Cathy Barrow is the author of the new book Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish: A Whole Brunch of Recipes to Make at Home. Her other books include When Pies Fly. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, and she lives near Washington, D.C.
Q: In your new book, you describe your grandmother visiting you in Ohio, carrying bagels from Brookline, Massachusetts. What role did bagels play in your childhood, and what inspired you to write about bagels this time around?
A: This is such a perceptive questions, Deborah. My family loved bagels. A bagel brunch was always a celebration, even if it was just a regular old Sunday.
Sunday mornings, my parents often played tennis (so 1960s!) and my brother and I would go over to our grandparents. By 11 o'clock, David and I would be clamoring for breakfast. We could smell the bagels and the sight of a coppery smoked whitefish unwrapped atop white butcher paper was sheer torture til that tennis match was over.
Q: What advice would you give someone who's apprehensive about making their own bagels?
A: There is nothing to be worried about! I've provided all the technique and timing information you'll need to be successful.
But if it's just a bridge too far, there are over a dozen schmear recipes that simply zhuzz up a block of grocery store cream cheese. So, buy the bagels, make the schmear! And don't forget the fish.
Q: Of the various sandwich and salad recipes you include in the book, do you have any particular favorites?
A: I'm particularly fond of the sardine sandwich. I adore sardines and somehow that tangy fish rich flavor on a slightly sweet, toasted Montreal bagel (with just a little butter, thank you very much) nears perfection for me.
Q: What do you think Linda Xiao's photographs add to the book?
A: I think Linda has an amazing eye. She uses light, contrast, and shadows with great artistry.
I'd been following her photography in the New York Times Food section and was just delighted that she was available to work on this book. It takes real skill to make a book of brown food (bagels) or white food (schmears) look so very appetizing!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've been writing my newsletter, Cook, Garden, Knit, Repeat, for about a year and I'm getting so much pleasure from the exercise. I develop a new recipe every two weeks, and I also write about my other favorite subjects -- Gardening and Knitting. Here's a link to subscribe.
You can be sure that I have some ideas for other books. We'll see what happens.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm very excited to get this book out in the world. The act of writing it brought back memories from many decades ago making this book more personal, filled with family stories (and a few old snapshots) and those of coming of age in the '80s.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Cathy Barrow.