A cake for every occasion

We might have had Christmas, Easter and at least 2 birthdays since M first had his NG-tube, but they’ve all been celebrated without a morsel of cake passing his lips for 7 months.  He enjoyed Foxes Glacier mints for Christmas lunch, a “fake” cake for his birthday and a passable rice-flour biscuit for Easter; but we were all fully aware that none of them could possibly replace the role of cake in so many celebrations.  PV-2The harsh reality of so few ingredients has meant that even at my most inventive, a successful cake replacement has just not been achievable, but with the re-introduction of apple in the last couple of weeks, M’s dream of cake could, and has, finally been fulfilled.

It is all thanks to one of the lovely Mums that I have become friends with through FABED and whose son, under the care of the same consultant as us and who M met during his hospital stay last December, is a few weeks ahead of M with his food reintroductions after time on the elemental diet.  R and I have spent time chatting, texting and e-mailing about the boys and where we each are along our respective journeys, sharing stories and giving tips whenever possible.  Having gained the advantage of those few extra days, R has had some useful tips when it’s come to preparing food for M, the best one being this M-friendly cake recipe that I was able to try out at long last.20150626_144401

Apple purée is a popular egg-alternative, though not one I have previously used in my M-friendly baking as I have preferred to bake with ground flaxseed meal or mashed banana. With banana being a definite no for the time-being and flaxseed being low in our priorities of new foods to trial, it was finally time to put apple purée to the test. The first job was to prepare some apple purée before having to deal with the tough task of stopping M devouring it all at each and every opportunity that arose until I had a chance to actually try out the cakes. Despite his best efforts and enjoying lashings of purée with his rice pudding, there was just about enough leftover for these delicious apple and rice flour cakes.  The recipe is simple, easy to follow and perfect for anyone with such limited safe foods and, what’s more, I’m certain that it would be easy to replace any of the ingredients with an alternative that suits your particular dietary needs. The cakes are deliciously moist and have been a huge hit with M, who is asking for them morning, noon and night and are definitely a great addition to his school lunch-box.

Year 6 camp – the final verdict

Last week was a quiet week in our household as G was away at camp and M struggled without his big sister around.  With only one child under my feet, it’s undeniable that the everyday tasks were a little…ok,  a lot easier to achieve in a reasonable time scale and there was a noticeable lack of temper-driven disagreements and raised voices, but there was no mistaking the achingly big G-shaped hole in our family that nothing else could fill.

By bedtime on Monday, we had finally tracked down and ticked off the last remaining items on the list, the bag of food and snacks had been delivered to the safe-keeping of Miss K and I was certain that clothes were named…bags were named…in fact, water bottles, plastic mugs, wash-kits, you name it, everything was named and the all-important, precious piece of her blanket was safely tucked away amongst her things. DSC_0015 G was feeling happier as she now knew she was in the same activity group as one of her best friends and was equally delighted about the teacher who’d be looking after them for the week.  We convinced them into a relatively early night as Tuesday was an early start for us all in order to get to school for 8am, and even M managed to pull himself from his pit and eat some breakfast before we headed on our way.  Those last few moments before G boarded the coach and left for her week at camp were emotionally charged as M stood beside her, with his arms wrapped tightly around her waist and just hugged her quietly, barely admitting to himself, let alone to the rest of us, what was glaringly obvious to see – that he was really going to miss her whilst she was away.  He was by my side as we waved them off and then disappeared into the school playground with his friends, ready for the day ahead.

News took a little time to trickle back to those of us waiting at home to hear what our adventurers were up to, but when the reports finally arrived, everything sounded positive. The kids were having a marvellous time and challenging themselves with lots of new experiences. From clambering over and under logs to wading through deep mud, the activity week was everything they expected it to be.  campTo my delight, G tried her hand at everything, even the dreaded caving and whilst she didn’t venture as far as some of the others, I am thrilled that she conquered her fears and made her way through 2 of the 3 caves they explored, an amazing achievement for someone who had been adamant she wasn’t stepping foot into a cave, no matter what. She enjoyed almost everything they did and was quick to regale us with tales from the week. Her favourite activity was the Woodland Scramble, which involved donning a wetsuit and rolling head-first into a Welsh river as well as dunking her head under a waterfall. Their evenings were filled with headland walks, evenings on the beach, BBQs and a disco before the obligatory mug of hot chocolate and a good night’s sleep.

The week was a resounding success from an activity point-of-view and G chattered for hours once she was home about all she’d done.  Sadly though, it didn’t quite meet my expectations on the food front.  Despite providing a bag full of safe foods to get G through the week, it was returned to me on Friday with very little missing from it.  I gently quizzed her about what she had eaten and was disappointed to learn that whilst the dairy-free aspect of her diet has been well-managed, there were some significant failings from a gluten-free point of view.  G had been assured that the Kelloggs cereal was definitely GF (it’s not), had been given crisps that were covered with “May contains” and her hot chocolate was soya milk laden with cocoa powder and very little sugar to sweeten it: a taste so bitter that she struggled to drink it and after her friends had tentatively taken a sip, they understood why she was so reluctant.  There was a definite lack of inspiration in preparing her meals as GF pasta with tomato and basil sauce appeared to be the go-to alternative for any meal that wasn’t G-friendly and her only dessert was from the snack box I had sent along with her.  11027998_10152859810801123_7685022031085613332_oFortunately for all concerned, G doesn’t suffer extreme reactions to either gluten or dairy, but she was left feeling less than 100% by the time she got home and not just because of the lack of sleep.

In contrast, the only thing of note that happened in our household last week was a complete overhaul of G’s bedroom and whilst there’s still a little more work to do, it’s a room to last her through her teenage years.  And so the week ended as it had begun:  with M and I waiting on the grass bank outside the school for the coach to appear and deliver G back into our arms.

 

Tempting tempura

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love being able to post new recipes on my blog once again.  Having a fourth safe food has really opened up some exciting opportunities for experimenting in the kitchen and I’ll be sharing the successes over the coming weeks as well as possibly lamenting the disasters.  Today’s recipe is actually one of the first I adapted when we started the process of food reintroductions and, just like my chicken liver pâté, is an old favourite harking back to the days when the children were small.  Arancini di riso, or Italian deep-fried savoury rice balls, have become a firm favourite for M’s tea and G, Mike and I all enjoy them occasionally too.

20150618_171855The key to their success lay in perfecting the tempura-style batter I wanted to use to coat them, as breadcrumbs won’t be seen in my kitchen for quite some time.  Tempura is a traditional Japanese light batter, which is typically made using flour and water, though some recipes include egg too.  I am very much a visual cook, rather than one to strictly follow a recipe and so my first few batches varied massively as I played with the quantities of rice flour and sparkling water used until I reached my idea of tempura batter perfection.  Using sparkling water makes the batter even lighter, but you can easily substitute it with cold tap water and will still end up with a delicious dish.  My final recipe has been carefully measured out and written down to share.

For me, the best bit about cooking Arancini di riso for M is that there are no rules.  Of course there’s a traditional Italian recipe, but you can add whatever you want to suit your dietary needs.  We have graduated far beyond the plain rice balls that I started with and now have numerous successes under my belt.  M’s current favourite is rice mixed with shredded chicken and cucumber and seasoned with salt, pepper and plenty of sage.  With my tempura batter recipe perfected, I have used it to cook M-friendly chicken “nuggets”, which have also been a big hit.  With the addition of apple, I’m planning to try a dessert version soon using stewed apple and some home-made and M-friendly caramel, but that, as they say, is a story for another day!

Year 6 Camp, here G comes!

This weekend has been a busy one, perhaps busier than expected for me given that Mike and the kids have been away on their “Dads and kids” camping trip.  Instead of taking time to spoil myself in peace whilst they enjoyed the glorious sunshine and camp activities, I sorted, washed, shopped and ticked things off a list, all in preparation for G’s Year 6 camp next week. She’s there for 4 days of adventure: from archery to rock climbing and caving to kayaking, and it’s promising to be an adrenalin-filled time away from home.  It will be the first time she’s stayed away for any length of time, apart from during school holidays with my Mum, and I know she’s been feeling a little apprehensive about it all.  The strain of not knowing in advance who she’d be sharing a room with took a bit of the shine off her excitement and she was anxious to confirm that she could opt out of the caving, the one activity she has said she doesn’t want to do since we first heard about camp back at the start of the year.

The one part of her week away that has not been of concern for her has been the one that I’ve been able to contribute to:  her food.  I’ve met with her teacher, Miss K, and the Head throughout the year to discuss the catering arrangements at camp and had an unprecedented 3 meetings the week after half-term as well as multiple e-mail exchanges to ensure the final plans were watertight.  Miss K spoke to the camp cook to discuss G’s dietary needs and was reassured that they are well-used to catering for children with food allergies.  We had talked about the types of food that would need to be considered for G – GF bread (Genius brown), DF spread (Vitalite Dairy-free) and DF milk (Rice dream) amongst others – and armed with brand names, Miss K has been able to confirm with the camp that these will be available for G.

Mr._WorryI am confident that breakfast and lunch will be okay, but it is still the dinner arrangements that are causing me mild moments of suppressed panic.  If G was “just” gluten-free, I’d have fewer concerns; if she was “just” dairy-free, I’d be only mildly worried, but the combination of both, whilst so much easier to manage that the multitude of allergies of others in our household, requires a little more forethought.  When discussing the menu with Miss K, I realised just how much planning is needed to make G’s meals safe, something that probably seems strikingly obvious to everyone else, but is so second nature to me that I’ve had to learn how to effectively micro-manage these finer details.  It’s not as simple as ensuring that GF pasta is cooked for lasagne or GF sausages provided for sausages and mash as she can’t have cheese or white sauce, mashed potato needs to be made with both DF milk and butter and there’s the hidden use of flour to thicken sauces.  Those are the little things that sometimes slip under the radar.

So, the school and I have reached a sensible arrangement.  I am providing some safe foods for the week for G for those “just in case” moments – cartons of rice milk, safe drinking chocolate, GF breakfast cereal and a loaf of GF bread.  There will also be a packet of GF pasta and a GF/DF curry sauce tucked in that will take up little space, but will give me some invaluable peace of mind. I’m also packing a special camp “swap box” as an alternative to the lure of the vending machines that her friends will undoubtedly be pillaging at all times of the day and night.  In there will be safe biscuits, snacks and a few bars of our ever-favourite Moo-free chocolate to ensure that she has the opportunity to gorge herself at midnight alongside her room-mates.

Today I handed over that precious bag of food and, tomorrow morning, as M and I wave her off on her adventures, I know that she’ll enjoy a mostly worry-free fantastic week away with her friends and my concerns need only be small.

Fathers Day 2015

It’s been a quiet and reflective Fathers Day weekend for me and a fun-filled and active one for Mike.  He and the children have been away on the annual “Dads and Kids” camping weekend with friends. A weekend to make more memories as well as looking back at precious ones of the past. Happy Fathers Day to the 3 special men in our lives:  Mike, Grandpa R and my Dad.

I also want to share this beautifully illustrated short film that takes an emotional look at new parenthood, which can be especially difficult when it starts with an unexpected stay in NICU and is a beautiful reminder that Dads are affected too. When your new baby has to be in NICU, there’s lots of focus on Mum and baby and it can be all too easy to forget about Dad and the emotions he must be facing. With Fathers’ Day this weekend, this is a poignant reminder that things don’t always turn out as planned.

A cartoonist’s journey into first-time fatherhood
S.TELEGRAPH.CO.UK

 

Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there

 

 

Another food and an unexpected insight

This moment has been an awfully long time coming, over 4 months and 7 food fails in a row in fact, but finally we have a fourth safe food to add to M’s repertoire: apple.  The last few months have been emotionally tiring as we’ve worked our way down the list of food challenges agreed with our dietitian and M has systematically, and holy-grailsometimes dramatically, failed each and every one.  It has felt as if that elusive fourth food was our personal Holy Grail and there were times when Mike and I both began to wonder when we would ever achieve it.

One of the complicating factors we’ve had to deal with during the food challenges has been the whole host of reactions that we’ve seen along the way.  We were never told, as far as either of us can remember, that it was possible to see so many different allergic responses to the varying foods M was trialling and we were certainly not advised that he could experience some that he’d never had before.  His severe oral reaction to sweet potato was, in many ways, the easiest one to identify, even though horrendous to see happen, as we knew immediately that it had to be an instant fail; but the others have not necessarily been so straight-forward.

complicatedOur main goal is to maintain the improved health and toileting that M has achieved since he first went elemental back in December and even though that has meant ruling out some foods that would have been great to have back in his diet, I remain firm that his well-being, both physical and psychological, is our primary concern.  At our last appointment, we discussed with both M’s consultant and dietitian our approach to the food challenges and agreed that anything that causes a loss of bowel control, of any description, has to be considered an instant fail for the time-being. These foods are not ruled out permanently – well, sweet potato is as far as I’m concerned! – and we will, without a doubt, revisit them at some future point once we have more safe ones back.

Sadly he has reacted to some of his old favourites, but he has coped admirably well with accepting the outcomes.  He still remains reluctant at times to acknowledge exactly how he is feeling and telling us about the aches and pains we know he must be experiencing, but 9 years of parenting M means that I have become highly attuned to his moods and can sense when he’s feeling under the weather.  His willingness to lose a food again at times has indicated to us that he also identifies when it’s making him feel poorly, especially when he has been prepared to fight for those that he believes he can cope with.

Never was that so true as at the start of our apple challenge.  During the first couple of days, his body reacted with hives and itchy skin, just as we saw when we first reintroduced rice and he also struggled a little with his bowel control.  However, unlike with other foods where he has reluctantly agreed that it was likely a negative response to the challenge, this time round M insisted that the fault was his for not listening to his body and responding quickly enough and that he felt he was still in complete control.

10 days on and he has proved to be right, which is a valuable lesson for us all:

We have spent years fighting for our voice to be heard when it has come to M’s health and each step of the way have been shown to be right in our concerns and our thoughts for his ongoing treatment.  It seems that now we need to start listening to what M has to say too and take into consideration his opinions and insights about his body.  Of course, at 9 he is nowhere near old enough or responsible enough to make his own choices or sway our decisions unduly, but, just as I have spent a long time arguing my place as the expert on the subject of M because I’m his Mum, now as Mum I need to encourage him to be his own best advocate and take an active and involved role in his care.  After all, that’s a key part of my parental role.apples7

And whilst I ruminate on this latest insight into M’s development, I’m eagerly gathering ideas and recipes to incorporate apple, in all its glory, into his diet.  So far, we’ve ventured little further than apple juice, apple slices and apple pancakes, but with the help of good friends, including one whose son is just a few steps further down the food challenge road than M, and great resources such as The Recipe Resource, then apple crumble, apple crisps and apple cakes are all on our horizon.

 

Sports Day success

Sports Day conjures up so many memories for me: of races run, giggles with friends, frenzied cheering and the exhilaration of realising that your House has actually won the coveted cup.  A day full of so many heightened emotions and today, for me, held more than any other in the past.  Not surprisingly I wondered what the day had in store for M and worried a little about how he’d manage the races with his cumbersome pump pack strapped to his back and his tube taped to his face.  And it was the end of an era for G.  We’re in to the final stretch:  May half-term is over, SATs have finished, the Year 6 production rehearsals are ramping up and in less than 6 weeks time, my first baby will have finished her Junior school years and “big school” beckons for September.

One of the very many things I love about the kids’ school is that they still hold a competitive Sports Day, where winning means something, but is not as important as team spirit, or encouragement, or taking part. or cheering for everyone in the race, whichever House they represent or whatever position they finish.  I still remember the very first Sports Day I saw at this school, when G moved there half-way through her Year 4 year.  I was instantly impressed by the support and encouragement given to, and by, every year group to each other.  I saw Year 6 boys cheering their peers on, waiting by the finish line to welcome the last child in,20150612_100530 however old they were and thumping them on the back for a job well done. When I saw that I knew that we had made the right decision in choosing this school for our pair and looked forward to them becoming a part of it.

Three years on from that first Sports Day and I stood proudly on the sidelines cheering both my children on. The first half of the morning was occupied with following M’s class around the circuit of team races and the occasional mad-dash removal of his pump pack when it suddenly became evident that neither skipping ropes or sacks were going to work with a heavy back-pack in situ. He took part in every activity and my heart swelled when his entire class chanted his name as he completed a second turn in the sack race for his House. For his lap in the family relay – a team consisting of one child from each year group – photo credit to L Dacrehe and I agreed that he could race pump free and with his tube strapped down and, boy, was it worth it. He flew down the track at lightening speed, proving to all watching that his tube really doesn’t stand in his way, especially not when it comes to winning points for his House.

20150612_120335Disappointingly, I couldn’t watch as much of G as I would have liked, but despite only being able to watch her complete one of the initial team races, I was able to cheer her on during what I was thought was her only other event, the over-and-under race.  To my surprise, as she and I stood side-by-side watching M run his relay, surrounded by their House, she announced that she was also running in the Year 6 girls’ relay, a race I would have never anticipated her taking part in as she’s really not a runner at heart.  And so, this year’s Sports Day experience finished in fine fashion with M taking G’s place next to me, cheering his big sister on as she competed in her final race of her Junior school days.