We don't need many excuses to get into hibernation mode over the winter. It's so appealing to light the candles, get the fire roaring, crawl under a blanket and hit the remote control.
It's a fact - winter makes us feel lethargic, eat more and sleep more.
People with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) often have patterns of binge eating and can sleep up to 16 hours a day. SAD affects just a few per cent of the population, but many researchers believe most of us are susceptible to seasonal over-eating, oversleeping and a general bodily go-slow.
Apparently we don't need to feel guilty about this, though - it's a natural part of the way our bodies are programmed to slow down when the days are short and it's cold, just as animals prepare for winter by fattening up, then sleeping until spring.
When I ask my Scandinavian friends (who have to endure months of semi-darkness and perishing cold) how they connect with friends over their long, winters, they invariably respond "weekend brunch!"
Brunch doesn't require lots of preparation or effort - this kind of entertaining is easy like Sunday morning. Five reasons to love brunch:
1. You can eat more. Indulge in the pleasures of two meals at once.
2. You can still sleep in. Brunch can start whenever you feel like it. Everyone's in relaxed, lazy-day mode.
3. You can eat whatever you like. From mushrooms on toast with bacon to savoury tarts, mezze platters, mix-and-match bagels and toppings, or fry-ups with hash browns, sausages, bacon and eggs any which way; or go straight for the sweets with french toast, waffles, pancakes, pastries, cinnamon buns, scones, fruit salad or muesli. Pre-noon, people tend to be in more of a breakfast frame of mind, while a later brunch offers the chance to indulge in food that feels more lunchy.
4. Brunch food usually isn't too taxing on the wallet. You don't need to fork out for big-ticket protein items, and it's also economical on prep time and energy - perfect when you just feel like chilling out over the weekend.
5. Cocktails and brunch go hand-in-hand. It's quite acceptable to drink alcohol at brunch. Be sure to offer virgin options, such as bloody mary without vodka, as well as water, juice, coffee and tea.
Prep 5 mins. Serves 10-12.
8 cups tomato juice, chilled
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp lemon juice, or more to taste
2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
A little hot chilli sauce, such as tabasco, to taste
1-1½ cups vodka, chilled
Ice, celery stalks and lemon slices, to serve
Combine all ingredients except vodka in a large jug and chill until needed. Just before serving, stir in the chilled vodka. Serve over lots of ice and garnish each glass with a celery stick and a slice of lemon.
Annabel says: The trick to a good bloody mary is lots of lemon juice and tabasco. Keep the vodka in the freezer and ensure the tomato juice is icy cold. You can make the tomato juice base in advance and chill overnight until needed. To make virgin bloody marys, just leave out the vodka.
Ready in 45 mins. Serves 4.
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
1 large red pepper, cut into thin strips (optional)
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
400g can chopped tomatoes
½ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
50g feta, crumbled
2 Tbsp chopped coriander or parsley leaves, to serve
Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Heat oil in an ovenproof frying pan and cook onion and pepper, if using, over a low heat, stirring now and then, until soft (about 15 minutes). Add garlic, paprika and cumin and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer gently for 10 minutes until reduced and lightly thickened. Mix in parsley, salt and pepper.
The sauce can be made to this point in advance and chilled until needed. Reheat before adding the eggs. Make 4-6 wells in the mixture to the base of the pan and crack an egg into each. Sprinkle with feta and bake until the eggs are just set (about 7 minutes). Scatter with coriander or parsley to serve.
Annabel says: For a stress-free morning, make this spicy tomato sauce the night before your brunch and just warm it through before adding the eggs. You can cook it in the oven or on the stove top. To cook on the stove, add an extra 2 Tbsp water before adding the eggs and feta, cover and simmer gently until the eggs are set. For a fancier presentation you can cook individual portions in ramekins or small frying pans.
Tropical Fruit Salad
Ready in 15 mins. Serves 8-10.
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced
2 mangoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large papaya, peeled and sliced
½ cup bottled passionfruit pulp, or fresh pulp mixed with 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp lime juice
2-3 Tbsp ginger syrup (optional)
4 large, just-ripe bananas, angle-sliced
Layer sliced pineapple, mango and papaya in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with passionfruit pulp, lime juice and ginger syrup, if using, and toss gently to coat. The fruit salad can be prepared ahead to this stage and chilled until needed. When ready to serve, add sliced bananas and toss gently to coat.
Annabel says: This salad is the perfect antidote to that stodgy feeling you can get over winter. Light, fresh, and packed with revitalising goodness, it's just the thing to perk up tired winter taste buds.
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95).