Tag Archives: home cooking

Birthday Wishes

Turns out that October 15 is a popular day for birthdays. Old school friends, work colleagues and even M’s adored Godmother, but we’re celebrating a special day a lot closer to home. Cue Friday night celebratory meals, Saturday evening at the theatre and a Sunday afternoon spent baking a batch of M-friendly Chocolate mayonnaise cupcakes all to mark this occasion.

So, what more needs to be said other than Happy Birthday to our favourite husband and Dad!

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Finding Gromits and Owls

Summer feels like something of a distant memory now and, I have to be honest, it passed in something of a whirlwind once again. As the children get older, we seem to squeeze more and more into every spare minute we can find, creating precious memories that I hope will last a lifetime. This year we had the added bonus of exploring just how to make the most of having introduced bananas into M’s diet as well as pushing the limits with a few more trials along the way too.

Our summer plans were originally to stay close to home, with my Mum helping out by looking after G and M for much of the time whilst Mike and I both worked. Things changed just after Easter and we found ourselves having to bring forward our plans for a Christmas trip to Canada and head back in the summer instead. However, between the end of the school year and our long-haul flight to Toronto, G and M took part in a rowing course and touch-typing course respectively and we also managed to find the time to head to the beautiful cities of Bristol and Bath for a day in each to explore their summer art trails – Gromit Unleashed 2 and Minerva’s Owls. We’ve enjoyed taking part in an incredible variety of sculpture trails over the years, including the Shaun in the City trail in 2015, so it was great to be able to dip into these 2 challenges, although M in particular was disappointed that we didn’t have time to find all of the sculptures that formed part of the trails.

The glorious weather made it a real pleasure to spend time outside on our feet, though M might disagree with me after our very hot day in Bath, where we had to resort to searching out a supermarket to find some allergy-friendly ice-cream and ice lollies to cool us all down. Food-wise, we enjoyed both eating dinner out at our all-time favourite, Wagamama and an idyllic picnic lunch catered by Marks and Spencer. One evening M even commented that it was just like being back in Syros because he was happily walking through the city in the evening wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All in all, those first couple of weeks of our summer were busy, but amazing and a great start to what the rest of the holiday would bring.

Bananas’ Best Bits

One of the nicest things about adding some new foods to M’s limited list, other than the obvious of…well, you know, the addition of new foods to a highly restricted diet…is that just 3 new ingredients have added a huge number of new recipes for him to enjoy. Each one has brought something different to the cookery table, but the best one in many ways, or so M would have you believe, is the mighty banana. I first started playing with recipes back in March for M’s birthday, when I adapted an old favourite to bake a banana bread birthday cake with reasonable success. M wasn’t impressed by what he felt was an overwhelming flavour of nutmeg, so the recipe has had a few more tweaks to reach what is, by M’s exacting standards, almost complete perfection. It’s no exaggeration to say that the introduction of a 3rd fruit has been a game-changer in our household and so I thought I’d share the best bits about bananas with you all:

Banana Bread – it’s never easy to find recipes that can be adapted, and adapted well, to suit M’s restricted diet and these days vegan recipes are almost always my automatic go-to starter for 10. I found a wonderful vegan banana bread recipe on the BBC Good Food website and it took just a few subtle tweaks to turn it into a tasty, gluten-free, M-friendly baked treat that has been a big teatime hit. The latest twist has been to add some dairy- and soya-free chocolate chips to the dough, which makes the cake taste even more indulgent and a welcome addition to his daily packed lunch for school.

Banana & Chocolate Chip cookies – so often my recipes are a response to an unexpected need and these cookies are no different. One of M’s English lessons recently revolved around a tale of children stealing cookies from the staff office and his tutor group were given the opportunity to re-enact the story during a lesson. M came home from school very upset that he hadn’t been chosen to be one of these wannabe thieves and felt excluded because he knew he wouldn’t be able to share eating the cookies once they had successfully been taken. Fortunately, a quick call to the Head of Year 7 and an even quicker Google search found this wonderful recipe, which again required just a few tweaks to make a batch of M-friendly cookies that could be smuggled out of the school office alongside the ones for the rest of his class.

Banana, Apple & Lime Smoothie – one of M’s most precious possessions at the moment is the Nutribullet and Smoothies recipe book that my Aunt has given him as a memory of my Uncle. M feels even closer to him as he peruses the different recipes, trying to work out which he can safely make and enjoy and smoothies have quickly become a staple of his everyday diet. It’s even given him a great vehicle to trial raspberries as a handful added to the fruit mix works a treat. Despite his regular reluctance to get up and get ready for school, M can frequently be found whipping up a smoothie as an alternative to a more normal breakfast and he happily drinks it as he and G walk to school each morning. For a child who has always struggled with what to eat first thing in the day, these smoothies have been a real success story and a welcome break from the stresses that have all too often been a constant part of our morning routine.

 

Quick summer catch-up

So the last 6 weeks or so have been filled with these moments and memories. Lots of posts to follow to catch up on all that we’ve been up to.

Living the Good Life

Are you more “Tom and Barbara” or “Jerry and Margot” when it comes to your approach to life? There’s no way I could let a reference to this unforgettable 70s British sitcom pass without a gentle nod in their direction, but my blog post is actually all about our exceptional retreat in Syros during our recent Greek holiday. Somewhere that embraces the self-sufficient lifestyle of the Goods and yet provides an experience that even the pickiest Leadbetter would struggle to complain about.

The Good Life Greece is owned by the charming and laid-back Nick, who, despite having called Greece his home since 2004, still speaks with a distinguishable Australian accent and, with the help of his sons also set up a number of small businesses in Athens, including our base whilst we were there, the Athens Studios. Escaping the noise and busyness of the capital city, the Syros villas match the peaceful beauty of their location and gave us a chance to recharge our batteries whilst embracing the simplicity of Greek island life.

Our home for the week was the idyllic Balance villa, a traditional stone house surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Carefully designed to be sustainable and eco-friendly, the villa was simple with an understated luxury that we all enjoyed. The children were welcome to pick vegetables, hunt for eggs and harvest the figs on the nearby trees; and enjoyed every moment as they explored the grounds around the villa. With 2 bedrooms, a kitchen I’d love to have at home, bathroom and spacious living/dining area complete with TV and DVD player, there was more than enough space to house us all without risk of getting in each other’s way. A beautiful stone patio circled 2 sides of the house with amazing sea views, which we enjoyed on our quiet Sunday “at home” when we spent the day playing card games, listening to music and soaking up the sun in absolute peace.

Before we arrived on Syros, Nick and I had exchanged a couple of emails and I gratefully accepted his offer of a pack of local foods to welcome us to the island. I was so delighted by this decision when we discovered the wonderful array of goodies that filled the fridge and pantry. Fresh fruit and vegetables, goats’ cheese, yoghurt and milk for G, local sausage, cooked meals and chicken kebabs for M as well as eggs, fresh bread and, most importantly, local beer and wine gave us everything we needed for the first few days. Nick also hosted a wine-tasting evening mid-week, where he introduced us to a number of fantastic Greek wines accompanied by a spread of delicious local foods. We met our Dutch next-door neighbours, whose 11 year-old son quickly became great friends with both M and G as well as a willing partner-in-crime!

We loved every moment of our holiday on Syros and would go back in a heartbeat. I am particularly tempted by the thought of a Christmas spent there and, who knows, maybe we’ll make it back before too long.

Marks out of 10: 10/10 without hesitation

Supporting our favourite Foodpreneur

Every now and then you stumble across something wonderful that makes an unbelievable difference to your life or that of those around you. Since I uncovered this brand at the Free From Food Awards 2016, I’ve not hesitated to sing the praises of this particular allergy superhero from the proverbial rooftop and finding myself in the position to do this once again, I’ve not hesitated in lending my voice in support. The best thing about this particular discovery is that M’s superhero has become a firm family friend in the 18 months since our first conversation and for all the right reasons. Not only did he lovingly create sweet treats that went beyond the wildest dreams of M and G and were deliciously safe for them both, he has also sent messages of love and support, not just when M broke his leg last year, but as he prepped for his SATS this year too.

Up until a month ago, I’d never even heard of the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur 2017 competition, but I’m now eagerly waiting for the final results with fingers and toes tightly crossed for our favourite foodpreneur: the awesome Ryan, from Borough 22 doughnuts. The competition looks to recognise and celebrate UK-based food and drink startups, with the winner being offered mentoring from industry experts as well as a 6 weeks selling opportunity through joint sponsors, intu, who own shopping centres across the UK. From the hundreds of entries received, 15 were shortlisted for the first stage of the competition, where each startup were invited to give a 3-minute presentation about their business, why they started it and the direction they’re hoping to take it in the future. From a home-delivery wine service to vegetable- and fruit-infused water and vegetarian hot dogs to hand-crafted chocolates, there’s a lot of delicious options to choose from.

I was delighted to learn this week that Ryan has moved on to the next stage and is one of 8 semi-finalists, who will receive a week’s worth of pop-up shop space at one of nationwide intu’s shopping centres to introduce their wares to a new audience. Ryan has been given a kiosk at the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex and will be working 12-hour days, 10am to 10pm, from this Friday, June 30th to July 7th. If you’re in the area and able to stop by to see Ryan, taste his amazing doughnuts and show him some support, I know you won’t be disappointed with his fantastic freefrom ware.

And don’t forget to tell him that M sent you!

Rediscovering Mozzarisella

Three years ago, as this post reveals, I discovered Mozzarisella at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show, which was received with mixed success by my discerning youngest foodie. M enjoyed the flavour when it was added as a topping to his pizza, but he was less certain by its slimy texture and whilst that first block bought was eaten, we didn’t bother buying it again. However, as we head into the third year of M’s heavily restricted diet, he’s become more keen to explore any food that can be considered safe for him to enjoy and has been asking for a retry of this rice-based cheese.

I honestly can’t remember if the range of cheeses was as extensive then as it is now, but I was impressed to discover 6 varieties of Mozzarisella and whilst they can’t all be considered safe for M, there was enough choice for me to pick 3 I thought might make a difference to mealtimes – the original mozzarella-style, the cheddar-style slices and cheese slices with basil. I didn’t tell him I’d ordered the cheeses until the day they arrived in the post and it seemed a sign of success when the parcel reached us on his birthday. He was so excited to unpack the box, treating it very much as an additional and unexpected birthday present, and struggled to decide which type to try first. At the end of the day, it really didn’t matter as all 3 of those choices were a big hit and the sliminess appeared to no longer be an issue.

M’s mealtimes have really been revolutionised, from being able to have “cheese sandwiches” (rice-cakes and mozzarisella cheese slices) in his school lunchbox to cheesy pasta for dinner and we have made a huge stride forwards to him feeling that his meals are a lot more like those of his friends. I’ve just placed another order for more cheese at the great Veggiestuff website and have decided to put their cream cheese alternative to the test too. It might seem like only a small thing to many, but rediscovering Mozzarisella at this point in time has proved a much-needed boost to his flagging spirits, now I just need to revisit and reinvent pizza for him too!

I scream…

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Judging table

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

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

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

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Top Chips!

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

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

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

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

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

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