She glances up at him, catching his eye for a moment before returning her gaze to her folded hands on the table in front of her. What more can she say? She’s already laid her heart out, already made herself vulnerable, and it feels all for nothing. With no response, the air between them thickens with a heaviness that usually doesn’t burden their exchanges. She looks up again, unable to take another moment of silence and finally, he speaks.
“Are you going to eat that?”
“Are you going to finish that?”
“This? No, no. I’ve lost my appetite.”
He reaches across and grabs the soft pretzel from her plate, a hearty specimen coated in caramelized melted cheeses and encrusted with jalapeño slices. She watches in confusion as he takes a bite, his eyes never leaving hers. He swallows and rips off another piece of pretzel. Finally, she can’t take it anymore:
“That’s it? That’s all you can do? Sit there and eat my damn pretzel?”
“I figured it shouldn’t go to waste.”
One day as I was driving to work, I considered ways I could nurture my different creative sides without having to keep them so separate. An idea came to me: instead of the usual narrative about my life or “eat this, it’s really good” statements, what if I threw in short stories? Crazy little micro tales in a highly concentrated timeline that somehow incorporates the food into the story. They don’t have to be serious. Silly could even be better. But since so many people skip right past the narrative to get to the recipe, what could it hurt? It might make things more interesting.
Then I didn’t do it. Because, while I thought it was a valuable idea, I was afraid. There’s comfort in sharing your thoughts or your day. You have a certain confidence in your words because you know them to be absolutely true. They’re indisputable. And while people may not like them, or may not care, they have inherent value because of their truth.
Fiction, on the other hand, isn’t so safe. It’s scary. It’s opening up some of the deeper feelings inside, molding them into something else that may seem unrecognizable, but can also be decrypted. It’s not as sure of itself. It’s much greater of a risk. And, much like I intentionally kept my authorship of this blog anonymous for a long time to protect myself, I feel like I lose a little more of myself by giving up these stories for closer examination by people who actually know me. Fiction is called fiction for a reason. But people don’t always accept it as such. And I’m a coward. I don’t want to live a closely examined life. I want to put out what’s in my heart and head without any connections to the person behind it. But that’s just stupid.
So here’s a little bit of playfulness tonight. Because what more is there to say? It’s a pillowy soft pretzel with so much ooey, gooey cheese baked on top instead of the familiar salt crystals. The jarred jalapeño slices add a pleasant kick here and there, just when you least expect it. And you know what? Even if there is an extended silence between serving and consuming, they will still taste amazing. I promise. Though if I were her, I would have slapped his hand away. What the hell was he thinking?
- 1½ cups warm water (approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- 4½ cups bread flour
- 1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 5 cups tap water
- ⅓ cup baking soda
- 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
- 48 slices jarred sliced jalapeños
- 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the water, sugar, salt, and yeast. Turn on the dough hook for a moment to stir to combine, then let sit for 5 minutes, or until frothy. (This is not entirely necessary with active dry yeast, but it lets you see early on if your yeast is still alive so you don’t waste a lot of ingredients.)
- Add the melted butter and flour and mix with the dough hook; once combined, knead on level 2 for 5 minutes, or until you get a nice soft, smooth dough ball that clears the sides of the bowl but still sticks on the bottom.
- Pour the grapeseed oil in a 2-quart mixing bowl and use a paper towel to grease the bowl with it.
- Transfer the dough ball to the bowl, cover, and put somewhere warm to rise until it’s doubled in size (1 to 1-1/2 hours or so).
- When the dough has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with baking spray to ensure the pretzels don’t stick.
- Dump the water and baking soda into a 3-quart pot (not hard-anondized!!!) and bring to a rapid boil.
- In the meantime, lightly grease your work surface.
- Dump the dough ball onto the work surface and, using a sharp knife, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.
- Take one piece of dough and roll it out into a long snake around 20-24 inches long.
- Shape the dough into a U, then cross over the ends and twist, pressing the ends onto the bottom of the “U” to make a pretzel shape. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
- Repeat with the rest of the dough.
- Drop one pretzel into the boiling water and let it sit for 30 seconds. Remove with a turner back to the prepared baking sheet.
- Repeat with the rest of the pretzels.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water for the egg wash. Brush over the tops of the pretzels.
- Arrange 6 jalapeño slices over each pretzel, then sprinkle with cheese, dividing evenly among the 8 pretzels.
- Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until browned and the cheese has caramelized, rotating pans halfway through the baking time.
- Remove to wire racks to cool slightly before serving.
- Best eaten within 24 hours of preparing.