Typical Unschooling Day: Making Pretzels

We made our pretzels last week and they looked nothing like the beautiful, pristine picture below. Well, the first batch was very close, but I’ll get to that in a second. So, the day started out as planned the previous day, followed by a good-sized big blow out amongst some adults, a crying child and 24 hours of angst.

Someone else's beautiful pretzel from allrecipes, click pic for link.

The “planning” had been part of my working a lot lately on helping the kids to recognize time and better plan their days now that they are doing more complicated projects that can take several days/weeks to complete. We are also beefing up people’s chores and responsibilities and living in a small multi-generational home and so people need to be aware of other people’s time, space and needs, such as X always makes ghusul for jummah at Y time on Friday mornings so it’s good for people to recognize when is Friday morning and not try to be using all the hot water then! I’ve got a couple of visual aides (*wink) on the fridge and will try to get pics of those when I find my image software stuff, iA.

Anyway. Yes, I am one of those unschoolers that unschools everything but—the but being Arabic/Quran studies. Language studies has been something we have struggled with for years. See, I have been trying to get The Hub to teach Arabic to the kids (and that naturally involves reciting Quran) because he does speak and read Arabic, but the thing is—it’s not his first language or even his second language. And for some reason that has been very hard for me to grasp until living here and recognizing that Arabic is not the first (or second) language spoken in his family’s home. So whilst I have been nagging him (a horrible habit I am trying to drop) to speak to the kids in Arabic, because you know that is the best way for kids or anyone to learn language, he has been doing the best he can by teaching them to read it when he has had the time to do so. So I have two kids who can phonetically read Arabic, but don’t have much if any vocab.

After a few months break while The Hub was away we are now ready to resume Arabic/Quran studies with The Boys. And in trying to do that fresh start/clean slate/turn the page/begin the begin thing, we talked a lot on pretzel-making eve about how and when we were going to do it before we began doing it and then somehow that all got tossed and we were right back to yelling and crying. Gah. New habits ARE hard to form!

As much as I wanted everyone to cease and dismiss immediately, I have been working on my control issues and I have learned that in the moment is not the best time. I was angry, he was angry, the kids were—well one kid was crying and one kid seemed to be enjoying his brother’s discomfort—so I walked away. This dragged out for a total of about three to four hours and then their little “session” disbanded and everyone was on to other things, except the anger, resentment and hostility were still there—oh here’s where I should mention that it was the day before Ashura and we were fasting and I had to exclaim “I’m fasting, I’m fasting, I’m fasting” several times that day.

Amidst much whining and huffing we began making pretzels. Now, I practice “fake it til you make it” which in this case meant that I was pretending like I was Betty Crocker and didn’t want to stab people, but not only does The Hub hate it when I do this, the kids have started commenting too that I seem to be “enjoying” everyone’s pain and discomfort. So I very, very briefly explained that I was not happy with current events in the house and I could act like an angry bitch or I could whistle while I work!! Not literally of course because I never learned to whistle and it’s haram anyway.

Back to pretzel making. Oh. Two of the boys were sent out for flour and butter. I hate this. I like to have my supplies on hand, cuz ya know, see above where I talk about time and space constraints. Though I tried to be prepared, someone else(s) does the shopping, so the stuff wasn’t here, kids went to get it, this cut into kitchen time and now we are making pretzels while another displeased-to-be-sharing-the-kitchen and fasting adult is trying to make pancakes for iftar. Actually, two trips to the store had to be made. Remember, “I’m fasting, I’m fasting, I’m fasting.”

The kids have baked with me a lot—I was both a baker and a children’s art facilitator long before being a mom so I’m pretty good at some of the technical stuff, alhumdiAllah—so the actual mixing, rolling, patting and all that is pretty easy and fun. I only work with two kids at a time because that is as outnumbered as I can handle in the kitchen with boiling water (we did the float method for the pretzels, it’s described in the second comments of the recipe which can be found by clicking on the picture above) and knives and exactish measuring and stuff. So I had two bowls of dough mixed, swapped those kids out to form the first batch after it rose, at one point another kid snuck in and got their hands all messy and got yelled at and got thrown back out, and then I was boiling formed pretzels and “slipping them onto a greased pan” while older kid was showing younger kid how to “roll and twist” and that’s when the butagas ran out.

Unschooling like a well oiled machine run by a raccoon.

Butagas translates to “camping gas.” Our gas for our stove is not piped in, we have to go to the corner store and ask for a big tank to be delivered whenever we run out. We could be one of those families that keeps a second tank on hand so that we never run out, but *cough, cough*…so, anyway. The pancakes were just finished, I have three dozen pretzels READY to go into the oven, another batch of dough being formed, and the butagas runner and I have not been communicating for a few hours and though I try, I cannot get an answer to my demand, “Are we going to get butagas RIGHT NOW!?” The air is thick. Basically, what happened is-the husband didn’t want to go get it, the son didn’t want to go get it because it is a complicated task to maneuver on limited language skills, the son finally went to go get it but came back empty handed, the husband went to go get it and was gone for a very long time and it turns out that no butagas was delivered anywhere in the city today WHICH IS UNHEARD OF, but before the running had begun I already spilled over, threw a tantrum and huffed off to play with the baby (she is so cute and generous with her sadiqa smiles, masha Allah) and I had left all the pretzels where they lay. Many little voices were chirping in the background about “The pretzels, the pretzels and the butagas.”

A couple hours later I went back to the kitchen to try to salvage the mess. The formed pretzels, though not as beautifully shaped as the ones below,  still looked ready to pop in the oven, so I shoved them in the freezer—after moving aside a ton of lamb and goat leftover from eid. The pre-boiled pretzels and unshaped dough were huge, mutinous blobs that I ultimately shoved into the fridge to worry about later—and just then the butagas arrived. So, after heating the oven we baked off the first two trays and then I “transferred” the blobs to the baking sheets and we called this “an experiment” because that is what homeschoolers do. We experiment and we persist. And sometimes we have great success. If you closely follow my methodology here for pretzel making, you will see how that second batch came out exactly like rustic, artisan $5-8 a loaf (depending on where you live) pugliese bread. Delicious with butter, olive oil or homemade chocolate spread!

The husband and I did finally communicate the next day (the day after pretzel making)—in private. And we are still tinkering with our method for Arabic/Quran—one thing we agree on is that Islam is perfect and it shouldn’t be painful to learn it!!! Oh, and since no one bought any bread (a staple in Morocco!!!) for suhoor, alhumdiAllah, we had our delicious pretzel pugliese to eat before a day of fasting on Ashura.

Oh, and we started to dip the buttered pretzels into cinnamon sugar (which the four year old always enjoys making) but then quickly ditched that when I realized that I didn’t need to end the day with sugared-up kids! We have also brushed them with herbed/garlic butter–yum!–plain ole salt and you can sprinkle cheese on them just before baking too. Insha Allah I am going to try to learn how to make cheese dip soon–and maybe I will share my findings with you 🙂


4 thoughts on “Typical Unschooling Day: Making Pretzels

  1. Masha Allaah Brookie! JAK for the recipe link. I always buy these pretzels in the mall made by an outfit called “Auntie Anne” ( or perhaps Annie). I like the almond ones. And JAK for sharing the cute story. I’m sure it wasn’t cute as it was occurring but I was fun to read 🙂

  2. Oh, dang the butagas! Isn’t that the classic Middle Eastern issue. Either that or hot water when it is in desperate need–like the prayer time is going to end and you NEED to make ghusul. Alhamdulillah. We made pretzels in Jordan before i was Gluten Free and they also were not lovely, but tasted pretty good. Kept sticking to the pan and the wax paper, etc. But yummy. I also made sourdough bread from a starter and KEPT making it after that since I had the starter. It was also good. We made bagels too. They were better than the bread or the pretzels. Maybe you can try that. Yum. Salam,

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