Monday, 27 February 2012

Signs & Symptoms - back to the start

 Have you ever noticed these - on your shopping trolley?
Have you ever stopped to take in just how many signs there are around us? Looking for a sign to illustrate this post, I suddenly realised just how many there are - they are well everywhere; it's like an epidemic (just try counting them, next time you go out somewhere). But how many of these are completely necessary - of how many do we actually take notice or even understand? With Baby the signs were there, clear to read - if only I had known how!

Going over old ground
For those of you who have been following the 'story so far', some of what is written in this post will be familiar to you. Sorry if I bore you by 'going over old ground', but I have in mind those new to this blog, who might be wondering whether they or someone close to them might have a problem with milk - in which case this particular post (focussing on what alerted us to Baby's problem) could perhaps prove useful. So, for the purposes of this post, I'm going...

Back to the start
By the time I eventually saw our family doctor, the diagnosis of cow's milk protein intolerance had already been reached and clearly proved. In some ways, I wish I'd visited the family doctor first (rather than the two locums I actually saw) as, when he asked me about her symptoms and I rattled them off, he nodded and agreed that they were classic signs

Truth to tell, I'm not entirely sure when Baby first exhibited signs of having a problem, but as we were having other issues at the time (let alone the fact that we were trying to get our heads around having a new baby) maybe I just missed them to begin with. All I know is that I first became aware of soreness in her nappy area, around two weeks into her little life. 'Agh! Lie still!' I would yelp in frustration. Baby would writhe with an incredible show of strength in her tiny frame, and I would struggle to change her. 

As soon as it dawned on me that her resistance was due to soreness, I felt horrible rush of guilt for feeling so frustrated. Immediately resolving to be more gentle when cleaning her up, it took at least a few more days for me to realise that the writhing preceded, not just accompanied each nappy, and that the nappies were rather frequent. Were they too frequent? I didn't know/couldn't be sure however, the signs seemed to escalate - particularly at night. This was when the cycle of feed, cry, nappy, cry much more, feed again to comfort and soothe, seemed to be endless and I was lucky to get a few hours sleep. 

Seeking help
The Hub being back at work was sympathetic but, being able to do little about it (although he did turn to his favourite reference book - the Internet, searching for clues) managed to sleep through. I was exhausted. Quizzing the midwives got me nowhere, neither did two visits to the doctors. I was getting near to the end of my tether, and wondered whether it would do any good to go to A&E - I wasn't sure if it would fast track  us to being seen by a paediatrician or whether I would be dismissed as an over worried first time mum. And then came the decision to see someone about her tongue tie. To get a private referral. 

I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out, had we not 'gone private'. How long it would have taken to get the correct diagnosis - after all I'd already seen two doctors locally. I've met others for whom it has taken longer - although they had different symptoms such as reflux, vomit and eczema. All I know is that the time for which it lasted seemed unbearably long. Part of me felt it must be what having a new baby was like whilst another part of me knew it was wrong. 

Baby's Symptoms
Thankfully we did see the paediatrician, thankfully he enquired beyond the tongue-tie , thankfully he was a specialist childhood allergies, thankfully to him our case seemed pretty straightforward. Once I had described, in as much detail as I could, what had been happening, the paediatrician was able to make a fairly swift diagnosis; the diarrhoea, the writhing prior to a poo (presumably caused by tummy cramps), the frequent explosive blasts of yellowy brown watery poo, all taking place not long after a feed. These, in addition to the sore botty that wouldn't clear up (burning caused by acidic poo) all pointed to one thing as far as he was concerned - cow's milk protein allergy. 

'Testing' the diagnosis
Me, wanting to be sure that he knew what he was talking about (having had two misdiagnosis, I was understandably cautious) questioned how he could be so sure. Apparently, at the age Baby was then, (she was just a month old) the only two likely causes of all her discomfort and distress were an infection or cow's milk protein allergy. Due to fact she was being breastfed, and so young, the infection was the least likely but (to rule out the possibility) a sample was to be collected and tested. Meanwhile, I was to steer clear of all products containing the slightest amount of cow's milk. 

It was this latter course which was to prove the diagnosis. Sure enough, within about three days, the symptoms had vanished and I had a completely different baby. It felt like the miracle for which had been praying. The test results, which were to follow later, merely confirmed what we already knew - there was no sign of an infection.

Other symptoms
The symptoms I have described are common to many other food intolerances or allergies. There are, however, quite a number of other possible symptoms that can accompany the same condition, such as:

Feelings of nausea
Stomach rumbling
Runny nose
Weight loss (if left)
Malnutrition (if left)

Interestingly enough, it seems that individuals can exhibit a different set of symptoms at different times of their life. So a young child might begin by exhibiting symptoms affecting the gut, but later (when they're older) have the kind of reaction that affects breathing.

How can one know for sure?
If you are trying to work out whether you or someone else you know might have this problem, it can be quite tricky to find out. It's easier when they're a baby, as problems with cow's milk among babies are fairly common. It is possible, however, for symptoms to go unnoticed, or for people to develop symptoms later in life. Older sufferers have much more variety in their diets and so identifying the cause of a problem, can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. So what about diagnostic tests?

Quite a lot of people have heard of skin prick tests. Medical opinion is divided on how useful they are and blood tests don't always detect problems that do exist, as I found out following the tummy bug I had the other year. Part of the problem is that such tests work on detecting a response in the immune system, which might occur with an allergy but not with an intolerance.

A first step towards pin pointing a problem might be to keep a food diary - listing everything that is consumed, alongside any possible symptoms. Doing this can help to identify patterns and perhaps the cause. Following this, excluding 'suspects' from your diet  (one at a time) can help confirm what is triggering the symptoms, and therefore what is causing the problem. 

These so-called 'exclusion diets', such as the one that Baby and I have had to follow are most reliable way of confirming that a food is causing a problem but it is recommended that these are carried out under medical supervision, as are food challenges (where following an exclusion, a small amount of the 'problem' food is reintroduced back into the diet). This is because otherwise you could be missing out unnecessarily on important nutrients.

So how do I know?
Although the blood tests that I had (following my tummy bug) the other year proved that I wasn't coeliac, the fact that wheat along with other certain foods caused me intestinal pain and dihorrea, (accompanied by headaches when the reaction was particularly strong) was enough to convince the doctor that I was intolerant to some foods. Like with Baby's problem the unknown factor was and remains - whether the intolerance will be short lived or last for life.

Friday, 24 February 2012

An Addendum to Winter Warmers

The new kid  on the block!
Stop Press! Excitement of excitements - another update! You may have read my post, the other week, on dairy free hot chocolate. Well it seems that I no longer have to make mine the old-fashioned way, using cocoa powder - as I found out in my most recent trip to my local Tesco Extra. 

Not to be outdone by Oatley, Alpro and the like, Kara, (who make coconut milk) have now brought out a chocolate version! And yes! I have not wasted any time - I have already purchased some and tried it! 

To my mind, it tastes very similar to the kind of hot chocolate instants you can buy (if you are able to tolerate dairy) like the one produced by Galaxy. It's very sweet, kind of syrupy in flavour. However, having become recently reacquainted with my old-fashioned version (made with Green and Blacks) I'm not sure how ready I am to like this new version. Still you never know, I've got most of the carton left and it may yet grow on me! 

Hmm! Now, I wonder how it might taste cooked with some pudding rice for a few hours? It could be good, or... well I've never claimed to be a Nigella now, have I?

Update: Kara, has since been renamed 'Koko'

Update on the hunt for the Dairy Free Easter Bunny

Wow! That was unexpected! No sooner have I posted on the subject of dairy free Easter eggs, than there is an important update, or two in fact!

First of all, the Easter bunny has visited Tescos! Kinnerton's dark chocolate bar has morphed into the form of an egg. The egg's packaging very much reflects the design of the chocolate bar's and so perhaps appeals more to adults.

Secondly, at some Sainsbury's, it is apparently possible to obtain perhaps the most normal looking dairy free Easter egg I have come across so far!! Kinnerton's have created an egg definitely aimed at children - clearly packaged with the intention of appealing to the Simpson's and Winnie the Pooh fans in our midst! It looks like it could be a 'milk' chocolate type of egg, accompanied by jelly sweets.

So now all I have to do is hunt that Sainsbury's Easter bunny. I think Baby might well be up for one of those Winnie the Pooh ones... now how to track one down?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

On the trail of the Dairy Free Easter Bunny!

The Hub has made it easy for me this year (not that he's dairy free anyway). 'Don't buy me anything,' he said (having left his eggs of previous years gloriously uneaten). Baby, however, has already caused me problems by diving on tubs of creme eggs, left (quite negligently, in my opinion) within her reach in the aisles of the supermarkets or by grabbing chocolate bunnies from the shelves. She clearly has her eyes on the prize - chocolate!! 

No one has had to teach Baby, funnily enough, how to enjoy chocolate - she just does! Neither has anyone had to teach her how to spot it in the supermarket - she just can -even when it's disguised as a brightly coloured bunny!! What she doesn't yet know, though, is how to tell apart the chocolate she's allowed from the chocolate that would make her feel bad. And is it just  me, or have you also noticed that the big stores have been selling Easter Eggs since Christmas? So much temptation in Baby's way, whenever we go to the supermarket! 

Last year it wasn't so bad - Baby was in ignorant bliss of the chocolate lined shelves and was quite happy with the big fluffy bunny that Granny gave her... as well as the odd morsel of dairy free chocolate that she filched from me, but this year... Thinking that (come Easter) Baby might like an Easter Egg of her own, I've been desperately scanning the shelves at Tescos for weeks now - looking for the dairy free egg they stocked last year, right alongside all the others. 

It was almost unique in the dairy free Easter Egg world for being the nearest thing to a milk chocolate egg that (even if it was a bit on the small side) looked 'normal'. The reason I've been keeping my eyes open, is that last year (not surprisingly) it disappeared quickly from their shelves. However, this year it has been disappointingly absent... so far! Thankfully, should it not appear on the shelves, there are some other options!

Speciality Chocolate 
A lot of speciality chocolate makers also make chocolate that is Vegan and therefore dairy free but the chocolate they produce tends to be dark chocolate.

The prize for the most extravagant should almost certainly be awarded to Hotel Chocolat for their Gianduja  egg. Thankfully they also produce a smaller cheaper version as well as some Dark Chocolate Tiddly Chicks which are cute! These are all marked as Vegan.

Cocoa Loco - makers of organic chocolate, who produce Vegan and dairy free chocolate as part of their range. Look out for their dark chocolate bunny lollies.

Montezumas - apparently one of the Guardian's Top Ten ethical traders, they produce 'Traded Fairly' chocolate, some of which is also Vegan.

 Produce dark chocolate slabs, but not eggs unfortunately. Definitely aimed at the discerning customer, you may think that they're very expensive (for what you get) but then you are buying artisan chocolate! These are available from Waitrose. 

Dairy Free Easter Eggs Online
Chocolate makers that solely produce dairy free chocolate do exist. Not always quite so widely available, but obtainable online, these often produce a chocolate which is more like milk chocolate.

Moo Free chocolate prides itself on being organic. I've read reviews that rate this chocolate quite highly. In my opinion, it is quite similar to milk chocolate but is a bit sugary for my liking. 

D & D Chocolates also seem to produce a 'milk' chocolate. I've not personally tried these. Their selection offers eggs of various sizes, from the bunny hunt variety to the larger boxed version.

Siesta Carob produce a pack of small hollow eggs which are available from Goodness Direct (who sell quite a range of different options, some of which have been featured here).

Perhaps the most decadent looking of the dairy free options, and certainly the most exquisitely packaged, are Booja Booja's  truffle-filled papier-mache eggs. These can be bought online, but their website can also direct you to your nearest stockist. They are organic but be warned - they aren't that big and are quite a pricey option!

If you're interested in investigating some of these options, then it could be worth taking a look at Animal Aid - which is basically an online Vegan shop. 

Dairy Free Easter Eggs at the Supermarkets
There are not many options in this category, but there are a few!

Celtic Chocolate's Easter Egg is available at Ocado and Waitrose and is made of dark chocolate. It's fine, if you like dark chocolate, but the packaging is a bit uninspiring - although you could buy one of these as well as a 'normal' Easter egg in more interesting packaging and do a swap!

Sainsbury's Free From Easter Egg is also dark chocolate (it's not on their website unfortunately). Not that attractively packaged in my opinion! I'd want to sprinkle some (tasteful) spring daisy stickers all over it.

Humdinger's Dairy Free Easter Bunny milk chocolate bar (not an egg unfortunately) really is an Easter Bunny - if a little on the flat side! It is another milk chocolate alternative. It was available from Sainsbury's last year and is apparently also being sold at Waitrose this year.

'May contain traces of milk'
Available at supermarkets and therefore fairy easily obtainable. These are suitable for those that are comfortable with the fact that a minuscule amount of milk may find it's way into the chocolate, during production.

The dark chocolate bunny!
Divine - chocolate manufacturers that pride themselves on their fair trade credentials. They produce some dark chocolate eggs which may be suitable for you.

Green and Black's  Also produce dark chocolate eggs. They pride themselves on producing organic chocolate that also now bears the fair trade logo. Their 'Maya Gold' is Vegan and therefore guaranteed Dairy Free!

Lindt dark chocolate bunnies - spotted in Waitrose only, so far! Watch out, 'cos it looks very similar to the other bunnies. You'll know it's the right one, if you pick up the one with the dark brown ribbon.

Feeling the pinch or feeling creative?
It's not always cheaper to make your own, but in this case, it may pay - as dairy free options are not cheap! If you need any ideas on this score, look out I'll be addressing this one shortly, in the meantime...

Whatever most appeals to you, I hope you can find at least one helpful suggestion here and that you truly do have a most enjoyable and blessed Easter.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

So how do you like yours? - Pancakes!!

So it's Shrove Tuesday soon and this year I'm getting excited. For one thing, we've got a new frying pan, but for another, it is of course the tradition of making and eating pancakes. Traditionally Shrove Tuesday was designated for using up the goodies in the cupboard, so they didn't go off during the fast season of Lent. I'm afraid I'm not giving up anything - my excuse being that I've not much else left to give up. 

New Pan!
I am taking up something this year, though. Well kind of taking it up again really. Having got dairy free omelettes cracked (using water instead of milk) I'm going to make pancakes. Two years ago, having just received news of Baby's problem with milk, we were barely getting to grips with anything and so Pancake Day passed us by. 

Last year Baby was still too young to appreciate the fun and I was trying to get to grips with something else - being unable to tolerate wheat. This year, I'm going for it - but dairy and wheat free, with the help of my new cooking friend (Doves  Gluten  Free Flour) and my choice of milk substitute.  I'm still debating which one though - Baby is alright with soya but I'm still not sure whether she's OK with coconut. I could perhaps use almond, as it's just a little in cooking... Hmm! Some further thought required!

The Batter

My recipe works!
Meanwhile, I've been studying a few recipes but, let's face it, I'm no domestic goddess so I'm not going to be giving Nigella a run for her money. No, but (as far as I can tell anyway) most pancake recipes are pretty much the same: plain flour, one egg, milk (in my case possibly coconut milk) and some melted butter. Aghh - melted butter!! Thankfully, my recipe of choice (a good old favourite from my old book by Marguerite Patten) has come to my rescue - it is full of extra useful hints and tips and says that you can use olive oil instead (phew, panic over). 

The Topping

Now that's the basic Pancake Batter sorted, what about the topping? Well TV chef James Martin was faffing around with Grand Marnier and orange on Saturday Kitchen (slightly disappointed he didn't toss his pancakes - calls himself a chef) but me, I like things simple. Saying that, I do remember having a Pancake Party one year, where we experimented with toppings like Nutella and Marshmallow Fluff among others (please note, all available out of a jar, no skill whatsoever required). However, it's all about satisfying your personal taste really. 

Update: By the way, if you're okay with hazelnuts and 'may contain milk,' you might like to give Anthony Worrall Thompson's gluten free chocolate spread a go (Free From aisle at Sainsbury's). I've tried it, it's really very nice!!

For me, though, no Pancake Day Pancake is complete without the routine I remember from childhood: caster sugar sprinkled over the waiting plate, onto which the pancake is delivered straight from the pan. The pancake is topped with further sprinklings of caster sugar; a generous dollop of Golden Syrup and a healthy dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Maybe this will become Baby's method of choice (when she's older) too or maybe, if she overcomes her intolerance, it'll be the Hub's choice of topping... caster sugar, on its own!!

So back to my original question: how do you like yours? If you're after something more adventurous, I came across this dairy free recipe, yesterday. Although I'll be sticking to my tried and tested favourite this year, this recipe does look scrummy, so maybe next year...

Another update: Meanwhile those of you who can't have egg, may be interested in this recipe, by 'Pig in the Kitchen.'

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The house at poo corner - tales of the food intolerant kind

Not that great a subject, is it? But, nevertheless, one which (like the yucky stuff) needs dealing with. I don't know about you, but I'm not good with wee, poo, sick or snot - one of the reasons why I decided against becoming an infant teacher. When you deal with small children, these bodily substances tend to come with the territory. Ironic then, that having a little one with a milk allergy, I've had to deal with what I consider more than my fair share of the yucky stuff! 

'Oh no! It's a dodgy poo!' 

Something my poor husband has heard all too frequently. He (preferring not to mention bodily functions aloud) almost winces whenever I yelp the above phrase. Unfortunately for him, if something distressing happens to me I tend to let it out - to get it off my chest. Now we have Baby, anything unpleasant that happens to her affects me quite deeply - the sight of a dodgy nappy gets me going like nothing else. This particular post has been inspired by another such nappy - just the other morning.

Why can't I just get on with it quietly?

It's just a dirty nappy, isn't it? All babies have them, don't they? Normally dirty nappies don't bother me, in fact I do most of the nappy changing in our household. However, the kind I'm talking about DO bother me, because they tend to involve diarrhoea (not to be confused with a slightly looser bowel movement - I know the difference). The ones that I'm talking about mean one of two things: either a tummy upset, or a reaction to something she's eaten. Either way, I have a miserable baby on my hands and it's going to mean a whole lot of washing for me to sort out - these nappies tend to leak!!

What if it's a tummy bug?

My least preferred option, because Baby's had a few of these (even though I try to be careful with hand washing and hygiene). It's horrid seeing her miserable and feel that there's nothing we can do about it. They last between 5-10 days and she doesn't usually want to eat anything. I hate the fact that I daren't go anywhere as I don't want to spread it around to others. In some ways I prefer to be at home because it's easier to change her nappies/clothing etc. (and wash my hands properly in hot soapy water afterwards) but the pair of us usually end up with a bad case of cabin fever as a result.

What if it's a reaction to food?

Having had a few of these, I think this scenario is easier to deal with - we now know we can do something about it. In the early days (before she was diagnosed and we cut the dairy out of my diet) it was harder because we had no clue as to what was causing Baby's discomfort, distress and diarrhoea. It was heart-breaking seeing her writhing in pain both before the nappy, because her tummy hurt, and then after, because her skin was so sore. We tried to keep her as clean as possible and be incredibly gentle, when cleaning up the mess, but otherwise the Hub and I just felt so powerless to do anything about the cause. 

Who needs more washing?
The episodes were pretty much constant and so therefore was the discomfort too. Added to this, many of her lovely early baby clothes were completely ruined by the yellowy brown tell-tale stains from leaky nappies - even when we used Napisan for extra stain-busting power. 

These days we don't get lots of nappies if there's a reaction to food. Usually there's one or two, several hours apart. They tend to come swiftly and unexpectedly - which is one reason why (although I know I can't leave it too long) I've held back from potty training. I know from my own experiences with food intolerance that when the body has decided to reject the food it doesn't want, you lose an element of control over your body which is distressing and can be embarrassing too, if you're caught out away from home.

However, the good thing about one of 'Baby's' reactions is that the symptoms don't seem to last longer than 24 hours (so long as we've eliminated the source from either her diet or mine) which means we're back to normal quite quickly. They're are usually because her strictly dairy free diet has been breached in some way. 

It's fairly easy to spot (now that we know what to look for) in that she is more clingy than usual (I'm guessing that's because her tummy is feeling uncomfortable). She may also pass an unusual amount of wind, from the gases which build up in her stomach. Also, 'Baby' will want her nappy to be changed (normally nappy changes result in a battle of wills) and her botty will be quite sore from the poo - it's like a burn. Thankfully, once we've cleaned her up with plain water, the soreness usually clears quite quickly, unless it's a bad reaction. If this is the case, once we've cleaned her up, we slather her botty with vaseline to protect her skin, from contact with the acid in any further unwanted episodes.

Once we've established it's likely to be a dietary breach, it's just a case of identifying the cause.

Identifying the cause
We've got pretty good at this by now, we just have to consider the following:

1. I've eaten something with dairy in it. 
As I'm still breastfeeding this is still possible. This possibility usually has me racking my brains; thinking back over the last 24 hours and re-examining labels on food packets, to see if I've unwittingly eaten something that may have contained milk. More recently, however (completely by accident) we've established that I've eaten a few things that would definitely have caused a reaction in the past, that haven't - such as a biscuit made with milk. This is a definite improvement on what used to be, but I just need to work out the limits, so I don't overstep the mark.

When 'Baby' was three months old, I ate a packet of salt and vinegar crisps - completely unaware that dried milk powder had been used in the flavouring. The result was a miserable baby and a disastrous nappy within the hour! It was only when I saw the nappy that I realised the cause of her distress and checked the labels on the packets of everything I had eaten. It was this incident that surprised the pediatrician - he decided that as the milk in the flavouring would have been minimal, her sensitivity must be quite strong and that there was no point in us returning to see him until she was at least one!

Once you suspect there may have been a breach of the diet, you have to be really vigilant and suspect anything - even Free From food stuffs are not immune. Once I couldn't pin the blame on anything but some Free From chocolate mints that came from one of the major supermarkets. I only knew this for sure, when I visited one of their stores and saw a sign recalling the product - within certain dates - which matched the packet I had at home.

One further possible source that may go under the radar is medication! I always ask the Doctor to check that there is no milk, whatsoever, in any medication that he prescribes for me (or baby). I also check the labels on vitamins, although these seem to be aware of dietary needs.

2. 'Baby' has eaten something with dairy in it. 
Now that 'Baby' has been weaned onto solid food (apart from the milk she has from me) this is a distinct possibility. Once we ate at a carvery and the dodgy nappy she had later that day confirmed my suspicions - they must have put butter on the veggies. Baby, being quite a bit older than before, and presumably more tolerant by this stage, didn't actually have the dodgy nappy until the evening. She had another the next morning, but it was less severe - possibly because I ate the same as her and it took a bit longer for the milk protein to pass through my milk and into her.

3. Either 'Baby' or myself have eaten something else to which she is sensitive. 
We were warned, when weaning 'Baby' that she may be sensitive to other foods also. This meant that we had to be exceptionally careful - adding one new thing to her diet at a time, for four/five days, before trying something new. This is because a reaction to a food may not become evident, until after you've eaten something several times. However, sometimes it can take even longer to cause a reaction, as we were to discover. 

It was 'Baby's' Vitamin D drops, which caused the problem. We had been advised to give her these from the age of six months (this is standard advice for mothers who continue to breastfeed beyond the first six months, as breast milk does not contains much Vitamin D). It wasn't until about six months later that we realised we had a problem, when 'Baby' came down with what I thought was a stomach bug. 

When the 'bug' didn't go away, I kept a strict food diary, and eliminated different foods from her diet (one at a time) to try and find a pattern. This took about three weeks. Eventually there was nothing else to eliminate but the vitamin drops. When I stopped them, hey presto, the dodgy nappies 'miraculously' stopped! When I reintroduced the drops, they began again, so there could be no doubt - the vitamin drops were the cause!

So back to her most recent nappy...

The nappy the other morning was not as bad as in the early days - so hopefully one day there will be no reaction whatsoever. She hasn't been writhing around in the day but was rather restless overnight.The poo wasn't runny, like it used to be - just a bit more yellowy and much softer than normal but the skin on her botty was an angry red colour. Unusually it has stayed that way for a few days. 

Thinking back over the last few days, I can't think that we have given her anything with cow's milk in it, so maybe it's something else that's causing the problem. Maybe it's because I've just started having coconut milk recently, and the proteins from that are coming through my milk and affecting her. Or, maybe it's because we've upped the amount of soya milk she's having and she's developing a sensitivity to that. Perhaps it's some ingredient in the new type of Free From biscuits she ate on Sunday. Who knows at this stage? We'll just have to take all the foods that are under suspicion out of her diet and then (once her skin has cleared up) add them all back in again, one by one, until we find the culprit!! 

Sharing the love - it's the little things...

This morning, as anticipated the Hub and I exchanged cards and chocolate. Not wanting Baby to be left out, there was a card for her too. 

What I had not expected (although perhaps I should have done, knowing her love of both bags and chocolate) was that she would take possession of first my husband's bag of chocs, then mine too! Not in any hurry to devour them, as we had to get out fairly quickly this morning, we did not demur but let her cart them around from one place to the next - until it was time to leave. 

This evening, Baby was presented with a tiny gift bag of her own, containing a little box with a silver heart in it. The heart emits a gentle jingle jangly sound when shaken. Nothing could sound more heartfelt than the 'Fwank you!' that my little tot uttered - her joy had been made complete, and the other bags were completely forgotten, redundant, dismissed. 

Her cup ranneth over, when having eaten her dinner, I slipped a few Free From chocolate coins into the bag, along with the box. Again came the artless and heartfelt tones of before, as she 'Fwanked' me. At this point, my heart swelled and my cup ranneth over too. Definitely more blessed to give than receive!

Not expensive, just little things, but the joy that they brought to one dairy free tot... priceless!! 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Winter Warmers

Brr! It's been so chilly this week! I don't know if you've woken up to snow at all, but we certainly have. I love snow - watching it fall; walking in it; playing in it. When I come back in from the snowy cold, I don't know about you, but I really need a hot drink to warm me back up again. As I watched my husband put on the kettle and reach for his instant hot chocolate sachet, the other day, I felt rather envious - thinking how much I would like to do the same (last year, before my other intolerances became apparent, I used to heat up some chocolate Oatly instead)

It brought back to mind those times as a child, when we'd been out to play in the snow. When we came back in again, our fingers all numb and tingly, my mum would make us hot chocolate (the old-fashioned way) by warming up a pan of hot milk and stirring in some cocoa powder. Then it hit me - surely I had a tin of cocoa* somewhere in the back of my cupboard? And I knew I had a carton of coconut milk on hand, just in case of an 'emergency'. 

Well probably most of you will have got there before me and already made your hot chocolate this way, but I've got so used to living without milk that I don't think of using even the available substitutes that often. I gave up eating cereal, when I became intolerant to wheat and corn and gave up trying anything in my tea or coffee fairly early on as I didn't like rice milk (was advised against it anyway, as I was breastfeeding) and couldn't have soya. At that time I hadn't discovered coconut milk or any of the others, so just got used to living without it. Not being the most adventurous cook in the world, mostly my milk substitutes just sit in the cupboard... waiting. Now at last I had found something to try with my milk substitutes... Hot Chocolate!!

Of course when you're dairy free it's not instant, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out altogether!! If you've not tried it before, it's fairly simple...

Step 1 Grab yourself a pan from the cupboard, and put it on the stove. Measure out a cup of your preferred milk substitute (mine'll be coconut) and pour it in the pan. Get a gentle heat going under your pan, whilst you...

Step 2 Dig that good old-fashioned drinking cocoa out of the back of the cupboard and measure the required amount of teaspoonfuls into your favourite mug (mine already has sugar added in, but you might need to add sugar to yours).

Step 3 Some cocoa powders advise you to mix your cocoa powder with some cold milk first. Once the rest of the milk is heated up, pour it carefully into your mug and stir like fury! Baby, being just about old enough now, I make some for her too.

Step 4 Now where did I put those mini marshmallows?  Can't find them anywhere! Bother! Oh well! Best put those on my shopping list for next time!

Step 5 Sit back and enjoy!

Now I've started, with the milk substitutes, there's a few more winter warmers I'll be giving a go. Porridge is definitely on my list and (having been to someone's for dinner the other week) the next thing I'm feeling inspired to try is rice pudding. Both of these will be just right for keeping me warm - what with all this cold weather we've been having! Then, of course, there's always custard (you can get cartons of ready-made custard if you can tolerate soya)) and Pancake Day is coming up soon...

* Always check the ingredients of course! It should be cocoa, but some 'may contain traces of...'

Friday, 10 February 2012

For when you get the munchies...

Biscuits, Cakes & Other Yum Stuff
There's nothing like a good biscuit, or cake, when you've got what Winnie the Pooh might call a "rumbly" in your "tumbly". Following fairly (ahem) extensive research (my waistline will confirm this) I discovered that there's some good dairy free alternatives out there along with 'normal' biscuits that are already dairy free! I'm going to share with you some of my faves.

Free From
Let's look first at some Free From alternatives. There are some goodies out there but, as always, Free From means more expensive.

Jaffa Cakes - I've come across two versions: one from Tescos and the other is Kelkin's which are available at the moment from Sainbury's and The Co-op. Kelkin's are the best as far as I'm concerned. The version you can get in Tescos is inferior being smaller, drier and harder. Kelkin's, tastes so similar to the original that I can't fault the flavour at all. The only downsides are the size (smaller than 'normal' Jaffa Cakes) and the price.

Chocolate Chip Cookies - I can't decide whether I prefer Doves Organic or Waitrose Gluten Free (also dairy free but you have to read the back of the pack to find that out). Both are quite yummy - especially the Waitrose double chocolate version. The Doves version I have only found in an independent health food shop, so far - even though Waitrose stock two other types of Doves organic cookies. These other two types are nice enough but the chocolate version is far superior, in my opinion.

Sun Start Supreme Golden Crunch and Raspberry Golden Crunch - the nearest I have got to something like shortbread, that I like. Produced by an American company, they are available in Tescos and Holland & Barrett.

Chocolate Muffins - Tescos & Sainsburys both produce a pack of two chocolate muffins. They're not huge but they are soft, moist and taste yummy.

Chocolate Cake Bars - Tescos Free From taste very nice indeed.

Chocolate Brownies - various versions around. OK Foods Free From Chocolate Brownies from The Co-op seem quite yummy.

Madeira Cake - Asda's seemed quite nice. You could serve slices of this with dairy free custard, for a quick and easy pud.

9 Bar ...Original - I know they definitely sell these in Waitrose. They are both delicious and nutritious but sadly a bit strong on my stomach, these days. I think it's all those seeds!!

Cherry Bakewells - Tescos and Sainsbury's both do a decent Free From version. If I' picky, I don't like the pastry all that much, but I think all shop bought pastry is a bit inferior.

Bramley Apple Pies - Tescos and Saunbury's must use the same suppliers! Tasty. These might make a quick handy pud when served with some dairy free custard or dairy free ice cream.

Scones - Tescos and Sainbury's both do a decent Free From version with dried fruit. No cheese ones unfortunately, for obvious reasons!

'Normal' Fare
There is a fair bit of 'normal' food which is dairy free. Often it is the cheaper version of a classic, which has been made with vegetable oil because it's cheaper than using milk! However, you must always check the label, as manufacturers may well change the recipe without warning! Also the products in this category may well contain traces of milk (as they are made on a normal production line) so if you are really sensitive to dairy, they may not be suitable for you.

Digestives - Free From digestives are nothing like a good Mc Vities. The nearest I got to the McVities was Doves Organic Digestives, which can be found alongside all the other 'normal' biscuits in Waitrose, even though they're dairy free. I got to the point where I preferred them to McVities, until I had to go wheat free.

Rich Tea - a classic biscuit, good when you need something bland! Waitrose essentials version is or was dairy free, when I was still eating wheat.

Hobnobs - joy oh joy! I was ecstatic when I discovered these were dairy free, as I so love flap jacks - that syrupy oatey taste! Hobnobs were the nearest I got to replicating what I was missing, until I discovered...

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars (Oats & Honey) - absolutely delicious! I loved these before I had to go dairy free and was overjoyed when I realised they were still OK for me to eat. They're a bit pricey though!

Doves Organic Flapjacks - I've a feeling these were produced with Vegans in mind. I love the version with apple and sultana! They also produce muesli bars but I prefer the flapjack above all.

Fox's Party Rings - a recent revelation! My daughter loves these! Ideal for when your dairy free child goes to parties!

Date and Walnut Cake - Waitrose are the stars here. I liked it, when I could still eat wheat.

Sesame Snaps - these are yummy. They're a bit hard on your teeth - literally but also because they're so sweet and sticky. Sesame is meant to be a good natural source of calcium, so these could be useful if you're trying to consume enough calcium!

Crumpets - the last time I tried Free From Crumpets from Tescos I couldn't eat them they tasted so disgusting! However, Tescos own cheaper 'normal' version of crumpets are dairy free and taste fine! Perfect with dairy free chocolate grated over the top, or with honey!

Check the Ingredients on the back of the popcorn - just to be sure!
Popcorn - yes if you find the right type, you can still eat popcorn. Salty should be dairy free and sweet can be too, but make sure you check the labels carefully. I have fallen in love with Tyrells Sweet & Salty version. It's not just me - hubby and baby loves it too. Tescos and Sainsbury's have their own versions but they're not quite as nice!

Baby & Toddler Fare
A lot of baby food is dairy free because milk is not meant to be used in their diet to begin with. The following are some that we have come across:

Farley Original Rusks - dairy free but high in sugar and not very satisfying in my opinion. Baby didn't get them much and didn't seem that impressed, when she did.

Plum Spelt Fingers - baby kind of liked these until she came across real biscuits! Then she wouldn't touch them. They are quite hard. Wrapped in packs of two, they're useful for taking out and about in your bag.

Organix Goodies Organic Oaty Bites - kind of like flapjacks, they come in bars (like a muesli bar) or in packs with individually wrapped bite size pieces (useful again for your bag or pocket). They're not as yummy as flap jacks (they're sweetened with natural fruit juices) but if baby has never had the real thing she'll never know, will she? 

Orgran Gluten Free Mini Outback Animals Chocolate Cookies - Only found in Sainsbury's so far. The animal pieces are quite small and come in mini packs. Dry and yet somehow slightly chewy; they have a chocolatey taste that is also a bit syrupy. Baby didn't enjoy these.

Summing up
Looking back at the list I've made here, there's quite a lot of choice out there, after all. So there's no need for anyone's 'tumbly' to be too 'rumbly'! However, I'm sure there's more that I've missed or don't know about yet, so if you have any hot tips... please let me/us know and share the joy!!

Update! Bah! My little one has turned out to be more sensitive than first thought - she now reacts to 'may contain'. She is more likely to react than not. So do watch out! 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Shopping Around... Dairy Free

When we first started shopping dairy free, I must admit I was a bit daunted. I mean, I knew that I was safe with plain meat and fruit and veg but there had to be more to food than that!! Would I have to give up cakes, biscuits and chocolate? It's all very well being born with a milk allergy - you never know what you're missing, but when it is suddenly thrust upon you (and until now you've been able to eat whatever you like) you know exactly what you're missing! 

Fortunately, as I was to discover, there is food that you can still enjoy out there... somewhere, it's just finding it! 

First, know your 'enemy'!

So you've got the list? You know the one that goes like this...

Check labels for: 
milk (including skimmed, semi skimmed, evaporated, condensed, dried, longlife, sterilised)
fromage frais
hydrolysed casein
whey solids
whey syrup sweetener
milk solids
non fat milk solids

Yes? Well, now you have it, anyway!

This'll be the list that you'll need to assist you in your shopping! The list looks a bit long long to remember off by heart, but of course most of these do not need to be learned off by heart as they are pretty much common sense. It's the unusual words, that you never realised had anything to do with milk (for me it was 'casein') that really need to be taken in. By the way, watch out for 'lactose free' - this does not mean 'milk free' or 'dairy free'!

Checking the labels

Dairy free shopping means checking the food labels on every food product you purchase (even if you have bought the product before, as recipes and ingredients can change) and being aware of all the ways that milk might be referred to on these labels. It can be a bit of a chore. 

Once upon a time, it was much more difficult to source suitable products, I believe health food stores were pretty much the only option (I shudder to think what people did before these came along). Now the big supermarkets have got in on the act; they've cottoned on to the 'need' or 'market' and made things slightly easier for us - in that they not only stock specific 'Free From' products but helpfully group them together in one section. The big stores also have lists of dairy free products which can be obtained from them, if you ask.

A supermarket Free From aisle

Helpful as this is, the frustrating thing is,that they often major on 'Gluten Free' products some of which (by no means all) are also dairy free, so again you need to check labels. Conversely and confusingly, sometimes products labelled 'Gluten Free' are sometimes also dairy free but do not state it openly. Waitrose gluten free chocolate chip cookies are just one example of this and it's a shame they don't make more of the dairy free labelling, because in my opinion, they're quite scrummy. 

Recently I met a mother whose child, like mine, was dairy free and who expressed her frustration at the restrictions of her child's diet. She just wanted to buy her daughter 'ordinary food'. If you are or have family members who are dairy free, you have probably shared this frustration at some point. The good news is, that there are products out there on the shelves of the supermarkets**. The bad news is that it is a bit like looking for a needle in haystack unless you get some hot tips from someone you know (I can still remember the huge sense of joy I felt, when told by the curate's wife, that Hobnobs were dairy free). 

Use modern technology

The next bit of good news is, that you can get an app for that!! Called 'Food Maestro,' its been made in conjunction with Health Care Professionals, who work with allergies. It doesn't work in all stores yet, but is getting there!

My husband has been my lifeline - he often finds food products, when doing the weekly shop (which, to make life easier, we now do online at Ocado). He originally started doing this to avoid the weekend scrum at the supermarkets and soon discovered he liked the way they laid out their product information. It was through investigating Ocado's website that he discovered my gluten free pasta, which I'm only mentioning here because it is made with chickpeas and is therefore quite handy if you are trying to top up your daily calcium (it's also available from Waitrose, in the fresh pasta section). Of course other stores do similar things with online shopping, you just need to find the one that suits you. 

You can also shop online by using Internet food stores devoted to allergies. I haven't used these personally but have looked at a few and found them quite interesting. They have a wider range than you might find at a supermarket and provide accurate information.  The only thing you might find with these is that delivery charges add to the price of already pricey items - Free From food is already expensive enough as it is! 

You may decide online shopping is not for you and may not have a smartphone on with which to use fancy apps but you can still find product information online, and browse for ideas before you hit the shops. In the past we have used Sainsburys site which seemed to be fairly helpful but I don't generally spend much time browsing for products, unless I'm looking for something specific. Also I get frustrated if I can see something online but not in my local store! 

It's worth shopping around 

Someone made me laugh the other week by pointing out that my husband*** works for one major supermarket, but that we shop elsewhere - at Ocado and Waitrose. This is not entirely true - living in an area where I have quite good access to a number of different supermarkets, I hop around the different shops according to where I happen to be that day or according to which Free From products I want, as the supermarkets all vary slightly in what they have to offer. Prices can vary too, as I found out last week, when I visited the Co-op and found that my favourite brand of Free From bread and my Free From Jaffa cakes are currently cheaper at the Co-op than at either Sainsburys or Tescos! 

I also still pop in to independent health food shops from time to time. They might be a bit pricier than the supermarkets but they quite often have products that you can't find elsewhere (except maybe the allergy food shops online). Where else can you find a dairy substitute made from pea protein? And they tend to offer their customer a bit more of a personal touch than supermarkets too. Who else might offer to order in something that they don't have in stock, but will offer to order it anyway, because they can get hold of it and they know you want it - like those Free From ice cream cones I wanted, last summer? Yes! These days you can get dairy free ice cream! Mmm! Sounds like a cue for another blog!

*Watch out for 'lactose free' on labels - this does not necessarily mean 'dairy free'!

**The bad news is that if you are really sensitive to milk, a lot of these products may not be suitable for you. Even if they do not contain milk in the ingredients, they may still contain 'traces of milk'. This is because they have other products made on the same production line that are made with dairy - in which case they cannot guarantee 100% that a tiny amount of dairy might not enter the one you're after. 

NB Something else to look out for - if something is suitable for Vegans then it may also be dairy free. Although some products that say they are Vegan still say 'may contain milk'. The only way to be sure is to (yep, you've got it) check the label carefully everytime.

*** The Hub no longer works for any supermarket - just in case you're wondering!


Food labelling is soon to change in the UK - to come in to line with the EU. The change is due to take place in December 2014, but many food manufacturers are already changing the labelling. All of the eight major allergens will HAVE to be highlighted in some way - most manufacturers seem to be using a bold type for this. Link to Food Gov's information on this here.