I finished Lisa Genova’s Still Alice on the weekend. I haven’t read many books that are much more devastating, or more thought-provoking. Alzheimers is a disease that isn’t talked about much – or if it is, it is in the context of elderly people in nursing homes, or the grandparent you might visit every couple of weeks and regularly calls you by someone else’s name. Not in the context of a 50 year old Harvard linguistics professor diagnosed with an early-onset form, and hardly ever from the perspective of the sufferer, the person on the inside looking out.
It is impossible to imagine losing your memories and cognitive capacity. It reminds us how fragile our minds are – just a interconnected web of neurons that can malfunction just like the rest of our bodies. In the early stages of her disease, Alice is very aware of things she is forgetting – she notices items on her to-do list that she doesn’t recognize, and panics when she becomes completely disorientated while out for a run in her own neighbourhood. Unable to grasp what is missing, it is as if she is straining against some invisible blockade – in this case, spaces where neurons have atrophied and left gummed up amyloid plaques in their wake.
From the first time Alice spoke openly of her diagnosis, friends and colleagues avoid her – both not knowing what to say and not wanting to face the reality of Alzheimers. Probably terrified it would be them next. We all are, I think. Even the word “dementia” is frightening – as if your mind is taken over, mutated. It is easier not to think about altogether. Genova writes – “And while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity. Those with cancer could expect to be supported by their community. Alice expected to be an outcast”. In cancer, the DNA within cells mutates, causing uncontrolled growth. In Alzheimers, neuronal cells get tangled in protein and wither, degenerating the brain.
By the end, she is aware in the moment of holding the baby in blue, and watching the mother talk to someone on the other side of the room. Sections and phrases of conversations are caught and then disappear seconds later. There is no connection that the mother is her daughter, the baby her grandson – only faceless people, indistinguishable. At this point Alice is no longer unhappy – she is no longer cognizant of all she is missing out on. Her family are, however – and that, in the end, is who Alzheimers is hardest on.
From a medical ethics perspective, this stage of dementia is challenging. Patients may have made an end-of-life care plan while still capable of decisions stating that they are not to be given treatment – antibiotics for pneumonia, for example. Before their Alzheimers, this was their choice, believing that their quality of life would be so limited they would rather not be here. As Alice suggests – “at some point, there would simply be no point”.
However, in the later stages of their disease they may be quite content day to day, even though they might not recognise their children or remember what they did the day or the hour before. Even if they had previously asked for no treatment, can our interests and therefore choices change over time? In that situation, whose decision should prevail – the you before you got dementia, or the you now, who no longer remembers? In extreme cases, some experts argue that we might question whether this later individual is mentally still the same person – in which case the directive should no longer apply.
Anyway – it is very much worth a read (or a watch, if movies are more your thing).
And back to why we are here. These bagels. Homemade bagels with coriander-lime hummus, avocado & salmon, to be precise. Based on Peter Reinhart’s recipe, they are chewy and fragrant, with a depth of comforting yeasted flavour that just isn’t there in the spongy, soft supermarket versions. The coriander-lime hummus was constructed in an attempt to change up my regular plain garlic-lemon version, and is a fun alternative. It works better with salmon and avocado too, with the sharp herby flavour and zesty lime cutting through the richness.
The work required for homemade bagels is generally significantly overestimated. To me, the cost-benefit relationship swings heavily towards the do-it-yourself kind: for about $5 and a couple of hours, you end up with 16 bagels better than any store-bought variation. They freeze well too, so are ideal for pulling out for a breakfast or lunch on the go.
Like with these pear & chocolate hot cross buns, the satisfaction of bread making is a big part of it – I mean, how many of your friends will tell you that they made their own bagels? If sweet bagels are more your thing, try this recipe variation for cinnamon raisin bagels with berry mascarpone & pistachios.
P.S. if you need a recipe for Easter next week, try these easy, fluffy Pear and Chocolate Hot Cross Buns!
- Evening before
- Make the sponge (15 minutes)
- Rest 2 hours
- Make the dough, divide into pieces, rest 20 minutes, shape into bagels, rest 20 minutes. Check with float test then refrigerate overnight. (1 hour)
- Following morning
- Boil the bagels and bake for 10 minutes in oven (1 hour)
- Make the hummus! (10 minutes)
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 4 cups high grade flour (bread flour)
- 2½ cups water, room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
- 3¾ cups high grade flour
- 2¾ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon honey, brown sugar, or malt syrup
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Sesame seeds, poppy seeds etc to garnish (optional)
- 400g tin of chickpeas
- 1 cup coriander (or more to taste)
- ¼ cup tahini
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- juice of 1 lime
- salt to taste
- iced water to thin to desired consistency (about ¼ cup)
- Smoked salmon
- Salt & pepper
- Whatever else you feel like!
- First day: To make the sponge, whisk together the flour, instant yeast and water in a large bowl until smooth and gloopy, similar to a thick pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 2 hours, or until it becomes foamy and bubbly. It should rise to double its size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the bench.
- For the next steps you can either use dough hook on a stand mixer or do it by hand.
- To make the dough, stir the additional yeast into the sponge mixture. Add 3 cups of the high-grade flour, salt and honey/brown sugar. Stir (or mix on low speed with dough hook) until it forms a ball. Slowly work in the remaining ¾ cup of flour to stiffen the dough.
- Transfer the dough to a counter and knead for at least 10 minutes by hand, or 6 minutes using a dough hook. By this point it should be firm and stiff but still smooth and stretchy. All ingredients should be fully incorporated. If it seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If it seams tacky or sticky, add a little more flour until it is smooth and satiny, but no longer sticky. If you have a candy thermomenter, it should read . register approximately 25-27°C (77-81 F)
- Divide the dough into 16 even pieces (around 95 grams each) and form into balls. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Line 2 baking trays or tins that will fit in your fridge with baking paper and mist with cooking spray. To shape the bagels, roll into a long ‘sausage’ shape (~20cm long) and wrap around your fingers to form a circle, sealing the ends firmly. Try to make the bagels as evenly round as possible. The other way of shaping them is just to poke a hole in the middle with your thumb, widening it to approximately 5cm across.
- Place the bagels 3-4 cm apart on the baking trays. Mist lightly with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic war (or slip inside a plastic bag). Leave the bagels at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- To check whether the bagels are ready to be retarded in the fridge, use the float test - fill a small bowl with cool-room temperature water. Place a bagel in the water- if it floats within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water, they are ready to go into the fridge. Pat the bagel dry, cover the pan, and place all the bagels in the fridge overnight or for up to 2 days. If it doesn’t float, return it to the pan and leave at room temperature, checking every 10-20 minutes until it floats within 10 seconds.
- Second day: The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 260°C. Bring a large pot of water to the boil (preferably with a wide diameter), and add the baking soda and honey to the water.
- Remove the bagels from the refrigerator. Gently drop as many bagels as comfortably fit in a single layer into the water (I could fit 4 in my pot at a time). They should float within 10 seconds. After 1 minute 30 seconds, flip them over and boil for another 1 min 30 sec. If you like very chewy bagels, boil for 2 min each side, while if you don’t like them chewy, boil for 1 min each side. I found that 1 minute 30 was my favourite! They will increase in size during the boiling process.
- As you boil the bagels, place them back on the baking trays. When they have all been boiled, place the baking trays in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then rotate 180° (so they cook more evenly). Reduce the oven temperature to 230°C and continue baking for 5 minutes, or until the bagels are a light golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Serve fresh or toasted with the coriander-lime hummus (see instructions below), avocado and smoked salmon.
- The bagels keep in an airtight plastic bag for a few days, and also freeze very well in an airtight bag - just pull out early to defrost (or microwave briefly), cut in half and toast.
- Pour the contents of the chickpea can (fluid included), into a micro-wave safe bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes. Drain. At this point, if you want to make your hummus SUPER smooth, peel most of the skins off the chickpeas between your fingers. (this is totally optional - hummus is still amazing leaving them on, and much faster!)
- In a food processor, blitz the coriander, tahini, garlic, lime juice and olive oil. Add the chickpeas and process until a thick, smooth paste forms - this may take a few minutes. Add the iced water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency. Remember that if the hummus is going to be left to sit for a while, it will start to thicken - so err towards the slightly thinner side. Taste and season with salt and more lime or coriander if needed.