|Our vaguely healthy Mediterranean feast, shortly after a trolley dash in Waitrose|
I often regard with bewildered awe those few people who can fulfil a New Year's Resolution.
January itself is completely at odds with the goals we set ourselves - drink less, lose weight and save money. Why do we choose the gloomiest month of the year, when we're back at work and still drowning in leftover booze and party food, to punish ourselves with a virtuous nun-like regime? In fact, if ever there was a time to escape and just enjoy life, it's now.
New Year should be a positive and exciting time, an opportunity to start afresh and see the next 12 months open up in front of you like an unwritten book (sorry, getting a bit Natasha Bedingfield on you there...).
A nice young man I once dated had - and I quote - a “bar chart in his head”, which would help him visualise if he had neglected one of his personal self-improvement goals, which included foreign languages, the gym, reading, painting and nutrition. If he hadn’t spent enough time on one of these in any given week, he would make up for it in another of these areas. Impressive...
But I, on the other hand, can be relied upon to hit the snooze alarm four times per morning, to faceplant the office tub of Celebrations at 3pm and to jump in a taxi rather than trawl the streets looking for a night bus.
In some ways I am quite capable of fulfilling certain promises to myself – but only if they are in some way pleasurable and involve a split-second decision, so I can't talk myself out of it. Yeah, I’ll get a spontaneous new haircut or jump out of a plane. But drink eight glasses of water, every day, forever? Change that lightbulb and fix my door handle so that I don’t get locked in a dark room every time I close the door? Hmm… sure. Maybe next week.
The number 1 New Year's resolution in the UK is, surprise surprise, to lose weight. But like most other people, as soon as I consciously decide I’m going to go on a diet, I seem to have cursed it to the realms of my unfulfilled resolutions where it lazes around, happy as Larry, alongside other vague intentions such as ‘save money’ and ‘procrastinate less’.
In fact, the only times I have ever lost significant amounts of weight have been a by-product of another circumstance; a dog that needs walking, a helpful bout of tonsilitus or running out of money and living on soup for a couple of weeks.
I’m certainly not condoning any of the above (except dog-walking) as healthy or effective ways to keep off the pounds of course. But I’ve realised that the only way I’m going to fulfil my resolutions this year is to make them happen ‘by accident’, and by replacing bad habits with nice ones.
So instead of the generic and unoriginal task of ‘losing weight’, I've decided to go for something a bit more fun, which will hopefully have a similar end result - I will invent and experiment with salad recipes throughout January. This goal is positive, creative, achievable and realistic… rather like a SMART objective, in fact.
There’s no time like the present to get started, having now completed the obligatory 'Noodle Phase' that invariably follows Christmas (when I crave big, fresh, exotic flavours but still need to satisfy my poor stretched stomach, which is still wondering where all the potatoes went). Now, I am finally ready to move on from phad thai, and enter a brave new era: The Salad Phase.
Salads don’t have to mean rabbit food – they can be colourful, exciting, easy to throw together and surprisingly substantial. I’ve already started tricking myself that salads are treats, not chores.
|Yes, it's a One Direction mug.|
• Feta + parma ham + roasted peppers + pomegranate seeds + herb salad (above)
• Blue cheese + walnuts + pears + watercress
• Mozzarella + leftover chicken + tomatoes + avocado + basil
All of the above would have a drizzling of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Maybe even a squeeze of fresh lemon (much to the mocking of our colleagues, who find it all a bit ridiculous. Perhaps the walnut chopping was a bit far). But even with these extravagances, it still usually works out as around £3 per person per lunch, for a massive plate of delicious food.
Yes, there’s a borderline obese elephant in the room. What is remotely healthy about a big plate of cheese and meat, drowned in an oily dressing and decorated with a few token leaves?
Well, I’m no nutritionist but if it’s colourful and fresh, it's bound to be healthier than something beige or shop-bought. And there's no point excluding everything that's filling or delicious or I'd be straight back on the Fudge bars. For me, being balanced, cutting down on carbs and eating fresh is the quickest way to start feeling good again.
And failing that, whoever liked a smug, skinny, sober calorie-counter anyway?!
My January salad recipes (so far)
Pea and pancetta winter salad
Just fry a handful of pancetta (healthy!) for a few minutes and then remove from the pan and place on kitchen roll to absorb the oil.
Then add two finely sliced shallots to the pan until transparent, and then add some defrosted peas and tip the pancetta back into the pan until everything's warm through.
Before serving, stir through some crumbled feta and mint leaves.
Balinese chicken salad
I picked this one up in Ubud, Bali, at a cookery course and have now recycled this recipe for many picnics and buffets. It might look like a long list of ingredients but it's mostly just chopping... lots of chopping. (See me in action below!).
200g chicken breasts
2 teaspoons of turmeric
1 tablespoon ground coriander
6 tablespoons light olive oil
4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Half a teaspoon of fish sauce (naam pla)
Juice of one lime
Inner white part of a stem of lemongrass finely chopped
Finely sliced hot red chillies to taste
Iceberg lettuce (to wrap it in)
Place the chicken between two sheets of cling film and pound flat with a rolling pin. Combine the turmeric, coriander, salt and pepper and three tablespoons of the oil and coat the chicken. Marinate for 1 hour and then grill the chicken and leave to cool.
Combine the remaining oil and ingredients to make the salad mixture/dressing. When the chicken is cool, shred it with a fork and then toss it together with the salad mixture in a big bowl. I like to serve it garnished with fresh coriander, chilli and lime wedges, alongside big iceberg lettuce leaves for DIY wrapping purposes.
Tastes even better the next day!
Random Indian salad
Warm a tablespoon of mango chutney and a generous pinch of ground cumin (or crushed toasted cumin seeds if you can be bothered) with a few glugs of light olive oil in a pan. Add some prawns until they're hot and a bit golden, and then remove from the heat.
In the meantime, chop and combine the following ingredients:
Fresh coriander and mint
(or whatever else you've got lying around).
Then tip the contents of the pan (including the mango-ey oil) onto the salad mixture and stir it all around. Then just crumble a poppadom on top if you fancy, to add texture.