Review: Hamblin Bread, Oxford

My first Oxford review must be dedicated to Hamblin. Not by choice, but by instinct. As I smuggled bites of their cardamom bun into my mouth while walking all that way home, I knew I found quite a gem. The long walk there from home seemed contrary to the desire to make this a regular haunt, but honestly all that fitness just fosters a more reasonable state of mind to pick and choose the baked goods, while upping the excitement along the way.

Cardamom bun

My top pick here must be the cardamom buns. They also do a whole range of other buns, including cinnamon and custard (below), but this remains top of the list for me. The edges are perfectly browned and crispy without being flaky, characteristic of a traditional cardamom bun. The cardamom flavour itself holds its own.

Custard bun
Cardamom bread pudding

Leftover or stale cardamom buns are also used to make this cardamom bread pudding which is both genius and delicious. A harder, sugary crumb crowns the slab of soft, squidgy deliciousness.

Chocolate chip cookie

This very simple cookie is chewy all the way through to the edges. This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie to me- a cute and manageable size, not too sweet, rough chunks of dark chocolate, a hearty mouthfeel with the fresh, locally-milled flour, and doesn’t leave you feeling sick, either. Speaking of flour, their infamous sourdough (below) is all the rage for all the right reasons. The crumb is thick, robust and tender, slightly stiff but never dry. The terrain is perfect for spreading on soft, salted butter.

Sourdough
Potato cheese pasty

The potato pasty sounds like an unnecessary carb-on-carb affair but I see why it’s so popular. The sizeable chunks of potato are never mushy or mixed with a bunch of random, weird herbs.

I do miss London with all her cafés, but places like this bring her right back to Oxford. There are so many hardworking, independent café owners that know exactly what they’re doing with the magic they offer day-to-day, and I’m living to promote it.

Hamblin Bread

247 Iffley Road

Oxford

Rating: 5/5

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.

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