Inspired by #GBBO

You might have noticed the extended radio silence over the last 10 days or so as we took a much-needed week away from it all down in Cornwall and the lack of wi-fi in our lodge meant that we almost had a technology-free week too. Despite my lack of blog posts, I did manage to keep up with a current TV favourite and I’m sure I’m not the only allergy-parent out there who looks forward to a weekly dose of the Great British Bake-Off (GBBO), which has recently re-started on our screens.  I spend that hour with Mike, M and G drooling over their masterpieces, cringing over their mistakes and pondering on whether I can adapt the recipes to create my own M-friendly #GBBO-inspired entries. Our household is especially excited about the upcoming episode airing on BBC1 tomorrow night (September 2nd) as the bakers will be tackling 3 different “free-from” challenges, though I’m not sure any are as difficult as baking to suit multiple food allergies! One person I’m sure will be watching with equally avid interest is fellow EGID Mum and FABED friend, Dr Berenice Golding, so whilst I’m beavering away to pull together a plethora of posts to tell you just how fantastic our Cornish trip was, I am delighted to be able to share with you this guest blog-post written by Berenice, in which she talks about her attempts at a #GBBO-inspired free-from Madeira cake.

BGIn our house we love everything Great British Bake Off despite the fact that on a daily basis we are dealing with multiple food exclusions. Diagnosed in 2012, at the age of 12, my son is allergic to wheat, gluten, tree nuts (not peanuts but we still avoid), soya, sesame and coconut. We have many other foods we are avoiding, or trialling in small quantities such as tomato, but the list is quite long… He has also, following total food exclusions last summer when he was fed an elemental diet via a NG-tube, been put on a diet that does not include dairy, eggs and fish. Nevertheless, despite the exclusions, #GBBO inspires us as we both like to bake. In fact, baking is a must in our house as it is the only way that safe cake, as a treat, can be made available.

We have trialled dairy re-introduction to no avail, so this summer, rather than re-trialling dairy due to an impending hospital admission, I opted to trial eggs. We have managed to re-introduce small amounts of fish, but egg was my next big adventure due to his rapidly approaching 16th birthday.

Why egg you may ask?

The answer is simple, I have struggled over recent weeks and months with the absence of eggs and trying to find egg replacements that not only work, but are also free from nuts – it has been a challenge. Then, while watching the bakers produce Madeira cake on #GBBO, I was suddenly drawn towards Lemon Madeira cake as a baked egg trial and began my search for an allergy-friendly recipe.

I have a number of allergy friendly cook books; my favourite, albeit American, is by Colette Martin. I have also recently invested in a book by Pippa Kendrick following a recommendation by one of the founders of Families Affected by Eosinophilic Disorders (FABED). I also had a recipe in my recipe folder – I started compiling this when I realised that baking was a necessity and not just for fun! – by Glutafin, but because the flour they produce contains milk powder, we haven’t been able to use their flour recently and so I consulted the internet and found a recipe by Dove’s Farm. Unfortunately, the recipe contained almonds which meant that I needed to modify recipes to make something safe for my son. This is where the fun began.

11900092_10153541906468739_7334883458966317310_oMy 1st attempt, whilst smelling okay, was somewhat disastrous as I had forgotten that I was using self-raising flour and had added baking powder as I was working with the Glutafin recipe. It did not taste that nice – the texture wasn’t right – and there was no discernible crack, Mary Berry would not have been impressed. The first cake made its way to the bin quite quickly. But I persevered and my 2nd attempt was exactly what I had been hoping for – well almost – the texture was a little dry (this time I opted to trial a combination of both recipes) but once topped with icing, prepared by Benjamin, it was actually quite delicious! I still need to work on further recipe conversions as I have yet to perfect this cake and I will share the recipe once I think it is worth sharing.

My thanks go to Berenice and Benjamin for this great post. Dr Berenice Golding is a Lecturer in Social Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. She has a personal and professional interest in the social, emotional and psychological aspects of food. Some of her other posts can be found here and here.

A Pizza restaurant success story

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been blogging a lot about the new recipes I’ve been experimenting with and some fantastic restaurants we’ve found, who have been amazing at providing safe food for M. With food trials proving to be a far lengthier challenge than the medics imagined, the opportunity to gently encourage M back to enjoying eating out on occasion has been one we’ve grabbed with both hands in order to maintain some much-needed sanity and time-out from the kitchen. pizzaOur latest foray was back to an old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, as in the past 4 or so years we’ve enjoyed allergy-friendly meals out, school trips and birthday parties there. I thought it well-worth a return visit to see whether it could now meet our new and somewhat exacting requirements.

Our lunch-time adventures started with a phone-call to our restaurant of choice to see whether they would be able to cope with M’s diet or not. Whilst we don’t always phone ahead, we were going to be in a part of the city where alternative choices were not readily available and we didn’t want to be trawling the streets with 2 grumpy and increasingly hungry children in tow. Mike spoke to a very helpful woman, who was able to confirm that they had plain chicken readily available and would be able to provide the chicken and cucumber parts of the meal. Unfortunately, as we have found in other restaurants, Pizza Express couldn’t cook plain rice for M, but were more than happy for him to eat from our own stash of rice-cakes or crackers whilst the rest of the family enjoyed our lunch.

 

Armed with the reassurance we were after and having convinced a very reluctant M that we really needed to stop for lunch soon, we headed off to the restaurant. Our waitress was brilliant and didn’t bat an eyelid on hearing our requests for a goldstarsgluten-free, dairy-free American pizza with goat’s cheese for G and a plate of plain chicken and cucumber for M as well as Mike and my more normal menu selections. The plates of food arrived and my picky pair set to trying it all out. The top marks out of 10 (an unbelievable 10/10 from M), empty dishes and requests for seconds that quickly followed were a sure-fire testament to the meal itself and we are delighted to have found yet another M-friendly restaurant for us all to enjoy.

Not quite Mickey-shaped…!

20140818_143459Around about the same time that I started fondly reminiscing about last year’s holiday to Florida, my FB timeline decided to prompt my recollections with this photo of what turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the vast array of fantastic M- and G-friendly food in Disney. These Mickey waffles were a huge part of what made our trip so successful and are one of M’s favourite memories about his first visit to “the most magical place on earth“. In fact, they were so popular that they have gained the unenviable status of one of the top 10 foods M is desperate to enjoy once he has a few more foods back in his diet. With so many of the key ingredients for your traditional waffle firmly in the “unsafe” camp, I turned my mind to what the basic ingredients of a successful waffle were and whether I could replace them and produce a waffle that might satisfy M’s longing.

I found a great recipe for egg-free waffles and, confident that I could make a replacement that would at very least look good, even if the taste wasn’t quite all it should be, I insisted on a detour during a family day out to buy my very first waffle-maker. I had previously done some research on the various options out there and once we were in-store, 20150809_184330M helped me pick which one he thought would do the best job – a combined waffle-maker, sandwich-toaster and grill! Shopping done and the day’s activities completed, we headed home and I claimed the kitchen as a child-free zone until my experimenting was done.

The first recipe I adapted produced some amazing waffles and I just wish I had a photo that captured the pure delight on M’s face when he first caught sight of his plate full of M-friendly waffles. Needless to say, he was rendered speechless – something that rarely happens as those of you who know us well will know – and he flung his arms around me, squeezing tight as he whispered “Thank you Mummy, you’re the very best Mummy in the world“. Both children declared them an instant hit and the speed at which those first 4 waffles disappeared from their plates would confirm that to be the case. Mike and I shared a fifth one between us and agreed that as delicious as they were, the rice flour had created a granular taste to the waffles, a problem that I have experienced before when baking with this tricky ingredient. 20150809_185211I have found that making a wetter mix has been key in producing a less granular cake, but couldn’t quite see how to make this work with the thicker waffle batter and the limiting factor of only a handful of safe ingredients.

Not quite 100% satisfied with my first attempt and responding to the following day’s request for “..more waffles please!.” from M and G, this time I searched for a recipe for apple waffles and adapted it to suit our allergy needs. I used some apple purée to not only flavour the waffles, but also to replace the egg and add more liquid to the batter without diluting it too much. This batch cooked as well as the first and proved to be an equal success with my discerning duo. Mike also acted as a taste-tester and reported that the granular texture was considerably reduced with the addition of the apple, though it hasn’t disappeared completely. Whilst I will continue to strive for even better rice flour waffles, for now I’m more than happy to have found a way to replicate those Mickey waffles, even if they’re not quite Mickey-shaped!

Countdown to Cornwall

This time last year I had holiday-planned to within an inch of my life and had experienced amazing support from the folks at Virgin Atlantic. We had arrived at Disneyworld Florida, were impressed by the positive approach to M’s restricted diet shown by all and were loving our days in the sun. It really was a trip of a lifetime and we’ve all been reminiscing a lot about where we were and what we were doing this time last year.

Our plans this year have been much less grandiose and much closer to home. When we first started thinking about our summer holiday plans back in November, all we knew was that M was going to be going elemental sometime soon and would have a NG-tube in place. We didn’t know if it would still be there by the time this summer rolled around and had no idea what he’d be able to eat or how we’d all be coping with the change. We toyed with the idea of a holiday in Portugal, a favourite destination of us all, but just weren’t sure how confident we would be if we needed to travel abroad with a tube in place.  20150812_172857Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and nearly 9 months experience, I am sure we would have coped just fine, but the uncertainty of all we’d be dealing with meant that instead we opted for staying in the UK and so we are now on our countdown to Cornwall.

Our front hallway currently resembles a storage facility as I pull out ready for packing, not just clothes and beach essentials, but safe food supplies for both G and M and, of course, everything we’ll need for M’s tube feeds. We have each chosen a day-trip we’d like to do whilst we’re there as well as researching the beaches surrounding Fowey, our base for the week. Mike has spent time looking at various “wet-weather” options as there’s no guarantee of sun in the UK, even in August, and we have been able to pencil in a day with G’s godmother, Godmama C and her lovely family as they will be holidaying there too. We might be staying in a self-catering apartment, but we’re also hoping to venture out to eat and my time has been spent trawling the internet looking for allergy-friendly restaurants and emailing to find out whether they will be able to accommodate M’s current food needs. cornwall-mapThe great news is that a couple have already replied to tell me that they are up for the challenge and I can’t wait to try them out and share our reviews of just how well they did for both M and G with you all. Even better, thanks to timely posts from fellow bloggers such as The Intolerant Gourmand and dedicated websites like Can I eat there?, I’ve been given some great top tips for making this a holiday to remember.

 

Yet another chicken recipe!

We might be nearly 9 months into life with a NG-tube and in theory should have long since said goodbye to its presence in our world, but the reality is very different. M hasn’t been able to progress beyond our 4 staple foods and it is becoming increasingly challenging to make rice, chicken, cucumber and apple into a tasty and interesting combination for 3 meals a day. 20150710_203444M’s steady consumption of new favourites tempura batter chicken nuggets and arancini di riso has resulted in the purchase of our first-ever deep fat fryer – a piece of kitchen equipment I never envisioned gracing my kitchen’s counter-tops – and I have been concerned about the amount of fried foods he’s now eating on a regular basis. Thanks to a recent post on The Recipe Resource’s Facebook forum, I converted the cornflake-covered chicken balls to a M-friendly version and found a healthier twist to chicken nuggets for him to enjoy.

They were really simple to prepare and it would be easy enough to adapt the recipe to suit your tastes and dietary needs. I’ve added both sage and thyme to the mix and both proved popular with M and G alike and I’m sure you could spice them up with chilli flakes for a more “grown-up” flavour.20150723_190656 The quantities would be easy to adapt too, so that you only make what you need for a meal-time, although M has enjoyed them cold for his packed lunches recently too. I also took the basic recipe and made some crispy fish balls for M’s white fish challenge, which I’m sure, with a little bit more time and effort, could be moulded into all sorts of interesting shapes. It ultimately turned out to be yet another food fail, but M definitely enjoyed the bite-size fish nuggets whilst he could.

The Dr Who Experience

20150725_094348The same weekend we dipped our toes into the Wagamama dining experience, we also visited the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff. This was a trip that has been a long time in the planning and which was the result of M winning the Grand Prize at the Big Bang Science Fair that we attended at the NEC earlier this year. There has been a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing to settle on a date that suited all involved, but finally the day arrived and the whole family, plus one extra excited 9 year-old, started on our way. We arrived at Cardiff Bay bright and early and meandered our way in the glorious Welsh sunshine towards the purpose-built centre, following an eager M, his friend N and a slightly less certain G.

 

Our visit started with the interactive tour, which led us on an intergalactic adventure to help 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, save the universe. It starts in the Gallifrey Museum and weaves it way through various unmistakeable Dr Who locations before reaching its thrilling conclusion. DWS8LondonCapaldiPix2.jpgDespite the initial reluctance of both M and G, neither of whom are fond of loud noises, darkened rooms or unexpected surprises, we made our way through unscathed and N, a much more avid Dr Who fan than M will likely ever be, eagerly took up the challenges we faced. The experience asks that no photos or filming is done during the interactive tour to ensure there are no spoilers out there for future visitors and we were more than happy to oblige.

Adventure completed, we headed into the exhibition hall, which is a veritable feast for any die-hard Whovian who is lucky enough to visit. I could quite happily have spent a couple of hours perusing the costumes, props and other pieces of memorabilia from the past 50 years of this cult TV classic. I was thrilled to see an original Dalek and various incarnations of the Cybermen, the best-loved classic enemies of the Doctor, placed sympathetically amongst their more modern counterparts. There was a fantastic array of costumes featuring not just those of each of the 13 Doctors seen on our screens, but also a selection from some of their ever-faithful companions. Awaiting discovery around every corner were unimaginable treasures including K9, multiple sonic screwdrivers and the iconic Time And Relative Dimension In Space (better known as the TARDIS to you and me) – both inside and out. We spent a happy hour or so exploring all that was on offer, everyone enjoyed the visit and I think I possibly proved myself to be the biggest Dr Who geek of the family!

A taste of Asia

Belonging to an on-line support community such as FABED is fantastic, but also really something of a mixed blessing. The joy of being able to build friendships, ask questions and sometimes simply celebrate a milestone with others through a deft few keyboard strokes is always tempered by the isolating knowledge that these families, walking a similar path to ours, might live hours away from us and chatting in person is not always easy to do. We have been lucky enough to meet up with some families over the last 4 years and have some amazing new friends who really understand the stresses and strains of living with a chronic illness. By far and away, one of the best benefits has been sharing recipes and restaurant recommendations and it was following such advice from a fellow FABED Mum that we recently ventured into a completely new dining experience for us all.

To say we were impressed from the moment we stepped through the door of our local Wagamama restaurant is no overstatement and not one part of the experience that followed let them, or us, down. I’ve learned to broach the subject of M’s complex dietary requirements at the restaurant door to save heartache all round and their greeter not only made a sensible suggestion based on the short list of safe foods I gave him – Mini grilled chicken noodles minus a few ingredients – but also headed off to talk to both the chef and the restaurant manager to confirm they could prepare a tasty meal for M that would be as free from cross-contamination risks as they could make it. Reassured that they could accommodate his food needs, we took our seats before perusing meal options that would also suit the rest of the family. 20150725_174814Whilst M was hugely excited about having rice noodles for his dinner, G was less keen, but with 3 different types of rice available, even my pickier eater was happy.

The restaurant manager acted as our waitress and was invaluable in helping us make sensible choices for all the family and our differing allergy requirements. The greeter had done a great job of passing the information on to her and she started by addressing how they would prepare M’s meal to ensure it was as M-friendly as possible. As M is only able to tolerate rapeseed and coconut oils at the moment, the chef suggested they steamed him a fresh piece of chicken, which had not been marinated, and which would not have the risk of picking up any food or oil traces from their other pans. They also cooked a fresh batch of rice noodles, again in a clean pot to avoid obvious cross-contamination and served them with a healthy portion of cucumber “noodles” – a meal fit to tantalise our young foodie’s taste buds. The plate that appeared was impressive and M gave the meal a well-deserved 9/10 (he wasn’t so keen on the cucumber noodles and docked them a mark for that presentation!).

G chose a stir-fried rice and chicken dish (Mini chicken cha han) from the children’s menu and we saw, once again, the impressive and extensive knowledge the restaurant staff had about their food when I asked if the dish was both gluten- and dairy-free. 20150725_175253The manager knew without checking that the sauce contained gluten and advised that most of the other sauces they use in their dishes do too. However, she was able to recommend Tamari sauce, which is gluten-free and would add great flavour to G’s meal. G was as delighted as M when her bowl arrived at our table and she awarded them a well-deserved 9.5/10.

Mike and I were not only thrilled to have found a restaurant that was hugely capable of meeting our exacting requirements, but also had great meals ourselves. The service was fantastic and when a small error resulted in the wrong side dish arriving at our table, they prepared the one we’d originally asked for and gave us the wrong one for free. Back in March of this year, there was a furore when newly introduced EU legislations required restaurants to provide information about the top 14 allergens contained in their menus and over 100 top chefs and restaurants condemned the requirements as an unnecessary and inconvenient constraint on the spontaneity and creativeness of their profession. From the faultless service to the extensive menu knowledge, every single thing about our meal at Wagamama screams out that no chef worth his salt need be worried about such demands and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this restaurant chain to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly place to eat.