Synonymous with all things indulgent, the Silly Season is a time for feeding the soul…
We find ourselves kicking back more, getting outdoors more and filling our social calendars with BBQs, parties and beachside gatherings. Any excuse to get together with friends and family over beautiful food and one too many drinks will do.
So yes, between all the Christmas, New Year and summertime (for us Aussies) festivities, it’s almost impossible to stay as disciplined with your diet as you normally would. It feels like you’re perpetually surrounded by a sea of lip-smacking food, and it somehow seems more justified to pick at anything and everything just because “it’s the festive season!”.
The most important thing is to not be too hard on yourself.
I choose to look at it this way: if you can’t loosen up and treat yourself at this time of year, then when the hell can you?! That pretty pavlova wasn’t just put there to take photos of. You are supposed to enjoy this time of year and everything it has to offer. With that said, while I might loosen my belt (literally) and pick at more desserts, cheese boards and processed snacks than I usually would, this doesn’t mean that all my other healthful habits go down the drain. I certainly don’t want to miss out on yummy food, but I also know that going totally overboard will leave me with nothing but a heavy guilty conscience and five extra kilos. As with any time of year, maintaining balance is important. Some things I do to achieve this balance include staying hydrated at all times, opting for vodka, lime and soda over sugar alcoholic drinks, filling up on veggies and quality protein at meals so that I don’t have a bottomless pit when it comes to dessert, chewing my food slowly so I enjoy each mouthful, drinking green smoothies each day to leave less room for unhealthy and processed snacks, taking long walks and swimming whenever I can. I try to be as mindful as possible, while enjoying myself all the while.
It’s easy(ish) to stay in control of what goes into your mouth when you’re at home, but not so much when your plate is at the hands of someone else – you naturally feel pressured to eat everything that’s being served up to you, and unless your family and friends are squeaky clean raw vegans (which mine certainly are not), chances are you’re going to be faced with an array of not-so-healthy temptations. To combat this, I make a big, bright salad like this one whenever I’m asked to bring a plate of food to a gathering, so there’s always something delicious and healthy for me to fill up on and I won’t be as likely devour my weight’s worth of double brie, cabana and cheesecake.
This Maple-roasted Pumpkin and Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Macadamias is fab – I can’t wait to share it with you. But first, here are some snaps from Chrissy Day, all taken on my iPhone because although Santa very generously gave me a Canon EOS 700D SLR so I can start doing real food photography, I’m not quite ready to move from the comfort zone of my iPhone 5 just yet.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I had a ball preparing festive treats all day (and night) long on Christmas Eve…
I first made this salad around two months ago, and it’s already become my go-to staple of the season. It’s simple and has enough substance to serve to your family any day of the week, but it’s also a little fancy, making it the perfect dish for entertaining. Casual indulgence, if you like. Donning just the right amounts of sweet, sour and savoury, this salad will have your taste buds singing and your belly satisfied. Like any salad, this recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to play around with it. If you’re after a vegetarian dish or light side salad, simply leave the chicken out. This salad is wonderful when the roasted veggies and chicken are warm, however, it’s just as delicious cold, so don’t worry about being meticulous with timing everything. Leftovers make for a perfect lunch the next day!
Full bellies and happy hearts all round…
Maple-roasted Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Chicken Salad with Strawberries & Caramelised Macadamias
- 1/2 roast chicken, skin removed & flesh shredded (omit for vegetarian)
- 1/4 Jap/Kent pumpkin, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
- 1 large sweet potato (approx. 700g), washed, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
- 1/2 cup macadamias, chopped roughly into halves
- 2 tbs + 2 tsp pure maple syrup
- 1.5 tbs oil (olive, coconut or macadamia)
- 200g baby leaf salad mix
- 100g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 punnet (approx. 200g) strawberries, sliced
- 1/2 cup spring onion, chopped (green part only)
- 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
- 1 tbs pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- Small handful each fresh basil and parsley (flat-leaf), roughly chopped
- 100g goat’s curd or Danish feta, to serve (omit for dairy free)
- EVOO, to serve
- Balsamic vinegar, to serve (optional)
- Himalayan sea salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 170*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a small bowl, coat the macadamias with 2 tsp maple syrup. Pour onto the baking paper and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden and caramelised. Remove and set aside to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Turn the oven up to 200*C and line a tray with baking paper. In a large bowl, coat the pumpkin and sweet potato chunks with 2 tbs maple syrup, 1.5 tbs olive oil, oregano and salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, turning half way through. For the last 5 minutes of baking, add the pepitas to the tray. As always, cooking times will vary from oven to oven and depending on the size you’ve cut your veg. Use my photos as a reference to determine if the veggies are ‘done’ or not. This salad works best when the veggies are a little on the ‘under’ side – quite soft in the middle and caramelised and chewy around the edges. Don’t let them crisp up too much as the caremelisation will dry out!
- While the veggies are roasting, arrange the salad leaves in a servings bowl or platter. Drizzle leaves with a little olive oil and a small amount of balsamic vinegar, if using (the balsamic goes perfectly with the strawberries and feta, but be sure to only use a tiny bit otherwise the salad will be too sweet!).
- When the veggies are ready, top the salad mix with the spring onion, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, roasted veg, chicken, feta, macadamias and pepitas. Just before servings, finish with a tiny sprinkle of EVOO. Enjoy!