Take any stress out of the days between Christmas and New Year with comforting, simple dishes that everyone will enjoy
PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT FEELINGS about Boxing Day. As a child I hated it. My grandparents left after lunch and it would seem like Christmas, something I had been wishing for and making paper chains for and buying glitter for since October, was over. I would be left with a sense not just of emptiness, but of guilt.
The glitter had been flung and had dispersed far and wide, but I couldn’t see it any more. I would survey my presents and think that I had been given too much, that we had all, in fact, been given too much and eaten too much (the tin of Quality Street was empty by Boxing Day), and been stuck in a house that was too warm. The only way I could revive my sense of Christmas magic was to stand as far inside the branches of the Christmas tree as I could and breathe in the scent of pine.
As an adult, I love Boxing Day. There is no more cooking – yes, even I do not want to do the kind of cooking that resembles a military campaign two days in a row – because the house is full of leftovers, the pressure of a schedule (backtiming everything to hit The Hour At Which We Will All Sit Down) is no more and, crucially, the onus is no longer on the cook or host to provide all the meals.
I sometimes just refuse to do anything on Boxing Day. I’ve had enough. Practise saying this: ‘Oh, I think it’s someone else’s turn. Where’s the corkscrew?’ If you have the requisite ingredients – bread, salad (everyone craves salad on Boxing Day), mayonnaise, pickles and chutney – then other people can carve and plate. Remember, though, when doing your final Christmas shop, because the focus is always on Christmas Day, it’s easy to forget the foods you need to go with the cold cuts on Boxing Day.
I don’t know why people think it is somehow a dereliction of duty to provide only leftovers on Boxing Day. Platters of ham, turkey and stuffing are there to be picked at and lusted after in all their ‘we have a full fridge’ glory.
The other reason the cook has to stop is that if they keep going – in resentment and/or in tiredness – this feeling will affect everyone. I remember this atmosphere. As the host/cook/parent, you need to keep this three- or four-day-long party going with a swing, and ensure that happiness reigns (while acknowledging that you are not a family therapist).
Refuelled by a day off, I’m always glad to get back to the stove on 27 December. Apart from anything, the kitchen becomes a kind of sanctuary. You can close the door and have only the sound of chopping, the gentle sizzle of frying onions and the radio for company.
Pie is good at any time, but it’s not often you’ll have the ingredients for a turkey and ham version. Since Christmas brings with it a longing for the traditional, a good old-fashioned pie whose filling is bound with béchamel and scented with nutmeg is something to look forward to. I always serve this with Waldorf salad (if you’re going to go back in time, why not go right back?), though these days I let down the mayonnaise dressing with buttermilk. Toad-in-the-hole is also on my post-Christmas list because, in my experience, one day of cold cuts is enough for children before they want to get back to what they consider ‘proper’ meals.
Every year I write about dishes for the ‘in-between’ days, but here’s the thing: if cooking the Christmas Day meal is enough for you – if you’ve just had it – then go out, keep the leftovers going, order pizza, or stock up on ready meals for the days that follow. I didn’t love Boxing Day when I was a kid, but I sure as hell am going to enjoy it now. And so should you.