Tag Archives: stress free travelling

Every Cloud…

Easter weekend, and a piece of bad luck combined with a chance encounter led to the discovery of an absolute hidden gem that we wouldn’t have discovered under any other set of circumstances. G, M and I were enjoying a Saturday out and about, when an unexpected puncture disrupted our day and found us searching for the help of a Kwik Fit centre in the small North Somerset seaside town of Clevedon. The staff warned that it would take a couple of hours to replace my tyre as I was at the back of a somewhat lengthy queue and so the children and I headed in the direction of the town centre to see what we could discover whilst we were there.

Shrugging off the unwelcome stress of the situation, we enjoyed the sun as we chatted and walked together, with G and M laughing and sharing their thoughts on just about any subject that crossed their minds as we wandered the streets. However, the lack of a prompt lunch soon began to catch up on us all and following the advice of the cashier at a nearby shop, we found our way to a local café to see what, if anything, we could have for lunch. My expectations were low and I had managed to pick up a pack of rice cakes that M could eat, whilst I kept my fingers crossed that I might be able to buy something that was not only safe for G, but that she’d eat as well. I could never have imagined the ultimate success story that was about to unfold before us.

Café Fusion is an unprepossessing cafe in this lovely seaside town, tucked away on Old Church Road, nestled between a hairdressers and a charity shop. I took a quick glance at the menu in the front window and didn’t hesitate to enter the minute I spotted the large number of gluten-free sandwiches so clearly on offer to customers. It didn’t take long for G and me to decide what we were going to eat – an egg mayonnaise sandwich on toasted gluten-free bread for G and a cranberry, bacon and brie one for me. M took a fancy to the Apple Tango in the fridge and a quick perusal of the can suggested that this would be a great option for him to enjoy alongside his plain rice cakes. Not an exciting lunch by any stretch, but I hoped that it would fill a gap as a temporary measure at very least.

The waitress was understandably confused that I only ordered 2 sandwiches for the 3 of us and I soon found myself explaining the situation and that M is only able to eat a handful of foods on a regular basis. The chef had obviously been listening from the kitchen and popped his head around the door to ask what M’s safe foods were. Within minutes of me listing the 6, he offered to whip up a serving of plain steamed rice, plain chicken and fresh cucumber for M’s lunch. I couldn’t believe my ears that this tiny cafe was able to offer a completely safe meal without any fuss, something that has never happened without the careful planning and implementation of strategic military-esque manoeuvres beforehand. M was thrilled to hear that he could eat a proper lunch alongside G and me and couldn’t wait for his plate to appear. The food when it came was absolutely delicious and the sight of 3 empty dishes was all the indication needed to show just how good that unplanned lunch was.

It absolutely wasn’t the Easter Saturday the kids and I had in mind when we set out that morning, but it only goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining, even when it comes to complex dietary requirements.

 

Sports Mad in New York

With the demands of work, home and children meaning that Mike and I are barely managing to lift our heads above the parapet for more than 5 minutes at a time right now, it’s hard to believe that 6 weeks ago we were relaxing and enjoying my #40thcelebrations in New York. One of the unquestionable highlights of our trip was the opportunity to attend what has to be one of Mike’s favourite sporting events, a NHL (National Hockey League) ice hockey game and even better could watch Mike’s home team, the Toronto Maple Leafs up against local heroes, the New York Islanders. This was undoubtedly more of a treat for Mike than for me, but I’m not ashamed to confess that I much prefer watching ice hockey live to on TV and this game was an absolute humdinger of a match to see.

What I love about ice hockey is the friendly rivalry between the opposing teams and that, no matter where you sit and what team you support, the love of the game is the most important thing. We sat in what were fantastic seats at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Mike proudly wearing his Maple Leafs jersey and with a true mix of Toronto and New York fans surrounding us. There were good-hearted jibes, enthusiastic cheers and an atmosphere that reflected just how much every single person there was enjoying the skills they were seeing on the ice. In front of us sat 2 families, one supporting New York, the other Toronto and the kids gleefully switched seats and gave high-fives to all surrounding them whenever their team of choice scored. I had forgotten just how much fun an ice hockey game is and can’t wait until we have opportunity to take G and M to see their first NHL game, no matter who’s playing.

This was an outing that had been carefully planned in advance, but we also took advantage of a free night combined with a yearning to visit Madison Square Gardens, and managed to secure tickets to watch my very first NBA (National Basketball Association) game. To say I was somewhat underwhelmed by the antics of the New York Knicks vs. the Los Angeles Clippers is, well, an understatement, but I was completely dazzled by the stellar performance of their cheerleading squad both before and during the game. Basketball is a game that I really haven’t found an affinity for, much preferring the hard-fought matches of the netball of my youth. I’m glad we went to the game and would love to take the children along for the experience at some point in the future, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be converted to a hard and fast basketball fan. In fact, I was far more excited by the number of celebrities who were there watching the game too and loved waiting to see which film or TV show clip would be played to reveal the next well-known star on-site. I’d be hard-pressed to select my favourite star, but whilst Chris Rock and John McEnroe are both are up there with the best of them, it was Mr TeenWolf himself, Michael J Fox, who took the top spot in my heart.

Our night out at the Gardens was our last night in New York, but it was definitely not the end of our Big Apple adventures. We always knew that travelling to NYC in February meant that we might be subject to winter weather, but we never expected the extremes we experienced over the length of our stay. It had started with below freezing temperatures with glorious sunshine, passed through grey, wet and miserable and gave us a penultimate day of beautiful spring weather that saw us shedding the thermals and thick winter coats that had been our faithful companions throughout the holiday. And then, just as last week’s Winter Storm Stella buried the city in around 18cms of snow, her predecessor Winter Storm Niko arrived to give us a final day of bitter cold and the snow that Mike had been longing for the whole time we were there. We spent our last morning trudging through the snow in Central Park, capturing the landscape in photos to show the unbelievable difference that a mere 24 hours can make. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours, but we spent some great time people-watching at JFK airport before boarding the flight and grabbing what sleep we could on our homeward journey. It was an absolutely amazing holiday and I can’t wait to visit again, perhaps with G and M in tow.

    

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

The Best Eateries in the Country

FFEOA 16 200X200Last week saw the third annual Food Matters Live event being held at ExCel, London. This event, which brings together hundreds of visitors, exhibitors, speakers and organisations from across the food and drink industry, aims to “…enable collaboration and innovation to support a sustainable food landscape for the future…” as well as encouraging cross-sector discussion and collaboration. I had first heard about it during the FreeFrom Foods Awards and was keen to attend if at all possible. Unfortunately, the necessary childcare arrangements just couldn’t be worked out to allow me to attend the 3-day event, but I did take some time to follow what was happening via some very active Twitter feeds. Tuesday afternoon was of particular interest as the winners of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2016 (#FFEOA16) were being announced live at the event and fortunately coincided almost perfectly with the hour I spend sitting outside of M’s lesson at the Dyslexia centre, allowing me to focus on my Twitter feed to see the results as they happened.

Earlier this year I wrote about the launch of the 2016 FFEOA and the exciting news that Executive Chef, Dominic Teague of Indigo at One Alwych had won the first ever Pathfinder Award given to those who have “…really thought outside of the conventional freefrom box…”. Dominic not only accepted his award on the day, but then also took on the role of presenting the awards to all those worthy winners. When you look through the list of winners, goldstarsit becomes immediately obvious that there have been huge strides forward in the realm of catering for those with allergies and it was amazing to see so many fantastic food service providers from across the UK on the list.

I was delighted to see that each of the awards category was hotly contended and included well-known names such as Wetherspoons, CentreParcs and the Rainforest Café amongst its success stories*. These are places we haven’t yet dared to venture with M and his restricted diet, but will definitely consider visiting in the future when we’re in the vicinity. We were also thrilled to see some of our personal favourites winning well-deserved accolades including M’s all-time favourite, Borough 22 and our newest discovery, Café Nouveau in Frome. It was also good to spot the odd recommendation within reasonable driving distance and we’re already planning when we might be able to make some visits and try the freefrom offerings out for ourselves.

14650222_315615772146548_6413808020440687219_nThe overall winner was the Labyrinth Holistic Café, a community café found in Stockton-on-Tees. It is run as a not-for-profit community enterprise and is keen to welcome everyone, from all walks of life and no matter what their diet. The reviews given by some of the FFEOA16 judges commended the extensive menu, amazing fresh food and attention to detail that led to it being given the highest recognition.

Next year’s Food Matters Live conference is being held from November 21-23 2017 and I’ve already pencilled it into my diary as a must-do event for my year.

*a full list of winners can be found by following this link

Cafe Nouveau, Frome

cafeThere’s nothing better than finding a hidden treasure and this small cafe is an absolute gem. We were visiting friends who moved to Frome at the start of the summer and on recommendation from another friend, decided to try out Cafe Nouveau in Tytherington for our Saturday lunch. Long gone are the days of just dropping into a cafe or restaurant and hoping for a safe meal to feed both children, so about a week before our visit I wrote a quick email to the owner, Susan Green initially asking if it would be possible for us to bring a packed lunch for M to enjoy whilst the rest of us ordered from their menu. Much to my delight, Susan replied offering to prepare a cooked lunch for him based on his 5 safe foods and then impressed me further with some extra questions about which herbs and seasonings could be added to his meal to give a bit more flavour. This was already a meal that was sounding like a success and I couldn’t wait for our visit to see exactly how well it delivered.

img_12441I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t realise at first that the entire menu is gluten- and dairy-free, but as soon as we had established that fact, G was in her absolute element. I cannot adequately put into words her reaction when she realised that she could choose anything she fancied and soon settled on a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta with a small side salad and accompanied by her perennial favourite, a soya milk hot chocolate. When we placed our order for her drink, Susan reassured us that because G needed to be dairy-free, she would use dark chocolate powder to ensure the drink was completely safe for her. They had a fantastic range of alternative milks and milk-based drinks on the menu, including almond, coconut and soya milk as well as some cows’ milk for those customers who don’t want to try something different. We were told that the cows’ milk is kept separately and different containers used depending on the milk used. img_12451M was keen for G to try the “Vanilla Soya Frothy”, which I assume is a vanilla milkshake, but G was determined to indulge and stuck resolutely to what she knows she likes.

Mike and I both decided to take a look at their specials board, which is updated I believe on a daily basis and contained some delicious sounding dishes. I checked to make sure that their soup of the day didn’t contain potatoes and chose the chicken soup with a gluten-free roll on the side. Mike opted for their daily special of a spinach-filled chimichanga, which img_12461Susan mentioned was a fairly small portion and so added the Mezze plate, which included houmous, olives and some delicious seeded crackers. The plates, when they arrived, looked wonderful and the food was absolutely delicious. My soup had that real home-made feel to it, was packed with chicken and tantalisingly fragrant in its flavours. I was impressed with the gluten-free bread, which we were later told is baked off-site in a img_12431bakery that has an exclusively gluten-free area to make sure there is no cross-contamination risk. G’s sandwich soon disappeared and her hot chocolate didn’t last long either! As for M, he was thrilled to receive a healthy-sized portion of plain rice, topped with 2 roasted chicken thighs and some apple and ginger purée. He was a little disappointed that they didn’t stock any rice milk for him to drink, but was happy with the cartons of cloudy apple juice that were on offer instead. We were all delighted by our fantastic meals, little realising that the best was yet to come.

Anticipating that there wouldn’t be much on offer for M as a dessert, I had brought some safe snacks with us for him whilst the rest of us enjoyed a pudding. For the first time ever in her life, G had the chance to experience something that is commonplace for all her friends. She and I went to the counter, where an impressive array of cakes, cookies and other sweet treats were on display and she could eat every single one of them. That is a treat that is absolutely priceless and I loved seeing her struggle to pick just one item to enjoy after her lunch. There was chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, reduced sugar apple cake, flapjacks and some amazing-looking bite-size vanilla and nut ball treats. G finally settled on a toffee popcorn cookie, whilst I savoured a slice of the Victoria sponge.  Neither stayed around long enough for me to snap a photo, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine how wonderful they looked. We were so impressed with the selection that M helped me choose a few to take with us for afternoon tea at our friends’ house and was particularly keen that the man of the house had the chance to taste the allergy-friendly chocolate and orange torte.

Cafe Nouveau really was a most remarkable find and one that the whole family would happily recommend to anyone eating out with food allergies. It is part of a very small development on the edge of 30 acres of parkland that also includes 4-star Bed and Breakfast, The Lighthouse. Susan and her team open the cafe from 7am to provide breakfast for The Lighthouse’s guests as well as other customers, something that I absolutely love as it would save the need to pack boxes of cereal and cartons of safe milk on our travels.

Our marks: 9.5/10

Giraffe, food allergies & me

This restaurant chain has long been a favourite of ours, even before the days of M’s extreme restrictions, and was one of the very first that we ventured back to once we had successfully got 3 foods back into his diet in 2015. We’ve visited their restaurants in various locations across the UK – London, Bristol, Milton Keynes – and have unfailingly had great service and understanding about the risks surrounding food allergies. So I was disappointed recently to see a Twitter conversation where fellow allergy-sufferers had not had such a good experience and indeed where one had suffered a severe anaphylactic reaction when her request for no soy beans in her food had been ignored. tweet

Naturally, me being me, I couldn’t help but wade in with my size 8s, not just because of our previous encounters, but because of our most recent and excellent experience at the Giraffe restaurant in the Brunswick Centre. I was so impressed with the impeccable diligence taken in regards to safeguarding my children during our meal that I have been singing their praises far and wide and felt it was about time that I did the same here as well.

img_11141G, M and I had headed there for an early supper following a busy day in London. G had been at her 2nd YPF meeting at GOSH for the day, whilst M and I had walked many thousands of steps exploring the activities and displays on show to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Once our day was done, we had just enough time to sit down for our dinner before heading off to catch our train home and wandered to the Brunswick Centre because of its proximity to GOSH. The Brunswick Centre hosts a number of different restaurants, most of which we have tried at one time or another over the years, but Giraffe is the one that we most commonly head back to as both children enjoy the food and it is one of the few that prepares rice for M to accompany his meal.

downloadDecisions made about what they’d like to eat, our waitress came to the table to take our order and this was when their attention to details become really apparent. I started by telling her that both children had allergies and she immediately disappeared to grab their allergen listing to run through their menu choices with me. I mentioned that M’s allergies in particular were complex and unlikely to fit the detail given in their book, but she advised me that she had to go through it because she would be asked about it as soon as the order went to the kitchen and that her neck would be on the line if she hadn’t taken that first step of checking it all out. We started with discussing what would be safe for M to eat and she was immediately able to offer brown rice, a grilled chicken breast and cucumber slices, a meal that would more than meet his needs and then we moved on to G.

G had decided she really wanted steak and chips for dinner and whilst there was no problem with preparing a safe steak, the chips were more of a problem. Our cheerful waitress said it was possible that the chips couldn’t be cooked gluten-free as it was dependent on whether the oil in the fryer had been changed since their lunch-time service or not. She immediately headed off to the kitchen to check the situation with the chef and came back to apologise that unfortunately the chips would be cross-contaminated and so we needed to pick something else. G was insistent that she didn’t want rice and I was struggling to spot an alternative as the potato wedges are also cooked in the fryer and so wouldn’t be safe. 20150408_181702However, our waitress came to the rescue and suggested that G had the crushed potatoes as, whilst the menu stated they included dairy, she could request that they be prepared with just a little oil instead. Situation saved!

It didn’t take too long for our plates of food to arrive at the table and we were delighted with the meals that were served. Despite all the hassle with getting G’s meal ordered, the steak and crushed potatoes that arrived looked delicious and she devoured the lot in fairly short order. M munched his way through his dish too and the second chicken breast that we asked for half-way through was prepared and served before he had managed to clear his plate. I really was incredibly impressed with their approach to preparing, cooking and serving allergy-friendly food and how hard they worked to ensure that we all had a meal we could enjoy and remain safe eating. I don’t know if this system is in place across the Giraffe chain, or if it is carried out as thoroughly as it was at the Brunswick Centre, but I’m certain that this is a restaurant we would happily choose to eat at again.

Portugal Photo Round-up 2016

Our 10 days in Portugal were wonderful and just what we all needed. We had great fun, lots of sunshine, delicious food, family time and a chance to get a break from all that’s been going on at home. It’s been a busy few days, so these are just a few photos to share that capture our fabulous holiday:

Eating out with allergies the Portuguese Way

I’ll be honest, the last few months have been difficult in more ways than one. M’s broken leg has meant that we’ve been unable to trial any new foods since April, which has been tough for him especially as we’ve just marked one year since we last successfully introduced a safe food into his diet. I knew that his restrictions were taking an emotional toll on M, but nothing expressed more than one he recently apologised to me for feeling fed up and complaining about the fact that he has to eat the same 5 foods day in, day out. As we were preparing for our Portuguese holiday, we quickly realised that, without doubt, our travels abroad would stretch our keen foodie to his absolute limits and we needed to come up with a plan that would allow him to enjoy himself without too much pressure on his health.
This was particularly important as M had been frustrated to not be able to trial the couple of new foods we had pinpointed as pre-Portugal challenges because of his lengthy recovery and was extremely disappointed at the prospect of only eating his safe foods whilst the rest of us enjoyed seafood and fish galore. img_08971After much discussion, both between ourselves and with M too, Mike and I decided that we would allow him the occasional day off whilst we were in Portugal and let him choose a normally forbidden food or two to enjoy.

From the start we made it very clear that this couldn’t be an everyday treat and that between days he would have to keep strictly to his diet and so we planned accordingly. The holiday was split between a short hotel stint in the capital city and a longer stay in a self-catering apartment on the Algarve, which allowed us to cater for M and G as and when was needed. Our medical suitcase had been crammed full of a selection of safe foods for M including cartons of rice milk, cereal and rice pasta as I had no real idea as to what we would be able to find for him where we were based. img_10511Unlike our recent travels to Italy, where allergy-friendly offerings had been easy to find in the airport and service stations, safe foods were not so readily available in Portugal, but our trip to the Jumbo hypermarket just outside of Portimão proved to be a visit to a real Aladdin’s cave. My Mum and I were impressed with the array of dairy-free milks available and chose some new brands of rice milk for M to taste during our holiday. As for the selection of products on the freefrom aisle, I could easily have spent a lot longer than I did examining each and every one of them to see which were suitable for both children.  I managed to buy nearly everything we needed including cookies for G and rice cream for M and the only disappointment was that I couldn’t find a gluten-free loaf of bread for G. img_10521There was several bread mixes available, but there was no way I was ever going to entertain the thought of baking a loaf of bread for her in 35°C weather and so she managed with some delicious gluten- and dairy-free crackers I discovered instead.

M’s experience of eating out with allergies in Portugal was mixed to say the least with the resounding success of two dinners at the Hard Rock Café in central Lisbon in stark contrast to the disappointing first night meal of plain boiled rice and an apple and it was hard to predict what the rest of our holiday would bring. Our translation cards meant that language wasn’t a barrier to making our needs known, but we did struggle with well-meaning restaurant staff offering alternatives even though it was clearly stated that these were the only safe foods he can eat. To be fair, I can understand their difficulty in believing that M’s diet really is that restricted, but it was frustrating to deal with especially when the viable food options were diminishing before our eyes and a certain 10 year-old was hopeful we’d give up and give in and allow him another unplanned treat. For the sake of M’s health, we did have to insist that some of our meals out were strictly M-friendly and the offerings were often mixed. In the UK we frequently find that most restaurants are unable to provide plain rice and so M often ends up with a meal consisting of chicken and cucumber and occasionally some apple too, all supplemented by a bag of slightly crushed Rude Health Mini Rice thins recovered from the depths of my handbag. Portugal was surprisingly no different. We did discover a few restaurants that could cook plain, boiled rice, but sadly this was rarely accompanied by safe chicken and he ended up with some very odd meals indeed.

img_10841However, as well as the Hard Rock Café, we did achieve great success in 2 restaurants in Alvor, where not only was M well-fed, but G enjoyed some great dinners too. The first was at what has long been a favourite of ours, Vagabondo in Alvor itself, a place that the children were keen to go back to again this year. Every year since our first visit there, M and G have loved their chicken kebab starter because of the delicious peanut sauce it is served with and it’s a dish that they’ve asked me to recreate at home time and time again. Peanuts have never been a problem for M in the past, but I was anxious about him suffering an unexpected reaction to them and wasn’t keen to trial them for the first time whilst we were abroad. M was disappointed by my decision, but reluctantly agreed to eat his safe foods only. By the time it came to dinner there, he was still suffering from the effects of some of the other “treats” he’d enjoyed during the week and was happy to stick to his normal diet for the evening. Once our waitress grasped M’s exact needs, she was fantastic at sorting out his meal and advised us brilliantly about what would be safe for him from the menu. img_10851Unfortunately the wild rice was marinated with garlic beforehand so we chose not to order for M, but the plate that arrived contained a huge piece of chicken as well as some cucumber slices and a specially prepared apple from our thoughtful waitress. The apple had been cut and served to resemble chips and so M’s plate looked similar to G’s dinner of a chicken and bacon kebab and chips. It was a large meal, beautifully prepared and he managed to eat every single mouthful.
The second and surprise success of the entire holiday was our final lunch, which traditionally we have always enjoyed at the poolside restaurant at the hotel Pestana Alvor Praia. img_10871In the past the children have chosen gluten-free hot dogs and chips, but we had spotted that they served grilled chicken and rice and were hopeful that these would be safe for M. Once again, a well-informed, attentive and extremely helpful waitress advised me that there would be no problem in preparing these dishes to ensure they were safe for M and in the end both children enjoyed a delicious grilled chicken breast, which was served with chips for G and plain rice, cucumber and apple for M. We enjoyed our meals out on holiday and found all of the restaurants eager to help us as best they could when it came to encouraging M and G to eat out with allergies the Portuguese way.

Kids’ eye view of Lisbon

One of the attractions that M was keen to visit was the Oceanário de Lisboa, opened in 1998 as part of the last twentieth century World exhibition and which is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Having explored Old Lisbon on our first day, we were all happy to change pace a little and eventually made our way there via the beautiful Praça do Comércio and a necessary decision to hail a Tuk-Tuk, when our hop-on, hop-off bus couldn’t be spotted except as a dim mirage in the distance. By the time we arrived the main queue was dishearteningly long, but thanks to the helpful advice of our friendly Tuk-Tuk driver, IMG_0943[1]we instead joined the one for the ticketing machines and found ourselves moving through it fairly rapidly and were into the aquarium itself within little more than 30 minutes of our arrival.

We were directed to begin our visit with the temporary display before we cannily stopped for a relatively early lunch, which meant we managed to dodge any lengthy waits in the cafeteria. Both children were eager to head into the main and permanent exhibit, lured by the promise of manta rays and rainforests and we spent a glorious afternoon there. This was a truly amazing exhibit that took us on a 2-level tour around the world and around the incredibly impressive huge tank that formed the centrepiece of the aquarium. This tank was filled with all manner of fish and could be easily viewed from just about every angle as we made our way around the building. IMG_0955[1]G and M spent their time photographing or filming what they could see, racing between displays and tanks, and excitedly sharing the tidbits of information they had picked up along the way. From penguins to puffins, jellyfish to sunfish and sea otters to sharks, the kids got to see them all and were totally fascinated the entire time we were there.

Our second child-friendly stop was spotted as we left the Oceanário and meandered our way in the glorious sunshine to where we had been reliably informed we could catch that ever-elusive tour bus back to the main centre. M had actually already identified it as a possible place of interest, but it wasn’t until breakfast time of our final morning that we decided to pay it a visit. After an unsuccessful lengthy wait for the renowned Tram 28, Mike, the children and I decided to abandon the rest of our group as they continued to queue for it and instead headed off to the Pavilhão do Conhecimento or Knowledge Pavillion. IMG_1009[1]We have previously had great experiences visiting other interactive science museums such as the Science Museum London, @Bristol and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and G and M have loved every moment of them. I was confident that we would have similar success in Lisbon and couldn’t wait to see what experiments and activities were on offer there.

It was absolutely another day that was more than well worth the very reasonable entrance fee and we explored every inch of the place thoroughly. We started downstairs in the Viral exhibition, which looked at what contagion is and how it works, not just from a bacteria point of view, but also looking at the current spread of the social media trend. G and M loved the interactive displays from capturing and identifying different germs to seeing if watching others yawn can cause you to do the same , as well as whether they could incite a virtual audience to copy their clapping, dance moves and Mexican wave. IMG_0980[1]We paused for a quick lunch, which included a plate of rice for M and some gluten-free chips for G in the on-site restaurant before heading upstairs to tackle everything else the museum had to offer. M was particularly enthralled by the prospect of riding a bike across a high-wire suspended above the main floor of the building and successfully rode there and back, though G was a little more cautious and couldn’t quite brave it. Our afternoon was packed full of activity for us all and I was especially appreciative of the strategically placed armchairs spotted throughout the exhibits for those of us who didn’t want to be on the go the whole time! We filled the time we had there and managed to do most of the exhibits, though not quite all of them. It was a fun afternoon for the whole family and I wouldn’t hesitate to take G and M back if we had the chance.

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