It was a couple of cooking sessions in a neighbour's kitchen almost 40 years ago that sparked Mdm Shareefa Beevi's culinary interest. She recalls being in her neighbour's flat, mixing and kneading dough for Hari Raya cookies, followed by the delight of friends and family when they got to savour the goodies she made.
The 56-year-old has become such a proficient baker that she regularly whips up pastries and cookies for her family, and even shares them with beneficiaries at a non-profit organisation that she volunteers with.
Last December, Mdm Shareefa decided to add another culinary skill to her repertoire - ice cream making. She wanted to pick up this skill to help her eldest son in his new home-based business selling acai bowls. Her son has plans to open a café next year that could include a gelato corner.
Through a quick Google search, Mdm Shareefa found the "Ice Cream Making Made Easy" course conducted by Nanyang Polytechnic and saw that it was offered under the National Silver Academy (NSA), which provides a variety of learning opportunities subsidised for seniors aged 50 and above.
During the one-day course, Mdm Shareefa gained insights about food hygiene, how to measure the ingredients, and tips on making ice cream at home. She also learnt the proper mixing technique and how to get the temperature right when preparing key ingredients.
As not everyone would have an ice cream machine at home, they were shown how to put the mixture in a container to freeze. Mdm Shareefa explains: "When you take out the mixture from the freezer, you can stir it so it will become creamier."
Making new friends through active learning
Mdm Shareefa, who quit her administrative job at a local bank over two decades ago to raise her three children, says she likes to keep herself busy through active learning. "My children have grown up and I need something to keep myself occupied," she says.
Attending courses like these have helped to keep her socially active. "Not only do I get to learn new skills, I also get to meet like-minded people," says Mdm Shareefa, who has also attended other cooking courses and is currently learning Arabic online. She says she meets up with her new friends, and she is already making plans with her ice cream making classmates to attend other courses together.
Taking courses to challenge herself
Mdm Shareefa says she witnessed ﬁrst-hand, how isolation could affect one's mental well-being as her father experienced bouts of depression after retirement due to a reduced social life. Since then, even before entering her silver years, she has been determined to lead an active life.
She dove into offering her time to serving others at the Indian Muslim Social Service Association (IMSSA), and has been doing so for 20 years. As a volunteer, her duties include teaching religious studies to children, and preparing hot meals and rations for seniors.
With social activities being reduced due to Covid-19 safety measures, she looked to attending courses to keep herself busy and to challenge herself. She says: "Instead of watching TV at home all the time, I stimulate my mind and body by learning how to make new desserts, baking cookies and bread, and picking up a new language."
As someone who enjoys learning new skills, Mdm Shareefa encourages her friends and family to do the same. "I will tell them to go and learn something that they are passionate about. You cannot just focus on being with your own family as your children will have their own families, and you will feel lonely after they move out," she says.
The energetic Mdm Shareefa is keen to leverage her newly-honed culinary skills to start a new business with her son in the future. "My ice cream business could start off on a small scale and who knows, maybe, one day, I could become as successful as some of the local ice cream brands," says Mdm Shareefa, who wants to experiment with making popular local flavours such as durian, mango and pistachio for her ice cream business.