I still remember walking past a sign in England advertising a morning special of "bacon on a bagel of your choice: 99p" and laughing. I wasn't sure if that was the most tref unkosher food I'd ever seen—or the least.
My companion didn't immediately understand what was so funny. During such moments, as an East Coast resident of the United States, I truly understood Lenny Bruce's definition of Jewishness:
To me, if you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish...It doesn't matter even if you're Catholic; if you live in New York you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you are going to be goyish if you're Jewish.
I wasn't raised Jewish, and my great-grandfather's faith only gives me the most tenuous of genetic links to the tribe, but that's never stopped me from preferring challah to champagne as New Year's food, and latkes to eggnog in the wintertime.
To prove Bruce's thesis, a friend of mine (raised Catholic) moved away from New Jersey to Ohio after her husband's job was transferred to the Midwest. I reconnected with her on Facebook (of course) and at least every other week I read a status update counting the days 'till she can visit her mother in New Jersey, reconnect with old friends, and reconnect with real bagels and pizza. Other mothers in Ohio send their children to bed telling them that LeBron James is not a role model, my friend Jennifer tells her children that the bread products they get at their friend's houses are "puffy roles with holes in the middle of them," not real bagels. Real bagels and pizza are where grandma lives. (Regarding pizza, the words "ketchup" and "cardboard" have been used).
Despite the ubiquity of bagels in delis and supermarket freezer sections across the country, there aren't that many "second life bagel" recipes. Challah is often used for French Toast and bread pudding—bagels, not so much. Yet so many places are littered with spare bagels, since the temptation is always to buy a dozen, even if only six people work at the office and two of them are on Atkins.
So what about using a bagel to make French toast? When I first began living alone, slicing a leftover bagel into halves or thirds, soaking the slices in an egg and milk batter until softened and frying them up seemed natural. Served with honey, maple syrup, or even stuffed with cream cheese and fruit, it's the perfect second-life-of-bread kind of treat, especially if you're not terribly fond of overly eggy French toast. As a tot, I was frustrated about not being able to chew a bagel with my baby teeth, so French toast bagels are an ideal way for even the tiniest of mouths to enjoy this bread icon.
And if you can only get real bagels every so often—whether for you that means bagels from your favorite establishment in Maine, Montreal, Cleveland, New York, or New Jersey—you can take home a very large bagful and transform them, for many weeks afterward.
I can hear Linda Richmond in my head now..."This French toast is neither French nor toasted! Discuss!"
Note: Very stale bagels might require a longer marinade in the milk and egg mixture.