the pretzel motif

The headboard of my parents’ bed is made primarily  of (maybe walnut?) wood but a cut-out on either side is filled with wicker. When I was young, I used to scratch on this wicker with my mom’s hairbrush, “playing the pretzel,” as I called it. Even though I am now fully aware of the wickerdom of their headboard, whenever I see it, I think about and crave pretzels. I like pretzels in pretty much every form I’ve ever eaten them: soft or hard; covered in chocolate or that “yogurt” stuff I’m pretty sure is mislabeled white chocolate; dipped in peanut butter, cream cheese, or mustard. Over the past week and a half or so, I have encountered some of the best pretzels:  a couple soft ones from breweries and one crunchy one from Pennsylvania.

Last week, I went to Stone Brewery for a tour, a meal, and a showing of Monty Python & the Holy Grail. The dinner menu is pretty pricey, so my party stuck to a collection of appetizers, one of which were the Stone-Style Soft Pretzels. They were covered in a layer of sea salt but were somehow not overly salty. The salt instead created a wonderful crunch in every bite around the fluffy, warm center. One of the two dips was a cheddar cheese sauce which was entirely whatevs, but the Stone Pale Ale Open Seed Spicy Brown Mustard was otherworldly. The citrusy breadiness (trust me) of Stone’s Pale Ale added such deep flavor dimensions to the mustard that even when the pretzels were long gone, I was left licking every last grain of mustard out of that ramekin.

During the movie, I bought another pretzel at the concession stand to use as a ladle for the quarter-cup of mustard I intended to eat. Before trying this open seed mustard, I had been pretty ‘meh’ on mustards that strayed far from Grey Poupon, but now that I’ve discovered the power of adding beer to spicy mustard, there is no stopping me. My new goal is to create a series of beer mustards to serve with homemade soft pretzels. Maybe I’ll even find some smoked salt to throw on some of the pretzels to pair well with a Stone Smoked Porter mustard or bacon beer mustard. A girl can dream.

This specimen is La Jolla Brew House’s “Perfect Pretzel.” According to my fellow diners, it is the perfect example of a soft German pretzel. I have no idea what a soft German pretzel should taste like, so I cannot vouch for this comment, but I can vouch for the pretzel in general. It had the perfect outer crust and an excellent texture without too much salt. So fresh and warm that its steam burned my hands. Them third-degrees were well worth it, though, especially when the affected hand was headed towards the mustard (a whole grain/dijon mixture) with a big hunka pretzel in tow.

Penny and Jay gave me one of these individually-wrapped pretzels the other night; they had received a 5-lb. box of the gems from a friend who had them shipped from the factory in Lancaster, PA. Hammond’s is the oldest continuously running pretzel factory in the country, alive and thriving since 1931. These dudes know how to make a pretzel. Besides the fabulous chunks of sea salt that grace the surface, there is a fair amount of salt mixed into the dough. Evenly-distributed saltiness throughout prevents those moments of discomfort/temporary dehydration of toomuchsaltonthispartofmypretzel,EEK. It had the kind of freshness that is impossible to find in a bag of Snyder’s where a hundred or more pretzels are all fighting for the same air; this allowed for the pretzel to maintain its ideal, dry crunch. I usually love to eat hard pretzels with dark chocolate, but this pretzel-sesh had a different fate.

I forewent the chocolate this time around because I had a Virgil’s Microbrewed Root Beer that needed drinking.  This beverage,  purchased at Galco’s Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles (dentist’s nightmare/my dream-come-true), was the perfect accompaniment to the pretzel. The brew contains all natural ingredients and flavorings: anise, licorice, vanilla, cinnamon,  clove, wintergreen, sweet birch, molasses, nutmeg, pimento berry oil, balsam oil and cassia oil. Virgil’s collects ingredients from around the world (Spain, France, Madagascar, Ceylon, Indonesia, China, Jamaica, Peru, and the US), all of which mingle delicately together in the smooth and creamy final product. Globalization!

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