During a conversation I once had with a friend, I excitedly listed out the charms of living in a city.
You must understand that I was born and bred a big city girl.
Having spent the majority of my life in Singapore, a city-nation-state of 5 million inhabitants which I dearly call home (tiny for a country but huge for a city), I’ve innately got accustomed to the aspects of cities that I now find strangely comforting – the background noise that is cars honking, people chattering and sounds of technology combined; bright lights from tall skyscrapers amidst throngs of people; and the constant movement of humans and traffics and animals (occasionally).
I remember stating with conviction that I loved living in a city (whether it was Singapore or Buenos Aires or somewhere else), and how my heart races a little faster when we cross any border separating countryside and city.
I never realized how much I thrived and loved the small weird things that make a city a city, but it’s true.
Deep inside, I have a strong suspicion that I will always be a city girl at heart.
But if there’s one thing that I don’t quite like about being in a city, and especially a big city, is that there’s too much rush.
There’s no longer time to wait, to stand in queues, to just relax and enjoy the in-between moments, only the start and the finish.
And in some way, I feel the need for slowing down, stopping a while to just be in the here and now. The realization that I’m always moving too quickly from one destination to another, rushing from one activity to the next, marking off lists quickly but just as quickly setting up other to-do or to-see lists, is to some extent pretty alarming.
Sometimes I feel that there are too many distractions – the next TV series to download, the new Kindle book to read, something else to do, going to the gym or painting or some other thing, that there’s no time to just clear my mind and focus on whatever it is I’m doing now, instead of having my mind wander off to the ten other things I have to do for the day. Some days I feel like a Japanese bullet train, zooming off from station to station, without ever taking a break, and it pretty much drives me nuts.
So during those times that I feel like I’m going berserk, that I just need to tune out from the countless distractions, I’ve found that being in the kitchen calms me down.
And more importantly, it teaches me the importance of patience, of letting things take their time, of allowing things to be.
One of the best ways to practice patience and to relax, I’ve found, is the act of baking bread.
Homemade bread, which always reminds me of family vacations in Australia and New Zealand when I was still a child, combines comfort and love and enjoyment all in one.
It’s a process that takes time; the art of which is not for the impatient, nor the anxious.
Where warm water meets yeast, and then later salt, combined with a shake of sugar and flour, the magic then starts to take place. I’ve always been amazed by the process of dough rising – to see how chemistry between all the ingredients brings the dough to double in size, to punch it down and then let it rest some more, and then later witness it grow even more – that is beauty to me.
The first few times I made homemade bread, I couldn’t help myself from constantly checking on it, lifting the tea towel over and over again to see if the dough had already risen, like a little girl who can’t wait to open her Christmas present.
But later on, I realized that it takes the virtue of patience to bake bread; a virtue that I’m quite in need of, but am slowly cultivating.
So when I bake bread these days, I practice patience.
I mix the ingredients together, adding more water if it’s too dry or extra flour if it’s too sticky, and then I knead the dough until it is smooth, leave it in a bowl and cover it with a wet towel. During the next 45 minutes or so that it takes for the dough to rise, I just leave it to do its work, and go off and enjoy a good read.
It still never fails to surprise me when the time comes for me to lift up the tea towel and I see the miracle of leavened dough, a round puffy off-white balloon that looks nothing like the dough I had originally kneaded. Punching out the air from the dough, you can then shape it whichever shape and size you like.
This time, I wanted to bread rolls, so after dividing the dough into twelve equal portions, I let the small balls of dough rest next to each other like little babies in a baking pan. When they’ve finished resting again, I melt some butter, and paint the tops of the dough balls with it, until they’re all shiny and gleaming. Later I sprinkle the tops with quick-cooking oats, pop them into the oven, and wait for them to bake.
I have a feeling you’ll like these little bread rolls; they’re fluffy and light and with just a hint of sweet.
There’s no pretense nor rush, just plain good old bread made with patience and love.
EASY OAT BREAD ROLLS (Makes 12)
Barely adapted from Easy Recipes, Your Guide to Simple Recipes
1) 1 cup of warm water
2) 1 package of active dry yeast (10g)
3) ¼ cup of sugar (optional – only if you prefer sweet bread)
4) 1 teaspoon of salt
5) 3 tablespoons of softened butter
6) 1 egg, beaten
7) 3 ½ cups of flour
8) 1 cup of quick cooking oats
9) 20g of butter, melted
1) Combine warm water and dry yeast in a large mixing bowl, mix the yeast together and then let it rest for a few minutes
2) Add in sugar, salt, softened butter and the egg, mixing well until blended
3) Add in the flour, and mix until a smooth dough forms (if dough is too sticky, add a bit of flour at a time, until no longer sticky)
4) Knead dough on a smooth, cool, floured surface for a few times until it is smooth
5) Place kneaded dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm place for around 45 minutes (it should have doubled in size)
6) After dough has risen, punch it down and flatten it on a floured surface, then cut dough into 12 even pieces
7) Shape the 12 pieces into small balls, and place the balls of dough in a greased baking pan
8) Preheat oven to 1750 deg celcius
9) Let the balls of dough rise for another 30 minutes, coat them with melted butter, and sprinkle the tops of the rolls with the oats
10) Bake the rolls for 20 minutes until tops are golden brown