Saturday, 13 July 2019

Finding common ground

A recent report by the UK Methodist Church, entitled God in Love Unites Us, has generated a lot of debate about same-sex marriage in the church.  There are already dozens of articles putting forward the views from each side.  But in such a divisive issue, I felt like it was important to remember what we do agree on.

These are six things that I've heard from both sides of the debate.  We may doubt that others believe them.  We may disagree drastically on how to live them out.  But if we can at least assume that everyone believes them, then they may just give us a tiny piece of common ground to build on.


We want to be welcoming and loving

At their best, churches can be places where everyone feels welcome - where lonely people find a family, the unloved find love, and the outsiders find a community to belong to.

At their worst, churches are places where everyone who doesn't live up to our ideals is made to feel excluded, ashamed, and even hated by God.

We would all prefer our church to be more like the former, but we have to admit to ourselves that they often fall short.  The booklet Christian Role Models contains 20 moving and inspiring stories from LGBT Christians around the world; almost all of them experienced rejection from fellow Christians at some point.  Fortunately, many also found encouragement and support in their faith.

Whether or not we believe that our theology around same-sex marriage should change, we know that our theology includes a God who is love.  We know that having the right beliefs is useless, if our actions are not expressing this love to others.

And so we realise that making a choice about our marriage theology is just one step in a long walk.  It's possible to refuse to offer same-sex marriage and to be a church where LGBT people feel welcomed, accepted and included.  It's also possible to register a church for gay marriages but to have an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

Either way, we realise that LGBT people have felt rejected from our churches, and that our beliefs have been used to push them away from God.  We realise that our actions and words need to address the hurt and assure people that God loves them.

We all agree that our church should make everyone feel welcome.  Let's find common ground to make that a reality.

We value the Bible and try to be guided by it

I recently followed Humanists UK on Facebook, simply because I'd read some comments on the page ridiculing those who used an ancient manuscript to get instructions from some old man in the sky.  I felt like I might sometimes need a reminder that viewing the Bible as important in any way is rather unusual in itself.

It's easy to frame this debate as "I follow the Bible; you don't."  It's easy to think that if other people really valued the Bible, they wouldn't read it like that.  But if you step outside of church culture for a moment, you realise how much importance we all, within it, place on what the Bible says.

God in Love Unites Us says that "a report...identified seven different attitudes to biblical authority" (don't you love the Methodists - what other denomination would even count?).  So it's not surprising that we can read the same words and come away with different convictions.

But let's try to avoid suggesting that we are the only ones who really understand God's word and live by it.  Let's do each other the honour of recognising that we both read and wrestle with the Bible, and that we are still learning from God in the process.  Let's shy away from describing one viewpoint as Biblical, with the implication that the other is not.

Let's find common ground in our value for the Bible - and if you need persuading of that, go and read a few humanist comments on the subject.


We want to pursue God's righteousness

I'm not the sort of person who often cries in a church service.  If I do, it's usually because something else in my life is causing me to be emotional.  This time, it was because a Bible verse landed in my mind with the force of a ton of bricks.  You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you do not lift a finger to help them.

Ouch.

That was Jesus speaking to the experts in Jewish law (Luke 11:46) - the ones who thought they had righteousness all sewn up.  Do this, don't do that, everyone respects you and God's happy too.  Simple.  And Jesus said, no, but the way you go about it heaps burdens on others while you get the easy life.

For me, the easy way isn't caving in to popular culture.  The easy way is to keep the status quo, where the people I know are middle-class Christian families who are basically a lot like me.  And however unwittingly, my easy way has been putting barriers in the way of others, which I personally don't have to face, and which I haven't lifted a finger to move.

The hard way, the God's righteousness way, is to find out what those barriers are, and what I can do to help.  It probably involves lifting lots of fingers.  I'm not even sure I can do it.  But I'm pretty sure that's what pursuing God's righteousness in this matter means for me.

For others, pursuing God's righteousness may mean standing up for their faith in the face of opposition.  It would be easier, they feel, to abandon their conscience and agree to change, but the hard way, the God's righteousness way, is to affirm traditional morals while finding new and radical ways to love and include those who live outside them.

Let's recognise that we may all be moved to tears by our failure to live up to God's righteousness.  And let's find common ground in supporting each other to hear God and follow him.


We care for the church

With all this talk of welcoming and including those who are outside the church, we sometimes forget that there are people inside the church who need caring for too.  It can be disorientating and frightening to have to re-examine beliefs that you have held for years - especially if you feel like you are being forced to change them whether you like it or not.

I vividly recall a time when I felt like I was desperately trying to dig down to the solid rock that I had been told my faith rested on, only to find that it all seemed to have turned to sand.  At such times you find yourself questioning your identity, your community and your entire worldview.  It is not a comfortable experience.

Most changes in our beliefs are considerably less drastic.  They occur gradually over time, as a result of meeting new people and doing new things.

The trouble comes when either a change, or a lack of change, is seen as harmful.  For some, changing to accommodate same-sex marriage in church is dangerous.  It calls into question the authority of the Bible, offends against God's holiness, and may even risk people's salvation.

For others, holding on to a traditional view of homosexual relationships is dangerous.  It has caused people to turn away from God, believing that they cannot be loved by him; it has contributed to marginalisation, violence and suicide; and it has led people to believe that Christians are bigoted and unloving.

Given such high stakes, it is no wonder that we feel like we either have to force others to agree with us, or split apart completely.  But underneath all of those fears of danger is a deep care and concern for Christ and his church.  Let's hold each other's fears as fiercely as we hold our own.  Let's find common ground in our care for the church.

We are aware that our Christian faith is affected by our culture

You know that something's become mainstream when Sainsbury's supermarket has a banner outside supporting it.  I'm afraid my reaction was slightly cynical: well, of course they support LGBT rights now, when they know it won't lose them any customers!

All of us within this debate are well aware that it wasn't even a conversation 50 years ago.  The culture has changed, and we have already changed with it.  Even supermarkets are taking a moral position.

But let's not equate one position with "keeping the faith" and one position with "uncritical acceptance of culture".  We both look at the world around us and see the good and the bad, and we incorporate that into our faith and our lives.

It's impossible to separate out our beliefs from our friendships, our experiences, and the culture around us.  All we can do is to try and ask ourselves the right kind of questions.  Do I think this because it's easier for me?  Does this make me more loving, or less?  Does this fit with what I know of Jesus?

Even then, it's easy to have a horrifyingly large blind spot - a log in our eye, as Jesus puts it.  Sometimes we need other people to ask us those questions.  And it takes time to ask them and answer them respectfully, carefully and prayerfully.

So let's not be quick to assume that other people are blindly following a party line.  Let's assume that our blind spots are at least as large as theirs, and let's find common ground as we gently and graciously try to reduce them to a speck.  Let's be aware that we are all affected by our culture.


We trust in Jesus

Ultimately, our faith doesn't depend on our Biblical interpretation skills, our ability to adapt to popular culture, or even our personal morality.  It depends only on our trust in Jesus - and fortunately, he is in heaven interceding for us.  Let's pray for each other and for our church, that we may rely more and more on Jesus and his all-encompassing, death-defying, terrifyingly wonderful love.  Let's find common ground in him.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Easter celebrations

The rest of my eco-Lent flopped badly, I'm afraid.  Life has an annoying way of not stopping so that you can concentrate; in fact, it usually gets busier!  However, saving the environment was always going to take more than 40 days, so at least there is more incentive now to carry on.

But for all our failures, and our fears for the future, we still need hope; and for that, there is Easter.

And we did manage to do Easter!

Here's our decorated mantelpiece: crafts by the boys, banner by me, flowers from the Co-Op and foliage from the garden.


I made a Simnel cake (11 marzipan balls for the disciples, omitting Judas), and some 'empty tomb' bread rolls (a marshmallow inside melts in the oven, leaving an empty hole - ta-daa!)



On Good Friday we did one of the Cadbury/National Trust Easter egg hunts at Calke Abbey.  It focused on looking for signs of spring rather than following clues, which disappointed Toby ("an egg hunt ought to have proper answers!") but we found some beetles, admired the waterlilies, and saw a frog in the lake, which was properly exciting.  And yes, there was chocolate at the end.



Saturday was the local Messy Church.  Toby and Theo enjoyed colouring in a sign and hammering it on to a stake (several bent nails; fortunately no bent thumbs).  They also did a 'proper' Easter egg hunt, with, yes, more chocolate at the end.



On Easter Sunday we went to church in the morning, then to the park for a picnic, and came home for a proper Sunday roast.

I should tell you that Toby was very proud to have won his school eggmobile competition.  They had to build a vehicle which could carry an egg, and go the furthest when rolled down a ramp.  Of course this was right up his street.  His prize was - you guessed it - another chocolate egg.  He said, half-jokingly, that he'd like to fill it with ice cream and put mini eggs on top, and I said, "Actually, that's not a bad idea for dessert..." so we did it!


And to work off all that chocolate, ice cream and Simnel cake, we went for a good long walk on Easter Monday, on a ridge of hills called the Roaches.  It's been a beautiful weekend in all sorts of ways.



Monday, 25 March 2019

House: Water, Energy and Stuff

I wasn't really thinking about water this week until I heard a news report on the radio which suggested that people should reduce their water usage from 140 litres per day to 100 litres.  Well, I had no idea how much water I used per day, but as it happened, we had just received our water bill.  I did a quick calculation, looked at the figure, and thought, "That can't possibly be right!"  I checked my conversion, checked my arithmetic, and finally looked up 'average household water usage'.  Of course.  The 140-litre figure I had in my head was per person; we were pretty close to the average household figure, at around 350 litres per day.

Image credit: Pixabay


But... 350 litres?  Every day?  That's 35 buckets full!  Imagine if I had to carry all that from a well! 

I really was staggered to find out just how much water we get through.  This fascinating document  from the Energy Saving Trust goes into a lot more detail about what we use it for.  Didn't you always want to know how many people actually shower every day?  Or how often we boil the kettle?  (24 times a week, apparently.)

That short news report has made me a lot more aware of how much water I'm using.  I don't feel like I've done much to change that yet, but it's certainly something to think about.

So, on to the daily breakdown:

Day 11

Install a bamboo toilet seat.
 

Actually I did this last week, but it fits this week's topic, so I'm co-opting it!  Ideally, of course, we buy as little as possible (see tomorrow), but I think this is an example of buying a Good Thing.  The old seat was broken and disgusting.  It was well overdue for replacement.  This looks so much better, will hopefully last many years, and is made of bamboo, which is meant to be more sustainable than wood.

Day 12

Watch The Story of Stuff.  It's a pretty simple animation (sometimes simplistic), but it's a useful reminder of how geared up our society is to keep buying more and more stuff.  And so much of it goes through our lives and into the dump in an alarmingly short period of time.

Day 13

Clean with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.


Plenty of websites will tell you that these two chemicals are amazing for cleaning ANYTHING.  From my chemist's viewpoint, they're a mild alkali and a mild acid, which is fine but not necessarily amazing. 

I'm ashamed to admit that our kettle never actually has been descaled, so I gave vinegar a go as a descaling agent.  It definitely helped a bit, but it didn't take all the scale off; maybe I'll give it another try.

I also read that you can scrub a kitchen sink with bicarb.  Presumably it's being a mild abrasive in this case, as much as anything else.  The sink looked better afterwards, but it seemed like I used quite a lot of bicarb, and it's not particularly cheap.  I'd be tempted to save the bicarb for baking, and use plain water and a scrubbing pad if I was trying to avoid cleaning products.

Day 14

Measure my shower.

About 8 litres of water

The magic numbers for showers appear to be: a flow rate of 8 litres per minute or less, and a shower length of 4 minutes or less.  I'm pleased to say that mine was bang on target in both respects.  That doesn't leave me much to improve on, but it was encouraging, anyway.  I also discovered that our local water supplier will send you free gadgets to reduce the shower flow or time your shower, so if I'd needed either of those I could have got them from Severn Trent.

Day 15

Help with Waste Week show and tell.




Look!  I got to draw a pie chart!  The boys' school was doing Waste Week this week.  Not only did I send some of our recycling off to them to use for junk modelling, I was also able to do slightly better for Theo's Show and Tell than last week (when I shoved a toy spider into his hand as he was walking out of the door).  I have no idea what he actually said about it, but at least it looked pretty.

Day 16

Look up green energy providers. 

We already have solar panels on our roof, so changing our energy supplier hadn't been a top priority for me.  A quick poke around, though, suggests that green energy tariffs are now comparable to the standard ones.  Our current fixed-rate deal runs out in a few months, so I'll have another look then and see if we can move towards renewable energy.  This is a fairly recent article listing the main suppliers.

This week seems to have been more about information than actual changes made.  In some ways that makes me feel like I'm not achieving much, but on the other hand I'm finding out a lot that I didn't know.  And I thought I was reasonably well-informed!  I'm appreciating the way that this Lent challenge is forcing me to keep thinking about environmental issues - and it's sparked some conversations, too.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Food: Reduce! Reduce!

This title reminds me of a story about the conductor of a choir.  While they were rehearsing a piece, the sopranos persisted in singing too loudly.  Finally he turned to them in despair and implored, "Please, ladies!  Reduce!"

For this first week of Lent I wasn't trying to reduce either my singing volume or my waistline.  Just my meat consumption and kitchen plastic waste.

Day 5


The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution is big on the idea that, while it's all fine saving our own little bits of the planet, what we really need is changes in the big picture - the governments and companies that control how we make energy and what we do with it.  This means making some noise to push them in the right direction.  So I started the week with a little bit of lobbying.

I wrote to our local council to say that I was glad they use locally sourced meat and MSC fish for their school meals, and to encourage them to use their buying power to support better farming practices.   I also wrote to the supermarket I usually go to, to ask if they could stock a wider range of Fair Trade products.  They said they would look into it.

Day 6





Ordered a wooden dish brush, a loofah sponge, and coconut fibre scourers from Boobalou.  I usually use a cotton dish cloth, but we also have a dish sponge, a green scourer and a plastic dish brush living near our sink, so when they die they can be replaced by these non-plastic alternatives.


Day 7

Vegan Day.

I tried to keep the whole week fairly vegetarian (we sneaked in a bit of smoked mackerel one day), but I wanted to try a vegan day too.  Graham and I started the day with apple and chia seed bircher muesli (recipe here).  Effectively it's cold porridge; it was nice enough, but we agreed that the hot version is better at this time of year!


For lunch I had some leftover dhal and rice, and for dinner we had Quorn bbq sliders, adapted from this Budget Bytes recipe.  This is pretty easy, and I knew everyone liked it!  I mixed some cabbage and carrot with bottled French dressing to make a vegan coleslaw, too.  Dessert was canned peaches with vanilla soy yoghurt.

I have to say, having a fridge stocked with almond milk and soy yoghurt feels almost painfully trendy.  It's great that so many people are reducing their meat consumption, but it's an awkward balance sometimes between doing good and jumping on a middle-class bandwagon.  So many people in the world simply can't afford meat, and they don't get designer-label desserts to replace it with, either.  With that in mind...

Day 8

Donated to some ladies from my church who are going a step further than being vegan!  They're just eating beans and rice for five days, to raise money for Tearfund.  Find their JustGiving page here, if you'd like to find out more.

Day 9


On my list was watching the documentary Meat the Truth, but it hasn't quite happened yet.  Hopefully I'll fit that in next week.

Day 10


Remember that we started collecting all our plastic on day 4?  Today was the day that we tipped it all out to see where it came from and what we could do about it.  The boys and I divided it into categories and weighed it. 


Our total recyclable plastic was 560g, with most of that coming from plastic bottles (267g, plus another 94g of milk bottles).  We get through quite a lot of squash - if anyone's got any tips on how to train your kids to drink water, let me know!  I've completely failed on that.

Our total non-recyclable plastic was 257g - mostly plastic wrappers of various sorts.  Cereal bags, bread bags, vegetable and fruit wrappers.  I've cut down on a lot of vegetable packaging by getting a vegetable box for the last few months, but this is full of the kind of stuff that the boys don't like - cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts - so I still buy a few extra bits, including frozen veg.  It's difficult to see how to reduce this much, unless we stop eating cereal and bread!

It was quite alarming how much plastic we got rid of in one week.  Those plastic bags and bottles don't weigh very much, but we had over 800g of them!  Still, the boys are doing "Waste Week" at school, and are supposed to be making something out of old plastic bottles.  They dived into the pile with enthusiasm and much sellotape, and are gradually constructing a castle and a rocket.

In summary, reducing our meat consumption is a lot easier than reducing our plastic waste!  We've been cutting down on meat for a while so usually only have it once or twice a week anyway.  Perhaps if I adopt the same tactic for plastic, it will have the same effect.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Lent Guide to Climate Revolution

Is it me, or is Lent a very stealthy season of the year?  I always think I have weeks to work out what I'm going to do, and then it sneaks up on me and bam! there I am cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and wondering if I actually am going to give anything up, and if so, what, when, how and why.

This year, I felt like something to help the environment would be appropriate.  The Tenants of the King Bible study that I'd done back in the autumn had increased my conviction that this was important, but there were a lot of things that I knew I could do and hadn't quite got around to yet.

I'd seen a link to Living Lent, which suggested six challenges.  All of them sounded slightly unachievable.  I didn't want to commit to something that I didn't actually think I could do.

Then, right on Ash Wednesday, The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution thumped onto my doormat.  A plan started to form.  With some of the ideas from this book, plus some of the things I'd been meaning to do for a while, I would find 40 ways to help make our family more environmentally friendly.  And, of course, blog about it.

The first step was to read the book.

Day 1 and 2

Get and read (quite a lot of) The Parents' Guide to Climate Revolution by Mary DeMocker.  This book definitely met my expectations.  The author clearly cares deeply about what kind of world her kids are inheriting, and has devoted her own and her family's life to making it a better one.  But she also manages to keep a sense of humour and fun, not to mention a fair dose of common sense.  The result is a mix of some obvious ways to make your family green (Plant Trees, Used is Cool) combined with ways to inspire your children (Bring On the Awe, Amplify Kids' Voices) and some things which you wouldn't think were related to climate at all (Bury Your Neighbor's Chicken, and my favourite: Chainsaw the Fence).  On this last one: yes, real saw; yes, real fence; and yes, we are not the only people in the world to make a hole in the fence so that our kids can share their trampoline!




Also Day 2

Make a cape for Theo's World Book Day costume out of an old T-shirt.  In the interests of full disclosure, I did go shopping for yellow material, but couldn't find any.  So Graham kindly let me cut up an old yellow T-shirt, and I got to score at least some brownie points for homemade upcycling.  It's dead easy; there are instructions here, for example.



Day 3

Sign and share a Greenpeace petition to encourage the UK government to pass a strong Environment Bill.  There are always loads of these petitions floating around, and whether the government pays much attention to them, I don't know.  But it takes about 20 seconds, and it might help.  Probably a direct letter helps more, but that's also on my list for another day.

Adjust the heating programme.  It's not super-warm out there any more, but it is generally milder, and I knew we probably didn't need the heating on quite so much.  Just hadn't done anything about it yet.  So this was a good prompt to do it, and save some gas.



Day 4

Start a plastic audit.  I've recruited the rest of the family for this one.  We're putting all of the plastic that we'd normally throw away in a separate bin this week.  Next weekend, we'll look through and see where most of our plastic waste comes from, and whether we can reduce it.


Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The next stage of parenting

And just like that, we are no longer the parents of any under-fives!


Yes, Theo has had his fifth birthday, and it feels like we are on to the next stage in our parenting careers.

We survived the nappy changes and the night time feeds.  We lugged the awkward heavy car seat to restaurants and churches and supermarket trolleys and doctors surgeries.  We squeezed tiny bendy arms and legs into equally tiny clothes - only to undress and re-dress them ten minutes later.  We introduced them to the delights of solid food.  And we sat them down on the grass somewhere, took a step back, and marvelled at how tiny and utterly dependent they were.



Then we found ourselves with toddlers, who needed constant watching and entertainment.  Suddenly a lot of equipment went everywhere - pushchair, high chair, travel cot.  Wipes, nappies, spare clothes, toys.  The inevitable dummy and the inseparable soft toy.  We visited every toddler group and soft play area within a ten mile radius, and we didn't have a single uninterrupted conversation with anyone.



Gradually, milestones popped up along the way.  The first walk without a pushchair.  The move from a cot to a bed.  The moment when we realised we had all slept through for several nights in a row.  They learned to put their own shoes on, to get dressed, to use the toilet, to brush their teeth.  We took them to preschool, birthday parties, cafes and playgrounds.


And then we bought school uniform and black Clarks shoes, and they looked terrifyingly small and amazingly grown up as they went into the classroom with all the other children, and our knowledge of their day was reduced to mystifying fragments: "We made magic potion and I went really fast!"  "I didn't like my potato so I put my hand up and Mrs Hatton said I could eat my biscuit."



So now, we are no longer parents of any under-fives.

I am enjoying this stage.

I like seeing them design cars and write poems and draw pictures and make friends.  I like it that they're still small enough to snuggle on our laps, and we still know where they are all the time.  And I like it that they're big enough to play together, and enjoy having a babysitter instead of clinging to us when we go out, and take their own plates into the kitchen after dinner.  And, after eight years, I no longer have to wipe anyone else's bottom!


I'm also finding small snippets of time which didn't exist even a year ago.  Such unthinkable things as ten minutes of piano practice, or a regular prayer time, are working their way back into my schedule.  Back in the baby stage, I'd assumed that my children would have to be at least teenagers, possibly even have left home, before I had any chance of resuming my own activities.  I'm glad to be proved wrong about that.

Talking of teenagers, I know we have that looming on the horizon.  Dealing with hormones, and letting them disappear for hours at a time, and trying to monitor internet use, and supplying enough food for enormous teenage appetites.  I know.  So that's why I'm enjoying this stage.  Because soon we'll be on to the next one.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Vanish that Veg! Carrots

Half a cabbage.  Most of a bag of carrots.  Several potatoes which are starting to sprout.

However carefully I buy my vegetables, I often find myself needing to use up one or two which have been sitting in the fridge for far too long.  I need recipes that convert a large quantity of one vegetable into the main part of a meal.  And I don't mean soup.  I mean something that my kids will eat some, if not all, of.  Something that won't be lurking accusingly in the fridge five days later.

I'm gradually building up a collection of these recipes.  These are dishes that I've made several times.  They're tasty, easy, and packed with vegetables.  So have a look in your fridge, read through the recipes, and let's vanish that veg together!

Carrots


Everyone in my family actually likes carrots, so they are much easier to use than, say, brussels sprouts (which Toby recently accused me of trying to sneak into every meal).  They can go sweet, savoury, or somewhere in between.  I've been making some of these recipes for at least 15 years, so they are tested to the max - in fact, I was quite surprised they haven't made it on to the blog before now.

Martha's Famous Carrot Cake



Let's face it, cake is what you really want to make with carrots!  This is not your stodgy dry nutty kind of carrot cake.  It's light and moist and covered in far more cream cheese icing than is good for you.  And it sells well at cafes, too!

8 oz carrots
8 oz plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
10 oz sugar
3 eggs
8 oz vegetable oil (by weight)

Grease and line a 12 x 8 inch brownie tin.  Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Grate the carrot or cut into chunks and blitz in a food processor.
If using a food processor, add the rest of the ingredients to the carrot and whizz until combined.  Otherwise, put the grated carrot in a large bowl with the other ingredients and mix with an electric mixer until well mixed.
Pour into the tin and bake 45-50 minutes until the cake feels firm.  Cool in the tin, then ice.

For the cream cheese icing, beat together 3 oz softened butter, 3 oz full-fat cream cheese, 10 oz icing sugar and 1-2 tsp lemon juice until fluffy and creamy.  Spread over cake.

Roasted carrot and chickpea salad

Here's something a little bit healthier!  You can mix it with some couscous or rice to make it more substantial, sit it on some spinach, or serve with some grilled chicken on the side.

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Dressing
1 tsp tahini
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp orange juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley or coriander


Heat the oven to 180C / 350F.  Boil or microwave the carrots until they are almost tender.  Drain, then tip into a roasting dish and toss with the sesame seeds, oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 20 minutes or so until they are slightly browned.  Stir in the chickpeas and give them 5 minutes in the oven just to warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the tahini, olive oil, orange juice and garlic together and season to taste.  When the carrots and chickpeas are ready, tip them into the bowl, sprinkle over the parsley or coriander, and toss it all together.  Eat warm or at room temperature.  Serves 2-4 depending what you have with it.

Spicy rice supper


I can't believe I haven't told you about this dish before - but if it is on the blog, I can't find it.  This is one of those wonderful recipes that you can make from almost nothing and it tastes fantastic.  It's spicy in the sense of being not spicy at all really, but it comes from a rather elderly cookbook that obviously considered a teaspoon of paprika to be rather daring.

Long grain rice, measured to 200 ml in a jug
400ml chicken stock, made with a stock cube and boiling water
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp chilli powder (mild or hot)
1 tsp paprika
1 large carrot, grated
a few handfuls of frozen prawns, defrosted
a few handfuls of frozen peas

If possible, cook the rice in advance and leave to cool.  But if not, that's fine too.  Put the rice in a medium saucepan and pour the stock over.  Put the lid on, bring to the boil, then turn down to the lowest heat possible and set a timer for 15 minutes.  Don't touch it till the timer rings; then just turn the heat off and leave the rice to sit until you need it.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and fry the onion until soft.  Add the chilli powder and paprika, give it a quick stir, then add the grated carrot and cook for a couple more minutes.  If you have raw prawns you can add them with the carrot and cook until pink.

Add the cooked rice, peas, and the prawns if they are ready-cooked.  Stir and fry for a few more minutes until everything is nice and hot.  Serve in large heaps.  This should feed 4 comfortably, but it's surprising how much of it you can get through!

Other suggestions

Carrot cornbread is good with chilli or stews.

I know I said no soup, but I have to mention our competition-winning, culture-crossing, carrot and orange soup.  I might have to give you the recipe for that another time, though.



Over to you

Any favourite carrot recipes?  Let me know!

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Catching up

I know some of you appreciate the family news I post on here, so here's a quick summary of what each of us has been up to over the last couple of months.


Toby


- went to his first Cubs meeting on a night when they were eating hot dogs and marshmallows, loved it, and was very proudly invested as a member just before Christmas.



- spends his spare time writing stories, designing vehicles, and playing Super Mario Bros.



- has a large collection of beer bottle caps (any donations welcome, as his primary provider was an ex-work-colleague of Graham's).



- plucked up courage to go on a zipwire at the playground, and discovered it was great fun.



- enjoyed Lego, lots of books, penguin pajamas and a remote control car for Christmas.



Theo


- likes playing on the bikes and in the home corner at school.



- is now right at home with phonics: "I can spell cat!  Cuh, Ah, Tuh."  He's also been telling us about digraphs, at which point Graham and I nod enthusiastically and give each other bemused looks over Theo's head.  All this was out of fashion when we were at school.

- was a very cheerful king in his nativity play.



- enjoyed a new scooter, a car racing track, a chef's hat and apron, and colouring pencils for Christmas.


- is constantly asking how many days it is till his 5th birthday (not long now...)


Graham



- started a full-time management role at a company where he's been working part time for a while.  There's a lot to do but he feels like it's going well.  (Apparently some customers have already commented on the improvements he's made!)

- spent a weekend in Scotland being support crew for a guy cycling in a mountain-bike endurance race.  18 hours driving and 2 nights in a camper van in freezing temperatures sounded like too much endurance for me!  (Read the story here)

- discovered the enormous Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield, so we went for a visit and explored one small corner of it.



Martha




- enjoyed escaping from the kitchen over Christmas - we went to visit Graham's family and then my parents, so we did all of the driving and none of the catering this year!

- thought everyone was going to be trying to slim their waistlines and fatten their wallets in January, so has been surprised that the cafe is actually quite busy.  Bacon and eggs never seem to go out of fashion.


- spent the morning of her birthday taking sons to swimming lessons, playdates and soft play parties, but then got taken out for a delicious Italian meal in the evening (another of Graham's discoveries).


- has much longer hair than she has done for a while, but no good photos of it yet.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Vanish that Veg! Cabbage

Half a cabbage.  Most of a bag of carrots.  Several potatoes which are starting to sprout.

However carefully I buy my vegetables, I often find myself needing to use up one or two which have been sitting in the fridge for far too long.  I need recipes that convert a large quantity of one vegetable into the main part of a meal.  And I don't mean soup.  I mean something that my kids will eat some, if not all, of.  Something that won't be lurking accusingly in the fridge five days later.

I'm gradually building up a collection of these recipes.  These are dishes that I've made several times.  They're tasty, easy, and packed with vegetables.  So have a look through your fridge, read through the recipes, and let's vanish that veg together!

And to start the series... it's cabbage!

Cabbage

Credit: Eitvydas, from Wikimedia Commons

Cabbage is a prime suspect for being overlooked.  For one thing, a single cabbage goes a long way.  I remember adding it to all manner of dishes - shepherds pie, stir fry, bolognaise - in a frantic attempt to use it up.

For another thing, it's not exactly everyone's favourite vegetable.  I like it.  But none of these recipes has persuaded my boys to eat any cabbage at all.  My one minor success so far was with some potato and cabbage fritters, which weren't entirely successful in other ways (such as sticking together) but the boys did actually eat one each.  Here are two old favourites and one newer addition to my repertoire.

Stir-braised cabbage with cumin

This is adapted from a recipe in Nigella Bites which uses nigella seeds (of course!)  I could happily eat a bowlful of this by itself, but it works well as a side dish for fish and mashed potatoes, too.

Savoy or green cabbage
Splash of vegetable oil
1-3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 vegetable stock cube
100-200ml hot water

Use somewhere between half and one cabbage, depending on how much you think you'll eat.  Finely shred the cabbage.  Heat a splash of oil in a large saucepan, and put in the cumin seeds.  Use 1 tsp for half a cabbage, up to 3 tsp if you have lots of cabbage and really like cumin.  Sizzle the cumin for a few seconds, then add the cabbage.  Stir it around for a couple of minutes so it gets coated in oil and just starts to cook.

Add the stock cube and just about enough hot water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Put the lid on and leave to cook for about 4 minutes, by which time the cabbage should be fairly soft.  When it's cooked to your liking, use a slotted spoon to serve.  You'll end up with some of the liquid and cumin seeds left in the pan, but hopefully not too much.

Charred lemon and olive cabbage


My first two veg boxes both contained a pointed cabbage.  It's not a variety I'd usually buy, but I happened to have this recipe (from the Feb 2017 Waitrose magazine) which is really good.  Zaatar is a spice mix that I'd never bought before; if you don't want to, just leave it out.

8 green olives, finely chopped (mine were from a jar)
1/2 garlic clove, finely grated
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
A little chopped mint if you have it
1 large pointed cabbage
1 tsp zaatar

Put the olives, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and mint in a fairly wide bowl.  Season and whisk together.

Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthways, then cut the quarters into 3 wedges.  Heat a griddle pan or a lightly oiled frying pan over a high heat.  Cook the cabbage wedges until softened and charred, which only takes a few minutes on each side.  You'll probably need to do it in batches.

Put the cooked cabbage straight into the dressing.  Turn to coat.  Sprinkle with the zaatar to serve.  It can be eaten warm or at room temperature, and keeps well for lunch the next day too.  Nice with rice dishes.

Dhal with cabbage


Dhal is one of my favourite curries to make, partly because it tastes good and partly because it's easy.  Unlike most curries, you don't start off by frying onions and garlic; you just put the lentils on to boil and then have plenty of time to do all the chopping while they cook.  Also, chillies and ginger freeze well, and the other ingredients keep for ages, so if I have a cabbage to use, I know I'll almost always be able to make this recipe.  It comes from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery.

200g red split lentils, washed and drained
1 litre cold water
1/2 tsp turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic
75g onion
225g green cabbage
1-2 green chillies
1 tsp salt
1 medium tomato, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Put the lentils and water into a large pan and bring to the boil.  Skim off the foam from the top, then add the turmeric and give it a stir.  Leave the lid on, turn the heat right down, and leave to cook for between 30-45 minutes.  Madhur Jaffrey says 1hr 15 minutes, but they're usually done well before then if you need them to be.  Stir fairly regularly to make sure they don't stick.

While the lentils cook, get on with the chopping.  Finely chop the garlic, slice the onion thinly and shred the cabbage thinly too.  Chop the chillies - you can do this straight out of the freezer if they've been frozen.

When the lentils look fairly well cooked, add the tomato, ginger and 1/2 tsp salt.  Stir and leave to cook while you sort out the cabbage.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  Add the cumin seeds, then the garlic.  Stir it around for a minute until it's just starting to brown, then add the onion, cabbage and chillies.  Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes until it's softened and slightly browned.  Add a little salt.

Tip the cabbage mixture and any extra oil into the lentils.  Give it all a good stir and check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or some garam masala if you like.  Serve with rice or naan.

Other suggestions

The Budget Bytes website has lots of recipes for cabbage, including this one for colcannon, and this one for beef and cabbage stir fry.

And there's always coleslaw, of course!  Although I find there's a limit to how much coleslaw one family can get through unless you eat it morning, noon and night.

Over to you

Do you have any favourite recipes for cabbage?  Please share them - I'd love to know!