“’Tis the season to be jolly but it is also the season to be jolly careful,” said the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his last speech on post-lockdown changes prior to Christmas. Clearly a stickler for Crimbo tradition, his ridiculous attempt at delivering a message that was both warning and jovial seemed to fall flat among my entourage. One quick scroll though my Instagram feed was enough to confirm what I already expected; people were starting to celebrate Christmas early this year.
Binge in December, purge in January—that’s usually the way it goes. Is it really wise for people to look forward to a somewhat normal end of year celebration? Let’s look at the bigger picture here. Is a big Christmas, paid for by yet another lockdown really what we want this year? Personally, I couldn’t care less about Christmas 2020, but what I do worry about is starting 2021 off on the wrong foot.
January is already hard enough as it is; from its very first day, spent by most of us in bed, suffering from the worst hangover of the year, to the rest of the post-Christmas guilt and diets. Doesn’t sound very jolly, right? Now imagine a few Januarys in repeat because of a new lockdown as a repercussion of our Christmas over indulgence. As we await mass vaccination in the UK, which will undeniably take a few months, shouldn’t we keep Christmas celebrations on the down-low?
If I haven’t managed to convince you yet, try to imagine the many positives of spending this year’s Christmas with only a few VIPs—and by that I mean the people you currently live with or your support bubble. First, your annoying uncle who always ends up getting too drunk on the Baileys won’t be here to ask you if you actually know that tattoos are a lifetime commitment, and you won’t have to snap back with a snarky comment like ‘what about your marriage?’
Secondly, forget about the pressure that comes with cooking a full Christmas dinner! The yearly number of arguments that result from the buildup stress of feeding a complete family ready to gorge themselves on Brussel sprouts and pigs in blankets is probably equal to the US’ current COVID-19 cases so far. Last but not least, you’ll be keeping your cash. ‘Out of sight out of mind’ works with Christmas presents too, I know that for a fact.
Don’t get me wrong, I can also see why you might feel like the least you deserve for 2020 is a proper Christmas-do just like in the good old times. We’ve all been through a lot and a bit of ‘normality’ couldn’t hurt. Well, actually, it potentially could. On top of that, a poll published in this weekend’s Observer found that over half of the UK public would rather have a lockdown Christmas with fewer restrictions than new restrictions in January—54 per cent, more precisely.
And what about the ones who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place? Those who were forced to mark Passover, Eid or Diwali at a distance this year and who now have every right to wonder why Christmas gets a special treatment.
I’ve always been somewhat of a cynical person, but this Christmas, I’m bound to be the Grinch on steroids. “And they’ll feast, feast, feast, feast. They’ll eat their Who-Pudding and rare Who-Roast Beast. But that’s something I just cannot stand in the least.” Enjoy your few tense days with the family and make sure you steer clear of any Brexit conversations. Merry (early) Christmas.
As our social calendars fill up with work parties, ‘friendsmas’ roasts and gorging ourselves on the sofa, it may seem that leftover food and creating debris is unavoidable. There are always hundreds of roasties, litres of gravy, bowls of sprouts left untouched. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) states that between 30 and 50 per cent of all food produced globally goes straight into landfill, and in the midst of the climate crisis it’s vital we take responsibility for, and make fundamental changes to our consumption habits.
Read on for ten absolute crackers to suit a plethora of scenarios:
1. Take a lunch box everywhere
A solid opener, no-shame scavenging; stick your leftover roast potatoes in there, your mum’s half-eaten dessert, the rest of the cheeseboard no-one needed. It’s an imperative bit of kit, and if someone looks at it disapprovingly, it’s only because they’re jealous they didn’t think of it.
2. Classic leftover meals
So, you’ve now got a huge box of surplus meat and vegetables, then what? Forgotten over the last two generations, thrifty post-war meals using leftovers were national staples before the global food market made us all lazy and nutrient-deficient. Here are a few delicious options you could cook up after a big Christmas do.
– Toad in the Hole (Yorkshire batter and sausages traybake)
– Bubble & Squeak patties (mashed veg and spuds in fried cakes)
– Cheese & braised red cabbage toastie (with cranberry sauce)
– Turkey pasta bake with creamy mushrooms and thyme
– Broccoli and stilton soup (add a little gravy to the stock)
3. Love thy neighbour
If you live next to or near someone who you think might not be able to cook for themself, be a darling and take them over a hot meal. It’s no effort to plate up something from your leftovers and microwave it for them. If you’re feeling extra cute, leave a few After Eights and a cuppa tea.
4. Sprouts are boss
Being a former avoider, I’m now very much a brussel lout. These incredible flavour orbs are related to cabbage, aid enzymatic digestion and boost blood circulation. It’s best to peel bad leaves off all the uncooked sprouts you have left in one go, as it’s really boring. Try shredding in a sprout, apple, fennel bulb and caraway seed slaw with a honey and mustard dressing, or stirfry with onions, mushrooms and cream for a toast topping.
5. Pudding for breakfast
This one is for the heads. We all know cold spuds is a legitimate morning snack, but what about a slab of gateaux with your first coffee? Victoria sponge and builders’ tea? Christmas pudding with a herbal brew or lemon cheesecake and OJ? After a hefty sugar punch to complement the caffeine, prepare for a pre-lunch crash.
6. Wonderful wild herbs
Wonderful for so many reasons, including the fact that they’re very hardy so they grow absolutely everywhere, are easy to identify, and can help you spend no money and reduce your plastic consumption. Learn to harness their incredible flavours, because they lift everything—add chopped rosemary to roasting potatoes or a sprig of thyme in your G&T, steep mint and fennel in a pot after dinner for a digestive tea. Forage responsibly; don’t pick unless you’re certain, and never strip or uproot a plant.
7. Pickle it
Vegetable skins are delicious, packed with fibre and, if grown organically, host beneficial bacteria and minerals from the soil. If you can’t convince the chef to keep the skins on your carrots, don’t despair. Stealthily make this sour side dish; pickle with 150ml vinegar, 150ml water, 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp salt, star anise, chopped garlic and a bay leaf. Heat on the hob until sugar melts, then add to skins in a bowl. They only need an hour to marinate, then whip them out at the dinner table and blow their tiny minds.
8. Surplus citrus
There will undoubtedly be tonnes of clementines in your vicinity, so nab some, slice thinly on the horizontal and dry on a radiator to create some beaut, fragrant decorations. String them together like a boss.
What about all the half-drunk bottles of wine and warm lager dregs littering the kitchen? Don’t throw down the sink, it’s a precious resource—naturally fermented liquids with deep umami and sour flavours. Stick them all in a labelled bottle in the fridge to store and use them to build a tasty base for a gravy or a stock. If you’re feeling experimental, add a raw vinegar mother and store for 6 weeks to turn this waste product into a delicious cupboard essential.
10. Local resource redistribution
There’s no need to eat every chocolate that enters your periphery; take those spare sweets to your local hostel or homeless shelter. And if you have any cooking or washing-up skills at all, you could be in-demand. Ring ahead to see if they’re serving hot meals over the holiday period, and whether they might benefit from your time and expertise.