Tuesday 18 December 2012

Spaghettini Alle Vongole

Some links for people with a mental illness and their families who want to have a good Christmas but may have some anxieties...

• For the NHS Choices advice on keeping healthy at Christmas go here

• And for their specific advice on keeping your cool during the festivities go here

• And for their advice for people alone at Christmas go here

• Some great tips from our friend Andrew McCulloch at the Mental Health Foundation can be seen posted on their Facebook site yesterday here

My view is that it is the pressure of expectations - one's own, other people's, and the media's - which lead to difficulty. Problems can then range from the trivial, such as disappointment that the big meal doesn't live up to Nigella's seemingly effortless version, through to the very serious, such as those who feel sad feeling even sadder and left out because "everybody" says you have to be jolly at Christmas.

In truth we are the same people at Christmas as we are the rest of the year. We don't become celebrity chefs magically and nor do we suddenly acquire contentment and happiness if we didn't have them in November.

So the clue is to be yourself - and true to yourself - rather than put on an act which will put you under strain and won't in the end please other people if they really care for you.

My final tip is ... sea-food. Traditional Christmas fare is very heavy and best confined to a small number of special meals. If you want to have other special meals over the holiday then why not invest in some cockles, prawns (regular or Dublin Bay), mussels, crab, lobster (quite affordable frozen ones in Lidl), or more exotic stuff like razor clams - not expensive on Swansea market. All these make lovely meals which contrast with the traditional stuff and can be a lot healthier. Take a look at your fishmonger or check out the fresh and frozen stuff in the supermarkets.

Try this Welsh Italian delight:-

Cook 8oz/200 grams spaghettini (thin spaghetti - available in supermarkets - you could use ordinary spaghetti but go with me on this one) according to the instructions on the packet in very salty water - don't overcook (spaghettini cooks very quickly) and so keep "al dente".

Meanwhile heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, add finely chopped garlic to your taste and cook lightly, add a very tiny amount of chilli (the heat should only just be discernable in the final dish), add a splash of white wine if you've got it and boil off quickly, stir in up to 4 oz/100 grams cooked Welsh cockles and heat through for a few seconds, stir in the cooked, drained spaghettini and some chopped parsley, adjust seasoning (a grind of pepper perhaps) and serve.

This does two hearty meals or four substantial starters. Don't add parmesan as this would be a crime under Italian law (or should be). If you want to make it look good add a few cooked cockles in their shells to the mix. An inauthentic but very pleasant variation is to add some chopped bacon (fry in the oil before you add the garlic) and/or, if you need the comfort, stir in a blob of crème fraîche (but again don't tell the Italian food police). Yum.