It was almost one year ago, I was sitting with my friend Lizzy in her family home, the first day of the new year and I simply said
“We should make some cinnamon rolls”. So off we went to the store and a few hours later, the tray of freshly baked Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls had been devoured and a new goal of baking one new thing each week had been hatched. I had no real rules, just one new thing each week as a way to grow my skills and practice some food photography.
I’ve always been the type of person who works best with a goal in mind. Tell me to run just for the sake of it and I’ll find every excuse not to, but sign me up for a race that I need to train for and I’ll run every day until I know I’ll be strong enough. With photography it had been the same, I took photos every day for years just to get better at it. Photography had largely taken over my free time and sometime last year I’d noticed that I didn’t have many hobbies anymore. Photography, which had been my hobby, was now my full time career and while I’m passionate about it, I wanted to teach myself something new, to immerse myself in a new world. And baking was that world.
While living in the UK I became infatuated with The Great British Bake Off and it certainly motivated me to start this project. The show is based on real people that just like to bake stuff and I felt that if they could do it so could I. This new hobby was one that I’d hope would introduce me to new people, new skills and new ideas. Throughout the year I’ve been able to message back and forth with quite a few of the bakers from both GBBO and the Great Canadian Baking Show and their tips and support was encouraging.
As someone who travels for most of the year I knew that this project would take some pre-planning. I’d be visiting different countries and wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work but with the generosity and hospitality of friends from all over the place I was able to bake Pavlova’s in Vermont, Espresso Pie in Quebec, Lemon Tart in the UK and a Donut themed birthday cake in New York City. Without their kitchens and hospitality I definitely wouldn’t have been able to complete the project and at times it was an entertaining challenge trying to figure out what I could possibly bake with the ingredients on hand.
I learned, truly, how much people pay attention on social media as well. A few months into the project I’d run into people and one of the first things they’d bring up was something that I recently made. It was interesting how just a few weeks of pursuing and sharing a hobby, and suddenly it was something that people associated me with. I’d wake up to find myself tagged in pictures of pies and donuts and gifts suddenly became cookie cutters and donut pans (which I’m very happy about!)
One thing that I noticed as well, which was a bit of a disheartening observation, was how much attention was put on weight. Almost every single time someone would talk to me about the project, the subject of weight would come up. “I couldn’t bake that much or I’d be fat” “You must run a lot if you’re baking so much” “Who eats all the food because you’re still skinny”. It made me feel a bit sad that so often people would say they couldn’t imagine baking a cake or enjoying some fresh cookies because of the fear of weight gain. I’m someone that believes moderation is key and while I do eat everything I make, I don’t eat ALL of it myself, I enjoy the entire process of creating and certainly the eating part. Eating, even if it’s a donut or a cake, should be something we enjoy and that we celebrate and I think if you want to have a cookie, have one!
I learned of course, different techniques. I learned that making homemade lemon curd involves a lot of stirring and hoping that the yellow liquid will change form. I learned that making a pavlova with a hand whisk is possible but you’ll probably get tennis elbow from whipping egg whites for an hour. I learned fresh donuts are a gift from the heavens and that I can bake a focaccia bread with my eyes closed. I learned to be more connected with my food, much as I did when I became a vegetarian. I learned to spend more time making my food which also meant more time enjoying it. I learned not to clean out a hand blender with my finger while it was still connected to power.
A year ago I’d decided to just try a project that I assumed would involve a lot of what I already knew how to make but during the project I tried to incorporate the places I was visiting in what I was making. Peruvian Alfajores, New York Pretzels and Bagels, Nanaimo Bars and Welsh Cakes. It was truly a chance to immerse myself into a new hobby and now 12 months later I feel that the interest I had at the start has bloomed to a passion that I know will continue into the next year. I’ll likely still bake every week, just maybe not a 4 layered cake at 11pm or a 78 donuts in a hot kitchen in July. It will be a hobby that, pardon the pun, with the right ingredients and time will rise to be an important and meaningful part of my life.
I learned most of all how important it was to spend more time immersed in something that wasn’t on a screen. To get my hands dirty (sometimes, very dirty) and that the thrill of learning something new is certainly worth the effort. I invite you to challenge yourself to pick up a new hobby in 2018, it could be baking, maybe it’s painting or even photography. But trust me, invest the time to make it a success and you’ll find that it adds so much more into your life than you thought that it would.
Now, let’s have a slice of cake!