At the slightest provocation, say the school holidays, Singaporeans pack up and leave town en masse. We escape our homes and our country like bats out of hell, to parts near and far, as if suffering serious claustrophobia.
This migratory pattern is almost obligatory. How many times have people asked you where you are going when you take time off work? Say "nowhere" and they look at you in shock, followed by suspicion. "Really?"
Living on a small island does that to people.
So I imagine many of you are climbing the walls because you are trapped here, unable to indulge your wanderlust because of this blasted pandemic.
But how many of us are secretly relieved?
One of my friends, who travels a lot for work and leisure, confesses that she likes not being able to travel. She says she can focus on two projects she is working on, and which need urgent attention.
Recently, I had dinner at chef Jason Tan's new restaurant, Euphoria, in Tras Street. He, too, likes to travel far and wide. My meal was exceptional. The cooking, plating, flavours, bespoke cutlery and crockery, decor; he and his partner had paid attention to every detail. I cannot help but think he was able to do all this because his wings are clipped, and he has lots of time to think things through.
I am very relieved to not be able to travel for a while too. It's a strange feeling. On one hand, I'm thinking where I'll go to first - Japan, which I love? Taiwan, a new obsession? Georgia? The country, not the American state. Morocco? I love going places and exploring them.
On the other hand, I hate flying. And not every airport is clean and efficient like Changi. Waiting in endless lines at Customs and immigration elsewhere is hellacious.
Add to that the prospect of having to wear a mask throughout the flight, of enhanced safety measures, of travelling when there is no vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, and my mind boggles. One of the consequences of coming down with the virus is losing the senses of smell and taste. If that happens to me, I cannot do my job. It's that simple.
But staying put need not be second best. This paper has shown you all that you can enjoy in Singapore, and we continue to do that. When was the last time you stopped to really look at how beautiful our home is? In our rush to be anyplace but here, we miss so much.
The school holidays is a good time to make up for all that. A staycation perhaps? Taking a heritage walk? Exploring farms out in the boondocks and buying fresh produce grown there? Cooking the produce? Cycling with the kids in the park?
You could also make bread.
I am currently on a bread-making bender that shows no sign of ending; it keeps my wanderlust at bay. This week, I propose you make English muffins. It is not a big investment in time or bread flour. The recipe makes enough for a small family with a couple left over.
You don't need a stand mixer (although it does make things easier) or even an oven. The muffins cook on the stove top.
Best of all, it is an opportunity to wean the kids off fast food. Instead of taking the path of least resistance, make them breakfast sandwiches with from-scratch bread. You can pick the kind of cheese and ham you like, and the eggs can be done the way your family members like them.
If that does not float your boat, you can always have the English muffins with smoked salmon, cream cheese, dill and capers; with honey and butter; with jam and butter; with kaya and butter. Never forget the butter.
Stop climbing the walls. What are you, a reject from Cirque du Soleil?
Stay put and make English muffins.
135g to 150g whole milk
20g unsalted butter
300g bread flour
5g instant yeast
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting
Grapeseed or olive oil
1. Weigh out 135g of whole milk and the 20g of butter into a saucepan and heat until lukewarm. I microwave butter and milk from the fridge on high for 40 seconds in a pouring jug. Set aside.
2. Weigh the bread flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer or into a mixing bowl. The salt and yeast should not touch initially, as salt can deactivate the yeast. Use a spoon to mix the dry ingredients together. Crack in the egg, add the milk and butter mixture.
3. If using a stand mixer, fit it with a dough hook and mix on medium - level 4 on the KitchenAid Artisan, for two minutes. If there is loose flour at the bottom of the bowl, add the remaining 15g of milk. Mix until the ingredients come together.
4. If working by hand, bring the shaggy mass together with a dough scraper and shape the dough into a ball. Knead for 10 minutes, or until you get a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Place the dough back into the bowl - no need to oil the bowl or the dough - and cover with plastic wrap. Let it proof for 60 minutes.
5. If using the stand mixer, knead for eight to 10 minutes on low speed - level 2 on the KitchenAid Artisan, pausing every two to three minutes to scrape the dough off the hook and to turn the dough over so the bottom is on top. This is to make sure the dough is kneaded evenly. You will notice that while it clears the side of the bowl, it sticks to the bottom. Knead until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Shape it into a ball. Place it back in the bowl of the stand mixer, cover with plastic wrap and proof for 60 minutes.
7. After the first proof, deflate the dough using a bench scraper. Divide it into six pieces, each weighing about 88g. Pat one piece out into a rough circle on a clean work surface (no need for bench flour) and bring the circumference into the middle, like you are wrapping something in the dough. Pinch to secure. Overturn the ball and place your hand over it. Then, like you are moving a computer mouse, roll it in a circular motion to form a neat ball. Repeat with the other five pieces. Cover the balls with a tea towel and let them rest for 15 minutes.
8. Uncover the balls. Sprinkle cornmeal on a clean tray that will hold all six balls without them touching. Take one ball, flatten the top gently with your hand on a clean work surface. Place it on the tray and sprinkle more cornmeal on top. Repeat with the remaining five balls, giving them enough room apart on the tray to expand. Cover the tray with a tea towel and proof for 35 minutes.
9. Place a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Brush with oil. Place three or four muffins on the pan - they should not touch - and cook one minute. Turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking for three to four minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the muffin over. Lightly press down each one with a spatula and cook over medium-low heat another four to five minutes. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool. Cook the remaining muffins the same way, remembering to oil the pan for subsequent batches.
10. Cool completely - best to make them they day before you plan to eat them. To eat, split the muffins in half by sticking the tines of a fork all around the circumference of the muffin. It should come apart and the rough surfaces will allow more butter to soak in. Toast and make a breakfast sandwich by buttering both sides, and filling the muffin with slices of cheese and ham, and a fried or scrambled egg.