Of the unshakeable faith of younger siblings!


I live and die by the GPS,” announces the son of friends we’re staying with in New Jersey. That, he says is his excuse for getting lost on the way back to his own home on a straight road with one turning in it! He’s always gone to tennis lessons and to everything else in his life along with the older brother. The tennis club is about a quarter of a mile down the road and a single, completely unmissable turning from his house! He forgets where it is and is trickling back after the lesson, peeking carefully around the corner of each turning to see if he can recognise something – anything! Na-da!

In the meantime, the dad and the older brother who has been extremely remiss in his elder-brotherly duties by skipping tennis lesson that day are despatched by the anxious mom to find the kid. Did I mention ‘the kid’ is seventeen years old?! And that, my dears, is the younger child syndrome!

“But why are you making such a fuss? I’d have made my way home eventually,” he protesteth. “And how?” asks the dad. “Oh, I asked a couple of people which of these roads has a gym on it,” says he, thinking, “Aha – gotcha! I know there is a gym next door to where we live – see?” (none so indignant as  a lost younger sibling – I swear!) He’s right – there is a gym next door – and on every other street in the area! Our man, of course, does not know the name of the gym!

So what exactly is the younger sibling syndrome, you ask? It is the supreme confidence in the ability of things to sort themselves out when they have gone completely awry without one’s needing to do anything to set things right! And what is amazing is just how often the universe (in the form of aforementioned older sibling!) does conspire to do exactly that! Thereby further reinforcing the younger kid’s sublime faith!

Now every younger sibling (guilty!) knows what that means – to allow a child to be born second is basically like giving them a licence to not take responsibility for anything that happens in their lives“but… but... it just happened” is an excuse I’ve heard a million times from my own younger daughter and used a million times more to my mom too!

Sometimes though, this faith is tested a little – a very leetle bit! Like this same seventeen year old, when a year younger (but tall and can pass off for older), is taken on a holiday to Las Vegas by parents and older sibling – who is over twenty. As they enter a casino – the much-looked-forward-to high point of their holiday, they are asked to show their id cards. Our genius, instead of showing his driving licence or passport or whatever, smartly whips out his school id! Equally smartly gets thrown out of the casino! Even the older brother cannot help him out of his troubles on this one!

And therefore, I empathise completely when he says he lives and dies by the GPS – I would be completely lost without one and sometimes even with one!

Ah, well, there are some foods like that too – though I think with a little help from its friends, we can make something of this very yummy-looking, not-so-yummy tasting thing that is such popular street food in America… I’m talking about the pretzel.

The pretzel is a baked bread shaped like a loop. The dough itself has no seasoning – not even salt but it is sprinkled with flakes of salt on salt. I was hungry. There was nothing else to be had on the ferry to Ellis Island and so I disconsolately chew on one, giving it a makeover in my mind! Here’s my version of the pretzel…

MASALA PRETZEL

FOR THE PRETZEL

  • Maida/plain flour – 2 cups + a little more for dusting
  • Whole wheat flour – 2 cups
  • Yeast – 2.5 tsp
  • Egg – 1
  • Sugar  – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – 2 tsp

Prove the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and then knead all the ingredients into a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

Set aside, covered and let the dough double in size – about an hour.

Knock back, knead lightly and roll out 1/2 cm thick ropes about 10 cm long. Shape into pretzels. See pic. Set aside to prove again for about 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and set the oven to preheat at 220 C.

Drop 4-5 pretzels into the boiling water and let cook, turning over once – for about 3 minutes. They should be puffed up by now.

Lay them out on a baking tray lined with paper and bake till golden brown and done – about 30 – 35 minutes.

Cool.

FOR THE MASALA

  • Chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Jaggery or palm sugar – 1.5 tsp
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Garlic powder – 1/2 tsp – optional
  • Oil – 3/4 cup
  • Sesame seeds – 2 tbsp – optional

Mix all the masalas together and coat the pretzels with it even – shaking together in a large ziplock bag is easiest. Leave the pretzels to get infused for about an hour.

Then lay them out to bake at 200 C for about 40 – 45 minutes, turning over every ten minutes.

Just offer these to the older sibling – let me assure you he/she will ensure you never get lost!