A Mother’s Day Cuppa

I’m not a fan of Mother’s Day.  Too commercial, too contrived.  I always wished my Mum happy Mother’s Day and would usually try and remember to put a card in the post, but I think some years it probably arrived on the Monday.  And even when my own kids came along, I have to say I still wasn’t fussed.  I realise this makes me sound like a sour old kill-joy, so in my defence let me say I love the home-made cards with tissue paper daffodils as much as the next Mum, it’s just that I think the little cards and notes your kids write all year round are just as special – if not more so for being spontaneous, surely?

Anyway, I’ve been quite glad to be avoiding supermarkets the last few weeks.  The shoals of emails in my inbox and promoted posts on my timeline encouraging me to spoil my Mum with flowers, experience days, photo-mugs and everything else the free-market economy can dream up have already given me ample opportunity  to dredge through the mounds of regret I feel about all the years when I could have bought my Mum something more than a card, but didn’t.  I really don’t need to walk past more displays of guilt-inducing chocolates-flowers-cosmetics-and-all-the-bloody-rest-of-it while I’m buying groceries.

However, 9YO and 3YO were never going to let me completely ignore Mother’s Day, and this year’s presents are, I must say, a definite 10/10.  Without any apparent collusion between 9YO’s Brownie pack and 3YO’s nursery, I have got a hand-painted mug (just what I needed as my old favourite mug broke a few weeks back) made at last week’s Brownie meeting, and a teapot-shaped card made at nursery.  The teapot-card even came with a small teabag of fancy tea; not one of those herby camomile-type infusions, but proper tea with a twist of something flowery on top.  I do like the occasional cup of fancy tea as a change from my usual builder’s brew, and this one was very nice indeed.  And best of all, totally home-made with no supermarket labels to discreetly peel off!

So on Mother’s Day morning, courtesy of my two beautiful girls, I sat back and had a cup of tea in memory of my Mum, who always made sitting down for a cuppa and a chat feel like special time, not just on Mother’s Day.  Thanks Mum.


Mid-term blues

I’ve not blogged for a while.  Everything upside down here as we’re getting various jobs done on the house.  Having reached the conclusion that we’re not going to be moving any time soon, we decided it was worth making the kind of improvements which won’t add any value to the place but will make living here a whole lot nicer.  So the garage which cast a shadow over half the garden has gone – or at least it will be by tomorrow, when the final skip is taken away.  As the garage was packed with garden toys/ tools and stuff that wouldn’t fit in the house, this means we’re in a state of total upheaval, boxes everywhere.  We’ve also had the loft boarded as part of the same project, so much of what was in the garage is now up there, and a new shed is next on the shopping list (to be located in the shade of the tree at the end of the garden, where it won’t obscure any of the sunshine now flooding into our plot) .

What you really need, as a parent and home owner trying to co-ordinate various jobs being done on your house, whilst getting the family to work and school, is a range of quick and simple meal options.  Sausages, chips and a tin of sweetcorn kind of meals.  What you don’t need is the kind of ‘what the hell are we going to eat?’ anxiety caused by taking on daft challenges like giving up supermarkets for Lent.  I mean seriously, whose idea was this?! (yeah ok, I know)  Frankly, I’m fed up.  I agree whole heartedly with the principle of promoting rare and interesting vegetable varieties, but the organic bag delivery last week contained NO vegetables that the kids will eat.  Yellow carrots, purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot… all  rejected.  And the fruit portion – normally a good mixture – consisted mainly of a pineapple, which 3YO won’t touch, and 9YO will as long as it’s carefully carved and trimmed of all excess woody bits so that it’s actually more like tinned pineapple … which of course, we haven’t had time to do (see first paragraph) so it’s still mouldering in the fruit bowl.

Never mind, at least we live in a city that’s still got a fabulous indoor market… I do love the market, and 3YO and I have been enjoying our regular trips there.  It means we can stock up on the kind of vegetables that the kids like, which the organic box scheme doesn’t provide.  They may not be organic, but they’re reasonably priced… or so I thought, until I got home from today’s visit and worked out that the carrots I’d bought from the stall advertising them at 35p per lb  weighed only 11oz and had cost me 70p….  Husband laughed at me for being so gullible; apparently when he used to work near the market and buy fruit at lunchtime, his approach was to pick up a banana, hand over a 20p and walk away.

I’m sure that supermarkets have some fairly sharp practices which you might find out if you scratched below the glossy marketing, they’re just not quite so blatant about ripping you off.  Maybe becoming more of a savvy shopper is part of the learning curve I’m on.  And in fairness to the independent sector, we’ve had some very tasty food and some great chats with friendly shop keepers.  Oh, and some fantastic Scottish beer from an independent off-licence, which Husband reports actually  had their beer displayed geographically, so that the Scottish beer was on the top shelves, the stuff from Kent down at the bottom… how cool is that?!  So I will grit my teeth as I chew on my overpriced carrots, and carry on … how much longer is it till Easter?



A brave new world of shopping

Until the start of Lent, our shopping routine was utterly predictable.  I went to the supermarket once a week and bought pretty much everything.  Did a token visit to the butchers and also got a small delivery of organic veg every Thursday.  We have our favourite brands which we never deviate from, eat the same meals from one week to the next and hardly ever run out of anything.

Take Sainsbury’s out of the equation though, and all of a sudden there is a real sense of uncertainty in the kitchen.  Where do we get certain items? Are they even available anywhere outside a supermarket? If we can’t get them, what are we going to eat instead?  The local corner shop and the mini-supermarket don’t sell yoghurts ( a packed lunch staple for both kids) and we haven’t found a dairy that delivers in our postcode yet.  Substitutes to our normal brands can be good – the cheese I got from the butchers was really tasty –  but other purchases (like the corner shop’s can of mushy tuna instead of my usual Sainsbury’s tuna) have frankly made me feel a bit queasy.

Life’s a lot more interesting without supermarkets though.  3YO and myself had a great trip into town on the bus on Tuesday. We bought some cheap red and yellow peppers from the market, and visited an eco shop called Out of this World, where we stocked up on lots of things. This included halva, which I haven’t had for years, but was delighted to find that 3YO loved it!  She also had a lengthy conversation about Angelina Ballerina with the shop assistant, as an added bonus.

Everything’s taking much more time and effort, with no guaranteed results.  The first week I phoned the veg box people to ask for a one-off delivery of extra potatoes and fruit.  As we ate almost all of it, I called them again first thing the following week with a view to making the larger delivery a regular order.  All their lines were busy, so as instructed I left my name, number and a brief message, in which I outlined that I wanted to increase my order, effective immediately, and could someone please call me back about this.  No callback.  At all.  The Thursday delivery came, without the extra fruit and spuds, and (as we were away this weekend and didn’t manage to go to the farmers market) we now have no fruit left that the kids will eat.  I suppose it’s partly down to me being on my high horse thinking I shouldn’t have to phone them back.  Maybe I  need to break out of my supermarket-seduced ‘customer is king’ mindset? Meanwhile, the organic box people have been busy posting lots of links to animal welfare petitions on their Facebook page, so they’re evidently not letting trifles like accepting money from paying customers interfere with their core purpose.

Overall, I’m finding that not knowing where – or even if – I’m going to be able to buy certain items is incredibly unsettling. It says a lot about how set in my ways I’ve become, that I’m  so freaked out without the comforting familiarity which supermarkets provide.  Given that the majority of people in the world have little or no choice about what they eat, I’m also feeling a bit guilty for stressing about the lack of Petits Filous.  Since the beginning of Lent, quite frankly we’ve not been hungry, and we’ve tried a couple of new types of food.  And 3YO and me will probably have another fun trip to the market tomorrow.   So far so good.


A supermarket free Lent: the first few days…

So Lent started on Wednesday, and I’m proud to report the family haven’t set foot inside a supermarket for over a week.  Given that we have a well stocked freezer, and I only do one weekly supermarket shop, this hasn’t been too difficult so far.  I phoned our organic veg box people on Monday morning, and added some more carrots, potatoes, apples and bananas to our regular order, and we’ve popped to the corner shop for milk on a couple of occasions.  So far so simple.

Today – Saturday morning and shelves looking a bit empty – it felt like the challenge was starting in earnest.  I dropped 9YO off at her music lesson and headed off with a shopping list and a resolve to avoid Sainsbury’s.  First stop was the tiny ‘Bahi’ supermarket down a side street in between Aldi and Waitrose. Husband and I have convinced ourselves that this doesn’t count, as despite calling itself a supermarket, it’s clearly an indpendent business. I’ve never actually been inside, despite living within walking distance for nearly a decade.  But it’s reasonably well stocked, and I pick up our normal brand of bread (Warburtons toastie loaf, can’t beat it!), milk, pasta, a 4 pack of Heinz tinned spaghetti (3YO’s favourite lunch), tuna and ketchup.  Compared to a bigger supermarket, it feels very spartan.  I’m conscious that while there’s a good range of products, there’s only one or two of everything; when I pick up the spaghetti I’m aware of the empty shelf behind it.  Does this matter? Not really, I suppose.  But I don’t feel tempted to buy anything other than what I came in for, which is different to bigger supermarkets where the sheer quantity of everything almost seduces you into loading up your trolley.  Even so, the man behind the counter does the tiniest double-take when he sees my full basket.  He’s very chatty – not surprising given the absence of any other customers – and I get the feeling that he’s really pleased to have someone to talk to.

Then it’s on to our local butcher, who I’ve mentioned before.  In addition to our usual meat (chicken fillets, sausages, pork chops) I spend a lot more than usual on the cold counter.  2 boxes of eggs, some sliced ham (if I was going to Sainsburys I’d get salami to go on the pizza I’m making tomorrow night.  Butcher doesn’t sell salami – “no call for it round here” – but he assures me the ham will be lovely on a pizza), a block of cheese and 2 tins of tomatoes.

In total I’ve spent just under £39 on this haul.  As a comparison, if I’d bought the same items at Sainsbury’s, I calculate I would have spent about £36.  But in reality my weekly Saturday morning shop at Sainsburys is always more in the region of £55-60, because I buy a lot of other stuff too – things like extra (imported, out of season) vegetables which I know the kids will like, yoghurts for their packed lunches ( I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to give them as an alternative, must check out if any other local shops do yoghurts, or see if there is a local milkman??). So on the one hand, I’ve saved by only buying what I need, but on the other hand some of it has cost more because I’ve not had the option of the Sainsbury’s Basics range, and I’m also going to need to do more shopping soon. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve saved any money or not. But I feel good that I’ve spent it in local shops, and that hopefully I’ve contributed to a good day’s takings for a couple of friendly local traders who are trying to stay afloat in tough times. For week 1, that’s enough to be going on with.


Off my trolley: a supermarket-free Lent

Following last week’s musings, I’ve decided to take on a challenge set by another blogger, and give up supermarket shopping for Lent.  Husband has calculated that we spent £400 in Sainsburys in February, so that’s a lot of shopping we’ll need to do elsewhere.

So why give up supermarkets for Lent?  My Catholic upbringing hasn’t carried over into adult life, but the idea of a period of abstinence between Shrove Tuesday and Easter still has an ingrained feeling of rightness.  Six weeks also seems a long enough time to break a bad habit, without setting yourself the daunting task of giving something up “for good” from the outset.

If Lent is a good time to break bad habits, then it logically follows that I think supermarket shopping is a bad habit.  When I was a crusty young student living round the corner from an organic co-operative it was all so easy and obvious… seasonal organic produce, transported home in my rucksack to cook a hearty vegetable curry was obviously better for me, the environment and the local community than driving to a supermarket to stock up with processed, over-packaged food shipped in from all over the world… There are all sorts of reasons why supermarkets aren’t great, so for years I did my bit and was probably healthier and certainly smugger for doing so.

Fast forward twenty years, my ethical shopping has dwindled to a token weekly butcher’s trip/ delivery of organic fruit and veg, and I’m spending nearly £100 a week in Sainsburys.  Because guess what?  9YO and 3YO won’t eat the hearty vegetable curries.  3YO for most of her short life has refused carbs in any form apart from oven chips, and the only vegetable she’ll touch is cucumber – which is either unavailable or unfeasibly expensive on an organic box scheme.  When 9YO was younger we stuck to our guns a bit more, and she’d start to develop a taste for veg box delights such as celeriac and fennel…. only for them to disappear from the veg box as the seasons changed, leaving us to start all over again with a new vegetable – and by the time the seasons came round again she’d refuse to touch what she’d liked the year before.  We had many evenings watching our lovingly home-cooked meals being pushed round a plate by a reluctant child.  Eventually you swallow your principles and accept that it’s better for your kids to eat a full plate of sausage and chips than none of your homemade organic hotpot. As 3YO started going the same way, the supermarket shop has gradually increased.  I try to shop as carefully as possible, avoiding the biscuits and the ready meals.  But even so, I’m conscious that while supermarket shopping is the easiest way to feed my family, it’s certainly not good for the local economy or the broader environment.

So we’re having six weeks off.  Because it will probably do us good to try some new foods (and seeing as 3YO has recently added mash and jacket potatoes to her repertoire, it feels like we’re on a bit of a roll).  And because Sainsburys won’t miss our money at all for six weeks, but our butcher, and the organic box people, and local corner shop will probably really notice the increased business from us, and as I’ve said previously, I want those local shop keepers to stick around.  To be honest I suspect I’ll be filling up my Sainsbury’s trolley come the Easter weekend, but you never know, we might have changed our ways.

I’ve checked what groceries I can get through the box scheme, and where the nearest farmers’ markets are, and we’re good to go.  The one last thing to do, as we count down to the start of Lent, is check my privilege.  Giving something up for Lent, by its very definition, implies that there’s at least a sufficiency, if not a surfeit, of that thing in your life.  I go into this six week challenge mindful that I’m exercising a choice which would be impossible for many people.  It would have been impossible for us 12 months ago, when I’d lost my job and we were living off the Sainsburys Basics range and raiding our savings to keep afloat.  This little six week adventure may end up costing us more on some items, maybe less if we get into the habit of only buying what we need.  But the fact that I don’t need to worry about this, that I can cheerfully contemplate exchanging Sainsburys Basics tinned tomatoes (35p) for the Italian organic variety (89p) our box scheme can deliver, means that we’re pretty lucky.  Maybe this challenge is also an opportunity to remember people less fortunate, and think about how we could help.  And would you believe it, there’s the Catholic – still in there after all those years.