Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Mise - Essay from Newsletter 27



I turned 61 today and knew I’d want bagels for breakfast.

Yes, in my field I shouldn’t be so cavalier about announcing my age. There are few enough people I know working over forty.

Let alone fifty.

Don’t talk to me about sixty.

Anyway, I was talking about bagels.

I haven’t had bagels in a while and we’re not really going out much to buy stuff so that means I’d have to make them.

That’s step one. Thinking ahead.

Flour, Water, Yeast, and Salt

Last night was leftovers night.

Meatloaf from Kim’s mom followed by coffee ice cream I made using the base from Salt and Straw.

The news cycle was getting ready to move on from, “wait only $750?” to whatever pops up next.

Four years ago friends would look at the latest news of cruelty or grift and text me “this has to convince people of who he is. They won’t support him now.”

And yet they still do.

Who looks at this latest revelation and says, “I was good with the kids in cages, and the Muslim ban, and 200 thousand dead from COVID, attacking the military, and destroying the USPS - but cheating on your taxes - that’s what changes my vote.”


But I digress.


I noticed I had some bread flour so I thought I’d use it for the bagels. I often just have AP Flour and I really don’t notice the difference.

While I waited for the meatloaf in the microwave, I weighed out 660 g of flour. I only had 450 g of bread flour so I used all purpose for the rest. 12 grams of kosher salt. 8 grams of instant yeast. On a whim I added a couple of squirts of honey and then about 380 grams of water.

Step two assemble everything you need.


A couple of years after Kim died I went to take a class at King Arthur in Vermont.

I’ve taken several over the years.

In this one, one of the other students was talking about a spiral mixer he’d bought. I’d been looking at them for years but they were expensive. He talked about how it gave him joy and about how it made it easier to decide to bake.

Both of those things have been true. My barrier to baking is lower and I just love using it.

I added the ingredients to the mixer and set in on first speed.

I chopped some onion for something else we were having with dinner and looked back at the dough. I gave it a tug and set the machine on second speed.

A couple minutes later the dough was the right temperature and texture so I took it out of the machine and put it in a bowl to rise.

While it rose I cleaned the machine and had dinner with Maggie.

Step three - commit.


An hour later the dishes from dinner were done and the bread had risen enough that I could shape it.

I divided it into pieces around 106 grams each. I then cupped my hand over each piece and rotated my hand in a small circle until each piece was a tight little sphere. That step always makes me wonder.

So many steps in cooking and baking make me wonder.

After letting them rest for about twenty minutes I poked my finger and thumb into the sphere until they met. I stretched each hole until the sphere was bagel shaped. I put them onto a sheet pan, covered them with plastic wrap, and refrigerated them over night.

There are things that you can do in this world and there are things you can’t do.

Step four - do the things you need to do then leave things alone.


I turned 61 today.

I came down the stairs and let the dog outside. While she was outside I filled a pot and put it on the stove. I turned the oven on to preheat it to 460 degrees F.

I let the dog in and fed her. Annabelle stood next to me while I had my coffee and talked to my sister on the phone.

By then the water was boiling. I added a little honey to the water.

I took the bagels out of the refrigerator and dropped three of them into the water. After a bit I flipped them over. After another bit I took them out and drained them while I put another batch in. I dredged the drained bagels in sesame seeds and laid them back on the sheet pan.

Twenty-five minutes later I was pulling fresh bagels from the oven. The pot that I boiled them in and the plates I used for draining and dredging are already clean.

Step five - cook

Pace yourself

There is a lot involved to making bagels yet it always feels easy and no big deal.

If at each step you have all that you need to perform that step, then each step is pretty straightforward.

If you’ve thought about the steps ahead of time and prepared for them, then the entire process is do-able.

If you’ve ever cooked stir-fry you know that you have to have everything cut and prepared before you go to the stove. Once you’ve fired up the pan, everything moves really quickly.

This is what we mean by “mise” (pronounced “meez”).

It’s the same root you may have learned in school from “mise en scene” but this is for “mise en place”.

Put everything in its place.


Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 27. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS