Saturday, 30 June 2012

Baking with Baby - Flapjacks

Hurrah! Got home from my Monday mum's group, this morning, to find my latest acquisition poking through the letterbox - my new dairy free and gluten free cookbook. Although, as I often explain, I'm no 'Nigella' I was 'sold' this book the other day by an online review from 'Pig in the Kitchen.' 

'Pig' in case you don't know posts lots of yummy recipes online, which I honestly like the look of but have not been brave enough to try... yet! For now, I just follow her posts and drool!! However, I took a sneaky peak at 'The Intolerant Gourmet' online, at Amazon (having read Pig's review) and thought I might just give it a go - particularly as it contained a recipe I thought would suit even me!

'Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!' I thought, after ordering the book.' Even I can make flapjacks.' With that thought in mind, and not able to wait until the new book arrived, I grabbed my old faithful cookery book off the shelf and dug out the flapjack recipe. Yep! Everything I needed I had in the cupboard and there was stuff that Baby could do too - Baby LOVES cooking!

"Let me! Let me!" squeaked Baby, so we got out the baking tin and rubbed margarine round it. I put the oven on and got out the saucepan. Baby helped scoop out margarine (150g/6oz) and put it in the pan. Having set that on a gentle heat to melt, we weighed out the demerara sugar (150g/6oz) and we added it to the pan. Once the sugar and margarine had melted and been mixed together, we added the oats (200g/8oz - gluten free) and mixed them in too, with a wooden spoon. It really took no time at all. 'Wow! I thought, 'I'd forgotten quite how easy they are to make and pretty quick too!'

As we emptied the mixture into the pan, it really didn't look like it was going to cover the bottom of the tin and even if it did, it looked as though it would only make wafer thin flapjacks. I looked back at the recipe. The lovely pile of flapjacks pictured there looked nothing like those that we were making. 

Just then, I noted that the recipe actually said that for a moister flapjack, you should use half the amount of sugar and use golden syrup instead. 'Rats!' I thought, 'golden syrup would make it yummier and a moister flapjack would be much nicer!' At that point, I had my first brainwave! I decided to make a second batch with just golden syrup  (1 tablespoon = 1oz) and combine the two. That way the mixture in the tin would look more generous and we would have more to eat as well!

That done, we put the flapjacks in the oven and I set my new baking best friend (my kitchen timer) to the right time (30-35 minutes). My timer has made all the difference in the world to my cooking (along with my other new baking best friend which is my oven thermometer). Before I had these, my cakes came out very badly indeed - partly because our the temperature of our (inherited) oven doesn't seem to match with the thermostat and partly because I wasn't keeping a close enough eye on it. 

My new BFF
The only problem, was that I should have turned the oven down (to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4) earlier. I had put it on high as the oven takes so long to heat up and as a result my flapjacks came out looking  somewhat overdone. 'Oh dear!' I thought, 'I can't even cook flapjacks any more!' 

However, I consoled myself with the recollection that whenever my mother had a baking disaster, when we were kids, we had eaten it and enjoyed it anyway. 

It was then that I had my second brainwave of the afternoon - to pick off the most burnt looking bits and use the wedding anniversary chocolate from Hotel Chocolat.

Originally, this had been intended for a bit of romantic 'a deux' fruit dipping, but those plans had been rudely overturned by Baby. However, this was now melted and drizzled 'artistically' over the top of my flapjacks. Et voila! Not only did they look quite good (by now) they also tasted quite good too (even better the next day, I discovered). 

Et Voila! (Try and ignore the overdone bits!)
'Maybe I have the makings of a domestic goddess after all,' I thought. 'After all I bet Pippa Kendrick never drizzled chocolate over her flapjacks.' And indeed, I found (as I studied her book, with glee) she hadn't. However, as I perused her book a bit more, I realised that indeed I still have along way to go. 'Pippa,' I decided, 'you need fear nothing from me. I am far from being a gourmet of any description, never mind an intolerant one!'

Mind you, bet she's never come across Mrs Watkin's Yum Yum cake - more on that another day! In the meantime, there's a few intolerant recipes that I might have to try... rhubarb streusel looks yum and so do some certain chocolate brownies!

Supping at Strada

We'd not tried Strada before. Well, I say we, more strictly speaking, I mean Baby and I. The Hub has apparently eaten there before. Of course I knew of Strada - they're a fairly well-known Italian-style restaurant chain and appear in high streets all over the UK. I think I'd heard someone said they hadn't been much good on the allergic front, but the other day, being on holiday at Center Parcs and needing a place to lunch (we'd already lunched at our 'usual' twice during the week) we ended up there anyway. 

The Hub had checked it out (online) the night before. Me being the awkward one (or so we thought) - requiring food which is both gluten and dairy free (which can be quite difficult) we were delighted to find that, among the 'Mains,' there was a lamb option I could have. Well, The Hub thought I could, but wasn't sure - the menu can, apparently ,vary from location to location. 

To our disappointment, the lamb option didn't appear on the menu board, outside the restaurant. Feeling braver than I sometimes do, I sighed and decided to go inside and ask anyway. 

The young chap at the desk was punctiliousness personified, but I believe I detected a slight look of horror/apprehensiveness as I coyly approached the subject of 'dietary requirements.' 'Not a very reassuring sign!' I thought. However, he managed to locate THE folder - you know, the one with all the allergy listings and was quite happy for me to rifle my way through the pages. The dishes were listed in alphabetical order with a whole raft of food allergies laid out across the top of the page. This made the table fairly difficult to read. Handily for me, wheat and dairy were listed alongside each other!

I soon discovered, that the lamb dish did indeed exist in this restaurant. The confusion  had occurred due to the fact that more than one menu seemed to be available. One was a main menu and another the lunch menu. There may even have been another kind drifting around, but only two (alongside the drinks menu) made it to our table!

We decided to go in and eat - reassured by the waiter that any dishes ordered from the kitchen, by us, would be accompanied by a notification to the chef, concerning our dietary requirements.

Drinks ordered, we set about ordering food. Me? Lamb with new potatoes, simple! Baby? Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish she loves, that we often make at home, simple! 

Baby's choice
Not so simple! The waiter soon returned, to (very apologetically) explain that the ragu sauce in the Spaghetti Bolognese was not dairy free. 'How strange!' I thought, 'we've never used milk to make our Spaghetti Bolognese! Are we missing something?' It turned out, as it often seems to do, these days, that the only dish available to the Dairy Free Baby or child, is pasta with a pomodoro tomato sauce. Disappointing!! And hardly nutritious - where's the protein?

Why is it, when us mums manage to make all manner of dairy free dishes at home, that restaurant chefs, with all their food training and expertise, can only come up with the same old one? Still, the twisty pasta looked nice! And Baby ate it quite willingly - although she couldn't manage the whole bowl!

Baby, being served from the 'Kid's Menu,' was entitled to Antipastini, but we decided she could probably skip those, as we knew she wouldn't eat the carrot sticks and couldn't be bothered to go through the rigmarole of checking the bread sticks. However, she also received a 'Fruit Cooler' (she had Apple & Blackcurrant) as well as a dessert. 

There was a dairy free dessert option - a 'Chilly Billy' ice lolly, made from natural fruit juices. She's had one of these before, at Nando's, but this one was more child sized and perhaps thus more 'small child friendly' than the one she'd had before. She gave it a good licking, for a while, but to be honest (having tried it) The Hub and I agreed that it wouldn't appeal to many kids that we knew, especially as it was a bit sharp.

My choice
Agnello Al Rosmarino (Lazio) - it sounds so nice in Italian, doesn't it? That's roasted lamb with potatoes and some greens, to you and me (I always go straight to the main course). The Hub, knowing my horror of being served meat containing blood, ordered it well done. It certainly was! 

Unaccustomed as I am, to eating my meat, 'well done,' in restaurant terms, I wasn't sure if what I got was turned out to perfection. I usually forget to order my meat, 'well done,' so end up with meat that is swimming in red juice - which I consume whilst silently praying that I won't fall ill! This meat, however, was so well done, that it was in fact a bit tough - but at least I knew I wouldn't catch anything from it. 

The potatoes and the greens, which accompanied it were nice enough, but the 'olive oil sauce' seemed more like a bath! I like olive oil, but not this much!

The Hub's Choice
Rigatoni Speck - A pasta dish, with ham and a creamy cheesey sauce - a dish that once upon a time would have been my choice too! The Hub's comment was that he found it a bit rich, but he said that he'd had it before and knew it would be quite rich. The Hub thought that what with Baby and me both being dairy free (meaning that cream and cheese had been off the menu for quite a while) he'd become unaccustomed to it! However, he thought that the dish itself was fine, for what it was.

What about the price?
Prices are listed online. Our meals broke down as follows:

Baby's Pasta, Drink and Dessert - £6.50

My lamb - £15.75

The Hub - Rigatoni - £9.95

Drinks - The Hub and I both chose San Pellegrino Limonata - a light and refreshing drink but at £2.30 for a can which your pour yourself...

Anything to add?
With all our food requirements, I was pleased that at least we could eat something and we didn't go hungry, which I would have done, if I'd gone to some of the other restaurants at Center Parcs (I still haven't found anything on the menu at Cafe Rouge which is both dairy and gluten free). However, I think I was a bit underwhelmed by the quality of both my food and Baby's food, especially for the price - I think I could do better if I ordered roast lamb in a country pub. 

That said, I might try Strada again, if options were limited, just to find out if the quality of the lamb was better elsewhere, when cooked by another chef. The waiter, however, definitely did his very best!

One more thing - it was nice to see that Strada had dedicated space to a children's play area, with some nice toys. Do they do this in all their restaurants, or is this just for Center Parcs? It was definitely a plus for Baby!!

Related Posts
Eating Giraffe Food
Dinner with Leon
Eating out - Mission possible

Friday, 22 June 2012

We're all going on a... dairy free summer holiday!

We're going on our summer holiday next week and despite the stress of all the packing (I've been working on the washing all week) that I know will precede this wondrous event, I'm still excited! The Hub has been working hard in his newish contracting role in the City and I know we could all do with a good break, so hopefully it will be just that.

Where are we going? 
Well, that's a good question. Before Baby was born, the world was our oyster. Since Baby was born, our priorities have changed somewhat - after all we have the dairy free thing to consider and then there's my gluten free thing and we won't go into all the rest...

I read other blogs from time to time of people with food allergies/intolerances jetting off to other lands, but I don't fancy loading my suitcase with all the extra dietary stuff as well as all the Baby stuff. I rather suspect that we'd be charged for extra weight! 

We did drive through France, for a skiing trip, when Baby was four months old. Hideous! The screaming that emanated  from the back of the car for a large portion of the journey (even though we stopped for a night halfway and services almost hourly) shattered the nerves of both of us, and although Baby is generally better in the back, these days... I don't think that, at this point in time, a journey of that length would be advisable for us!

At that point, I was still OK with wheat/gluten, and, apart from lunch, the catering was done for us, by chalet staff. They were there to ski basically, but were trainee chefs... apparently. It was almost amusing spelling out what dairy meant (so many people think that includes eggs) but slightly worrying at the same time. Still, at least they had their special recipe folder!

The main sticking point appeared to be dessert, which I didn't mind missing, as we don't have dessert that often, anyway. Then, one night, they decided to pull all the stops out. Thankfully, I kept my eyes open and managed not to tuck in to their 'dairy free dessert' before they realised their mistake. I thought it looked too good to be true! I felt so bad for them - they looked so crestfallen!

Center Parcs
So, anyway, this year, we've decided to do a repeat of last summer's expedition - as it is based only a few hours drive away and we can stop off at The Hub's sister en route. That way, no planes or services to consider or debate, and oh, did I mention? We're know where we're going, we know what the set-up is like, and we're going to self-cater - it's just easier and less stressful all round. We're going to Center Parcs.

OK, so we're unlikely to see much sunshine, but I'm not much of a one for lying still on a beach, anyway! Besides which, last year's trip was a huge success - even though Baby came down with a tummy bug on the first night, which lasted until the day we left. Despite that we still had an enjoyable time. In fact, it was such a success that Baby howled on the way home 'cos she missed her (slightly) older cousin, her aunt... and probably the beach, as well!

Center Parcs (Longleat) is an ideal set-up for us, for the following reasons:

1. Self-catering - this way, there's no anxiety about the food. The kitchen we had last year was not too badly equipped (although, this year, we're taking our own  potato peeler, chopping knives and frying pan) and bonus - it came with a dishwasher!

2. Free 'Land Train' - to get around the site (it only comes with this particular site). I'm not a cyclist - particularly uphill.

3. Beach with sand - Baby loves sand! 

4. Free play areas all over the site - Baby can't resist a swing!

5. The Forest - it provides a lovely back drop, which deadens noise, is full of wildlife (we had ducks come to our patio for breakfast each morning) and is wonderfully relaxing to stroll though.

6. Family orientated - there's activities for everyone of all ages/interests, most of which you have to pay extra for, but you don't have to pay for the swimming pool, unless you have lessons. I'm not such a fan of the effort involved in getting into a swimming cozzie, but baby needs to start learning soon.

Coffee and cake!
7. Starbucks - which means I can still stop for coffee and cake (gluten and dairy free Chocolate and Hazelnut Loaf) just like everyone else.

8. The Sports Cafe - where, if we so desire, we can get lunch. This is no mean feat, if you want dairy free - rarer still if you're gluten free as well! Well, there was last year, anyway. Of course this year, I'll just have to check it's still the same. But yes! It was jacket potato with tuna mayonnaise (had to check the mayo.) for me, and fish fingers and chips, for Baby. But at least that's something! And the cafe came with a soft play area. Baby wasn't big enough last year, but this year...

9. Shopping - Apart from a little shopping arcade which features a shop selling Fat Face clothing (yes really) there's a supermarket on site. It's well-stocked and their prices are pretty much comparable to the supermarkets around where we live. And, wonder of wonders, it includes a free from section! That said, I'm still taking my own particular brand of bread (it's only stocked in certain places) and Baby's milk, spread and snacks - just to be sure!

10. Company! Last year it was the elder of my two sisters and her daughter, this year it's my parents, both my sisters, their husbands and my youngest niece. That way Baby has her cousin to play with and we get adult company in the evenings - something that happens oh, so rarely.

With company, comes added complications - sharing food. Breakfast and lunch people can sort out for themselves - after all everyone is different, and we may be spread out all over the site anyway (doing various activities). Dinner, I thought, might be nice to eat together. So, I've come up with a rota, and a working menu, so that we can all take turns, and it looks something like this:

We're safer self-catering!
Monday - Pan-fried Sea Bass with Sautéed Potatoes 
- cooked in olive oil.

Tuesday - Spaghetti Bolognese 
- with my gluten free, dairyfree, chickpea (Del Ugo) pasta cooked separately.

Wednesday - Shepherd's Pie 
- with my gravy and dairy free spread in the mash. 

Thursday - BBQ
- we'll cook gluten and dairy free sausages and burgers. Baby and I will have the gluten and dairy free rolls.

We may even have dessert! After all, I have a few meringue nests knocking around, somewhere!

That's the plan anyway! Now, let's see if it works!

What about you? Where do you go for a stress free break?

Related Posts:

Simple Sauteed Sea Bass

Simple Shepherd's Pie

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Are we really allergic?

I'll put it out there - I get uncomfortable when I read articles that are just one long rant, but today... 

I need to get something off my chest, before someone else suffers me chuntering on at them (sorry Pippa). I might regret writing this article; I might be proved wrong on several points; I may lose people who have hitherto supported me, but so be it! I need to let it out.

The thing is this:

Quite frankly I'm fed up with reading articles along the lines of this one that I read in the Telegraph, the other day. They rattle my cage!!

I've read similar articles in other papers, magazines etc. Mostly regurgitated clap trap, as far as I'm concerned - spewed out by journalists who seem (from my point of view) desperate for attention and who know little or nothing about the world of allergy and intolerance sufferers. A lot of the people who comment on these articles, seem to lap it up and come out with pat little phrases, like, 'Most 'allergy sufferers' are attention seekers and hypochondriacs!' What I want to say to them, is this, "Please stop saying these things. I've had enough! Just wait... until you've 'walk(ed) a mile in my shoes.'"

Walk a mile in my shoes... or Baby's!
I'm fed up with reading that only a few people are really allergic or intolerant. I resent the implication behind this - that most people who say they are allergic/intolerant are lying or deluded and not to be trusted. 

To begin with, it's not helpful to those who 'truly' suffer an allergy/intolerance (yes, I know there is a difference between the two, but I'm not splitting hairs on this one) who get 'tarred with the same brush' and treated with prejudice and suspicion. Secondly, this kind of comment creates an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion among fellow 'sufferers' along the lines of wink murder - 'I know I'm OK... so, in that case, who among us, is the culprit?' 

Personally, I think that allergy sufferers should be standing together on this - not slinging rocks at each other! Here's my take on it:

I hate the assumption that unless you are anaphylactic, or have been proven by some kind of medical test, (I don't believe in 'quack' testing, by the way) that you are somehow 'faking it.' 

For one thing allergies and intolerance (like conditions such as autism) are on a scale. Anaphylaxis is just one form of allergic reaction. It is an extremely dramatic, traumatic and potentially life threatening one, but not the 'be all and end all' of allergic reaction. There are other forms of allergic reaction and they can vary in severity. One person's reaction to a substance might appear more severe than another's. This can change without warning by the way - a previously mild reaction can be followed by a much more severe and frightening reaction, right out of the blue. 

Some people only need a little bit of a substance to provoke an extreme reaction, others may need almost an overdose. So, my Uncle, who has a problem with egg, is fine with one here and there. But, should he overstep the mark, then digestive problems follow not long after. 

Furthermore, it is acknowledged by allergy experts that sensitivities do not always show themselves under testing. I am an example of this. In my twenties, following unusual flushing on my cheeks, I was tested with skin pricks for some common allergens. The only allergy that was 'proven' was nickel - something I had never even considered a problem. Hay fever, oral allergy syndrome, skin sensitivity to various chemicals, problems with baked beans - none of these was identified, yet I had suffered with them for years!! 

More recently, following a bout of headaches, stomach cramps, chronic diarrhoea, and a fair amount of weight loss (astonishing considering the amount I was eating - I was constantly hungry as my food was passing through me so quickly) I was tested for coeliac disease. No trace was found. Yet, cutting wheat/gluten out of my diet (at my Doctor's suggestion, I was reluctant) has undoubtedly made a difference to my digestive system.

Other foods have followed, in an attempt to further 'normalise' my system. I was told that I might be intolerant temporarily (my most recent problems occurred following a tummy bug) or maybe permanently. I know of others with similar stories - people who have developed problems with food, following a bout of gastroenteritis.

In case you think, 'Aha! But it's all in the mind!' No, it's not! I wasn't looking for this diagnosis, and actually there have been occasions since when I have unwittingly eaten  foods made with wheat, and suffered the consequences. Most notable of which was when my mother-in-law made a cake for my daughter's first birthday. As she had previously made the same cake with rice flour, I had no reason to doubt that it had been made any differently - until I had eaten it and I felt the resulting discomfort in my gut. 

When my MIL showed me the bag of flour, that she had used, I could see for myself what the cause of the problem had been - she had mistaken self-raising flour from her Chinese supermarket as gluten free (The Hub doesn't think she 'gets it'). I don't blame her. My own mother, who attended the very appointment at which Baby was diagnosed, still doesn't 'get it'. I've lost count of the times she's asked, 'Can she not have some yoghurt, then?'

Also, I dispute the veracity of the statement that only '1 or 2 percent of people in Britain have a genuine food allergy'  e.g. most 'so-called' allergy sufferers are wrongly self-diagnosing - how have they come by the figure for this? Well apparently the study that came to this conclusion is sponsored by none other than the... wait for it... Flour Advisory Board!! Now there's a surprise!! Of course, they have everything to lose by people becoming intolerant to wheat. My thanks goes to Michelle Kazukaitus for that piece of information!*

I would suggest that actually their figures, regarding food allergies, are out. I believe that there are far more people quietly living with fairly 'mild' allergies who haven't ever seen a doctor with their problem because they don't see it as a serious enough issue. Hay fever, for example (OK not a food allergy, but still an allergy) is very common. It is not severe in most cases, so people simply manage it for themselves, by obtaining over-the-counter remedies. 

My doctor hasn't a clue about some of my allergies, because I have never mentioned them - I've just managed them. I didn't think that they might be of interest! As an example of this, I have only just discovered that the itchiness and tingling that I've had in my mouth (since I was a teenager) following the consumption of some raw fruit, vegetables and nuts was something called 'Oral Allergy Syndrome.' When I had reactions to these foods, I didn't rush off to my doctor and demand testing to prove it, I simply avoided them - even when I had what I now know must have been a fairly severe reaction to a piece of raw green pepper! It's still not included on my medical notes. After all, what can he do about it, except tell me to avoid these foods? 

Another reason I feel that the true figures of allergy sufferers may well be inaccurate is that some people might not consult their GPs enough, due to past bad experiences. Maybe this is because, like me, they have lost trust in doctors, perhaps because they feel they have not listened to; or have not been taken seriously enough; or because they have been incorrectly diagnosed in the past. 

We saw two local GPs, who both misdiagnosed our daughter when she was suffering quite severely from an allergy to cow's milk protein. What they actually came up with beggars belief, in the light of what we now know. She was only diagnosed because we decided to 'go private' about a completely separate issue (the treatment of her tongue tie). The paediatric consultant that we saw (who works part time for the NHS, by the way) recognised and correctly diagnosed her symptoms almost straight away!! 

To back this point up, I have heard an eminent professor (who has worked in the field of allergies for many years) say fairly recently (a few months ago) on The One Show, that many GPs are not as au fait with allergies, as perhaps one might like. So again, I would suggest that this is another reason why many cases may be going 'under the radar'.  

I am not against doctors and medical professionals, by the way. There are many who are quite simply brilliant. We need them, but we also need those who are not yet so understanding of allergies/intolerances to be brought up to speed - and quickly! We could have waited months for a correct diagnosis if we hadn't gone private, and every day that we waited for it was pure agony for me - as I watched my baby suffer. And suffer she did!

Finally, (well almost) at the end of the day, suffering is (by its very nature) an inexact and subjective experience. Who knows the extent of an individual's suffering, but the sufferer themselves? A friend of mine had absolutely no pain when she gave birth to her son, but I was practically leaping off the bed in agony. 

One thing is verifiable, however, and that is that experts who work in the field of allergies have noted a considerable increase in the number of cases that they have been treating in just the last ten years. And scarily so! There must be a reason for that, which is, as yet, awaiting discovery. 

The implication of that rising trend, however, is that should it continue upward, then eventually, at some stage, we might all be living with allergies of one kind or another - including those ill-informed and prejudiced people who accuse others of not really being allergic. Then such people might, 'Walk a mile in my shoes.' Now there's a thought!!

In addendum: suffering from allergies/intolerance isn't fun - I'm missing out on some of my favourite foods, such as cashews and kiwi fruit. It's not an attention seeking ploy. It's not faddy. It's expensive. Not only does it drain one financially, it also drains one of time, energy, spontaneity and emotionally etc. etc. Quite frankly I can think of better ways of spending my time and money - if only I could! But, I believe that, 'Where there's life, there's hope.' So, roll on the day we find a cure!

Sorry! Rant over!

Oh, by the way, someone with sense has now commented at the end of the Telegraph's article. If you read through some of the readers comments, at the bottom of the page, Michelle Kazukaitus seems to agree with me on this one. If you like what she says, please 'recommend' her excellent comments on this issue!

*Further thoughts on these figures and related matters, can be found on the blog Food Allergy and Intolerance which is written by Alex Gazzola - a journalist who specializes writing about such issues.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Allergic to soya, as well as milk? What should you avoid?

Hands up, all those of you who are unable to have dairy and can't have soya either.

I identify with this problem, because I'm currently avoiding all dairy, as I'm still breastfeeding my daughter, who has an allergy to cow's milk. A few years before I had her, I discovered that I was intolerant to soya milk and most alternatives to products made with cow's milk seem to be soya based.

Not only that, the problem is, when you look at all the products that are out there today, soya pops up time and again (in some form or another) as an ingredient. If you know that you're allergic to or unable to tolerate soya, it looks like a bit of minefield. What on earth can you eat?

What I have discovered is this... in my case, anyway, not all soya products need necessarily to be avoided! 

Now, when I discovered that I was intolerant to soya, it was because I experimented with adding soya milk to my coffee, instead of cow's milk - it was all my then boyfriend (now The Hub) had in his fridge. Unfortunately, before long, the soreness that I get in my gut when I eat cashews, made itself quite apparent and I realised quite quickly what had happened. The remedy was quite simple - all I had to do was avoid soya milk from now on - easy enough to manage, as I didn't usually buy it and I didn't like the taste of it anyway!!

What I didn't do, from that point on, was eliminate all soya from my diet, in fact, it never even occurred to me that it might be present in other forms. However it turns out that I have been eating this product called soya (as an additive in my food) all along, without any apparent symptoms to alert me to any problems! Just as well, because it's not always that easy to spot on food labels - how can you tell, especially if it's covered by phrases such as 'textured vegetable protein'?

One of the most common forms of soya that appears on food labels is 'soya lecithin'. It's used as a stabiliser - holding substances together that don't usually mix. It appears that this lecithin is extracted from the soya bean in such a way that it is extremely rare for it to cause any allergic reaction. This is good news for me, because it means I can still eat dairy free chocolate, which is usually made with... you've guessed it - soya lecithin!! Phew that's a relief!!
So glad I can still eat dairy free chocolate!

Having discovered this, I also realised that I have eaten soy sauce (from the same soy bean) without any problems, for years. This may have something to do with the way in which soy sauce is manufactured - fermentation is involved. Furthermore, it turns out that intolerance can vary from person to person - what affects me, may not affect you (one person's intolerance/allergic reaction may be more severe than another's). 

So, if how the bean is manufactured makes a difference, I might also be OK with other products that I have so far avoided - such as dairy free cheese and yoghurt substitutes, made with soya. I am quite excited by this, but also quite nervous about how I might proceed - after all I don't relish the thought of the side effects, if something doesn't quite agree with me. On the other hand, if it all goes well, then life might become a little bit more enjoyable - with new products opened up to me. The best course might be to take things slowly - a little at a time, to find out my level of tolerance. 

Of course, I'm only considering this approach because I know my reaction to soya, so far, has not been life threatening (e.g. anaphylactic). In fact, apparently, life threatening responses to soya appear to be unknown or extremely rare. On the other hand, I might just first go and seek some further medical advice - just to be sure!! If it was Baby I was to challenge, there's no way that I would consider doing so without the right medical assistance.

So, how about you? What are your thoughts on this topic?

If you require further information, you may like to read Asda's advice regarding soya, or Allergy UK's detailed fact sheet. Furthermore, if you are concerned about other effects of soya on health, you might like to read this advice, by the BDA.

Update: This article, about Soya (found and shared by 'What Allergy') also makes for interesting reading.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Avoiding the hop - shopping Free From online

Anyone else do the 'Hop'? 

No I don't mean a dance, as such, I mean the process by which you do your weekly Free From shopping. If you're anything like us, it means hopping from one supermarket to the next, in order to locate the various products that we need. I just can't get everything I need from one place - this is compounded by the fact that we are dealing with more than one kind of allergy. 

Two supermarkets near me stock the liquid I need to do my washing (to prevent 'Baby's' eczema), one of these stocks the gluten free pasta I prefer, either of these might have the bread I can tolerate, neither of them will stock 'Baby's' dairy free chocolate drops. And that's just the beginning! Some of the products I need are only obtainable from health food shops. 

To make things easier, for ourselves, we have found it generally makes sense to do some/most of our shopping online. I have investigated a few other ways of getting Free From items - I visit our local health food shops fairly often, but I wanted to buy some biscuits that I found at the Free From show, and found that I could not find them locally. It was then that I turned to the Internet.


I shop fairly often online with Amazon for various items, but was astonished to discover that you can also buy some Free From products from them - including my biscuits! However, you have to be prepared to buy in bulk. The biscuits weren't too bad - just four packets at a time, but ice cream cones by the same company have to be bought in packs of six boxes.  Therefore you need to consider whether you have got the space to store it, something which (if you're anything like us) we don't have a lot of!!

  • If items are eligible for 'Super Saver Delivery,' you get a small amount of money off and don't have to pay extra for delivery.
  • Buying in bulk can be cheaper.
  • Using Prime can save money on delivery costs.
  • You can get items that you can't find locally.

  • They can't always specify a day/time for delivery, so you need to be at home during work hours to receive a delivery. If you are not in very much during the week (let's face it most people are at work during the week) and do not have an understanding work place (who'll let you receive parcels at work) then you'd find it difficult to shop with them. 
  • Amazon purchases are often over packaged - not very eco-frendly.
  • You need space to store items bought in bulk.
  • You have to know which product you are looking for, when using their website - I haven't found a 'Free From' section!
  • you can now buy some products within two hours - for an extra fee of course!

Goodness Direct

I've also experimented with shopping online from Goodness Direct - they're like an online health food store. I'd heard of them through various avenues and thought I'd give them a try, to see how we got on. However, having tried it once, although as a first time customer they've sent me a 10% discount code for my next order, I'm not sure that it will be an avenue that I'll be exploring again all that soon - unless they have products that I really want, that I really can't get elsewhere. This is mainly because of delivery problems.

To be fair, it wasn't Goodness Direct's fault - it was the delivery firm that couldn't seem to operate the door entry system to our block of flats, but frustrating nonetheless, as I will not get those two days of my life back! 

I wouldn't have worried too much, if it wasn't for the fact that I had ordered some chilled items. I was worried that they would perish unless they arrived fairly soon - which was why I had waited in for them. As it was, I had to dispatch The Hub off to collect them from the depot when he got home from work (rather than wait for them to try and redeliver the next day).


  • Good if you don't have much access locally to good independent health food stores or if you don't have well-stocked supermarkets nearby (although Goodness Direct say they can't deliver chilled or fresh produce to some rural locations). 
  • Wide range of products.
  • They highlight common allergens and list ingredients for each product.
  • Delivery is free (except for chilled/frozen items) if you spend £35 on products - this can easily be managed, especially if you buy in bulk.
  • Delivery is free for all goods, if you spend over £75 on products.
  • You can pick up your order from Goodness Direct, if you live near their base (Daventry, Northamptonshire). You need to give 24 hours notice but this way, you can avoid delivery charges. Great if you live near enough!


  • Like Amazon, they can't specify a delivery day/time.
  • They charge £3.50 extra for ordering frozen/chilled products - for extra packaging.
  • You have to order a minimum of six frozen/chilled products at a time - apparently to keep them cool during transit.
  • They don't deliver weekends, bank holidays or days following bank holidays either (as I discovered).
  • They can't deliver chilled/frozen products to some rural locations.
  • There's not much that they can do about it, but I worry that their chilled packaging is not very 'eco-friendly' - what can you do with gel packs that have been enclosed with chilled/frozen goods, in order to dispose of them without harming the environment?


Having investigated these other options, to be honest, my preferred form of online shopping (I'm truly sorry for those of you, who have issues with this company) remains Ocado.
Lemon Van - all the vans are named!
Why Ocado?
I'm not paid by them to say this (or anyone, for that matter) but we choose Ocado for the following main reasons:
  • You can book a specific time slot - A major plus, in my book! I hate waiting around for a delivery and not knowing when it's going to arrive (as I'm doing today, in fact). With Ocado, we can book a specific time slot and the delivery runs pretty reliably to time. In fact, they are usually early, but that's probably because we live so close to their depot.
  • They stock a good range of ordinary groceries as well as an expanding range of Free From products, so although we still can't get everything, we can get most of our needs this way. 
  • If they're out of stock, you can usually see this on their website - rather than finding out when they turn up at your door, with some random substitute. This way, you can choose your own alternative products.
  • There are very few substitutions - when we shopped with another supermarket in this way, there were quite frequent substitutions, some of which were fairly random. Even when Ocado do substitute, they do so intelligently, so we rarely turn the substitute down.
  • They price match with Tescos on branded products - OK, this may be off-set by the delivery charges but then we're saving on our own petrol by reducing the number of journeys that we might have to make in the week.
  • They appear to be open to suggestions - you can recommend products that you'd like them to stock. This doesn't mean that they'll automatically take up your suggestion, but it's a step in the right direction. They now stock my pasta - one less reason to do my shopping hop.
  • They sucked us in, with a good deal on the delivery (quoting The Hub here)!

Other pros:
  • Products are placed in colour-coded bags - green for frozen, red for chilled and purple for general groceries.
  • Chilled and frozen items are stored at the correct temperature during transit.
  • They will carry your groceries in for you.
  • They recycle your shopping bags - they take away any old plastic shopping bags.
  • Sometimes they send you a sample of some product that they think you might like - not always useful, but can be sometimes!

  • There's a lot of ground that they just don't cover - yet! Sorry to those of you who can't yet get Ocado deliveries in your area. I'm rooting for you!
  • You need to spend a minimum of £40, but these days, that is fairly easy to do anyway.
  • Eggs might get broken in transit, but you can call them about it and complain. To avoid this, we now buy our eggs locally. The same also goes for bread - which can get squished.

Anything else?
  • For some reason long life milk substitutes are often put in bags containing refrigerated items. Not sure why!!
  • Sometimes, one item is randomly placed in a carrier bag all of its own, which seems a bit wasteful. I just hope this is offset by recycling the bags! 
  • If you return your bags they now pay you 5p a bag, but thie isn't terribly accurate if you're returning them in bulk!
  • I like my raw meat packaged separately from my cooked meat and yoghurts - Ocado don't see this is a problem, but I am not convinced! Therefore we no longer buy these in the same order.
  • Apparently if you live in an area where Ocado don't yet deliver, you can register online with them anyway, and they will notify you when they do. However, don't hold your breath, if you live in Scotland, or anywhere where there isn't a Waitrose, as that's where Ocado get most of their products!

Obviously, these are not the only options for shopping Free From online. They just happen to be the ones that I have explored so far.

Please note: 

This post is not an advert. I have not been paid to write this post. I am not sponsored in any way, even by advertising. I do not receive products free to review, although I have often been offered them. This is to try and maintain an unbiased approach. All views expressed are my own (unless I've asked for The Hub's or Kiddo's).

Enjoyed this post? Found it useful? You might like the following posts too:

Shopping with Food Allergies in the UK

Shopping around dairy free

Alternative Stores

Fancy a date... at the Allergy and Free From Show 2014?

So how about you? How do you get on with Free From shopping?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Weaning the Dairy Free Baby - Let's do Lunch

I have a Baby who knows her own mind and that can make things rather tricky. This morning, at Dinky Dancers, it was  at its most evident - whilst all the other little 'uns did their best to join in with all the different activities, she only joined in if she felt like it.  When she got bored she stopped. She is like this also, with food. She made it easy, today though, when I asked her what she wanted for lunch. 'Sandwich with Tuna,' she replied. 'Huzzah!' I thought, 'that will be nice and easy!'

First Steps
To begin with, lunch was easy peasy (once we'd sorted out a few feeding issues) it was boob juice all the way (breast milk if you're in polite company). When I held out on weaning, until she was six months, it was partly to buy myself time to get my head round the whole dairy free business and partly to put off the evil day.

For me, lunch is somehow mostly a savoury affair, with maybe something sweet to follow - something which probably stems from my upbringing. Which is why, once we had got mastered Baby rice/cereal, lunch for Baby consisted of puréed veg. I soon, I'm sad to say, gave up on puréeing the veg myself, as it was a bit of a disaster. 

I don't think I will ever forget the way that having lovingly puréed organic carrots for her, Baby eagerly lapped up the first few spoonfuls before her face rumpled and she began to cry - big sad tears. Perplexed, and increasingly frustrated, I kept trying to present her with the spoon, but all to no avail. The distress just grew and grew until I was forced to admit defeat. I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that she had been looking forward to a good nosh from her lovely mummy and instead had been incredibly let down by my vile offering. When I tried the purée for myself it did taste vile. No wonder she had objected.

After that I ditched the whole yummy mummy thing (making my own baby food from scratch) Baby was ultra clingy anyway, so The Hub was doing most of the cooking in the evening and at lunch time, I had to wait for her to sleep before I could eat. So I bought what I considered the next best thing - organic ready made Baby food. 

At that stage it was easy enough to find Baby food that didn't contain milk. However, a lot of these early foods are just fruit and vegetable based and pretty soon (as mentioned previously) the Health Visitor made me realise that, particularly because she was breastfed, Baby was also going to need more iron in her diet.

Adding in the iron
Eggs are a good source of iron and vitamin D
We did try a few ready made baby meals, but Baby wasn't always all that keen on them. I've tried a few and they're really not that tasty. To be honest, when you examine the labels on the jars, they have remarkably small percentages of meat (and therefore iron) in them (the early ones) anyway.

Casting around for alternatives, for myself, I had already hit on the idea of lentils, but was not keen to faff around with soaking them overnight and what not. Fortunately, for me, there were ready made fresh soups available in the supermarkets and for Baby, there was a purée in a pouch made with lentils (by Ella's Kitchen), that suited her down to the ground - for a short while. 

Anything with egg
Another good source of iron (as well as the all-important Vitamin D) turned out to be egg - omelette, scrambled or eggy bread to begin with, until she was older and could have a fried egg with a runnier yolk. And this kept her going for a long time. 

In fact, at one stage, all she would eat for lunch was fried egg and toast, unless she was offered fries - no one has to teach a small child to like fries, do they? Then she went through a stage of eating only a frittata-style omelette (made with chunks of par-boiled potato). The only problem was, that going out for lunch became a little more tricky. Not many places make omelette without dairy - for a start, it's often topped with cheese! 

We did find a way round it - we bought a Thermos snack jar, made up an omelette before we went and put it in the jar, to take with us. The only thing is, none of these lunches were exactly instant and small hungry babies are not exactly known for their patience. The Hub found me a solution, though, in Tapas style omelettes (bought from Tesco). As they could keep quite a while in the fridge (as long as they were unopened) we kept a few for emergencies!

There came a day however, when egg lost its charm! That's when fish finger and hash brown suddenly became the order of the day. Not so great nutritionally, Baby being a creature of habit, it soon became her favourite and so pretty much all she would eat. That was until one day when we ran out of hash browns! I solved the problem by reheating some Spaghetti Bolognese that we had left over from the night before and mixing it with freshly cooked pasta. 

Anything with Pasta!
Now, suddenly, all Baby will eat is pasta (and not just any pasta - it currently has to be Bob the Builder gluten free pasta) and there's only so many ways I can do it! Not always having left over Spag. Bol. to hand, I would have tried it with salmon and peas a la Intolerant Gourmet, but Baby has gone off salmon and has never yet liked peas!! 

So far, I've tried mixing her pasta with a tomato based sauce and tuna or sausage (she loves sausage) and I can't help wondering where I will go next. All I really want (apart from her being able to tolerate and enjoy dairy) is for Baby to like sandwiches - they're so much easier to make and there'd be less washing up! 

Sandwiches - exploring the options
Regarding sandwiches, we have tried different fillings: ham, chicken, however, you need to watch out for luncheon meats - you'd be surprised at what they might contain. Duchy Originals Organic (from Waitrose) are OK, but pricey. We've also tried tuna and mayonnaise (Hellman's Original is dairy free). Nut butters might be an option to explore in the future, but we've been advised to avoid those for now. 

We've also tried different bread: hers, mine, tortilla wrap and pitta. I've even cut  her sandwiches into a variety of shapes and sizes! Unfortunately, though, if her mind is set against them, then they'll just go to waste.

Baby loves burgers
One lunch that has never gone to waste yet, is burgers. Mind you, these aren't just any old burgers - they're one of the little treats that The Hub orders from Ocado (also available in Waitrose) from time to time. These particular burgers are made by Laverstock Park Farm, which is owned by Jody Schekter, an ex-Formula One Driver (which probably explains The Hub's interest). They're organic, dairy and gluten free and made of... buffalo. 

Buffalo for lunch
Buffalo is a very meaty meat - quite dense and a hit with Baby (she also likes their meatballs). In fact, I only offer her a little bit of mine (I try to offer her lunch first) but if I'm not careful, she'll scoff the lot! And so they've become an occasional Saturday lunch treat. 

Not your cheapest burger on the shelf (£2.99 for a pack of two burgers) they are, as The Hub has pointed out, still cheaper than eating at MacDonald's and hopefully they're better for us too!

Unfortunately, Baby can't have burgers everyday, so I keep racking my brains for new options to try, that are hopefully fairly quick, easy and involve as little washing up as possible, so we can get outside and do other things instead - although this summer, what with all the rain, that could be easier said than done!

However, I'm liking the look of these little pizzas, as suggested by Nicola Neal. I've steered clear of pizza so far, not being able to cope with the thought of pizza without cheese. However, Baby of course, will  not know otherwise, so knowing her love of tomatoey sauces on pasta, I might just give this one a try!

Found this post useful? You might also like:

Weaning the Dairy Free Baby - First Steps

Weaning the Dairy Free Baby - The Battle of Baby's Brekkie

Simple Sausage Casserole

Helpful Publications:

Neocate Weaning Guide
Neocate Food Allergy Cookbook
Feeding Tips for Toddlers: from One Year (Nutramigen)