So, it’s all done for another year. We’re in that funny period between Christmas and New Year when a third of the working population are back at work and the rest of us are effectively twiddling thumbs until 2011 finally draws its last rattling breath amid a din of fireworks, a cloud of Chinese lanterns and a sea of bubbly alcohol. It’s strange how the atmosphere has changed subtly in the last couple of days. The German markets that seemed festive and jovial less than a week ago somehow appear now to be outmoded and slightly awkward. The bubble of anticipation of gifts to be given or received has popped and left behind open smiles and hidden grimaces in fairly equal measure. Those not yet back at work cannot avoid thinking ahead to when we’re back because we’re asked in virtually every casual conversation, and somehow it seems closer than it actually is.
Christmas does funny things to people. It forces renewed acquaintance between those who share nothing but a significant percentage of DNA. It encourages rash spending on frivolous items, and provokes ill-feeling or ridicule where the spending is seen as insufficiently rash. It not only excuses but demands many varieties of over-indulgence, although happily it carries with it an opportunity to repent and repair immediately afterwards in the form of the New Year’s resolution, which in turn carries with it the thankfully globally accepted expectation of failure.
The office party encapsulates many of the extremes of action and emotion pertaining to the festive season. Many embrace the opportunity to go shopping (well, the ladies plus me) to expensively enhance their wardrobes in a futile bid to convince their colleagues that what they see day to day is not the real them. The lure of a “free” bar, or more accurately one billed to one’s employer, is a temptation too far for many, leading to a bevvy too far for a sizeable minority. Office parties that have no tradition of inviting partners – usually larger companies – often promulgate misjudgments of alcohol limits, and subsequent misjudgments of other varieties. Most of these are harmless, but many are symptoms of latent issues that then erupt messily over the Christmas season, often for all the family to see – recent studies on Facebook backing up the received wisdom that more relationships fail at this time of year than any other, barring the period immediately following Valentine’s day.
I’m not sure quite why Christmas has come to be synonymous with eating to excess. Similar reasons, probably, to those which have caused Easter to become a deluge of sugar. I’m sure there must be some primeval link between religion and food. Perhaps it’s easier to stomach the 6000 calories* that is apparently the average Xmas Day consumption than to digest the fantastical story of the Nativity. Maybe it’s an evolutionary urge to bulk up ahead of the lean times ahead that pertained in times of yore. Or is it a chicken and egg situation – the subliminal need to have an annual purge requiring an excuse to prompt it, rather than the emetic being a resultant requirement of the several kilos of roast meats, multiple tubers, mint/orange/liqueur chocolates, nuts that no-one eats except at Yuletime, puddings and cakes with densities only barely exceeded by black holes, pies containing mincemeat which somehow contain no meat whatsoever, minced or otherwise, lumps of butter cunningly disguised by mixing them with small amounts of alcohol, and, on rare occasion, a partridge in a pear tree?
Whatever the reasons, it is unarguable that the vast majority of us have increased that vastness over the past few days. We both expected to, and in some cases intended to. What it does unfortunately mean is that, unless we wish to have someone qualified to wield needle and thread adjust our clothes ahead of our return to work, there is a pressing need to shed a few pounds pretty sharpish. And that means the dreaded diet.
Diets are great things. Every one of us has one. It’s one of those words that has come to be imbued with a negative connotation that the actual definition does not entail. Another example is “deny” – anyone who denies anything is clearly guilty the moment the word denial is used to describe the denial. A diet does not, per se, mean any control of calories, but we all think of it as such. Calorie control will be exactly what the doctor ordered though, so what better time to embrace the way of the part-time vegetarian? Meat is responsible for a sizeable percentage of the average person’s calorific intake, and a similarly disproportionate share of the weekly food bill, which, given the money borrowed to fund the festive glut, is a useful side benefit. So, this New Year, why not resolve to do the veggy thing during the week, and just have meat at weekends? My blog is full of recipes to help you on your way, but in case your fingers have become too rotund to move the mouse far enough to follow the links to my previous articles, here’s one to get you started. Stilton and poached pear is a combination I do not understand, but adore.
Pear, chicory, walnut and stilton salad (serves 2)
- 100g blue cheese of your choice, broken into small pieces
- 2-3 heads of chicory, washed and chopped
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 1 large or 2 small pears, quartered and cored
- 50g of walnut pieces (or whole/half walnuts you then bash with something hard)
Place the pear quarters in a pan of boiling water for around 15-20 minutes, or until they’ve lost their crispness and are soft and bouncy. Reduce the balsamic vinegar in a small pan for a few minutes until thickened. Scatter the chopped chicory, walnuts and cheese on a plate, chop the slightly cooled pears and place on the salad, and then drizzle the reduced vinegar over the top.
*Estimates vary wildly between around 4000 and an astonishing 8000. The majority of articles I found suggested 6000-7000 was about right.