Category Archives: Food Allergies

Eating Out with Allergies in the Lake District

I have to confess that I didn’t do as much research into allergy-friendly restaurants for our stay in the Lake District as I would normally do when we travel. Part of that was that I wasn’t really sure how comfortable I would be in eating out during the week as the COVID restrictions have lifted and knew that we could take advantage of our self-catering lodge for our meals if we wanted, albeit that would mean not as much of a holiday as I would perhaps have liked. However, despite my unusual lack of planning in advance, we found some wonderful places to eat that were more than able to accommodate the various dietary requirements for us all:

Bentley’s Fish and Chips, BlackpoolI mentioned this wonderful chip shop in last week’s blog, but absolutely felt it needed including in my round-up of our allergy-friendly eateries. They boasted a dedicated gluten-free fryer for the fish and chips and the portions were more than large enough to satisfy the appetite of the teenage M for at least an hour or so! I enjoyed the scampi, whilst Mike added battered haggis to his order, and although neither of these were gluten-free, they were delicious.

The Punch Bowl Inn, MillomThis was an unexpected find less than 10 minutes away from our base for the week and we were so impressed by their offerings on the Saturday night, that we booked to go again the following Wednesday. They change their menu on a weekly basis, always making sure to include some new allergy-friendly options alongside the regular gammon and steak offerings. G and M chose the gammon and chips, which again were generously portioned and a big hit with both children. Mike tried their allergy-friendly king prawn curry on the Wednesday, which also got a good review.

Vinegar Jones, Bowness-on-WindermereThere’s nothing better than spotting a place that’s keen to advertise their allergy-friendly options and Vinegar Jones’ large window display stating that they serve gluten-free fish and chips daily absolutely did that. Obviously a popular destination in Bowness-on-Windermere, we joined the lengthy line that was queuing along the pavement and kept our fingers crossed that it could meet the requirements of my discerning duo. Given it’s presence on this list, it’s perhaps needless to state that it was another resounding success and somewhere I’d be more than happy to recommend to anyone visiting the area.

The Flying Pig Pub, Bowness-on-Windermere: This was an unexpected late addition and not somewhere we had planned to eat at all. M had spotted swordfish on the menu at the nearby Hyltons restaurant whilst we were waiting for our food to be cooked at Vinegar Jones and asked if we could pop back on another evening. We hadn’t really expected to have the time, but a quicker than anticipated visit to Keswick meant that we had time to head back to Bowness, only to find the restaurant in question closed for the evening. Instead, we found the Flying Pig Pub, which proved to be a reasonable replacement, although they didn’t offer swordfish much to M’s disappointment. G once again plumped for the gammon and chips, whilst M tried the chargrilled steak burger without the cheese. Both were happy with their meals and I certainly enjoyed the moules marinière with fresh bread.

 

June 2021: Eating our way around the World

Whilst we still can’t do much more than dream about resuming our international travel adventures at the moment, we have been talking lots about where we’d like to go once we can start again. We’ve discussed weekends away, city breaks, longer holidays and birthday treats, not least because G will be turning 18 at the end of this year. Some destinations have been something of a surprise (Hungary and Russia in the middle of the winter to name a couple), whilst others have been on one family member or another’s wish list for a long time.

There has also been a definite fatigue within the 7Q2D kitchen over the last few months and so, taking inspiration from all of our conversations about travel, I decided to pick a handful of countries and their cuisines to influence our menu choices. It started with a return to a recipe I’d adapted whilst we were watching the Great British Bake-Off last year and both children fancied trying the Japanese steamed buns that were prepared. I made them in the Autumn using duck as a filling and had surprisingly great success. However, I hadn’t turned my hand to them and so decided one weekend to give them another whirl, with plenty of time to fit in a family walk whilst the dough was rising.

In the spirit of travel-inspired foods and, quite frankly, building on that success, this past week has been all about Italy  – another of G’s picks as well as Mike’s hopes for a Roman weekend. So far we’ve enjoyed Gnocchi (though I must admit it wasn’t home-made), risotto, pizza, arancini di riso, and pasta on different nights and with plenty of enthusiasm from even my pickiest diner.

I’m not quite sure where next week’s travels will take us, but it’s been fun and an entertaining alternative so far to the same old dishes that I seem to cook week after week.

2021: Winners – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Weeks 61 & 62

It’s been a manic couple of weeks as year-end audits loom far faster than I’d like along with the end of term 5 for both G and M, with oodles of revision needing to be done in all of our immediate futures. Add in an unexpectedly large number of hospital appointments for M as well as dental, hair and opticians appointments for G, M and me, no wonder I barely have time to breathe, or so it feels.

However, tonight I’m hoping to take a couple of hours to join the virtual party for this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. If nothing else, I’ll certainly be following their social media accounts to hear the winners and hopefully find some new products for G and M to try. There’s always some goodies to uncover, so if you’re got some time this evening or even in the next few days, it’s definitely worth having a look at the winners’ list on the #FFFA21 website.

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!