Baking in a Foreign Country (or how to handle curve balls in, and out, of the kitchen)

It’s no secret in my family that the Molteni ladies know their way around a kitchen. I have been cooking since high school and in the years since, have developed a particular sweet spot for baked goods. Cakes, cookies, brownies, gallettes, tortes, pastries-you name it, I’ll bake it (especially on birthdays.) I spent my last semester of college abroad in Italy and was fortunate to have an apartment with a (modestly) equipped kitchen; suffice to say, my baking didn’t cease overseas. I must admit that brought along a fair share of challenges, likely more than I anticipated. But, I quickly discovered that by developing a few strategies of my own, I was able to whip up some wicked goodies.

Get out of your comfort zone

No idea how to make zabaglione, let alone pronounce it? Neither did I. But that didn’t stop me from trying. To not even approach a project because it’s something you’ve never done before leaves quite a narrow realm of possibilities. Personally, I’ve always considered the idea of something new half the fun, albeit whatever frustrations and anxieties come along part and parcel. Having an open mind and approaching new opportunities with a willingness to explore (or at least learn about) other areas both in and out of your field can lead to some surprising, but rewarding prospects. Take a branding company trying their hand at promotional work when a client inquires, for example. While this may not be within the job description of said company, if they are willing and able, they’ll expand their own abilities as well as their relationship with their client. Win, win!

Do your homework

It’s hard enough going to the grocery store when you don’t speak the local tongue, let alone when you haven’t the slightest idea what you’re looking for. You’ll end up in many a patrons’ way as you hold up the line try to decipher between a variety of leavening agents (Italian directions only). If I hadn’t done my research, I may have been trying to hunt down vanilla extract for days, without realizing that it was not commonly sold in my country of residence. The same idea can be applied to approaching a new business or project. Gathering as much information about that prospect, from history to past work or clients, or even something as simple as company goals and values, helps you to understand the client. In the same way, this shows a client that you value them enough to learn about them. The more you know, the more you are prepared and the more comfortable you will feel. Research provides a good platform to foster new relationships, inspire a new solution, or even just ease a conversation.

Don’t forget your foundations

Use what you know, and then build off of that. I found out all too soon that sufficient measuring utensils either didn’t exist, or cost as much as all of my groceries for the month combined. Baking in the metric system was quite an experience; on more than one occasion I didn’t have the ingredients I need, or a way to measure them. Fortunately I had done enough baking in my life to work with what I had available. That background helped for quick problem solving but also quelled my second-guessing. Lesson learned: Be confident in what you know and be flexible in what you need to learn.
Keep track of your successes and, equally important, your failures

Maybe you scribble a note in the recipe itself, maybe you Instagram your triumph (#NextTopChef or #WorldsWorstCook) or even devote an entire blog post, journal entry, email to your mom how you managed (or didn’t) such a feat. However you choose to catalogue your endeavor, do so! All too often we place all our value on our successes and try to sweep our mistakes under the carpet. I’ve found that mistakes, as difficult or embarrassing they can be to admit, are some of the best learning tools available. Mistakes can act as a really good gauge of progress, and taking the time to note or discover on your own what works and what doesn’t for a particular problem will help immensely later on inform your decisions in the future.

Every problem has a solution

It’s ok if your first attempt is only that- an attempt. There is always a solution, even if that means hitting the drawing board over and over again. Every problem may not be solved the first, or fiftieth time around. Not being afraid to ask for help or throwing away your original plans can allow room for other resolutions to make themselves known. Even if that means scrapping the whole cake and treating everyone to some good ol’ fashioned gelato.


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