Two weeks ago, the Singapore government announced an extended ‘circuit breaker’ period in Singapore with the hopes of limiting the spread of Covid-19 — this “soft lockdown” means that the vast majority of the country is working from home, limiting outdoor activities to ‘essentials only’ and for those with access to technology, using those tools to stay in touch with family and friends.
The coronavirus pandemic has not only shaken the economy, but the prolonged period of isolation and social distancing have certainly taken a toll on mental health, giving rise to higher levels of anxiety and depression. Locally, it was reported that over 6,600 calls have been made to the National Care Hotline in Singapore, after it had been set up for just two weeks.
It has never been more important to prioritise our mental health. At V&VPR, we often talk about the importance of holistic wellness and the effects of each choice we make having an impact on our overall wellbeing. It’s understandably easier to care less, or indulge more, when it comes to our food and drink choices these days. Coupled with news of consumer alcohol sales going up during the Circuit Breaker period, we wanted to understand more about the relation between our food and drink choices and our mental health.
We brought together Asher Low, co-founder of Singapore non-profit organisation Limitless — whom V&VPR supports on a pro-bono basis — as well as nutritionist and host, Charlotte Mei, on Instagram Live to chat about their experiences during the Circuit Breaker; tools for coping, and how eating right and working out always makes us feel better. Asher is a certified social worker who founded Limitless to help youths in the fight against mental illness, poverty and social inequality. Follow Limitless on Instagram for the full conversation available soon on IGTV. In the meantime, read on for highlights of the interview.
Part 1: Fighting Cabin Fever — Stay Connected, Keep Moving, Keep Learning
Four weeks into the Circuit Breaker and with another month to go, many of us have started experiencing cabin fever syndrome, a distressing feeling of restlessness and irritability from extended periods of staying indoors. To combat these unsettling feelings, Asher suggests to focus on what you can do instead of what you cannot do: keep in touch with friends and loved ones on a regular basis albeit virtually over the multitude of apps and video conferencing platforms available such as Houseparty and Zoom. Our personal favourite is virtual movie night with Netflix Party. Both Asher and Charlotte support a regular fitness routine for improved mental health — in fact, keep it fun and exercise with friends on-screen to provide you with added motivation!
Another common feeling you may experience in lockdown is a loss of control. It is overwhelming to feel like while you may be doing your best to keep safe and healthy, there may still be other factors outside of your power – for example, having a family member or housemate working in essential services that has a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19, having your entire daily routine turned on its head, or feeling like your space is encroached on since the home is perpetually ‘full’ now. Asher and Charlotte recommend taking back control by focusing on productivity. Choose habits and hobbies that you’ve never tried before such as cooking a new dish outside of your repertoire, learning how to play a music instrument or picking up a new language online. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to be high achieving all the time – setting small goals for yourself is an excellent way of providing a sense of focus and purpose. The objective here is to try — don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve all your goals for the day. “If you slip up or are just having a bad day, it’s okay. Stay positive and pick yourself up,” Charlotte advised. “Look back and find out what your triggers are and come up with solutions to cope with those moments.”
And if you have the privilege of space, having just one spot that solely belongs to you can also drastically help with feelings of control. Whether it’s having your own work desk, your own bed to return to, or a corner of the living room that no one else can intrude upon, can make a significant difference in your mood.
Exercise is also an amazing coping mechanism especially right now as it produces endorphins that trigger positive feelings. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going for a long run or doing an hour-long workout – doing something small is better than doing nothing at all. We enjoy Nike Training Club for its free workouts that start from just 5 minutes! If you’re not feeling up for exercise, how about cleaning up your room instead? Decluttering is a great way to physically and mentally detox, and burn some calories while you’re at it!
Anxiety and feelings of depression are common issues faced by many around the world right now – unsurprisingly, the Limitless team has also been receiving a higher number of messages and calls during the Circuit Breaker period. Asher and Charlotte both agree that a good way to try and overcome the feeling of helplessness is to practice gratitude – don’t dwell on the negatives but instead, try and keep track of the good things. This doesn’t mean to be aloof or avoid the situation, but to take a moment and understand that while it is a difficult time, it is only temporary and there are many things we can look forward to in the future. A few easy ways to practice gratitude: keep a journal and write down three highlights of your day every day — these can be things that you’re grateful for, goals you’ve reached; or as Charlotte has been doing this year, simply write down one achievement — whether you deem them big or small — on your calendar daily.
Part 2: Eat Well, Feel Better
Diet and mental health are very intertwined, and food should be seen as a positive aspect of life. However, in today’s world consuming food is almost always portrayed as a fattening or guilty activity, and this has caused a lot of disordered eating and anxiety in people. Eating right can vastly boost your mental health, and spending some time cooking healthy meals for or with your loved ones can be an excellent bonding activity.
Let’s start by reframing our relationship with food. Charlotte’s key piece of advice is to not have a restrictive diet, instead focus on good ingredients you can add to your meals (rather than reminding yourself of what you shouldn’t eat). Food should be seen as a form of enjoyment, and an activity that brings people together. It is intrinsically good, providing us with the energy and nutrition we need to survive, and we have license to enjoy it to the fullest – but in moderation. “Make peace with your relationship with food, and this will translate to your relationships with people as well,” she says.
The portrayal of healthy eating in the media often calls to mind boring salads, steamed foods and high price points. Charlotte debunks this by noting that healthy food can come in many different forms and cuisines – and can be vibrant and wallet-friendly as well. In Singapore, a common staple for many of us is cai png, which literally translates to rice with dishes, available at almost every hawker centre and neighbourhood coffee shop. This economically friendly meal is not known for being particularly healthy, but Charlotte considers this an acceptable option, if we turn the concept on its head: Based on the plate concept, we swop the ‘base’ of white rice — which usually takes up at least half the plate — for vegetables instead; a quarter plate of rice, and a quarter plate of protein (opt for healthier options like steamed fish, tofu, or stir fried meat). This ensures a nutrient-dense, filling meal.
Right now, making frequent trips to your corner cai png stall may not be the most viable option, so Charlotte also suggests healthy, affordable ingredients to add to your diet at home. As a trained nutritionist, Charlotte candidly states that scientifically, there is no such thing as a ‘superfood’ (Note: We checked, and yes it is purely a marketing term) — so don’t worry about being able to spend on pricier items like chia seeds, kale, and blueberries. We have perfectly nutritious options in our backyard — that is, easily accessible via wet markets and supermarkets. Leafy vegetables like chye sim and watercress, and plenty of fruit like apples and oranges, should form the base of our diets. Canned foods can be healthy as well! It’s not necessary to buy whole fresh fish to get your vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, instead consider shelf-stable canned tuna, mackerel and sardines. Canned beans and canned corn are also an amazing, versatile additions to your pantry.
Want to whip up a quick, deliciously healthy recipe? Charlotte shares her favourite 3-ingredient meal, starring her ultimate go-to ingredient: eggs!
Egg & Cucumber Toast
Time: 10 minutes
- 2 eggs
- Slice of bread — sourdough is ideal, but bread that you have will do
- ½ cucumber
- Using a mandolin or knife, slice cucumber thinly.
- Toast bread (butter optional)
- Prepare eggs to your preference — scrambled, hard boil, poached, etc
- Assemble sliced cucumbers on toast, top with eggs, and add salt and pepper to taste
For more information on Limitless and their services visit their website here.
If you are coping with anxiety and depression, please do not hesitate to reach out to the helplines below.
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH): 1800 283 7019
Emergency Helpline (IMH): 6389 2222
SOS (Samaritans of Singapore): 1800 221 4444
Check out the rest of our blog here for more tips and inspiration to get you through quarantine.
On days where nothing seems sure, there’s nothing better than stepping into your kitchen and whipping up your favourite comfort food knowing with absolute certainty that you won’t be disappointed.
We’ve gathered top no-fail recipes from each of the V&VPR team members to provide you with cooking inspiration that will warm your spirit.
Charissa’s Pick: One Bowl Chocolate Cake
“Who doesn’t like chocolate?” – Charissa
This simple chocolate cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen is fuss-free and takes less than an hour and a half to make.
- 1/2 cup (115 grams or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (190 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup (235 ml) buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (60 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- Heat your oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour a standard loaf pan. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat well, then the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together right into your wet ingredients. Stir together with a spoon until well-blended but do not overmix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 to 15 minutes, at which point you can cool it the rest of the way out of the pan.
- Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries, if you’re feeling fancy.
Olivia’s Pick: Shrimp Saganaki
“It’s super easy to make but makes me feel like I’m on vacation when I eat it!” – Olivia
This savoury dish is so good, it’ll be on your mind for days after. Follow Olivia’s mouthwatering recipe for Shrimp Saganaki here:
- 300g raw king prawns (ideally with the heads & tails on)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tin tinned chopped tomatoes
- 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 handful fresh dill
- 1 glass of white wine
- 1 handful of feta cheese
- Chili flakes, dried oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil
- Warm a frying pan on a medium heat, add oil and crush the garlic into the pan
- Once the garlic has started to brown slightly, throw in the prawns, chilli flakes, oregano, salt and pepper
- Once the prawns have turned pink and just start to curl, take them out and place to one side
- Add a glass of wine to the pan and simmer away
- Throw in all of the cherry tomatoes, leave to reduce for 1-2 mins and then add the tinned tomatoes
- Stir and leave to cook for a couple of minutes
- Tear up the dill and add to the pan
- By the time the cherry toms are soft and cooked, the whole thing should be ready
- Pop your prawns back into the mix and stir around
- Crumble over the feta cheese and serve
Samantha’s Pick: Basque Burnt Cheesecake
“My motto this circuit breaker is Keep Calm & Have Cake. This cheesecake is so light and fluffy, it goes perfectly with a good cup of coffee to perk you up in the morning.” – Samantha
Butter Milk Pantry’s recipe for Basque Burnt Cheesecake is quick and easy and will leave your house smelling like a bakery.
- 430g cream cheese, room temperature
- 120g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- 270g heavy cream
- 20g cake flour
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Line 6” circle cake tin with 2 layers of baking paper and trimmed to have an overhanging amount of 1.5″-2″.
- Beat sugar and cream cheese together on medium until smooth and you can’t feel the sugar granules any longer. Scrape the bowl.
- Add eggs one at a time and beat on medium until smooth. Scrape the bowl again to ensure that nothing sticks to the sides for even mixing.
- Add the vanilla and lemon juice and beat until just mixed.
- In a separate bowl, mix flour and cream until smooth.
- Slowly pour the cream/flour mixture into the cheese mixture whilst the mixer is beating on low until mixed through. Increase speed to medium and mix for 15 seconds just to ensure it’s all combined.
- Bake at 240C for 30-35mins until top is dark amber and almost charred at parts but the middles still has a wobble to them when you give the pan a jiggle.
- Let cool in the tin fully on a wire rack to allow the cheesecake to set.
- Remove from the baking tin and enjoy at room temperature.
Rosie’s Pick: Tomato Curry
“This is my comfort food, as I know the recipe off by heart. I don’t have to think when I’m throwing it together and it’s pretty quick to make – great after a long day. I love the mixture of tomatoes and veggies and how wholesome and warming it is.” – Rosie
A good bowl of curry is like medicine to the soul. Rosie’s tomato curry recipe an amazing pick-me-up to have any time of the week.
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped/crushed
- 750g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
- 2 handful’s spinach, washed
- ¼ cup of red lentils
- 2 tsp chilli powder
- Dash of chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp turmeric powder
- Fry onion and garlic together in a pan until translucent
- Add in cherry tomatoes and sweet potatoes and stir
- Add in 1 cup of water and red lentils
- Add in chilli powder, chilli flakes and turmeric powder
- Stir well and leave to simmer for approximately 10 mins, stirring from time to time
- Add in spinach and season
- Take off heat when lentils are fully cooked through and serve with brown rice
Tiffany’s Pick: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns With Browned Butter Cream Cheese Glaze
“I have regular cravings for any baked goods that feature cinnamon and this recipe might just be my favourite one. It uses the natural sweetness of sweet potato to get that delicious syrupy flavour, making it less guilty than most cinnamon bun recipes. The process of kneading the dough is also incredibly therapeutic – almost as good as eating the end product!” – Tiffany
Pillowy-soft cinnamon buns are just a short bake away with this recipe by Samantha Seneviratne from Food52.
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for bowl and skillet
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup roasted and puréed sweet potato flesh (from 1 potato)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting, if necessary
- 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Pepita filling
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 1/2 ounces pepitas (2/3 cup)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
- Prepare the dough: In a small pot, bring the milk just to a boil over medium heat. Watch closely to ensure that the milk doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat and add the butter to the pot to melt. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and let it cool to 110° to 115°F. (It should be warm to the touch, but not too hot.) Add the egg and sweet potato purée and stir to combine.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl and using a wooden spoon, combine the flour, brown sugar, yeast, and salt. Add the warm milk mixture and mix just until incorporated.
- Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed (or knead with your hands) until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a buttered bowl, cover it, and leave it in a warm, draft-free spot until it has doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
- Prepare the cinnamon filling: Mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Add the butter and mash to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
- Prepare the pepita filling: Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pepitas and salt and cook until lightly browned and popping, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar has melted and coated the pepitas, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and let cool.
- Butter the cast-iron pan. Tip out the dough onto a very lightly floured work surface. Roll it into a 12 x 11–inch rectangle. Spread the cinnamon filling evenly over the surface. Break up the sugared pepitas into smaller pieces and sprinkle over the cinnamon filling. Tightly roll up the dough and pinch the top seam closed. With a serrated knife, cut the roll crosswise into 10 equal pieces. Set them in the pan, spirals facing upward. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest until the dough has almost doubled again, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Uncover the rolls and bake until golden brown and puffed and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 185° to 190°F, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Cook the butter in a small skillet over medium heat until the milk solids have turned golden brown and the butter smells nutty, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and chill in the freezer until cool and just beginning to solidify.
- Beat the chilled butter, cream cheese, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is exactly as thick as you like it.
- Transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then top with glaze. Let cool slightly before serving.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of comfort food recipes. Check out the rest of our blog here for more ideas and inspiration to get you through quarantine.