My Little Duke

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Six by Nico Review

Blogging, Fashion, FoodSteph DukeComment

On Sunday 10th March I took myself off to the big smoke for a few hours. The weather was wild and so was my hair as I bumbled my way through the door of Belfast’s hottest new restaurant ‘Six by Nico’.

There has been a real buzz around this new eatery and rumour has it that you can’t get a reservation before the end of April! So when I received an invite to come and try the unique 6 course menu at ‘Six by Nico’ - I couldn’t say no.

Pic by Michelle  @two_daisies

Pic by Michelle @two_daisies

Six by Nico offers customers a series of carefully curated and constantly evolving restaurant concepts. Each six weeks, Nico and his team will serve a brand new six-course tasting menu – each one themed upon a different place or memory.

I have to say a special thank you to Rumour Mill PR for the invitation to attend Sunday’s taster event. The afternoon was kindly hosted by SKAPA and Cathy Martin and we were treated to the current menu - ‘The Chippie’ - I cannot wait to share these incredible dishes with you.

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’   Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course One - ‘Chips & Cheese’

Parmesan Espuma | Crisp Potato | Curry Oil

Course Two - ‘Scampi’   Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Two - ‘Scampi’

Monkfish Cheeks | Pea Emulsion | Wild Garlic | Gribiche

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’   Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Three - ‘Steak Pie’

Beef Shin | Burnt Onion Ketchup | Mushroom Duxelle | Red Wine | Glazed Puff Pastry

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’   Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Four - ‘Fish Supper’

Cod | Confit Fennel | Samphire | Beer Pickled Mussels

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’   Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Five - ‘Smoked Sausage’

Pork Belly | Salt Baked Celeriac | Caramelised Apple | Black Pudding

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’   Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

Course Six - ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’

Caramelia Chocolate | Orange Sorbet | Cocoa Nib

The photos hopefully speak for themselves. Gosh. The food was really incredible! I’m not entirely sure I can pick a favourite … probably the scampi or the smoked sausage dishes topped the bill for me! I’m a dessert person though so I can’t not mention the deep fried mars bar - literally have no words for this dish! Stunning. Just stunning.

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I can confirm that they make a decent skinny flat white too! Hurrah!

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Everything about this place is top notch, what an honour to get the opportunity to experience it like I did!

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Lovely to share a table with these two beauties @lauras_little_loves & @two_daisies

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Photo by @brendangallagherphoto

Notes from the Battlefield - Part 1: Hearts & Minds

Faith, BloggingSteph DukeComment

Feeling stirred in my spirit to share a few thoughts that I’m having at the moment and shed a little light on where I’m at. As always, my aim through this blog is to share some of my own personal journey with you in the hope that it might be a virtual “me too”, an encouragement, or just words that help you feel like you aren’t alone. More and more through my little space online, I’m also trying to point to Christ and the hope I’ve found in knowing and trusting Him. But also trying to reassure you that I don’t have it all figured out and every single day I’m having to CHOOSE to work hard on that relationship. It’s a battle that on some days … I lose.

It’s ironic that I used the song “It is Well” on some of my Instagram stories this morning, specifically the lyrics, “It is well with my soul”. My soul did not feel well this morning. Another classic example of why social media projects images and lives that just aren’t reality. Posting that story this morning was an attempt by me to try and make things well. (I’m an expert at ‘trying’ and ‘doing’ but not finding the real solution to the problem.) A Neal’s Yard diffuser and worship music is certainly a good attempt at making things well - don’t get me wrong – but what I needed was to open my bible and start a conversation with God. (He is ALWAYS the solution to my problem.) I needed to come and sit next to Jesus and just ‘be’. I needed to stop striving, doing and trying, and to just talk to Him. To tell Him that I’m overwhelmed by the tasks, and feel weary from overthinking the battlefield tactics. My soul wasn’t well because I knew I wasn’t right with God.

When I finally did choose to sit a’while with Jesus (after a mama meltdown and some tears) I read several timely reminders that I want to share with you. The first was this:

 

‘The world tells us fulfilling every desire in every moment is a sign of happiness and freedom, but I can say from experience that ignoring spiritual disciplines leads to chains, not freedom.’

She Reads Truth Bible notes p.1920

 

I’m just home from a busy but lovely week of holidaying with family and hosting my very first spiritual retreat. I feel a bit like I’d ‘escaped’ my battlefield for a week – let me explain.

Most of you know that since quitting my teaching job I’ve been navigating this new road. It’s a road I never expected to be on and one I feel unprepared for! I’d trained to be a teacher - I did the lesson plans and prepped the schemes of work. But marriage, motherhood, writing/curating/maintaining blogs, creating social media content, leading retreats … NONE of these do I feel prepared for. And that’s ok. It’s just the control-freak in me that drives me to try and achieve levels of perfectionism that aren’t healthy, and to try and tick all the boxes before I feel like I can perform a task.

But out on the battlefield there’s no time for that. There’s no time to look around at how everyone else is winning or losing. No time to make sure my ‘I’s  are dotted and ‘T’s crossed. There’s no time to focus on the futile or fickle things of this world – things like striving for personal-approval online or vanity. Time is running out. Life is too short to get all caught up in my head and forget to see the bigger picture … and God’s perspective.

Lately I’ve felt all bogged down in all kinds of stuff. As I push further into where I feel God calling me, I’ve noticed the battleground changing and the enemy attacking. As I step up a level, the level of attack increases and I’ve never felt quite so exposed. No more exposed than I do in my own mind. And at the moment it’s the place I feel I’m having to battle the most. I’ve said before that the enemy’s greatest tactic is to keep us distracted by ourselves. In our preoccupation, we aren’t advancing for the Kingdom.

We stall.

And the enemy loves that.

Once we are preoccupied, his work is done.

We do the rest.

In my mind I am my worst critic. I say things to myself that I’d never say to someone else. I’ll be your best supporter and encourager, but never as kind to myself. I analyse and criticise myself to such an extent that it starts to get ridiculous. I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve been on the most incredible journey over this past year discovering who I am in Christ. I’ve received some beautiful promises and prophetic words over my life. And what do I do? Instead of resting in God’s faithfulness, I focus on my own failings. Instead of walking in his love, I still try to walk my own way, listen to my own voice. This is why I keep letting the enemy win. Why is it so much easier for us to give in to doubt and fear, instead of resting in His love and hope? Why is it easier to be distracted instead of devoted?!

As I arrived home I felt really challenged about my own level of devotion. I spent last weekend speaking to some amazing women when I was really speaking to and challenging myself. Another timely reminder on devotion popped into my inbox this week from desiringgod.org:

 

“As soon as [we] wake, there is a war to keep [us] from the word of God. Fight! This is a daily, constant war for me (author). When I got married, and when I had children, the war got harder.”

 

As I read through this article I began to realise that the battle isn’t rooted in my mind, but it’s a battle that begins with my heart. Where do my true affections lie? What is my joy? The author continues:

 

“What are my affections in? If my affections are in my sleep, then I’m going to treasure sleep over the world. If they are in my time, then my time is going to be preeminent over the preeminent one. It’s helpful to identify things that are legitimately good things and opportunities for leisure that [we’ve] made an idol in many ways. What’s at stake is [us] and Jesus being good. If [we’re] not delighting in the word of God, then most likely [we’re] not delighting in God himself.”

 

The challenge is love: to love the Lord with ALL my heart, with ALL my soul, with ALL my strength. The battle isn’t lost when we wake up more interested in Instagram* than God’s word – it has just begun. My prayer for this week is that I will be too devoted to be distracted. I will fight hard. I will fight long. The victory is already mine, won at the cross, paid for in blood. When all seems lost and when I fail time and time again, I will NOT FORGET.  

* Link to an honest post about Instagram I wrote back in February.

My Instagram Truth

Blogging, Faith, MotherhoodSteph Duke1 Comment

We all know never to go to bed angry. Well … never go to bed hungry either. You’ll not sleep and find yourself over-analysing Instagram until the wee hours of the morning!

 

Oh boy, did I toss and turn for hours last night. Every time I tried to still my mind, I thought of something else. I can’t tell you how many times I had to turn over and reach for the notes app on my phone! I felt a real stirring in my soul and had no peace until I’d bullet pointed everything that I’m writing here.

 

It’s now Sunday morning and I feel less stressed about it all, despite not knowing quite how I’m going to articulate what I’m about to say. What I do know is that God gave me a prompt (or two, or three, or four!!) and all I can do is share my voice with you today. So thank you in advance for reading and I’d really value your thoughts on it all, please do get in touch!

 

Instagram is a huge part of my on-going and future ministry. In fact, it has been a major player on social media for me since I launched My Little Duke (MLD) shortly after Phoebe was born. I had a personal account that I’d enjoyed using since 2011 and while I was off sick during pregnancy I started to realise the power and influence of this little app. I’d scroll and click through endless accounts (new mums, mums-to-be, online shops for babies) and find stories that resonated and products I loved. To be fair, I found myself mostly navigating around American accounts – hence the idea for MLD (selling American products here in NI.)

 

Fast-forward almost 3 years and I can’t believe the journey I’ve been on with MLD.  I’m the daughter of a salesman and worked in retail myself for almost 7 years – so selling products I loved felt quite natural to me - particularly the face-to-face sales at local events! Alongside sales, I also started a little blogging, however, once I was back at work full-time, it was nearly impossible to blog at all (isn’t it surprisingly time consuming?!) I remember those days well … the frustrations of wanting to engage more in the Instagram and Blogging worlds (knowing so little compared to what I know now.) I just didn’t have the time. I absolutely love to write, but not under those time constraints and pressures. In those days, there were much higher priorities and writing a blog was always bottom of the list, even posting semi-regularly on Instagram was a struggle.

 

How times have changed, eh?! During the last 6 months I’ve posted consistently (at least once a day) and my Instagram content has also changed. In essence it’s about the same things:

 

Faith, Family and Motherhood

Travel and Lifestyle

Fashion and Beauty

 

But the look and feel of my account has shifted. It’s more intentional. This is both good and bad. As I’ve learned more about the app (Algorithms, Engagement, Aesthetics and Organic Growth) I’ve found myself having to be more intentional about what I post and how I post it. This is where my tossing and turning last night in bed began…

 

I want to be transparent.

 

I need to be.

 

Otherwise, my voice can’t be trusted and any small influence I have becomes powerless and ineffective.

 

So here are my Instagram truths.

 

Sometimes I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed by it all.

 

As Instagram continues to grow rapidly, there have been many times when I just feel like I can’t keep up. There is huge pressure to continually post engaging, inspiring, beautifully curated content. How sustainable or attainable this is – I’m not quite sure? Maybe it’s just hard in these winter months?

 

In order to get the kind of light needed for a shot, things have to be timed wisely these days! More truth here – I am not a photographer! I only ever use my phone (iPhone 7) but have so enjoyed pursuing and developing my passion for photography (both capturing and editing) over the last number of years. But what I do understand is that in order to keep posting those consistent and carefully curated squares – I have to keep snapping carefully curated shots. This means planning and preparation. Long gone are the days of snapping and posting spontaneously.  It’s a sort of “planned spontaneity” if that can even be a thing?! I’m not saying that all my posts have been carefully planned – they aren’t. But what I am saying is that more and more often, I’m finding myself being more mindful of what I post … because it matters.

 

I am at the stage now where I have a specific look and feel on my grid. There are some spontaneous snaps that just wouldn’t look right! Another truth - I’m a bit of a perfectionist and take great pride in the aesthetics of my feed. I use the app ‘Snug’ to curate the squares before I post. As someone who (for a long time) tried to be in complete control of her own life, I loved Instagram for that very reason. If I couldn’t control what was happening in my real life, I could certainly control my “virtual’ one. The problem for me at the minute is the scary thought of how we might be curating our real lives, in order that they fit in to those virtual squares of “life.” Sheesh. Could we really be?! There are real dangers here! It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. Do we spend more time, energy and effort carefully curating our “virtual’ existence than we do in our real one?

 

I’ve also serious concerns about the language associated with Instagram. 

 

How often do we hear, or even say ourselves, things like:

 

“it’s not insta-worthy”

 

or

 

“doing it for the ‘gram’”

 

or

 

“if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen!”

 

Often these are said in jest, yet, subconsciously, I fear that our perceptions are changing. We are subtly being fed a bunch of outright lies - lies of false ideals, behaviours and expectations of what is “socially acceptable.” What is completely normal and acceptable has suddenly become boring and unacceptable by insta-standards. I fear for the legacy we are leaving for the next generation. Are we role-modelling a distorted version of reality?  We constantly scroll and see what we don’t have. If not careful, we begin to live with a scarcity mind-set, one where we start to convince ourselves that we are living in lack. This is actually quite a natural reaction, when so much of what our eyes consume is what we don’t have and what we wish we could – materially, spiritually and physically. Too often “I too, have fallen into the comparison trap.” And this idea of something not being “worthy” enough for Instagram?! WHAT? Where are we placing our value and worth? Surely not in Instagram?! Please God, let it not become where I place even an ounce of my real value! (This could be a whole other blog post!)

 

Too often, we know and see too much. It’s visual perfection overload and nearly impossible to swim against the current of these new “norms’. I’m regularly and intentionally having to force my eyes upwards and outwards, looking to see the blessings that I DO have, rather than all that I don’t.

 

Sometimes I think it’s all just one big game, and we’re all trying to win. And in the race to achieve Instagram “success” we are actually becoming conformed and moulded into some version of ourselves with some version of our lives that isn’t sustainable, isn’t attainable; one that could actually suck us dry of life itself – if we let it. I know we aren’t all in it for fame, for success, for followers and likes. Yet, because so much of the app is tailored in that way, it can be hard to go against that flow. It’s the constant striving for more that causes feelings of failure, disappointment, frustration and ultimately … depletion, if the likes, followers or engagement don’t reach the targets we’re encouraged to set for ourselves. It’s good to set targets, but they have to be realistic – and someone else’s growth on Instagram might not be a realistic growth for you. I’ve had to learn that, accept it and focus on investing in the accounts and people who I really love and value.

 

Additionally, if I’m being totally honest, (the whole point of this blog I suppose!) there have been many occasions where “I have let Instagram become an obsessive addiction.”  Becoming obsessive seems to be ingrained in me somehow. I blame Weight Watchers! For over 10 years now I have obsessively dieted. There have been times where this obsession varied in degrees, and thankfully it’s becoming less of a fixation now than it has ever been. Yet, there is something about Instagram that appeals to this nature. Just like the scales – it’s also a game of numbers. There are so many parallels for me. In the same way I step on the scales every morning, (I’m working on this - I promise!) I also open up the app. In the same way I look for that number on those scales, I look at my follower count. Often, in the same way that number on the scales determined my mood, there have been times when the same could be said of Instagram (especially as the follower count fluctuates so much!)

 

There’s also the addictiveness and adrenalin boost of achieving success, both on the scales and on Instagram. It’s too tempting to strive to achieve more of that and to obsess over the little things. For me, there’s a very fine line – both in dieting and on Instagram – and I am calling it out for what it is. It is dangerous. When the scales were tipping too far into obsession, I have had to catch myself on and catch a grip! Otherwise, it becomes an endless battle that consumes both my time and energy - a dangerous and divisive distraction. This is something I’ve had to call out recently and really work with the Lord on. It’s a work in progress, and it’s not easy. Instagram’s algorithm is making organic growth harder, making some posts almost invisible and forcing us to be more creative with how and what we post. I’ve found it really disheartening sometimes and I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m not offering any solution here, just my own experience and a voice of “me too” or maybe I’m the only one!! What is the answer? To cut and run? To stick the course?  I’m as frustrated as you, as overwhelmed as you, as maxed out of ideas as you … I’m just not up for cinemagraphs or photoshop magic!

 

What’s important – for me anyway – is keeping accountable. Whether you are strong enough to do that yourself or have someone else you can trust to do it for you. Honestly self-evaluate your activity on social media – a lot depends on whether it is hobby or source of income. Now that I’m making a small amount of money through the app, I feel a little more justified in spending more time on it, but I cannot justify my needless scrolling!!

 

In some ways I feel like we are all just trying to navigate these unknown waters of Instagram. Some days the waters are beautifully blue and crystal clear, other days they can be grey, dark and murky. There are days where I feel like I’m confidently riding the waves and some others where I’m simply treading water – watching and waiting for my turn. There are also days when I genuinely feel like I’m sinking - days when I’m engulfed and overwhelmed by the waters, not able to catch a break.

 

Despite all I’ve written though, this funny little world has made me braver, (surprisingly) less self-conscious, and has unearthed some hidden creativity! I look at the world differently and appreciate the changing of the seasons. I’m intentionally looking for beauty around me – finding it and capturing it. I’ve blogged before about the connections and friendships formed through these squares, but I know who the true author behind these connections is, and it’s not Instagram. Insta is just the platform, another tool that God can use to weave our stories together for greater good. And I just love stories. Don’t you ever underestimate the power of your story, especially your story of the gospel. We are part of a much bigger story, one than spans right back to the beginning of time. My prayer is that from my story across these squares … you see Jesus. That I point you to Him - to His grace and goodness … not my carefully created existence!

 

My prayer is that while I continue to invest time in Instagram, while I connect, create and use my voice – that God is glorified and the Holy Spirit has room to move. But most importantly I pray that I don’t conform, but am continually transformed by the Lord (Romans 12 v 2) by the renewing of my mind. The ugly Instagram truth needs exposed more often! The subtle infiltration of certain ideals and expectations of how life should be lived needs called out. I need protection from the vanity and self-indulgence of it all, and from feeding off it like its good nourishment for me. I can think of lots of better kinds of nourishment than Instagram!

 

So seriously, seriously well done if you’ve made it this far …

 

And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your love and support on this journey. I value every comment, message, like and follow. I love it when you give me that virtual high-five and “me too.” Nothing is overlooked here. Know that today.

 

Bless you guys,

Steph xo