The spread laid out on the breakfast room table looked the same on almost any given Saturday morning. A platter of sliced red ripe tomatoes and Bermuda onions, a brick of butter, and Philadelphia brand cream cheese (nothing whipped on our table). A wicker basket overflowing with New York bagels of every kind—plain, sesame, poppy, egg, pumpernickel, rye, salt, onion, and the infamous “everything” bagel. And, of course, cinnamon raisin bagels. They were always in a smaller basket within easy reach of Mom.
In the center of the table was the main event for Saturday breakfasts: lox. It resided on its own platter. This was not your everyday lox, either; it was Nova Scotia (or “Nova”) lox. For the uninitiated, lox is cured salmon. Because Nova lox is cured in milder brine and lightly cold smoked, it tastes much less salty than regular lox. It is smooth and pink, almost like raw fish.
To many, it’s an acquired taste. At our home it was most certainly acquired. If the bagels were fresh and warm (and thus did not need toasting), we would immediately slather on the cream cheese. Then we’d add a slice each of onion and tomato. Next, we layered the bagel with lox, folding thin slices over the onion and tomato until they were covered. Usually sure nothing oozed out, we placed another piece of onion on top before closing the bagel and squeezing it firmly together.
Next to each plate would be a tall glass of orange juice. It was the perfect compliment to the main course.
There was one wrinkle to our Saturday morning tradition: Mom had a firm no lox policy. She made it clear that she would never even attempt to develop a taste for it. Her MO was cinnamon raisin bagels with butter or cream cheese.
Jeff and I always looked forward to having company stay over Friday nights because they would be confronted with lox come Saturday morning. We used to get such a kick out of seeing their faces as Dad would explain what it was, or better yet, watching their expressions as they tasted it for the very first they time. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.
But no matter how much lox and how many bagels were on the table, we would always finish them. There might be some cream cheese left over for another day, or maybe some of Mom’s cinnamon raisin bagels (which, to put it mildly, did not play nice with lox). But the rest of the spread was devoured without fail.
Despite the favorable conditions at these Saturday morning feasts, they were not without conflict. You see, Jeff and I were not only competitive in sports and games. We also had to make sure that the other did not get more of anything, ever, regardless of what “more” was. We were hell-bent on being treated the same and getting the same. Immature, perhaps, but that’s the way it was.
And so, if Jeff had two bagels, I would have two bagels. If I had two glasses of orange juice, he had to have two glasses. That was easy enough to manage. But it did not stop there. Jeff and I would carefully watch each other make our bagel sandwiches. If I put four pieces of lox on my bagel, he did the same. If he added two tomato slices, so did I. This might not seem like a very big deal. But as the meal progressed, and the lox supplies diminished, things became quite serious. After all, fairness and justice were at stake.
Dad paid no attention to our sparring. He simply enjoyed his meal, eating what he wanted: usually two fully stuffed bagels. After eating he’d sip his coffee and chat with Mom about the chores that needed to be done that day.
While holding her household strategy discussion with Dad, Mom would watch us like a hawk. And, sure enough, when we got to that last piece of lox or bagel, she would step in. She’d remind us that we both already had plenty to eat, and that we could certainly figure out how to divide up what was left. Jeff and I would share a smirk, then make a grab for the goods. The triumphant one would declare, “I got the last piece. It’s mine.”
Without missing a beat, Mom would ask us both: “Must we go through this every Saturday morning?”
Jeff and I quickly voiced the obvious answer: “Yes.”
She’d shake her head, and with just a hint of annoyance, declare, “Fine. This morning, Jeff.”
OK, to be fair, sometimes she called my name. But the truth is, it didn’t much matter. You see, having your name called only meant that you would take the last bagel (stuffed with whatever condiments were left) and cut it in half. After cutting it, the other brother got to pick the piece he wanted.
It always surprised me how carefully Jeff or I would cut that bagel. If one half was any larger than the other, it was imperceptible to the naked eye. It was amazing, really.
Mom employed the same technique when all kinds of different food items were at stake: pies, cakes, and casseroles. Thanks to her, Jeff and I learned to cut two perfectly equal halves from just about anything.
Eric’s book, from which this is an excerpt, is “Life at 12 College Road.”