Saturday, 17 March 2012

Be the Easter Bunny!

Find your inner bunny!
Ok, so you might be glad to know that I don't actually mean literally donning a bunny costume and hopping around (although you can if you like)! All I'm suggesting is that, if you can't find a dairy free Easter egg to suit your tastes, you might like to go DIY - dairy-free it yourself!

I have to say, it's not always cheaper to make your own - as I discovered once, when I made a dress to wear to a friend's wedding. The blood, sweat and tears that it caused, along with the time it took and the surprising cost of materials, made me wonder if it had all been worth the effort - especially as I never wore that dress again! 

However, there may have been times when you've invested a little bit of personal effort that have been very well rewarded - in which case you might like to be a bit creative this year and create your own dairy-free alternative. 

You may well have some better ideas (in which case, please share) but here are some that came to my mind. You could:

1. Make your own eggs using chocolate moulds - I bought some moulds (from a good independent kitchen goods retailer) last year (having looked online) but have just found some much cheaper at The Works. It cost 99p for a kit containing one sheet of small egg moulds as well as a larger egg mould. Larger branches of Sainsbury's also sell some nice silicon Easter egg moulds in the seasonal aisle, these start from around £1.50.

These (Hobby Craft) could be useful, if you want to make your own.
If you're planning to make your own, you could use the following:

Kinnerton produce a bar of dark chocolate, which is not as bitter as some can be. Baby definitely seems to enjoy it. Most of the supermarkets seem to stock this on their Free From shelves.

Moo Free chocolate produce a bar of 'milk' chocolate. You can usually buy this at Waitrose, or online at Ocado (although just recently it has been strangely absent, so maybe there have been some problems with supply).

If you're not sure how to go about it, I found an excellent step-by-step guide, with pictures, which might prove useful. I have to admit, not having tried this yet, I'm not sure how well dairy free chocolate will work, but hopefully just as well!

These could be packaged using various craft options for Easter Baskets etc, or using a tip I found on one website (and I honestly can't remember where) you could buy a 'normal' chocolate egg for the packaging and substitute it with your own homemade dairy free version.

Alternatively, you might like to buy a mug or egg cup to accompany your offering. If you fancy being crafty and designing your own, Hobby Craft sell plain ones, that you can decorate yourself with ceramic paints or pens. 

Cute little chickies - always a winner!
2Make/buy an Easter basket and fill it with goodies - such as Dairy Free chocolate buttons (available at most supermarkets) along with colourful shredded paper and a fluffy bunny or chick. Waitrose sell some lovely large felt baskets, whilst Hobby Craft sell more traditional style baskets. I love the  gorgeous Easter baskets by Gisela Graham, which you can find on Amazon, (if you can't find them locally). Or you could always make your own, if you're feeling really crafty.

Paint by numbers
3If, however, you don't fancy making your own chocolate eggs, you could always buy a cardboard Easter Egg and fill it - with dairy free chocolate buttons or at larger branches of Waitrose you can buy packets of sweets that look a bit like smarties - these can be found in the Free From section. If you want to give this idea a go, cardboard eggs can be found on Amazon but also on the high street, in good local card shops. Hobby craft also sell them, either completely plain (ready to be decorated) or with a 'paint by numbers' style picture.

Filled jars can look very attractive
4. Fill a jar - with yummy treats. This is easy to do and can look really attractive. It can also work out quite cheaply, depending on how you got about it. Either use a preserving jar (you could always tie a pretty ribbon around the top of the jar and add a label) or an ordinary jam jar (in which case, why not cut a circle of left-over fabric to tie over the top). Free From chocolate coins from Sainsbury's might come in useful for filling the jar, or maybe chocolate caramels that those made by 'Choices'.

5. Get crafty - if you're feeling inspired, are quite crafty and want a project you can really get your teeth into, then I found a site online that provides ideas for all kinds of Easter projects and they're all free (well the ideas are anyway)!!

Whether you do decide to DIY, or whether (like me) you end up 'cheating' and buy one, enjoy!! Do let us know how you got on! Oh, and Happy Easter!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

More on the Easter Bunny's progress

Getting a bit impatient with the Sainsbury's/Kinnerton's Dairy Free Easter Bunny now. Supposedly available in 'selected' stores, I've been to the three Sainsbury's near me several times (two of which are large stores) and am yet to find one - and I have family (in different parts of the UK) on the case too!

They may, of course, just be waiting for Mother's Day to be over and done with first - to make more room in the seasonal aisle. But time is running out now... (taps toe in frustration).

Meanwhile, the dairy free 'milk' chocolate egg that I was looking for in Tescos has made an appearance elsewhere! Spotted in Holland & Barrett alongside a 'white chocolate' one!! The white one is smaller but has cute bunnies on it - now that's a bit more like it!! The packaging on the others hasn't changed from last year, but at least I know what to look for. And if you're shopping in Holland & Barrett right now it's 'Buy one get one half price time' - bargainous!! 
Woo hoo! Choices - aptly named!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Calcium! Are you getting enough...?

"Did you know that not getting enough could actually kill you? Well according to the Daily Mail..." The Hub (who sounded mildly interested when I began making my point) harrumphs loudly at this point, makes despairing noises about me reading that particular newspaper again and returns to whatever he was doing on his laptop. I, however, am quite perturbed. It seems that getting my calcium intake correct is more important than I thought. I mean, I know I didn't want my bones to go all crumbly, but die? Really?

Do I really need Calcium?
It turns out that Calcium (number twenty on the periodic table) is not just important for preventing crumbly bones (osteoporosis). It is essential for the following reasons:
  • strong bones and teeth
  • clotting blood
  • sending signals between the brain and nerves
  • muscles - squeezing and relaxing
  • the release of hormones and other chemicals
  • regulating your heartbeat                          (US National Library of Medicine)
And apparently, this isn't just another 'women's thing' - it's something that we all need to watch out for. Well I never! Best pay attention to this one then!

How much?
So let's start at the beginning with this one - hands up who knows how much you should be getting (sorry no prizes for getting it right). Well if you said 700mg a day (UK Food Standards Authority) you wouldn't be wrong, but actually not necessarily right either! (That is the without taking into account the fact that it varies according to age/sex etc.) 

In fact, where you live might make some difference to your answer, because different countries seem to make vastly different recommendations! Sweden recommends 800mg a day, the US 1,000mg and Australia as much as 1,300mg a day! So it seems sensible, to me, take the view of Dr Virginia Warren of Bupa and aim for between 700mg-1,200mg of calcium a day.

Of course that was just for the adults! How about everyone else? Well the SNDRi (I couldn't find a UK reference online, so I used a booklet by this organisation which I think is Scottish, so that means British - for now) recommends the following:

1-3 years                        350mg
4-6 years                        450mg
7-10 years                       550mg
11-18 years                     900mg
adults                             700mg
breastfeeding women     1250mg
post-menopausal women 1000mg                                        (SNDRi - 'milk-free zone')

If you prefer to follow US Government recommendations, you can refer to the NIH

Available as a dietary supplement
Well, although you can get dietary supplements, the best way to get calcium (which it turns out is actually a metal) is, of course, through what you eat and the richest source is... wait for it... dairy!! Apparently about a pint of milk would give you enough for one day (good old pint, eh?). Hmm!! Not much good for dairy free baby and me then, is it? 

Where else?
Well there are other places, but don't be fooled, it's not all that easy! You may need to eat an awful lot of apricots and nuts!

Milk substitutes can provide calcium
Thankfully, these days, with good calcium enriched milk substitutes available, you can usually get around a third of your daily recommended amount, just by having one glass (200ml). However, you need to check each carton, as they are not all necessarily the same - the amount of calcium may vary according to brand. 

If you don't fancy drinking dairy free milk straight, well, there are other ways of adding it to your diet- with a bowl of cereal or porridge in the morning, or perhaps a pancake? You could also squeeze it in by making a dairy free lasagna, or fish pie. Then there's always desserts, such as custard, rice pudding, bread pudding - anything in which you'd usually use milk. A mug of hot chocolate or a cold milk shake (Nesquik Strawberry for me) could also add to your daily intake - although you might want to watch your sugar levels here!

Also, Tropicana make an orange juice that is enriched with calcium - 35% of my daily allowance. So that's almost two-thirds, what about the rest? Well, bread is fortified with calcium, but a slice of white bread  will only provide 64mg. Still got a way to go to get my recommended daily allowance, then. 

The top dairy free source of Calcium is sadly... not chocolate! It is, apparently (if only I could  get myself to like it)  Whitebait - a 3oz. serving could provide me with a whopping 774mg of calcium!! However, I needn't despair, there are other places to look too - here's the list I was given:

Sardines in oil                                                                   75g                      375mg
Sardines in tomato sauce                                                    75g                      323mg
Tinned Salmon (flesh & bones)                                           100g                      300mg
Pilchards in tomato sauce                                                  115g                      288mg
Tinned Salmon (flesh, no bones)                                         100g                       91mg

Boiled Spinach                                                               90g                      144mg
(I'm not sure that Spinach is considered a great source of calcium, because the body doesn't absorb the calcium in spinach very well, this is because spinach also contains oxalate)
Boiled Curly Kale                                                             90g                      135mg
Stir-fried Okra                                                                50g                      110mg
Boiled Spring Greens                                                        90g                        68mg
Raw Watercress                                                              20g                        34mg

Pulses, Beans & Seeds
Steamed Tofu                                                                100g                      275mg
Tahini (sesame paste)                                                       25g                      170mg
Sesame Seeds                                                                 25g                       168mg 
(I believe the best way to get at the calcium in sesame seeds is to grind them)
Baked Beans                                                                  200g                       106mg
Canned Red Kidney Beans                                                  70g                        50mg

Ready Brek (made with water)*                                          40g                       480mg
Porridge (made with whole milk)                                      160g                       205mg
White Bread (medium)                                           1 slice  36g                         64mg
Swiss Style Museli                                                             50g                         55mg
Wholemeal Bread (medium)                                    1 slice  38g                         38mg

Medium Orange (peeled)                                                 160g                        75mg
Dried Figs                                                                       20g                        50mg
Currants                                                                         25g                        23mg
Dried Apricots                                                                 25g                        18mg

Other similar lists, listing some other alternative sources have been produced by The National Osteoporosis Foundation and The Vegan Society, among others. Another list that I've come across in a couple of places, (it might be American - it refers to molasses) may also prove useful, although some of the units of measurement seem to be missing! Another list for the Americans (produced by the US Government) also seems quite useful, but you need to scroll down to find the calcium!

Anything else you need to know?
Well, yes, actually - don't overdo it! It seems that taking too much calcium can give you tummy pains, diarrhea, kidney stones and now heart problems (Daily Mail)!! 

Also, you need to make sure that you are  also getting enough vitamin D to help your body absorb all that calcium, but more on that one another day!! 

Another thing to consider is the big E - exercise! Apparently 'weight bearing' exercise (walking, running etc.) helps to keep your bones strong.

And last of all, watch how much cola you drink - well caffeine actually! Apparently it makes your body excrete all that lovely calcium. Oh dear!! Now for me... that could be a bit of a problem - I do love my coffee... and chocolate...!!

Updates January 2015:

*Please note: Ready Brek used to be listed as a good source of calcium, indeed it is, but it now carries a milk warning - 'not suitable for milk allergy sufferers'!

Thanks to Sarah (@Sugarpuffish, via Twitter), I've just come across this new list suggesting good sources of calcium. I must admit, I really like the star ratings, which makes everything so much easier to understand! However, the reference to the calcium level in 'Wot no dairy?' yogurts is wrong - it's 60mg in 100g! The Hovis 'Best of Both' calculation also seems to be out - I cross-referenced it with this list from the BDA.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

One a penny, two a penny...

I like mine with marmalade.

Well apart from the packaging and possibly size (maybe the Sainos one is slightly bigger) I can't really tell the two apart.

With Easter just around the corner, I'm looking at Tescos and Sainsbury's Free From hot cross buns. Baby's not fussed, 'cos she doesn't know what she's missing, but me (being brought by parents who loved them) can't quite feel that I've 'done' Easter without them.

There's really not much difference between the two - neither have that lovely gooeyiness that you have with 'normal' hot cross buns (bought from the shop). Both are dry and have a funny graininess about them. Tescos handily packages them individually - good idea because (being dry enough already) unless you've got your whole family eating free from, you're hardly going to want to use them all in one sitting. 

Like stale bread, best recommendation is that you slice them in half like a tea cake; toast them; slap on a bit of dairy free spread and then a bit of home made marmalade. 
Marmalade? I you hear you ask why? Well it was what my parents did and funnily enough it does seem to go quite well - it certainly takes off the dryness. Haven't convinced Baby yet though. Ah well! Took me a few years to develop a taste for food that had dried fruit as an ingredient. She'll get there eventually!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Eating out - Mission Possible

There's always chips!

Where there's a will...
I'd be lying if I said it was easy, 'cos it's not. But, it is indeed possible to eat out dairy free - sort of. I kind of feel you have to be brave, take the plunge and give it a go. Okay, you might not have such a big range from which to choose (as you used to) and you may have to forego a few puds, but if the worst comes to the worst, you can usually find somewhere that does chips (as long as they don't stick some coating on them)! 

It's easier, of course, if you're able to cope with that magical phrase, 'traces of milk,' than if you're not. The main thing is to plan ahead and do your research. Unfortunately, a number of times we've thought we'd covered our bases, and done our research, only to come unstuck. However, usually this has been down to misinformation, rather than our lack of preparation. Fortunately, for us, it has not been life-threatening but it has been upsetting nonetheless.

Of course what is possible all depends on the kind of establishment at which you're planning to eat. If you're planning on fine dining (where they cook to order) I think there's a bit more leeway, especially if you phone ahead and warn staff in advance. However, if you're planning on dropping in on a high street establishment, (without naming too many names) here's a few things we have learned through bitter, and some not so bitter, experience:

Never be afraid to ask
Remember never be afraid to ask. I've had to become a lot more assertive. There's nothing to be lost by asking. I've been places, where they've agreed to cook my order in oil rather than butter, which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't asked what they could do for me. Ultimately, if staff can't answer your enquiries, then, 'If in doubt, leave it out,' definitely applies!! 

Make your needs clear
Make sure waiting/serving staff understand your requirements, especially if the nature of your need is such that the smallest particle of dairy is a problem. A restaurant that truly caters for the allergic customer will understand the need to avoid cross-contamination and will cook/prepare your food using separate utensils.

It is possible to get cards, which list your dietary needs, to hand to restaurant staff, in order to make things clear. I've not used them myself, although I think I would almost certainly use them if eating out abroad. I did look into them at one point. You can buy them online, although some sites also offer them for free. 

Don't turn up at the last minute
If you turn up when you are all hungry (and your child is at their most fractious) only to find that the staff can't accommodate your needs, small children won't understand. At that moment in time, their hungry howls will make your life even more miserable than it is already.

Research in advance
Visit restaurants when you/they are not busy to find out what they can do. Phone ahead. Check out in advance which chains publish their menu online. Most do, but they may not make it clear what they can offer in the way of dairy free. McDonald's do, but the website is a bit unwieldy - you have to select an item and then look up it's nutritional information. 

Wagamama's also have an online menu and we find it really helpful. Being based around South East Asian cuisine (which tends not to use dairy) there's quite a fair choice of milk free main dishes to choose from. We look online and choose before we go (speeds up the ordering process too). Don't expect too much of their desert menu though - sadly mostly dairy!

The other thing we like about Wagamamas is that you can also get take away. If you have internet access you can order in advance and pick it up when you get there. Even better, if you have a smartphone, you can (as they say) 'get an App for that!!'

The only thing to watch is that some chains with online menus seem to want you to provide a location, when you try to examine them. This may well mean that they don't have the same options available in different places - something to watch out for, if you're travelling around.

Be aware that claims made on the phone, online or even on the door may not match up to your experience! 
The ability to deliver what you want/need/expect may depend on whether the staff have been properly trained/briefed in regards to what they can/cant deliver. Or it may depend on how much food has been prepared in advance. If it has just taken out and reheated, then, even with the best will in the world, there's not much anyone can do about it. 

At one Italian chain I encountered staff who gave the impression that they understood my needs (when they were trying to coax me through the door) only for me to find that they only had one suitable option for Baby on the children's menu (pasta with tomato sauce - hardly what I would call a balanced meal). Not only that, although I had clearly stated that I couldn't have wheat/gluten, the waitress still brought me complimentary breadsticks!

Choice of cuisine can help! 
As aforementioned, South East Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Korean, Thai etc.) tends not to use dairy (not so good for the gluten or soy free though). In which case, Ping PongCosmos, and Wagamama's are all good options. However, not all Asian food is the same as Indian cuisine, on the other hand, does use quite a bit of dairy. 

I find French restaurants, are sadly not a good choice, as much of their food tends to be made with an awful lot of dairy, in the form of butter or cheese. Italian tends to be better, as a lot of heir sauces are tomato-based, although I have noticed some bolognese sauces contain milk, too!

At one large French chain I thought my luck was in when, on enquiry at the door, I was handed an allergy information chart. After a fair amount of study, I discovered there was pretty much nothing on their menu that I could eat apart from olives, nuts and salad (mind you, I'm not just dairy free)! Thankfully I was only scouting them out at the time and wasn't relying on eating with them there and then!

Good (and I stress 'good') pubs can be a good place to grab a bit to eat but beware of hidden dangers! Once you think you've made a fairly safe choice, don't forget to ask staff whether food is cooked/basted/roasted in butter. We've made the mistake in the past of thinking that a roast is a fairly safe bet but there can be pitfalls - chicken gravy may contain milk and so may any sausages that arrive on the side. 

Once I ordered the roast, only to find that it was impossible to separate the meat from the gravy. However, usually I order the roast and ask them not to add gravy. Then (being wheat/gluten free as well) I ldon't have the accompanying sausages/Yorkshire pudding.

Another thing to watch out for, is that sometimes chefs add a small knob of butter to veggies to glaze and flavour them slightly. This occurred at a carvery which we visited once. It only became evident when Baby had  reaction - our fault, on this occasion, for being unprepared. It did explain, though, the unusual amount of enthusiasm with which Baby ate her carrots! 

Some chain pubs you might want to consider are places like Table Table, Beefeater or Harvester. Your choices may be fairly limited (I'm usually chicken and chips at a Harvester) but it's better than nothing. Avoid carveries though, in my experience, as everything is produced en masse - not much room for manoeuvre and buffet style eating comes with additional risks from your fellow diners - mixing up the serving spoons or inadvertently spilling food from one dish into another. 

Deli style sandwich bars
These are the kind of places where they assemble the food in front of you. Depending on the establishment, they can be quite good for grabbing a light bite. In the pasgt, I've asked staff to leave off spread (and mayonnaise, if staff are unsure) and just give me the bread and the filling. One drawback is that some breads are made with dairy, so you need to check this out with staff too, but also there might be cross-contamination between the pots of fillings - which are usually uncovered.

Deli style bars often offer things like soup and baked potatoes too. However, check the soup ingredients and when ordering baked potatoes make sure they don't put the butter in the potato before serving it to you. Tuna and mayonnaise jacket potato has become a good lunchtime friend of mine - some places, it's the only thing on the menu that I can eat. Mayo can be dairy free - Hellman's Original is, whereas their light version isn't! Quite often, when I ask, staff offer me the tub to check the label for myself.

Supermarket Restaurants
I've not tried many, but the Sainsbury's near us can be quite useful. The only guaranteed Free From food they currently sell is a chocolate brownie by the till, but if you can cope with 'may contain...' then they have a folder to inform staff about the ingredients in each dish. Usually, the staff come up trumps and produce it for you. Best done, when the restaurant is not too busy, in my experience!! 

Fish and Chips
However, if nothing else is available, and you're dairy free, good old-fashioned fish and chips can usually be found on most high streets. The only thing to check may be the ingredients of any sausages or batter and whether they share the fryer with any other items that contain dairy. I'm just guessing, but I suspect the pies are a complete, 'No, no!'

If you have been prescribed antihistamine or an epipen, you're probably already only too  well aware that you need to have this on hand - just in case!!

And finally...
Relax (if you can) and enjoy (what you can)!

And there's more... Milk substitutes

Look what I found!
Lookee here!  Not content with soya, and almond, it seems like Alpro is going all out to become the milk substitute of choice! Alpro has now brought out a 'hazelnut drink' (spotted in the chiller cabinet at Tescos the other day and also on the shelf at Waitrose). 

Although I think choice is a good thing, I'm not sure that bringing out more nut based milk substitutes is a good idea. It makes me wonder what Alpro's rationale is - especially as nut allergies are so common these days. 

I haven't tried it yet, I wonder if anyone else has given it a go...

Personally, what I'd like them to do, is to expand their dessert and yoghurt ranges  - making them with something else other than soya (as many people who are intolerant of dairy also cannot tolerate soya). Now there's an idea!