Sports fans are at their annual crossroads again, the intersection of baseball and football. It’s that time of year when DVRs threaten to overload, team loyalties are tested and I feel totally left out.
It’s no secret that I am devoid of athletic prowess and have no real interest in professional sports. I got over the fact that I will never thrill to the idea of a last minute softball game back in my camp days when I prayed to be put in left field so I could just think my thoughts or inch my way towards the girl in right field before the counselor reprimanded me for gabbing and sent me back to my spot.
But sometimes I think rooting for a home team would be nice. Well, not so much rooting as caring. You have to care to root and I just don’t have that deep seated team spirit that interferes, I mean guides, the social plans of so many who really do care. I’m not proud of the fact that I usually don’t know who is playing in the World Series until the games are well under way and often don’t know the warring champions of the Super Bowl until I tune in to watch the good commercials. What makes all of this even worse is that I have four dear friends who work in sports broadcasting—you’d think I could muster an interest just to be able to support them. But I can’t.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I went to a baseball game once. It was the Mets, I can’t remember who they were playing but I do remember that I ate a terrible, soggy pretzel and our seats were so bad I was only able to make out what was happening by the very loud body language of the players. I knew one guy had just caught the ball because his arm was up in the air and another guy had just been called out because he stomped his foot. Kind of hard to care when you can barely see the action. But I do appreciate the romance of America’s favorite pastime and have always enjoyed when baseball is used as a backdrop or metaphor in other art forms. I loved The Natural, Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams and Take Me Out was a terrific play. I just don’t want to watch an actual baseball game for three hours.
The other night I was sitting on my couch getting ready to watch the season finale of Mad Men when I heard cheering from a neighboring apartment. I don’t know whether they were watching the Colts vs. the Redskins or the Giants vs. the Phillies (confession—I had to dig through my recycling to look that info up in the paper) but all of a sudden I felt a little lonely steeping myself into the make-believe past of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce instead of embracing the wins and losses of today. There is something really nice about the community of the like-minded and the sporty set seem to really enjoy each other’s company when rallying for their favorite teams. Over the weekend I was talking to a friend whose son had recently left for college, “I have no one to watch sports with at night,” he bemoaned. He looked so sad and I wondered if his son was busy watching the games he used to watch with his dad with his dorm-mates. Then my friend Liza was relaying what a nice time she’d had visiting with her father and watching their beloved Jets, something they’ve been doing together for years. Sunday football? Not at my house.
What’s weird is that I actually like the sounds of a football game playing on TV—the announcers, the whistles, the sound of helmets crashing. I find it kind of comforting and I know why. When I was a little girl I used to wander next door to visit Gert and Jack, an older couple I’ve mentioned before who lived in the neighboring apartment. Jack spent Sunday afternoons watching his Giants on the wood-grained TV console in their burnt orange and green plaid patterned den while Gert was usually doing her weekly baking in the very narrow pink kitchen. Although my place was always by her side, when things got hot (or too close for her comfort) she’d send me carefully carrying a tray of Cokes and a bowl of Mr. Salty pretzel sticks and I’d hang out with Jack on the nubby couch. While he watched the game we’d share the pretzels and I’d get to read the Sunday comics from his New York Post, a treat not found in my parents’ Times reading living room. It was completely cozy and I miss those afternoons to this day.
And now I’m in somewhat of a bind. With Mad Men gone for who knows how long what am I supposed to do on Sunday nights? Ideally wouldn’t it be nice to think I’d finally crack open Anna Karenina? She’s still here, three years later, sitting on my shelf. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. Extreme Makeover Home Edition always makes me cry, I stopped watching Desperate Housewives years ago, and there’s no more Sopranos. Maybe this is the time to watch an entire football game from start to finish—try and figure out what a “down” is, why the announcer just yelled despairingly, “OHHHH!” and why one play is better or worse than another. Oh please, I need to be realistic. I should probably start with something football themed, just to dip my toe in the action before I contemplate the NFL. I’ve got it! Friday Night Lights:The First Season on DVD.
These soft, chewy and chocolate-y pretzels made my soggy Shea stadium experience an even more distant memory. Make them ahead of time or, in case you have no interest in actually following the game, sneak off to the kitchen at half-time and have one by yourself with the cheers of the crowd playing in the background.
Tastes Like Team Spirit Chocolate Pretzels
Adapted from Everyday Food, March 2010
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Ingredients-Sweet Pretzel Dough
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus additional flour for sprinkling
Directions-Sweet Pretzel Dough
Pour about a Tablespoon of olive oil into a large bowl and using some paper towel wipe the entire inside of bowl with oil. Set aside.
Measure 1 1/2 cups warm water into another large bowl; pour packets of yeast on top of water and let stand until cloudy/foamy, 5 minutes or so.
Whisk sugar, oil, and salt into yeasty water mixture.
Add the four cups of flour and stir until a sticky dough forms. Transfer dough to the oiled bowl and brush top of dough with oil.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead 1 or 2 times.
Cut dough in half. Wrap one half in plastic, put into a ziploc-y bag and freeze for future use. (I have a recipe in mind so don't worry, it won't go to waste.) Each half will weigh one pound.
1/2 recipe (1 pound) Sweet Pretzel Dough OR 1 pound of store bought pizza dough at room temperature (assuming you just can't deal with the above)
All-purpose flour to sprinkle on work surface
1/2 cup chopped chocolate
olive oil, for bowl and baking sheet
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons coarse sugar
Place dough on a lightly floured work surface; sprinkle with the chocolate and gently knead to incorporate.
Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 1 hour.
Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope.
Note: The dough may resist being rolled to this length all at once. So, roll it as long as you can, let it sit for a few minutes and try again. It will gradually become more cooperative
To shape dough into pretzels, form each dough rope into a U-shape and twist ends twice. Fold twisted end down and pinch to secure.
Transfer pretzels to an oiled baking sheet and let rest 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add baking soda. And in batches, boil pretzels until puffed and slightly shiny, about 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a wire rack to drain.
Line baking sheet with parchment and return pretzels to sheet; sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until golden brown and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.
Yield: 8 pretzels