The Wrong Chicken Drumsticks

Nearly two years ago, the Husband decided to switch to a faddy low carb diet to see if it helped with various niggling health problems (you can read about that here if you’re interested). It did, and he’s stuck with it, but it also had the unintended consequence of driving me permanently out of the kitchen. Continue reading

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A review of the last six weeks…

Now that 9YO has provided her summary of our Lent challenge, I really ought to provide my own.  So here goes:

First of all, the money.  Did we spend more or less by avoiding supermarkets?  I’m not very good at keeping track of my finances at the best of times, but thankfully Husband is a lot better than me, and he’s been keeping a running total, which I’ve just added up now.  Over the 6 weeks of Lent our non-supermarket shopping has amounted to… (drum roll) £608.58.  Divide this by 6 to give a weekly amount and then multiply it by 4, to give a like-for-like comparison to the 4 weeks of February, and it comes to £405.72.  By comparison, as I noted at the start of Lent, we spent £400 in Sainsburys in February.

So going supermarket-free for six weeks hasn’t saved us any money at all (no surprise there, the supermarket fans will no doubt say).  But it hasn’t cost us a dramatic amount more either – in fact the similarity between our supermarket and non-supermarket monthly totals would suggest that it’s perfectly possible to keep to your monthly food budget without using supermarkets.

However, behind the ‘headline figures’ there have been some big differences over the last six weeks.  We’ve shopped almost daily, walking down to the local off-licence for milk and basic groceries (and occasionally a bottle of wine, admittedly!).  We’ve had fewer biscuits and snack foods, and haven’t had our usual brands.  And – this is the thing that surprised me most – our consumption of dairy produce has been a fraction of what it normally is.  A typical weekly supermarket shop for me would include: milk, 2 different types of butter or spread, large pot of natural yoghurt, small ‘petits filous’ type yoghurts for the kids’ lunchboxes, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, soft cheese, and more often than not, ice-cream.  Over Lent, this has been more like: milk, margarine, block of cheese.  In fact, with the amount of dairy we HAVEN’T consumed over Lent, our final total really should have been a lot less than February, which probably suggests that overall, shopping without supermarkets is actually more expensive.

I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to buy our usual range of dairy produce outside of supermarkets, and until we started this challenge, I had never really realised how much dairy produce we were actually eating.  Whether this is good for us or not, I don’t know – or what this indicates about the relationship between supermarkets and the dairy industry.  It suggests they are pretty closely tied up, if it’s virtually impossible to get anything other than milk and basic cheese without going to a supermarket.  However, in the last couple of weeks we’ve started getting milk and orange juice delivered by a local milkman, which I’m very pleased about (even if 9YO is convinced that milk left outdoors at 5am will go bad, and is refusing to touch it!).

As 9YO pointed out last week, we have admittedly… cheated/ wavered slightly by going to the Co-op. Originally we came to the conclusion that if the Co-op didn’t count as a supermarket because of its member-owned status, then you could apply the same logic to Waitrose.  A supermarket-free challenge but still going to Waitrose isn’t really much of a challenge at all, so we decided originally to avoid both, but Husband has been to the Co-op a few times over Lent, because it’s close to the petrol station.  Is this cheating?  Let me know what you think!  I’m trying to justify it on the basis that with all the trouble the Co-op group seem to be in at the moment, we’re just doing our bit to try and rescue a failing business!

To summarise the last six weeks then:  On the downside, it’s been time consuming, I’ve been ripped off at least once, it’s been slightly more expensive and we’ve – arguably – cheated.  On the plus side, going to farmers markets has been fun, and provided REALLY tasty food, we’ve got to know the staff in our local shops, we’ve started getting milk delivered and have eaten a lot less junk.  And the priceless moment in Out of This World, where 3YO dragged Husband up to the shop assistant, shouting “Dad, Dad, this is the nice lady!” will live long in the memories of all concerned.

However, I’d better stop here, as Husband has just walked in with a bag of shopping from Sainsburys, which I need to unpack…

 

 

An overall summary by a guest blogger

When Mum decided she was going to give up supermarket shopping, I thought she was only joking. And when she actually did give it up, I thought she was going mad and needed to see a doctor. But now I guess it is much easier than I thought it was going to be as specially as most shopping is done when I’m at school or busy! One place I thought was a great place to shop is Out of This World in Leeds city centre (I recommend it). Since the begining of Lent I have only been there once but it still had a great impression on me. My little sister really enjoys going there with Mum on a Monday (which is saying quite a lot as my sister hates an awful lot of things). Despite being quite a small shop, Out of This World has a range of things to buy from washing up liquid to delicious cakes and buns. Mmm! Definitely the best place to shop if you enjoy eating organic and in season products. I’m sure we’ll carry on shopping there after Easter. In Lent we have spent £66.55 at Out of This World.***** rating.

A place of range and excitement next : the Market. The first place we shopped at in our Lent challenge, the Market has a high guarantee that you’ll find something to eat that you have never even dreamed of passing over your taste buds. I’ve bought strawberries, hedgehog loaves and easter lollies from the market ( all of which very tasty ). Brilliant for supporting local farmers and producers, the Market moves from place to place each week. Over Lent we have spent £37.36 at the farmers market. *** rating.

Please let me mention the TWO times when my untrustworthy Dad HAS shopped at supermarkets over Lent. My Mum has definitely wouldn’t let the world know her husband can’t keep a challenge up for six weeks. First time round my Dad shopped at Waitrose spending £8.19 ( he unnecessarily bought three pints of beer and two packets of crisps). Also he bought a Mothers day card for Granny but still unnecessary  as he could have just asked me to make one. Next time he shopped at Tesco spending £3.93. We really should count shopping at the Co-op as terrible crime especially as we have given them £156.75 out of my parents hard worked for wages. The shop next door to the crime filled Co-op is the Spar ( my parents don’t think it counts as shopping at a supermarket as really it is only a petrol station shop). Nearly beating our total amount spent at out of this world, we spent £65.78 at the Spar.

This blog is meant to be about a different points of view so let’s question my dad on what he thinks about no supermarket shopping:

Has our no supermarket shopping challenge been a good idea or bad idea?

A good idea.A really good idea.

Where has been your favourite place to shop over Lent?

The Co-op(said in a guilty tone).

 We have shopped in lots of off licences and butchers (but no bakers OR candlestick makers) but we don’t have time to mention them all.One thing we do have time to mention is the milkman.Something that we haven’t been doing for long the milkman is my least favourite food producer we have negotiated with so far (I’m sure he is a really nice guy but I just do NOT like milkmen). Everyone else in my house likes the almost daily service especially my sister who refers to the milk supply as ‘Magic milk’.Who would want to drink milk that had been sitting out on the doorstep for an hour or so before it is put in the fridge? It could have gone off! My mum tried to persuade me it is the same as eating Fairtrade bananas but I hate bananas and never eat them so I don’t get what the difference is.

Thank you for reading my blog

GHMF

 

Yum

Finally got round to trying the local farmers market (http://headingleyfarmersmarket.com/) today, and this is what we bought:

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2 loaves of fresh bread, some very strong cheese, apples, carrots, parsnips, onions, strawberries, mushrooms, apple juice and – best of all – EASTER CHOCOLATES!!  Tempting as all the £1 Easter Egg offers in the supermarkets may be, they’re obviously off-limits to those of us who have given up supermarkets for Lent, which means we just had to buy our Easter rations from our friends, the fabulous Cutting Cake Patisserie.  It feels like we’ve definitely gone for quality not quantity this year, as, rather than the usual haul of sickly sweet Cadburys Cream Eggs, chocolate buttons and the like, today we bought:

  • 1 pack of dairy fudge (which I know I should open up and place strategically round the house as part of the annual Easter Egg Hunt, but I am so very tempted to eat it all myself)
  • 1 chocolate lolly each for 9YO and 3YO, beautifully wrapped with a ribbon (again, also to be used in Easter Egg Hunt)
  • 1 large(ish) handmade chocolate egg for them to share, with truffles inside (which I really will have to eat)

So, that’s Easter sorted out, and I was pleasantly surprised by the range of other produce on sale at the market today.  There was meat, fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables, bread and lots more fresh produce.  The organic fruit and veg stall apparently also do home deliveries, and could tempt me to give our existing suppliers the elbow.  I’m starting to see how we could permanently reduce our supermarket dependence, combining places like this with shops like Out of this World, where we’ve been buying dried and tinned groceries over the last few weeks.  Today I spent £30, which seems like a lot – but as I’ve said previously, not when you compare it to the £60-£100 I could spend on a Saturday morning in Sainsburys.

After the farmers market, we called into our local butcher on the way home, for some cold meat and sausage rolls, which combined with the fresh bread and cheese from the market to make a fantastic ploughmans-type lunch.  Days like this could really persuade me to make our supermarket-free Lent a permanent life style…

 

 

 

A town like Reepham

One of my favourite books when I was younger was Nevil Shute’s “A Town Like Alice”.  Almost none of the story is set in the eponymous Alice Springs in Australia, but to the central characters it represents the ideal small but prosperous town with good amenities and a strong community spirit.  Growing up in a sprawling suburb on the edge of a big city, I always had a sense that any Alice-like qualities of my hometown were gradually being eroded, as new edge-of-town housing developments and the increase in car ownership meant that people no longer lived and worked in the same tight-knit communities.  Consequently, the idea of a self-contained and sustainable small town has always had a wistful kind of appeal for me, as something I’ve only ever read about, but never experienced.

I get a taste of small town life on our regular visits to Reepham in Norfolk, where Husband’s mum resides.  We’ve just got back from a weekend there, and I’m feeling decidedly jealous of my mother-in-law for having such a fantastic selection of local shops on her doorstep.  We had a family pootle round the market square on Monday morning, to stock up on some things for the journey home, and ended up spending quite a lot of money.  In addition to a well-stocked greengrocer’s and a fabulous shop called Diane’s Pantry which seems to sell just about every home-baked or organic or otherwise environmentally-friendly product you could ask for, there’s also a butcher, a post-office which has a great selection of small toys (v. difficult to get 3YO to leave!), and a very friendly and helpful pharmacist (who once let us in just as he was shutting up shop on a dark night over Christmas so we could buy some emergency flu remedies).  And for all those boring essentials and branded goods, there’s a Spar, which for the purposes of my Lent challenge, I don’t class as a supermarket. Another great feature of Reepham’s market square is the Bircham Centre which is part charity shop, part community centre, part library – making the town feel like a community as well as just a shopping centre.  We had a browse around after we’d done our shopping, restrained 3YO from buying toys (again!) and then wandered home along quiet alley-ways and side streets, kids jumping in puddles all the way.

I imagine it would be VERY easy for a Reepham resident to take on a daft challenge like giving up supermarkets for Lent.  Granted, the produce on sale in a small and relatively upmarket town is probably not as cheap as one of the budget supermarkets which we have access to in big cities, and I can well imagine that living in a small town with limited public transport has its drawbacks, especially if you’re on a low income.  But to an outsider – particularly a big city girl like me – it’s just lovely to see a range of small independent shops all within walking distance of each other.  I’m looking forward to my next visit – and would thoroughly recommend a Reepham shopping trip to anyone visiting Norfolk.

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?