New year, new me (?)
Social media resolutions + a few Valentine's day suggestions
For the past three years, I’ve spent the first weeks of January off of social media. I don’t remember the specifics of why I started - I was probably burned out, tired of feeling constantly angry, my attention fractured. At my worst, I’m refreshing constantly, checking to see if anybody’s liked what I’m posting, how many people have seen it, or worse, if anybody’s piling on to what I’ve said. As someone with a generally anxious disposition, it’s not a good place for me.
Usually I attend a beloved health policy conference in late January and hop back on to use Twitter as a tool for connection, live tweeting panels and catching up on those I missed by following hashtags. (It sounds silly, but I’ve genuinely made good friends and professional contacts this way.) This year, though, the conference was all virtual and not quite the same, and even though I’m “back” I have yet to re-download Twitter on my phone.
I use Twitter and Instagram is pretty different ways - Twitter for more “professional” content, keeping up with research, connecting with other folks in my field. Instagram, on the other hand, is more personal, mostly food content and cooking stories. In both of these there’s an element of discovery and learning that’s valuable, and an element of endless scrolling, validation-seeking and anxiety that’s decidedly not. The question I’m facing now is: can I keep the former without the latter?
I like the routine I cultivated when I was offline. I’ve been waking up and sorting through the dozens of newsletters I subscribe to rather than my Twitter feed. It’s easier to focus during my daily workout and nonfiction reading when I’m not worried about what somebody might be replying to something I’ve posted. After work, I’ve been spending my couch time doing ukulele video lessons, not scrolling mindlessly. At night, I switch my phone off and don’t check it when I inevitably wake up at 3am. On Saturdays, we’ve woken up early and gone for hikes instead of lying in bed clicking through Instagram stories until the need for caffeine becomes too dire.
It’s forced me to think about what I’ve actually missed. I definitely haven’t been as plugged in to minute-by-minute news and policy developments, but that’s not actually job-critical to me the way it is for some. I haven’t discovered as many new recipes, but I shelled out for an Eat Your Books subscription to more easily search within cookbooks I already own and made plenty of new discoveries that way. I have missed staying connected with friends with whom for some reason or another, I mostly chat with via Instagram DMs, but that’s easily solvable.
And what, in contrast, have I gained? I’m sleeping a bit better. I’ve worked out most days, sped through three and a half nonfiction books, and learned how to play an almost-recognizable version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the ukulele. I’m clawing back a little focus, and reaping the benefits of it.
I’d like to experiment with whether I can reform my relationship with social media into something that serves me, or whether it’s truly all-or-nothing. As such, I’m going to try:
Keeping Twitter just on my laptop, and pretty professionally oriented (i.e. posting less on there about “social” stuff)
Using Instagram on my laptop most of the time, and limiting posting to weekends
Striving to only pop open the app when I have something to say
Avoiding checking how many people have interacted with a post
Setting a 5 minute timer when I’m scrolling to catch up
We’ll see how it goes. If you’ve gone through the same thing, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
One of my loose resolutions this year has been to re-center produce and lean protein in my diet, which is why I’m currently surrounded by approximately twelve pounds of fruit and vegetables that I’ve washed and now have to put away. I’ve turned picking up a pound of mushrooms into a weekly ritual, using them for showstoppers like the Woks of Life’s braised mushrooms with bok choy and soy butter-glazed King Oyster mushrooms. I even bought a Smallhold oyster mushroom grow kit and then promptly neglected to set it up, such that when I went to do so a few days later they’d all started growing out the top in an unruly, unattractive mess.
I’ve also been running through my long-accumulated list of recipes to try, including Chetna Makan’s spinach masala chickpeas (yes, it really is that green!), Kenji’s hardcore feijoada, and Sho Spaeth’s shiozake, which is a Japanese method of salt-curing fillets of salmon that you then broil and traditionally serve for breakfast. It’s fantastic, and if you serve it with his broiled eggplant with bonito flakes, you’ve got yourself a broiler-centric meal that involves washing zero pans. I’m excited to try this method with mackerel as soon as I can get my hands on some.
If you’ve been a subscriber to this newsletter for any length of time, you’ll know that Leela Punyaratabandhus’s pad ka-prao was my go-to meal this summer and that the end of holy basil season was a devastating blow to my weeknight meal rotation. I’m thrilled to have discovered a winter-friendly alternative, namely her recipe for lap (usually, but apparently incorrectly, transliterated as “larb”) which similarly follows the pound of ground meat + minimal prep work formula. I used Ballerina Farm ground pork and it was fantastic: sour, spicy, and not heavy at all. Now that I’ve got toasted rice powder in my pantry, I’ll be making this constantly.
Next weekend is Valentine’s day, which regardless of your relationship status is, in my opinion, basically an excuse to eat something really delicious. (You may have gathered by now that this is my approach to essentially any “special” day in the calendar.)
I’m probably going to do the usual of reverse-searing a really thick steak and serving it with crispy smashed potatoes with fried onions, and maybe some chocolate lava cakes if we’re feeling especially hungry. They take 15 minutes and a single heatproof bowl and are truly so easy, I believe in you! And there will be Cowgirl Creamy Red Hawk involved, because it’s not a special occasion without a cheese that makes you exclaim “what is that SMELL” when you walk into the room.
If you are striving to be especially fancy, may I suggest confit-ing your own duck legs? The actual active work is minimal (mash up some alliums, marinate it overnight, wash, stick in a pot with enough fat to cover, slow cook for hours) but the result is extremely fancy and impressive. If you’re more the baking sort, how about a french onion tarte tatin? Or just buy a baguette and a ridiculous quantity of cheese and call it an evening. If you live in SF and would rather the fancier-than-usual food came to you, I can strongly vouch for Nari’s dinner kits.
What else is on my kitchen agenda for this week? I’ve got a fillet of salmon in the fridge ready to be turned into more shiozake, and a Ballerina Farm chuck roast that I think I’ll braise with tons of onions a la Joshua McFadden, probably with some roasted broccolini on the side. I bought some fresh wheat gluten (i.e. seitan) this weekend to see if I like it before I embark on the extremely cool process of making my own, which I’ll either braise with mushrooms or turn into a spicy salad from the Xi’an Famous Foods cookbook. And then there are the unattractive oyster mushrooms I grew, which are probably going to have to be chopped up teeny-tiny and so might as well be used in a veganized version of a meat dish (I’ve got my eye on Kenji’s vegan dan dan noodles.) Stay tuned!
That’s all for now, folks! See you next time. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts via the comment box - or if you get this in your inbox, just reply to the email!