IT IS no coincidence that food features so high in the list of resolutions that herald the start of a newlyminted year. It's never easier to swear off sugar, bad fats and bad carbs than after weeks of indulging in the seasonal excess, of the pints-and-crisps-for-dinner and mince-pies-forbreakfast variety.
By now, most people's systems are calling out for something simple. If the sales of diet books were to be believed it seems the rich decadence of weeks of feasting is replaced overnight with a diet of grapefruit juice and brown rice.
Treadmills that sat motionless with only the hollow sound of Christmas carols for company while office workers partied will now be pounded by an endless queue of box-fresh trainers. The fad will last at least a month before it all gets too much like hard work.
This annual cycle of feasting and flagellation may be music to the ears of the diet and fitness industries but does little to impact on waistlines in any lasting way. A resolution to eat good food rather than less food is easier to keep than just throwing all previously-adored treats into the sin bin. The new regime should not feel like a denial, just replacing some of the junk with whole unprocessed foods like nuts, fruit and homecooked meals.
Although it is back to work for most of the country this week, there are many who have taken an extra week's break. Up to now all the emphasis has been on big meals, heavy food washed down with heady wines.
Instead of concentrating on lavish dinners and food at the end of the day, now can be a time to prepare sumptuous, but slightly healthy, brunches. There is nothing too Spartan about these suggestions. They err just on the right side of treat without being too virtuous. Eaten round the table with the family relaxing during this winter break, they can set you up for a trip to the pantomime, a tramp on the hills, an assault on the sales or even an excursion to the gym.
Sultana, banana and oat pancakes
Serves four to six
80g porridge oats 110g plain flour 50g golden brown sugar One and a half teaspoons baking powder Half teaspoon bread soda Quarter teaspoon ground cinnamon 100g plain yoghurt 125ml whole milk Two large eggs Half teaspoon vanilla extract Two ripe bananas Two large handfuls of sultanas
Whisk the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, bread soda and cinnamon together in a bowl. Stir in the yoghurt, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mash the bananas in another bowl and stir the sultanas into the banana. Then fold this banana and sultana mash into the pancake batter, stirring it well. Heat a griddle or frying pan with some melted butter until the butter has foamed.
Spoon small rounds of pancake batter (around the size of a large saucer) onto the pan and cook until bubbles form on the top.
This should take around two minutes. Turn the pancakes over and cook the other side until it is golden brown. Serve with fresh fruit, lashings of natural yoghurt and some honey for the sweettoothed members of the family.
Tangerine, cranberry and kiwi fruit compote
Serves four to six
Two large handfuls of fresh cranberries 50ml water Three tablespoons sugar Six tangerines Six ripe kiwi fruits Large pot of natural yoghurt Around three tablespoons of maple syrup A handful of roasted hazelnuts
Put the cranberries in a pot with the water and sugar and bring to the boil.
Boil them until the berries are soft and stewed.
Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Peel and chop the tangerines and kiwi fruits, chopping the tangerines into segments, removing all the white pith and slicing the kiwis thinly.
Divide the cranberry mixture into two roughly equal amounts. Taking four to six (depending on the size of servings you want) sundae glasses or glass bowls, put a teaspoon of cranberry into the bottom of each. Then add a layer of kiwi and a layer of tangerine. Spoon over a layer of natural yoghurt and a teaspoon of maple syrup. Continue to layer until you have filled enough glasses, then top off with the remainder of the stewed cranberry. Finish with a sprinkling of roasted hazelnuts.
Alternatively, if you're not too pushed with all the layering and presentation stuff, just mix the fruits in one large bowl and serve with yoghurt in another with a small saucer of roasted hazelnuts to sprinkle and allow the brunchers to help themselves.
A tropical postChristmas smoothie
For each person allow:
Half a banana A small ripe pear Two tablespoons natural yoghurt One glass of fresh orange juice A handful of frozen raspberries A couple of sprigs of fresh mint A tablespoon of honey (optional)
Using frozen raspberries is perfect for smoothies. The varieties in supermarkets are usually Irish-grown fruit blast-frozen in season.
Their iciness also adds something to the flavour and consistency of the smoothie.
Combine all the ingredients, apart from a leaf or two of mint, in a blender. If you're not sure about the honey, make the smoothie without it and taste. If you'd like it sweeter add in the honey at this stage. Blitz to a smooth consistency. Top off with the mint leaf and serve immediately with straws.