When Nobody Is Looking

I wasn’t feeling well last night, and fell asleep rather early in the evening, but not before I had my nightly dose of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. So many earthlings must have read this book, raved about it and I must be one of the last ones to be questioning my life after reading it. I’m not done with the book yet, in fact I’m still on the India chapters, but so many questions have been buzzing in my head since Elizabeth’s adventures in Italy, it’s hard to fall asleep and not dream about my life. I wonder if this book will rule my life once I have finished with it.

So I was travelling through the last of Italy with Elizabeth, more specifically in Sicily and she shared this:

“No town can live peacefully, whatever its laws,” Plato wrote, “when its citizens…do nothing but feast and drink and tire themselves out in the cares of love.”

But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?

These words hit home. I grew up knowing exactly what I wanted but these days, at a ripe old age of 2x (age is a number and mine is unlisted….so my third aunt quips), I seem to have gotten a little lost. I was used to knowing what I want, in the short term at least, and doing everything I can to get what my heart desired. When we were kids, all that mattered were grades and playmates. I wasn’t acing it at the social front being shy, reserved and a little awkward, but I was a good student. But again, I cringe as I say this, at the ripe old age of 2x and having slogged through most of my PhD, the long-term looms over my head and suddenly, there is pressure to just be a lot more concrete, less about the shorter term, and more about the distant future, more about work and less on play.

Suddenly I feel like I’m back in primary school, where adults bend to look at me in the eye, stroke me on the head and ask ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. Only this time, they stare me down with an unfriendly curl in their lips, instead of cooing at me and flashing me gentle smiles, the way we all do when we want babies to like us. Babies Aren’t Us, anymore.

Ever since I started this blog, my passion for cooking, baking, eating and writing grew exponentially. I almost live, breathe and sleep Culinary, I say almost only because I’m not half as good as the other food writers out there. Suddenly the ‘serious’ things I have been pursuing take a back seat, and my love for baking, especially, has been resurrected. I remember enjoying my Home Economics cooking classes in secondary school so much that I was horrified when the module took a turn into all things sharp and treacherous in….sewing. And then I stopped baking. We didn’t have a good oven at home, and no one really did encourage me to go against the flow, and nurture my passion and ability to make cakes. Not because my parents were the oppressive, demanding sort who wanted distinctions from me (in fact they were quite the opposite, who let me do whatever I pleased), but because my Singapore-trained mind seemed to take only conformity into consideration. I thought it was okay, to just do well in school or work, like everyone else, and ignore other creative desires within.

Until I fell in love with my husband and moved to London.

Yes I baked a little before making the big move, because the first part of our relationship was spent 6000 miles apart, and when he was back in Singapore, I bought myself a cheap convectional oven and fed him with baked treats. They were edible, but they weren’t very good.

Then suddenly, I had a kitchen to myself in London. I found myself in the crockery and utensils section in Tesco, and before I knew it, I bought myself a hand-held electric whisk that cost only £3.99 (it still works today and is single-handedly responsible for all the treats you’ve read about in this blog), a couple of cheap baking pans, a roll of baking parchment, and I never looked back.

Week after week, I was getting busy in the kitchen, elbow-deep in French butter, hair speckled with flour and icing sugar, donning my cornflower blue apron and making things. These things got better and better, and then I started writing about the things I baked. I dabbled in a bit of cooking with my husband’s help.

Today, the domestic pixie (I won’t say goddess, because I have so much more to learn from other bakers and cooks) in me is almost fully unleashed.

I lead a double life. Doing science in the day, baking at night. Running experiments whenever, and sneaking in time to indulge in the one thing I love most that mostly involves whisking. Some people ask, how the hell do I find so much time to do all that AND write about it? I’m not sure if these are mere questions fuelled by curiosity, or if they were versed to hide a slight hint of accusation (shouldn’t you be focusing on your PhD??!), but sometimes I do feel pressured. To be the kid that works hard in school, the kid who ignores the untold passions within. Sometimes, I felt that I needed to stop baking or cooking or writing this blog, so no one can accuse me of anything, or even more so that I or conformity would stop accusing me of the same thing.

Then I ask myself. What makes me happy? Over and over again. I realised that it was probably something that I would do if no one was looking, because there wouldn’t be any one judging, would there? Why not? We fart when no one is in the offensive vicinity, we pick our noses when there’s something there, and we just have to get it out, we sing in the shower because Simon Cowell isn’t there to judge. And what do we get? Instant gratification. Pronto. I think this is the same key to finding happiness in life. To do something that you really want, something that you would do when no one is looking.

Elizabeth’s prose only reaffirmed that. What is so bad about living only to find her next lovely meal? The only thing that is bad would be the number of fingers that wag at her and go ‘You shouldn’t be doing this, you should be losing weight, you should be working instead of travelling, you should be less self-indulgent.’. The ‘You Should Be’s are the things that kill us, the spark that is waiting to be ignited in all of us. I truly believe so.

And now I ask myself, I am on my way to finishing what I’ve come here to do, what next? What are the things that I WANT to do? I am trying my darndest to answer this question.

What about you? What are the things that YOU want to do, when no one is looking?

16 thoughts on “When Nobody Is Looking

  1. Z

    Don’t worry, I bought a book a while back but it’s just been gathering dust on my table. If no one’s looking or judging me for being impractical, i would really want to buy a pair of Louboutins 🙂 But seriously, i would love to take 6 months off work to travel someday.

  2. Z

    Oops meant to say the same book. And don’t worry abt what people say about you writing or baking too much, you are accountable to yourself, not them.

    1. The Pleasure Monger Post author

      I think sometimes, I feel guilty for taking time out to indulge in what I love, it’s just not the way we were taught to live in Singapore isn’t it? At least in my schools! So my point is, if and when such pressures are present, where we are expected, or even expect ourselves to do something not because it is what our hearts desire, how will we ever find happiness in the purest form?

      and about travelling for 6 months – i think you’re right on the money, hun!

      1. Z

        You’re right, since young we have been told we must do well in sch and go to university etc. Must marry, buy a Hdb and have kids to be successful but everyone has different yardsticks for success and happiness. Continue doing the things that make you happy (and not others) because life’s too short for any regrets.

  3. Simin

    I cant help but feel like thats the situation me and my hubby are in (maybe its a researcher thing). For him its photography and food. For me its also food and baking. But till now I have to admit that I have not put as much effort into my baking escapades as much as you. I am really impressed with your courage and commitment! I also wonder sometimes, life is short. pressures and expectations probably mostly come from ourselves. ultimately it depends on whether we have the guts to sacrifice what we have suffered to achieve so far, and start to nurture your passion from scratch, and exchange for happiness for maybe the rest of your life? what the heck, no matter whether people are looking, just do it. i hoped i did have the guts. :p

    1. The Pleasure Monger Post author

      Simin: I know exactly how you feel…it’s scary to just dump everything that we did, and run into the horizon where the future is unknown. Somehow, in our society, we lose credibility and we seem undependable when we do that, unless we come out tops. But I yearn to be in that part of the world. I look at all these incredible bakers, food writers, chefs and think, if I work hard at this, and devote my time to honing my passion, that could be me. I could be living the life that I’ve been dreaming of, one that I am afraid to share with the world, because a) someone might just come along and say ‘you shouldn’t’, and b) someone comes up and say ‘you’re never going to be good enough’. Until I find that courage to pursue it, and I may never will, I shall be contented with home baking, and sharing my journey with other like-minded people. That is what drives me to commit to this, even if it means that I sleep less. You’re such a talented baker, go on and keep pursuing it!!

  4. eunice

    Just keep doing what you love and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Live for yourself (and your loved ones) and don’t feel obliged to ‘be something useful’ (or at least the way our Singaporean minds have been trained). You can be both a scientist and a baker, cooking/baking is a science my dear! Look at Heston haha.. EPL had the same effects on me.. but I think it’s the first third of the book (around where you are now) that evoked the most emotions in me.. it tailed off for me in the India/Bali parts and became more of a regular ‘storybook’ as opposed to inspirational writing, if you know what I mean. Reading makes you feel like you want to change your life right? 😉

    1. The Pleasure Monger Post author

      Eunice: Yes, as I bake more and more, I realise that it’s nothing more than playing with ‘protocols’ and experimenting, changing variables to make things work, in this case, to make goodies tastier and prettier!! Totally agree on wanting to change my life after reading the book. I don’t usually read, except Harry Potter books and trashy magazines (tee hee…), let alone be inspired!!

  5. Simin

    Can’t believe that we were in the same JC and Uni, and we never managed to share such interests together then! would have been so fun!

    Baolong says that in future when we are done with the overseas stint and move back, we definitely have to invite you and your hubby over for cooking/baking exchange at our place. 🙂

    btw, if you come across a successful recipe for making light and fluffy chiffon cake, let me know!! I tried to make japanese style strawberry shortcake couple of weeks ago, but the cake layers turned out a bit too dense for my liking. :p

    1. The Pleasure Monger Post author

      Ok! That’s a date! It will be fun!

      I haven’t been able to make chiffon cake successfully, I tried to make pandan cake, and ended up making half a green blob of huat kueh with a fluffier top. But if I come across a recipe that works, will let you know!

  6. eunice

    try Keiko Ishida’s Okashi book (it looks like this http://www.amazon.com/Okashi-Treats-Sweet-Made-Love/dp/9812617809 but unfortunately it doesn’t seem available, I got mine at Shermay’s in Singapore) she has quite a few chiffon/sponge recipes and the green tea sponge i made from there was a big hit SUPER moist. most probably can be adapted for a strawberry shortcake japanese style. And for pandan chiffon cake, i used this http://lilyng2000.blogspot.com/2006/03/pandan-chiffon-cake.html but I tweaked it a little. Was supposed to have posted it but I haven’t!

    1. The Pleasure Monger Post author

      thanks eunice! looks like i gotta stock up on matcha…..green tea sponge sounds awesome!!! i’ve been meaning to purchase some Japanese baking recipe books, think this will be a good start! also looking to learn techniques for making genoise sponge so I can make Frasier cake!!

  7. elaineteo

    surprisingly, this is my bedtime book too for now! Always wanted to read it when i m in Sg, but no time. Chanced upon it in the bookstore here and is in English, happily bought it back…and now i m at the last part, Indonesia of the book. So you are not the last dear. Pretty nice book, that leaving me with lotsa thoughts while reading…

  8. Joy

    For EPL, I’m now at Indonesia as well….somehow I was stuck at India for quite a while. BTW, if you think about it – baking is like Science…you gotta get the exact specific measurements to achieve the end results. Very much like Science isn’t it? Anyway, I think sometimes you really can’t plan that much. The more you do so, the higher the expectations and when you don’t achieve it, you’ll feel like the lousiest loser around and that you are an under-achiever. So just sometimes go with the flow, live life to the fullest, be spontaneous and attempt to enjoy what you are doing. If you really don’t, no point forcing it.


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