Bonus: The Valentine’s Day lunchbox.

Because Jon is working tonight, but he still deserves that extra special treatment. If anything, he deserves it all the more for working so hard! 🙂

The Best Lamb Burger Recipe

Sweet Hearts Jam Tarts and Brazils to snack on.

For dinner a heart-shaped lamb burger; mushroom, spinach and garlic fry; heart mushrooms cooked in lamb fat; beans, for some carbs; carrots, beets and courgette as hearts too.

Plus a bowl of turkey and sausage stew for his lunch, which was not pictured because it was still cooking when I did the photos.

He mostly wants to stay lower carb than usual, but not VLC, so plenty of veg to balance out the sweet things.

Who said cute bento (lunch) boxes were just for Japanese moms and girlfriends?


For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

Do this for your man this Valentine’s Day.

Just a quick extra post because I have a few minutes to write and it popped into my head. Keeping it short and sweet.

1: Expect nothing.

Harsh though it may sound, you don’t deserve a car, a proposal or a dinner date just because you’ve been with someone for so long and it’s a romantic day. You don’t really deserve anything extra, even if you’re going the extra mile. It’s a day, there are 364 more. Get your expectations down to “nothing” and enjoy the day. Worst case scenario it’s a normal day. Best case scenario, your mind is blown by his generosity.


2: Be grateful.

If you get anything, be grateful. There is no obligation to give you anything or do anything for you. It may not be much, but it’s something, even if it’s just a flower or a card or some candy. He was thinking about you, he wanted to do something to make you happy. And maybe you wanted something specific or you can’t use the thing he got you, but nobody reads minds. Be grateful you got anything at all.


3: Cook dinner.

Even if it’s nothing fancy or special, make dinner. It could be giving him a break from cooking, it could be a romantic dinner or it could just be his favourite food.

Just because you’re expecting nothing doesn’t mean you have to give nothing. And cooking dinner is hardly the end of the world.


4: Dress up and be nice.

Every holiday can be a day of reflection. Think about everything your partner does for you, everything your partner means to you. Dress to impress him and be nice, pleasant and kind, as though it were your first date or honeymoon. Fall in love with him. Romance him.


5: Remember it’s not about you.

If you want a dinner date but won’t set time aside to be together. If you expect jewelery and he gets chocolate. If you are worried what your friends will think of his gift. Guess what? You’re being selfish. Don’t worry about social norms, expectations, the cost of gifts or whether you can squeeze a meal out of him before going to do overtime at work. Instead, either try and make it romantic and nice for both of you, or leave it alone entirely.


And if all this sounds too unromantic to you, then maybe rethink why this day matters so much.

TTFN and Happy Valentine’s!

10 Simple Date Ideas and why they’re Good!

The Private Man recently shared his friend’s post on Facebook, discussing the idiocy of modern dating. When everything has to cost X, Y or Z, everything needs to be “just so” and most people’s idea of a date seems like some sort of a canned interview setup, it can be hard to think outside the box. It can be easy to forget how to have fun without props, how to be intimate before having sex, how to show value without spending and how to learn about someone without asking questions. In other countries it doesn’t quite seem to be that way. People can spend a day on the beach as friends and wind up as a couple that evening. It can develop organically without an interview, money or sex to start it off. Sadly, in much of the West we have lost that art.

So, in the spirit of “low reward” or “honest” dating, here are my top ten simple date ideas, in no particular order, with tips to help with execution and things to look out for when on them. Even better, most of these date ideas are pretty gender neutral, safe for first or fiftieth dates and easy to suggest and plan, so they could work for anyone.

Complete with pictures of every red or pink edible I have ever made.

1: Picnic.


A picnic is not only one of the simplest date ideas, it’s also the sweetest thing on Christopher Hitchen’s four most overrated things in the world, so hopefully it annoys the sort of people who associate eating al-fresco with hedonistic excess.

How to suggest it.

First, find a suitable date for a picnic. Sometime when the weather is dry and around the right temperature for you. Then, ask your partner or would-be-partner if they want to go for a picnic. One of the keys to this, especially if you’re not sure about someone or they think of dates as inherently expensive, is to not phrase it as a date. People are surprisingly open to picnics when they don’t try and associate them with expensive meals and films.

You can then add details. Work out who will bring what. Look out for your partner’s initiative. Ask them if they want to go somewhere quiet or somewhere fun. Make the planning interesting.

What you need.

A perfect picnic, in my eyes, needs:-Somewhere to sit. Foldout chairs, a rug or a beach towel are fine.-Something to eat. Finger-food, well-wrapped things, drinks.-Something for fun or relaxing. Frisbee, ball, book, sunglasses, etc.And that is pretty much all. The setting, food and entertainment can be as extravagant, planned, cheap or miscellaneous as you like. But the key is still simplicity.

Conversation topics.

And what could you easily talk about on a picnic?Picnics have several advantages. They feel pretty easy and relaxed, so almost any topic can be brought up without it being read into much. They involve food, the outdoors and often people-watching, so there are many ice-breakers.For light conversation, try talking about food, people’s clothing, the weather, work.For personal conversation, try talking about cooking skills, culinary heritage, outdoor activities, health.For serious conversation, try talking about simple life, your roles in the couple, your families, ideal entertainment, cultural expectations.

What you can discover.

You will find out whether your partner is an outdoors sort of a person, whether they are private or public, what their idea of a “fun” or a “quiet” place is.

You will find out what initiative they will take on a date, whether they see it as fun to just be together or want something more, whether they want to cook for you, just bring junk or want you to treat them.

You can find out how easily they make small talk, whether they’re happy or a complainer, what their family and work lives are like, how they usually eat.

You could find out how judgmental they are, whether they are close followers of social norms, how much value they place on money, how seriously they take you.

2: Charity Shops.


This can be a harder one to pull off. On one hand, it isn’t that easy to make romantic. On the other hand, it’s very easy to make it expensive, especially if you’re as obsessed with bargains as I am.

How to suggest it.

A: Dada proposes going to a thrift shop, getting some cheap musical instruments and playing together, which is one great idea.

B: Another is to do it before a party or event, so you can both play dressup whilst looking for a couple of specific items to complete your look on the cheap.

C: You could also have a look through the book, CD or DVD sections for something to entertain you both together. Maybe you each get to pick one item or maybe you have to agree on one together. When you get home you read to each other, watch the film together or listen to the music.

D: Another is to just look through the nick-knacks areas. Maybe you don’t buy anything at all, maybe you can make a game out of counting how many of a certain item you find, maybe you can agree to buy each other a gift on the sly.

E: Your final option is to actually bring things to the charity shop. Go through your wardrobes, shelves and cupboards together, dig out things you never wear, read, watch or use and donate them.

What you need.

A, B, C , D: Access to one or more charity shops and a little spare change.

E: Unused items and a box or two.

Conversation topics.

This date lends itself to light conversation, anything heavy will make it too serious or even unpleasant. Think of the range as being from puppies to films, not future families to law.

A: Music, art, skills and talent, entertainment.

B: Clothing, fashion, parties and events, socializing, people you like or don’t like.

C: Preferred genres, celebrities, films vs books, musical talent.

D: What anything could be used for, the sorts of things people never use before donating, what things you might buy for yourself.

E: Human kindness, people in need, what causes are worthiest.

What you can discover.

A: You can find out if they have any interest in art or any talent. How well they embrace things they are unfamiliar with, how seriously they take themselves.

B: You can find out how they usually dress, whether they would be happy to wear something second hand, the value they place on socializing.

C: You can find out how literate they are, how opinionated they are, the value they place on celebrity, whether your tastes mesh.

D: You can find out how imaginative they are, how judgmental they are, how much they listen.

E: You can find out how judgmental they are, how generous they are, what their values are.

3: Volunteer.


This depends on what you and your partner or would-be-partner are actually interested in. However most people have a cause they would gladly give money to and sign forms for, even if they don’t have one they would want to die for. So this is your chance to show what is near and dear to you and to bond over something you’re passionate about.

How to suggest it.

If your partner isn’t also a supporter, you may need to first sell them the point, maybe in a quiet setting or over one of these dates that lends itself to serious conversation. The charity shop donation date might be perfect for bringing up causes and charities you would like to do something for. Do a little research into how you can support your cause. Then, bring it up again casually and sell it as something fun and purposeful to do.

What you need.

The main thing is a charity event or place you can volunteer at. As long as there is one in the right distance on the right day, they should set all the other criteria.

Conversation topics.

Conversation when volunteering will be within earshot of many strangers and involve other volunteers, so controversial or intimate topics are best kept for the planning or reminiscing stages.

For light conversation, talk about the cause and the event, talk about other charities and causes you support.

For more serious conversation, talk about other ways you could become more active to help the cause.

What you can discover.

You will find out how quickly they are ready to do something for a cause, whether your and their idea of a worthy cause meshes, how much they throw themselves into menial or messy work, how quickly they get bored or frustrated with free labour.

You could find out how kind or generous they are, how well they deal with stressful or interpersonal situations, what various skills they possess.

4: Visit Animal Rescue Center.

All that was left within 48h of baking it. Note: there's two of us and it was divided into 6 portions. Take-home message: good stuff.

All that was left within 48h of baking it. Note: there’s two of us and it was divided into 6 portions. Take-home message: good stuff.

This one is easy to suggest once the relationship is hitting long term. Basically, as long as you can picture living together (if you don’t already) and/or you both like animals, visiting an animal rescue center can be a fun and enlightening experience.

Another option is an open day at an animal rescue center. They throw these a couple of times a year to attract people who may want to adopt an animal and to raise funds. As there’s usually a tiny entry fee, a yard sale, an inbuilt store, music or shows and food, it can pass as a standard date for early in the relationship, not appearing to attached or costing too much.

How to suggest it.

You can bring this sort of thing up pretty casually. If you’re far enough in the relationship that going to look at puppies together doesn’t come across as weird, then you can probably just suggest it as something fun, how the animals would like a visit and how maybe you could adopt one someday too.

If there’s an event, you can just bring it up nice and casual and cool. Just drop a hint a few times and then on the third time say you’re thinking of going. If the cuddly animals aren’t their thing, then they may come along for the food and entertainment. If they still won’t go, then at least you’ve learned something new about them.

What you need.

This one will actually cost you a little. But it’s less than a cinema ticket or a dinner date or a hotel somewhere fancy. Bring the entry fee, some change for drinks and maybe a note for the shop if they might have something good. You will also probably need own transport as a lot of animal rescue centers are a way out of town and not on public transport routes.

Conversation topics.

The good thing about animals is that they inspire a wealth of conversation.

For light conversation, try talking about animals, likes and dislikes, their thoughts on the event or the facility.

For personal conversation, try talking about whether you would keep one someday and what it would be,  any pets either of you had as children.

For serious conversation, try talking about pets vs children, pets and children, your thoughts on the animal breeding industry and rescue centers.

What you can discover.

You will find out whether they like animals or not, what animals they like.

You can find out whether they are likely to adopt an animal, how readily they spend money in stores, how readily they donate to a cause, what animals they had as children.

You could find out how impulsive or emotional they are, whether they want to have children, what their stances are on the pet industry.

5: Activity Day.


This could be any activity or even various activities, but they key here is active. We’re looking at sports, swimming, hiking, martial arts, rock climbing, dancing, lifting, cycling, gardening, anything that can get your heart rate up and your muscles flexing.

How to suggest it.

These can be awkward to suggest. Namely because people are very health and body conscious, so a suggestion to go to the gym may come across wrong. Try and phrase the less obviously exercisy ones as “for fun” and the more obviously exercisy ones as “I was going, want to join me?” That way you avoid any emotional hangups during the activity. You want it to be as relaxed and as much fun as possible.

What you need.

First of all, you need to make sure that your activity of choice is suitable or accessible for your partner’s physical limitations. Some places may not have the facilities for paraplegic rock climbing, for example.

Next, you need to make sure you both have the gear you need and, of course, proper transport.

Finally, you need a plan. You’ll want to get started on the activities nice and early so you can get as much done as possible and make good use of your morning energy. If it’s a booked activity, schedule a morning or early afternoon class. If it’s an activity that isn’t timed or booked, try and make a day of it. Start early, have a break for lunch followed by another couple of hours before going home.

Conversation topics.

There are plenty of good conversations to be had around exercise. Just make sure the topics aren’t too heavy for the activity you’re doing and that you keep the energy up and the mood high. You want to talk more about people, pop culture and animals at the lower end and war and art at the higher end. Avoid heavygoing philosophy, anything directly about death or anything that involves a lot of explaining. Now is the time to swap ideas in a lighter-hearted manner, not the time to have a serious debate.

For light conversation, try talking about fitness, pop culture, weather, animals, anything cute and bubbly and easy to chat about, basically.

For personal conversation, try talking about health, body image, family, friends. Keep this more focused on people.

For heavier conversation, discuss only topics you are both happy discussing and that you can discuss without causing negativity or distraction.

What you can discover.

You will find out how willing they are to do something with you, whether they’re an outdoorsy person or not, what their diet and fitness levels are like.

You can find out about their family and friends’ health habits, about a whole host of their interests and ideas.

You could find out about any past eating disorders or other trauma, about their angle on serious topics, about their ability to carry light conversation.

6: Arts, Crafts, Music and Dance.

Mmm, pie!

Mmm, pie!

This is the one where we focus less on the physical flexibility and energy and more on the mental flexibility and energy. We want to get creative, explore new horizons, take on a challenge and generally have fun. These dates are pretty much perfect for anyone and usually very cheap, if not free.

Also, due to the generally easygoing, flamboyant nature of art, it is easier to address more serious or darker subjects and seem brooding rather than morbid. Just as the Activity Day gives you a chance to be more casual, fun and energetic, the Art Day gives you a chance to be deeper and more controversial.

How to suggest it.

Basically present it as just something fun to do. It’s often better to either pick something they already know you’re really good at and offer to teach them or to learn something from scratch together. Choosing something where you have a slight and/or hidden advantage could cause unnecessary stress. Then, tell them you’re setting an evening aside to teach them dance, or that you’re really interested in watercolour painting, so do they want to learn with you. Hopefully they will take to it or at least like it and these “lessons” can go on for longer.

What you need.

The correct materials. Painting gear, clay and an oven, dance instruction videos, musical instruments, etc. If you pick something you already do and are good at, you should have the materials lying around. If you’re learning something from scratch, then aim for something cheap you can get in a general shop, online or in a charity shop. Pick watercolours over oil paints and drums over pianos, is what I’m saying.

Conversation topics.

Generally what you will talk about the first few times will focus on the lesson.

For light conversation, try and talk about exactly what you’re doing, what level of interest they have in it, what aspects they like or don’t like, how well each of you is doing.

For personal conversation, try and talk about their previous artistic pursuits, any latent talent, their tastes in the arts and their family’s angle on things.

For heavy conversation, try and talk about specific artists and works, technical aspects of the art, social and political functions of it, the purpose of art in human life.

You will also find that maybe by the third such date your conversation starts to wander a lot more as you dance or paint or write. The practice has become routine, making it easy for other forms of conversation to flow. You can either rein it in by making the lessons more difficult or leave the conversation to wander and grow.

What you can discover.

You will find out whether they have any talent or interest in the arts, how ready they are to give up or get frustrated if something goes wrong, what the first things that come to their mind are.

You can find out whether there is anything artistic they used to do or their family used to do, what their opinion on art is.

You could find out anything the longer the lessons go on.

7: Lazy Day.


One of my favourites. It’s basically the sort of day where you don’t get out of your pajamas, eat whatever you want, whether it’s really nice food or junk food, watch a film or show, listen to music, read, etc. These days aren’t always possible, due to work and other commitments, but when we can have them, one of the best things to do is share them with our partner. Depending on where you are in the relationship, bringing pajamas and spending all day in bed may or may not be an option, but the principle is still the same: dress comfortably and relax all day.

How to suggest it.

This one is another easy one to suggest. Be careful not to phrase it as “just hanging out” because for a lot of people that could mean something else. Rather, phrase it as “a lazy day”, “piles of food and films” or “just want to stay home and read all day today”. Few people are strongly opposed to spending a day relaxing.

If they are reluctant to spend a day at your house or have you spend a day at theirs, you can always make it a lazy day in the park, for example. Just dress in comfortable clothes, bring inflatable furniture and bring whatever food you would eat at home, music or books.

What you need.

You need somewhere where you both can relax and feel comfortable, firstly. Next, you need comfortable clothing, enough light entertainment to last the day and whatever food you like the sound of.

A good lazy day would be staying in the living room in pajamas and dressing gowns, a full English breakfast, tapas for lunch and a steak and wine dinner, reading and listening to music all day and watching films in the evening.

Another would be spending a day at the swimming pool, eating ice-cream, ordering pizza for lunch and floating around, tanning and reading.

Conversation topics.

Again, due to the nature of this sort of day, any topics can be tried.

What you can discover.

You will discover how comfortable your partner is around you, whether they are able to relax or stress about missing a workout or not being busy, what their idea of good food and entertainment is.

You could find out pretty much anything.

8: Games Night*.


One of the more social ones. Whether it’s video games or boards games, set aside an evening to just play and chat. This will usually involve close family or friends from either side, but it could also be just the two of you.

[*Doesn’t have to be at night.]

How to suggest it.

A fairly easy one to suggest. Just mention that you have a new game, or were tidying and all your games are in a pile, so do they want to try and play their way through the pile.

What you need.

A selection of games that everyone would enjoy and somewhere to play them in peace are the main factors. Besides that, snacks are pretty much all you need.

Conversation topics.

For light conversation, try talking about the games you’re playing, what other games you like and other general subjects.

For personal conversation, try talking about your interests in and opinions on games, your personal collections.

For heavy conversation, try talking about video game politics, old vs new technology, culture wars, cultural tropes and stereotypes.

What you can discover.

You will find out how well they deal with success and defeat, how they interact on a less personal level, how seriously they take games, what their interests are.

You can find out how well they get along with your friends, whether they are as into your games as you are, whether they’re willing to work on something to be near you.

As with any date that involves a lot of mindless activity or empty gaps, you could find out anything if the conversation goes on long enough.

9: Host a Dinner Party.


This one is specifically very good for assessing how well your social circles match. It can also backfire spectacularly if you have no clue about each other’s social circle. Imagine if “Meet the Fockers” had some more realistic or relatable confusions and hangups between the families. Well, it could be a bit like that. Make sure you both know who the other is inviting, what they are like and what sort of person they don’t want to be around. Preferably only invite people the other person has already had mentioned or been introduced to. Another way around it is to have one of you invite their friends and/or family to one dinner party and then the other partner gets a turn next time, so you can correctly plan the third one with some friends from both sides.

That said, dinner parties with a few friends and family from either side are great fun, very social events and needn’t be reserved until the wedding day.

Finally, dinner parties needn’t be too personal. They make excellent first dates too, especially if you only invite your closest friends or any shared friends you have. That way you make the date a little less personal or intrusive, which may warm someone up to you, whilst keeping the interaction and flirting of the planning stages.

How to suggest it.

It’s one that’s only really brought up when you’re already familiar. If they haven’t met your family yet, then propose it for that purpose. If they cook well, then suggest your best friends should taste it. If you want to have a lazy day or a games night, just suggest a dinner party instead.

What you need.

Dinner parties are more complicated that the other dates, simply because they involve more people.

Make sure to have plenty of food and drinks for everyone. I usually need to do prep and freeze about a week before and then start the actual cooking a day before for our Meat Feasts, but, then again, they’re huge. You could just as easily throw together snacks and beer or get a takeaway.

Have enough room to sit people down. Move furniture, make a pillow pile, hoover the floors well or anything, just make sure everyone can sit down in the rooms where the eating and socializing will happen.

Find agreeable entertainment. Generally people in large enough groups make their own entertainment, but make sure to have some music on, a theme to the party or films available so people can just unwind if they want to.

Make sure the house is all in order. Dirty kitchens or bathrooms with guests are just not right.

Conversation topics.

When your guests are there, anything you would normally talk about with your friends and family. When your partner’s guests are there, anything they want to talk about or anything you would talk about with new acquaintances.

The idea is in part to just see how well you get along with each other’s social circles, so just let the conversation carry as it normally would.

What you can discover.

You will find out who they normally interact with, whether they are happy to introduce you to all their friends and relatives, how close they are to their family, whether they want to meet your social circle, how they are with new people, whether they want to lead or be led in social settings.

You can find out whether they love or hate to cater, whether their social circles are diverse and overlapping or very samey, how well they can put on a front around people they don’t like.

You could find out anything from their friends and family, but mostly keep an eye out for how ready they are to exchange anecdotes, whether they are eager to meet you or seem to see you as disposable, how happy your partner is to deal with your friends and family, to please them and to answer their questions.

10: Something That Matters.


Our final date idea is to do something that is very important to you. Maybe you’re a biker, play clarinet or are into anime. Perhaps you go diving every year, or spend all Summer volunteering. Whatever it is, find something close to your heart and see how well they respond to it.

How to suggest it.

If they don’t already know that it matters to you, stress the importance of this activity or thing. Don’t go overboard or put pressure on them to pretend to like it just to please you, but make sure they know it is an integral part of you and you love it.

What you need.

Whatever you need if you were doing it alone, times two.

Conversation topics.

For light conversation, try and talk about the activity, your other hobbies, their hobbies and interests.

For personal conversation, try and talk about the importance of this in your life, what things they have that are equally as important, how they feel about living with your hobbies and interests.

What you can discover.

You will find out whether they like or at least appreciate what is important to you.

You can find out what is close to their heart and whether you like or can appreciate it.

Top tips.

But even if you’re trying to do everything right, there are areas to slip up. To minimize problems, here are my top tips.

1: Limit phone use. Pretend you forgot yours or turn it off. Ask your partner to leave theirs alone. Don’t let them interrupt you to text or go online. Keep the conversation rolling. Phones are awful for dates.

2: Plan together. Always plan things together. That way you’re interacting from step one and making the date more memorable. Also, if you plan something alone and don’t take an aspect of your partner into account, it’s on your head. Such slip ups are best avoided.

3: Avoid awkward surprises. Surprises like a small, practical gift, an offer or a proposal are fine if you feel ready to give them. Surprises that could interfere with the date, that require specific clothing or skills or that could offend someone are best avoided unless you really know the person. And even then it’s best not to give such a surprise on the spot.

4: Don’t use the word “date”. Some people may find it offputting because they find dates stressful. Others may not be in the mood for a proper date, even if they’re happy to spend a day together and bond. Others may have high expectations of dates. However it is, it’s better to just make the most of the time together and avoid calling it a date.

5: Start every conversation slowly and end the topic if you get no reaction. Always begin like you were writing an essay, by introducing the topic. Believe it or not, there are people, like me, who only know the Kardashians as “those American celebrities with large behinds”. So it’s best to start a conversation about them with a line such as, “Do you think Kim Kardashian would wear this?” rather than by talking about her latest fashion choice. It gives an interested person some room to expand and an uninterested person room to avoid. Likewise for every topic.

6: Keep flirting. Awkward silence? Flirt. Conversation going somewhere unpleasant? Flirt. Sudden insecurity? Flirt. Date not going exactly to plan? Flirt. Keep the mood up and the date focused on you two, rather than letting any negatives take hold or brew.

7: Keep fifth wheels out of it. When inviting friends round for a games night or a dinner party, make it someone you’re both comfortable and familiar with or make sure there is more than one person. Don’t let uninvited guests tag along to intimate dates. If someone else must be there (first date nerves, child can’t be somewhere else, etc), then sit down to reschedule first, to avoid stress.

8: Relax and have fun. Things go wrong. People wear a dress to go rockclimbing, turn out to have an allergy, have very little in common with you or have little meltdowns. Even if you’ve been together for decades, a kid might get sick at a dinner party or one of you might say the wrong thing on an artsy date. Being able to laugh at the daft things, calm down for the serious ones and generally let everything be water off a duck’s back is the only mature thing to do. You don’t want to be the one who’s angry at your child’s illness or holding onto something your partner said a month ago.

So that’s it, my top ten simple dates, how to suggest them, what you need for them, what you can talk about on them and my tips to maximize them. What abut you? What are your date plans for the 14th? What are your favourite date ideas? Do you think there should be a limit on how much or how little you spend on a date? Who do you think should do the asking or the preparing? Share in the comments.

TTFN and Happy Dating, folks.