Breakfast Bonanza!

As I mentioned the other week, we came home from the Allergy & FreeFrom Show with bags full of new allergy-friendly goodies for G and M to taste test and review, and they have already made a great start in trying them all out. I originally planned a single blog post to cover our favourites, but soon realised that there were just too many to cover in a single piece of writing and that I would need to split my categories up instead. What better way to do this than by looking at these products in terms of the meals where we’ll be using them, and where better to start than with breakfast?

Breakfast has long been the bane of our household, with M following steadily in my footsteps as a reluctant eater of a meal first thing in the morning. Whilst I can, and do, have a later start to my day by munching on something in the office, M needs to eat before he goes to school and all too frequently this is where we’ve hit stalemate. I’ve turned my hand to make breakfast muffins in the past, but even those had a limited shelf-life of success and it was quickly back to the drawing board once his diet became more restricted. Every day has been a battle, mostly one I’m more than happy to fight, but on other days, well, not so much and we compromise on a glass of rice milk if nothing else. However, these past 2 weeks have been like no other and M has been up, dressed and downstairs asking for breakfast before I’ve even had time to take a breath every day. Every. single. day. Vive la révolution!

IMG_0689[1]The reason for this change of heart? The discovery of Rice Flakes Porridge courtesy of the amazing Delicious Alchemy, not something new to the market, but most definitely new to us. I’ll be honest, it is a brand I’d heard about in passing more than once, but I hadn’t really spent much time investigating it as I believed it to be big on the gluten-free front and not much else. Oh, was I wrong. As you will discover from their website, Delicious Alchemy was launched in 2006 by Emma Killilea, a coeliac who was frustrated and disappointed by the gluten-free options out there and decided to do something about it. The company has gone from strength to strength in the past 10 years and now works with a number of mainstream supermarkets and stockists to get their products on shop shelves. G was drawn to their stand by the delicious gluten- and dairy-free brownies that were wafted under her nose and I soon got chatting to their finance chap, where we swiftly found common ground on both the accountancy and allergy-friendly fronts. Despite G’s sighs of utter joy about the brownies, I wasn’t drawn to buying the mix given I’m very much a “cooking from scratch” fan, but once I spotted the packets of porridge flakes nestled amongst the other goodies, I felt certain this might prove to be our first purchase of the show. Delighted to IMG_0695[1]discover that the porridge contains rice and absolutely nothing else, I quickly snaffled 3 bags with my fingers tightly crossed that M would actually enjoy it as much as he insisted he would. I needn’t have worried. The rice porridge has been a massive success and is so easy to make too. Just 3 minutes in the microwave with some rice milk and his breakfast of choice is ready. Not only has he insisted on having it every morning, but it has become a popular bedtime snack of as well. I’m more than a little excited that this might also open up some options for snacks for M as delicacies such as flapjacks, biscuits and muffins all readily spring to mind.

 

M’s marks: 11/10 (and as he’s eaten 1.5 bags in a week, I’m thinking it’s an unmistakable hit!)

IMG_0687[1]Another producer I was determined to visit with G was Nutri-brex (recently rebranded from Nutri-bix), the overall winner of this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards and one of my personal favourites. Ever since I first tasted this breakfast cereal during my stint as a FFFA16 judge, I wanted to get some for G to try, but it has proved disappointingly difficult to find it in the less-than-well-stocked aisles of my local supermarkets. By the time we finally made it to their stand, G had gone at least 10 minutes without gorging herself on one of the many allergy-friendly samples that were on offer and was more than ready to try some of this cereal, in an attempt to shut Mum up if nothing else. The company had launched a brand new product at the show and G decided she would taste that with the added extras of some soya vanilla yoghurt and grated chocolate on top. IMG_0691[1]She was instantly won over and 2 boxes of the Coconut and Crispy Rice cereal bars soon joined the 2 original boxes that formed part of our goodie bags. Since coming home, G has enjoyed the original bars with raisins for her breakfasts and I’m so glad that I was finally able to introduce her to this product. It is tantalisingly close to being safe for M, but sadly until we trial sorghum, not something that is high priority for him right now, he’ll just have to stick to the porridge.

G’s marks: 10/10

IMG_0692[1]The day also introduced a couple of new-to-us milks, which have been brought home to trial. M is already very keen on the Rude Health Brown Rice Drink, which he claims has a slightly sweeter and nutty flavour in comparison to his regular rice milk. Whilst I love finding new products for M, given the recent problems with his broken leg, I prefer being able to buy rice milk that is fortified with calcium, something that this one doesn’t appear to be. Add to that the price of this product, which at around £2 per litre makes it considerably more expensive than the Rice Dream I usually buy for him, this will be saved as a treat for special occasions rather than an everyday commodity.

M’s marks: 10/10

IMG_0693[1]As for this last product, well the jury is definitely still out in the 7Y2D household and I will be withholding my judgement on it for quite a while. If you follow Nathalie at The Intolerant Gourmand, you may well have read about her 4-week trial of a2 milk and the conclusions she drew about it. I’ll be honest, the information we were given at the Show and that I have read via their website has left me more than a little confused. I understand the principles behind the milk and the exclusion of the a1 protein, but am unclear as to whether this means it is or isn’t safe for those struggling with lactose intolerance. Their representatives on the stand were more than happy to help, but not all of them were fully to speed with the claims the milk makes and whether it would be ok for G to drink it or not, given she can’t do dairy, but can tolerate goats’ milk. It’s a difficult one for me to assess as I have no intention of trialling G on it under the circumstances, but fortunately I had another willing tester in Mike, who is also lactose intolerant and was happy to give a2 milk a try, especially as they gave us a free carton to take away with us! The milk is incredibly creamy, far more so that either Mike and I expected for semi-skimmed and it took a couple of days for Mike to reach any conclusions. Whilst his stomach was certainly aware that he was drinking cows’ milk, something he hasn’t drunk for years, he didn’t suffer any extreme reactions to it. I’m not sure I’d rush to buy it again and would recommend that any one thinking of trying it does a lot of research first.

Mike’s marks: 8/10 and he commented that as someone who hasn’t had cows’ milk for years, the flavour took some getting used to.

Wanted: One Job

When this week started, I was expecting the usual end of term mayhem for both children as we gradually wound down towards the summer holidays and close to 6 weeks off school. The holiday child entertainment plans were falling into place with activity weeks, Over The Wall, pony camp and drama school booked to keep them occupied whilst Mike and I put in our hours at work. I had been in touch with Easyjet about our flights to and from Portugal and was well into the process of making sure we can take with us everything we might conceivably need to feed both M and G whilst on our holiday.

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What I didn’t expect was to be looking for a new job.

This week has disappeared into a wild roller-coaster of raging emotions, sleepless nights and a flurry of internet searches, e-mails and phone-calls to recruitment agents, accountancy friends and old contacts to see what leads they might have for me to follow; and I’ve not been able to slow it down enough to get off the ride. When I was told on Monday that I was being made redundant with immediate effect, I was shell-shocked to say the least. Left numb and reeling by the impact this news would have on our summer, but, as the week has progressed, my emotions have broken through the surface and have vacillated between barely veiled anger at my ex-employers, a sense of depression that threatened to overcome everything else and complete disbelief that it wasn’t just a dream.

My post as a senior accountant has disappeared due to a massive change in the personal circumstances of my most recent employers, something we were only told about a month ago. At the time my concerns were whether this change would impact on our work, but was told that nothing would happen for another 6-8 months as they worked out what to do with the business and the client base. I am angry that little more than 3 weeks on from that conversation, I’ve had to deal with the further fall-out and the unwelcome revelation of redundancy without any real warning. I’ll be honest, I had started a little tentative searching to see what was out there as the atmosphere in our office had become tense and untenable, but I truly believed that I had a little more time on my side, time that would allow me to make the decision to move on once again and find the right post for me and the family.

Drawing on the strength that has defined me as an EGID Mum, I’ve got up every morning to get the kids washed, dressed and to school on time, even though all I’ve wanted to do is stay hidden beneath my duvet and avoid the real world. I’ve spent hours in front of my computer screen every day, fine-tuning my CV, searching for available practice and industry roles in the surrounding area and retyping my information time after time after time to complete applications and establish an on-line presence in the recruitment world; before finishing the days too worn out to do anything more than watch mindless TV before collapsing into bed. I’ve taken endless phone-calls from eager recruiters, who are desperate to place an individual with my skill set and have learned to be firm about the type of role I’m looking for and where I’m willing to compromise on my requirements.

Mike and I have taken the decision to keep the news from both M and G at the moment as they need to be able to enjoy their summer without the worry of Mummy being out of work overshadowing their holiday fun. I’ve smiled and chatted and engaged in the classroom and at the school gates, celebrating the end of year excitement alongside the children. I’ve taken M to his first physio session and watched with joy as he finally starts to regain his confidence and is working to rebuild the strength and mobility of his leg, and I’ve joined in and encouraged their plans for their adventures over the next few weeks.

I’m working hard at staying positive. I know that my accountancy skills will stand me in good stead and the fact that I already have 2 interviews set up for next week, with a possible 3rd in the works too, shows me that hopefully I won’t be without work for too long. But, my biggest decision has to be about the direction I follow next with my career. I can, in all likelihood, pick up another part-time job in an accountancy practice without too much trouble, which would be the easy thing to do, but this could be an unexpected chance to make a change. I don’t love working in practice. I’ve been happiest working in industry and that’s what I ideally want to go back to. I want to use not just my accountancy background, but the business acumen I’ve picked up along the way. I am re-assessing the type of company I work for, knowing that the last couple of years have seen a real passion growing for charity work as well as my blog and the allergy world. I have loved all of the opportunities that have opened up with events like the Free From Food Awards and the Allergy Show, and the amazing friendships that have grown through those events. I have an idea for something that I’m sure would be a success if I could just work out how to get it into production, but I need a steady income to allow me to investigate whether it is a real business possibility or not.

At the end of the day, I’m an out-of-work accountant, a dedicated Mum and an enthusiastic blogger and I just want a job that allows me to put that all together in one winning combination.

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An evening at Fat Sam’s

A weekend in London could only mean one thing for our family: the opportunity for a night at the theatre and a meal out, something we all love to do. With a full day planned at the Allergy Show at Olympia, we decided that a hotel in Hammersmith would best meet our needs for the Saturday night and that rather naturally led us to investigating what shows were on in nearby venues, rather than necessarily having to trek into central London for the evening. Last year, G and M took part in a local drama summer school and have been serenading us with snippets of the songs from Bugsy Malone ever since, so we were delighted to spot that the Lyric Hammersmith is home to the fantastic showmanship of this very musical until the start of September and knew that we would all enjoy a night on the tiles with Bugsy, Fat Sam, Tallulah and the rest of the gang.

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The challenge is always to book somewhere safe for M to eat and this time I wanted to see if we could escape our regular haunts and find somewhere new instead without venturing too far from our final destination. I had spotted their Bar and Grill restaurant when I was browsing the Lyric’s website and the encouraging presence of the occasional “GF” on the menu as well as chicken skewers suggested this was a lead worth investigating further. I soon got Mike onto the case and he came away from the phone call incredibly impressed with the conversation he had just had. He had spoken to the restaurant manager, who, having taken notes about what IMG_0650[1]G and M could eat, quickly made informed suggestions about the dinner that they could prepare for them to enjoy during our visit. Of course, the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating, but we were hopeful that they would meet the high expectations we now had for the meal and booked a pre-performance table timed to fit exactly into the short gap we had between finishing at the Allergy Show and sitting down to watch Bugsy.

We were impressed from the start. M was still confined to his wheelchair, but a helpful security guard seated at the main reception desk offered to show us around the building to the access entrance and got us safely upstairs to the restaurant. Our waitress made mention of the allergy requests attached to our booking as she showed us to our table and within minutes the restaurant manager came to the table to discuss with us what they would be cooking for G and M that night. I was delighted to learn that they had remembered and met their first promise – to buy in rice especially for M, something not usually on their menu – so that he could enjoy a complete meal with the rest of the family. There had been a small miscommunication about M’s safe foods as a mixed leaf salad was mentioned to accompany the rice and plain, grilled chicken, but thanks to their diligence in running through our needs before cooking began, we were able to correct that mistake and instead an impressive cucumber salad arrived as the side dish. G was equally well catered for and was delighted with her GF chicken bites, chips and peas. We asked if both portions could be made adult-size as we are now well-used to the children eating huge amounts when we go out for dinner, another request that was willingly accommodated and we really felt that nothing was too much for this fantastic restaurant team. The menu wasn’t extensive, but it was well-prepared and delicious and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a great allergy-friendly meal in Hammersmith.

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Allergy and FreeFrom Show 2016

I am so glad that we made the decision to visit last weekend’s Allergy and Freefrom Show at Olympia London as we had the most amazing day and made some great finds. The show has always been one of those lovely experiences for the children, where they have been able to try so many of the foods and drinks on offer, although we have constantly had to remind them that they can’t assume that everything is safe, even though so many of the offerings are. IMG_0645[1]This year was no different and G ate her way around the show, delighted to try some old favourites as well as the new products that we hadn’t seen before. It was understandably a much harder show for M this time than ever before, but he pinpointed on the map which stalls he wanted to visit and was thrilled that we managed to find some great new food options for him too. I am also extremely glad that we chose to take the wheelchair with us as it proved to be useful, not just for helping M negotiate the crowds flocking round each stall, but also as a receptacle for the numerous bags of goodies we gained during the day.

The day was also a great chance to catch up with some old friends from the blogosphere and allergy community, though this year I didn’t manage to make the bloggers meet-up arranged for the Saturday morningIMG_0647[1]. It was fantastic to see G and M recognised and welcomed by so many of these lovely individuals and they happily chatted away almost as much as Mike and I did. We spent some time at the Allergy Adventures stand, where Hailey and her crew of cheerful helpers were once again providing entertainment for the children in the guise of paper crafts and story-telling time, although they couldn’t persuade G and M to make the paper lollipops planned. Instead my pair went off-piste and created an array of paper lizard heads (M) and chatterboxes (G) to fill their time, some of which I think were left behind and not just stuffed into pockets and down the sides of the wheelchair.

Between us, we came home with a huge selection of new products for both children to try and I can’t wait to share their reviews of these foods with you, especially those that are not just new to us, but to the market too. We spent the entire day at Olympia, getting in when the doors opened at 10am and leaving as the tannoy announced that the Show was closed at 5pm  and I could quite easily have spent another day IMG_0651[1]discovering all those hidden gems that were tucked away in remote corners of the space. We had taken some safe food for M with us for his lunch as we just didn’t know what would be available at the site and G enjoyed a gluten- and dairy-free pizza from Schar that was cooked to order. The Show now visits 3 UK locations during the year – London, Liverpool and Glasgow – and I would highly recommend a visit if you get a chance to go. It is a brilliant day out for anyone living with food allergies and offers the opportunity to discover so many safe alternatives that often don’t make it to the High Street.

All the Fun of the Fair

There’s no doubt that the weeks since April have dragged past at snail’s pace for a certain young man and his broken leg. 10 weeks into having that leg encased in plaster, and all of M’s hopes were pinned on the sarmiento cast finally being removed and allowing what must now be a skinny, white limb see some summer sun and fresh air. Unfortunately, the last fracture clinic appointment did not go according to M’s plan and the x-rays showed that the bone regrowth had slowed down and was not at the level the orthopaedic consultants were expecting it to be after over 2 months in a cast. The news that he has to survive another 3 weeks of limited mobility was not well-received and, having seen him stoically accept the verdict before crumbling once we left the unit, it was a massively disappointed and heartbroken little boy Mike and I had to take back home. The next 30 hours or so saw him at a lower point than we’ve experienced for a long time and it was only thanks to his sense of commitment and phenomenal strength to keep fighting the fight that we managed to convince him to go to his school’s summer music concert that evening, where he disguised his emotions well and took part on his cello and in the choir with reasonable gusto.

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What we needed was something to cheer him up and fortunately that something was already pencilled in on our calendar for that very weekend. It might not have looked too promising during Stagecoach on the Friday night as M broke down in tears about not being able to dance with everyone else, but thanks to much encouragement and enthusiasm from his big sister as well as a determined spirit that won’t be kept down, by early Saturday morning, things were looking a lot brighter and it looked like we had weathered yet another health storm.

The reason? The song and dance routine that their Stagecoach school were going to be performing as part of our local carnival’s parade and a huge serving of 70s disco to boot. We had always planned for M to be part of the parade in his wheelchair, knowing that the mile and a half long route would be too much for a newly healed leg.

IMG_0502[1]The preceding weeks had been busy with costume preparations and plans to pimp his wheelchair for the event and his decision to ask for a 70s themed cast at the previous fracture clinic meant that we were all set for the parade. Mike and I had also been roped in to help out for the day and I had even managed a few tweaks to our own clothes to make sure we were part of the 70s disco theme. All of the children were fantastic as they sang and danced their way towards the town’s football club and entertained the crowds, who joined in with the familiar moves of “Night Fever” and “Tragedy”. I was particularly proud of G, whose hard work and dedication to her dance saw her selected to be one of the 2 dance captains and she led the group with a flair and sense of fun that I rarely see from her when she’s performing. She really stepped up to the mark and the smile on her face showed just how much she enjoyed it.

And M enjoyed himself too, despite his insistence he wouldn’t. He and I showed off our moves as we grooved our way down the High Street and he waved right and left as friends called out and cheered our group as we went past. Of course the disappointment of not being able to participate as fully as he would have liked was still there, but he was caught up in the excitement of the day and really did enjoy all the fun of the fair!

 

Home-cooked Chinese takeaway

chineseOne of things that I know M has really missed since his diet became so restricted is the occasional Chinese takeaway shared with the rest of the family. For as long as I can remember our young foodie has loved eating Chinese food and insisted on mastering the chopsticks early on, so the loss of that treat really did hit him hard. Thanks to the amazing team at our local Wagamama, M has been able to enjoy safe Asian food once again and recently I took the plunge and tried my hand at making him a Chinese-inspired meal too. It was never going to be the same as those fabulous meals we enjoyed in London’s Chinatown when the children were little, but hopefully it was a tasty replacement for a much-missed treat.

Lemon chicken is one of Mike’s favourite Chinese dishes and given the base ingredients of, well, lemon and chicken, it seemed to be an achievable goal for my home-cooked takeaway. For once I didn’t turn to my trusty sidekick, Google, for some speedy research, but instead just used the knowledge I’ve stored up over the last few years to see if I could come up with my own recipe for a delicious lemon chicken. I originally considered using lemon juice, water and sugar thickened with some rice flour to create the sauce, but a quick perusal of the fridge brought the last remaining half-empty jar of dairy-free lemon curd to my attention and I instantly decided that that was exactly what this recipe needed.

Having prepped the diced chicken to make a batch of my M-friendly chicken nuggets and with the rice simmering on the hob, I turned to making the lemon sauce, feeling a little like I was concocting a magic potion as I stirred spoonfuls of this with a dash of that in the cauldron saucepan. IMG_0637[1]I’m certain that the authentic Chinese recipe includes soy sauce, but with soya definitely banned from our repertoire for the foreseeable, I tweaked the sharp flavour of the lemon curd by adding a little more sugar as well as some salt, pepper and rosemary until I had a savoury sauce I was confident the children would eat. As I finished cooking the rice, chicken and sauce in my trusty wok, G and M drifted to the table drawn by the delicious smell, eagerly asking what was for dinner. The portions I served soon disappeared as did the children once their plates were empty, which, without a doubt, signalled a new and successful addition to my ever-growing list of M-friendly recipes.

Any plans for the weekend?

We’ve got a weekend in London ahead of us and, being our usual optimistic selves, have planned a whole host of activities to keep us busy at every interval. Thanks to remarkable coincidence, we are able to combine 2 opportunities that have come our way and I’m hoping that Sunday evening will see us back home, exhausted, but also exhilarated by our experiences.

Allergy_Olympia_Logo_2Last year we decided somewhat reluctantly not to make our annual pilgrimage to the Allergy & Free From Show in London as M was in the midst of being tube-fed and had, at that point, only 4 safe foods in hand. Whilst I would have loved the opportunity to explore the offerings we’ve found at these shows in the past, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was more than M would be able to cope with and I wasn’t prepared to put him into what was bound to be an emotion-filled, stressful situation. G and I did toy with the idea of going without the boys, but other events came along and we enjoyed a weekend at home instead. To my surprise, M was incredibly disappointed not to go and was insistent that when this year’s show rolled around, he wanted to attend and was as keen as we have been before. At the start of this year, Mike and I discussed whether we really would go, talked it over at length with M and finally took the plunge and got our tickets for this Saturday. Over this past week or so, M and I have been looking at the businesses that will have stalls in Olympia when the show opens on Friday and he’s already made a note of a few he wants to visit. As I have become more active in the allergy community over the last 12 months or so, especially through friendships built at the FreeFrom Food Awards in February, we are all looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces during our visit. This show is an amazing event and one that I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies, or indeed following a vegan lifestyle. You can still get tickets to attend by clicking on this link and the show will be there until Sunday.

GOSH-logoSunday brings a different opportunity and an exciting one for G. When M and I took part in this year’s PLACE assessment at GOSH, I met and got chatting to Fiona Jones, the Children and Young people’s Participation officer at the hospital. One of her roles is to promote the GOSH YPF, or Young People’s Forum, something I had never heard about before, but was interested and keen to find out more. The YPF is for patients, ex-patients or siblings of patients at GOSH who are aged between 11-25 years old and who are interested in expressing their opinions about how GOSH can best support its teenage patients as well as being involved in projects that will help make the hospital experience a positive one for patients and their families. Unfortunately, M is too young to become a YPF member just yet, but Fiona asked if I thought G would like to become involved and I promised to ask her as soon as I could. To my delight, G was excited to be asked to join the GOSH YPF and is looking forward to attending her very first meeting on Sunday. focus-groupBoth children have already been lending a hand by trialling and reviewing an on-line project called Digital Badges, something they have really enjoyed trying out over the last 2 months or so, especially giving their feedback on how this project worked. G will spend her day with this group on Sunday at GOSH, whilst Mike, M and I explore the nearby British Museum and their Sutton Hoo exhibit and I can’t wait to hear all about it during our return journey.