Lessons from Sabbatical, Part 1: Baking cakes and ideas

I took my very first sabbatical in the Fall of 2018. A part of my plan during my time off was to take up a new hobby: baking. I didn’t know that it would teach me so many things about my scholarship, grieving and joy.

The art of mise en place in the baking process threw me into a loop. I’m the kind of cook that abides by the cooking logic of “maskipaps” or in Tagalog, maski papaano, which means throw everything in a pot however you like it. I often remember that my stir-fry needs oil just as the pan is heating up and am chopping up vegetables right before I throw it all together. So, mise en place kind of baking really slowed me down; really setting aside the things I need for a recipe beforehand made baking all that easier and enjoyable.

In this way, my sabbatical’s scholarly production was also about lining up my work before just throwing it all in an article. Mise en place taught me that perhaps drafting a paper, presenting it and then coming back to work on it has its benefits. Although, I was juggling a few writing projects during my sabbatical, I tried my best to organize the different segments of a project before I started and stared at the screen, all scared about its emptiness. When I had free writes on literature review or a data section worked out, putting all the pieces together became easier, more enjoyable.

With baking a cake, after ingredients are all mixed in together and put in the oven, there’s no guarantee that the cake will bake in the estimated time of 23-25 minutes. Sometimes, you’ve gotta go in, poke a hole in the middle of that cake and find it undercooked, and then make your best guess on how many more minutes to put on the timer.

Well, that felt like all of my research and writing efforts during this sabbatical. I’m currently conducting a survey on Filipino caregivers’ health and I’ve failed many times to collect surveys. Each try, under baked. Each try, a better estimate on a different way to collect surveys. With the help of intrepid students, and ideas from family members and community, I’ve been making those best guesses, trying and making errors until I was finally able to get a good number of surveys! I’m far from done, but I’m definitely making way.

I took up baking primarily because I wanted to be able to bake a cake for my children’s birthdays and special occasions. My Mama was adamant about having cake during birthdays, even through really lean times for our family growing up, we could count on a sweet treat and a candle to blow out on our birthdays. I wanted the same for Aya and Cy. Aya’s birthday was my first run at birthday cake joy and her pride of the cakes that “Mama made” was worth all of the fails and victories of these cakes. I was always so happy to share my add-and-mix processes with her and eating cake with her was even better!

But as I started the process, I learned that baking was also about doing something that I knew, a friend and mentor of mine, Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon loved to do. In fact, when my book came out in March of 2018, Dawn baked beautiful cupcakes to bring to my book party. Her famous Ube cupcakes were gone in an instant and if it wasn’t for my sister who held on to one, I would’ve missed the whole batch. In the throes of cake flour and vanilla extract, I often think about how much Dawn loved (and was so good at) baking. And maybe, in the whirls of my stand up mixer and in the middle of complex recipes, we’re together.

This sabbatical has done me so much good in slowing down the pace of this super-frenetic life as an academic, a mother and activist. I loved that it taught me that good ideas and good cakes take time; to savor the process and to create isn’t about what comes of it but what you learn along the way. Here’s to more bakes: both intellectual and cakes in 2019!

One response to “Lessons from Sabbatical, Part 1: Baking cakes and ideas”

  1. Hester Eisenstein Avatar
    Hester Eisenstein

    You are creating a new genre: the baking scholar. Work has to be well done and rise properly. Delicious!

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