Imagine it's Sunday morning. The sun is up, coffee brewed, NYT sections parsed out, and then, all of the sudden, you hear a knock at the door. Its Steve (see picture above) and a bag of still-hot-from-the-oven New York Bagels. Sunday now feels right and complete. A day you never really want to end.
Steve is my best friend Emma's dad, a lover of raquetball, James Taylor, fine Italian food imports, travel, NPR puzzles, and aged salami sticks. I've known him for sixteen years now and can say with full certainty that he is one of the warmest humans you'll ever meet. I mean, come on, that smile alone is enough to automatically make your day better. As my mother would say, Steve is a "gardener," carefully tending to those around him with a keen eye and an open heart. And one of the best ways that he does this is through food. I can't begin to count the number of times he snuck cow tail candies into my backpack during study sessions at the Rosen household. Or the time he taped bazooka gum all over my car because he knew it was my favorite. Or the times he'd take Emma and I to McDonalds for Mcflurrys as "reward" for making it through our two hour weekly Hebrew school commitment. But no food experience sums up the essence of Steve more perfectly than his weekly bagel delivery.
I'm told this custom began roughly 27 years ago. According to his wife Dorothy, Steve started taking Emma and her brother, Max, on his Sunday morning outing to New York Bagel on Dempster in Skokie, IL so she could have some extra sleep time. Steve being Steve, he wasn't satisfied getting bagels for just his family, so he decided to start buying them for a select group of friends as well. It was then that the title of "bagel fairy" was born and a tradition solidified.
The best part of this bagel delivery routine is the list of rules Steve has articulated for it over the years. Just like Fight Club, the number one rule of the bagel club, you do not talk about the bagel club. The second rule, you do not talk about the bagel club. You never ask to be in the bagel club. Steve decides. If you do ask, its an automatic no-go. You also don't ask what type of bagels you get. Again, Steve just knows. It sounds rigid, but its all in good fun. And how else do you keep a ritual like that going for so long?
As someone who derives much joy from sharing food with others, I look to Steve and his stories as a constant source of inspiration. He epitomizes the idea of a simple gesture that makes a big statement, like hidden candies in your backpack or a bazooka gum covered car. Life is made better by people like Steve and while I'm sure most of us couldn't sustain the dedication to pull off a 27 year bagel delivery, I think we can all learn a thing or two from the bagel fairy.
Inspired by Steve's Sunday bagels, I decided to pull on my own family's comfort food traditions for this week's recipe. Egg casserole was the first dish that came to mind. This recipe comes from my dad's side of the family and is essentially just a really cheesy, buttery, eggy savory bread pudding. The preparation is ridiculously simple and a real showstopper--pretty much everybody you serve it to asks for the recipe! It is also very versatile in terms of both the bread and the cheese. My dad likes to make a mixed cheese version with cheddar, gruyere, and blue cheese. You can do a combination of any cheeses you enjoy or just make a direct substitution, like cheddar for gruyere. If you have trouble finding challah bread, brioche is an excellent alternative .
1 qt whole milk
1 1/2 loaves of challah bread, cut into 1 inch chunks
16 oz grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon garlic salt
5 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
Liberally butter a 9x13 casserole dish. Place half of the chunks in the casserole dish and top with 1/2 of the grated cheese. Layer on the rest of the bread and top with the remaining cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and garlic powder until combined. Pour over the casserole, cover with foil, and refrigerate overnight.
Pull the casserole out of the refrigerator 45 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the melted butter over the casserole right before baking and then bake for 45-50 minutes until puffed and golden brown.