When it comes to the festive season, I’m neither “bah humbug” nor “ho, ho, ho”. I love the holiday spirit and get-togethers with family and friends, but genuinely cringe at the thought of braving crammed high streets and shopping malls to shop for gifts. Every year, without fail, I stubbornly refuse to surrender to the hype starting in the middle of October, priding myself on “not doing Christmas” until December’s well under way.
Amidst said hype, there’s one thing I particularly loathe: the brainwashing we get every year from lifestyle media, showering us with unrequested advice on how to avoid excess. There’s no end to the parade of cliches: shame always follows indulgence, guilt feelings always follow pleasure, fun always comes at a price. You will embarrass yourself at the work Christmas do. You must shed weight to get into your party dress. You have to stop eating carbs after your holidays. It’s disturbing to the point that I avoid reading those magazines or watching those TV shows altogether: I just don’t, can’t believe in any of this.
Balance is what I believe in. Knowing how many glasses of Prosecco you can take before calling your boss names at the Christmas dinner. Saying “no” to one more mince pie when you feel full, not when someone else says you should or when your stomach’s about to fall apart.
Most of all, I believe that our balance is ours alone: we all should know better than to let anyone preaching restraint dictate it. I’ve been prey to the immediate-pleasure-and-eternal-guilt vicious circle for many years, and shall be thankful that they’re long gone; if feeling miserable is the alternative, I don’t really care about those extra holes in my belt (or, actually, not wearing belts anymore). Right now, there’s nothing I want more than boarding my flight to Italy and enjoying a holiday full of all the pleasures I’ve been missing sorely. That’s what holidays are for – and who said that “indulgent” means “irresponsible”, anyway?
In my family, Christmas meals are a thing of simplicity, made of nothing other than my grandma’s superb stuffed guinea-fowl: a delicacy we only get to have at Christmas, no matter how insistently we ask throughout the year. Even so, as in every Italian household worth its name, there’s lots of nougat, panettone and dried fruit doing the rounds. Add the infinite worries of my family members, who picture my life in London as a bleak succession of mind-numbing work shifts and microwaved meals, and you’ll understand why maintaining that hard-earned balance is more important than ever. There will always be my mum trying to feed me her leftovers, my grandma claiming I’m losing weight and sneaking an extra portion of polenta in my plate, my uncle blowing the Italian cuisine horn: “you don’t get freshly sliced prosciutto in London, do you?”. They just can’t accept that we have supermarkets and kitchens here, too.
Holidays back home are a time to rest my cooking hands, and surrender to the family’s urges to take care of my stomach. With two such weeks ahead, and after one month of intensive biscuit tasting, my goodbye bake could only be a tribute to balance. This honey, fig and walnut loaf is a healthy treat, made without a hint of butter or eggs, and enhanced by the flavour and texture of dried fruit. Try having it for breakfast, accompanied by a spoonful of fig jam, and take it as my way to say goodbye on a sweet note. 2014 will be a year of new adventures and big changes, and I hope you’ll all be keeping me company throughout the journey.
Honey, Fig and Walnut Loaf
(serves 6 – 8)
Ingredients (adapted from Indian Kitchen’s Honey Cake)
- 180ml honey
- 180ml milk, lukewarm
- 60ml vegetable oil
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 100g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 75g walnuts, chopped
- 75g dried figs, chopped
- Combine the milk and honey in a mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer or whisk, until well blended.
- Add the vanilla essence and vegetable oil, and keep beating until combined.
- Sieve the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add to the mixture of wet ingredients, and mix well.
- Mix in the walnuts and dried figs, and pour the batter into a greased loaf tin (the one I used was 20cm long and 7cm tall).
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°, and bake for approximately 35 minutes. To check if your loaf is ready, insert a flat knife at the centre. If it comes out clean, you can remove the tin from the oven.
- Leave aside to cool down before removing from the tin, slicing and serving.
Right before starting to pack my bags, I’ve given in to a crazy whim, and entered the Food and Drink category of the 2014 UK National Blog Awards. Sounds like fun, right? The first stage is a public vote, open until 26 January – and, well, I’m really curious to see how far along this little blog will go. If you like what you see, catch yourself lusting after my recipes, or enjoy reading my ramblings and musings, click on the image below, and cast your vote!