Don’t make New Year resolutions, your happiness is at stake
Contemplating binning the luxury Christmas leftovers in the annual bid
for a New Year food refurb? January, in all its chilly, drizzly dullness, is far from the best time to go for it, advises Debora Robertson.
Instead, give yourself a break: cook what you love, love what you cook and your world will be a better tasting, better tempered place.
January: all grey and cold, and that’s just our complexions. After a month of staying up late attempting to rustle together a made-for-TV-movie version of Christmas that no one in our circle of intimates will ever forget – hopefully for the right reasons – fuelled only by breakfast prosecco and Quality Street, few of us are at our perky best.
Let’s face it, it’s dark at 4pm and we’re battling through the rain, snow and sludge on legs that haven’t seen daylight since August, hoping we can stave off the threat of rickets until the sunny uplands of spring. Is this really the time you’re going to – absolutely definitely, on Monday, maybe Tuesday – embark on the 5:2 diet, start training for a marathon or cut out wheat/dairy/Twiglets?
Personally, I feel like patting myself on the back and rewarding myself with a Twix just for heroically managing to board the bus to work without bursting into tears of regret that I can no longer spend whole days reading fat Christmas present novels, sustained by drive-by attacks on the end of the ham and scoops of stilton.
I twitch with weary fury at all those articles on making resolutions at this time of year (New Year, New You? Have you met me? No? How impertinent). Talk about setting yourself up for failure. I am much more likely to embark on brisk self-improvement in September, when even after all these years, that back-to-school feeling hits like a hockey puck.
January is for soft clothes and softer blankets, racing home from work as soon as possible, catching up on your reading (who can afford to go out? What kind of monster wants to?), eating your dinner on a tray while watching schlocky telly, cosying up with your cat/dog/beloveds by the fire, planning your garden, dreaming of summer jaunts. Whatever gets you through. It is not the time for punitive regimes of any kind, thank you Nurse Ratched.
''The world is in a tricky enough state without contemplating chia seed porridge for breakfast''
The world is in a tricky enough state without contemplating chia seed porridge for breakfast. Why don’t we let this be the year that we all relax a bit, be kind to ourselves and embrace simpler, less stressful lives, starting in the kitchen? Because even that most homely of habitats has taken on a distinctly challenging edge.
You know what? This (probably) isn’t the year you’re going to make a croquembouche for Tuesday tea, and that’s absolutely fine. In an era of competitive, show-off cooking, perhaps it’s time for us all to calm down and focus on cooking comforting and flavourful food as an expression of love and home and happiness, not a cause for nerve-jangling anxiety.
I worry sometimes that the wildly successful raft of food programmes thrust at us now – from Bake Off and MasterChef to Great British Menu and Come Dine With Me – misses the point a bit. Obviously, they focus on competition, the ‘journey’, triumph and disaster, and the cooking-doesn’t-get-much-tougher-than-this jeopardy. Making something wonderful to eat can get a bit lost in whatever contrived narrative the directors are going for that week. What will Albert do now he’s messed up his Icelandic wedding cake? Will Jilly survive the splitting of her yak’s milk custard?
It’s as though the food in itself isn’t interesting enough without the side-order of peril, the will-they-won’t-they-drop-the-cake jitters delivered in relentlessly breathy voice-over. Have we reached a point where the simple act of making dinner has to be a dauntingly competitive sport, where if it’s Thursday it must be lamb baked in hay accompanied by a smear of wild, biodynamic lavender confit?
Perhaps we need to take a breath. Dinner can just be dinner. A cake can just be a cake. And maybe we need to call time on angsting over signature dishes and attempting restaurant-quality tasting menus at home, unless the very thought fills us with joy. Enough of food as a way to show off when it should be a source of pleasure and fun, an expression of affection or, hell, just something to get you through until tomorrow. All of that is fine.
If you’re making food-based resolutions this January, give yourself a break. Don’t make them about self-denial or some other complex task to put on your To Do list. Take a moment to think about what you love to eat, what you would love to make, and start there. Whether it’s baking the most delicious lemon drizzle cake, mastering minestrone or tinkering with your roast chicken recipe to get it just the way you like it, let pleasure be the crumbs on your path to perfection, however you define that for yourself. Because, in the end, that’s all that counts.