As we all grapple with Tier 4 restrictions, the prospects of not seeing loved ones and having to rethink food plans for Christmas are causing stress in many households. At the end of a tough - for some unbearable - year this is the last thing we need.
The panic about what to cook at Christmas really does show how much food underpins our happiness and sense of wellbeing. There's no doubt that Christmas is one of those times when eating plays a central part in the ritual, so when plans are all thrown up in the air it's unsettling. But does it need to be so pressured? We've come to believe that Christmas isn't the celebration it's supposed to be without a huge bird to roast, tons of roast potatoes, gravy, stuffing, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce, a special Christmas pudding, brandy butter, a stilton... and then all the alcohol, sweets and other indulgences as well...
If you strip things back to basics, all you really need is some good quality veg to roast, possibly a bit of meat, garlic, herbs, lemon, salt and pepper - and the time to relax and enjoy the process of cooking it well and then eating it with your family (on video chat if not in person). Whatever you want to say about 2020, time at home in the kitchen is at least one thing we have all been granted in large amounts.
Here are our tips to make your Christmas both delicious and simple:
Prepare as much as possible in advance. Things like spiced red cabbage (cooked in butter with a few cloves, cinnamon, red wine vinegar and some orange zest and juice) and even roast potatoes (par-boiled and then frozen) can be done ahead of time.
Make the vegetables the heroes. They're cheaper, healthier and more sustainable than all of the other things on a traditional Christmas plate, and can be cooked in endless different ways to make them delicious.
Don't go over-board on trimmings. Pick two or three sides that you and your family really love and just focus on those. Nobody needs three types of stuffing, even if Instagram would have you think otherwise.
Get everyone to help. A family that cooks together stays together (or some such phrase...). Our 6 year-old is going to be in charge of setting the table and making some kind of Bake-Off inspired pavlova pudding, while our 3 year-old will definitely attempt to chop some vegetables.
Keep the decorations simple. Some candles and fresh foliage really do make a difference, but that's all you need. Deploy the Smalls on this one too.
Don't waste your leftovers. Give anything you can to a food bank (anything unopened, uncooked, spare packs, etc), and if you have any cooked food that's still edible, advertise it on the food-sharing app Olio rather than putting it in the bin. Christmas looks especially bleak this year for many families, and Olio has become a place where people can find food locally without necessarily having to go to a food bank.
Relax, enjoy and be thankful. Give each other a hug. It will all be okay.