Hello January :-))

At risk of sounding like a right old misery guts, I’m writing today to say that I am very happy to be properly back at work and saying farewell to Christmas for another year. As I launched a half-eaten box of mince pies into the bin this morning, it did cross my mind that maybe nobody likes Christmas all that much after all…

To put this into some context, I should point out that the main event of exchanging gifts, which for me entails watching my lovely girls rip open their presents with glee, is very nice, and something that I am more than happy to do. I also love the enforced downtime that the festive season brings with it, as I generally don’t get much time to relax and it definitely does me good to do so.

But what I hate is the fact that so many people feel extreme emotional pain at this time of year, for a number of reasons ranging from bereavement to broken relationships to things just not being where they hoped they would be. And neither do I like the pressure to be all Nigella-like in the kitchen (which in reality means you miss out on all the fun as you slog it out over a hot stove and a sink full of dirty pots). As a non-drinker, neither do I like the intense commercial push stemming from the alcohol industry, which results in millions downing more booze than anyone should ever do for their mental and physical health.

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When all around us we see signs advertising Prosecco and craft gins, money off multiple bottles of wine at the supermarkets, great big cases of beer at knockdown prices…when magazines are filled with images of glamorous people daintily holding glasses of fizz at elegant Christmas parties, and ideas for disguising hangovers with luxury beauty treatments…when mainstream newspapers are publishing light-hearted articles about the best foods to eat on New Year’s Day when you are nursing a crippling hangover…when we consider all of these things, on top of the various reasons why December can be a cruel and painful month for so many people, is it any wonder that Christmas brings vast numbers to their knees, desperate for it all to be over and for January to get underway with its routine and normality? The temptation to join in and drink excessively can be overwhelming, especially for anyone living with an alcohol dependency.

Personally, I used to hate Christmas, as a drinker and then as a new non-drinker, but as the sober years have passed by it has become a time that I can enjoy for a few small benefits (as mentioned above). But it still strikes me every year that for many, many people, it is unwelcome, difficult and downright awful, and virtually impossible to escape for those who may secretly wish to do so. It isn’t OK to ditch Christmas – in the eyes of many it’s akin to turning down a wedding invitation. You just have to partake – stick a smile on your face and get on with it. And make sure you have fun…or else!

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Midway through cooking Christmas dinner (I’m not a bad cook but it didn’t turn out all that great and I would have preferred to just eat a salad!), I began to daydream about lying on a hot beach somewhere, with a couple of Christmas presents to open followed by a nice swim and a read of a good book in the sunshine. Following on from the theme of my last blog about being true to yourself, I’m starting to think that next December, I may very well pursue this daydream…

Happy January 🙂

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Happy New Year!

I am not the party animal that I was in my youth. Long gone are the days when I would buy a ticket in October for an all-nighter New Year’s bash, costing around £50, only to get completely out of it by about 11pm, thus never being able to recall whether or not I had actually enjoyed the night or not. I remember a few New Year’s house parties which started out as brilliant occasions, full of friends, fun and lots of alcohol, but all ended in some disaster or other (one springs to mind immediately, when me and a friend shaved off a male guest’s fairly long hair at about 3 am (with his consent, I add), only to show his new look off to his wife who proceeded to have a fit of the histrionics, accusing us of making her husband look as though he were in receipt of chemotherapy. The whole party then joined in the slanging match for a good couple of hours, before everyone staggered home in the early morning light to sleep it off. The husband wore a hat constantly for the next couple of months). wine

The first New Year’s Eve do that I went to as a drinker, aged somewhere in my mid-teens, I became the ‘girl who cries at parties.’ I have absolutely no idea as to what I was crying about, but do remember heaving over the toilet bowl for a while before finding some kind bloke who put his arm round me and attempted to force strong, black coffee down my throat. I remember nothing else. After sleeping it off, I awoke in the morning to find that I had inadvertently become the talk of the party, a strange girl (I had been invited by the two sisters who hosted the bash, but knew no one else there) who had spent hours on end gasping and dripping snot all over the shoulder of their mate who had kind of missed the party because of me. Apparently prior to that, I had also thrown a beer over some other bloke’s head who tried to snog me under the mistletoe, but whose advances were not, it would seem, particularly sought after.

It will probably come as no surprise to you then, when I tell you that I haven’t bought a hot ticket for a posh do somewhere in town tomorrow night, but am instead staying at home with my girls. This is not because I no longer wish to socialise now that I no longer drink alcohol, but because from experience I know that most people (read, people who drink) view NY Eve as an occasion which warrants getting lashed, and I do hate being around people who are hammered.

So, in continuation of our little routine that we followed last year, my eldest daughter (almost 14 and therefore this could potentially be the last New Year’s Eve that she wishes to spend with her old Mum) and me will be baking Nigella Lawson’s chocolate orange cake, which is heaven on a plate, and intended to serve about ten but easily polished off by two greedy girls enjoying their own private NY party. As that culinary delight bakes in the oven, we will get stuck into a load of beauty treatments; manicures, pedicures, facials and cucumber slices on our eyes and laugh at some really awful celeb magazines. And then, cake semi-cooled but warm enough to still feature its pièce de résistance, the molten, gooey, utterly delectable chocolate orange centre, we will stick Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on the TV and stuff our faces – marvelous.

This little party of ours also has the advantage of allowing for a meaningful New Year’s Day, rather than one spent, as I have done frequently in the past, with the mother of all hangovers, periodically throwing up and lying in a darkened room wishing that the train would stop running over my brain. I love the sentiment of the first day of a new year, a whole fresh 365 days, plain and untainted, free to do with whatever you choose, and so I value being with it sufficiently to enjoy it.

Whatever you do, I hope you have a great night, and a fantastic 2013.

Being Good to Yourself

As a drinker, I never bothered too much about food. I ate complete rubbish whenever I had a hangover in a bid to satisfy my body’s desperate attempts to restore its blood sugar levels, or I would skip meals altogether, in an effort to counteract the number of calories I was consuming via my alcohol intake.

Now that I am a non-drinker, I have developed a keen interest in nutrition and try, wherever possible, to put back the goodness that I denied myself for so many years. And it is working; my eyes are bright, my skin is clear and I don’t look like shit anymore. And the food I eat is much tastier too.

For lunch today I had the following, which I can’t claim credit for, but would love to share with you because it was so damn tasty, and nutritious to boot; Grilled Prawns with Fennel Slaw. The recipe comes from the book ‘Contented Calf, Nourishing Recipes for Breastfeeding Mums’ (Elena Cimelli and Jassy Davis) but don’t let the breastfeeding bit deter you from rustling this meal up – the recipes in the book are basically just full of vegetables and protein, hence being good for promotingImage health.

200g raw, shelled king prawns, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove, crushed, 150g fennel bulb, 100g red cabbage, 100g carrot, small handful of dill, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar, 1 tsp clear honey. Crusty bread to serve. (Serves 2).

Marinate your prawns in half the olive oil and all the crushed garlic, for an hour or overnight if you want to get ahead. Mix the shredded cabbage, fennel, grated carrot, fennel seeds and dill with an emulsion created from the white wine vinegar, remaining olive oil and honey (salt and pepper to taste). Skewer the prawns and grill for ten minutes. Serve with the fennel slaw and crusty bread.

Fennel has all sorts of health giving properties, as does red cabbage (antioxidants, vitamin C, cholesterol lowering, and many more). Make this delicious lunch and be good to yourself (we had a lovely sparkling elderflower drink with ours, and followed it by a white chocolate and cherry mousse – delicious!).