Tag Archives: pizza

Eating Out with Allergies in London

I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.

Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G  is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,

Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.

No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.

We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!

We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.

Pizza and Ballet

One of the Christmas presents we were treated to this year was family tickets to go and see Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at the Bristol Hippodrome. We have only been to a couple of ballets with the children over the years despite our love of the theatre and my Mum was keen for us to experience this unconventional retelling of this classic ballet. Of course, no family evening out can start without dinner out too and this time round, partly as we were later arriving in Bristol than we’d originally planned and partly because, well, why not, we decided to veer away from our known safe restaurants and look for somewhere new to try.

It’s always a challenge when eating out with G and M because of their dietary needs, but our decision over the last 18 months or so to relax M’s restrictions on high days and holidays in order to find a better quality of life and balance for him means that on occasions like this, we’re able to eat in places where we’re confident he can choose safe ingredients to make a tasty meal. We know that there are a number of restaurants near to Bristol Hippodrome from Pizza Express to Wagamama, so I made the suggestion that we wandered up Park Street to see what else might be available, with our end target being Pizza Express if nothing else seemed to suit.

About halfway up the hill, we stumbled across the marvellous Molto Buono restaurant and, spotting gluten-free pizza bases on the menu, decided to stop there and see how their food measured up to the children’s somewhat exacting standards. It didn’t take too long for G and M to decide what they wanted to eat and were delighted to discover that as well as gluten-free pizza bases, the restaurant also had vegan mozzarella available as a topping. Much to my surprise, G opted for the GF Marinara pizza – tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano – and M chose the GF Diavola – tomato, salami and vegan mozzarella. Mike joined them in trying one of handmade pizzas, whilst I settled on a pesto pasta. The dishes that arrived looked amazing and tasted even better with portion sizes that satisfied even the voracious appetite of the youngest member of our family. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this restaurant – excellent food, prepared simply, served quickly and all at a great price.

Fully satisfied by our meal and with more than enough time to meander our way back towards the theatre, our evening had started in fine fashion. We all then sat enthralled for the next couple of hours as the story of Swan Lake unfolded before us. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation brings a more modern-day twist to the tale and replaces the well-known Dance of the Cygnets with an incredible male troupe of swans instead. The dancing was incredible and brought real inspiration to both G and M as they watched it in absolute awe, something that should never be under-estimated as M had expressed his concerns about watching a ballet – “…there are no words to explain what’s going on, so how do you know the story-line..?” before it even began.

I think we would all heartily recommend seeing this production, though it turns out that I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to the setting, much preferring the classic portrayal of the Swan Lake tragic love story. It was fascinating to talk to G and M about their thoughts on the production, with M uncertain as to whether the second half was a dream or not and both expressing the view that the role of the Swan/Stranger represented the 2 sides oft he Prince’s psyche. This was a performance that really challenged everything we knew and expected of a ballet and was a truly amazing experience. Despite my hesitations about some parts of this version, I am fascinated to see how Matthew Bourne has adapted and updated other ballets and hope to be able to see another of his productions soon.

Perfect Pizza

20140721_174621Today a parcel arrived for me.  To say I was excited by its delivery is something of an understatement as the contents of this parcel meant that M had only one request for tea – pizza.  At the Allergy show a couple of weeks ago we discovered the wonders of Mozzarisella cheese, a cheese made from germinated brown rice and which is therefore 100% safe for M.  I recently perfected a M-friendly pizza base recipe too, so this proved to be the ideal opportunity to put these magical ingredients together and taste the final result.

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s quick and easy to make and both the kids love choosing and adding their toppings to the pizza base.  I mixed up the pizza dough, rolled out the bases and then let M and G loose in the kitchen.  Today’s toppings were fairly simple, G chose ham, sweetcorn and grated Ewe’s milk cheese, whilst M settled on ham, sweetcorn, olives and slices of the mozzarisella.  He braved a taste of the cheese before it was cooked, but decided it was too slimy to enjoy “raw”.

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Fifteen minutes later and this was the final result.  The pizzas smelled amazing and both children tucked in.  The mozzrisella cheese got a big double thumbs up from M, so I know it must have been good and he’s asked for the leftovers in his lunchbox tomorrow.  All in all a resounding success and a recipe I’d definitely recommend to anyone.

 

School trip!

WOW!  Haven’t things changed since we were young?  Way back when, I remember the school trips from my Junior school years.  They always seemed to be to places of historical importance or museums and not necessarily to the places my friends and I would have chosen for a day off school.  As I got older, the trips involved a little more travel and even, very, very occasionally, a theatre trip, or suchlike, that required additional financial input from willing parents.  These days school trips appear to have changed dramatically or, at least, that appears to be the case this term for my pair.  They appear to be far more exciting than any school day out that I remember.

M’ school trip happened a couple of weeks ago and, as it fell on a day I didn’t have to work, I tagged along for the ride.  The day itself was grey, wet and miserable, but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the 27 7- and 8-year olds going out for the trip.  We clambered aboard the bus and off we set, amongst much discussion of just how long it would take for us to reach our destination.  Fortunately, a mere 20 minutes later we arrived, disembarked and were ready for the next 2 hours.  Our location? Pizza Express!

Last year, Pizza Express teamed up with the Children’s Food Trust to encourage children to get cooking.  They offer free visits to schools, where the classes are taught about the provenance of the food they eat, learn basic health and safety in the kitchen and have the opportunity to make their own pizza to enjoy.  What was even better, from my point of view at least, is that Pizza Express offers an excellent experience for food-allergy sufferers, which meant that M was able to participate fully on the day itself.

They started with a tour of the kitchens and a quick step into the enormous fridges – if they dared.  We saw the pizza ovens, where we were told that a pizza takes no more than 4 minutes to cook, which certainly left us adults scratching our heads and wondering quite why it takes so much longer when you’re waiting at your table!  This was followed by a food-based quiz, where 1 of M’s classmates impressed me by being able to identify oregano just from a photo and the children were able to taste, if they wanted, some of the ingredients they would be using later.  Next, the pizza chef on site prepared from scratch one of the most popular pizzas, cooked it and offered a slice to everyone there.

Finally, as every child was now nearly at bursting point, they were sent to wash their hands thoroughly before starting to prepare their pizzas.  An impressive array of ingredients was set out on the tables, enough to satisfy even the most picky of eaters, without overwhelming them with choice.  Pizza bases were passed along the lines and the restaurant manager made certain that M’s gluten-free base was on its own tray to avoid the risk of any cross-contamination.  M was given his own spoon and first go at the tomato sauce, so I was confident that his pizza would remain “safe”.

Every Pizza Express restaurant has a reference folder which shows every ingredient used in their recipes and indicates what allergens each contains.  I was confident that the pepperoni provided was M-friendly, but it was fantastic to be able to check so easily and without fuss.  I had prepared some slices of our newly discovered Violife cheese too, which meant M could finally have a pizza with cheese, rather than without which has so often been the case.  M stood happily with his friends, laughing and chatting as they each designed their idea of the perfect pizza.

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Once the pizzas were made, including those of all the teaching staff and parent helpers present, they were popped into the massive ovens to bake.  As soon as they were ready, they were placed into individual takeaway boxes for transporting back to school and each box carefully labelled with each child’s name.  All the hard work done, it was back to the coach and to school, ready for a pizza lunch.

It was great morning out and once again my heartfelt thanks go to Pizza Express for ensuring it was an experience that M could share in too, despite the multiple food allergies.  Not only do they provide great ingredients and plenty of allergen information, but they are clearly conscious of the risks of cross-contamination for food-allergy sufferers and work hard to ensure those are minimised as much as possible.  I was impressed with the birthday party we had there for G and equally so that time and care was taken to make sure that this school trip was 100% successful too.  I have no idea what trip is planned next, but I suspect it will take a lot to beat this one!

In memoriam

Why is it that, as soon as you find a particular product or brand that meets your needs and that everyone enjoys, it gets discontinued?

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I’ve experienced this many times in my life from a favourite pair of shoes to G’s blanket, but none of these has been as frustrating as the disappearance of foods that not only taste good, but are also M-friendly.  It’s a hard enough challenge to feed M and G at the best of times, but when facing the prospect of losing a product purely on the whim of a supermarket, it really takes the proverbial (M-friendly) biscuit.

The latest item to disappear from the local shelves has been Tesco’s frozen free-from pizza bases.  These have been a godsend to us as they have been the only pizza bases I have found that are not just wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free, but are egg-free also.  I only discovered them around 8 or 9 months ago, but they were a welcome addition to our monthly groceries.  M enjoyed feeling “normal” again – as normal as you can be when your pizzas can no longer be covered with cheese – and all was well, for a short time at least.  Fast forward 7 months, a quick trip to Tesco to stock up and not only were the shelves bare, but there was not even a hint that these bases had ever existed outside of my very own over-active imagination.

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I have been assured by Tesco that this product is still in their free-from range, but sadly my local stores disagree.  It may just be that it didn’t sell enough for them to continue to stock it, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere within a reasonable radius of our house.  Well, it was a great 7 months whilst it lasted.  Thanks Tesco for bringing such joy to our household; and for then snatching it away without a moment’s notice.  I’m back to perfecting my own pizza base recipe, but have lost the opportunity of deciding to have pizza for lunch and having it ready 20 minutes later.

This hasn’t been the first food to disappear without warning from our lives and I doubt it will be the last.  I understand that supermarkets are focussed on their profit margins and that our dietary needs are out of the ordinary, but I am left frustrated when something that is, for us, life-changing, vanishes.

Of course, sometimes there can be a way round the missing item.  It is possible to order a far wider selection of M-friendly foods from on-line shops than I will ever be able to find in my local supermarket, but then I am hit by higher prices as the retailer is dealing with a captive market.  Once you add on postage costs and allow for delivery time, you’re back to a scenario that involves a lot of planning and little spontaneity.  I’ve even encountered an on-line retailer who requires me to order a minimum of 6 refrigerated items to make it cost-effective for them and I understand that, really I do; but seriously, who needs 6 everything-free cheeses when really you just want one to try?

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So, this post is in memoriam of those wonderful treats that are now gone, but not forgotten: the pizza bases, the sausages, 2 types of mayonnaise and the list goes on.

And, if anyone has a recipe for the perfect everything-free pizza base, or even an everything-free mayonnaise, please let me know!