The search for a bagel that lives up to New York's finest is universal for everyone outside The Big Apple. For those of us who eat gluten-free, it's a lost cause. We've already gone through Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. But we have our memories.
If I close my eyes, I'm back on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a cup of steaming coffee in one hand, a real bagel (you know what I mean -- leathery crust, doughy inside, crispy toasted edges, melting cream cheese) in the other, the honking yellow cab drowning out the curses of the Wall Street trader yelling at my husband because he didn't order fast enough, sitting on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral watching $3,000 suits walk by as I slowly chew my way through perfection.
That was then. This is now, in my gluten-free Arizona reality.
And the frozen Udi's bagels, the best commercial alternative I've found, are more like a hamburger bun with a hole in the middle. Don't get me wrong. I eat them and am happy to have them. But they don't bring back the rumble of the New York subway at the center of the world.
I have to admit, though, that people really are getting better at this gluten-free thing, as Chompie's reminded me this weekend.
I was at a friend's house for a birthday brunch, and when her sweet spouse came in with bags of Chompie's bagels, he had a separate package with two gluten-free ones for me.
I approached tentatively. I had tried a gluten-free offering from Chompie's probably more than a year ago. It very closely resembled the bagels that Einstein's puts in the jar by the register for your dog: small, hard, and not so yummy. And, hey, I ate them. The Chompie's offering, not the dog bagels. I'm sure the dog bagels had gluten.
So, when I took these new bagels out of the bag, I was pleasantly surprised to find something the size of a normal bagel, soft and pliable. I sliced it. I put it in my hostess' new toaster, untainted by gluten-y crumbs. I savored the aroma wafting upward. I schmeared on the cream cheese. I took a bite.
Not New York. But, not bad. It was chewy. It had a slightly sweet, nutty taste. It tasted good. It tasted good enough that I'll be doing a drive-by at Chompie's, maybe this weekend.
Sometimes acceptance is easier when there is a substitute, even if it pales in comparison to the real thing.