By: Caroline Emile
I haven’t touched a baking tray since my last Home Economics class at school almost 25 years ago, although I had really enjoyed that whole scene back then. I guess ‘life got in the way’, or baking hasn’t really been a huge priority for me to dedicate any time to it – until today.
I’m currently in-between life chapters, having been made redundant a few weeks ago. However, instead of job-hunting, I’m exploring and experimenting with different activities as I feel that I’ve been presented with this opportunity of a blank canvas to write my future as I desire, rather than continue down my existing path. With ample free time now to connect with my creativity, which had more or less been shelved for decades with the limited ‘spare time’ available from a 9 to 5 job, I’ve decided to relive the joyful experience of baking I recalled from my pre-teen years.
The Challenge: Bake gluten-free cupcakes in Egypt:
Being gluten-intolerant, the stakes for the near-novice baker that I am are set even higher. In Egypt, there aren’t readily available gluten-free product ranges like in other countries. Also, there is the language barrier – instead of being able to breeze down supermarket aisles to pick up what I need for my English recipe, I will have to work my way through Arabic labels (often ironically stuck on top of the original English descriptions of the imported products!).
The Outcome: Gluten free sponge cake and a flour-less walnut sponge cake:
Needless to say, sourcing my ingredients from the supermarket was an eventful experience all on its own! Despite engaging the support of Google through my mobile phone to try and accurately match the ingredients I needed with those displayed on the shelves, I was unable to find caster sugar – a staple in British supermarkets. I instead ended up buying sugar labelled ‘powdered sugar’ in Arabic, which I took to mean icing sugar, the closest fit I could find to caster.
I also wasn’t sure if cornmeal flour is entirely gluten-free (allergens are not listed in Egypt), but I decided to take the risk based on my assumption that it’s just pure corn flour without any additives.
However, having overcome these starting hurdles while sourcing my ingredients, I soon found out – to my great astonishment – that my grandmother, in whose kitchen I had decided to stage my challenge given her status as an avid baker, did not have any cupcake trays!
Not to be derailed from my core objective of baking (and after the initial shock has subsided), I quickly went online and searched for alternative gluten-free recipes that didn’t require cupcake trays. I opted for a simple sponge cake and a flour-less walnut sponge cake. Stumbling across the latter seemed too good an opportunity to miss given my uncertainty about the gluten status of the cornmeal flour I’d bought.
Starting much later than I’d originally anticipated given the above setbacks, I was finally off! Sugar was mixed with butter and flour, egg yolks and whites were separated, walnuts were chopped and processed, and a lemon was zested. Of all these, I think peeling a lemon was the most awkward/messiest part for me. Of course as was discovering that my grandmother also didn’t own any measuring or weighing tools (don’t ask!), so I plodded my way through using empty water bottles and an array of different sized glasses and mugs.
I baked the sponge cake first. When that successfully emerged from the oven less than 90 minutes after kick-off, my thirst for creation hadn’t yet been quenched, so I continued on to also make the flour-less walnut sponge.
An hour or so later, I looked at my two creations while they sat cooling on the kitchen table. I felt a great sense of pride and satisfaction with my accomplishments. I reflected on the lessons gained during my baking experience, which were simply general life lessons:
The Life Lessons:
1) I can achieve anything I decide I want to do. Despite the obstacles I encountered, I didn’t get easily deterred from my objective of baking. I could have given up when I didn’t easily find the ingredients I needed at the supermarket, yet I didn’t. I could have also bailed out when I additionally didn’t find cupcake trays at my fingertips as I had expected, yet again I persevered on.
2) I may be faced with obstacles, but with flexibility, there is always an alternative satisfying path. Although I originally set out to bake cupcakes, I didn’t allow the challenges I faced along the way to stop me from baking altogether. Instead, I adapted the details of my plan to still fulfil my main objective. Perhaps I wasn’t able to accomplish cupcakes on this occasion, yet I was still able to enjoy the experience of baking itself, albeit with different results.
3) There is opportunity in the midst of a setback. Perhaps I failed to make the cupcakes today, however I haven’t at all lost interest in trying to make them on another day. I can always try making the cupcakes another day. Instead of having just one experience of baking, I’ve enjoyed today’s experience despite it being different to what I’d planned, and now I can also look forward to having a second separate experience making cupcakes on a future occasion.
4) I may not exactly know what I’m doing at all times, or if I’m doing it right/wrong, but unchartered territory can definitely be exciting. I wasn’t able to measure or weigh my ingredients, thus I wasn’t able to accurately follow the recipes I had. Yet plodding on as best as I could with ‘guesstimates’ using the various sized mugs and glasses was part of the fun. I enjoyed the sense of challenge and adventure I had on the way. As long as the general objective is clear, the small details don’t have to be perfectly accurate as I can trust my instincts to fill in the gaps.
5) I am the judge of my own experiences and achievements. Undoubtedly, the cakes didn’t come out perfectly given the challenges I faced. Yet I was absolutely delighted with them! Only I knew what I’d gone through to achieve the end results I had, and I was certainly proud of what I’d accomplished. I had wanted to bake for my own pleasure, which I’d achieved, regardless of the tangible end result.
6) There are lessons in even the smallest and most ordinary of activities if we open ourselves to them. I set out to bake – a very ordinary activity – yet, I learned all of the above things about myself during the experience. If we open ourselves to being fully present in whatever we are engaging in, we will be fed with a whole array of insights about our experience if we connect through all our senses.
So next time you bake, cook dinner, mow the lawn, iron or whatever other ‘ordinary’ activity you find yourself doing, switch off your ‘auto pilot’ and connect with all your senses. Truly engage in the simplicity of each moment and see what you can learn about yourself from the experience you are having