Lunch cheered her. She suggested that they play in Central Park for a while, and they did. They bought peanuts, chestnuts, and pretzels from the vendor outside the museum.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg
My sister Lucy and I often ran away from home when we were little. We filled backpacks with books and games and boxes of Jatz crackers, and left dramatic notes on the dining room table. We never got far; I think we just liked the drama, the idea of the great search that would surely be organised within minutes. In reality, we faced the inevitably of being discovered under the house, where the washing machine lived, when mum came down to put a load on, or of returning upstairs, bored of hiding, before anyone realised we'd vanished.
We often discussed going further afield - to the Baskin Robbins up the road, perhaps, or to the fish and chip shop, piggy banks heavy with 20c pieces. But we never did. At the end of the day, our beds were comfortable, and we agreed, grudgingly, that not being allowed to watch The Simpsons probably didn't qualify as a reason to leave home. Our stepdad Geoff still has a collection of the best notes we left behind - records of our petty frustrations, that we all laugh about now. But some part of me always wondered what it would have been like to pack a tent, and all our saved pocket money, and head off with Lucy for a few days.
So, when my friend Fiona sent me a copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I read it with an odd kind of vicarious longing. As a child, I could only dream of a city like New York, and a place like the Met, to escape to, with only my dear sister for company. Back then, I romanticised life as an adult: visiting a laundromat (they held a strange appeal until I actually had to use one), finding things to fill the days with, eating what and where we liked. In the end, of course, Claudia and Jamie return home, but their days of independence are the type I dreamed of.
Throughout the book, the intrepid Kincaid siblings enjoy multiple helpings of macaroni cheese - exactly the sort of meal Lucy and I would have ordered multiple helpings of when unsupervised - alongside cheese sandwiches, and these chewy pretzels, that they purchase from a vendor near Central Park. Pretzels are best eaten hot from the oven, dipped in hot mustard, or stored warm in your pocket, to eat when peckish on a long walk. If you have any left over, do toast them, or warm them in the oven, before eating them the next day.
New York Pretzels
2tsp dried active yeast
1tsp dark brown sugar
250ml lukewarm water
375g plain flour
1tsp bi-carbonate of soda
Rock salt, for sprinkling
1. Mix the yeast, brown sugar, and water together. Add to the flour and salt in the mixing bowl, and stir with your hand to combine. Knead for ten minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough will be sticky to begin with, but will become easier to work with as you knead. Wash and grease the mixing bowl, return the dough to it, cover, and leave it to rise in a warm place for an hour.
2. Grease a sheet of greaseproof paper, to ensure the pretzels don't stick. Weigh the risen dough, and divide into twelve even pieces. Roll each piece until it is 30cm long. Form into the shape of a U, cross the ends over twice, and then fold them over, pressing the ends down onto the base of the loop.
3. Set the pretzels aside to rise until the dough springs back when pressed - about 40 minutes. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and heat the oven to 210C.
4. Bring a pot of water to the boil, and add the bi-card and treacle. Reduce the heat until the pan is bubbling at a confident simmer. Gently lower a couple of pretzels into the pan, giving them room to move. Flip them over after 30 seconds, cooking for the same time on the other side. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water. Shake off, place on the baking tray, and sprinkle with salt.
5. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the pretzels are a deep, mahogany brown. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before you bite into them.