You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

#40thcelebrations

It will come as no great surprise to many of you when I say that February 2017 has been all about the #40thcelebrations in our household. Last year, I marked the occasion of 30 years living side by side with T1D, so this year it only seemed fitting that I celebrated with equal clamour that next big milestone in my life: hitting the big 4-0. c5ao3diwmaatk4uI am a huge fan of celebrating birthdays in style and you will often find the birthday cards in our house hanging around for a good 2 or 3 weeks past the notable date itself. Unlike my husband, and possibly much to his disappointment, I don’t likeabsolutely hate…’m not so keen on surprises and would much prefer being involved in the planning, to a greater or lesser extent, of any significant occasion. The plans for celebrating my 40th this year were no different.

When I turned 30, there were 2 destinations I wanted to visit, Las Vegas and New York. We discussed at length where we would go and settled on Las Vegas, with the clear understanding that only New York would do when it came to turning 40. The last 12 months or so have been filled with booking, researching and planning the finer details of our perfect trip to this iconic city and since just before Christmas, the excitement has gradually been building. Thanks to my Mum, we were able to spend an entire week in the USA and even managed to tag on a couple of extra days at the beginning to be part of the judging panels for this year’s Free From Food Awards. Her generosity meant we could take full advantage of travelling without children and fitted the trip in before we hit the price hikes of February half-term.

c3p22qjweaihqonWe decided to travel with Virgin Atlantic, from whom we have had great customer service in the past and again were not disappointed, especially when they marked my birthday with a couple of complimentary glasses of bubbles and bars of chocolate on the flights. We also chose to book our hotel and city passes as part of a Virgin holidays package and settled on the Hotel Beacon for our stay. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC and within 5 minutes walking distance of Central Park, the Hotel Beacon was a fantastic choice and we loved everything about it. As well as being able to walk to Central Park, we were also able to walk the couple of blocks to the 72nd subway station and were surrounded by a great selection of cafes and restaurants to try. What we particularly liked was the fact that the rooms have fully equipped kitchenettes, which may have only had a limited use for our stay this time, but would be perfect for when travelling with anyone with food allergies who might want to prepare safe food themselves.

img_34951Our trip was understandably dominated by our sightseeing plans and we did pretty much everything we wanted with a few added extras thrown in for good measure along the way. I’d be hard-pushed to narrow down my favourite part as everything we did was gloriously marvellous in their own unique ways. Mike loved seeing the architecture of the city, from the splendour of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, to the stunning beauty of the interior of Grand Central Station and the sheer engineering magnitude of the Statue of Liberty. One of Mike’s favourite parts was, without doubt, our Sunday spent on Ellis Island, where he was able to track down the immigration paperwork for when his mother and her family moved from Jamaica to Canada by way of NYC in the late 1940s.
img_35731I loved our wander through Central Park, both in the blazing sunshine and then again in the snow as we made our way to the Frick Collection, a fabulous small museum containing some leading Old Master paintings and sculptures. Around every corner we stumbled across yet another masterpiece and I am so grateful to my colleague who recommended this as an ideal way to spend a couple of hours seeing these well-known pieces of art. Thanks to our open bus city tour, we also discovered, to my absolute delight, where we could see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends given to Christopher Robin Milne before they became the inspiration for that much-loved children’s classic, a visit that took up hardly any of our time and yet was a worthwhile stop for this literature fan. In stark contrast, we spent a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial, a hauntingly heart-breaking and harrowing museum to visit, which did an amazing job in walking the visitor through both the timeline as it unfurled on the day and the stories of great heroism and unbelievable tragedy.

Our week-long stay was a truly fantastic way to celebrate my 40th year and there is so much more that I’ll be sharing over the next few blog posts.

I scream…

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Ice cream: that perennial favourite of children everywhere. What image does ice cream conjure up for you? Summer sun and beach holidays? Bowls of jelly and ice cream at birthday parties? The necessary accompaniment to just about every dessert you can think of, from apple crumble to treacle tart and, if you’re British, the 99 – vanilla soft-whip ice cream in a cone and topped with a chocolate flake. Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking of it.

For M, ice cream has been the one pudding he has missed most in the 2 years since he went elemental and it has taken a painfully long time to find and adapt a recipe to make the perfect M-friendly alternative to this popular frozen treat. I have long had an ice-cream maker as part of my essential bits of kitchen equipment as once M had gone MEWS-free, I quickly realised that the simplest way to find a dairy- and soya-free ice cream was to make my own. img_13421M and I are also big fans of sorbet and we have enjoyed some deliciously indulgent home-made lemon, orange or raspberry sorbet over the years. I even attempted a wine sorbet, thanks to the recipe book that came with my machine, but it was a disappointing disaster that really couldn’t be saved.

Over the last couple of years, I have tried an apple sorbet for him, but M was less than impressed and I struggled to get the consistency right as the sorbet failed to “set”. Since the summer, I have been determined to find a way to successfully make a safe vanilla ice cream and finally found a simple, vegan recipe with just a handful of ingredients that I knew I could easily replace. The discovery of a palatable rice cream last year was the key to my success and I shut myself into the kitchen in the lead up to Christmas in order to perfect my recipe in time for the festive period.

I struck gold in that very first attempt and I was delighted with just how close to the “real” thing this version came. M and G were absolutely thrilled with that first bowl of vanilla ice cream and it’s been a good alternative for Mike too, who is unable to eat a bowlful of dairy ice cream without suffering the consequences. I love being able to whip up this easy dessert in less than an hour and know that it will continue to be a favourite for a long time to come!16830691_10154166034751123_1184328170820370385_n

*Interesting piece of trivia – the song “I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream” was a popular song first recorded in 1927 as a novelty song, before becoming a jazz standard and part of popular culture!

Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

#FFFA17 – Foods to go…and bars

Having finished the huge selection of breads for breakfast time on Wednesday, we moved on to the final two categories that Mike and I would be judging during #FFFA17: “Food to go” and “Bars”. These were 2 new categories to me and whilst I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. We started before lunch with the savoury half of the entrants in the “Food to go” category where there were, as ever, some unexpected options to tantalise my taste-buds, before moving on to enough delicious drinks and desserts to satisfy anyone with a food allergy.

img_13841Interestingly, for a savoury food lover, I was delighted to shortlist as many of my personal favourites from the sweet selection as from the savoury. The hardest part now is knowing where to start in sharing those I think note-worthy, but let me begin with this gluten-, dairy- and soya-free chicken and bacon roll from Tesco that I absolutely loved. I’m hoping that this will be easy to find amongst their sandwiches as I’m certain this will be as much of a hit with G as it was with me. I couldn’t disagree with some of the other opinions that said they could make as good a sandwich at home, but I know firsthand how frustrating it is to stand in front of the chiller cabinet in a supermarket searching high and low for something that will feed my oft-time picky eater for a quick lunch and failing miserably each time. It was img_13831tasty and a much simpler offering than the chicken roll we recently reviewed from Costa – another almost impossibly difficult option to find in store when in a hurry – and something G would willingly eat each and every time.

I also have to highlight these 2 surprising success stories, or at least, those that would be surprising to any who know me well. The hulk-like green soup (Core Body Cleanse Supergreen soup) ticked more boxes that I thought possible when I read that it contained peas, kale, spinach and wheatgrass and I’m not afraid to admit that I was blown away by its amazing, fresh flavour. img_13871Likewise,the spices in London Falafel‘s Sweet potato falafels were perfectly and delicately balanced and the final product tasted great hot or cold, and even microwaved, despite that being against the cooking recommendations of the manufacturer.

With all these great savoury go-tos, I was hard-pushed to choose my top pick, but I’ve finally settled on these white cheddar flavour Quinoa puffs from Eat Real. I am a self-confessed crisps addict and the hardest part of my own intolerance to potatoes is the absence of “proper” crisps in my life. The cheese puffs were a more-than-adequate replacement to their img_13801well-known counterpart and as well as being corn and quinoa-based, thus rendering them a perfect snack for me, they are also fantastically gluten- and dairy-free and therefore a great and safe cheesy snack for G. I would love to see these sold in single portion packs and then stocked in mainstream supermarkets as part of their meal-deal offerings, but, for now, I’ll take them anyway I can.

img_13901For those with a sweeter tooth, these 2 picks were delightfully indulgent and unbelievably freefrom. These incredible Raw chocolate and raspberry tarts by Somerset-based small producer, Liberty Loves are MEWS-friendly as well as being nut-free and just melted in the mouth. I’m not sure I could eat a whole tart myself, but it would be a perfect accompaniment to a coffee and dairy-free hot chocolate when G and I are out and about together. As for the Miiro dairy- and soya-free img_13911salted caramel choc ices, well, words simply fail me. They tasted just like the real thing and once again I would defy anybody to be able to tell the difference between these and a cows milk ice-cream alternative. The salted caramel flavour was there, but not overpowering, which made them a real winner in my books.

img_13921I also loved the CocoMojo Bean iced drink, made with coconut water, coconut milk and coffee and the perfect dairy- and soya-free alternative to iced coffee. It’s a little too grown-up for G to enjoy at the moment, but I was more than happy to drink as many tasting cups-ful of it as I could. It was a completely new find to me as I’m not aware of any other freefrom iced coffees out there on the market at the moment and I’m sure it could be a big hit with anyone missing this popular treat. My delight in this product was obvious for my fellow judges and the Awards team to see and resulted in an extra can making its way home in my suitcase!

Our long two days spent judging finished with the “Bars” category, one that I am willing to confess I was a little apprehensive about doing. As well as the inevitable food fatigue that had set in after hours spent trying 100+ freefrom products, I don’t really eat cereal, energy or superfood bars, although I have been buying Nakd bars for years as both G and M, when he could eat them, loved them as a snack. However, my mind was open to trying something new and I was surprised and delighted to find one that really did appeal to me. The Roo Bar  Probiotic img_13931Choc Chip Matcha Energy Ball didn’t taste as heavy or as cloying in the mouth as some of the others did to me and the hint of peppermint was an unexpected and refreshing twist on an otherwise plain chocolate flavour. This category caused perhaps the most division in the judges of all those sessions Mike and I were a part of and the final result was a hotly contested decision.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the #FFFA17 team for their time, hard work, effort and hospitality during not just our 2 days, but for the entire 2 weeks of the judging sessions. The entire #FFFA17 shortlist was published on February 8th and can be read in full here and is well worth perusing to see what other goodies were found by not just me, but the other discerning judges too. The final winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on March 28th 2017 and, just as we did last year, we’re hoping to be there on the night. Make a note in your diary to keep an eye on my live Twitter feed that evening and look out for a subsequent blog post as I reveal those products that really excelled in the Freefrom awards this year.

#FFFA17 – Biscuits, cakes and breads

You might have noticed that I’ve taken a small break from blogging over the last couple of weeks and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that Mike and I have spent some time away in New York as an early birthday celebration. There is so much to share from our week away, but you’ll have to wait patiently for those posts to come as I still have lots to tell you about the rest of our time at this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. As well as the wonderful “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category, we were lucky enough to judge a further 4 categories too and those revealed some more great freefrom options for those with allergies to choose from.

The Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning sessions were spent tasting some fantastic teatime treats and allergy-friendly breads. Just as I experienced last year, the teatime treats offered a good selection of biscuits and cakes, and whereas last year there was a huge number of biscotti to taste, this year was all about shortbread. Now I absolutely love shortbread, it is my favourite Christmas dessert, especially when enjoyed with lashings of rich brandy butter and I was excited to taste the freefrom options that were entered in the awards. img_13741Unfortunately, as great as some of them were, none was both gluten- and dairy-free, which is always a disappointment when I’m looking for something new to add to G’s diet. By the time we reached the end of the shortbread and other similar cookies, I have to confess I was looking for something refreshingly different and new.

The following, however, were absolutely amazing and whilst not all of them were gluten- and dairy-free, there was a good variety of treats that would be a great freefrom offering for any special occasion or teatime. The first came from Sponge Cakes Ltd, who make mail order gluten-free cakes. We were lucky enough to try both the Victoria sponge and the Apple crumble sponge and my run-away favourite was the apple crumble one. Both had a great texture, looked tempting and tasted delicious with the only downside being that they were just gluten-free and so not suitable for G. img_13721However, since returning from our trip, a quick perusal of their website has shown that they do in fact make a gluten- and dairy-free cake as well, which we may well have to try at some point in the future.

My next favourite was a delicious treacle tart from Mummy Bakes, which was impressively gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. Sadly I failed to snap a shot of this treat during the afternoon, probably because I was waxing lyrical about the taste of the tart itself. I am not usually a treacle tart fan; in fact, I usually steer clear of this sweet treat as just being too sweet for me to enjoy. However, there was an amazing lemon flavour that cut perfectly through the treacle and balanced it so that it had just the right sweetness for an indulgent pudding.

img_13751The next product scored highly with me because it was delightfully simple in its ingredients and looks like being an addition we can introduce to M. When we visited the Allergy and Free From Show in the summer, I discovered some delicious chocolate and rice crispbreads from Le Pain des Fleurs, which sadly just missed the mark because M is unable to have cocoa. Safe snacks are always hard to find, so I was thrilled to see another crispbread from this company entered into the awards. The coconut rice crispbread may not have been a favourite with everyone, but the prospect of finding another snack for M was truly exciting for me. It seems somewhat ironic that last year I stumbled across the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts, which the owner, Ryan, has kindly adapted to be 100% safe for M, during the Teatime category and this year the coconut crispbreads seem to have ticked the box again. We will need to trial them as M is currently only able to tolerate coconut oil and not cream or milk, but I’m hoping that the low percentage of coconut in them (just 15%), will make them a viable option for my young foodie.

img_13771As for the breads on Wednesday morning, there were some great products and it was fantastic to see several entries from the big supermarkets as well as the more specialised brands we’ve come to known. The Bfree pitta breads were great and impressively had the perfect pocket to cram with your filling of choice, and I also loved the Tesco petit pain rolls and sandwich thins, either of which would be ideal for G’s lunchbox. However, my absolute favourite was the impressive Tesco Ancient Grain Cob, which looked amazing and tasted just as good. In my opinion it would be difficult to distinguish this bread as gluten- and dairy-free when compared to its “normal” counterparts and I’ll be looking out for a loaf in my local store to buy for G to try.

Back to the Judging table

Today Mike and I have enjoyed what feels like a rare day off together. We’re away from work, away from home and away from the constant complexities of parenting 2 children with an interesting selection of food allergies between them. Instead, we have been privileged to spend the day in London as part of the judging panel for the Free From Food Awards 2017 (#FFFA17). You may remember that last year saw my debut in this exciting role and, thanks to the generosity of my Mum in providing some invaluable childcare and the need for a “normal” person in the selected groups of tasters, Mike was able to join me in the experience. It was last year’s involvement that kicked of an exciting year of opportunities for us all: from discovering our very own set of superheroes including the wonderful Ryan of Borough 22 to attending the Awards ceremony with a broken leg; not forgetting the introduction of GalaxyGazer and Marvin to their own readership and my involvement with the Free From Eating Out Awards 2016 – gosh, what a busy year it has been!

Our day started off a little later img_13641than normal with the “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category. I enjoyed some of the new products that I discovered when judging this round last year, though was disappointed to find it difficult to find some of my favourites once the Awards were over. I was looking forward to seeing what new products I would uncover this year, especially seeking out anything suitable for G. Much as I enjoy cooking and usually prepare all our meals from scratch, I love finding those quick alternatives that will make busy evenings just the tiny bit easier. There were some great foods on offer, including a delicious gluten-free quiche from Asda, some highly contentious coronation chicken sausages and a great selection of microwave-able meals. To my delight, I came across 3 dishes that I thought were absolutely amazing and would be more than happy to buy for G. The first were the most delicious Sweet Quebec sausages from Slightly Different Foods. All foods are initially judged blind so that our opinions are not unduly influenced by any preconceived ideas img_13671about any of the suppliers or manufacturers of these products. I was thrilled to discover after the tasting who had made these sausages as we had stumbled across this company at last year’s Allergy and FreeFrom Show and our lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with owners, Sonia and Steve, evidently encouraged them to submit an entry to this year’s Awards. The sausages contain that classic Canadian combination of bacon and maple syrup and are bursting with flavour. I have no doubt that G will absolutely love them and the simplicity of the ingredients makes them a great choice for many with food allergies.

Next was a fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, which was unexpectedly manufactured by Pure, better known for their range of dairy-free alternatives to normal margarine. I had absolutely no idea that they made other free-from foods and this curry was beautifully fresh with a great selection of vegetables and even some quinoa included in its list of ingredients. Finally was my run-away favourite, a beef casserole with dumplings from Tesco, which is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The meat was tender, the gravy rich and the dumplings a surprise bonus on an already superb ready meal. I’m not convinced that G would choose either of these 2 options for an evening meal, but I would be more than happy to serve her both.

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Young Carers Awareness Day 2017

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day, a national day for the recognition of the estimated 700,000 Young Carers in the UK. I’ve written before about Young Carers and how G was finally recognised as one last year. She now regularly attends our local carers support group and has developed friendships with a couple of other girls who are in her year at her secondary school. Young Carers can care in a number of ways, the most obvious being giving physical help to family members, but, as we discovered with G, the emotional and psychological support given is just as important to recognise and can take just as big a toll on the young person. Organisations such as the Carers Trust, Barnados and Over The Wall all work to ensure that these young people are given the same opportunities as their friends and have time to be a child. This support is vital to ensure that G, her friends and others like them have as happy, healthy and balanced a childhood as they can.

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Top Chips!

You know you’re getting old when your Christmas presents start bordering on the practical, rather than the fantastical, and you know you’re a parent when those practical presents can be used to the benefit of your children rather than just for pampering yourself. I’ve been on the receiving end of the former for a fair few years now – welly boots and coffee machines spring to mind – but this year I received not one, but two of the latter, indicating that I really am well and truly heading towards a rather significant birthday celebration frighteningly soon.

Interestingly, whilst one was an item I’d requested myself, the second was actually a gift that M picked out for me, evidently in the hope that it would help me make some more interesting variations of his foods for him. Back in the summer, we attended the Allergy and Freefrom Show held over 3 days at the amazing venue that is Olympia Kensington for the first time in a couple of years. Whilst there we discovered the wonderful and tasty treat that is Emily’s Fruit Crisps, a great new snack which M almost instantly fell in love with and devoured so quickly that the dozen packs we bought at the show soon disappeared. img_13601I hadn’t got round to restocking the larder as M’s interest in the crisps appeared to wane and I didn’t want to fill my cupboards with yet another safe snack that would end up forming part of Mike’s packed lunch for months because M no longer wanted them.

However, the novelty of fruit crisps obviously hadn’t worn off as much as I thought it had and this was reflected in his choice of present. In the months leading up to the festive season, M spent hours, like most children his age, pouring over a variety of catalogues and gadget magazines searching for the perfect present that would tick all his boxes for what he could possibly want for Christmas and seeking a little added inspiration along the way for what he could buy for the rest of the family. With a little technical help from Mike which came, much to M’s disgust and dismay, in the days following Christmas day itself because somehow ordering my present had got swept up in the chaos of too many hospital appointments and health challenges to contend with, my present finally arrived at our address and M rushed off to check it out before handing it over, in all its unwrapped glory.

img_13551This week saw the first outing of this piece of kit as I finally got round to trying out my brand new kitchen gadget, the Mastrad Topchips Kit complete with a “slicer” to cut the fine slices needed to make the perfect crisps. We tried out both apple and pear with varying levels of success. The slicer was scarily sharp and I refused to let my somewhat clumsy child anywhere near it, rather preferring to take the chance of slicing my own finger and not his. The process is remarkably simple: peel the fruit, slice it, place single slices on to the rubber sheet and microwave for anywhere up to about 5 minutes, depending on the type of fruit or vegetable you decide to use. I did start with stacking both trays in the microwave as it suggested, but found it taking a long time to do…well to do anything, so instead started again using just 1 tray and allowing a little more time img_13591than suggested in the instructions booklet. The apple crisps worked well, though it would have been good to know that they aren’t immediately crispy when the cooking time is finished, but actually need a couple of minutes to stand and crisp up. Both children declared them as delicious and the plateful quickly cleared in front of my eyes. The pear was less successful as the one I used was evidently far too juicy to crisp up properly and we declared it an unmitigated disaster, although M conceded that it “…wasn’t bad for your first attempt Mummy..!” The trays are delightfully easy to clean and store, which is always an added bonus in my somewhat crowded kitchen.

Would I recommend the Topchips kit to others? Yes, I think I would, with the proviso to not be surprised if it takes a little practice to work out the fruit and vegetables that work best and the ideal cooking time in your individual microwave. Our first foray into making fruit crisps for M was a definite hit and I’ve no doubt that we’ll be using the equipment again, and soon.

Marks out of 10: 7.5 – a great result, but the instructions could be improved

Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.