The walls surrounding my four-year old self were pretty limited.
Home. That little white house in the country - bordered by grass-munching cows on two sides; a hay field on the third and a road on the other side. Country living, for sure.
Church. The massive building with its many hallways and seemingly endless number of rooms. The throngs of people.
"The Farm". The lodestone of my father's family. The piece of land held by my ancestors dating back to the era of the Revolutionary War. That big old farm house. The long stone walls leading to what was now beach front property (half of the farm became "beach" property when the Reservoir was filled in 1930) and the site of the tent where most summers were spent. And the fields where the cows freely roamed until dusk demanded they be pulled in. And the chickens. The smelly, noisy chickens. (They still creep me out).
Sprinkled in were the occasional trip to the grocery store. Visits to my gramma. And not much else.
But one day, that all changed...
And I learned that the world was a much larger place. There was a whole existence beyond that rural plot of land I called home.
It was time to send my sister off to college. To a strange land called Philadelphia. What's a Philadelphia? My not quite-four year old mind could hardly process what was going on around me.
And then the day came. Packing up so many belongings into the family station wagon. An never-ending car ride. Pastures and rolling hills flew quickly by, turning into areas of population density. It was all so strange. Streets with tall buildings flanking both sides. The sights, smells & sounds were so different than anything my mind was used to processing.
Future trips to the City would involve visits to museums and other sites of "historical" significance. Trolley rides to the Betsy Ross House or the Mint. My first glimpse of the "mommy, why is it broken?" Liberty Bell. And my most favorite place of all - The Franklin Institute and that giant-walkrightthroughit heart.
The memories of these places fell second only to the memory of the purveyors of pretzels carrying their wares tucked firmly beneath sweaty arm pits - wandering from car to car on a hot, summer day. Trying to convince drivers stopped for the red lights to try one of "Philly's finest". (No thank you - even at that age, I knew that that was just plain wrong...).
And while we may have shunned those pretzels whose salty flavor had its roots in suspect sources, I must say that few things were able to bring a light to my eyes like the taste of a hot, fresh, soft, salty pretzels on those occasions when my mother was able to talk my father into running to the street cart to pick up one for us to share. (I promise you, no arm pit pretzels were partaken of)
I half suspect those early tastes of carb heaven are partly to blame for my unquenchable love love of bread. Hmmmm...
In my later years, different charms lured me to back to Philadelphia. For, I had chosen suburban Philly as my temporary home during my early college years. Weekends were filled with trips down to Kensington for tutoring sessions at one of the city missions. Mixed in with that were excursions to places such as South Street and Reading Market.
Life eventually would tear me away from that City I had come to love so much over the years and would push me back to the rural world that I came from. But it doesn't take much to send me on a trip down memory lane to those days and places I so fondly remember - especially when the trip is taken with a warm, chewy, salty pretzel in hand.
This is one of my favorite ways to use up excess starter. I enjoy the way that the subtle changes in the nuance of the starter bring new life to the final product with each baking.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
3/4 cup water
1 cup sourdough starter (straight from refrigerator - no need to rest)
3 cups bread flour (or unbleached all purpose - higher gluten flours yield the chewiest pretzels)
1/4 cup dry milk
2 Tbs non-diastatic malt powder (or 1 Tbs sugar)
1 Tbs softened butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1 Tbs non-diastatic malt powder (or sugar)
3 Tbs water
Coarse salt, for sprinkling
Mix together all dough ingredients to make a slightly sticky but smooth dough ball (if the dough seems dry, work in a little water). Place dough ball in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for ~45 minutes to one hour (dough may not double, but it will be really puffy).
Line one large or two medium sized baking sheets with parchment paper.
Gently deflate dough & place on a lightly greased surface. Divide it into 12 even pieces (for palm size pretzels - if you want larger pretzels, divide it into 6 or 8 pieces). Roll each piece into a long rope (~18") - shape each rope into a pretzel.
Let pretzels rest while the oven pre-heats to 325F.
Dissolve the remaining Tbs of non-diastatic yeast into the water. Brush the mixture over the pretzels. Sprinkle with salt. Bake 20-25 minutes until browned and top looks somewhat dry. Let cool slightly before chowing down!