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The benefits of biking and baking

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 04, 2021 5:00 am

The lockdown, and the time saved from not having to brave traffic jams every day with work from home arrangements, has gifted me with precious time.

You can write and edit articles while stuck in traffic (presuming you’re not the driver), even compose an aria. But there are some things you simply cannot do inside your car as you drool over the Bench billboard of Hyun Bin on EDSA.

The gift of time that fell on my lap since the start of the “Qs” (ECQ, MECQ, GCQ) was the gift of time that has always been there. It’s not like the pandemic has given me 26 hours a day or eight days a week or 14 months a year — but it seems like that in terms of real time freed up to do what I have had no “time” to do in the past.

In a way, it was like reclaiming land — the land has always been there, you just had to make it available for use.

After having adjusted to the slow pace of the early days of the pandemic, human beings, resilient beings that they are, have learned to adjust to the new normal with aplomb.

Then I started baking again. Baking is like biking. Even without practice, you never forget. I still have my 35-year-old Nora Daza cookbook, yellowed and frayed at the edges through time, and I opened it again.

Well, the seeming extra hour or two added to my days has given me time to hop on a bike and go places even without leaving my bedroom. Yup, it’s a stationary bike given to me by my husband Ed (he’s been buying all my exercise gear for years now, from the “stepper” to the stationary bike, subtle hints for me to keep in shape — but I am not offended!).

I used to bike only once a week, till I read that one must bike at least 140 to 150 minutes a week — or about 30-40 minutes per session four times a week — for visible results in your looks, and your physical and mental health.

 Biking is exhilarating. Photo by Büm Tenorio Jr.

I’ve always managed my goals to sustain them — I know I can’t really bike with confidence along the streets of the compound or village where I live — so I opted for the stationary bike. My doctor also told me pre-pandemic that biking indoors reduces one’s exposure to vehicle pollution on the streets of the metropolis.

With my eyes fixed on the goal (good health, primarily) and on Netflix, for about 45 minutes, I cycle away.

The first 20 minutes are the hardest as you warm up and feel like what you’re doing is a chore (yup, weight loss or maintenance is one helluva goal you have to focus on); the next 10 to 15 minutes are a glide, when the endorphins have kicked in and you’re feeling a high (like the exhilaration after a game of habulan when I was a kid); the last 10 minutes are easy-peasy.

Sometimes you even go past your goal by a minute or more. (No two people are alike, so listen to your body and your doctor.)

According to an article on healthline.com, “If you find yourself lethargic or listless, get yourself on your bike for at least 10 minutes. Exercise releases endorphins, which in turn help you feel better while lowering stress levels. You may feel more confident and content once you make cycling a regular part of your life.”

Am sure my colleague Büm D. Tenorio Jr. couldn’t agree more!

Or go baking

My son’s memories of me baking, pre-lockdown, are more than 25 years old. He remembers I used to bake prune cakes.

Growing up, I learned to bake from my mother Sonia, who would bake apple and pumpkin pies, and refrigerator cakes. She learned these from her late mother-in-law, Mary Loudon Mayor, and her sister-in-law, Nellie Mayor Loleng. Nowadays, my sister Valerie Sotto runs a very successful baking business. I guess it runs in the family.

  Baking teaches you to blend for the win. Photo by Joanne Rae Ramirez

My cooking and baking classes (as much part of the high school curriculum as Algebra) at the Assumption Convent were also very instructional. So I used to bake strawberry cream pie, Boston cream pie (more of a cake, really) and buko pie!

But the rolling pin was soon ditched for the pen and the China markers that we used to draw layouts with before the digital age.  

Till the lockdown.

This is another gift the extra time freed from traffic has bestowed on me — time to pick up a hobby.

I started composing tablescapes to make lunches and dinners special for my boys — because for the first time in years, we were under one roof. (Our adult only son Chino moved back temporarily during the pandemic.) It was monumental for this working mom to share at least two meals a day with her family.

And then I started baking again. Baking is like biking. Even without practice, you never forget. I still have my 35-year-old Nora Daza cookbook, yellowed and frayed at the edges through time, and I opened it again.

Restocking our kitchen with baking tools was like refurbishing a nursery with an unexpected new baby — everything was brand new, from the rolling pin to the baking pans, the mixer to the spatula, you name it.

I started with something I had absolutely no experience in — baking bread. My loaves — from butter loaves to French bread — won praise from my boys so I started accepting orders from neighbors. PeopleAsia account executive Gian Carla Guerrero spontaneously came up with a name — “JLoaves” — and Ed has even designed a logo for it!

The high (literally and figuratively) you get from baking bread is visible. From a tablespoon or so of grainy yeast proofed in water, the bread rises to golden perfection, an edifice. You no longer see a trace of each individual ingredient, the yeast, the sugar, the shortening, the flour — together, they’ve blended into a delightful confection.

There are lessons in building this edible edifice:

  1. Always be prepared before you embark on your mission. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you’ve run out of eggs after everything else has been mixed in the bowl!
  2. Never rush the rising process. Your product will fall and fail. Do something else while waiting for the rise — in my case, I write or edit.
  3. Clean as you work. This I learned from my cooking teacher Mrs.Del Carrion. Thus, you don’t end up with a pile of greasy utensils, sticky bowls and a carpet of flour on your worktable. I have a helper and a SMEG dishwasher (a great investment for any kitchen), but I stow all the used utensils and bowls in the sink. Sometimes, I put them in the dishwasher myself. I even wipe the working table clean.Walang kalat. You get another high from clearing and cleaning up.
  4. Each of us has his/her own purpose in this world, like the ingredients for baking bread.
  5. But many times, it takes the combining of our individual purposes — losing our egos in the process — till it is not the individual but the blended masterpiece that stands out.

Whether it’s biking or baking — find an activity that clears your mind of the clutter and the chatter, and you will find yourself in better shape to rise to the occasion.

Like bread.