Tag Archives: Florida

“Muuummm, what’s for tea tonight?”

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Oh how this resonates..

If your family is anything like mine, that question usually comes just as you’re struggling through the door: with house keys in one hand, car key gripped firmly between your teeth, handbag on one arm, cello on your back, mobile phone pressed to your ear as you attempt to talk to the dietitian/consultant/other healthcare provider, who’s asking if now is a good time to talk and you can’t say no as you’ve been trying to contact them urgently for at least the last 3 days and who knows when they might call again; plus the school bag(s)/shopping bag(s)/extraneous bag(s)* (*delete as appropriate) you’ve picked up along the way are weighing down your other side and threatening to upset the delicate balance you’ve perfected in your struggle to cover the 100 yards or less from your car to the house.  Meanwhile, your curious offspring are waltzing in behind you, or possibly squeezing past you, through the already impossibly small and too-narrow-to-negotiate-safely doorway, bearing no more than a half-empty water bottle and their coat, worn superhero style to leave their hands free to carry absolutely nothing else at all.  And just as you think you’ve achieved it and managed to get everything safely inside, they open their mouth and ask that unavoidably fraught dinner-question and the peace shatters and your world tumbles down around your ears.  Does any of that sound familiar or is it just my household?

For M at the moment, my answer is fairly standard, although he adds his own unique twist by asking if dinner will be “chicken with rice and cucumber” or perhaps “rice and chicken with a side of cucumber”?  For a while, when he was still 100% elemental, he would even ask if he could have “air-sticks” – “like bread sticks you see, but without the bread” – showing that the ability to laugh his way through this experience is his greatest strength in beating this disease.  I have become a self-confessed expert in cooking with 3 principle ingredients – rice, chicken and cucumber – and the bonus extras of herbs, rapeseed oil and sugar.  Rice has been broadened to include its derivatives and the inclusion of rice milk, rice cream and rice pops (as long as they’re gluten-free) has added to my ever-increasing repertoire of 3-ingredient recipes.

Rice-flour sugar cookies

Rice-flour sugar cookies

In the past few weeks, as well as my fall-back favourites of roast or grilled chicken with plain boiled rice, I have also perfected deep-fried savoury rice balls, chicken nuggets, chicken and cucumber curry, fried rice, chicken stir-fry, rice-flour sugar cookies and rice pudding.  My Mum has also made M a chicken breast stuffed with rice and cucumber, courtesy of the inspiration and some nifty hints suggested by our hairdresser and which was an instant hit with our young diner.  It’s surprising just how many different recipes you can create with just a few ingredients and there’s even a few more that I’m hoping to try out in the coming weeks.  What started out as a daunting challenge to entice M’s appetite and encourage him to once again eat whilst navigating the tricky world of identifying his food allergies, has become yet another success story in our household.

Letter-to-the-EditorSqareMy victory with such a limited range of ingredients has been all the sweeter given the recent UK news story of the letter sent to the Daily Telegraph newspaper by over 100 top chefs and restauranteurs condemning recent EU legislation requiring restaurants to provide information about which of the top 14 allergens the dishes on their menus contain.  It was never a requirement that they did not cook with these ingredients, but rather that they should be able to inform diners of what the food prepared contains, with the knowledge and pride in their ingredients that I would expect from any talented chef.  Whilst widely welcomed by those of us in the allergy-world as a step towards helping us make informed decisions about eating out, these chefs warned that such requirements would harm “…the spontaneity, creativity and innovation restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up until now.

Like so many others in my situation, I wrote a response on the Telegraph website, pointing out that this legislation will help me to protect my children and give them experiences that will ensure their continued health and enjoyment,  I do not deny that it’s up to me (and they as they grow older) to ask about allergens, but there’s no point asking these questions if the restaurants, waiting staff or chefs cannot provide the information needed and the lack of understanding about cross-contamination risks is sadly common across the food industry.

20140818_143459Our experience last summer in Disney proved that this type of requirement does not need to be restrictive as excellent allergen information was readily available and nearly everywhere we ate produced meals for G and M that rivalled those being served to any other customer there with a “normal” diet. The chefs were knowledgable, came to our table to discuss their allergy needs and made the effort to find out what my challenging duo would like to eat – excellent service all done with a smile.

The big challenge was always to cook M-friendly food and these days that task has become even more testing.  In my opinion, these rules will have little impact on spontaneity or ingenuity – try cooking or baking when you need to avoid wheat/gluten, egg, dairy, soya and potato to name but a few.  Ingenuity comes when you try to prepare a meal that makes your child feel that they’re not missing out and that’s something I feel I’ve proved is possible, even for an amateur cook like me.

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Legoland Florida

As well as our successful days at DIsney and our disappointing foray to Universal, Mike and I treated the children to a day out at Legoland Florida20140809_232045We are big fans of the Legoland Windsor resort and had a marvellous visit there last summer with our friends from the wonderful charity, FABED, so were excited to make a visit to the bigger and better (well it’s American so it had to be, right?) Floridian version.  This theme park is situated on the site of the old Cypress Gardens and has kept a relatively small portion of the original park at the centre of the new one.  It’s around a 45-minute drive from Disney and was easy enough to find once we were headed in the right direction.  The park was surprisingly empty upon our arrival and we headed straight to Guest Relations to see if we could get a disability access pass (or their equivalent) for M.  The pass was issued without question and Mike then asked about what allergy information they had available and how we could manage this during our visit. The very helpful guest relations staff member knew there was a hard copy somewhere of this information, but sadly couldn’t put her hands on whilst we were in the office.  No matter, she reassured us, it was all available online.  Great, I thought, I could hop onto their website using my tablet and work out where we could safely eat.  Ah no, Legoland Florida has no wi-fi available in the park, so it was actually impossible to see any of the information we had been advised to access.

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Need a car? What better than a Lego Ford!

Being seasoned travellers with M and G, of course, we had our trusty rucksack full of safe foods and reasoned that we could and would think on our feet when it came to lunchtime. My notes from our day trip record that it was “good, but not the well-oiled machine that WDW is”.  The queues were painfully slow and the service not massively efficient.  Their staff members appeared, for the most part, to not be terribly enthusiastic in their roles and I felt it would benefit from finding more customer service orientated staff.  Mike had to wait for nearly 30 minutes just to get to the front of the queue to ask whether they could accommodate food allergies at that particular food concession unit.  There was a copy of an allergy menu there, but we were disappointed to discover after ordering that the allergy-friendly “plain” burger was served with cheese!

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We each picked our ride of choice from the map and started heading our way around the extensive grounds to make sure we made the most of our one day there.  Many of the rides were similar to those found in Windsor and the children had a great time revisiting some of their old favourites as well as trying out a few of the “new” ones.  20140809_222642We enjoyed the US version of Miniland although I was disappointed at how shabby many of the models appeared, especially as you could easily identify where elements were missing due to the telltale marks  and empty spaces on the surfaces.  Nevertheless, it was fun to see the likes of Las Vegas, Hollywood, the White House, San Francisco and New York depicted in lego.

 

20140809_210205Unfortunately the weather was somewhat inclement and so many of the rides closed for around an hour or so during the afternoon.  We took advantage of the opportunity and explored the original grounds of Cypress Gardens and stood in awe of the amazing Banyan tree that can be found there.  We were hoping to see the Pirates water show as M and G love the “Pirates of Skeleton Bay” in Windsor, but the threat of thunderstorms and lightening meant that the final performance was cancelled.  Despite all of this, we enjoyed our time there and had plenty to keep us all busy for the day.  I would say that Legoland Florida is worth a visit if you, or your children, are lego fans, but in my opinion, Legoland Windsor beats it hands down.

Marks out of 10:  6 – a good attempt, but the queuing system, park maintenance and food available let it down.

 

Not a Universal success

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that we did nothing but Disney whilst on our hols, however we did venture to some of the other theme parks and attractions during our 2 week sojurn in Orlando.  G and M were particularly excited about the prospect of visiting Universal Studios, or more accurately, the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter“.  My enthusiasm was not so great, particularly given my poor experiences to date in trying to get hold of some, or indeed any, information about visiting the parks with my food-allergy duo.  I found the website difficult to navigate and the information available on it less than informative.  My first e-mail to them went unanswered and if it hadn’t been that both M and G were desperate to visit, I honestly think I might well have given up at that point.  However, I eventually tracked down a helpful customer services rep, who phoned me in the UK and discussed our needs at length.  She reassured me that they catered for food allergies and that we should encounter no problems when eating in the parks.  I was interested in booking the Character breakfast at La Bamba cafe so that the children could meet a Minion and once again I was assured that we could mix and match the breakfast options to get a meal that was safe for both G and M. Taking it on trust, I booked the breakfast and pencilled in 2 days at Universal on our somewhat hectic schedule.

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Mike imitating both Dave Minion and Gru at the character breakfast!

Our first day started well as we arrived in glorious sunshine and headed directly to Diagon Alley carrying a rucksack prudently packed to the gills with M-friendly snacks.  Our first view of Diagon Alley was impressive with a multitude of shops selling everything a young wizard could want as well as the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts Bank.  dragonWe headed into a nearby wand shop for both children to chose a wand to buy and then ventured off on a magical tour, following the map to find the location of spells for M to cast using his interactive Dumbledore wand.  I even dared to sample a pint of Butterbeer as requested by my dear friend, F, but have to confess it’ll be the first and last time I do that as the drink was just too sweet for any of the family to enjoy.  Disappointingly, as jaw-dropping as the “set” was, there really wasn’t enough to appeal to the younger age groups which we all found surprising.  Nearly all the rides, apart from the utterly amazing Hogwarts Express that carried us between the 2 halves of the Harry Potter experience, were roller-coasters or simulators that were just too big and scary for my nervous pair.

I was also disappointed by just how commercial it all felt, especially the “unique interactive experience” at Ollivanders shop in Hogsmeade, which promised far more than it delivered.  Just 2 children were selected from the crowd in the shop to participate in the amazing experience of finding out which wand was to be theirs; after all, as we all know “..the wand chooses the wizard…” (JK Rowling:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).  Not only was every other child in the audience disappointed not to be part of the action, but – call me a cynic – I don’t imagine many parents found it easy to then say no when their little darlings wanted to buy the wand that had chosen them in such dramatic fashion.

lunchtime

By lunchtime we had seen and experienced all that the Wizarding World had to offer and headed off in search of some food for our group.  We left Hogsmeade, where the food queues were out of the door, bypassed yet another hard-sell when the magic show we had been ushered into turned out to be little more than an opportunity to buy 4 tricks for the price of 2 and ended up at the street markets of the Lost Continent.  We stopped at what seemed a likely place as it sold hot dogs, something we had found was inevitably safe at all of the Disney parks and I queued to speak to what was possibly the most unhelpful server I have ever met and someone definitely not suited to a customer service role.  She gazed blankly at me when I asked for allergy information about their food options and struggled to understand even the simplest of requests:

“Could I please have 2 hot dogs without the bread-rolls as I have 2 children with multiple food allergies?”

“What?”

“Could I have 2 hot dogs without the buns?”

“You mean you don’t want the buns?”

“No, just the sausages…the meat”

“You don’t want the buns?”

“No”

“Just the dog?”

“Yes”

“But no bun?”

“No.  Just. The. Dog.”

“So, you don’t want the bun, just the dog?”

“Yes”

“Oh.  I’ll have to check with my manager if we can do that.”

Our exchange on whether I could get fruit or vegetables as an alternative side to the bun and the fries went in a similar vein.  I gave up any hope of intelligent discussion at that point and G and M ended up with a hot dog each – “just” the dog: no bun, no fries, no fruit and no veg, all for the princely sum of $15 plus taxes.  Yes, that’s right, £10 for 2 sausages that barely touched the sides going down.  Mike and my Mum picked out some safe looking bits of salad from their lunches, we bought a packet of crisps for G (another £2.50 there) and fed M from our own plentiful supplies, much of which had been got from Disney.

disappointmentI’d love to say our experience got better, but it really didn’t.  In “The Cat in the Hat” area, a place filled with lovely rides inspired by Dr Seuss books and enjoyed by us all, we came across a bakery selling the most amazing-looking cakes, biscuits and sweets guaranteed to tantalise the tastebuds.  Some of them were gluten-free, but none of the them catered for those with more complex allergies like G and M and we left empty-handed.  I had toyed with the idea of eating dinner in one of the restaurants at Citywalk, but again, of the 4 I had contacted ahead of our visit, only 1 came back to confirm they could probably cater for M’s food needs.  Maybe we’d been spoilt by our experiences in Disney, but Universal was a real disappointment and if it hadn’t been for our prepaid and booked Character breakfast for our second day there, I doubt we’d have bothered going back.

G & M’s Top Disney Picks

Having written my last blog post, I asked G and M to name their favourite meal whilst we were at Disneyworld.  It came as no surprise to me that neither could narrow it down to just one meal, so instead they each listed their top 3 (which were exactly the same) and I thought I’d share them with you.

Afternoon tea at Citricio’s Lounge – Grand Floridian

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Our afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian was a surprise for my Mum, who is celebrating a special birthday in September and was one that the children and I had successfully kept from her for months.  We arrived at the hotel via monorail from the Magic Kingdom and it was only when I suggested we got off there that my Mum had any idea of what was going on.  The children both opted to have the “Mrs Potts Tea” and were treated to 3 tapioca rolls filled with turkey, ham and strawberry jam, followed by a small plate filled with a variety of allergy-friendly cookies and fresh fruit.  M chose to have apple juice to drink, whilst G had water and both were served from their own individual tea-pots, which they loved and took the chance to pour more to drink at every opportunity.  We were well looked after by Chris, the on-duty manager and David, our waiter and the children both rated this as their most favourite meal of all.

20140818_143459Mickey waffles – Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), The Mara (Jambo House) and Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Resort)

We didn’t order these for our first breakfast at Disney, but instead waited until the character breakfast we’d booked at Tusker House.  Chef Renee confirmed that they were gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and only contained a small amount of potato starch.  The kids were over-the-moon to be given the opportunity to eat such a treat and I don’t think I’ve ever seen M consume so much for his breakfast.  They ate these marvellous Mickey waffles with lashings of maple syrup and strips of crispy bacon.  Elsewhere they were also given fresh berries to enjoy alongside them.  I know G liked them, despite her assertions the other day that perhaps they weren’t in her top 3: after all, repeated requests for seconds and 1 breakfast of 5 Mickey waffles would seem to disapprove her statement!

Hoop-dee-doo Musical Revue – Wilderness Lodge

hoop dee doThis was my wildcard dinner reservation, but one I’m really glad I booked as both children had a brilliant time and loved every minute of the meal.  This is a dinner show, where the audience is entertained by the antics and songs of the 6 performers both on stage and with some audience participation, whilst enjoying an all-you-can eat dinner of fried chicken, BBQ ribs, green salad, baked beans, mashed potato, corn and cornbread.  M and G were treated to plates overflowing with food, including grilled chicken, ribs, corn, tapioca rolls and a baked potato for G.  Instead of the strawberry shortcake offered for dessert, they were given coconut ice-cream, strawberries and allergy-friendly chocolate cookies.  Not only was the food delicious, but they clapped and cheered along with the show and took the opportunity to play the washboard and dance around the dining room.

 

The Triumph of Disneyworld

jamboWe were off to a great start, thanks to the fantastic Virgin team and the successful delivery of my on-line grocery order thanks to gardengrocer.com.  Not willing to leave anything to chance that first day, I had booked dinner at our hotel for the evening of arrival rather than facing the challenge of finding somewhere to feed M and G safely whilst struggling with jet-lag.  I had left it a little late to book and we ended up with a table in the delightful Jiko restaurant at  Jambo House, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not my first choice for our first evening as  I was afraid we wouldn’t enjoy the delicious menu as much as we could when we were slightly less travel-weary, but needs must and I looked forward to seeing what exactly was on offer for M.

No words are going to be able to adequately express just how amazing that first meal at    Disney was.  I am so used to restaurants struggling to come up with a complete meal for M when we eat out in the UK, that I fully expected to encounter similar problems at WDW.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Our server knew about M and G’s allergies and quickly     requested that Chef Tom came to the table to discuss what he could prepare for their       dinner.  SAM_1906He was happy to cook any meat or fish that they wanted and suggested what sides could be safely offered too.  Despite not having sweet potatoes in the restaurant, he went to the other hotel restaurant to find out if their sweet potato fries would be safe for M or not and, when the answer was sadly no, prepared a beautiful dish of plain rice, seared scallops, carrots and green beans for him instead.  Both children enjoyed their meals and fell asleep at the table as soon as they had finished their main courses, before dessert became an issue.

excellenceWhat’s even better is that this experience was not a one-off.  As promised, every booking at Disney was annotated with their food allergies and as soon as we were seated, the serving staff were made aware that we would need to speak to the chef.  During our 2 weeks, G and M enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners unlike any they’ve eaten out in the UK.  We tried a variety of restaurants across the 4 Disney parks and the numerous resort hotels and had equal success everywhere.  Even the counter service restaurants had allergy information to hand and managers who knew exactly what would be safe for both children to eat.  There was no skimping on meals and they were able to enjoy puddings almost everywhere too.

My thanks go to the fantastic staff at WDW – Chefs Tom, Renee, Ricardo, David, Dave, Duane & Brian and serving staff Jamal, Sheldon, Chris and David as well as the others whose names I forgot to note down

the brilliant restaurants – Jiko (Jambo House), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Coral Reef (Epcot), Cosmic Rays (Magic Kingdom), Mexico (Epcot), Fulton Crabhouse (Downtown Disney), Mara (Jambo House), Raglan Road Irish Pub (Downtown Disney), Citricios (Grand Floridian), Hoop-dee-doo (Wilderness Lodge), Backlot Express (Hollywood Studios), Fairfax Fare (Hollywood Studios), Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Hotel), Sunshine Seasons (Epcot) and the many others we never got round to trying

and to Disney itself for the huge efforts it has made to welcome those with food allergies to its resorts and to make their stay as special as it can possibly be.

It truly is a magical place and one we will definitely be planning to revisit in the future.

Eating out on holiday

allergymenuOne of my anxieties about travelling abroad with M surrounds the prospect of feeding him safely whilst away from home.  The long list of foods we now need to avoid make it challenging enough to go out for meals when at home and we inevitably have to make a small compromise somewhere along the line, with our fingers tightly crossed that the fall-out isn’t too major.  Whilst we often choose to holiday somewhere where we can either cook or eat out, a holiday spent cooking is not really my idea of a break.  This time around, however, we decided to avoid any form of self-catering and so I gave myself the job of finding safe places for us to eat.

Now, I can’t speak for all the WDW resorts around the world, but I can wax lyrical about the Walt Disney World resort in Florida.  My starting point was at the WDW website, where I discovered that the resort is keen to meet any special dietary needs that its guests might have and encourages visitors to book ahead and let the restaurants know what foods they need to avoid.  I gave them a call and chatted through M’s food requirements and was reassured that, as soon as I knew where we wanted to eat, then they could append a note to our booking to state all of M’s current food allergies.  Mike and I spent hours reading restaurant menus and looking for reviews of the allergy-friendly offerings that are available. I discovered the brilliant blog, Gluten Free & Dairy Free at WDW and soon became very excited about what we might be able to get for M to enjoy.

WDWThe 180-day mark arrived, the point at which we could start to make ADRs (Advance Dinner Reservations for the uninitiated amongst you) and I hopped on-line to make as many of the bookings we had chosen as possible.  The system was delightfully easy to use and I was able to make note of all our dietary needs without hassle.  One of the many experiences we wanted to treat the children to was a dinner show, something we hadn’t enjoyed since our last Disneyland Paris trip, pre-diagnosis and multiple food allergies.  We’d settled on the Hoop-de-doo musical review, but I was anxious to confirm that they could cope with M’s allergies as this is a set menu and there were several things on it that he just can’t eat. Rather than risking confusion through an on-line reservation, I called the WDW call centre and spoke to a lovely lady who was amazingly helpful.  She made a note of the allergies and reassured me that there would be no problem in meeting these needs at the dinner show.

Booking made, she then also checked all of our other reservations to confirm that my notes were clear and talked me through the process of ensuring that M eats safely at any and all of the WDW restaurants.  Upon arrival, we should find that the table will have some kind of allergy marker on it to make it clear to all waiting and serving staff that we have special dietary needs.  The chef will then come out to talk through what is and isn’t safe on the menu, point out any safe foods at the buffet (if relevant) and finally will discuss whether we would prefer them to prepare something fresh and. if necessary, off menu to give us all the most reassurance about what M and G will be eating.

mickeywafflesAt no point did I feel that my questions and requirements were a problem and I felt 100% reassured that WDW would be working hard to make sure that M and G have the best holiday food experience whilst we’re there.  M is looking forward to being able to eat “proper” burgers, something he hasn’t been able to enjoy away from home for an awfully long time, whilst G is just keen to try any gluten- and dairy-free desserts that might be on offer.  Mike and I are most excited about seeing their faces at our first breakfast, when we will be able to order them a plate each of Mickey waffles, something that they both love the idea of, but have never been able to order before.