how I can live without NY pizza, I shrug and say Portland pizza is perfectly fine, and sometimes even just plain perfect. The Ethiopian food is even better. And, of course, the food carts. There are a couple of things I won't touch here, like Chinese food, and I've yet to find a falafel I love (I've been assured they're out there,) but I eat those rarely enough that a fix every few months when I visit NY is good enough for me. But the one thing that I miss, that I really can't get here, that leaves a tire shaped hole in my soul, is bagels.But the one thing that I miss, that I really can't get here, that leaves a tire shaped hole in my soul, is bagels. Crusty, puffy, doughy, chewy bagels. Lightly toasted, spackled-on tofu cream cheese, walking down the street eating it — nothing says morning like a NYC bagel. And I know what you're going to say, you're going to rattle off a short list of Jew-y sounding names and tell me that they are NY style bagels. And I'll grant you that some of them come close, but I don't think our tastebuds recognize "close," it's either/or with those guys.

There's plenty of speculation as to why it's so hard to get NYC bagels right outside the borders of the tri-state area. Rumors of bakeries in Arizona that import NYC tap water abound, but I think if it can be done in China it can be done anywhere. Maybe you just have to channel your inner New York Jew. So put on the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack and kvetch to your local Fred Meyer manager that they need to carry dreidels, then try out this recipe.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
One 1/4 oz packet dry active yeast
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar

Vegetable oil for the bowl
Salt for the boiling water (2 teaspoons or so)
Sesame or poppy seeds

Dissolve one tablespoon of the sugar in the lukewarm water, then add the yeast. In a large mixing bowl mix together the other ingredients. Add the water/yeast and knead for a good 10 minutes or so. The dough should be neither dry nor wet but nicely tacky. A mixer with a dough hook works great here. Place in an oiled mixing bowl and cover with a damp cloth (or saran wrap) and let sit for an hour or so. It won't rise a lot but it should be nicely springy.

Now we're going to form and boil the bagels. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil and preheat the oven to 425 F. Turn dough out onto a dry surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then tuck the dough under until you poke a hole through the center. Work the hole until it's roughly half-dollar sized (about 3/4 of an inch.) Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a gentle simmer and add three of the bagels — they should bob up to the surface in a few seconds, if they don't nudge them with a spoon until they unstick. Simmer for one minute, then flip them over and simmer for another minute. Remove the bagels using a slotted spoon and place back on the baking sheet. Repeat until all you bagels are boiled. Spread seeds, if using, out on a plate. Press each side into the seeds, then place in the oven. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until nice and amber-browny, then remove and let sit for 30 minutes. The bagels are now ready.

÷ ÷ ÷

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is America's most popular vegan chef. The author of several bestselling cookbooks, her work has been featured in countless print and on-line publications. A Brooklyn native, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit her online at The Post-Punk Kitchen.


Books mentioned in this post


  1. Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes...
    Sale Trade Paper $9.98
  2. Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook
    Used Hardcover $11.50
  3. Vegan with a Vengeance: Over 150...
    Used Trade Paper $9.95


Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the author of Vegan Brunch: Homestyle Recipes Worth Waking Up For -- From Asparagus Omelets to Pumpkin Pancakes

15 Responses to "Migrating for Food"

  1.  
    Richard Davis August 10th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    OK, but NYC misses you.

  2.  
    hopeless August 10th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    god youre cute.

  3.  
    David August 10th, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Why would you want a New York style bagel if you're not in New York? New York inspired, maybe, and there are plenty of excellent bagel shops in the Seattle area and Bellingham that produce crusty, puffy, doughy, chewy bagels (sorry, don't know Portland as well). But for Seattle, in my neighborhood of NE Seattle we have the Bagel Oasis (good bagels, lackluster service) and Grateful Bread and in Bellingham there is the 20 yo Bagelry.

    Hope you try them when you're up here. Now on to trying your recipe making it with whole wheat flour from north central Washington. Should be good.

  4.  
    leslie August 10th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    soyrizo burritos at the food cart conglomeration rule!!!

  5.  
    Danielle August 11th, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Bagels are the one thing I miss too! I always ask my parents to bring a dozen when they visit, they freeze great.

  6.  
    lindsay August 11th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    funny! when i moved to LA i had to learn how to make NY style bagels too but now I'm back in NYC with a bagel shop on the corner that offers three flavors of tofu cream cheese made in-house :)

  7.  
    nicole August 12th, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    kettleman's bagels, no?

  8.  
    Pixxa August 12th, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Isa, next time you're on the east coast, come down to Thomas Jefferson coutry in Charlottesville VA and go to Bodo's bagels. We bridge and tunnel girls love them.

  9.  
    Charles Truelson August 12th, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    If you really miss NY pizza or bagels, you should check out www.nyflyingpizza.com, they ship both of them throughout the entire US!

  10.  
    Chloe Nightingale August 16th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    When I lived in PDX, I missed "real" bagels, too -- now I live in Scotland and I miss all the good food in PDX (and "real" bagels). And proper coffee. And vital wheat gluten. That said, the soya yoghurt here is really tasty and I found a good source of non-hydrogenated vegan margarine, so it's not all bad. (Thank goodness I can cook!)

  11.  
    Bethany August 21st, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Do you really need vital wheat gluten for this recipe?

  12.  
    Emily August 22nd, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Why would I want a NY bagel when I'm not in NY? I hope you are joking, but I'd want them because a)I'm from NY, as is Isa, and it's what we're used to, and b)All other styles of bagel suck!

  13.  
    Mel August 25th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I agree about New York bagels being superior here. I don't mean to be a hater on other peoples carbs, but it's hard not to judge when we have H&H on the upper west side. Does anybody recommend any other fabulous bagel shops in nyc?

  14.  
    Matt September 3rd, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Definitely use the vital wheat gluten or the springy/chewy texture will be off.

    Isa we are so excited to have you in here! When my wife and I talked about going to NY recently we said 'maybe we can meet Isa...' Now you are right up I5!!

  15.  
    Colin October 3rd, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    The addition of the wheat gluten is solid! These are extremely good bagels. I'd recommend using this method for rolling the bagel though, rather than making a pancake with a hole:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr_4raZ5Nvc

    They will come out much more smooth and round this way.

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