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.

Classic Cinnamon Rolls

 

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetLately I’ve found it hard to wrap my head around the concept of balance and moderation, realising that I’m pretty wired to think about everything in black and white. I either have a totally intellectually fulfilling day or I don’t. I either eat extremely healthy one day or I don’t. Clearly balance is something I’m still trying to conquer as a habit, as elementary as that may sound. Translating this lack of moderation to my creative endeavours, sometimes I’m so focussed on creating something new and exciting that I forget the roots of my baking pleasure– classic favourites. I get a high from riding on this streak of new things that I forget the magic of a simple classic. I’ve been putting this particular recipe off for a while. Cinnamon rolls are a tried and true classic and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy a bite of these gooey, cinnamony treats. I made these the first time almost 5 years ago using a random online recipe and loved them best with a cream cheese frosting. Aside from cinnamon rolls, I’ve enjoyed and made a few things that I’ve really enjoyed the past few weeks:

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Rye strawberry balsamic brownies from Woodlands Sourdough

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Smoky cruffin from Maxi bakery by Bearded Bella

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A naked salted caramel cake for my mum’s 50th! 

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Back to rolls. I know the classic version doesn’t have the (Americanised) cream cheese frosting, but I must say that this is the version I prefer. The tangy cream cheese pairs perfectly with the sweet bun, which can get too cloying if not cut through with something a little sharper. I recently tried making them again. Although the buns themselves were heavenly- all airy and light, it was missing the element of moist tenderness which I believe a good cinnamon bun should have. So I modified it to have a shorter baking time and, as most good baking recipes have it, more butter. Quite a bit more. It’s also a good idea to cover the rolls before baking with a layer of aluminium foil so that the tops of the rolls do not burn from the direct oven heat. You get these golden-brown, soft, delicious cinnamon rolls with very little effort. You don’t need a standing mixer to make them but it made my life a hell of a lot easier (and cleaner)! You can also just use some elbow grease and knead these for a little longer, just 10 minutes. It’s a good workout, at least.

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Classic Cinnamon Rolls (makes 8-9 rolls)

Ingredients

For the dough:

240ml (1 cup) milk

2 tsp active dry yeast

4 tbsp white sugar

1 egg

60g (0.25 cup) salted butter, melted

0.5 tsp salt

250g (2 cups) cake flour

200g (1.5 cups + 3 tbsp) all-purpose flour

 

For the filling:

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

150g (0.75 cup) dark brown sugar

60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

 

For the cream cheese frosting:

150g cream cheese

0.5 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste for a richer vanilla flavour)

150g white sugar

 

Directions

Pour the milk into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 mins. It should feel warm but not scalding to the touch. If it’s very hot then wait a minute for it to cool down a little. Add the yeast and wait for it to activate, or around 3 minutes. It should have a light brown froth on top. It is ready when there’s a light brown froth on top. Pour this yeast-milk mixture into the bowl of your standing mixer (or just a large bowl if you’re doing this by hand) and add the sugar, egg, salt and melted butter. Whisk together. Then add the two flours and on medium speed, let the standing mixer knead the mixture well for 6-7 minutes. If doing this by hand, knead the mixture a little bit in the bowl first to let all the ingredients come together, before tipping it onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky or is sticking to the bottom of the mixing bowl, add more flour. Add enough flour so that you have a pliable and slightly sticky but not too sticky consistency. Shape the dough into a rough ball, place it back into the bowl and let it rise for at least an hour with a damp cloth, to keep the dough moist while the yeast does its work to expand it.

Right before this hour is up, mix together the room temperature butter, brown sugar and ground cinnamon in a small bowl. Once the dough has risen (an hour later), tip the dough out onto a floured surface and use a rolling pin to gently roll it out into a 9×14-inch (22x35cm) rectangular piece of dough. Use a spatula to smear the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture onto the flattened dough, leaving a half inch border around the edges. It may initially seem like a lot but it really is just enough!

Tightly roll the rectangle lengthwise and place the log so that the edge is at the bottom. Use a serrated knife or piece of floss to cut the rolls into 1-inch pieces. You may have to cut off the two edges first as they don’t have much filling. Place the rolls in a greased 9-inch round or square baking pan, cover these and leave them to rise for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) in the meantime. Once the half hour is up, cover the rolls with a piece of aluminium foil and place them in the oven to bake for 16 minutes. While they are baking, make the frosting by mixing the cream cheese with sugar.

Once the rolls are finished, leave them to cool for 10 minutes before smearing a generous amount of cream cheese frosting onto each roll. These are best served the same day they are made, warm and fresh. They can also be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but microwave before serving to make sure they are warm and the insides stay gooey.

5-Ingredient Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies

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“Life as we know it is merely an afterthought in the global scheme of the cosmos”- Avi Loeb.

It’s May and most of us are still under lockdown. It’s real easy to get caught up in the weirdness and pain of today, so estranged from the social entanglement, that milieu we are so familiar with. But as Avi reminds us soberly, we are a very small part of the universe and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture– that is, the constant movement of the sun, of nature in general, the people who don’t have a roof over their heads (ever), the constant love we can show those closest to us, the constancy of human creativity which can be cultivated by indulging in our favourite hobbies– cooking, talking to friends, movies, knitting, whatever. This in itself is solace, to me.

Random thoughts and journal excerpts:

04/05: On a brighter note, pandemic solutions are also solutions for the environment. Prior to this current commotion, land clearing reduces biodiversity, which means that the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses transferred to humans.

24/04: Open your windows!! Virus aside, it’s very easy to have difficulty breathing because of too-high carbon dioxide levels in our own homes. Especially now of all times, when we’re all stuck at home.

03/05: There’s a new doughnut and sandwich place called Korio and they sell the fluffiest doughnuts (and cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes, the only thing I could get a hold of one sad Tuesday afternoon).

06/05: This girl’s channel is whack and I’ve started watching one of her videos after journalling almost every morning. I’ve really been savouring mornings, which are like pages of empty magic because nothing really happens yet, but I can sit and daydream and drink coffee and journal a bit before getting on with other things (exercise, work, etc). Talking about exercise, light weights can really transform a workout.

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I know a few people have requested a gluten-free recipe, and since I know a couple of gluten-intolerant people myself, why not! It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve played with and takes just 13 minutes in the oven. Like many of my other recipes, you simply have to chuck the ingredients in one bowl, whisk them together and be done with it.

These cookies have an incredibly chewy exterior and moist, air-light interior richly studded with dark chocolate. They’re rich with gooey chocolate, yet light and melt-in-the-mouth. I originally just used the vegan egg for this, then experimented with actual egg, then just egg white which yields the chewiest texture out of all three options. It also makes the cookies shiny and glossy, while letting the chocolate stand out as the main ingredient, both in the form of the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The chocolate added at the very end is optional (but not really).

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Chewy Gluten-free Chocolate cookies (makes 6 medium cookies)

Ingredients

150g (around 1.25 cups) icing sugar

60g (0.5 cups) cocoa powder

0.5 tsp salt

60-70g (large handful) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

2 egg whites (vegan sub: use 2 flax eggs instead by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 4 tbsp water and letting that gel in a small bowl for a few minutes before using)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350C). Line 2 large baking trays with parchment paper. If using vegan eggs, make that now with the ground flaxseed and water before using later. Whisk together the icing sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl. If your icing sugar and cocoa have been sitting in your pantry for a while, then you’re better off sifting them together instead of just whisking. Add the egg whites/vegan egg and whisk together until smooth and glossy. Add the chocolate chips and use a spoon to fold those in until incorporated. Put heaped tablespoonfuls of wet batter onto the baking trays, leaving 2 inches of space between them because they will spread. Bake for 12-13 minutes, or until there’s a clear hard and glossy crust on the cookies. Enjoy alone or with a nice scoop of vanilla bean ice cream/yoghurt. Can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Éclair Cake

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The virus has swiftly shifted, uprooted, the entire the world. It came so suddenly, and I was whisked back home before my hair had a chance to get greasy. It’s been a while since my last post, but my suitcase is still half-open, propped up  near my bed, waiting for me to pack it again…  I honestly think we’re going to come out of all this better, in the sense that we’ll be more self-aware: keenly in tune with our emotions, how to work well from home, and with a better understanding of who we prioritise as regular contacts in our lives, or in other words, whose familiar presence, online or not, is gratifying and exciting in a rather ungratifying and unexciting period of our lives.

Below are some journal excerpts and other cool things I’ve learnt recently. I put these here not as a random gesture but rather to embrace the non-sequitur, the random ebbs and flows in everyday life, just like the onset of the coronavirus. The quotation marks are a reminder to myself and whoever reads this that this is coming straight out of my journal:

09/04: “neophobia= the fear of trying new foods. I used to try and learn a few every week and am trying to make that a habit again” and “consumption of fructose favours lipid biosynthesis in the liver”

11/04: “In the heat of the moment, be it conflict with family or self-frustration or feeling behind in anything or everything, it’s okay to try and love yourself”

12/04: “riposte: a retaliatory action”

13/04: “trying to control a disturbing emotion is a bad strategy: it teaches our brain that we can’t handle that emotion, and our distress intensifies-A.A.Gill’ By the way, I highly recommend Gill’s autobiography Pour Me, which was an intense, fun, unputdownable read”

16/04: “There was plenty anger inside me last night. Couldn’t control my tears and lashed out at the smallest thing. It was probably a lot of suppressed anxiety and anger that exploded at a bad time. Need to walk and walk and walk. That always helps. With a mask.”

17/04:”Scientific American: Remdesivir is a popular antiviral known for treating Ebola, and inhibits the enzyme RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, which RNA viruses including SARS-CoV2 uses to replicate their genetic material. Compassionate use of Remdesivir in 53 severe Covid-19 patients found that 63% of those taking it improved, although this wasn’t an RCT”

18/04: “The morning feels peaceful and there is fresh light pouring from my window. Covid-19 or not, Nature reigns supreme. Nature knows no pandemic. It just IS. Existing. Still standing. Feeling lucky to be alive. But I miss Oxford and seeing friends in cafés so terribly much (picture below)!!”

Of course there’s plenty I don’t share from this journal, which is a messy mishmash of science bits and food bits and personal bits.

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Pretty gardens around my college

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This cake was one random, impetuous adventure. It’s not a prissy élan sort of cake made up of little éclairs, rather one which has components reminiscent of parts of an éclair. It has a creamy batter and chewy edges, which reminded me of the milky éclair middle and the chewy choux its encased by respectively, in a typical éclair. Of course, the signature chocolate ganache top. Eaten with yoghurt, sour cream or anything mildly tangy, the chocolatey top and wobbly, chewy middle, it’s unusually perfect. Look at the inside– it’s dense without being tough or chewy, except the edges. I added some homemade salted caramel because I felt that extra posh but of course there’s no need, although I do recommend adding a little more salt on top of the ganache before serving.

Another one-bowl affair. Another sweet moment, and a time to pause.

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Éclair Cake (Makes one dense cake in a 9×5-inch loaf pan, around 6-7 slices)

Ingredients

160g (1.25 cups) flour

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

0.5 tsp salt

2 eggs (vegan sub: vegan flax eggs made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl and setting that aside for a while to gel up)

225g (1 cup) butter, softened to room temperature (vegan sub: vegan butter/ margarine)

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup mixed with 240ml (1 cup) milk of your choice (I used whole but feel free to use a vegan substitute)

120ml (0.5 cup) double cream (vegan sub: vegan double cream)

1 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and then butter or line a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Line the pan by cutting a piece of parchment paper that has two sides the same length as the loaf pan itself, and the other two sides a little longer than the pan’s breadth so it will be easy to take out at the end. In a large bowl, whisk together the soft butter, salt and sugar, then add the eggs and whisk well until nicely incorporated. Then add the milk-maple mixture and mix well.

In a separate bowl, briefly whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Tip into the wet mix and use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes. Check at the 45-minute mark- a wooden skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. While it’s baking, make the ganache by putting the cream and chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high in 30-second increments until melted together. Mix with a spoon after each increment to encourage the melting. It will look like a lovely, glossy pool of thick melted chocolate.

When the cake has cooled for around 20 minutes, slowly pour the ganache on top. You may have some left over, which you can use to spoon on top of ice cream or your PB&J toast because anything in this life, in your life, is possible. Serve a slice with sour cream or whipped cream, and homemade salted caramel