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Keep fit and party until dawn on Boxing Day.

STIR Up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, when cooks put on their aprons and mix up the ingredients for a Christmas pudding, fell this year on 22 November. Large quantities of dried fruit (pre-soaked in brandy), nutmeg, mixed spice, shredded almonds, suet, eggs, brown sugar, flour and grated apple, are mixed together with milk, turned into a greased basin, and steamed for several hours. On Christmas morning, the seductive aroma of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg will fill the kitchen, as the pudding is steamed once again, before serving with brandy butter or ice cream.

Ham and cheese croissant from Freshly Ground at MiGym, Rolf Valley.

There are dedicated fans of the ready-made who prefer shop-bought Christmas puddings, boxed mince pies and Christmas hams, already baked in brown sugar and studded with cloves and red cherries. Convenient this may be, but who would miss out on the chance to wield a large wooden spoon to stir up the pudding, always from east to west, while making that all important Christmas wish?

Following on from Stir Up Sunday is Thanksgiving, an annual national holiday in the United States, when Americans re-enact a harvest feast, celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrim Fathers and the Wampanoag people. Today, the fourth Thursday of November, Americans all over the world will be celebrating in one way or another. At this time of the year, family members like to hang out with each other, putting aside minor quarrels and differences. In spite of dire warnings by CDC and advice to stay at home, many will have travelled long distances to be at that all important sit down feast of roast turkey, mashed potato, gravy, green bean casserole, corn, sugared yams and pumpkin pie.

Native Americans, considering the death and destruction caused by their colonisers, have a different perspective on Thanksgiving. Chef Sean Sherman, author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, relates how his great grandfather helped fight off General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Instead, however, of dwelling on the past, Chef Sean wants to focus on the values that apply today to everyone – togetherness, generosity and gratitude. The dishes he’ll be preparing for this year’s feast will include manzanita berries, stewed venison, wild rice, wild plums, cactus fruit and smoked salmon, all traditional native American favourites.

Store bought Christmas pudding.

Preparing for a healthier festive season can start now, in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Bearing in mind that you’ll drink a few glasses of mulled wine on Christmas Eve, Bucks Fizz (Champagne and orange juice) at breakfast on Christmas Day, wine with the roast turkey and pigs in blankets with lunch, and brandy in the evening, why not forsake alcohol for the time being? If that seems too anti-social, adopt water-backing and drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink.

Take things a step further, and enrol at MiGym in Fisher Avenue, Rolf Valley. Sign up for one of the many courses on offer at this world class, state-of-the-art gym, and you could be well-muscled and beautiful by Christmas Eve. Choose a customised workout routine with any of the instructors, and find yourself doing Turkish getups, Bulgarian split squats and Russian twists, with occasional burpees, plank holds, skips and lunges. Different physical activities are recommended for different age groups, so whether you’re 15 or 75 years old, you’ll find the right programme.

After your early morning work out, stop by at Freshly Ground coffee bar adjoining the gym, for a healthy green smoothie, poached egg and avo on toast, or a freshly baked croissant generously filled with ham and cheese. Barista Jeffrey is on hand to make you a perfectly blended cappuccino, hot chocolate, latte or espresso, while manageress Shamela provides a cheery welcome to all patrons, and makes sure everything is running smoothly.

You’re unlikely to become super fit in the remaining days until Christmas, but whatever exercise you do undertake now, will give you more energy, improve your self-confidence and reduce all stress levels. Best of all, you can exchange those elasticised trousers and caftans for your flyest outfits, eat your fill and party until dawn on Boxing Day. A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Makakoff

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