Rising to the challenge

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law examines how learning to bake can offer valuable insights on life.

I am at the age where ‘adulting’ has become a serious matter. From learning vital financial literacy skills to basic housekeeping, the learning curve has been steep. 

Recently I received a cookbook from a friend and wondered whether I was ready for this ‘essential skill’… I had some basic culinary acumen from my time in university and could reasonably claim to fry eggs, stir-fry vegetables and flip pancakes. But that was about the limit of my ability. 

The cookbook itself seemed daunting: a mega volume of 1,000 Singaporean recipes. In truth, I enjoyed it for its hardcover style, minimalist illustrations and breadth of knowledge. No prisoners: this was learning to cook the hard way with no concessions to modern sensitivities.

I even browsed it from time to time, noting down a few recipes I wanted to explore, while never trying  any of them. The  excuses of ‘busy-ness’ and exhaustion were enough to quell any nudges from  family and friends to, literally,  ‘get cracking’.

After some deliberation, I finally re-opened the volume this weekend. I flagged a recipe I wanted to try – ‘Pang Susie’, being a bun made with sweet potato and filled with a savoury meat mix. I hit the supermarket with an ingredient list and returned home with the necessary tools. 

Once home, I set to work re-reading the recipe, realising that the total prep time for this ‘simple’ bun was two and half hours. As someone who hardly has a spare minute to breathe, this seemed excessive but I resisted temptations to give up then and there.  

After fumbling around with some measuring spoons and laying out any ingredients within easy reach, I got to work preparing the dough. 

Staring  at the measuring scale, I recalled my younger days in science classes, struggling to record the readings. I traced the instructions with flour-encrusted fingers and carefully kneaded the dough. 

At first, the dough resembled a sloshy mess and I feared all was lost. The recipe said quite plainly to ‘knead until the dough is elastic and smooth’. The key word here was ‘until’.

My impatience reared its ugly head again and again. I was trying to speed up the process and go at my own pace. This inevitably led to less-than-positive outcomes. 

That got me thinking. How often have I, in my ‘rush’ to complete something, come away frustrated and defeated? There is value in every activity if we’re ready to give it a bit of time. The American novelist John Steinbeck wisely remarked that ‘nothing good gets away’.

He was referring to romantic relationships, though that would be a story for another time. Yet there is no need to rush; more often than not it’s about trusting the process. 

At this point in my life, a lot of things seem like this sloshy dough, not yet at the ‘stage’ I want it to be. I don’t know how long the dough will be sloshy. I do know, however, that with continued kneading and patience, it  will eventually take the desired shape and form. 

After quite a bit of kneading, the dough starts to combine and form an elastic ball.

Good things take time and we may never know when that ‘right time’ will be.

The only prerequisite? Patience and faith. 

As I added the instant yeast to the mix and watched the dough double in size, I was amazed  that this humble piece of matter had taught me so much about myself. I never anticipated relearning how to trust the process. I allowed myself to sit back, slow down a little and let the ‘yeast’ do its thing! 

I was fascinated by how my effort at kneading the dough had helped it to rise and expand – much like how difficult circumstances can allow us to grow. 

How often have you felt that your heart might ‘give way’ from aches, pains and heartbreak? Yet the human heart has a surprising coefficient of expansion.

We are always able to love more, to go deeper and discover places we did not think we could reach. 

By the time I put the buns in the oven, I was having a philosophical moment. My decision to bake these ‘simple’ buns had left me with a sense of  clarity. 

For a start, I had persevered through those two and a half hours of prep time, proving to myself I had at least a few domestic skills. 

I had also come away more confident that, maybe, the good things in life really do take time.  Accepting this, we can truly let our hearts (and leavened dough) rise and expand to meet all the  challenges life throws at us. 

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