Tag Archives: review

Hard Rock Cafe, Lisboa

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

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

IMG_0932[1]        IMG_0934[1]

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

A perfect meal for a little rock star!

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Any plans for the weekend?

We’ve got a weekend in London ahead of us and, being our usual optimistic selves, have planned a whole host of activities to keep us busy at every interval. Thanks to remarkable coincidence, we are able to combine 2 opportunities that have come our way and I’m hoping that Sunday evening will see us back home, exhausted, but also exhilarated by our experiences.

Allergy_Olympia_Logo_2Last year we decided somewhat reluctantly not to make our annual pilgrimage to the Allergy & Free From Show in London as M was in the midst of being tube-fed and had, at that point, only 4 safe foods in hand. Whilst I would have loved the opportunity to explore the offerings we’ve found at these shows in the past, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was more than M would be able to cope with and I wasn’t prepared to put him into what was bound to be an emotion-filled, stressful situation. G and I did toy with the idea of going without the boys, but other events came along and we enjoyed a weekend at home instead. To my surprise, M was incredibly disappointed not to go and was insistent that when this year’s show rolled around, he wanted to attend and was as keen as we have been before. At the start of this year, Mike and I discussed whether we really would go, talked it over at length with M and finally took the plunge and got our tickets for this Saturday. Over this past week or so, M and I have been looking at the businesses that will have stalls in Olympia when the show opens on Friday and he’s already made a note of a few he wants to visit. As I have become more active in the allergy community over the last 12 months or so, especially through friendships built at the FreeFrom Food Awards in February, we are all looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces during our visit. This show is an amazing event and one that I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies, or indeed following a vegan lifestyle. You can still get tickets to attend by clicking on this link and the show will be there until Sunday.

GOSH-logoSunday brings a different opportunity and an exciting one for G. When M and I took part in this year’s PLACE assessment at GOSH, I met and got chatting to Fiona Jones, the Children and Young people’s Participation officer at the hospital. One of her roles is to promote the GOSH YPF, or Young People’s Forum, something I had never heard about before, but was interested and keen to find out more. The YPF is for patients, ex-patients or siblings of patients at GOSH who are aged between 11-25 years old and who are interested in expressing their opinions about how GOSH can best support its teenage patients as well as being involved in projects that will help make the hospital experience a positive one for patients and their families. Unfortunately, M is too young to become a YPF member just yet, but Fiona asked if I thought G would like to become involved and I promised to ask her as soon as I could. To my delight, G was excited to be asked to join the GOSH YPF and is looking forward to attending her very first meeting on Sunday. focus-groupBoth children have already been lending a hand by trialling and reviewing an on-line project called Digital Badges, something they have really enjoyed trying out over the last 2 months or so, especially giving their feedback on how this project worked. G will spend her day with this group on Sunday at GOSH, whilst Mike, M and I explore the nearby British Museum and their Sutton Hoo exhibit and I can’t wait to hear all about it during our return journey.

The right PLACE for an opinion

Finally, it’s happened. Finally, I’ve found a place where my opinion matters. In fact it did more than matter, it was requested, recorded and appreciated too and, what’s more, it wasn’t just my opinion that counted that day, but M’s as well and that meant the world to him, and to me.

5729994426_7fbcf8798aAt the start of 2016, not long after we had returned home from M’s December admission, I spotted an opportunity for M and me to volunteer our time to be assessors for the annual PLACE assessment at GOSH. If you’ve never heard of PLACE before, then you’re not on your own as it was also a completely new thing to me, but I loved the idea of being able to give something back to the hospital that has become the focus of the last 5 years of our life in any way we could. To my delight, M and I were both accepted as volunteers and it was then a case of waiting for the crucial email inviting us to the assessment day to arrive. When that email did eventually appear in my inbox, the day was set for early April, which coincided perfectly with school holidays and my day off work – a real win-win situation for us. M and I chatted about what the day would involve and even the unexpected turn of events that resulted in M’s broken leg didn’t stop us as Tammy, the helpful Facilities Manager and PLACE co-ordinator, reassured me that we could still take part, broken limb and all.

PLACE stands for “Patient Led Assessments of the Care Environment” and, to be honest, does exactly what it says on the tin – invites patients and others closely connected to GOSH to assess different areas of the hospital according to a specific list of criteria. Upon arrival we were well-briefed on what was required, including the 5 key areas we would be focusing on: cleanliness; condition, appearance and maintenance; privacy, dignity and well-being; food; and, ironically, a new area for 2016 and one that M was best suited for, disability. We were split into a number of teams with between 3 and 4 patient assessors and a staff facilitator in each, and each team was allocated 2 wards and either a public (or communal area), an external area or an outpatients department to inspect. M and I had discussed the ward options at length ahead of time and despite M’s initial yearning to visit Rainforest, we agreed that our opinions of Rainforest and Kingfisher wards, both of which we have stayed on in the past, would be coloured by our previous experiences and wouldn’t be as unbiased as the PLACE assessment required. I asked if we could perhaps visit one of the newer wards in the hospital as it would be vastly different from our usual haunts and was delighted when that request was met.

focus-on-the-system-theory-y

Our facilitator was the lovely Mark, who had already promised M that he would try to lead our group and would take him in the biggest lift in the hospital – which we did and saw so much more of the hospital that I’ve ever seen before. Everything settled, we headed into the main Reception, our public area, and started looking at the different things and criteria we needed to consider to complete our assessment, from fire extinguishers to hand-gel dispensers and everything conceivable in-between. Once we had finished there, we headed onto our first ward in one of the newer wings of GOSH, where, having completed our assessment of the ward itself, we observed the lunch service before tasting the food for ourselves. Our final stop was back in the oldest part of the hospital, where Rainforest ward can also be found, and what must be one of the smallest wards at GOSH. The contrast between the 2 wards was hugely noticeable and it was fascinating to learn more about the proposed improvements to the hospital over the next 5 years or so. It didn’t seem like a particularly long or overly active day, but by the time we had finished with everything we needed to do and had headed back to the Lagoon to collate our scores and add any further comments, M was completely exhausted. His enthusiastic participation in giving his own opinions and insights into what he could see so soon after breaking his leg tired him out to the extent that he fell asleep in his wheelchair and was completely oblivious to the activity and hubbub surrounding him for the next hour or so.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our experience on the day and M was delighted to discover once he woke back up that an invitation to attend next year’s assessment had been extended to him and that G had been added to the task-force too. I can’t reveal too much about what our findings were until the results are published, but I will say that we did find a problem with the disabled toilet in the main reception area. We were surprised to discover that it wasn’t really big enough to accommodate M, his wheelchair, his extended leg and me and that we didn’t have the space to manoeuvre him from chair to toilet once we locked the cubicle door. It appears that M’s broken leg came in handy on that day, though I’ve no intention in offering a similar expertise to next year’s PLACE assessment day! Since then, M and I have found ourselves sitting in the fracture clinic at our local hospital assessing what we can see surround3-tips-to-improve-the-way-you-write-Web-Contenting us, just as if we were in the midst of another inspection. What’s more, as often comes of these things, some more opportunities for both children to be involved in an ongoing capacity with developments at GOSH came out of that day which is really exciting, but that, as they say, is another story.

Do you know LimbO?

IMG_0391[1]You might think that the possibility that a full leg cast would prevent regular bathing would bring joy to the heart of any small boy and, as far as my 10 year-old is concerned, you wouldn’t be far wrong. He spent the first night back at home pouring over the “How to look after your cast” leaflet that had been given to us on discharge and, having inwardly digested all the salient facts, made his opinions on the matter quite clear:

Mummy, it says right here that you absolutely must not get the cast wet, so I’m just not going to be able to have a bath or a shower until it comes off!”

before leaning back with a satisfied look on his face. I swiftly pointed out that, given his leg could be encased in plaster for anywhere up to 12 weeks all told, he would soon become very stinky, which caused many giggles before his face got serious once again and he reiterated that the instructions on the leaflet simply had to be followed:

They say I can’t get it wet and how exactly am I going to wash without getting my cast wet?”

Well, you wouldn't want to ruin this rather spectacular cast by *just* having a bath, would you?!

Well, you wouldn’t want to ruin this rather spectacular cast by *just* having a bath, would you?!

I’m not sure if he thought it likely that this Mummy was going to agree to spending 12 weeks in close proximity to a child living in a bath-free zone, especially given we’re currently sharing my bed whilst Mike has been banished to G’s room and G has taken up residence in M’s cabin bed; but I quickly disillusioned him and put him straight. Fortunately, or I suppose unfortunately if you look at it from M’s point of view, there is a fantastic product which solves that very problem for all those clean-freak mothers out there, the LimbO.

Six years ago when we experienced our first broken appendage with M – left arm with 2 breaks to the elbow and 2 to the wrist – we puzzled over how to keep his arm dry when near water. It was not so much that he couldn’t keep his left arm out of the bath water, but more that I doubted my active 4 year-old would remember to do so, let alone the problems of a hot summer and the desire to keep cool by running through the garden sprinklers. I can’t quite remember who it was who first told us about the LimbO, although I’m certain that it wasn’t the hospital, something which hasn’t changed in the time between our broken bones experiences. To put it simply, the LimbO is a little like a plastic bag – made from a thickened and durable plastic, which is latex-free, and with a tight-fitting neoprene seal that means the cover completely encases the cast and protects it from water. IMG_0409[1]What is even better is that the seal means that air is trapped around the leg and it becomes self-supporting, effectively allowing the leg to float in the water without any effort on the part of the child. That was the bit the M liked best!

You can order LimbO products via their website and the step-by-step process ensures that you buy the size that will best fit the person who needs it. I was impressed with the speed of delivery too as M’s full leg protector arrived within 48hours of ordering it, meaning that his normal bath-time routine could quickly be resumed. I do wish I had spent a little more time perusing the site as I noticed after processing my order that they now also sell a range of other products designed to make having a cast that little bit easier. From outdoor weather protectors to toe cozys and Sealskinz outdoor socks, there really is something to protect the cast in every possible situation.

I don’t know why there isn’t more information readily available about this fantastic product through A&E, fracture clinics and hospitals because it is, to be frank, a complete life-saver. Anything that makes the challenges of coping with broken bones even a little bit easier is invaluable and this is one product that is definitely worth the investment.

Mark: 10/10 from us both – though M gave bonus points for the fact his leg floated when in it!

Thank goodness for TGI Fridays!

When you’re an allergy Mum, there is nothing better than finding somewhere your entire family can eat safely when you’re out and about. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen when I’m at home, tweaking recipes and continually trying to find new, tasty and interesting ways to prepare 5 safe foods for M and sometimes I just want a break from it. We have found some firm favourites amongst the chains, who have not only been able to cook M-friendly food when we were excluding just 7 – remember those days? I just about can – but have also impressed us in the last 12 months too. From old faithfuls such as Pizza Express, Giraffe and Bella Italia, to newcomers Wagamama and Jamie’s Italian, my cup quite literally runneth over! Our holiday to Cornwall last summer led to the discovery of an amazing small independent restaurant who catered for M without hesitation and made all the difference on our first holiday with a tube.

tgiWith the start of a new year, we decided to branch out and challenge yet another popular old friend, TGI Fridays. M has been reluctant to visit this restaurant since he went elemental last year and our first suggested meal out after he was discharged from GOSH fell sadly flat, when he refused to stay there because “..everyone around me will be eating chips Mummy…“. As we had not long had to stop the potato trial due to all his problems in hospital, Mike and I could totally understand and were massively impressed that, at long last, he’d been able to tell us his reasons for not wanting to stay. However, never one to be beaten by a near 10 year-old, I bided my time until we once again headed out for a small bit of sales shopping and decided to treat them to lunch as well. M’s first choice was Wagamama, but an ill-timed fire in their kitchen put pay to that idea and I tentatively suggested TGI Fridays as a potential alternative. Although only a couple more days had passed since our first attempt, M felt a little more able to challenge their menu and we set off on our brand new restaurant adventure.

The first thing on our to-do list was to advise the greeter of our allergy needs as soon as we arrived at the restaurant and asked for a table. I always do this when we eat anywhere new, even when it’s just a new location of one of our known safe restaurants, so that neither child has to go through the stress and embarrassment of discovering they can’t cater for them and having to leave the restaurant. The greeter asked the restaurant manager to come talk to us as this is TGI protocol when dealing with customers with food allergies. We explained M’s dietary requirements and he reassured that they could prepare chicken, apple and cucumber for M, though sadly not any rice as their current rice dish contains a Cajun spice mix which we haven’t trialled with him as yet. With M happy that he would be able to eat, we headed for our table, ready to peruse the choices for the rest of the family.

20160103_160912 (1)For those of you not in the know, TGI Fridays has a separate menu for allergies, which lists the lactose- and gluten-free options readily available. G was delighted to see such a selection of starters that were safe for her and begged to be allowed to try one of those as well as her main course. She opted for the BBQ houmous starter with corn tortilla chips, followed by the Bacon burger with fries from the allergy-friendly children’s menu. Having sorted our little Miss out, we’re turned our attentions to the more knotty problem of young Master M and here I have to say, TGI Fridays came into their own. The manager came to sit with us at the table, armed with a mammoth allergy information folder and cross-referenced every single menu item we were considering for both children to ensure the food would be absolutely safe. He advised us that they used separate chopping boards for the food preparation to avoid cross-contamination risks and showed an in-depth understanding of our requirements which reflected the extensive food safety courses I later found out the restaurant chain insists all their managers attend.

The only potential issue arose when we discussed what oil M’s chicken would be cooked in as the restaurant uses either olive or the more generic “vegetable” oil in their cooking. As we are still limited to rapeseed and coconut oil only, I asked if the chicken could be cooked without oil and the manager went off to see what could be done.20160103_160748 I was impressed to discover that before settling on that as an option, he had actually investigated whether they could get hold of any rapeseed oil from one of the neighbouring restaurants for M’s chicken breast, but had rejected that option when he discovered those restaurants couldn’t guarantee that there was no cross-contamination risk. Instead, the chefs prepared the chicken oil-free and the speed at which it disappeared from M’s plate is a testament to how well prepared and tasty this dish turned out to be. G’s food vanished in similarly quick fashion and Mike and I breathed a huge sigh of relief that our risky restaurant choice proved to be such a success.

*following our visit, I discovered that TGI Fridays also have an impressive allergy menu on-line, which allows you to select the foods you’re avoiding to see what choices you have. This is a great tool to give you an idea whether they can cook for you or not, but nothing beats talking to the restaurant managers themselves.

 

 

Afternoon tea at the Celtic Manor

ladies-and-redwineAt the end of last year, not long after M had been discharged from GOSH, my Aunt celebrated a milestone birthday and my Mum started talking about a trip to the Celtic Manor in Newport for a celebratory afternoon tea. Fast forward 9 months that have taken us even closer to her next birthday than the one we were actually celebrating and with Mike organised at home to do the school-run and sort the children for the day, the three of us finally managed to become “ladies who lunch” as planned. We booked a table for their Autumn Afternoon Tea at 2pm and arrived a little earlier* (*for little, read 1 hour) than necessary due to my Mum’s anxiety of being caught up in the Rugby World Cup traffic and the pressing need to arrive early, no matter where we’re going.

We spent the first 20 minutes wandering the grounds and browsing in the shops before kicking our celebrations off with a glass of prosecco and a chat until it was eventually time to venture a little further to the Olive Tree Garden Room. As a family we are now well-versed in the world of disability and additional needs due to not just EGID and multiple food allergies, but also the presence of T1D, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis amongst our members. Everywhere we go is assessed on their ability to cater for all these needs and I’m sorry to say that here the Celtic Manor failed at the very first hurdle. The Olive Tree Garden Room is a 20150918_142930stunning place to relax and enjoy the treat of an afternoon tea, but from every approach it is only accessible by steps and whilst a portable ramp is available, the staff were slow to offer help when it was so obviously needed.

These things aside, we made it to our table in one piece and couldn’t wait to get started on the tempting and extensive menu that formed our afternoon tea. The meal began with a glass of warm Winter Pimm’s – delicious – and the Harvest hamper filled with 4 bite-size savoury treats that tantalised our taste-buds and gave us an inkling to what to expect for the rest of the meal. The detailed menu impressively showed the allergens present in each of the different items on offer and I was pleased to see that gluten-free alternatives were available. On this occasion, we didn’t test their allergy offerings, a real treat for me, but I’d be keen to return to see whether they could cater for G with her gluten- and dairy-free needs and if they favourably compare to the “normal” dishes. 20150918_142925The sandwiches that followed were equally good and sized perfectly so that we could manage the cakes that came next.

The cakes were a sight to behold and it was really difficult to decide exactly where to start before trying each and every one. It was at this point that we all were finally beaten – well 5 cakes and pastries, however mini, is an awful lot for one person – but the Celtic Manor is obviously well-used to this experience and were able to offer us cake boxes to transport those extra ones home to enjoy at a later time. I cheerfully packed my remaining 2 away and eagerly looked forward to the final part of our tea, the scone. After all the other mouthwatering courses, I couldn’t wait to taste the scone with jam and clotted cream, which has to be the best bit of any cream tea in my opinion and I was confident that this one could be nothing short of exceptional.

Sadly I was very wrong and we were massively disappointed with the freshly baked Cherry Bakewell scones that arrived. The scones appeared to be so freshly baked that they were, in fact, under-done and tasted stodgy and sticky in the mouth. The Cherry Bakewell embellishment was a complete step too far and did nothing to add to the taste experience as it consisted purely of a sticky cherry syrup thinly spread across the top and a few flaked almonds added for effect. I struggled to eat it and gave up half-way through as it really wasn’t edible. To make matters worse, our disappointment with the scones was compounded by the poor quality of the tea served with the meal. I’m not sure who had trained whoever made the tea, but my Mum’s Earl Grey was the colour of a strong builder’s tea when poured and even our request for a second pot and then a pot of boiling water, did little to improve the flavour. In comparison, the coffee I had was fantastic and my Aunt much preferred the coffee to her original and fairly unpalatable English Breakfast tea.

I would love to be able to say that my review ends there, but I just can’t. Scones and tea aside, even though they’re fairly integral parts of any afternoon tea, the rest of the food was delightful and we really enjoyed everything else we had to eat; but – don’t pretend you didn’t sense there was a “but” coming – the service we received just didn’t match our expectations of the Celtic Manor. The staff members were not overly attentive and I found myself almost constantly having to grab someone’s attention each time we needed anything, however small. betterThey forgot to take our orders for tea and coffee and excused this surprising fail by blaming it on the “..very busy room..”, even though it was never more than 1/3 to 1/2 full during our visit. I flagged down our requested additional pot of hot water when it was delivered to the next door table, helped myself to extra knives from an empty table behind us when our clean cutlery ran out and even ended up asking the staff to clear our table of empty glasses and dishes to allow space for the cake stands, teapots and cups and saucers still to come.

The last straw really came when I asked for a clean cup for my Mum after her second pot of Earl Grey was delivered to the table and the waitress reached over and removed her cup. Just. her. cup. Not the saucer, not the spoon and certainly not all 3 items together, but the cup on its own and swapped it for a clean one, still swinging the old cup with its remnants of tea sloshing around it from her other hand!

20150918_145226Let me be clear: in no way did this spoil our enjoyment of the afternoon at all and in fact it gave the three of us a fit of the giggles, much to the bemusement of our unsuspecting waitress. We loved our table, even though it was tucked away in a far corner, as it gave us an uninterrupted view of the rest of the room and we all enjoy participating in a spot of people-watching whenever we can. However, given the Celtic Manor is described as a “luxury resort” and has 5-star status, the service was not what we had been expecting or hoping for our birthday celebrations. Would I recommend a visit? Yes, I think, but be warned about their scones and hopefully their service might have improved by the time you get there.

Kracklecorn? What’s Kracklecorn?

Courtesy of gruffalo.com

Courtesy of gruffalo.com

 

 

Kracklecorn! Why, didn’t you know?

(with apologies to Julia Donaldson and the Gruffalo)

 

 

 

20141002_201822No?  Well neither did I until we travelled to London for M’s September GOSH appointment. I had left Mike to keep an eye on the children whilst I fought my way to the train’s buffet car for a much-needed injection of caffeine.  As I waited for my latte to be made, I spotted an attractive looking blue and white striped bag hidden amongst the more familiar packs of crisps and bars of chocolate and, intrigued as to what it was, I asked if I could look at the packet and ran my experienced eye over the extremely short list of ingredients.  I was thrilled to discover that the four ingredients (maize corn, rapeseed oil, cane sugar and sea salt) were all 100% safe for both G and M and naturally snapped up a bag of Kracklecorn for them to taste, with fingers tightly crossed that I might just have found another M-friendly snack for them to enjoy.

I think they broke records in devouring this popcorn treat and Mike and I barely managed to sneak even the tiniest of morsels to taste ourselves.  I’m not a fan of salted popcorn usually, but the balance of the not-too-sweet and the not-too-salty was spot on and even I found little to fault with this snack.  As the children begged for more, I had visions of having to buy out all the stock on the train and heave my haul around London, so imagine my delight – and Mike’s relief – when I discovered that it is readily available at most Tesco stores, including, thank goodness, those a stone’s throw from our front door.

For those of you yet to discover this brand, Kracklecorn is hand-made by Portlebay Popcorn in their factory, lovingly known as “The Poppery” in Devon and is available in a huge range of flavours, the like of which I’ve never seen before.  Unfortunately, the “Classic” sweet and salty is the only one suitable for my pair, but I can assure you that the “Lemon Sherbet” and “Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup” flavours are equally delicious and unequivocally moreish – a fact that Mike cannot dispute as we fought over who would finish the bag of lemon sherbet popcorn on Saturday night.

20141002_201805I contacted Portlebay Popcorn to ask for some samples to review and when this parcel arrived on our doorstep, G and M thought all their Christmases had come at once.  I asked for their thoughts as they munched their way through yet another bag and the comments “delicious“, “amazing” and “10/10” were just about audible as they crammed more popcorn in. Despite the best efforts of 2 small children in the 7Y2D household in the run up to Christmas, we still have several packs of Portlebay Popcorn waiting to be enjoyed and the question has been what to do with them all as G has been left to devour them on her own whilst M is on his elemental diet.  I found the solution today.

popcornToday is the perfect day to be offering my very first blog competition as it is, believe it or not, National Popcorn Day, though admittedly this is celebrated mostly in the USA where they consume an unbelievable quantity of this sweet treat each year.  Thanks to the generosity of Portlebay, I am offering 2 lovely readers the opportunity to win 3 bags each of the “Classic” Kracklecorn to enjoy.  Simply enter via the link and I wish you all the very best of luck and happy munching!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Disclaimer – We were sent packs of Portlebay Popcorn for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

National Chocolate Week – Part 1

I’ve rather belatedly discovered that this week is National Chocolate Week and what better way to enjoy this amazing celebration, than to review 2 fantastic AND M-friendly chocolate products in my blog?

20140916_170227Tonight’s offering are the wonderful creations from Moo-free.  I discovered this chocolate 2 or 3 Christmases ago, when I spotted it on the shelves of one of my local health food shops. The chocolate is vegan and soya free and is made using sunflower lecithin, instead of soya lecithin, which my hyper-sensitive boy reacts to, even in the tiniest of trace amounts.

The chocolate is rich and delicious and has become a staple of our fridge at home.  They have developed their range over the last couple of years, which now includes the likes of Cheeky Orange, Minty Moo, Bunnycomb, Chocolate Drops and Cranberry and Hazelnuts bars to name but a few.  Their seasonal offerings are equally impressive with Chocolate Santas, Chocolate Advent Calendars and a brand new Chocolate Selection box as well as Easter Eggs on offer at appropriate times in the year.

Moo-free were kind enough to send us the individual bars included in their Christmas Selection box and, needless to say, G and M were more than willing to taste-test each bar and give their marks out of 10:

G M
Cheeky Orange A lovely crunch and just the right amount of flavour

 

Mark:   10/10

Nice, but the orange flavour reminds me of medicine

 

Mark:   9/10

Minty Moo Delicious, the right amount of crunch & an awesome flavour

 

Mark:   10/10

Not quite 10/10 as it tastes a little like toothpaste & I don’t like seeing the mint pieces

Mark:   9/10

Bunnycomb Perfect crunch!  I love it

 

Mark:   10/10

I loved it, great flavour and the perfect crunch

 

Mark:   10/10

Chocolate Santa Nice, but I liked the flavoured ones more 

Mark:   9.5/10

The flavour’s good and the shape is fantastic 

Mark:   10/10

Overall family rating:  10/10

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Both children enjoyed them all and are more than happy to nibble on whichever one is available.  If they’re able to choose, then M would always go for the Bunnycomb as his favourite flavour, whilst G’s top pick is the Minty Moo.  They are readily available in most of the big supermarket chains now, are reasonably priced and the choice is brilliant especially as it is all safe for M.  I’m thrilled by the offer of a selection box this Christmas, the first time either of my children will have been able to enjoy this festive treat.  You can buy these from some supermarkets or can find them on-line at Freefromforkids or other on-line stockists.

 

 *Disclaimer – We were sent this selection of Moo-free chocolate bars for the purpose of an independent review and the views expressed are entirely my own and those of G and M.

Dolphins, Killer Whales and all things underwater

When originally planning our 2 weeks “doing” Orlando, Mike and I made the conscious decision not to visit any of the multitude of water-parks you can find there.  As much as both children enjoy swimming, M’s recent struggles with his bowels meant that we were uncertain of how well he would cope with a day in, out and around the swimming pool, so instead, we opted for 2 other water-themed parks:  Discovery Cove and Seaworld.

Discovery Cove

IMG00002smOne of the things I was keen for the children to experience (and to be perfectly honest me too) was swimming with dolphins and where better to give this a go than at Discovery Cove.  This idyllic haven is hidden away in central Orlando and it transports you away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks almost as soon as you step through the doors.  We arrived early, booked in for our dolphin adventure and then headed off to the beautiful beaches and pools to find a place to camp out for the day.  The park only allows a maximum of 1,300 people entry on any given day, which ensures that there is room enough for everyone to enjoy what’s on offer. We settled next to a pool where you could swim with stingrays and other tropical fish and then headed off to the main restaurant to talk to the chef about breakfast and lunch.

Discovery Cove is a very different experience to the others in Orlando as your ticket price covers all your food and drink for the day including breakfast, lunch and snacks and they request that you don’t take any of your own into the park with you.  My initial email to their special assistance team had resulted with their Head chef calling us at home to discuss the day of our visit and M’s food requirements.  They were able to offer M and G a good choice of foods for both meals and, even better, had 3 allergy-friendly snack boxes that were readily available at all of the food concession locations and included M-friendly treats such as fruit snacks, Orgran Outback animal biscuits, pretzels and portions of houmous.  Food sorted for the day – and maybe a few extra snacks too – we spent the day lazing in the sun and learning how to snorkel amongst the fish.

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M and Clipper

The highlight of the day was, quite obviously, our swim with the dolphins.  M had been nervous as he’s not the strongest or most confident of swimmers, but there was no need.  The trainer encouraged both M and G to feed, pet and even kiss our dolphin, Clipper, before their individual swims and they loved every moment of it, despite the cold temperature of the water! M was able to do the “shallow” swim, which allowed his feet to comfortably reach the bottom at all times whilst still being pulled along by the dolphin.  G, Mike and I took part in the “deep” swim and the thrill was exhilarating. All in all, we had an amazing day, M and G were desperate to do it all again and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone.

Marks out of 10: 10 – a real once in a lifetime experience for all the family and the food offerings were impressive too

Seaworld

blue horizonsHaving had such an amazing experience at Discovery Cove, we were keen to see how their neighbour, Seaworld would compare.  The day started well, with efficient service at guest relations to issue our disability access pass and a park map that indicated where allergy-friendly foods could be found.  We set off on our way around the park and G and M were delighted by the various displays and shows we could see.  First, we oohed and aahed at the amazing dolphins and beautiful birds of the “Blue Horizons” show, which instantly drew a response from G that she’s planning to work at Seaworld training dolphins when she’s older; and later laughed and disappointingly didn’t get splashed by the mighty killer whales in “One Ocean“, despite M’s best efforts of sitting us in the splash zone!

Due to the wealth of food available to us at Disney – an opportunity that we’d certainly taken full advantage of – we didn’t feel hungry enough to need to investigate our food options until we got to lunchtime. The children were excited to see an allergy-friendly pizza restaurant on the map and we headed there with our fingers crossed that we might be able to enjoy pizza for a change.  Disappointingly, we once again hit a problem.  The gluten-free pizza base came ready topped with tomato sauce and cheese, instantly rendering it unsuitable for both G and M.  I was surprised to find this was the case, but quickly ushered the children away from there and headed off to the next location.

Photo taken by M

Penguin photo by M

Two locations later, I finally stumbled into the Spice Mill restaurant and met their allergy server and chef, who discussed our needs and what options were available to us.  Both children settled on burgers, served in allergy-friendly rolls with a side of fries for G and a hefty portion of water-melon for M.  We were able to jump the queue and, as we paid, the server prepared our food and brought it to us as quickly as possible.

Lunch finally sorted, we spent the afternoon in Antarctica with the penguins and getting extremely wet on the impressive “Journey to Atlantis” log flume ride, before Mike and I took G and M out on the lake in pink flamingo pedalos.  It was another good day and despite the uncertain start, lunch turned into a great success.

Marks out of 10:  8 – the children loved seeing the shows and the animals, but we were let down by the assumption that gluten-free pizza with cheese could be considered fully allergy-friendly.

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.