Quarantine Panic Baking! 1: Pretzels

What a weird year this month has been!

Like . . . everyone, my stress baking has entered a new gear. So let’s just dive in.

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“Is this a plague?” said A. “I’ve wanted to ask you that since yesterday, then I thought, ‘I’ve got time!'”

The first time I went to the grocery store, the day after the first cases in my state were announced, the line weaved all the way to the back of the building and they were already out of all paper goods.

I heard a kid say “Mom! We’re not going to have any toilet paper!” and realized that we also were not going to have any toilet paper.

So I compensated by buying eight pounds of sugar and enough flour to last me through a few new projects, without letting myself think too far ahead.

That first weekend was a blur of scuttled plans, struggling to accept that everything I’ve planned and worked for over the last three years is on hold until this passes, whenever that is, in between strategically planning missions to secure supplies that I’d taken for granted only a few days before.

I vaguely remember going to A’s office before her building was locked down, rescuing her plants and searching in vain for toilet paper to liberate.

I bought four different jigsaw puzzles in a daze that I can’t even picture now. I think I finished them but it feels like that was a year ago already, and also in some nether dimension that looks like my couch but both is and isn’t at the exact same time.

A went to the dentist that first full week of quarantine, thinking “Things aren’t that different, nothing can stop the dentists from going to work,” and found the door locked and a sign that all dentists were closed until further notice.

“I want a sushi burrito,” declared A as we rolled past a closed sushi burrito place, the only car on a typically backed-up major highway.

“Do you really?” I said.

“No! I’m kidding!” she said, aghast that I thought she was serious. “I would only eat one of those if the apocalypse was upon us.”

“Well, this might be your best chance!”

She was quiet for a moment. “I’d only eat one for a quick death.”

We had enough supplies for a few weeks and were ready to hunker down. A was actually looking forward to getting to use her new art supplies that she’d been collecting for the last few months. And I started looking up recipes and looking for inspiration.

“Maybe we could learn how to make our own cheese,” I said.

A flipped a towel at me. “You can make cheese, I’ll be making ART.”

I needed a challenge that would pass the time, challenge my skills and give me an anxiety outlet, as well as my entire daily sodium intake in one shot.

Thus, pretzels.

I tried a couple of different recipes, but they’re all basically the same—make dough, boil, twist, salt, and bake. It should be easy!

So why do all my pretzels look weird? I mean, I have a lot of experience twisting Play-Doh into pretzel shapes, so that part came very naturally, but something went wonky in the transition between the baking sheet and the pot of boiling water and baking soda.

And then my second batch decided they wanted to look like garlic knots, and far be it from me to tell them otherwise. Things are crazy, express yourself however you want.

I mean, they tasted fine. They needed cheese or honey mustard, neither of which I grabbed during our supply run.  I do have two bottles of lemon juice though, for some reason. Nothing’s going to be perfect during this time, it’s all about making the best of it.

“What if I changed my name to Phasma?” said A on hour 3 of playing Star Wars pinball.

Most of our conversations start like this even in normal times:

“What’s Mary Poppins’ real name?” (Julie Andrews).

“Is this person in the historical/fantasy/set in space film or TV show we’re watching wearing a wig?” (Yes).

“Is THAT person wearing a wig?” (YES).

“Which famous composer had syphilis again?” (Trick question, most of them).

“What happens if you eat the coronavirus?” (Nothing).

“How can you tell that they’re wearing a wig?” (They usually are, and I just can).

“Hey, that guy is in this movie! Sean Penn!” ( . . . Do you mean Sean Bean?).

Sometimes an unexpected glimmer of wisdom pokes through.

“Everyone we’ve ever met has been affected by this—even people we’ve met in other countries, people we knew when we were little, everyone we’ve ever had any contact with is now dealing with the same exact thing,” she said.

And that is both a very weird and very comforting fact. Everyone I’ve every known is doing their best, from the people I met in Greenland to my next-door neighbors, and everyone in between.

I said I was going to the danger zone when I went out to get gas, and then said, “Is it going to or climbing to the danger zone?” and A said “It’s highway to the danger zone,” with the decisiveness and know-how that we need in a pandemic.

And that is why A is ultimately a great quarantine partner. That and she said she liked my pretzels, and not just because we’re cooped up together . . . I think.

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