Fast food – home-made style!

We are generally not a fast-food eating family, which, given the array of allergies we’ve had to deal with over the years, is probably a good thing. It’s not something we’ve noticed we’re missing out on and I doubt we’d ever be burger joint regulars even without the allergies, but all that being said, there are definitely times when being able to pick up a burger and chips or to grab fish and chips from the chippie would make feeding the family one less headache to deal with at the end of a busy day. I don’t think the children have ever really felt like they’re deprived in this area, especially as there were occasions before allergies became a big deal or we’d ever even heard of EGID that we would treat them whilst on holiday; GcsqwFsrRVGMfVc18IAf_imagebut there have been a couple of events recently where M has really struggled with not being able to eat on the go like so much of the rest of the world.

The first was back in July, he went to a friend’s paint-balling birthday party, which was followed by lunch and birthday cake at the local McDonald’s. M was brilliant. He was keen to join in and spend the time with all his friends and asked me to take along some safe food for his lunch. He sat with them whilst they enjoyed their Happy Meals and asked his friend’s Dad if he could have a small portion of fries to smell at the same time. This may sound strange and it’s most definitely heartbreaking to see, but is a coping mechanism he picked up from a couple of the amazing children we met during his GOSH stay last year. It is widely reported that if you lose one of your senses, the others become more acute to replace it and it is this theory that has been put into practice here. M may not be able to eat many of his favourite foods any more, but he can still garner great satisfaction from enjoying their distinctive smells instead. When you consider that your sense of taste is hugely influenced by your sense of smell, after all we all know how bland food can seem when we’re struggling with a heavy head cold, then I guess that it’s no wonder that M finds such enjoyment from smelling what he can’t eat.

With the party behind us, the issue of fast food didn’t raise its head again until just a few weeks ago following a family evening out at a local art exhibition. I had managed to feed G and M before we headed out the door, but Mike and I, no strangers to late night meals, decided that the timing was such that we could only grab something on our way back home. We stopped to quickly pick up burgers and almost instantly both children went into minor melt-downs. I knew that a lot of their complaints were the result of the late night and a desperate need to get to bed and sympathised with their frustrations at not being able to eat something, anything “normal” for a change. I put my thinking cap on and determined to create a meal that could somehow replace the humble burger in our household and give the children the taste sensation they were craving. 20150925_190329I remembered that a couple of summers ago, I had created a fantastically tasty lamb and mint burger recipe and I wondered if I could take that basic recipe and tweak it to meet M’s new dietary needs.

The great news is that I absolutely could. We buy our fresh meat, fruit and vegetables from a local co-operative and one of the ingredients I had spotted before was minced chicken. Adding a mix of seasonings and herbs as well as a generous helping of golden syrup, I prepared some great tasting chicken burgers. I whipped up a batch of rice flour pancakes to replace the bread roll for M, though we’ve decided that my flatbreads would work equally well. They were declared an almost instant success by both M and G, who have asked for them on more than one occasion since. Even better, I discovered that I could use the same recipe to create mini meatballs, which M enjoyed with rice pasta drizzled with a little rapeseed oil, some diced cucumber and a handful of additional herbs. So, one simple recipe led to 2 great new meals for my now slightly-less-moody children – a job well done!

The Start of a New School Year

In barely the blink of an eye, the summer holidays have disappeared amidst a blur of activities, work and holidays and as we say hello to October and the occasional pumpkin spice latte, we’ve already put the first month of the new school year behind us. This year September has been a little different to most with G moving up to her secondary school and M heading into Year 5 and all the new responsibilities that have accompanied both those events. It’s been a month of mixed emotions as the realisation that my babies are no longer that has hit. They’re growing up fast and whilst it’s been wonderful to see them stepping out with a new-found confidence, there’s been the inevitable tug on my heartstrings as I’ve realised that we’ve moved on to the next stage of parenting, especially when it comes to our little Miss.10865938_887210898036761_1768009436261476122_o

For G, she seems to has quite literally grown up over the summer holidays and now stands a good 2 inches or so taller than her closest friend, whilst developing a new sense of independence too. Every morning I drop her at the local corner shop, where she meets up with a couple of friends for the walk to school. They leave laughing and chatting and seem to pick up various classmates and friends along the way. She’s loving all that her secondary school has to offer, even the drip-feed of homework on a regular basis and is fast learning the importance of being organised and keeping track of her things when there’s no peg or drawer in which to abandon her belongings. Every afternoon she meets M and me at our agreed meeting place, strategically positioned between the 2 schools and is keen to find out how M’s day has been as well as sharing parts of her own.

9781408847558And every evening, once she’s tackled her homework and played outside with M, G spends time helping prepare her packed lunch for the next day and chats away with either Mike or me in the kitchen, giving us precious insights into how things are going as we prepare M’s feed or dinner or sometimes both. Some evenings she’s tired and emotional and a little worn down by the events and demands of the day, but on others she’s buzzing with excitement about what she has learned and the things she has done. I’m so proud that she’s choosing to tackle some of the extended assignments she’s been given in class and her latest effort, to write about why she’d like to have lunch with author, Huw Powell, reaped a much-deserved reward at the start of the week when she and 5 other pupils were selected to actually have lunch with the author himself. It’s wonderful to see her blossom so much in her new environment and I can’t wait to see what the year ahead has in store for her.

M has similarly settled well into his new class and is enjoying being back at school, although he’s not such a fan of the increased homework load that Year 5 has brought with it. He struggled on his first day back, sorely missing G’s reassuring presence at the Junior school with him, but he has soon got used to the new reality and looks forward to meeting up with her every day after school. 9781426755514Despite the hopes and original plans of our gastro team at GOSH, M’s NG-tube is still in place and seems likely to be so for the foreseeable future. His friends continue to take it fully in their stride and are happy to help him remember to bring his feeding pump home at the end of each day, something he still struggles to do even after 9 months of having it in place. We’re not 100% sure of all the challenges that this next school year will bring for M in terms of his health, but we know without doubt that there will be some and are glad to still have our wonderful school and staff supporting him each step of the way.

A Birthday* surprise (*cake recipe included!)

11009339_10152614451586123_8225188594845865541_o20140912_225331Six months ago I tackled the challenge of a birthday cake for M, where the only ingredients he could eat safely didn’t lend themselves to whipping up a tasty sponge and he ended up with a 3-tier Cluedo-themed “fake” cake. Six months before that, I adapted a crazy cake recipe to create a M-friendly chocolate masterpiece for my Mum’s milestone birthday.

Somehow it seems fitting that we’ve come almost full circle in our cake journey and I’ve recently found myself facing the task of another birthday cake for Mum and, more than that,  one which could be eaten and enjoyed by us all. The apple and rice flour cupcakes I’ve been making have been a real winner with the children, but the ever-persistent problem of a granular taste to these bakes, no matter what I’ve tried, meant that I was desperate to find an alternative and better recipe to mark this special occasion. Despite frequent google searches, that recipe was proving to be irritatingly elusive and it was only when we finally achieved a fifth safe food for M that I struck birthday cake gold.logo-eureka-01

To be perfectly honest, it really all came as something of a surprise success as I had no great hopes of yet another search turning up a rice flour cake that would 1) accommodate M’s restricted diet and 2) taste delicious. Despite my doubts, I thought it worth a look with our new ingredient of pear added to the mix and came across this easy recipe for pear and rice flour cupcakes that were not only gluten- and dairy- as advertised, but also egg- and soya-free too. I decided to do a test run and made a quick batch whilst G and M were in school. By the time they arrived home, the house was filled with the tantalising smell of fresh baking and M’s nose instantly went into impressive action as he begged to know if he could taste-test the cakes I’d been preparing that afternoon. Three cupcakes quickly disappeared from the cooling rack and I was thrilled to discover that there was none of that unpleasant granular taste that I’ve come to associate with rice flour baking. With an instant hit on my hands, I now needed to decide whether to attempt a cupcake tower for my Mum or see if I could cook a more traditional cake using the same recipe.

Due to an abundance of apples in our household at the moment – the benefit of apple trees conveniently located at my Mum’s, my office and at a friend’s – I tweaked the recipe to include some apple and reduced down the original quantities of oil and syrup as the original cupcakes had been a little too sweet for my liking. I waited nervously as the cakes baked, fingers tightly crossed that the larger layers would turn out as well as the cupcakes had and I needn’t have worried. The cakes looked impressive and I now have yet another great recipe to add to my list. Having left them to cool in the fridge (no #GBBO-style “wafting” in my household!) I sandwiched them together with some home-made apple purée before turning my mind to the knotty subject of how to decorate it all.

appleswansNow, if I had seen at that point episode 7 of #GBBO, I might have taken my inspiration from Paul’s amazing apple swans and spent my afternoon carving the intricate decorations to top the cake, but fortunately, or maybe unfortunately – I suppose it depends on your point of view – that episode had yet to air and instead I found myself using my time much more wisely: I was back on google trying to work out if a dairy-free buttercream icing was at all possible. To my delight and complete surprise, I found a recipe for coconut oil icing, which seemed to tick all the boxes when it came to M’s dietary requirements. Whilst he is unable to eat coconut milk or flesh, 20150912_204048he is able to tolerate the oil and I was over-the-moon to have the chance to finally bake a cake that actually looked and tasted like “real” cake for him to try for the first time in nearly a year. Once again, I adapted it slightly to suit our tastes and needs and took a tentative and small first mouthful to check the taste before spreading across my cake. It has, unsurprisingly, a strong coconut taste, but this complimented the apple and pear flavours of the cake and was beautifully easy to use. I’m still not sure about the green colour I ended up with, it was Mike’s suggestion and I’m not convinced it was the right one, but the finished result looked spectacular and I’m pleased to say that it tasted amazing too!


Afternoon tea at the Celtic Manor

ladies-and-redwineAt the end of last year, not long after M had been discharged from GOSH, my Aunt celebrated a milestone birthday and my Mum started talking about a trip to the Celtic Manor in Newport for a celebratory afternoon tea. Fast forward 9 months that have taken us even closer to her next birthday than the one we were actually celebrating and with Mike organised at home to do the school-run and sort the children for the day, the three of us finally managed to become “ladies who lunch” as planned. We booked a table for their Autumn Afternoon Tea at 2pm and arrived a little earlier* (*for little, read 1 hour) than necessary due to my Mum’s anxiety of being caught up in the Rugby World Cup traffic and the pressing need to arrive early, no matter where we’re going.

We spent the first 20 minutes wandering the grounds and browsing in the shops before kicking our celebrations off with a glass of prosecco and a chat until it was eventually time to venture a little further to the Olive Tree Garden Room. As a family we are now well-versed in the world of disability and additional needs due to not just EGID and multiple food allergies, but also the presence of T1D, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis amongst our members. Everywhere we go is assessed on their ability to cater for all these needs and I’m sorry to say that here the Celtic Manor failed at the very first hurdle. The Olive Tree Garden Room is a 20150918_142930stunning place to relax and enjoy the treat of an afternoon tea, but from every approach it is only accessible by steps and whilst a portable ramp is available, the staff were slow to offer help when it was so obviously needed.

These things aside, we made it to our table in one piece and couldn’t wait to get started on the tempting and extensive menu that formed our afternoon tea. The meal began with a glass of warm Winter Pimm’s – delicious – and the Harvest hamper filled with 4 bite-size savoury treats that tantalised our taste-buds and gave us an inkling to what to expect for the rest of the meal. The detailed menu impressively showed the allergens present in each of the different items on offer and I was pleased to see that gluten-free alternatives were available. On this occasion, we didn’t test their allergy offerings, a real treat for me, but I’d be keen to return to see whether they could cater for G with her gluten- and dairy-free needs and if they favourably compare to the “normal” dishes. 20150918_142925The sandwiches that followed were equally good and sized perfectly so that we could manage the cakes that came next.

The cakes were a sight to behold and it was really difficult to decide exactly where to start before trying each and every one. It was at this point that we all were finally beaten – well 5 cakes and pastries, however mini, is an awful lot for one person – but the Celtic Manor is obviously well-used to this experience and were able to offer us cake boxes to transport those extra ones home to enjoy at a later time. I cheerfully packed my remaining 2 away and eagerly looked forward to the final part of our tea, the scone. After all the other mouthwatering courses, I couldn’t wait to taste the scone with jam and clotted cream, which has to be the best bit of any cream tea in my opinion and I was confident that this one could be nothing short of exceptional.

Sadly I was very wrong and we were massively disappointed with the freshly baked Cherry Bakewell scones that arrived. The scones appeared to be so freshly baked that they were, in fact, under-done and tasted stodgy and sticky in the mouth. The Cherry Bakewell embellishment was a complete step too far and did nothing to add to the taste experience as it consisted purely of a sticky cherry syrup thinly spread across the top and a few flaked almonds added for effect. I struggled to eat it and gave up half-way through as it really wasn’t edible. To make matters worse, our disappointment with the scones was compounded by the poor quality of the tea served with the meal. I’m not sure who had trained whoever made the tea, but my Mum’s Earl Grey was the colour of a strong builder’s tea when poured and even our request for a second pot and then a pot of boiling water, did little to improve the flavour. In comparison, the coffee I had was fantastic and my Aunt much preferred the coffee to her original and fairly unpalatable English Breakfast tea.

I would love to be able to say that my review ends there, but I just can’t. Scones and tea aside, even though they’re fairly integral parts of any afternoon tea, the rest of the food was delightful and we really enjoyed everything else we had to eat; but – don’t pretend you didn’t sense there was a “but” coming – the service we received just didn’t match our expectations of the Celtic Manor. The staff members were not overly attentive and I found myself almost constantly having to grab someone’s attention each time we needed anything, however small. betterThey forgot to take our orders for tea and coffee and excused this surprising fail by blaming it on the “..very busy room..”, even though it was never more than 1/3 to 1/2 full during our visit. I flagged down our requested additional pot of hot water when it was delivered to the next door table, helped myself to extra knives from an empty table behind us when our clean cutlery ran out and even ended up asking the staff to clear our table of empty glasses and dishes to allow space for the cake stands, teapots and cups and saucers still to come.

The last straw really came when I asked for a clean cup for my Mum after her second pot of Earl Grey was delivered to the table and the waitress reached over and removed her cup. Just. her. cup. Not the saucer, not the spoon and certainly not all 3 items together, but the cup on its own and swapped it for a clean one, still swinging the old cup with its remnants of tea sloshing around it from her other hand!

20150918_145226Let me be clear: in no way did this spoil our enjoyment of the afternoon at all and in fact it gave the three of us a fit of the giggles, much to the bemusement of our unsuspecting waitress. We loved our table, even though it was tucked away in a far corner, as it gave us an uninterrupted view of the rest of the room and we all enjoy participating in a spot of people-watching whenever we can. However, given the Celtic Manor is described as a “luxury resort” and has 5-star status, the service was not what we had been expecting or hoping for our birthday celebrations. Would I recommend a visit? Yes, I think, but be warned about their scones and hopefully their service might have improved by the time you get there.

Risotto – the M-friendly way!

This could come as something of a surprise to some of you, especially when you consider that rice has been a staple ingredient for us since February, but until recently I really hadn’t thought of making a simple risotto for M. We love risotto in our house, which really makes this lack of regard inexcusable: the children have been eating my home-made version since they were tiny and yet I hadn’t ventured down this particular route in my meal creations for him. Keep-It-Simple-Design-SimplicityJust as with the gnocchi – although risotto is absolutely nothing like as complicated to make a those Italian masterpieces – I’ve been keeping to the mantra of “easy meals are best” for weekday evenings and somehow risotto had escaped my attention.

Our dinner out at Trewithen brought this meal back to the forefront of my consciousness, when I enjoyed the most mouth-wateringly delicate and delicious flavours of their prawn and smoked salmon risotto. The perfect balance of strong flavours and the creamy deliciousness of the dish reminded me of just why it has always been a firm favourite of mine and I determined then and there to see if I could create a M-friendly version that might make the grade.

Taking inspiration from the Trewithen marinade for the chicken, which won such huge acclaim from M that I ended up asking the chef for his recipe, I created my very own nod to a stock as M is obviously not able to eat any of the stock-cubes readily available on the market due to their long lists of ingredients. 20150909_173602I cooked off some sage, thyme and parsley with a little salt and pepper in some Cornish rapeseed oil until an aromatic smell arose from the pan and then added the arborio rice and chicken, before adding my final ingredient of rice milk and leaving it all to simmer in my usual “one pot” approach to risotto.

The end result smelt, well, good enough to eat and I was keen to see how my young gourmand rated my first attempt at a M-friendly risotto. He said little, but the resulting request for seconds really told me everything I needed to know and so another recipe has been added to the 7Y2D repertoire!

Merlin’s Magic Wand

Most of you will know the company Merlin Entertainments, who own and run attractions around the UK such as Alton Towers, the London Eye, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds, to name but a few; but how many are aware of their linked charity, Merlin’s Magic Wand? It’s certainly not an organisation I’d ever heard of and knew nothing about until the start of 2015. This charitable organisation was set up in 2008 by Merlin Entertainments to “…deliver magical experiences to seriously ill, disabled and disadvantaged children across the world…” and focus their work in 2 main areas:

  • Magical Days Out at Merlin attractions – over 170, 000 children and their families have been able to enjoy a memorable day out through the provision of entrance tickets and, where necessary, travel grants
  • Taking the Magic to the children – recognising that some children are unable to visit due to the nature of their illnesses or disabilities, Merlin has provided areas such as a “Fantastical Castle play area” in the CHASE Hospice, Guildford and a “Legoland play area” at the Kolding Sygehus Children’s Hospital in Billund, Denmark.

At the start of this year, not long after we’d arrived back home following M’s stay in GOSH for his NG-tube and elemental diet, I heard about Merlin’s Magic Wand and decided to investigate a little further. I wasn’t confident whether M would even be eligible for tickets or not, but thanks to their incredibly informative and easy to navigate website, 20150831_073635I decided to give it a go, working on the principle of nothing ventured, nothing gained. Both children are massive fans of Legoland Windsor and had been clamouring for a visit this year, so I selected that as our number 1 choice and, without saying a word to either of them, sent back the form and sat back to wait and see.

Within a couple of weeks of submitting my application form on-line, I had an e-mail to tell me we had been successful and that 4 entrance tickets would soon be winging their way to me. Unfortunately, a slight delay in their arrival meant we couldn’t use them for our Star Wars trip on May 4th, but the problems were soon resolved, the tickets arrived and I pinned them to our kitchen noticeboard, waiting for the right time to put them to good use. A busy summer has meant that finding that right time to go proved more challenging than we expected and we finally settled on the August bank holiday Monday as something of a “last hurrah” for our summer holidays and before G started her new venture of secondary school.

We set off early on that Monday morning, driving through the pouring rain, confident that, if nothing else, the park would not be too busy, or, at least, not as busy as it might have been if there’d been glorious sunshine. Our travels to Florida last year alerted us to the existence of ride access passes and we were delighted that the same exist at Legoland Windsor. Armed with a letter from our GP confirming the reasons we needed this pass, we headed to guest services as soon as we entered the park. 20150831_114557This is a “benefit” that has obviously been subject to some abuse over the years and Legoland Windsor has stringent checks in place to ensure that only those who genuinely need this assistance receive it.

Our day there was as fantastic as ever and we enjoyed all of our favourite rides (some of them twice!) as well as trying out the brand new Mia’s Riding Adventure, one that G was desperate to go on. This isn’t one for the faint-hearted and there was a slightly panicked moment when we discovered that M’s body-weight wasn’t quite enough to keep the seat back in a comfortable, but secure position for him ride. With some excellent help from the staff manning the ride, we managed to get M settled in a position that allowed him to breathe before the ride started and the screams from my excited duo began. 20150831_100610Mike watched from the sidelines as he and spinning rides really don’t get along and waved merrily to us, slightly misconstruing my attempts to flag a staff member down to help as an unusual display of my own excitement about the ride.

Disappointingly we are no longer able to eat on-site as we’ve found that the cross-contamination is too much for M’s sensitive digestive system to cope with and instead we enjoyed a rather soggy packed lunch, whilst watching both shows – the Pirates of Skeleton Bay and Lego Friends to the Rescue. The children were also able to be part of the audience volunteers at the start of each show, which they loved and which has become an integral part of any day we spend at Legoland Windsor. All in all, we had an amazing day out thanks to the generosity of Merlin’s Magic Wand. The charity depends on donations to help make these tickets available to those children who benefit from them and if you want to find out more about how you can help or show support, please visit their website:


Gnocchi revisited

Last year I wrote about my quest to create an all-time favourite of mine in a format that would not only meet all our then allergy needs, but that I also hoped both M and G would enjoy. I successfully tweaked some easy recipes to create an instant winner for dinner-time in our household: gluten-free gnocchi and their sweet potato counterpart. For very many reasons I haven’t ventured back to this delicious meal since M started his elemental diet at the end of last year, not least because it is really time-intensive and when cooking 3 different dishes for a single meal-time is the new norm, simple is often best.

One of the unexpected highlights of our holiday in Cornwall came right at the end of the week as I was browsing the farm shop at the Lost Gardens of Heligan before we headed home. I came across gnocchia packet of Bionita ready-made and gluten-free potato gnocchi and immediately snapped it up. I couldn’t wait for the perfect opportunity to try them out at home with G and that chance finally came last week, whilst M and I were both fighting off persistent heavy head colds, the peril of going back to school when you have a compromised autoimmune system. The prospect of slaving over a hot stove at the end of a long day really didn’t appeal and these gnocchi seemed to be the ideal option for a quick, easy and delicious meal.

20150909_173840Just as with the “normal” version, these gnocchi take just 2 minutes to cook in boiling water and I served them simply with a sage butter with sweetcorn and pine-nuts that was just as quick to prepare. Within 5 minutes, a steaming bowl of aromatic gnocchi was sitting in front of G and she loved every mouthful of this revisited classic. The packet is easily enough for 3 or 4 meals for G as gnocchi really are surprisingly filling and, as it states that they should be used up within 3 days of opening, I’ve popped the pack into the freezer until the next time. My fingers are now tightly crossed that they prove to be as good from frozen as the ones I made from scratch last year.