On being … a don’t quit your day job moment

By Ingrid Sapona 

I love baking. Love it. And I’m pretty good at it. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time someone said to: “You should open a bakery” … well … let’s just say I could afford more than one Starbucks latte. I’m always flattered by the compliment, but I’m quick to explain to folks that the reason I wouldn’t consider it is that then the hobby I love would start to feel like work! 

A couple weeks ago I made a peach clafoutis that was, well, to die for. When I bought the peaches, I wasn’t planning on baking with them. But, they ripened faster than I could eat them, so rather than have them go bad, I ended up making four individual-size clafoutis. 

A few days later, I picked up another basket of peaches. There’s nothing better than Ontario peaches and this year they’re especially sweet. So, since a friend was coming over for dinner later in the week, this time I planned on using some for another round of clafoutis.   

On the morning of the day my company was coming I proceeded to make the clafoutis. As I always do, I set the timer for half way through the bake time and popped them into the oven. When the timer went off, I went to check on them. When I opened the oven door, I found an unexpected mess. 

They had all spilled over their brims. Not only that – they were browning WAY too much, given that they had more baking to do. I covered them with foil to prevent them from overbrowning and I re-set the timer for the remaining bake time. I ended up taking them out a few minutes early because they were quite brown (thankfully not burned) and the centers looked set. I thought that with a dusting of powered sugar they’d look good enough to serve. Besides, I reconned they’d be delish, given how terrific the peaches were. 

I was getting peckish around lunch time and I decided to try one – just to make sure they were company-worthy. Well, all I can say is that I’m glad I did. The body – the structure – of a clafouti is basically an egg custard and if it’s not perfectly cooked through, it tastes kind of yucky. Though the clafoutis was dark and looked baked, as soon as I stuck my fork in, I realized the center it was soggy. It wasn’t something I felt I could serve. Worst of all, I wasted half dozen precious peaches. Ugh… 

I spent quite a few minutes trying to figure out what I did wrong – or different – this time. For one thing, I think these peaches were juicier than the previous batch. As for why they bubbled over, clearly, I had overfilled them. As I was pouring the batter into the dishes, I noticed I had enough to fill them higher, but I just thought that was a bonus. Clearly wrong there… I won’t bore you with further details about my clafoutis post mortem, but I think you get the sense of how disconcerted I was by my baking mishap. 

One of the things that draws me to baking is the precise nature of it. Sure, there’s room for creativity in the way you decorate or serve a dessert, but baking is a science. Recipes are followed and ingredients are weighed because it’s not just about making something that tastes great and looks appealing – consistency matters. Each cookie in a batch should look and taste the same and every batch of a particular recipe should turn out the same. 

So, when something goes wrong, as it did with the clafoutis, I feel defeated as a baker. It’s not just that I’ve wasted perfectly good ingredients, or that I don’t have a scrumptious dessert to serve my guests. What really hurts is the nagging doubt I’m left with: were my past baking successes just flukes? 

In the scheme of things, I know that baking mishaps are just that – mishaps. Frustrations for sure, but also instructive. In fact, for someone who may occasionally fantasize about having a bakery or coffee shop, they may be a blessing in disguise – they’re a good reminder that I shouldn’t quit my day job! 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... a tragedy in the works

By Ingrid Sapona 

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for this column. But, I’ve been unable to think about much of anything other than the plight of the women and girls in Afghanistan. I was reluctant to write about Afghanistan because I try to avoid writing about politics. I decided, however, that I have to write about it because I feel those of us who care have speak up for those who can’t. 

I have a very vivid recollection of getting many emails in the late 1990s written by groups like the Afghan Women’s Network. The emails that were circulating were trying to draw attention to the treatment of Afghan women and girls. At the time, I didn’t even know where Afghanistan was, much less that there had been a civil war that brought the Taliban to power. 

So, I found some of the things mentioned in the emails a bit hard to believe. How could Afghan women who were doctors and professionals suddenly be forced to stop working? Or how could it be that women could not leave the house unless they were accompanied by a male relative? Or how could a government simply say that girls were not allowed to go to school? I didn’t necessarily think it was all made up, but I imagined that if some of those things had happened to some women, they must be the exception, not the rule. To this day I feel ashamed about not even signing a petition to support Afghan women back then. Of course, in the late 1990s, like most people, I hadn’t heard of the Taliban. 

Then, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban from power, videos that ranged from maltreatment to barbarity emerged. We saw ghostly apparitions that turned out to be women covered from head to toe in bourkas, barely able to see where they were going. And then there were videos of the stoning of women accused of adultery – never any men so treated, though clearly women can’t commit adultery on their own. 

Though going to war with Afghanistan was controversial, without a doubt, one positive result was that the lives of women and girls there improved. As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out in a recent column, “In 1999, no Afghan girls attended secondary school. Within 4 years, 6 percent were enrolled, and as of 2018 the figure had climbed to nearly 40 percent.” That says a lot.  

The fact that for nearly 20 years Afghan women have enjoyed at least some basic human rights makes the west’s abandonment of them now even crueler. As Ruth Pollard eloquently said in an opinion piece in Bloomberg News this past week: “A generation of Afghan women who have taken their place in society are now watching that space shrink before their eyes. They entered public life as lawmakers, local governors, doctors, lawyer, teachers and public administrators, working for two decades to help create a civil society and generate opportunities for those who come after them. Now the Taliban are going door-to-door in some areas, compiling lists of women and girls aged between 12 and 45 years for their fighters to forcibly marry. Women are again being told they cannot leave the house without a male escort, they cannot work, study or dress as they please.” If I’m in shock at the fact that this is happening – imagine the shock and utter fear Afghan women must be feeling. 

There seems no end to the amount of suffering in the world these days. Currently over 206 million people have Covid and 4.3 million have died from it. Wildfires are burning out of control in Europe and North America, while other parts of the world have suffered devastating floods. Just this morning Haiti was hit with another 7.2 magnitude earthquake. All these phenomena have brought untold suffering. But, unlike all the natural disasters that are wreaking havoc in the world, the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan is that much more tragic because it’s 100% caused by human behaviour: the cruelty of the Taliban and the willingness of the rest of the world to sit by at it happens. 

Afghan women may be forced into silence under bourkas, but we are not. Now, more than ever, we must speak up for the human rights of Afghan girls and women. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona