6-month no social media update

To preface, by social media I mean Facebook and Instagram. I still use Whatsapp, Messenger and LinkedIn for work and to contact my friends and family scattered across the globe.

This is not a food or recipe-related post, and I usually put stuff like that in my newsletter (subscription stuck to the top of the blog), but since this habit has well become an important part of how I view creativity and mindfulness, which are the building blocks for the ethos of this blog, I decided to write about it here.

Almost 6 months have passed since I left social media behind. The plan was to quit for 30 days, and see how I felt afterwards. It was a personal challenge, to see if I felt happier, or more productive, or if there was any change at all in my lifestyle, habits and hobbies. After the 30 days, if I wanted to continue posting and engaging, so be it.

So I did just that. I logged in again after a month, and, as nice as it was for the first couple of minutes, the platform truly was not as exciting or stimulating as I thought it would be. It was the same feed, the same people I followed for years, the same content. Yet, my thumb slowed. I felt no compulsion to scroll and scroll, as I was so used to doing. It was the strangest thing, and part of me felt a little sad- why was I not excited by my friends’ updates anymore? Why did I not feel compelled to comment on things which truly engage or excite me? I knew deep down that it was in part due to the fact that I saw anything, happy or sad, posted on social media as rather superficial and sometimes narcissistic, depending on the content. I actually stopped using Facebook ages ago, and never took up Twitter. I used TikTok for a month before getting sick of how its haphazard nature prevented me from focussing on anything more than 2 pages of a book. Tumblr I quit when I was what.. 16? So those are behind me now. It was Instagram, this world of curated beauty, that I used as my main source of creative inspiration, especially since we all tend to eat with our eyes. I therefore thought that I needed it to be more creative, and of course, produce content for people who seemed interested.

Yet, funnily, its lack only spurred my creativity and honed my direction. I fine-tuned the focus of this blog to incorporate a health and wellness initiative, and drew up my little book of balance (found in sidebar), due to my passion for things like gut health and its relationship to mental health. Although the past year has ravaged us all with the pandemic, and made me rather unmotivated and ‘meh’ at times, I had so much more time and energy to put into any academic endeavour. Now, I bake or cook what I want, whenever I want.

Importantly, quitting has made me reevaluate relationships and what it means to be happy. Take my own close relationships, for example. I have a thriving relationship with my fiancée and closest friends, and social media is the last place I need to validate these relationships. I realised, quite late, that some of the happiest people I have met, who have defined what success means in their individual lives, don’t have any social media, or use it sparingly. I’m not saying that there is a definite cause-and-effect relationship between using social media and being happy, but it does have a ripple effect: no social media means loads more time to invest in relationships that you care about, and more time to invest in yourself, which definitely has a fulfilling effect. Now I can play board games, and read all the books I told myself I will read some day, or draw. Back when I actively used Instagram, I would look at those beautiful couples or people and think, wow, they must have everything, and yet there was something in me that felt slightly repulsed, and would even affect me for hours afterwards. It made me question things I was otherwise perfectly happy about, such as my appearance and own relationships. Moreover, I realised that just because you want to post something, does not make it more significant or make other people want to read it.

The thing is, a lot of people have social media, and that’s ok. I just think it takes attention away from personal progression in so many ways, and facilitates some rumination, usually on an unconscious level, about social matters that do not even affect you. True, you are not responsible for anyone’s emotions, and no one is responsible for yours. It is not anyone’s fault that you may feel jealous over their beautiful wedding photos, or adorable first child. But I would rather save myself this rumination or pondering over past happenings, over whether I should have posted something about my friendship fast enough on my story, or whether I should have replied faster to someone, because those simply aren’t in line with who I am, and what I value. I also don’t admire or agree with making money off of purely appearance, because it usually facilitates a lot of physical comparison, yet I found myself reinforcing all my physical insecurities. Further, I don’t derive pleasure from constant social interaction with people, including those who may genuinely be interesting to me, yet I forced myself to reply any praise or greeting immediately. Even when I set myself time limits, I either never stuck to them or found myself frustrated at how I did not get through all the posts I wanted to see. I have no regrets sharing my foodie life on Instagram for years, but the way social media can unconsciously mess up your priorities and how you communicate, and how you value yourself, is something I would rather not engage in.

There have been so many times I would come home from school or work late, and I thought, well, now I can enjoy mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because I deserve it. But I never was truly more energised or happier after these sessions. I could have, God forbid, just taken a short nap.

You can turn on me now and say, well, you’re too weak for social media then. The thing is, I don’t hate social media. It never really made me deeply sad or jealous. It is a valuable place for easy access of information and friend updates. The biggest problem I have is with the unconscious unhinging of our subconscious (I almost typed free will, but I don’t think we have much of that anyway), through pinning onto other people’s thoughts throughout the day, onto false and dangerous body ideals, onto carefully curated posts and advertisements, and on losing a sense of self and increasing lack of focus. Truly, I felt lost despite the supposed connection to the richness of our world.

Before this blogpost gets any more out of hand, here are a few takeaways from the past 6 months:

  • I am happier, and more productive, without social media. Therefore, I doubt I will ever go back.
  • After quitting, a lot of people, except perhaps a few, won’t even miss you. Sounds harsh, but unless you’re the Pope or Beyoncé, people are more selfish than you think. The world never revolves around you and it keeps spinning.
  • I can think for myself, and am less inclined to let the thoughts of others hit me first.
  • If I am interested in someone’s life, we can text or call personally. If I am concerned about someone, I would know better than to check their Insta for updates. Crazier yet, maybe even meet them in real life?!
  • Social media makes me more distractible for the rest of the day and wastes too much precious time.

That’s that. Perhaps I am just old and boring, but I wonder at the ability of entertainment purely from social media to advance humanity in any way. Maybe Tik Toks make you happy, and the videos are cute and short, but this is an illusion of efficient entertainment. You can do other things without increasing your distractibility. If you are passionate about creating content through social media, or find it simply the best source of entertainment and know how to manage your time with it, then go for it. It is just not for me, and it took me a long while to realise it. The truth starts out cold, then becomes comforting.

No-fuss Tahini Bars

There is always something therapeutic about making bars. It’s pretty easy to do, for a first, and also hard to mess up, even if you miss a few tablespoons of an ingredient here or there. These tahini bars are quick, simple, and you will want to make them more than once. The perimeter is more cakey than chewy, and the middle holds a fudgy consistency. Delicious.

I have made tahini bars before, but these are extremely no-fuss, and simple substitutions (for example, using just brown sugar or vegan egg in place of the normal eggs here) suffice. I don’t know when I will get sick of tahini, but until then, I’ll be making these bars.

No-Fuss Tahini Bars (makes 9 medium bars)

Ingredients

130g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

70g butter, melted (in a microwave)

1/2 tsp fine salt

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

90g tahini (around 1/3 cup)

Directions

If you haven’t already, melt your butter in a microwave by placing it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaving on high in 30-second increments or until completely melted. Preheat your oven (no-fan setting) to 180C and line a square 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan with baking parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, salt, egg and tahini. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using a rubber spatula. Pour the batter, which should be quite runny, into the prepared pan, and bake for at least 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs. If the batter is still wet, bake for 5 more minutes. Take the pan out and leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and consuming .

French Toast Pudding

No, it’s not Christmas. But I was reminded of a favourite french toast bake while writing up my list of curated recipes. You need not use panettone, but gosh, yes, this fluffy Italian bread is perfect for dunking into french toast custard and then baking. You can use any soft bread like brioche or challah really, but you would need to soak these slightly denser breads a little longer in the custard batter.

Soft, eggy threads of sweet dough.

You get the rich flavour of panettone fixed in a homogenous, sweet, eggy batter similar to that of a firm bread pudding. I looked through previous recipes for panettone french toast and casseroles, and most of them use cream, but I personally don’t think you need the cream in the custard, and you let the flavours of the panettone and everything it’s studded with shine. Once again, a one-bowl wonder with everything done (and maybe consumed) in less than an hour. What I love about french toast bakes is that it takes little to no effort, as you chuck everything into the oven without having to fry each piece of bread separately, no matter how large a griddle or pan you have.

Mine here just had chocolate chips, but there’s usually some dried fruit in there too, and I added some chopped pecans on top for crunch. The french toast pudding bakes very fast because the voluminous, airy bread allows the custard to quickly seep into and bake into every crevice.

French toast pudding (6 servings)

Ingredients

Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes

3 eggs

240ml milk of choice

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine salt

optional: chopped nuts and extra chocolate chips, around 1/3 cup in volume

optional: coarse sugar (like demerara) for sprinkling, and fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), no fan setting. Take a little cube of butter and rub it along the bottom, corners and and edges of a 9×11-inch casserole dish, or you could also squeeze it into a 9×9-inch brownie pan. Cut the half of a panettone into 1 inch thick slices. This will be easy if you’re using traditional uncut panettone, because then you can simply cut it as how you would a cake. If you’re using challah or brioche, or another type of light and fluffy bread, cut the bread into 2-inch cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon and salt well.

Take each panettone slice and dunk each side in the custard for at least 3-4 seconds on each side, then lay the slices down in the prepared tin, each slice slightly overlapping one another. If you’re using other bread, just dunk each cube into the batter for 3-4 seconds before positioning the cubes in a relatively geometrical arrangement in the baking tin. Once the bread slices/cubes are arranged, pour the rest of the custard evenly all over the top, and if using, the chopped nuts and chocolate. Sprinkle the optional demerara sugar on top, then place the tin into the preheated oven.

Bake the french toast pudding for 15 minutes, take it out and serve immediately. Best eaten with fresh fruit, a la mode!

Maxi Coffee Bar

A small space with a well-lit interior with a couple of chairs, and a bench outside. Come here to read a book or work for a while on a weekday.

If you didn’t know, I was really into reviewing cafés before I knew about a lot of other life things, like doing the dishes properly and folding clothes neatly. I just read this one and couldn’t believe how much time I devoted to these. I stopped doing these reviews years ago due to time constraints and it’s impossible to keep up with changing menus and me flitting between England, Singapore and Germany… Nevertheless, after visiting quite a few special/hole-in-the-wall ones recently, and now that I no longer use Instagram, I feel that it is time for a review comeback. It’s a way of documenting these experiences in greater detail, making them more special and less fleeting.

Iced cereal milk latte ($7.50), the star here (ignore the dry nails)

In brief, if I would come back for anything, it would be this iced cereal milk latte and the canelé (shown below). The foamy, sweet brew is still reminiscent of an actual caffeine drink with a smooth and mildly bitter espresso, and the twist of salt takes the whole thing to the next level.

That canelé must be consumed with the latté together for the real deal. A moment of crunchy sweetness, washed down with a refreshing milky brew. The outside of the pastry is beautifully crisp without a weird burnt taste, the inside bouncy, sticky and moist. Not too sweet, not plain and painfully dry like many others I have tried. I can’t remember the price ($5?) but it was so reasonable for its size and quality. They also have a range of sweet and savoury toast options, all made in-house.

Yup, I’ll be back.

Maxi Coffee Bar
6 Ann Siang Hill
Hours: Tues-Fri 8am – 5pm, Weekends 9pm – 5pm, closed on Mondays

Cream Cheese Marmalade Brownies

Stop, this combination is insane.

There is plenty to love about a fudgy brownie, and more so about the combination of tangy cream cheese with sweet yet slightly bitter orange marmalade. I do recommend orange marmalade here for that reason, but any marmalade you have will work. One of my top 10 recipes is this brownie pudding, which formed the main inspiration for today’s recipe but is not in the blog archives. I guess it’s a little bit of a secret, and I don’t know if the word pudding is a good enough excuse to get away with such a runny centre. Language is everything, isn’t it. A classic one-bowl manoeuvre wrapped in a delightful flavour contrast.

A classic fudgy brownie with an edge that’s only slightly chewy, with jammy bits studded here and there due to the marmalade. You might think they’re the raw parts at first, take it from my initial disappointment.

Cream cheese marmalade brownies (serves 8-10)

Ingredients

For the brownies:

105g dark chocolate, chopped, or bittersweet chocolate chips

150g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp fine salt

2 eggs

70g brown sugar

130g white sugar

130g plain flour

For the topping:

60g cream cheese

10g sugar

6 tsp orange marmalade

Directions

Preheat your oven to 160C, fan off. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that two edges are longer and hang off the sides for easy removal. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave together the butter and chocolate or chocolate chips on high for a minute. Make sure your butter is at room temperature or slightly cold, and not rock-hard from the fridge. Remove the bowl from the microwave and use a fork or spoon to mix everything together until you get a dark, liquidy consistency and the butter and chocolate has melted together nicely. Microwave for longer if your butter is still a little hard. Let the mixture cool for 2 minutes. In the meantime, add your two sugars and pinch of salt into a separate, larger bowl. Add the chocolate mixture and use a whisk to whisk it in well. Then crack and whisk in the 2 eggs. Finally, add the flour and use a rubber spatula to fold it in well, then pour the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and homogenous. Add teaspoonful-sized dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie batter, then add teaspoonfuls of the marmalade just next to the dollops of cream cheese mixture. Use a knife to swirl the topping randomly into the batter. It should look slightly weird and messy. Sprinkle some coarse salt (like Maldon) on top if you’re fancy like that, but you can skip this step. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist-to-slightly-wet crumbs. Leave the brownies to cool for 10 minutes before cutting. These keep at room temperature for up to 3 days, but you can freeze them if you don’t have many people to share these with!