You know how some people think that yoga isn't a real workout? They envision a glowing candlelit room full of chanting, hemp-clad, dread-locked hippies, who are all moving slowly to the beat of a soothing gong? Well, these are the smug folks who I just loooove to bring to my hot yoga and hot pilates classes. Soothing? Not exactly.
For those of you who don't know, hot yoga, sometimes called Bikram yoga, is a 90 minute class that takes place in a 105F degree/40% humidity room. The class consists of a series of postures that are held for 1 minute each before moving to the next posture. Easy enough, right? No so much. A typical pose will have you balancing on your left leg as you reach behind and grab your right inner ankle with your right palm. Then, you extend your left arm straight up in the air so that your fingers point to the ceiling. Now, still holding your right ankle, you kick your right leg back and charge your left arm forward so that your body resembles a bow. Be sure to keep that left leg straight, class!! Hold for one minute while trying to ignore that guy in front of you who just fell over and messed up your balance. Repeat. 25 more poses to go!! Easy, right?
You know that a class is going to be tough when you start to sweat before it even starts. You learn to leave your pride at the door because, trust me, you have never seen such an ugly, red-faced, drenched group of people as those who have just finished a hot yoga class, many of whom are muttering things like "I can't believe I just paid for that". Once, after a 5:30 a.m. class (which I'm not crazy enough to take often), I obviously left a little bit too much of my pride in the studio, because I decided to pop into Starbucks for a latte. The freshly-showered-and-business-clad line of customers immediately started to inch away from my sorry-looking self. O.K. So I look like I just went through a car wash. Sorry. But at least I worked out, Mrs. Glazed Donut and Venti Mochaccino Extra Whipped Cream.
From then on, I decided to take the drive-thru.
So the other day, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to try my studio's new, "Hot Pilates" class. Yes, it's still in the 105F degree room, BUT this class is only one hour, so it's probably a cake-walk, right?
Apparently, torture is "in" with the Las Vegas crowd, because my fellow classmates and I were packed like sardines, just waiting to be in pain. This class makes hot yoga look like a lazy Sunday stroll in the park: push ups, lunges, squats, crunches, more push ups, leg lifts.......over, and over, and OVER again. Dripping with sweat, I looked up at the clock, hoping that the halfway point was near. Six minutes had gone by. Are you kidding me? It was pure agony......but oh yes, I will be back tomorrow. And why not? It's such fun, and so soothing.
P.S. Mr. Big Hairy Sweaty Grunting Guy with the circa 1982 Olivia Newton John workout gear: Don't ever place your mat next to mine again. Never. Ever.
One technique that helps me get through the various poses is to let my mind wander so that I am not counting down every remaining second. Most of the time, I end up thinking about food (surprise, surprise): what I'm going to have for lunch, which restaurant I want to try, or what I should blog about next.
It's probably no coincidence that, as I situated my body into a twisted and uncomfortable pose that resembled a human pretzel, the idea of making homemade soft pretzels came to mind. I'm not kidding. I had tried making them several years ago, but the recipe used a different method. This recipe is an adaptation of Martha Stewart's version, which boils the pretzels, similar to bagels, prior to baking them. I decided to make the pretzel dough partially whole wheat, and I also created a sweet cinnamon-raisin version. Although they may not soothe my aching muscles, they were a nice (and fairly healthy) reward for all of that hard work.
- The pretzels are best served within several hours of baking, but they will keep for 1-2 days, tightly covered at room temperature.
- I suggest that you serve the salted pretzels with assorted mustards. I love a coarse dill mustard made by East Shore Specialty Foods. Seriously, I order it by the case. All of their mustards are wonderful.
- For the cinnamon-sugar-raisin pretzels, you can enjoy them as they are, or you can drizzle them with a glaze made from confectioner's sugar and milk. Allow the glaze to set for about 15 minutes before serving.
- The pretzels can also be prepared using only all-purpose flour. If you do this, you likely won't need any extra water during the mixing process. Whole wheat flour tends to soak up more water, which is why you might need the extra few teaspoons.
- Flipping the pretzels in the boiling water can prove to be a bit tricky. I only boiled them in batches of two, and I used a wide spatula for flipping. After a few duds, I finally got the hang of it!
Homemade Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter softened and cubed
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
Cinnamon Sugar Mix
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 teaspoons coarse salt
In a small bowl, combine the yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the warm water and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix both flours with the cayenne pepper. Add the butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. While mixing, slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, mixing until well combined and adding more water by the teaspoon if the dough is too dry.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Cover one of the halves loosely with plastic wrap. Knead the raisins into the other half until they are well distributed and the dough is no longer sticky. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. Knead the other half of the dough until it is no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. Recover the dough with plastic wrap and allow both halves to rise for 30 minutes.
Cut one piece of dough into six pieces. Roll each piece into an 18-inch rope. Form a U-shape with 1 rope, and twist the ends together twice. Fold the twisted portion backward along the center of the U-shape to form a circle, then gently press the ends of the rope onto the dough to seal. Transfer the pretzel to and oiled baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, including the second half, to form 12 pretzels. Let rise for 20 minutes.
Make the cinnamon-sugar butter. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter until combined; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450F degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the baking soda. Boil the pretzels in batches until puffed and shiny, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the pretzels to wire racks to drain. Return the pretzels to the baking sheets. Brush the pretzels containing raisins with the cinnamon sugar butter and sprinkle the other pretzels with the coarse salt.
Bake the pretzels until they are golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes.