24

Living through the last week of being 23 feels like waiting for a chapter that’s meant to close. Those were the exact words I told a close friend recently. 

The past few months have seen the world turned upside down. The enforced solitude, which I have grown to mostly enjoy by implementing a good routine and rewards to look forward to, has forced myself to uncover the roots of some of the biggest problems we face as a global community now, as well as some problems within myself that I have neglected. A few old demons, namely shades of anxiety and depression, may have arisen during the past month, but I’ve grown a lot by attempting to process emotions, past events, my relationships and academic endeavours. Bushy-tailed as I was when I matriculated at Oxford last year to start my PhD, I couldn’t help but feel rather lost and aimless when the virus abruptly took hold of the world, and I hazard a jab at saying that it has impacted most others in the world, too.

I could say I have learnt a few things this year:

  1. Learning a new language is hard, but fun. The more effort I put into it, the more enjoyable the process becomes. Having a strong reason as to why you want to learn makes it all the more worthwhile. 
  2. My relationship with social media has changed, and probably for the better. I find myself easily bored with many platforms now, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, mainly because its constant stimulation has finally dwindled the dopamine rush I get from it. I will take another long break from Instagram soon, I think, because this period of abstinence is akin to a rebirth, while birthing more time into my day, to invest in other priorities such as learning, reading, and actually writing more lengthy posts on this blog. I personally still read blogs, but I feel less inclined to properly read lengthy articles after long bouts of social media usage- it’s just not as fun or stimulating. Yet I know that such an attitude is harmful in the long-term due to the way in which social media rewires the brain, as Cal Newport will also readily say. As much as I love the ability to share my life and engage in things my friends are doing, real life has so much to offer outside of my various blue screens. And real relationships, for me at least, lie in long conversations, over video chat or real life, hearing someone’s voice, so much more profound than the pings of hearts and emojis. Reduced social media usage has allowed me to shape my own opinion on things without forcing Facebook or Insta ads down my throat first, and I can walk around without a phone and just think, and enjoy plain, clean air. I also want to be able to read books in the evenings again, with candles and wine, instead of scrolling through various comments on what other people think about someone else’s boyfriend etc. I could go on and on about the hazards of shamelessly, constantly putting out a highlight reel for the world, but I think my point has been made. 
  3. Relationships have clarified and I am really grateful to those close to me, who constantly inspire, motivate and challenge me. 
  4. Oh my goodness, cooking is really fun. It’s become something I look forward to most nights. I typically have gotten into the routine of cooking a small batch of something 2-3 times a week, because cooking something fresh for one person every night is a little more than necessary, and I find this amount is just right. Very grateful for a freezer, I must say. Lately I’ve been making a lot of this and malai kofta from my friend’s new food blog– she does lots of vegan Indian recipes so do check it out!!

November’s orders for London are still up and running as usual, and you can email me at alimyun@protonmail.com for more details and questions. The stars are nut butter-stuffed brownie cupcakes and PB&J blondies (pictured just above here), and a box contains 4 cupcakes and 2 large blondies. Have received good feedback for both and it truly means a lot to me, even if it’s just coming from one person!

Peanut Butter Banana Marshmallow Grilled Sandwich

Having woken up from a deep heady nap that lasted all of 1 hour, I finally feel motivated to share this. Sometimes I get ideas that I know may have been attempted before or seem too simple to write about, but even these should never be left behind, especially if they taste this good. I struggle to remember that it’s not about whether your idea has been attempted before, it’s about how well you do it.

I recently read an article about why people with anxiety or depression should not be eating processed, inflammatory foods so as not to increase inflammation in the body- one of the root causes underlying the mechanisms of neurological disease is inflammation. I have always known this, and would not stir at the accusation of me being something of a hypocrite, waxing lyrical the good fortune of nutrition and a plant-based diet, while I myself write lengthy blogposts about sugar. I understand, I do, but having experienced the terrifying nature of what restricting entire food groups can do to my own health (orthorexic tendencies, heightened anxiety in social situations centred around a meal), and trying to cut out sugar entirely many times, I know that such drastic measures do not cut it, at least for me. Which is why I promote these recipes not to promote diabetes, but rather a sense of moderation, to let people know that yes, it’s ok to have this cookie once in a while, and you won’t die. And of course you can whip out the stevia or trivia as substitutions if that suits you better…

Sandwich time. Speaking specifically about toasties, I ate these regularly in primary school, and was relieved to not have to pack lunch in high school because God forbid I got another one. Only kids eat these anyway, right? Yet, squidged between my regular Asian lunches of mixed economy rice, I found myself buying the occasional (tuna mayo) sandwich. Then university rolled round. One of my close friends offered to share his delicious-smelling toastie with me. I reluctantly tried the deceivingly simple concoction of cheese and tomato, and could not help the wave of nostalgia rippling through my body as I sunk my teeth into the pressed, golden bread, glossy on the underside with the perfect hit of mayonnaise, and I do feel that mayonnaise is the underdog in a lot of classic favourites. Here I replicate something similar for the sweet tooth- you can do this in a toastie maker of course, but I decided to do it on a stovetop for adaptability.

Why not jazz it up by pressing a croissant with the same combination too?

Ah, an unreal crisp. Golden, buttery bread giving way to a soft, goo-on-goo inside. Once again, so simple, such child’s play. And yet, so satisfying. Given the pandemic and all the political nonsense in the world now, it feels good and right to return to what grounded us as children- a safe and familiar haven. As humans we like to seek out patterns and familiarity, to some degree. This may be an element of that. Little things like making toasties and sharing them with coffee may even help us rewire our brains for positivity and excitement.

Note: you can use bread that is not white of course, but white toasting bread is usually the optimal shape for toastie making, readily absorbing the melted butter that you brush on top and letting the heat penetrate its pores when the toastie maker is ready.

Peanut butter Marshmallow Toastie

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

2 thick slices of white bread*

1 tbsp butter*

2 tbsp peanut butter

half a banana, sliced

handful of marshmallows, each sliced in half*

*vegan sub: use vegan butter or vegetable oil instead of butter (I suggest staying away from avocado oil as the flavour is too strong and will overwhelm the rest of the flavours). Use vegan marshmallows instead of regular marshmallows.

*gluten-free sub: use gluten-free bread

Directions

Take one slice of bread and spread one side with butter. Repeat with the other slice of bread (around 0.5 tbsp butter on each slice). If you’re using a toastie maker, use slightly less butter. Make sure your butter is soft before spreading. Then spread 1 tbsp of peanut butter on the other side of each slice of bread. Now have your two slices facing you with the peanut butter sides facing upwards. Put the banana slices on one slice of bread and the cut marshmallows on the other. Then sandwich the bread slices so that the banana and marshmallows face each other on the inside of the sandwich.

Heat your pan on medium heat and press the sandwich down. Use a spatula to press it. After around 4 minutes check the underside of the sandwich with your spatula- it should be golden-brown and the marshmallows should look melty. Flip the sandwich over and press down again. Cook for another two minutes. The banana should be soft and the peanut butter and marshmallows should be soft and melty. Cut whichever way you want and enjoy alone or with a strong coffee.

Biscoff Oreo Brownies

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This deserves to be recipe of the year. For me, at least. I’ll keep it short and sweet for everyone’s convenience today. Brownies are overdone and the combinations one can experiment with seem to be endless. The brownie category in every baking blog is usually a saturated one– basic fudgy, basic chewy, Nutella, jam-bellied, the works. You would think I’d be tired of reading or trying out any new brownie recipe at this point. BUT NO. This particular recipe features angles of child’s play, a three-stranded braid of chocolate, biscoff and oreo. I usually do a ‘Notes’ section just above the recipe itself for clarity and guidance, but the ease of this recipe needs no additional guidance aside from the simple steps stated below. The whole process of putting the brownie together and baking it takes around half an hour. Anyone can do it, during any point of the week. I guess my one note would be that, for maturity’s sake, the addition of salt both in and top of the batter is quite necessary.

I like recipes that make me feel like a 5 year-old at a birthday party, and this is the epitome of that. These brownies makes me feel all kinds of things that I hope you feel too- sunshine, sticky fingers, making reckless decisions that make for the best memories.

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When I was vegan one of my more sinful home staples was Biscoff, or lotus biscuit spread. I think I put it on apples, in place of peanut butter, which I also love but didn’t quite hit the spot in that moment. As a child I never thought much of the cinnamon, crumbly biscuits themselves, almost always served alongside a piping-hot cup of green tea at the hairdresser’s, but I did enjoy the spread miles more. The crunchy one specifically made my heart sing. Came across the spread here in Germany and felt a wave of nostalgia flood through my system. These are by far one of the best brownies I have ever toyed with. They are:

  • extremely fudgy in the middle
  • quite chewy all around the edges
  • layered with oreo biscuits

The swirling of the biscoff spread into the batter ensures that the crunch and notes of cinnamon of the spread melts into the brownies themselves as they bake in the oven and doesn’t simply exist as an isolated layer in the brownies. I recommend the crunchy stuff because I simply prefer the added crunch, but do smooth if that’s what you prefer, or if you think the crunch of the oreo cookies will suffice.

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Biscoff Oreo Brownies (makes 8 brownies in a loaf tin)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

90g butter*

100g dark chocolate, chopped

1 egg*

½ tsp salt

120g sugar

150g Biscoff spread (crunchy/smooth)

45g all-purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

5-6 oreo cookies

Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

*vegan sub: use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine in place of the butter. For the egg, use 2 flax eggs: make this by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a loaf tin with parchment paper. You can also do this in an 8×8-inch square tin. Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments on high until everything has melted together well. Let this cool for about 3 minutes before using- dip your finger into the chocolate-butter mixture to make sure it’s more or less at room temperature. It’s fine if it is still a little bit warm.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg (or vegan flax eggs) and sugar together well, until foamy. Then add the chocolate-butter mixture, salt, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk well until everything comes together and the batter seems to pull away from the edges. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Put dollops of biscoff spread onto random parts of the brownie batter and use a knife to swirl it through the chocolatey batter. Then put 5-6 whole oreo cookies on top of the batter and press them down into the batter. The batter will be pushed up between the cookies; use the back of a spoon to spread these parts over the cookies. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt before putting the tin in the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes. Check at the 20-minute mark, if a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with wet crumbs then you can take it out already. If it is still very gloopy and wet, leave it in for a few more minutes. If you’re baking this in a square pan, you will only need half the baking time. Leave the brownies to cool at room temperature on a cooling rack or heatproof surface for half an hour before cutting and serving. They are perfect on their own, but also good with ice cream or a scoop of crème fraiche on top.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It feels good to settle into routine in another country. The air is clean and fresh here, the experiences full. There are so many things that I easily take for granted on a daily basis, like walking in the public gardens nearby, or having access to clean water and delicious food at any moment. As much as I love the UK, Germany is beautiful, quaint and interesting in its own ways. Some things I’ve really been enjoying have been:

  • Grocery shopping in Germany. There’s always high-quality food at decent prices, even at the more ‘upmarket’ stores.
  • Evening reading with a drink
  • Of course, the bakeries here. Nussecken and Rosinenschnecken are a couple of my favourites, alongside the classic franzbrötchen.
  • The app Freedom which has (finally) allowed me to melt into phases of deep work on a daily basis, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • This movie and this movie. I’ve learnt and remembered so much during each.
  • Making a page each, every month, for ‘Memories’, ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Recipes to Try/Recipes I loved’ in my bullet journal. They’re simple pages, lined at the border with the dates, 1-30/31, and it’s so fun to fill them in every day, even if there’s nothing or not much to write at all. The very act of putting it in the bullet journal is still fulfilling since it makes me want to fill up each day with something anyway. For the Recipes one so far this month, I currently have my boyfriend’s zucchini lemon pasta and these cookies on it…!

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It’s a classic peanut butter chocolate party. I’ve played with many variations of this tight-knit couple over the years which you can find over at the recipe index. I have a lot to say about this cookie and I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because I felt like a child making and eating it, with the simple use of white sugar and milk chocolate, no frills and no special ingredients. I didn’t even have baking soda, for goodness sake. But there I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, suddenly five again, happy to have made something delicious yet deceivingly simple.

My first bite was linked to this thought: wow, chewy reached a whole new level. Call me stupid or childish but breaking into one of these cookies was tantamount to tears-of-joy-ecstasy. I couldn’t explain it while standing there in a kitchen so I’ll just babble here. Made a small batch first to test and it came out beautifully, albeit one minor flaw, and I knew I had to share the recipe this week. Puddles of melted chocolate, a gooey, saturated, buttery centre, crisp and chewy edges. I originally planned to make something totally different, but I was craving and wanted to test this successful cookie again months after making them, and the happiness these cookies brought me sent me over the edge, so these are taking the cake this week.

The original recipe I wrote up uses brown sugar and olive oil, the latter of which I used for a more interesting depth of flavour. They’re less crisp around the edges and more of a dense, fudgy cookie, whereas these are slightly lighter with its use of the classic duo- butter and white sugar. The use of white sugar makes for a very craggy surface, which is both aesthetically pleasing and fun to bite into. In most of my recipes I like to use both white and brown sugar for flavour and a dense texture, but the use of solely white sugar here did not compromise on anything since the flavour focus falls on the peanut butter anyway. Try and use that natural, grainy, unsweetened peanut butter; the processed stuff would work well too but try and make sure it’s unsweetened. White sugar may be replaced with cane sugar and brown sugar, but you will end up with a less texturally complex cookie that’s less chewy overall. Finally, as with all good chocolate chip cookie recipes, coarsely chopping the chocolate will make for a more pleasurable eating experience, and the unevenly sized pockets of melted chocolate on a craggy white surface are a visual wonder to behold.

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one of the cookies, warmed up, with tahini, honey and mixed frozen berries, wow

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 6 medium cookies, can be scaled up as needed)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that is mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

60g (1/3 cup) butter, unsalted (*vegan sub)

1 tsp fine salt

140g white sugar

1 egg (*vegan sub)

70g (1/4 cup) peanut butter (I used smooth, but you can use whatever texture you prefer)

130g (1 cup) all-purpose flour (*gf sub)

1 tsp baking powder

80g (almost a whole bar) milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute with dark chocolate here if you prefer)

Coarse salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling

 

*vegan sub: instead of regular butter use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine

*vegan sub: 1 flax egg: make this by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

*gluten-free sub: substitute the all-purpose flour for the same amount of gluten-free flour blend or 250g of almond flour (I don’t recommend using coconut flour here)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter on high heat for 30 seconds, or until melted. Let that cool for 2 minutes. Then tip the melted butter into a larger bowl, add the sugar and salt and mix well with a whisk. Add the egg and whisk that in well too.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and chopped chocolate, then tip that into the wet mix. Stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon until everything is just combined. You should have a sticky, thick, but soft and pliable consistency.

Use your hands or a large spoon to scoop batter into golf ball-sized pieces and place them onto the prepared baking tray. You should get 6 cookies exactly. Flatten the cookies slightly and sprinkle with coarse salt. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes exactly. The cookies should still look soft when you take them out of the oven, but the edges should look slightly darker- that’s when you know they’re done. If not, bake for 1 minute longer. Leave them to cool for at least 10 minutes before digging in. These are of course best enjoyed warm but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or freeze and reheat whenever you want.

 

Tahini Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

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A few things I want to say after the past few weeks. Just as a side note, I’ve actually been meaning to put this up for quite a while but as usual, a lot of things regarding work and travel got in the way, and I also did not want to put something of a sensitive topic up too soon.

  • Constantly reposting images and Instagram stories makes good for collective awareness but is not as important as action and effort.
  • In the past I never had the courage to challenge racism if and where I identify it, and I’d like to think I am getting better at it. This will probably involve more difficult conversations with loved ones and friends. Not necessarily in a defensive way, but rather constructive. I usually struggle with challenging friends more so than just family (with whom we usually have no filter) in this manner sometimes, but it’s about trying.
  • Racism is like a defence mechanism against insecurity and anxiety. If someone is secure in his or her own identity then there’s no need to put others down, but the truth is that the person experiencing this suffers chronically and deeply, and may have to feel like he or she always has to prove oneself, or that he’s never good enough to do anything, acting like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs place physiological needs (food, water, shelter) as the most basic needs we must have established before the needs of, in this order specifically: safety, feeling loved, having good self-esteem, and finally that of self-actualisation, which would propel us towards our highest goals and help us achieve them. Without the basic need of love and support fulfilled, and with many black people already suffering a lack of the most basic needs on a global basis, I think it’s fair to say that it is insensitive and ignorant if we dismiss their plight.
  • And finally, on a slightly unrelated but also very important note, although this oil is everywhere, any small step to try and reduce its usage would benefit our planet and its inhabitants many years into the future.

I was actually thinking about these points while baking the bars (don’t worry there’s a recipe at the end of all this), and now that I’m reflecting upon them I’m once again reminded of how good of a meditation baking is. I’d love to know if anyone else experiences this sort of calm and peace while kneading dough or simply mixing things together in a bowl.

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I haven’t been baking all that much lately because of stress and bouts of anxiety that crop up every now and then, which tend to prevent me from being at my productive best, but these tahini chocolate chip nut bars were some sort of magic the last weekend. I noticed my boyfriend’s pantry had a bounty of unused nuts so I thought it would be fun to play around with my usual tahini chocolate combination but this time with a sprinkling of various nuts. Now that I’m living in a house with him and many more people, it feels more justified to bake and share the goods and of course get feedback!

The sesame in tahini itself already screams wonderful earthy, nutty tones so I thought pairing it couldn’t turn out all that bad. After the first test I knew I hit a jackpot. The combination of everything together made for this chewy bar with a classically fudgy, chocolatey middle. The best part was receiving the positive reviews from three flatmates, which were thankfully in line with my own expectations. It’s been a while since I could bake and share what I made with people– I still get nervous letting my own family try my experiments let alone folk I only just met! So that of all things really warmed my heart. I had to try again the second time, and second time was the charm. Not the prettiest of desserts but simple and easy to eat. Nothing could be better.

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One last note: you can opt to swap the milk chocolate for dark if you want, I just personally prefer a sweeter chocolate for a more delicate opposition to all the earthiness and nuttiness going on.

Tahini chocolate chip nut bars

Ingredients

170g flour (gf sub: use 160g of gluten-free flour mix, or more ground almonds)

½ tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

3 tbsp chopped pine nuts

150g milk chocolate (vegan sub: vegan milk or dark chocolate)

80g butter, melted (vegan sub: vegan butter or margarine)

½ tsp salt

100g white sugar

75g brown sugar

1 egg (vegan sub: use a flax egg- mix 1 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel to thicken up for a couple of minutes before using)

85g tahini

1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and bake just half the batter first if you want to test a smaller batch.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on a high power for 30 seconds, and set that aside to cool for a few minutes before using. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, chopped pine nuts and milk chocolate. In a separate and slightly larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, ½ tsp salt, sugars, egg and tahini. Add the dry mix to the wet one and mix until everything comes together- the mix should look pretty thick and rather doughy. Scrape the mix into the prepared tin, use your hands to press the batter into an even layer in the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. When 12 minutes is up, use a wooden skewer to poke the middle of the pan. If it comes out with moist crumbs, take it out and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so. If it comes out clearly wet with batter, leave it in the oven to bake a little longer for a couple of minutes. Once the bars are done baking, leave to cool completely on a wire rack or heatproof surface, sprinkle with coarse salt and cut into bars however big you want after at least 10 minutes of cooling. Enjoy with ice cream or simply on their own.