Tag Archives: allergy-friendly

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.

Christmas Countdown

The beginning of December has finally arrived. With it comes freezing temperatures, roaring log fires, Christmas trees, pantomimes, carol-singing and, in our household, some frantic last-minute plans for impending teenagehood and a quick anniversary celebration if we can only find the time to squeeze it in. And yes, we perhaps didn’t plan things too well – can you guess that I’ve heard those comments just the odd once or twice before?

These days most children seem to expect a chocolate advent calendar as a necessary part of the Christmas countdown, but what do you do when your child has allergies and can’t enjoy something that’s the same as all their friends? M has asked if we can bake enough of his safe gingerbread cookies for him and G to enjoy 1 everyday between now and the big day itself. It is, without doubt, one of those things that always features highly on any allergy parents’ to-do list at this time of year as it takes some time to find the perfect, safe alternative, but there are some really great options out there and I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you:

And not forgetting one for those much-deserving Mummies out there (it contains gin in case you couldn’t work it out)!

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Eating out with allergies the Portuguese Way

I’ll be honest, the last few months have been difficult in more ways than one. M’s broken leg has meant that we’ve been unable to trial any new foods since April, which has been tough for him especially as we’ve just marked one year since we last successfully introduced a safe food into his diet. I knew that his restrictions were taking an emotional toll on M, but nothing expressed more than one he recently apologised to me for feeling fed up and complaining about the fact that he has to eat the same 5 foods day in, day out. As we were preparing for our Portuguese holiday, we quickly realised that, without doubt, our travels abroad would stretch our keen foodie to his absolute limits and we needed to come up with a plan that would allow him to enjoy himself without too much pressure on his health.
This was particularly important as M had been frustrated to not be able to trial the couple of new foods we had pinpointed as pre-Portugal challenges because of his lengthy recovery and was extremely disappointed at the prospect of only eating his safe foods whilst the rest of us enjoyed seafood and fish galore. img_08971After much discussion, both between ourselves and with M too, Mike and I decided that we would allow him the occasional day off whilst we were in Portugal and let him choose a normally forbidden food or two to enjoy.

From the start we made it very clear that this couldn’t be an everyday treat and that between days he would have to keep strictly to his diet and so we planned accordingly. The holiday was split between a short hotel stint in the capital city and a longer stay in a self-catering apartment on the Algarve, which allowed us to cater for M and G as and when was needed. Our medical suitcase had been crammed full of a selection of safe foods for M including cartons of rice milk, cereal and rice pasta as I had no real idea as to what we would be able to find for him where we were based. img_10511Unlike our recent travels to Italy, where allergy-friendly offerings had been easy to find in the airport and service stations, safe foods were not so readily available in Portugal, but our trip to the Jumbo hypermarket just outside of Portimão proved to be a visit to a real Aladdin’s cave. My Mum and I were impressed with the array of dairy-free milks available and chose some new brands of rice milk for M to taste during our holiday. As for the selection of products on the freefrom aisle, I could easily have spent a lot longer than I did examining each and every one of them to see which were suitable for both children.  I managed to buy nearly everything we needed including cookies for G and rice cream for M and the only disappointment was that I couldn’t find a gluten-free loaf of bread for G. img_10521There was several bread mixes available, but there was no way I was ever going to entertain the thought of baking a loaf of bread for her in 35°C weather and so she managed with some delicious gluten- and dairy-free crackers I discovered instead.

M’s experience of eating out with allergies in Portugal was mixed to say the least with the resounding success of two dinners at the Hard Rock Café in central Lisbon in stark contrast to the disappointing first night meal of plain boiled rice and an apple and it was hard to predict what the rest of our holiday would bring. Our translation cards meant that language wasn’t a barrier to making our needs known, but we did struggle with well-meaning restaurant staff offering alternatives even though it was clearly stated that these were the only safe foods he can eat. To be fair, I can understand their difficulty in believing that M’s diet really is that restricted, but it was frustrating to deal with especially when the viable food options were diminishing before our eyes and a certain 10 year-old was hopeful we’d give up and give in and allow him another unplanned treat. For the sake of M’s health, we did have to insist that some of our meals out were strictly M-friendly and the offerings were often mixed. In the UK we frequently find that most restaurants are unable to provide plain rice and so M often ends up with a meal consisting of chicken and cucumber and occasionally some apple too, all supplemented by a bag of slightly crushed Rude Health Mini Rice thins recovered from the depths of my handbag. Portugal was surprisingly no different. We did discover a few restaurants that could cook plain, boiled rice, but sadly this was rarely accompanied by safe chicken and he ended up with some very odd meals indeed.

img_10841However, as well as the Hard Rock Café, we did achieve great success in 2 restaurants in Alvor, where not only was M well-fed, but G enjoyed some great dinners too. The first was at what has long been a favourite of ours, Vagabondo in Alvor itself, a place that the children were keen to go back to again this year. Every year since our first visit there, M and G have loved their chicken kebab starter because of the delicious peanut sauce it is served with and it’s a dish that they’ve asked me to recreate at home time and time again. Peanuts have never been a problem for M in the past, but I was anxious about him suffering an unexpected reaction to them and wasn’t keen to trial them for the first time whilst we were abroad. M was disappointed by my decision, but reluctantly agreed to eat his safe foods only. By the time it came to dinner there, he was still suffering from the effects of some of the other “treats” he’d enjoyed during the week and was happy to stick to his normal diet for the evening. Once our waitress grasped M’s exact needs, she was fantastic at sorting out his meal and advised us brilliantly about what would be safe for him from the menu. img_10851Unfortunately the wild rice was marinated with garlic beforehand so we chose not to order for M, but the plate that arrived contained a huge piece of chicken as well as some cucumber slices and a specially prepared apple from our thoughtful waitress. The apple had been cut and served to resemble chips and so M’s plate looked similar to G’s dinner of a chicken and bacon kebab and chips. It was a large meal, beautifully prepared and he managed to eat every single mouthful.
The second and surprise success of the entire holiday was our final lunch, which traditionally we have always enjoyed at the poolside restaurant at the hotel Pestana Alvor Praia. img_10871In the past the children have chosen gluten-free hot dogs and chips, but we had spotted that they served grilled chicken and rice and were hopeful that these would be safe for M. Once again, a well-informed, attentive and extremely helpful waitress advised me that there would be no problem in preparing these dishes to ensure they were safe for M and in the end both children enjoyed a delicious grilled chicken breast, which was served with chips for G and plain rice, cucumber and apple for M. We enjoyed our meals out on holiday and found all of the restaurants eager to help us as best they could when it came to encouraging M and G to eat out with allergies the Portuguese way.

Hard Rock Cafe, Lisboa

Dinner out on our first evening in Lisbon was not as easy as we might have hoped and, in some ways, encapsulated our worst fears. By the time we had made our way from the airport to our hotel, we didn’t really want to hunt around with two tired children in tow, so simply headed to a local restaurant with our fingers tightly crossed and our recently acquired Yellow Cross translation cards clutched in my hands. IMG_0904[1]We found a restaurant that looked promising as it had grilled chicken and rice on the menu and sat down to peruse the choices for the rest of the family until it came time to order, when I handed over the cards and waited to hear their response.  The cards did their job, but whilst the restaurant staff were incredibly helpful in trying to provide safe food, poor M ended up with just a plate of plain boiled rice and an apple. At that point my Mum vowed that she couldn’t face another dinner out like that and so the search began for somewhere that could cater much better for M’s particular needs.

Lisbon_EntranceAs a long-time fan of the Hard Rock Cafe, I had been delighted to discover a couple of weeks before we travelled that there was one in Lisbon and had even managed to find a copy of their menu, including allergens, on-line. My e-mail enquiry about their ability to cater for M had gone unanswered, but I felt confident that there was a good chance they would be able to cook him some safe chicken at very least and so we headed there for our second meal in Lisbon. We were not disappointed. The Hard Rock policy is that all allergy enquiries and requests are dealt with by the manager and she came to our table to understand exactly what we needed. They weren’t able to provide rice for M as it’s cooked with vegetables, but an impressive plate of grilled chicken with apple and cucumber slices arrived and was quickly devoured by our hungry boy. G was also well catered for as they had comprehensive allergen listings available and could prepare all burgers and sandwiches using a delicious gluten- and dairy-free bread. She chose the classic club sandwich with fries and I was delighted to hear that they used a separate fryer to cook the fries to ensure that cross-contamination risks were kept to a minimum.

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The meal was such a success that when my Mum suggested that we go back for our final meal out in Lisbon, Mike, the children and I were quick to agree. Once again their service in meeting our allergy needs was impeccable and despite it being a much busier Friday evening, we were still confident that the food had been carefully prepared. We ran through M’s food restrictions with that evening’s manager and the resulting plate of food earned a well deserved 9.5 out of 10 from M. We did have a couple of small hiccups with both meals, but they were quickly dealt with and the staff were keen to make sure that we were happy. M’s food was re-plated on  a clean dish when I pointed out that the decorative strawberries included on the original plate were not safe for him, and G’s mayonnaise was replaced after she found an unidentifiable lump in the bottom of the small serving dish. It turned out to be a stray spoonful of coleslaw, but they apologised profusely and the manager even came back to the table to add her apologies and to ensure that the rest of our meals was everything we needed. It was great to discover that this old favourite of mine was so capable of preparing safe and delicious meals that both children absolutely loved and I’m now excited to discover what other locations we can visit on future trips.

A perfect meal for a little rock star!

Snack-time specials

In addition to the great new breakfast and dinnertime finds from our trip to this year’s Allergy Show in London, we also managed to stock up on an impressive number of allergy-friendly snacks, some suitable for G, some just gluten-free and even one for M. Snack-time is always the hardest time of day to cater for in my experience. You want something that will satisfy your child long enough to stop the complaints that they’re “starving” and “have to eat now!“, without spoiling the next meal which is probably only 15 minutes away, but far too long for them to actually wait without moaning that their stomachs have been cut off and are feeling unloved and abandoned. I find it particularly hard to find something suitably satisfying for M and much as he loves my many bakes, I’m not so keen on giving him too many sweet treats on too regular a basis.

IMG_0805[1]Emily Fruit Crisps were an incredible find and an instant big hit with M. We were all intrigued by not just their apple crisps, which were reassuringly safe for M, but also their surprisingly tasty vegetable crisps: green bean crisps anyone? They are a great alternative to normal potato crisps with none of the slight after-taste that M has complained about with other apple crisp brands. I took advantage of a great show offer and stocked up on a dozen packs, although only 10 made their way home with us as M munched on the odd bag or 2 as we wheeled him around for the rest of the day. Whilst not widely available in many of the mainstream supermarkets, you can buy them through Ocado and, weirdly enough, will apparently find them in your local Topshop too!

M’s marks: 12/10

IMG_0739[1]One of my biggest disappointments had to be discovering this amazing product and realising that it was very nearly safe for M, but not quite. Le Pain des Fleurs Cocoa Crispbread is made from rice flour, sugar and cocoa powder and it’s that last ingredient that means that they’re not suitable for M at the moment. They are not easy to source, but a good search on the internet will uncover a few independent stockists of this lovely snack.

IMG_0840[1]This next product has to be one of my favourite finds of the whole show and I know G is equally delighted that we were pointed in the direction of this sweet treat. The Foods of Athenry Cookie Shots are bite-size G-friendly chocolate brownies and are absolutely delicious. I had never come across this family run Irish bakery before, but I will be eternally grateful to the lovely Julia of Alimentary Bites, who not only welcomed us with open arms to the Allergy Adventures stall, but then whispered this fabulous find to me and told me where I could go to buy our own pack. They are satisfyingly chocolatey and taste sufficiently indulgent without being big enough to spoil your appetite, especially when you’re a chocolate-loving tween. NB – whilst the cookie shots are MEWS-free, they are not made in a nut-free environment

G’s marks: 9.5/10

IMG_0839[1]These next two offerings are both gluten-free, chocolate-laden snacks, but sadly not dairy-free. I have chosen to mention them because they are great alternatives for those living on a gluten-free diet and I think they would be a perfect addition to the store cupboard for anyone who can safely eat them. The first is a Twix-esque chocolate bar, with a biscuit base, caramel filling and chocolate outer layer. I’ll be honest that they don’t quite hit the mark for me, but I am reliably informed by gluten-free friends that they are really delicious. Made by Dr Schar, Chocolix bars are individually wrapped, making them ideal for lunch-boxes or to carry in your handbag for whenever you might need one, and can supposedly be bought at more than one of the supermarket chains, though I have to confess that I haven’t spotted them gracing the shelves of our local IMG_0841[1]Sainsburys since I discovered them. The other is a fantastic snack that has become a personal favourite and another product from company, Le Pain des Fleurs, this time called Crousty rolls. These interestingly named treats are light chocolate biscuits which are rolled and then filled with a deliciously decadent hazelnut and cocoa cream. Just as with the Chocolix, the rolls are wrapped in pairs, which allows you to enjoy the treat whilst keeping the rest fresh for another day. These biscuits are quite sweet, but I can imagine that they would be a wonderful addition to a bowl of ice-cream for a truly indulgent dessert.

Black is the new white

When you consider M’s restricted diet, particularly the fact that rice is currently his only safe source of carbohydrate, you might find it hard to believe that there can possibly be any new products out there for us to discover. With all our exciting finds for breakfast and snack times from the Allergy show, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that was it, but I can’t wait to share these 2 new gems with you, not least because they have expanded M’s meal options even further, something for which I’m eternally grateful.

IMG_0680[1]The first is a fantastic new product that is sadly not yet available in the British market, although the company is working hard to make sure it soon will be: Gusto Nero Black Jasmine Rice pasta. This was an accidental find, but one that I’m really glad we stumbled across so late in our day at Olympia. It caught my eye as we were heading towards another stall, but I stopped to take a look as M has recently found a real love for the many varieties of rice pasta from Rizopia and I wondered if this might be another welcome addition to his meal-time options. I opted for the macaroni as I had bags of lasagne, spaghetti, penne and Fantasia lurking in the cupboard at home and variety is, after all, the spice of life. M was intrigued by the idea of a black pasta and was keen to try it almost as soon as we got back home.IMG_0684[1] I prepared a simple dish, combining the cooked pasta with some diced chicken and thin slices of cucumber, all lightly drizzled with a little rapeseed oil and topped with a sprinkling of rosemary. M savoured the very first bite and quickly devoured the rest of the bowl. The box we bought at the show has already disappeared and I’m keeping a close eye on this company waiting for the date it finally becomes readily available in the UK as I’ve no doubt we’ll become a loyal customer.

M’s marks: 9.5/10

IMG_0702[1]Our end-of-day wanderings also uncovered the second great new addition to M’s meal-times, Gallo’s riso nero or black rice. M and I were told all about the nutty flavour of this rice by their knowledgable rep and he was keen to give it a go. The success of their stand at the Allergy Show meant that they had only a very limited supply of it left by the time we reached them late Saturday afternoon, but the news that rice was M’s sole carbohydrate saw their rep very kindly giving us a microwave pouch of the Venere riso nero to take away and try.  M couldn’t wait to have a taste and was very excited once the meal was made just over a week later. The slightly different taste and texture of this rice made a welcome change to my standard offerings and M made short work of the plate I’d prepared. IMG_0705[1]I served it mixed with some small chunks of pear and drizzled with a little melted coconut oil to accompany the herby chicken pieces and slices of apples on his plate. The pack provided a good-sized serving for dinner and there was enough left-over to make a stir-fried chicken dish for both children the following evening. G seemed to enjoy the flavour of the black rice as much as M did and it will definitely be a part of our meal-times going forward.

M’s marks: 8/10

Breakfast Bonanza!

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

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

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

 

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

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

G’s marks: 10/10

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

M’s marks: 10/10

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

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

Allergy and FreeFrom Show 2016

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

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

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

Home-cooked Chinese takeaway

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

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

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

Meeting a knead

With so much of my time and energy focused on NEAW16 throughout May as well as coping with the aftermath of M’s broken leg, I unusually spent very little time in the kitchen for most of the month, other than to whip up the regular offerings for each meal. Having taken a much-needed short break to recover, it has been time to revisit some of the recipes I’ve spotted and saved over the last few weeks to see if they could be adapted to suit M’s current dietary needs. One of the foods he really misses having is bread and barely a month goes by without him requesting a sandwich made of “real bread”Kneading-dough-007 and not just rice cakes. A couple of years ago I took a Doves Farm recipe and adapted it to suit our then requirements, and it worked. It wasn’t brilliant, but M loved it despite its foibles because it met his needs. Over the last 18 months, I’ve mastered bread-like equivalents such as pancakes and flatbreads, but hadn’t ventured back into the world of bread-making…until now.

The biggest challenge for my current bread-making attempt was the yeast. We haven’t trialled yeast with M as yet and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t imagine we’ll be doing so for quite some time as the nutritional benefit to be gained by adding it to his diet right now is negligible. We will, without a doubt, get there some day, probably round about the time M wants to start drinking beer – though obviously my baby will never be old enough for that milestone to pass! – but it doesn’t feel like a priority for the time being. Instead, I switched on my trusty laptop and started looking for yeast alternatives or, even better, recipes for yeast-free bread and found this fantastic one by FussyFoodie.co.uk, which I was able to tweak further for M. I am, as ever, extremely grateful to those other allergy-aware cooks IMG_0458[1]out there, who take their time to share their recipes via blogs and other websites as their hard work helps make my efforts a little easier as I strive to create appetising dishes for M.

I baked my final recipe twice to try out both my bread-maker and my free form bread-making skills, as well as adding different flavours to see how the end results compared. The machine mixed loaf looked great, but I found that the ingredients hadn’t really been combined enough in the pan and ended up having to remove a good centimetre or so of rice flour from the bottom of the loaf before it could be enjoyed. The centre of the loaf also failed to cook thoroughly, though toasting slices of the bread before serving did go some way to resolving that particular crisis. Both M and G were suitably impressed by my efforts, which encouraged me to give it a go a second time. This time round I hand-mixed the dough, added some herbs for a different flavour and formed small bread rolls instead of a single loaf. IMG_0491[1]These worked much better in my opinion and M certainly enjoyed the crusty outside, reminiscent of a “real” bread roll, almost as much as the warm centre that had been spread with some coconut oil to replace the butter. I will definitely be baking this bread recipe again and may even try to co-ordinate my cooking so that M can enjoy his chicken burgers in a bap!