Category Archives: Food Allergies

2021: Desserts on Order – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 47

It’s always exciting to find some new goodies for G and M to enjoy, but I honestly had low expectations that 2020 or even 2021 would manage to produce something safe, delicious and easy to find, so you can imagine my delight that the last 6 months have actually produced 3 new desserts for either 1 or both of them to enjoy. The best bit has been that 2 of these are readily available in our local supermarkets, which means we’ve been able to get them through our regular online grocery deliveries – a definite bonus when you think of the year we’ve had.

Gu Freefrom Cheesecakes – I remember when Gu first hit our shelves very many years ago and just how indulgent their desserts were, so you can imagine my delight when I came across these freefrom offerings during one of my online shops. Available at several of the supermarket chains from what I’ve discovered, there are a number of delicious flavours to try with salted caramel and chocolate and vanilla being the firm favourites in our household. These do contain some soya protein, but M has been able to enjoy the odd one here and there with an increase to some of his meds before he takes a mouthful.

Wicked Kitchen Chocolate & Orange Sundae – The discovery of this one is thanks to the rather wonderful Twitter allergy community and has been a great find for M. It’s top-14 free – although it does contain a small amount of alcohol – and has proved to be an absolutely delicious way to round off a weekend meal. G was less keen on the flavour, but M has more than happily polished off the ones I bought for her to try. This is part of a new product chain for Tesco and having looked to see what else is available, I’m looking forward to finding out if their mint chocolate chip ice-cream can be delivered as part of our regular shop.

CRAVE: The Kitchen Sink If we even needed a reason to love the #FFFA21, this would be it and was a great addition to G’s judging table. Unfortunately not at all safe for M as it contains both cornflakes and soya, but it has received the thumbs up from G. This chocolate bar is only available from their online shop at the moment, but if you’re looking for a dairy-free alternative which is a bit different, then I’d definitely recommend this. There are a couple of other flavours available, but we’ve yet to try those out.

2021: #FFFA with the teens – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 44

This time last year I was in London taking part in what is unquestionably one of my most favourite events of the year, judging a couple of categories for the Free From Food Awards (#FFFA). The first lockdown changed the way that the awards ceremony itself took place, with a rather wonderful evening spent celebrating the best of what had been tasted online instead of the usually glamorous night out at the Royal College of Physicians near Regents Park.

I’ve missed the opportunity to escape home for a day or two and reconnect with friends from the allergy community, or indeed make new ones as well as the chance to uncover some potential new big hits for G and M this year. The way the 2021 FFFA will be judged is currently being reviewed in light of yet another lockdown, and may end up going virtual, though the logistics of that will be somewhat more difficult as we usually judge blind with the products only being revealed once all votes are in. Of course we’ve all got our fingers crossed that reducing numbers, the vaccination roll-out and lifting of lockdown might mean we can all get together once again, but only time will tell if that’s what will actually happen albeit potentially a little later than normal this year.

When I started judging 6 years ago, M was on his highly restricted diet of just a handful of safe foods and I was delighted to discover the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts, which are still one of our all-time favourite allergy-friendly foods ever. Over the years I’ve managed to find more and more safe options as M’s repertoire of foods has steadily increased, sometimes at a faster pace than any of us expected, and this year is no exception. M can now eat far more normally than it sometimes seemed possible, although he still follows a strict MEWS-free diet with some other known problem foods also excluded.

This improvement to his dietary options has been much celebrated at home, so it was perfect timing when the email from the FFFA team dropped into my inbox asking if both children would like to be involved as judges of the FFFA’s “Child & Teens” category for their first time ever. Unsurprisingly both leapt at the chance and have embraced this new mantle of responsibility with great aplomb. The products have been slowly trickling into the household over the past couple of weeks and its been wonderful to see G and M getting as much joy from the judging experience as I have over the years. There have been one or two big hits (watch this space for future updates) and one or two absolute “NO”s, although those have mainly been the result of individual taste and general fussiness rather than anything really wrong with the product. Their feedback has been honest and all they really want to know is whether they’ll be able to take part as judges again in the future!

Summer’s last hurrah – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 29

The glorious weather that we’ve seen over the summer months made a welcome reappearance for the last weekend of September, so we decided on one last hurrah and headed for a family day trip out. Our destination was the beautiful organic gardens of Yeo Valley in Somerset, tucked away in the peaceful countryside near Blagdon Lake. Mike had stumbled across the gardens when he was searching for a location we could visit safely without travelling too far and this seemed to be the perfect place to enjoy the late summer sun.

As with so many other places, Yeo Valley was operating a restricted visitors rule and required us to book our tickets and time-slot before we went. Our entry once we arrived was easy and the gardens large enough that we rarely came across the other visitors there. We weren’t sure whether our 2-hour time-slot would be enough to explore the gardens in full, but they aren’t extensive and we found ourselves at the end with about 20 minutes to spare. It’s hard to decide which was my favourite bit, though G and M certainly enjoyed the rope swing over the stream, the rather rickety lookout point and racing around the teepee.

Our afternoon visit complete, it was a quick hop over to Chew Stoke for a fish and chip supper courtesy of the wonderful Salt & Malt. I’d read some great reviews about their allergy-friendly offerings online and the food did not disappoint, with generous portions that both children wolfed down with the food barely touching the sides. G chose the gluten-free cod and chips, whilst both Mike and M opted for gluten-free haddock and chips and I settled for some scampi. With glorious views across Chew Lake, we decided to eat in the warmth of our car, although they also have a small restaurant on-site which can be pre-booked.

All in all a great day out, and one I would thoroughly recommend.

The Box Bakery

At the end of April, we enjoyed a great evening joining in the virtual awards ceremony for the FreeFrom Food Awards 2020 (#FFFA20). It’s always great fun to go to the evening as not only do I finally get to share with the rest of the family the gold winners from the categories I’ve judged, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to discover some of the other great products that might prove to be safe for M and something new we can introduce to his food repertoire.

This year was no exception, despite lockdown meaning that the Awards could only be held via Zoom and there were a couple of products I made note of to search out as soon as the celebrations were done. Thanks to the power of shopping on the internet, at least one of these new discoveries has already arrived with us, gone through quarantine and been used. Winning a gold in the innovation category, the Gluten free Wholegrain bread mix by The Box Bakery fascinated us all. The idea that we (by which I of course actually mean G and M) could whip up a safe loaf with nothing more than the box, the oven and some water obviously meant that it was something that had to be tried as soon as I could get my hands on it.

In almost no time at all, the boxes arrived at our house and with VE day celebrations looming, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to get M started on his first loaf of bread, especially during lockdown. I left him to it, with some minimal supervision from Mike, and the end result was absolutely brilliant. It really was as easy as it…well…as it says on the box. He measured and added the water, gave it a good shake and popped it into the oven. The final loaf needed a few minutes more than was recommended, but it was worth the wait. Both M and G were delighted with the loaf and it’s nice to be able to add another safe bread to M’s diet. The flavour, texture and ease of baking all scored highly in M’s books and he was especially delighted by the crust. He also much preferred it fresh from the oven, but was happy to finish it off in sandwiches the following day.

M’s marks: 9.5 (he deducted the half point as it wasn’t as good once it was “cold”!)

A (cheat’s) guide to pastry!

It feels a little odd to be reviewing products at the moment, but lockdown hasn’t stopped us finding and trying new things and I wanted to share this review from a few weeks ago. It’s been 4 years since I tentatively ventured into the world of M-friendly pastry, concentrating my efforts on using the small handful of safe ingredients that were open to him at that time to create croissants and apple turnovers. They weren’t the roaring success that I would have liked them to be, but given I’d never turned my hand to even “normal” pastry before, I honestly felt they weren’t bad for a first attempt. I always meant to give it another go, but somehow it was never quite the right time and, other than fleeting thoughts in the middle of the night, the idea to try and achieve the perfect M-friendly pastry with a new and improved recipe never once really crossed my mind.

So, my latest discovery of the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry on the pre-lockdown fridge shelves of our local supermarket opened up a new and exciting realm of baking in our household. As well as being gluten-free, this prepared pastry is also dairy-, soya- and egg-free, which makes it a safe option for both children. The blend of different flours and vegetable fibres also meant that it fitted in perfectly with the most recent food trials agreed with M’s consultant, who suggested we try expanding M’s repertoire slowly by introducing regular gluten-free pasta, rather than the rice pasta we usually buy. The reason for this was preparation for M’s much hoped-for and long-planned school trip to Sorrento, supposedly happening this June, but cancelled due to COVID-19. It means that M won’t be able to travel this year, but our plan is to persevere with the trial with a hope that he will get to Italy as some point in the future, be that with school or with us.

Mike took on the first challenge of cooking with the puff pastry and made some bacon and cheese pastry parcels for tea. Sadly, and somewhat typically, being my husband and children, there was no thought to provide any photographic evidence of how they turned out, but given the fact that they all disappeared before I returned home from choir, they appear to have been a roaring success. With that in mind, next it was my turn and I decided to see how well the pastry would lend itself to a sweet, rather than savoury offering. Thanks to a plethora of apples and pears in the fridge, plus the fact that I know even G will happily eat a sweet fruity treat containing both of those ingredients, apple – and pear – turnovers seemed the obvious choice.

Quick and easy to cut, prepare and bake, I can’t rave enough just how easy this puff pastry is to use. It took me hardly any time at all to prep the turnovers for the oven and 20 or so minutes later they were ready. I left them to cool on the counter and managed to steer both G and M away from them long enough to sit down and eat their main courses before diving into dessert. There’s no question that the Jus-rol gluten-free puff pastry has been a big success in the 7Y2D household for both sweet and savoury dishes. Even better, the ease of use means that both children would be able to prepare pastry dishes of their choice with only very minimal supervision needed from me.

Learning to Cook

A few years ago we encountered some problems when G wanted to learn to cook gluten- and dairy-free recipes in her school cookery classes. Her teacher appeared reluctant to help G learn how to adapt the “normal” recipes to suit her dietary needs and even told her that she would have to bake a normal red velvet cake because baking an allergy-friendly one would require too much work. It was not the most auspicious experience we would have with their school and one that would leave me feeling a little jaded about what might happen when it came time for M to start his round of food technology lessons.

Fortunately, M’s Year 7 teacher was willing to work with us when it came to each of the dishes he would be preparing in class and all in all, it was a positive start to M’s life at secondary school. This year M found himself once more in the cycle of food tech classes and all I could hope was that his Year 9 experience would be as good as his Year 7 one. As luck would have it, his teacher this year was keen to make sure that M could learn how to cook safe food for himself just as his classmates do and encouraged M to adapt every recipe to suit his particular dietary requirements, no hesitation and no fear that it would be too difficult to manage.

Having a teacher that not only helped M learn to cook, but who was also interested to find out more about how and why we made the adaptations we do was a huge boost to M’s confidence. Her attention to detail and preparedness to make sure that the cross-contamination risks of sharing a classroom kitchen and work-spaces with other

13 and 14 year-olds were reduced as much as practicable helped reassure him every week he cooked. M even shared my blog with her as he wanted her to understand more about his condition and see the many recipes that I’ve already adapted to suit his various allergy needs.

From chicken biryani to a prawn stir-fry and chilli con carne to a cheese and potato pasty (although that one wasn’t safe for him), M flexed his cooking muscles and has learned some great new skills that will stand him in good stead in the future. Our thanks have to go to a fantastic teacher who didn’t see M’s food allergies as a barrier to him learning to cook and worked with him to make sure that his health issues don’t stand in the way of achieving whatever he sets his mind to: that’s inclusion at its very best.

Yet more chocolate

You’d have thought that, given the vast quantities of chocolate that I simply had to taste as part of my stint as one of the FreeFrom Food Awards judges this year, my pretty much non-existant sweet tooth would be more than satisfied until well past Easter and yet, here I am, wanting to share yet more chocolate that we have found over the last few months.

Finding safe chocolate is always something that makes me rejoice and the marketplace is becoming much more populated by great dairy-free products. As a parent, nothing beats being able to buy allergy-friendly Easter eggs or chocolate Advent calendars, or even Christmas selection boxes for your child, especially when that is perhaps something they’ve never been able to to enjoy before, which was certainly the case for both G and M when they were small. These days, thanks to the wonderful Moo-free chocolate, my 2 no longer have to feel quite so different from their friends and can enjoy treats that taste incredible to them. Similarly, it can be incredibly frustrating when many manufacturers don’t take the next step and make those dairy-free treats, soya-free too, something that renders them unsuitable for M.

However, the following 3 products are new discoveries to me and ones that I would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a tasty dairy- and soya-free chocolate treat:

So Sweet Couture, Hooey & Boo Chocolate Bars: These were an unexpected find during our birthday stay at the Bluestone resort last September. Mike and I found them when we visited the Bluestone village shop and on discovering that they were both DF and SF, I immediately snapped up 2 bars to tuck away for the Christmas stockings. We opted for a mint bar for G and a raspberry bar for M, which were both a huge hit and I don’t think I was even offered a taste of either one. Needless to say, G and M give these bars a huge thumbs up and I’m waiting for the perfect opportunity to buy both the Orange and White Orange bars that are also available on their website.

Ooh! Chocolata: Another pre-Christmas purchase, though this one was much closer to the big day itself and fortunately available much closer to home. Mike and I were at our local greengrocers looking for the perfect Christmas wreath for our front door when these items were spotted. Another vegan and soya-free chocolate range and this time I opted for the honeycomb and minty crisp bars, knowing that both children would be happy with either flavour. Just as with the Hooey & Boo Chocolate bars, these didn’t make it much further than our flight out to NYC on Boxing Day, but that simply means that I know they were a big success and nobody’s going to complain if a few more bars find their way into our house as we head towards Easter as well as make our way through weeks of GCSE exam revision and instrument practice.

CoCo Chemistry: I don’t quite know why nearly all of our best discoveries happen when Mike and I out and about exploring together, but this was yet another one that we stumbled across on our recent day out for my birthday. We were visiting the beautiful National Trust property, Lacock Abbey, and decided to spend some time wandering through the village itself, mostly because I wanted to pay a visit to the wonderful Watling Goldsmiths to give Mike some not-so-subtle hints for future present ideas. It was a rather grey and miserable day in February, but everything brightened up considerably when we entered the doors of this wonderful chocolate emporium. I wasn’t expecting to find anything for G or M, so was delighted to spot this vegan chocolate slab on their shelves. In fact, they have a good selection of vegan chocolates, although I only conceded to buy one for my pair to try. It’s currently safely hidden away, ready to be pulled out for a more suitable occasion. I don’t know what the vegan chocolate tastes like, but if it’s anything like as good as its more normal counterparts, it’ll be delicious!

 

Our Virgin Atlantic Experience

There’s been a lot of criticism across social media over the last few months about the attitude of Virgin Atlantic towards passengers with food allergies on their flights, in particular relating to those travelling with nut allergies. Now, I can’t comment on how they perform in those situations as we are fortunate to have no known nut allergies, though truthfully M hasn’t had a peanut in years, so we wouldn’t know if he is allergic or not. However, I was interested to see how they would do when it came to the allergy requirements of G and M, especially given our amazing experience when we flew with them to Florida in 2014.

Our first challenge was having some safe milk for M to drink for breakfast in the Heathrow airport lounge. Unlike the fantastic V-room at Gatwick, who stocked B-free bread for toast and brought in 2 cartons of rice milk just for M and G, the Heathrow lounge was less able to help and seemingly less willing to try, simply saying that their staff wouldn’t be able to bring the rice milk through security, so it was up to us to provide it if we could. I was extremely frustrated by this response when I received it, but rather than sit and moan about their inability to be as helpful as I would have liked, instead decided to contact M’s consultant at our local hospital to ask if he would write an updated medical letter stating that we needed to carry a number of safe food items through security for M. Less than 2 weeks after my request, 2 copies of that letter landed through our door and we were easily able to walk through security with the carton of rice milk in our hand luggage without issue once the letter had been seen. I always recommend carrying medical letters and copies of prescriptions when you travel and this experience proved once again, just how valuable that can be.

Despite that rocky start, I hoped things could only improve and as we had booked our complete holiday through Virgin, I had already asked that notes be added to our booking to state that both children had food allergies. I also updated our booking confirmation online with a request that G and M had the gluten-free meals and followed that up with an email noting that both also needed to be dairy-free if possible. I mentioned that M ideally needed to avoid egg and soya if it was at all possible, but knew this was a lot to ask and simply leaned on the truism that you never know what’s possible until you ask.

The meals that arrived with us for both flights were both gluten- and dairy-free, but included a couple of items for M that contained a small amount of egg. This time there was no mix up with meals going to the wrong seats and whilst the meals offered were not exactly what G would have chosen, M tucked in wherever he could. As always both of their backpacks, and mine, were well-stocked with some safe snacks to supplement what was provided and so we were able to muddle through quite successfully.

 

Our Virgin Atlantic experience is one that I would definitely count as a success and neither child, M in particular, suffered any fallout from what they ate on the flights. Not only were the cabin crew diligent with what snacks and drinks they offered to them, but they were also fantastic in helping us celebrate G’s 16th birthday for just a little bit longer and in great style, with a visit to the cockpit for both children on our flight to New York and a birthday present of some “lounge wear” (pyjamas to you and me) and some chocolate on the way home.

Eating Out with Allergies in New York

As an allergy Mum, I try to do as much research as I can about eating out before we go and our Christmas trip to New York was no different. There were some absolute givens in our restaurant choices – Hard Rock Cafe New York anyone? – but we’re always open to adventure and seeing what we can find whilst we’re in town. My research had truthfully started 3 years ago, when Mike and I visited on our own and we found ourselves taking notes each time we found somewhere that might be able to feed the children or, at very least, allow us to buy some safe foods to eat in our hotel room. We travelled with our suitcase full of food as usual, so I knew that we would have enough snacks to keep G and M going once we arrived on Boxing Day and for the days to follow.

5 Napkin Burger was a restaurant we had actually found on our first night in NYC 3 years ago and we were delighted to discover that they are able to cater for gluten-, dairy- and egg-free diets too. Within 10 minutes walking distance of our hotel on 43rd Street, this proved to be the perfect location for our first night in NYC with the children and they enjoyed the meal so much that we went back a couple of days later with my Mum in tow. The restaurant was beautifully decorated for Christmas as well, which made it the perfect start to our surprise holiday. The burgers were succulent and tasty, the servers managed the pernickety nature of G and M’s food orders without batting an eye and the food was quite simply fabulous. I was impressed to see a small range of GF ciders, beers and other drinks also prominently displayed on their menu, making it a truly excellent restaurant for the free from diner.

Statue of Liberty Crown Cafethis was one of several unexpected successes whilst we were in NYC. Mike, the children and I needed to grab a fairly quick lunch after our climb to the Crown of the Statue of Liberty as we were headed off to the One World Observatory and 9/11 Memorial Museum next. I was hopeful we might find something that G and M could eat, even if it was just a plate of fries, so was delighted to see that the Crown Cafe also served gluten-free burgers. G chose to try their hot dogs, whilst M kept it simple with a grilled chicken burger. The portions were generous, the food delicious and more than enough to satisfy the appetites of my hungry pair.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner: This is a NYC must-do and somewhere that I knew we would have to visit with G and M. The breakfasts there are amazing, but definitely not M-friendly with the prevalence of eggs on the menu, so we instead opted for a late lunch on our penultimate day in the city. The queue at Ellen’s is nearly always lengthy, but it’s definitely worth the wait, in my opinion, and so it proved once again. The skies were grey and overcast, and fortunately my Mum had joined the queue whilst we headed back from a morning spent at the American Natural History Museum. We were seated at one of the upstairs tables, which were perfectly placed to allow both G and M to have uninterrupted views of the main restaurant itself. The menu is unquestionably limited for those with food allergies, so we were glad to spot a gluten-free pasta and meatballs option which M plumped for, whilst G stuck to her favourite of hot dog and fries, this time without a gluten-free roll. M had a generous serving which more than beat even his healthy appetite and G was left pleasantly satisfied by her meal. The highlight is, of course, the entertainment provided by the waiters and waitresses working in the restaurant and G and M spent a long time discussing who was their favourite as well as which of their teachers they thought might enjoy going to the diner.

Hard Rock Cafe New York: No holiday would be complete without a visit to the local Hard Rock Cafe (assuming there is one) and Mike ordering the local legendary burger. Centrally located in Times Square and less than 5 minutes walk from our hotel, we managed to fit in lunch before our afternoon at Radio City Hall. The good thing about the Hard Rock Cafe is that the children always have a few options to choose from and this time M decided to try something a little different and ordered the Smokehouse BBQ combo of baby back ribs and pulled pork. For her part, G stuck to her favourite of the BBQ pulled pork sandwich with fries and devoured every morsel as usual.

Grand Central Market, Grand Central Station: This was a great find for picking up some bits and pieces for a quick and easy lunch on the go. We discovered the NOGLU gluten-free bakery, where G and M were able to choose from a selection of baked goods including croissants for G and cookies for M. It was then on to Sushi by Pescatore to pick up some California rolls for M as well as a selection of sushi for Mike and me. Add to all of that some fresh fruit, salami and goats’ cheese and we had a perfect packed lunch to enjoy between sightseeing stops.

#FFFA20 Confectionery

Now, I fully accept that there may be some of you out there wondering what on earth a PWD* is doing even considering judging a category at the #FFFA20 called “Confectionery”, but let me assure you, it means that I don’t tend to over-indulge in the first few mouthfuls and with 35 entries in total – 32 of which were chocolate-based – that’s definitely a good thing! On a more serious note, my Freestyle Libre gives me the opportunity to have tight control on my blood sugars at all times and helped me keep things on an even keel that afternoon.

 

I love judging this category as I have 2 food-allergic children who enjoy the occasional sweet treat and it’s always a great opportunity to find something new to tickle their taste-buds. After a busy morning trying the delights of “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” and a wonderfully refreshing light lunch prepared by Michelle and her #FFFA team, we were ready and set for the challenge ahead. And believe me when I tell you that tasting and judging so many sweet entries really can present some problems, especially when trying to give constructive comments to the 3rd dairy-free dark chocolate in a row!

These were my highlights:

M&S Fizzy Dinosaurs: In a category that was dominated with chocolate offerings, it was great to find these sweet treats. It took a while for us to realise that M reacts to gelatine, so we are always delighted to find sweets that are gelatine-free and delicious. He and I both love sour, tangy, fizzy sweets, so I knew the moment I tried these dinosaurs that they would be a big hit with my youngest…and the speed with which the bag I took home with me disappeared would absolutely support that!

Truffle Pig Truffles: We tried several truffle selections on the day, and these stood out from the crowd with their wonderful Butter Nut variety, which was perfectly reminiscent of their more well-known dairy counterpart, Ferrero Roche. The peanut butter content obviously means these are not safe for those with nut allergies and disappointingly to me, even though they are vegan and delicious, they are not soya-free either. A great treat that would be a brilliant gift and make the recipient feel truly spoiled, but not one for our household yet.

My Sweet Chickpea: The surprise success story of the day for me, and one that has proved to be popular at home too. There were 2 flavours that we were lucky enough to try: cappuccino and coconut, and both were delicious. The chickpea was not at all detectable, something which I tried out and proved with G, who was surprised to learn it was a key ingredient. Dairy-free, soya-free, hidden chickpeas and snack-size – what isn’t there to like about these?!

Moo-free Sea Salt & Lime Chocolate: I am not the biggest fan of anything salty and I definitely do not like caramel, so the whole “sea salt and caramel” revolution has passed me by, even though I’ve successfully created a safe version for G and M. So, I was intrigued by the lime and sea salt flavour offered by Moo-free and this will probably have me raving for weeks about it. A perfect balance to the sweetness of chocolate and very definitely more-ish. This is my winner of the day, not least because it was one of the few chocolates that was both dairy- and soya-free.

All in all, it was a great day of judging with lots of memorable products and not too many that completely missed the mark for me this year. The final award winners will be announced on 28th April, so keep an eye on your social media to find out who won those much-coveted golds.

*Person With Diabetes