wandering coeliac – bagels & beans, amsterdam

okay, so i didn’t get the hype about bagels until i tried one in nyc in 2007. bagels, growing up in australia, came in packs of four from the supermarket, and tended to be a bit heavy, dry, and flavourless. experiencing the real deal has ruined me for life, and coeliac disease and the relative lack of gluten free bagels on the market has made the whole experience that much harder. 

if you’re thinking i’m about to announce that bagels & beans is your saviour… er, don’t. having said that, their gluten free bagels have neither the weight and texture of a rock, nor the general consistency of pound cake (which seem to be the two standard options in gluten free bagel-ing), so i suppose they’re still leading the gluten free pack. just don’t expect miracles.

i opted for cream cheese and smoked salmon on mine. if i had my time over, i’d probably ask them to dial back the capers and red onions a bit (pretty sure i had killer breath for a while afterwards), but overall it was reasonably tasty. hey, i’m a coeliac traveller – the bar is set pretty low, expectations-wise. i’m usually grateful to get something (a) palatable, (b) satisfying, (c) not too expensive and (d) legitimately uncontaminated. see? 

bagels & beans brunch

i also ordered an iced coffee, but was informed by the very cluey waitress that they made it with instant coffee, which as all experienced coeliacs know, tends to be a red flag. she offered to make me an iced latte instead – proper espresso, milk, and ice. sorted.

service was slow, but this seemed to be a combination of circumstances: a (very) rainy day, peak sunday brunch time, two floors of customers with only two waitstaff and one more on food and drink prep. in spite of this, service was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about coeliac disease.

bagels & beans have a number of outlets around amsterdam. you can find your closest one, as well as their menu, on their website. yes, they do a functional english version (hallelujah!).

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whose schedule is it anyway?

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image credit: stephbarcenas.com

as a child, i was the textbook “little professor”. i spent a hell of a lot of my free time reading, and as i got a bit older, passing on that knowledge to my younger sister. we spent weeks of one summer with a “school” set up in the back shed, though we were intermittently forced out by the combination to 35ºC temperatures and a structure made entirely of metal (hello sauna!). i later started a library out of my own book collection, and bullied my family into borrowing them. it didn’t last long.

i didn’t play well with other children; not in the ‘disruptive’, ‘selfish’ or ‘bossy’ sense, but because when other children tried to play with me, i’d go and play somewhere else on my own. other children’s games were incomprehensible and idiotic – why would i want to be involved? when friends came over to play after school, i was at a loss as to what came next. i knew i couldn’t just read while they sat there, but what what on earth did other kids do for fun?

as a teen, i was constantly praised by adults for my maturity, so – people pleaser that i was – i did everything i could to live up to the label. i started investing at 18. my wardrobe acquired a shelf full of lever arch folders with tax documents, medical records, vehicle registration papers and university correspondence, mimicking the ones in my parents’ study. i never smoked or did drugs, and the only time i drank without parental supervision (half a bottle of lemon ruski at a friend’s place), i was only a few months shy of the legal age. to my 17 year old palate, it tasted like bad lemon squash. i gifted the rest to a friend intent on getting herself hammered. (possibly not so mature on my part, but arguably pragmatic – she would drink to passing out whether she had my bottle or not, and at least this way an opened drink wasn’t wasted.)

as a young adult, i tried to follow the ‘correct’ path to success. i joined a large company and did my time at the bottom of the corporate ladder. i continued investing. i made Big Plans, the kind where you work yourself to the bone in your 20s and retire by 35. i ignored the mounting stress – both self-inflicted and work-inflicted – until eventually i collapsed. quit my job. travelled. came back broke. made some bad decisions (which turned out to be valuable lessons). worked a contract job, saved, travelled again. rinse and repeat till my late 20s.

i realised i was living my life in reverse. or living out the years i’d missed when i was younger.

at 27 i moved to japan, went to language school, and lived in a dorm where (somewhat surprisingly) i wasn’t the oldest student. i drank too much on friday nights, made a fool of myself more than once, became the centre of a will-they-won’t-they saga (won’t, it turned out), and essentially played out the sort of coming of age scenarios you see in american college movies, only a decade later than expected.

meanwhile, on social media, my high school and uni friends were buying houses, moving up the corporate ladder, getting engaged, getting married, having kids. i started to panic. i’d turned my back on the traditional path, but had that been a mistake? i was falling behind my peers in hitting these important milestones.

back in sydney and heading for 30, i tried to fit in, tried dating again, tried buying into the corporate mindset. but the work had no meaning, made me frustrated, made me restless. the men – all late 20s to mid-30s – wanted to ‘settle down’ and do all those things i appeared to have been missing out on: marriage, kids, picket fence. i sat with the idea, meditated on it, journalled about it. it never felt right. perhaps it was just that these people weren’t ‘the right person’, but eventually it occurred to me that the urge for these things only came to me when i was scrolling through facebook. as soon as i logged off, the feeling dissipated. there was no burning desire for a partner and kids, no urgency to find a place of my own. it was fomo. it was the primitive mind, the latent social animal, urging me to conform; to follow the safe, expected path. and that clearly wasn’t for me. not right now, at least.

and so it was back on the road again, this time to london for a 15 month sabbatical of sorts. my pie in the sky dreams of meeting fellow writers, musicians, and artistic folk hasn’t necessarily panned out the way it did in my (admittedly idealistic) daydreams, but it’s opened me up to new experiences, new opportunities for growth, and unexpected moments of self discovery. the urge to nest hits me occasionally, but ‘not in this place’ follows closely on its heels.

i might be lagging behind my peers. i might never find a partner, start a family, buy a home. or it might happen little by little, inch by inch, sneaking up on me before i realise. or all at once, in one of those fantastic, pinch-yourself, when-did-this-become-my-life moments.

however it happens, i’m at peace with it. i’m living on my own terms, and my own timetable. that’s pretty damned empowering.

that’s not a ritual, that’s just a routine

image credit: byjacki.com

image credit: byjacki.com

when i first set out to write this post, the idea had been to try my hand at the blogger’s favourite: “my morning ritual”. easy, i thought, i’m a creature of habit – this will be a walk in the park. but as I started to write, something about it just wasn’t quite ringing true.

life right now – and ever since I moved to london – has had a sort of temporary feel, the kind that comes with finite visas and no guarantee of long term residency. my experience here is frustratingly temporary, and that unsettled-ness has infused through all parts of my life, and arguably my psyche.

prior to this, in the 18 months spent in inner sydney, my morning was a series of rituals. straight-out-of-bed yoga took on a rawer feel in my east-facing bedroom, the heat of the sun so intense (even at 7am), the stillness of the space leaving just me, my mat, my breath, the growing sheen of perspiration, the rhythm of repetition. focus narrowed, awareness stripped back to the essential, i’d surface from my practice feeling grounded, calm, in control.

my london flat is too cold for this, my bedroom too poky – full of drying laundry I’m forced to climb around and over to get to the bed. goodbye morning yoga.

instead, I try to meditate – ‘try’ being the operative word. there is no space to lay my mat, so I perch on the bed. ground floor and street-facing, the room is subject to a flurry of foot traffic between 7 and 9 every morning – parents with chattering children, businessmen on their mobiles, uni students engaged in animated conversations. it’s a test of focus and patience; sometimes i pass, at other times i fail miserably. but i persist, i persist, i persist.

what i have discovered is that ritual cannot be forced. when it’s constructed with too much thought, there’s a sense of the artificial, the inauthentic, i can’t relax into it. It’s not a ritual, it’s just a routine.

ritual grows organically from a place of what feels good, what feels right, what my spirit needs to nourish it. of late, i’ve lost that sense. i’m a split second out of sync with the world around me. i’m the kid in the jump rope game who can’t quite time their entry, constantly pulling back or getting tangled in the rope. it’s a fug, a mismatch, a lack of flow.

maybe the comparison, the yearning for something lost is part of the problem. perhaps my restlessness, the urge to discard everything and try something completely new, is what holds me back. learning to sit with these feelings, to acknowledge them but not make any rash decisions – maybe that’s a lesson in itself.