Athena Scalzi

Bit of a Bust Bagels

In another bout of culinary adventuring, I decided to make homemade bagels! One of my favorite food bloggers, Half Baked Harvest, posted a recipe for cinnamon crunch bagels, and I decided to try my hand at it. This post’s purpose is to take you, my dear reader, on the journey that was bagel making. Let’s get started.

To kick things off, I thought the ingredients list was super easy. As seen here, there’s really not that many ingredients:

Very standard things, like flour, salt, butter, sugar. I didn’t have to go to the store for anything! Except packets of instant yeast. As you can see from the picture, the yeast I actually bought was not instant, because I am a fool.

So, I had to mix the yeast with warm water, specifically water that was a hundred degrees, but I don’t have a thermometer so I just microwaved some water and hoped I didn’t burn my yeast alive. I’ve also never used real yeast before, only instant one time before, so I hoped I was doing it right as I mixed the water, sugar, and yeast together until it just looked like brown water. Then it got kind of foamy.

After pouring everything in the stand mixer, foamy yeast included, I attached the dough hook and let it work its magic. After a couple minutes, I ended up with this!

The recipe said to let it rise for an hour or two, so I opted for two, because I was busy playing Super Smash Bros.

As you can see, this sucker puffed up!

I punched the bejeezus out of it and rolled it out onto a lightly floured work surface (aka I just threw flour on my counter).

The recipe said it makes ten to twelve bagels, so I chose to split the dough into ten pieces, and after doing my damnedest to shape them, this is what I got:

Hey, those things vaguely look like bagels! Nice!

The recipe said to make the holes two inches but I wasn’t sure how to measure that kind of thing so I just said to myself, does this look like a bagel? And if it kind of did, I figured it was close enough.

The next step was boiling. This part is very important, DO NOT leave your pot of boiling bagels unattended. Honestly, I wouldn’t even look away from them if I were you. Never in my life have I had a pot of water try so hard to boil over (and succeed).

Once they were boiled, the bagels grew in size a considerable amount. They were almost like sponges, and soaked up a bunch of the water, so I ended up having to add more water to the pot, and boil it all over again.

I didn’t know they’d get so big. Be sure not to overcrowd your pot, I certainly almost did.

Next was the pièce de résistance, the cinnamon crunch layer. Comprised of nothing but sugar, butter, and cinnamon, this delectable addition was sure to be the star of my creation. Behold their glory before I baked them:

As you can see from the picture, the mixture got all over the baking sheet and all up in the holes of the bagels. The recipe for the cinnamon crunch layer is supposed to cover all ten to twelve of the bagels, but I used all of it on these six. So I had to make a half-batch for the remaining four, and then I used all of that on the last four! Maybe I’m too heavy handed with it, or maybe it was because so much of it spilled all over the parchment paper. Either way, you might want to make sure you have enough of your ingredients to make another batch or half-batch if necessary.

Alas, the thing I had counted on being the star of the show was the demise of my bagels. Once they baked, all that sugar that escaped turned into severely burnt caramel.

All that black goo is basically molten sugar, and it coated the bottoms of the bagels. Once it hardened, it made the bagels practically impossible to bite through because the burnt sugar layer was so hard. It also tasted bad, because, well, it was burnt.

So, I learned my lesson, and with the remaining four bagels, I put the topping on them before setting them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. This ensured there was no sugar laying around on the baking sheet all willy nilly. And behold:

Much cleaner! These actually looked like they came out correctly. However, upon eating them, they were just too tough in my opinion. My dad said they were good, and they were the right amount of chewy, like a bagel is supposed to be. But I still think they’re too hard. My dad and I decided to microwave them for like fifteen seconds to soften them, which worked okay I guess.

I’m curious if they were tough because I overworked the dough? Or maybe they would have turned out better if I had used instant yeast like I was supposed to?

Honestly, for the effort and time put into making these, I would say it’s probably better to just go with store bought bagels, or picking up some Panera cinnamon crunch ones.

So, while these were not a total bust, and they are edible enough, I wouldn’t say this endeavor was a huge success, either.

Congrats! You’ve reached the end of the post, which means I shall bestow upon the recipe for these bagels.

What’s your favorite kind of bagel? Are you a buttered bagel kind of person or do you like cream cheese on it? Do you toast them? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!



Today In Life Choices That Are Either Questionable or Awesome or Both

See that fucking ridiculous guitar above? The one with six necks? Yeah, I just bought that shit.

(My Fictional Interlocutor crashes in from the underbrush)

You did what now?

I bought it! I read in Guitar World that it was up for auction and I put in a bid and I won.

Were you deeply stoned at the time?

You know I don’t do that stuff.

I don’t know, maybe you started.


Ambien, then.

I swear I was not in a pharmaceutically altered state of mind when I bid on it.

Then… why?

One, because it’s ridiculous.

Well, yes.

Which is awesome. Two, I have plans to build out a music room in the basement — it’s already where the majority of my musical instruments are — and I thought this would make a very fine centerpiece for it.

So you didn’t buy it to play it.

Oh, no, I’m definitely gonna play it.

It seems ergonomically dubious at best.

Well, yes. When I say I’m going to play it, I don’t mean it’s going to be my everyday guitar. It is meant mostly to be art. Even the guy who built it says it’s a “conversation piece.” But it’s a playable guitar — all the pickups and electric bits work — so I’m going to keep it tuned (or at least, tunable) and ready to be fiddled with whenever I or someone else has a mind to.

I’m not 100% believing it’s playable.

Here’s a video of someone playing it:

That’s probably CGI.

Stop that.

Also, you don’t play that well.

True enough! But I guess I could practice.

How much did this folly cost you?

Actually less than I expected. When I bid on it, I put in the upper amount I was willing to pay, and I assumed the price would be run up — actually, if I’m being honest, I thought someone would outbid me. But no one did, so I didn’t reach my max bid. However it’s in the UK and will need to be crated and shipped here to Ohio, so what I didn’t pay for the guitar itself, I’ll probably pay in having it brought over.

Tell me you didn’t spring this on Krissy.

I did not. Krissy and I always inform each other of when we wish to make a substantial expenditure, even (especially) if it is, in fact, entirely ridiculous. Also, of course, if Krissy was all, “please don’t,” then I wouldn’t have. But this was within our budget at the moment, and Krissy gets the whole “I’m buying art for a room” thing I’m doing. As distinctive original art goes, this was a reasonable expense. As a guitar, it was slightly pricey but not ill-advisedly so. As both? A bargain! Also I had a hard-out price I wouldn’t have gone above. This is awesome but it’s also silly, and there’s a limit on how much I’m willing to spend on silly.

So when do we get to see you with this thing?

I don’t know! I’m talking to a shipping company today and we’ll figure out how long it will take to get here. I’m not exactly expecting an overnight delivery. I expect it will be several weeks. Please be patient.

Will you post a video of you playing it?

Oh, probably.

Plan to buy any more musical instruments any time soon?

Oh, probably not.



— JS

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Jess Montgomery

What do you get when you take strong women, crime bosses, and bootleggers, and throw them into a novel set in 1927 Ohio? You get Jess Montgomery’s newest addition to her series, The Stills. Prepare to explore the past in Montgomery’s Big Idea.


When The Widows, my first novel in my Kinship Historical Mystery Series came out, I didn’t know that it was the first novel in my series.

That’s because I didn’t realize I was going to be writing a series. 

I knew, of course, that I’d written The Widows, inspired by Maude Collins who became Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925 after her husband was killed in the line of duty serving notice on a speeding violation. In my books, Lily becomes sheriff after her sheriff-husband Daniel is killed in the line of duty—but in this case, no one knows who killed him, or why. In pursuing the truth, Lily connects with Marvena, a coal mining union organizer and childhood friend of Daniel’s, who has her own mystery to pursue—where has her teenage daughter disappeared to? The two women become friends, bond over loss, and find themselves facing a difficult choice: personal vengeance, or save their community from deadly confrontation between mine workers and management?

I also knew that I had a contract for a second novel with the same publisher, Minotaur Books. (And I knew that I was—and am—damned lucky for that.)

But then, my editor asked if I’d thought about turning The Widows into a series.

“No,” I said. (I’ve written series before, under another name, and wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to that.)

“It’s up to you,” she said, “but do you realize you’ve created this great cast of characters in Kinship [the county seat where Lily is sheriff], and a fascinating world?”

“Uhhhh….” Thankfully, I’m more articulate on paper (I promise) than in conversations.

“And I’d like to know more about both, and I think readers might too. Please just think about it,” she said.

So I did. While I wasn’t contractually obligated to build The Widows out into a series, I was intrigued by her complimentary question. And soon I realized she was right, as editors so maddeningly often are, and that the world in which Lily works and lives—Bronwyn County, in the Appalachian area of southeastern Ohio—as well as its occupants are varied and intriguing. There seemed to be a lot more material to explore.

But I needed something to thematically tie the novels together, beyond Lily-solves-another-crime. 

And then I got to thinking about that tension Lily and Marvena had in the first novel, between personal desire and serving their community. About those raw, tender, difficult boundaries all of us face at least a few times in our lives between individuality and community expectation. (Note that I define community as family, or any bound group such as a religious group or a club or even a vocation such as the writing world. It can also mean a location or municipality, but not necessarily.) 

And I thought about how Lily and Marvena share, by turns, the narration of the first novel. 

That’s when the Big Idea hit me: each novel could pair Lily with another community member, together pursuing a criminal event that pits individual desire or need against community expectation or need. 

In the next novel, The Hollows, Lily and her childhood friend Hildy—who, at least at the beginning, is very timid compared to Lily—seek to resolve the murder of an elderly woman, and in so doing, uncover the community’s dark past.

My newest novel, The Stills, just out from Minotaur, is set in 1927. Prohibition, in the background of the first two novels, and a sinister bootlegging plot which leads to poisonings and death form the backbone of the plot. In this novel, Lily shares the story’s narration with the bootlegger’s wife, Fiona—a former member of the Kinship community.

These are not women who particularly liked each other when they were simply wives and mothers in Kinship. Lily was for women’s right to vote; Fiona was not. Fiona’s first husband worked as a deputy for Daniel, and later, after Lily becomes sheriff, does not approve of Lily being sheriff. It’s not that she wants her husband to rise from deputy to head sheriff (she also doesn’t like the danger the job entails); she just doesn’t believe women should take on such work. And then, Fiona’s first husband (the deputy) is also killed in the line of duty. Both women are widows, and must find their way as such in the world—but they do so in very different ways. Lily takes on a non-traditional job for a woman, while Fiona ingratiates herself into the world of bootlegger and crime boss George Vogel (inspired by real-life George Remus), who happens to be Lily’s nemesis.

But Fiona is no shrinking violet. She has her own plans and agenda, and grows from being dependent on men toward becoming independent—just in a very different way than Lily. This pits the women against one another—unlike Lily’s relationships with her co-narrators in the first two Kinship Historical Mystery novels.

And yet, in The Stills, as in the other Kinship novels, what really drives the story is the tension between individuals and community—and how each can find redemption and hope in the other.

Several more novels are planned for my Kinship series. I’m excited to see how far my Big Idea will carry the series, and I hope readers will be as well.

The Stills: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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