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How to survive Christmas and enjoy it!

I have often wondered how so many people seem to sail through the festive season in a waft of present buying, entertaining, endless visiting, relentless smiling, effortlessly sprinkling all in their path with the Season’s Glad Tidings. I honestly have no idea, but this year I have decided to challenge myself one last time in 2010 and enjoy a happy  and harmonious Christmas.

This is not easy for me. I like my peace and quiet, I’m not good in crowds, I prefer routine and home comforts and I don’t enjoy the false, commercial, ringing-of-the-tills financially and emotionally demanding 12 days or so which saps the soul. 

Bah Humbug! 

So how am I going to turn Christmas from being a right pain in the arse, to the enjoyable, family-friendly, relaxing and reflective period it should be? I’m not sure but perhaps these tips will help me cope with the onslaught.

                                                       

Don’t overspend– a difficult one especially if you, like me, have children. There is no absolute answer to this dilemma but I am determined to keep to a pre-determined budget. 

 Shop online– Hurray for Amazon and Tesco I say. Gone are the days when I get up at 3am on Christmas Eve to do the food shopping. Order early and watch the weather forecast like a hawk. If it snows, you may be disappointed and end up eating fish fingers for Christmas Dinner. 

Keep it simple-Christmas may not be the best time to experiment in the kitchen. Even the best-loved chocolate soufflé can collapse if nurtured by the drunken chef. If I can manage a traditional roast dinner so can you so stick with what you know rather than putting yourself under unneccesary pressure.

Alcohol-It’s just too tempting isn’t it? Don’t fall into the trap of self-medication to get through Christmas. Chances are it will loosen both the tongue and the willpower both with disastrous results! And remember, it is a depressant.

Lists- You can never have enough lists at Christmas. Food list, present list and the dreaded Christmas card list. How about a kitchen duty list to help spread the workload over the holiday?  This is not the time to prove you are Superman or Superwoman…..try and organise some rest time into your arrangements.

Families- If you are lucky enough to have a harmonious family count your blessings. But don’t forget that Christmas can test the very best of family relationships. If, on the other hand, you consider your family to be dysfunctional and argumentative, chances are it will be no different at Christmas. Avoid contentious topics such as politics and football and try to avoid competitive or combative games if they have caused arguments previously. 

Back to basics-peace and quiet, log fires, appreciating friends and family, walking the dog, listening to music, generally taking “time-out” should be a priority. Try it. 

Communicate-don’t stew in the corner. Keep talking and discuss your feelings and concerns. After drinking Snowballs for the last 20 years, this may be the year to confess that you don’t like advocaat.                                                                                            

So bearing all this in mind, I hope that you are able to make your Chrsistmas a very happy and healthy one and we can all look forward to a wonderful 2011.  In the words of the Ministry of Information during WWII, “Keep Calm and Carry on”.          

BUT

If all else fails, join us on the Depression Alliance Facebook page on Christmas day for some chat, banter, support and much needed friendship from those who know just how you feel!

                                                                    

Christmas in Iran

Today, 28 November 2010, is the first Sunday in Advent. This is when Christians start the annual wait for the “coming” of Christ celebrated on Christmas Day. Children all over will have their Advent Calendars at the ready and will begin opening the doors on 1 December. For me, Advent is when I start thinking about Christmas, a good 2-3 months behind Mr Tesco.

In Iran too, the 1 December, marks the beginning if the “Little Fast” carried out by some of  the sizeable yet minority population of Christians for the 25 days leading up to Christmas Day known as “Little Feast”.  Christians in Iran include Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians who are mostly Armenian-Iranians and have their own religious rituals.  Although Iran is predominantly an Islamic nation, there are also some Moslems who celebrate Christmas as a non-religious festival. Christmas trees and decorations are bought, turkeys ordered and sometimes gifts are exchanged in the same way as we do here in the UK.

During the 25 day “Little Fast” which is meant to purify body and mind, Orthodox Christians follow a diet free of meat and dairy products only breaking their fast when Communion is received early on Christmas morning. To break their fast, the traditional dish of Harissa is eaten. This meal is also the national dish of Armenia, and like many recipes handed down from generation to generation, there will be regional variations. I have managed to find a recipe for the chicken and barley stew which sounds just the sort of meal perfect during the current big freeze! 

ArmenianHarissa.jpg

Armenian Harissa
Ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups whole wheat kernels, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • butter
How to cook it
Rinse chicken and place in large pot with 8 cups water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, with the pot partially covered until chicken is cooked.
Remove chicken from liquid; place on platter and allow to cool enough to handle. Discard skin, bones and fat. Shred chicken; cut into smaller pieces, if necessary.
Strain broth. Measure broth, and add enough water to make a total of 8 cups
Place broth in large pot. Add wheat, shredded chicken, and salt if necessary. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Remove any foam which rises to the surface.
Simmer on a very low heat, without stirring, covered, for about 4 hours
Beat vigorously with a sturdy, long-handled, wooden spoon, mashing the wheat and chicken until they resemble thick oatmeal. Adjust salt, if needed.
To serve: place in bowls. Add a pat of butter, if desired. Sprinkle with a dash of cumin or paprika to taste.

1 in 4..

One in four people suffer from a mental illness at any time. So, to have a household with 2 out of 2 adults diagnosed with depression at the same time may seem a wee bit unlucky. Our house is not the hive of activity and entertainment it once was with visitors staying over most weekends and lively discussions into the early hours, but neither is it a den of doom and gloom. We like to look upon the enforced change on our previously hectic social life  as a refocussing exercise. Instead of racing around all week like headless chickens catching up from the weekend before whilst at the same time planning ahead to the next one, we now have the time to be together, support each other and do what we want and have to do for the best of our health. In many ways we have become very selfish and now guard this extra time ferociously.

We understand that rest and relaxation is important. We also know that neither of us should sink into the  habit of doing nothing. Lists therefore are a big part of our lives. There are lists everywhere. Lists in the kitchen, lists in the bedroom. Coat pockets are full of receipts…and lists. Long lists (never a good idea) and partially fulfilled lists. In fact, there are so many lists lying around that we probably need a “List of Lists”.

I often wonder whether it is easier for two people with depression to live together in (hopefully) mutual understanding and support as opposed to a couple where only one is diagnosed. Depression is a difficult illness to explain to those who are lucky enough to avoid it, and it affects people differently. If you have depression and recognse that your behaviour and attitudes have changed as a result this may be an easier concept to grasp than if you have had no experience of the illness. In our case, this definitely resonates. Only when my husband became depressed and suffered the unbearable symptoms of apathy, distress, loss of confidence and insomnia, did he truly appreciate how I often felt. It is a shame that this understanding could only come about because of his own experience of depression but I like to think that he is a much more sympathetic and emotionally aware person as a result.

With this mutual understanding come the crucial coping strategies of tolerance, patience, support, encouragement, positive thinking, and hope.  All those qualities which I would like to think apply to all relationships where depression is a factor, but are difficult to put into practice. So, if someone you love is affected by depression, try to understand. Try to be patient and give them time. Depression can be cured. You may have to adapt your current lifestyle for a period but make the most of the changes. Think positively and remember that one day it may be you who needs help.

Iran-Family and food

In Iran it is the family which holds these people together with strong values and a cohesiveness that we rarely see in the UK. Due to the intensive heat between midday and late afternoon, the family work  during the morning, then gather for lunch and a catch-up including some sleep before returning to complete their working day in cooler conditions coming home for evening meal at around 10pm. This sounds a long day, but the benefits are such that families who work and live locally have the chance to get together during the day, see their younger children and enjoy a relaxed sit-down meal rather than a snatched sandwich purchased and eaten on the run. An enviable work/life balance.

Usually, 8-10 people gathered for lunch, and in the evening this could easily double so that between 16-20 were fed. Meals are eaten on the floor. Iranian food is delicious and, apart from a fairly high sugar and salt content in some of the drinks and dishes, is very healthy. Iranians drink a lot of tea; a mild form of Earl Grey, never with milk. This is very refreshing but anyone watching their weight or wants to keep their teeth intact needs to avoid the many different types of sugar products which usually accompany the tea. Another traditional Iranian drink is “dogh”, a chilled mixture of natural yoghurt, iced water and chopped mint. Many home-made versions include salt, but I prefer the sodium-free version which again, is very refreshing on hot days.  Well worth a try. You can buy a large selection of western-style soft drinks as well as bottled water here in Iran. Pepsi and Fanta are  popular.

Iranian food.  Whether you eat everything in moderation, are a “carb-freak” or enjoy your high-protein diet, there is something for everyone. The food is tasty, seasoned with herbs rather than spices, and a variety of meat and meat-less dishes are served at every meal. Rice forms a huge part of the diet.Dill rice, saffron rice, lentil and sultana rice, to name but a few. Sabsi (greens) are served in small dishes at every meal with chunks of raw onion.  Greens Iranian style consists of herbs, freshly picked or collected every morning, washed and prepared on the day. Tarragon, basil, purple basil, chives, mint all mixed together and shared out. This is not something that we usually sample in the UK, preferring to use our herbs in cooking. Try them raw sometime and get the full benefit of the flavours.

With the huge variety of stews and dishes made with vegetables, chicken, fish and the favourite meat lamb, you don’t miss pork or bacon. It’s sad to see however that even with all these wonderful traditional dishes, tomato ketchup is used extensively on rice; hamburgers and chips are popular and we even sent out for pizza. For me, a real shame but it’s hard to deflect the influence of the West when the world is becoming a smaller place each minute……

Children in Need-Pudsey Bear cakes

Well, Children in Need day is almost upon us, celebrated this year in Friday 19 November. What better way to support this wonderful charity than by making Pudsey Bear cakes, simply for your own consumption (they are delicious), or to raise funds. Children and adults alike love these two-tone fairy cakes, all with a chocolate surprise in the middle.

This was one of the first Pudsey Bear recipes released, and is difficult to get hold of now. It also pre-dates the involvement of Lakeland (“Crapland”, as my brother-in-law calls it), “the home of creative kitchenware” , who sell funky Pudsey Bear related items every year to raise money for Children in Need.

http://www.lakeland.co.uk/F/keyword/pudsey

So, here’s the recipe & instructions. Have fun and enjoy!

Pudsey Bear Cakes-makes 12

For the cakes you will need;

12 fairy-cake cases (Pudsey Bear ones available from Lakeland)
115g butter
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp milk
12 squares plain chocolate

For the topping (If not using Pudsey Bear cake toppers, again available from Lakeland)
150g icing sugar
2-3 tbsp warm water
Red icing tube

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180c. Cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add egg, little at a time and beat until smooth. Add vanilla extract, flour & baking powder. Mix well. Place a generous amount in one side of each cake case. Add cocoa powder & milk to the remaining mixture and mix well. Place some chocolate mixture next to the original mixture in each case and place a square of chocolate in the centre of each cake. (Yum). Bake for 15-20 mins.

When cool, make up the icing for the topping and smooth over the cake. Add red icing dots to look like Pudsey’s bandage.

Otherwise, decorate with Pudsey Bear cake toppers

Delicious!