new food habits (they’re getting more stretchy and comfortable)

Lots of friends have asked me how our Sabbath weeks have changed the way we buy and cook food. In real life, I’m a bumbling, inarticulate mess when it comes to communicating things I haven’t worded in advance – so, apologies to all those friends who have patiently listened, nodding but confused, to my incoherent reply. You have my permission to ignore everything I said then, and replace with the following, which hopefully makes more sense. So, what has changed?

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1) Sabbath week has given me a more long-term approach when shopping for food. We now have a fruit and veg box delivered weekly; we’re trying to use the butcher and fishmonger as much as possible; and we use an online supermarket every seven weeks for storecupboard staples. (This fits with the Sabbath week model: food arrives at the start of week 1, with week 7 being our ‘Sabbath’.) None of this is new – we’ve dabbled in farmer’s markets, veg boxes, local butchers and ethical supermarkets before – but our way of food shopping has been pretty constant for a few years, so the change feels exciting and different, and a little bit like new jeans you have to wear a bit before they become totally comfortable.

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The problem is that any change of this nature has to be sustainable.

That’s why we haven’t stuck with any previous changes we’ve tried to make. Supermarket shopping is cheap (hello, single salaried family) and convenient (one trip, one hour, done). So any changes we take on board have to fit into our budget, and also be convenient for a busy family. Of course, no system is ever perfect, but after a few months of trying out these changes, it seems to be working fairly well, balancing out the competing factors of ethics, convenience and cost.


(An aside: please don’t think I’m against supermarkets. They hold many advantages, not least the convenience. We have six within a 10-minute drive of our home – extend that to twenty minutes and the number easily goes into double figures, many of which are open 24 hours. At any time of the day or night, I can buy pretty much whatever food we’re short of: this is a total dream. I’m not against supermarkets, I just have concerns over some of the ways they use their power. I don’t want to have to rely on them for the bulk of our fresh produce, but, realistically, there will be times when it isn’t in the best interests of my family to drag them to a local shop, and therefore supermarkets save the day.)


2) Sabbath week has taught me not to over-consume. Do I eat because I’m actually hungry, or because I like the taste? I’m more aware of saving leftovers for another day, rather than finishing them up just because they’re there.


3) Sabbath week has taught me to use up absolutely everything. I didn’t think we were too bad at this, to be honest, but then I realised how often I throw out limp, once-fresh herbs, or the last bit of a jar of pesto, because I forgot it was open and it went bad.


4) Sabbath week has given me useful tools for other weeks. Now that I’m more confident in cooking with what we have (we’ve had three Sabbath weeks so far), this philosophy spills over into other weeks when perhaps we’ve been spending too much (summer holidays, anyone?) and need to tighten the purse strings. It has led to more vegetarian meals, and more simple cooking. I still love to get out recipes and challenge myself with something new, but for weeknight meals things have really been pared back. The quality of the veg we’re now getting means they taste good as side dishes in their own right, so I’m not having to ‘hide’ them as much in one-pots or traybakes. (The greens, above, are spring onions, green pepper and runner beans, stir-fried with garlic and a good amount of fennel seeds. Yum!)

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5) The kids are starting to be more involved with our food. They enjoy making pizzas, or mixing a batter to make veggie fritters. And, being summer, we’ve been able to do a bit of pick-your-own too!


Of course, like a new pair of jeans, none of this will last forever. It would be naive to think that these were our food habits for life; they simply suit us now. I’m happy.


our holiday – a photo a day

Last year, I challenged myself to tell the story of our summer holiday by choosing just one photo per day. (You can see the result here.) This year, imaginative being that I am, I’ve decided to do the same. I didn’t think you’d want to see the hundreds of near-identical holiday snaps we took in order to practise using our exciting new camera – but I thought some of you would probably be nosey enough to want to see some of what we got up to. So here it is.

(And the fact we returned four weeks ago is neither here nor there. This week I’m playing blog catch-up, remember?)

Day 1: The view from our holiday cottage.
Day 1: The view from our holiday cottage.
Day 2: On the beach at Seahouses. How clear is that water?!
Day 2: On the beach at Seahouses. How clear is that water?!
Day 3: Lindisfarne. (Spot the third Rycroft.)
Day 3: Lindisfarne. (Spot the third Rycroft.)
Day 4: Water fun at Alnwick Gardens.
Day 4: Water fun at Alnwick Gardens.
Day 5: birds. Farne Islands. Incredible.
Day 5: birds. Farne Islands. Incredible.
Day 6: steam train.
Day 6: steam train. Mister with antlers.
Day 7: a beautifully sunny day in Edinburgh with our wonderful friend Emma.
Day 7: a beautifully sunny day in Edinburgh with our wonderful friend Emma.
Day 8: enjoying an ice cream in Amble.
Day 8: enjoying an ice cream in Amble.
Day 9: cooking masterclass at friend Edwina's hen do.
Day 9: down to London for a cooking masterclass at friend Edwina’s hen do.
Day 10: family party.
Day 10: family party marks the start of our week in the south.

Day 11: spent mainly in a paddling pool. Despite cropping the photo I wanted to use so that it shows only the kids’ legs, WordPress still deems it too naughty to appear on my blog. Sorry.

Day 12: wedding anniversary meal at Luke's Dining Room.
Day 12: wedding anniversary meal at Luke’s Dining Room.
Day 13: Joel taking his driving test at Legoland.
Day 13: Mister taking his driving test at Legoland.
Day 14: looking out onto the Thames from our holiday house.
Day 14: looking out onto the Thames from our holiday house.
Day 15: tree-climbing.
Day 15: tree-climbing.
Day 16: at the wedding of university friend Louise and husband Ian.
Day 16: at the wedding of university friend Louise and husband Ian.
Day 17: Catching up with friends Tom and Charlotte in London.
Day 17: Catching up with friends Tom and Charlotte in London.

the bucket weekend

Regular readers will know that I have a ‘bucket list‘ of things I want to do in York before we leave. (Which is three weeks ago. Confused? Read this.)

A few weeks ago, I killed three bucket items in one weekend. On the Saturday we enjoyed a day at Newby Hall, celebrating the birthdays of some small friends. Often places like this are a bit devoid of activities for kids, particularly preschoolers – but not Newby Hall. Firstly, we headed to the play area:

2013-06-29 11.56.13Banana boats, sand pit, zip wire – even a boating lake, with dinky little child-size boats:

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After lunch, we made our way to the miniature railway. A small additional fee is charged, but was worth the novelty of a little trip through the grounds:

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Finally, we enjoyed the water feature – several randomly spurting water fountains, in a space designed for kids to run, splash and play! It was a great day, something we would happily do again with the children.

Once our shattered offspring were safely tucked up in bed, we left them with a babysitter and popped off down the road to see our good friends Guy and Kanako. Guy is the head chef of Ambience – Yorkies, if you’ve never been, GO! Kanako cooks amazingly delicious food from her home country, Japan – and often cooks for Ambience’s infamous Japanese nights. It was this which was on my bucket list – we’ve never found a convenient date to go – but Kanako and Guy did one better, by inviting us round for our very own Japanese night! I’ll leave you to imagine the conversation, as it couldn’t be photographed, but here’s the food:

Help-yourself sushi fillings.
Help-yourself sushi fillings.
My favourite - inari sushi - at the top, plus rice and vegetable dishes.
My favourite – inari sushi – at the top, plus rice and vegetable dishes.
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Fried chicken…with soy, garlic and ginger. Mmmm…
Omelette. I think. Good, though.
Omelette. I think. Good, though.
Miso soup.
Miso soup.

Oh my. Words escape.

I’ve been reflecting recently upon the seemingly insignificant moments which lead to strong friendships. Little did I know, when Kanako and her tiny baby walked into the Under 1s group three years ago that she would end up becoming such a good friend. Japan was the instant connector (my parents lived there for many years), but our friendship has gone deeper as we’ve explored faith together, and become members of the same church community. They are such busy, hard-working people, who still manage to make time for friends and family, and I have an awful lot of respect for them.

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The final bucket trip of the weekend was Mass at All Saints North Street. What can I say about it? Probably nothing that you haven’t already predicted I would say, coming from an evangelical, low-church background. It was different, refreshing, contemplative, slightly heady, and an excellent chance to hone my rusty sight-singing skills. It was also a pretty challenging test of liturgical navigation, moving between the service book (which contained most of the liturgy), the music book (which contained music for all the sung bits of liturgy), the service sheet for that week (which contained the special chants for that day), and the hymn book (which contained the words to the hymns). It’s been a while since I read neumes and, being a geeky muso, this bit was kind of fun.

But would I make it my home church? I think you know the answer to that. Whilst the experience, as a one-off, was positive and largely enjoyable, I wonder how the church functions as a community. What goes on in the week? No one spoke to me – and, as the congregation was small and mainly over 60, I imagine I stood out like a salad at McDonald’s. So either everyone else was a visitor too, or they were regulars who didn’t feel it important to welcome a newbie. (I even sat in someone else’s seat – the hackneyed mistake of a visitor in a new church – and was made to know about it, too!) I wondered how this sort of worship experience enhances and inspires the Monday-Saturday of daily Christian living, or whether it is simply a Sunday ritual which has little bearing on reality. Thoughts, anyone?

Overall, an enjoyable bucket weekend. 🙂

sorry, sorry, sorry…

This summer seems to be going at a breakneck pace, and carrying me along with it, so this is a quick post to say a big SORRY. You wouldn’t believe how many blog ideas I’ve had over the past few weeks – but none of them have made it out of my head yet. There’s just not been time!

I think that, at the risk of finding the six-week summer holiday a drag, I perhaps over-committed ourselves, and now find that we’re nearing the end of week 4 and just wishing life might slow down a little! I have no energy to express what we’ve been up to in an amusing or interesting way, so if you’re interested, here’s a bullet-pointed summary:

* playdates. Many.

* park trips. Many. (It’s the UK’s first summer for 10 years, OK? We’re making the most of it.)

* weddings. Many, many weddings.

* making cards for weddings

* practising piano for weddings

* adjusting page boy outfits for weddings

* cooking and baking (but you knew that, right?)

* having people round for meals or nights or both

* films (Partridge and Monsters University, plus catching up with vintage ones I never saw before, like Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles)

There’s more, I’m sure there is, but anyhoo that’s what my frazzled brain can cope with right now. Just about to head off to the final wedding of our summer, after which I foresee a (slightly) clearer couple of weeks, in which you may just get bombarded with 58 blog posts…