I've been eating a lot of junk food recently. Smarties are my current favourite.
The switch from "healthy greens with every meal" to "Pocky sticks and coffee for breakfast" wasn't intentional. I believe it to be a symptom of the overall unstructured nature of my life recently. Without the structure of university lectures, hospital rounds, and group study sessions, my research year has quickly degenerated into a seemingly endless and timeless continuum of number-crunching, data-manipulating, and journal article-perusing. Most of the time I walk around in a semi-asleep state. It doesn't help that I only interact with other human beings (who are not family) maybe once or twice a week. That's the thing - I miss people. I miss social interactions. I miss the hustle and bustle of the hospital environment, the beeping of machines, the charts, talking with patients, listening to hearts and lungs...all those things about my clinical placement which overwhelmed me last year, I miss with an almost painful intensity now.
Not that I dislike research. A few days ago I realised that I had recoded the variables in my dataset with the wrong values, and that was why the results weren't making any sense. I corrected the values, and suddenly, there were trends and correlations and associations. Not just any associations, but significant ones. As in, 'p < 0.05' significance. I got a massive high out of the findings. If research was all about ground-breaking discoveries, then I may very well consider it as a long-term career. However, the reality is that most of it is number-crunching, data-manipulating, and journal article-perusing. But when you do make that discovery, it's all the more rewarding.
Anyway, the fact that I don't have to see my peers on a regular basis has meant that I've kinda...let myself go. Not in the sense of gaining huge amounts of weight. Just...very out of shape. Compared to last year, where I was eating a lot of protein and fibre and exercising almost every day, my current lifestyle is ridiculously unhealthy. I feel breathless walking uphill to the shops, where as last year I could have sprinted the entire distance and not broken a sweat. I can't even run 2km anymore, let alone the 14km that I did for City2Surf last year.
Moreover, I've found myself getting quite moody around noon, and quite predictably so. I suspect it has a lot to do with crashing from the refined sugar highs induced by my junk food breakfasts. My cognition has also suffered a lot. I had such brain fog one day that I couldn't remember how I got from one place to the other. It felt like I'd suddenly materialised at the shopping center, and I had very little recollection of the actual trip. What mode of transport had I taken? How long did my journey take? It was a very disturbing sensation indeed.
Therefore, I've made a pledge to myself to go back to eating proper, wholesome foods from now on. These cookies are my way of using up the last of my Smarties stash, while also acting as a remind that there is nothing inherently wrong with refined carbohydrates and these so-called "empty" calories. I admit it - while I was actively trying to lose weight, and for the first few months of maintenance, I was very neurotic about food. I could eat this, but not that. Some foods were "bad" and should never be consumed. Protein bars were okay, but chocolate bars were not (even though the former was probably just as lacking in real nutrition). I didn't allow myself to have any junk food, and as a result of that I went nutso and ate EVERYTHING once I couldn't stand my restrictive, "healthy" diet anymore.
Since then, I've learnt moderation, and that junk food doesn't make you gain weight as long as you don't overeat in calories. It's how it makes you feel that should make you think twice about consuming it in excess. I want a good-looking, healthy body, but a healthy mind also. I don't want to have a depressive slump every afternoon. I don't want my brain to be so fogged over by high blood sugar levels that I can't interpret lab results, or fall asleep over my textbook. The point is, by all means eat junk food, but don't use it as a replacement for real nutrition. It's common sense to most people probably, but it's taken my own experiences to make me actually believe it.
Healthy or no, these cookies are delicious, and oh-so-adorable. I love multi-coloured dots, whether it be in fashion or food. They are super-easy to make. Just combine the ingredients for the cookie dough, pop it in the fridge to firm up a little (so that the cookie doesn't spread too much while baking), shape it into small discs, then press on the smarties. They take around 8-10 minutes to bake. The texture is a little harder than cakey, but not quite crunchy, I suspect that if you bake it for an extra minute, you'll end up with a crisp, chocolatey cookie.
Dotty Chocolate Smarties Cookies
Makes 32 palm-sized cookies
200g unsalted butter, softened
300g white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
350g plain flour, sifted
50g cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Smarties to decorate (enough for 5 per cookie)
1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Place baking rack at the bottom 1/3 of the oven.
2. In a dry bowl, stir together the sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric or hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract, and continue to mix until fully incorporated.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture, and mix at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix or your cookies will be tough. If necessary, use hands or a wooden spoon to finish mixing together the dough.
5. Wrap the dough in cling wrap, and chill in fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Grab a ball of dough slightly smaller than the size of a golf ball. Roll it into smooth ball, then flatten into a disc. Place onto baking paper, and press 5 Smarties on top of each disc.
7. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly and harden before transferring onto a wire rack to cool completely. But, by all means, eat them while they're still warm and soft! :D