Tag Archives: Breakfast

“War is over if you want it”

In planning our Easter adventure around Scotland, we quickly realised that our desire to visit all the places we were hoping to go would create what can only be described as a whistle-stop tour of the country. We could easily have chosen a half-dozen more places that one of the other of us, or perhaps even both, wanted to see and I can already foresee more visits North being squeezed into our future travel plans. For each location we settled on, we decided to stay just 2 night only, giving us one full day to explore where we were and so asked G and M to do a little research about different museums they wanted to visit or landmarks they’d like to see. There were no promises that we’d manage to do any or all of these, but I was keen for them to be as excited about our travels as we were.

The first leg of our journey took us to Liverpool, famously home to The Beatles as well as Premier League football clubs, the Grand National and the White Star Shipping Line, owners of the ill-fated Titanic. Mike and I spent a long weekend in the city for our 15th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago and so had already determined that we wanted to take the children to “The Beatles Story” exhibition at Albert Dock. A lengthy Google search by G and M led to the discovery of “Western Approaches”, a museum delving into Liverpool’s role during WW2. As both children have been studying aspects of the First and Second World Wars at school, they quickly decided that this was somewhere they absolutely wanted to go and Mike and I were more than happy to agree.

After a quick breakfast in our hotel room, something we usually choose to do as it ensures we have safe cereal and milk for both children whilst we’re away from home, we headed off on foot to our first destination, “The Beatles Story” exhibition. This marvellous museum is based at the iconic Albert Dock and charts the history of The Beatles, starting with childhood stories and finishing with all that the individual members of the band have gone on in their solo careers. As always, we all opted for the audio guides, something that M loves to do as he listens to the stories unfold as he traipses round the exhibits and touring at our own paces, moved from room to room. I’ll be honest and say that M didn’t manage to stay engaged for the entire exhibit, but he did reasonably well and by the time he’d had enough, I was ready to remove my headphones and wander the remaining spaces with him. Both children enjoyed the museum, especially the areas displaying memorabilia and costumes and picked up some interesting facts about one of our favourite bands. They also loved walking around Albert Dock and exploring the multitude of small shops that are there.

From Albert Dock, we walked back to Liverpool One, where we found a fantastic allergy-friendly diner for lunch. I will leave reviewing our dining choices until my next blog, but I will tease you with the tidbit that this lunch-time destination was easily one of the best we went to and M was desperate to go back again if only time had allowed. After a late lunch, it was time to go on to the children’s choice of the Western Approaches War museum. Hidden in a fairly unprepossessing building, I cannot begin to tell you just how fantastic this small museum turned out to be. Based in the wartime bunker beneath Derby House, Western Approaches takes you on a journey explaining just how the Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allied Forces. The staff were incredibly knowledgable and helpful and took a keen interest in explaining what we were going to see to both children before we entered. G had just been learning about the Battle of the Atlantic at school and so it seemed a particularly apt museum choice, especially when she was told that young women, not much older than her, would have been working down there during the war years.

What particularly appealed to M whilst we were here was the Treasure Hunt that saw him toting a gas mask case filled with instructions, code-breaking equipment, notepads and a mini UV light around with him. Some of the clues were easier to crack than others and both children had a great time trying to find where they were hidden and working out where they needed to look next. Most of the exhibits were hands on, which is great for children of all ages and both M and G quickly spotted the link to Bletchley Park and the code-breaking work that went on there during WW2. My favourite bit came right at the end of our visit, when we reached the street scene set up, including unexploded bomb and the tiny canteen asking for 2d for a cup of tea or coffee. I happily paid my 2p over, plus a little bit more to support their cause, and sat down to enjoy it whilst we all played one of the period board games that was available. It was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours on a fairly grey and miserable afternoon and I would highly recommend this museum to anyone who’s looking for something to do in Liverpool.

The only disappointment with our visit was that we hadn’t realised that the Terracotta Warriors are currently on display at the World Museum, something that Mike and I would both love to take the children to see. We were lucky enough to see them in-situ in Xian when we visited China back in 2001 and want to take advantage of this opportunity to share this fascinating exhibit with G and M. Our plan is to book tickets for a visit there over the summer and have another long weekend in Liverpool, perhaps experiencing some of the other things we didn’t manage to do on this trip.

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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.

Inside the Free From Food Awards 2016

I’m writing tonight’s post in the peace and quiet of the hotel room in North London that has been my home for the last 2 days. It feels a little surreal to be away from my sound proof bubble at home, where I desperately try to ignore the perpetual chaos of family life that swirls around me and I can’t quite get used to being able to write completely uninterrupted by demands for food or drink or the need to referee between any 2 of the other 3 members of my household. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been counting down to these days away for months and have had to work incredibly hard to not spill the beans about my involvement with this year’s Free From Food Awards, #FFFA16. I feel incredibly honoured to be included on the judging panel and have enjoyed every moment of this experience.

fffaFor those of you who are not in the know, the #FFFA are the brainchild of Michelle Berriedale-Johnson and were launched in 2008 to celebrate excellence and encourage innovation within the free from food industry. Each year a group of judges from across the allergy and free from community are invited to taste a variety of new free from products and rate them on quality, usefulness, innovation and nutritional value. The foods are all tasted “blind” in the first instance, with names and packaging removed so that the products really are assessed on their own individual merits. Then follows an active discussion as each individual judge is asked to help reach a group consensus on the category winner and which other products deserve to be shortlisted, commended or given a highly commended award. Given the judges have a variety of backgrounds from free from food professionals to health professionals and from allergy sufferers to allergy bloggers as well as the occasional “normal” person to compare each item to their non-allergy counterpart, you really do get a rounded point of view about what makes the highest quality free from product. Believe me when I say that any manufacturer who wins a category is producing something that has impressed across the board.

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This is what judging confectionery looked like!

I was keen to judge the Breakfast and Tea-time categories as I felt these were areas where it would be amazing to find some new foods to tempt G and was delighted to be included not just on those panels, but on those for Confectionery and Meaty & fishy ready meals too. The ready meals was a real added bonus for me as, whilst I cook from scratch 95% of the time, the option to have some good gluten- and dairy-free meals stowed in my freezer for those occasions when a quick meal is needed for G was incredibly attractive. The number of entries was overwhelming to a #FFFA16 newbie and I was extremely grateful to Ruth at What Allergy who had advised me to skip breakfast that first morning to ensure I had space for all the foods I’d be trying. With 36 breakfast products, 22 confectionery items, 32 meaty & fishy ready meals and 26 tea-time treats to taste over around 12 hours, no wonder I left London feeling extremely well fed.

Even better I found some great new-to-us foods that I thought G might like to try and these are my top picks from each category:

  • IMG_0089Breakfast: Nutribix – a great alternative to the well-known breakfast brand, Weetabix. These were MEWS-free, taste delicious and would definitely provide a hearty, healthy and filling breakfast. I particularly liked that they were so reminiscent of their wheat-filled counterpart, a cereal that G had loved when she was tiny in the days before we knew she needed to be gluten-free.
  • IMG_0093Confectionery: Eskal Chocolate Wafer Rolls – I have to be honest and say there was a whole host of amazing chocolates for this category, which left me in some of a chocolate-induced haze by the time we got to the end of the judging session. However, these wafer rolls were the stand-out product for me as they were light whilst still being indulgent, deliciously tasty and would make a great accompaniment to a bowl of ice-cream for that extra-special twist. The only downside is that they currently contain soya, especially as they are amazingly gluten-, dairy- and egg-free.
  • Meaty & Fishy Ready Meals: I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with the vast range of free from ready meals that we got to taste and, to my delight, this category produced 2 top picks for me. The first is one that G will love and that would have ticked so many boxes for M pre going elemental. Tesco is adding a gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free scampi to their own brand Free from range, which I’m sure will prove to be a huge success with many allergy families.IMG_0094[1] I’m so excited for it to hit our shelves in the next couple of months and can’t wait for G to try it. My other choice is something I know G won’t want to try, but it ticked so many boxes for me as it was tasty, free from and could be prepared in the microwave in less than 5 minutes, truly the quintessential ready meal. Better Than Rice Chicken Massaman Curry introduced konnyaku rice to me, which has a completely different texture to normal rice and I’m looking forward to trying it out with M. He might not be able to eat the rest of the dish, but with such a limited diet, this new rice will bring an interesting twist to mealtimes.
  • Teatime: By the time my fellow judges and I reached this final category in my judging timetable, I was definitely suffering from a little food fatigue. As M calculated for me when I got home, I had tried over 100 different free from offerings in my 2 days away and had enjoyed a good many of them. doughThe teatime category was again filled with a delicious array of biscuits and cakes, but there was one product that for me stood head and shoulders above the rest: the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts. These were impressively gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and also vegan, but most definitely not flavour-free and were the biggest hit of my #FFFA16 experience. I know that doughnuts are one of those indulgences that so many allergy sufferers really miss and these will more than ably fill a definite gap in the market. Not only did I get to savour them, but even better, the #FFFA16 team offered me the remaining 6 doughnuts to take home for G and my girl has been delighted to receive this treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the team at the #FFFA16 for their welcome and commitment to encouraging development in the free from community. I loved every moment of my time as a judge and have met some great individuals who work in different aspects of the allergy world and were a lot of fun to work/eat/disagree with over the 2 days. The shortlist of contenders for the final awards will be published on February 10th and the winners announced at the awards ceremony in April. I can’t wait to see who won in each category and share some more of these innovative products with you.

Some of the amazing free from cakes

 

Dinner Plans

The beauty of staying in the amazing Applause apartments in East Aldgate was the ease with which we could accommodate M’s current dietary requirements at mealtimes.  Every morning, he and G enjoyed a bowl of safe cereal and rice milk for breakfast, whilst Mike and I had coffee and brioche before we headed out for the day.  Once breakfast was done, the children and I would finish getting ourselves ready and Mike would make and pack lunches for us all.  The ability to prepare packed lunches was just what we needed as not only were we able to meet M’s extreme food requirements, but also the dairy- and gluten-free needs of G.

20150414_174629On our first day there, we stumbled across a fantastic shop called “Planet Organic“, where we were able to pick up some previously undiscovered M-friendly bits and pieces, including mini rice-cakes, which are perfect for his lunchbox.  Of course, with the packet now nearly empty, the race to find them closer to home is on before he finishes them off.  The brown rice noodles have also been a massive hit and make mealtimes just that little bit more interesting than they have been over the last 3 months.  Sadly, the one thing we had been hoping to find, rice pasta, was sold out and so my search for that alternative continues.

The more interesting task was that of our evening meal.  One of the things we have always loved to do is eat out as a family and it is one of the things that M in particular has found hardest about having his tube.  We have had a wealth of experience over the last decade of finding restaurants that will accommodate the ever-changing dietary needs of G, M and even me and we had settled on a few firm favourites that we knew would almost always meet our requirements.  Of course, the option to cook dinner where we were staying was great to have, but Mike and I were both looking forward to having a break from the monotony of 3-ingredient dinners and decided to do some focussed research before we even left the comfort of our own home.  We spent hours one evening trawling the internet, finding restaurants in the areas of London we were likely to be near at meal-times, looking at their menus and investigating whether they had allergen information readily available to read then and there.  To our delight, we found a few where we knew we could cater for G and where it seemed probable we would also be able to order safe food for M, and we couldn’t wait to put our selection to the test.

20150408_181702Our first was Giraffe, which is just round the corner from GOSH and a popular choice for our post-appointment dinners.  When we got to the restaurant, I asked the waitress at the door whether they would be able to cook safe food for M before she had time to find us a table and the response was fantastic.  She turned out to be the restaurant manager and headed off in the direction of the kitchen to talk to their chef and find out exactly what our options were. The chef assured us he could cook plain, boiled rice and grill a chicken breast for M without using any oil, so, feeling hopeful that this could prove a success, we found a table to enjoy our first family meal out for 5 months.  M was delighted with the plate of food that arrived for him and had no allergic reaction to any of it, reassuring us that Giraffe is a safe choice for the future.

IMG_0940As it turns out, Giraffe was the only restaurant we ate at that was able to cook plain rice for M, but we enjoyed 2 other great meals out and  both restaurants were more than happy for M to munch away on his own rice-cakes to accompany his chicken and cucumber.  The second restaurant was Bella Italia, a popular restaurant chain found across the UK and we had dinner at their St Martins Lane branch.   Again, our waiter worked with the chef to ascertain exactly what could be prepared for M and this amazing plate of food arrived – M joked that he thought they had cut him up a whole cucumber to make up for the lack of variety on his plate.  We were also impressed with how much their gluten-free offerings had improved since the last time we ate there as G was able to enjoy some GF garlic pizza bread alongside her GF margherita pizza with pancetta and ham with goats cheese.

20150411_152613My final recommendation is Jamie’s Italian and I can’t begin to tell you how impressed we were with the excellent service provided at their Canary Wharf restaurant.  From the greeter who listened to our initial needs to the manager who came to answer our questions before we even got to the table, they were keen to reassure us that they could meet all our requirements.  As for our amazing waiter, Tom H, he listened carefully and patiently to what we needed, made sensible suggestions based on M’s safe foods, checked with the chef that everything could be prepared safely and treated M just like any other child eating in the restaurant.  He was delighted with the plate of food that arrived at the table as it was presented in the exact same way as G’s dinner and his unparalleled attempt to eat almost all of the food served earned him the same prize that G was awarded for eating her salad – an achievement that we rarely manage at home.

All in all, our trip to London proved to be a fantastic and unexpected success when it came to our dinner plans for our stay.  We found 3 restaurants who were prepared to go the extra mile, make the effort and help us enjoy some great meals out.  Even better, M had the opportunity to feel more “normal” than he has done in a long time, which, for us, was absolutely priceless.

The Battle for Breakfast (magnificent muffin recipes included!)

Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_to_work_on_an_egg

Who can forget this advice?

Over the past 12 months, there has been a lot in the national press about the numbers of children who are arriving at school without having eaten any breakfast.  More schools have introduced breakfast clubs, in some cases financially supported by the teachers, to ensure that pupils get that all important start to their day.  The benefits of a good breakfast to see us all through our day are well-documented and as a Mum, I’ve tried install those principles in my children.

G is a fantastic breakfast eater and always has been.  I remember, at an early age, picking her up from nursery and being told by the astounded key-worker that she had eaten 3 whole weetabix for her breakfast that morning.  What amazed me more, was that she had already eaten a full bowl of cereal (2 weetabix) at home before getting to nursery – where my tiny mite had put those 5 weetabix we will never know,  She happily munches her way through an overflowing bowl of rice pops and cornflakes with raisins and milk and, if she has enough time, then another bowl will be consumed too.

Courtesy of controlengeurope.com

Courtesy of controlengeurope.com

M is the complete polar opposite of his sister.  He is much more like me and doesn’t like to eat as soon as he wakes up in the morning.  The problem is that due to his sleep issues, I inevitably have to wake him for school and even showering and dressing before we attempt breakfast rarely achieves much success.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get M to eat even a scrap of breakfast, which simply reflects his current health and declining appetite.

Which is why I’m constantly and desperately searching for a tasty morsel that will entice him to eat first thing, whilst being relatively healthy. We’ve tried toast, bacon sandwiches, cereal, porridge, fresh fruit and yoghurts, all with relatively limited success.  One day he’ll eat something like it’s going out of fashion, the next day it’s like getting blood from a stone.  I was stuck for ideas until last weekend, when inspiration hit.  We were up in London for an extended celebration of my Mum’s birthday and at breakfast on the Sunday morning, G disappeared off to the buffet and came back bearing a mini chocolate chip muffin for me as a thank you for taking them to London for the weekend.

As I munched my way through this tiny treat, it struck me that it was just the thing that might tantalise M’s tastebuds first thing in the morning. All I needed to do was find a muffin recipe and do some of my free-from jiggery-pokery to turn it into the perfect M-friendly nibble.  We had a huge amount of rapidly-browning bananas in the fridge, so a recipe for banana muffins seemed the obvious choice.  I found one, played around with the ingredients and ended up with this wonderful looking batch:

By the time I got round to photographing the end result, 3 had already been devoured by G&M - success!

By the time I got round to photographing the end result, 3 had already been devoured by G&M – success!

Excited by the instant success, and with some left-over bacon and soya- and dairy- free cheese (yes such a thing really does exist) lurking in the bottom of the fridge, I found, adapted and baked a recipe for bacon and cheese muffins.  These turned out a little more anaemic-looking and seem to be a recipe I’m going to need to tweak a little more to perfect:

Less golden than the banana ones, but still delicious

Less golden than the banana ones, but still delicious

So, from one evening’s work, I’ve found 2 new recipes – banana muffins and bacon & cheese muffins – and have a pair of happy children.  The only problem?  As much as M loves the muffins, it appears they weren’t the weapons I was searching for and the battle to get him to eat breakfast rages on!