Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Tale of the Convenient Co-op

When I was a child, the local convenience store was a Spar at the end of the road. 

It wasn't very big - about the size of a large living room, but you could buy your everyday essentials there.  I  have fond memories of buying bottles of Corona lemonade from that shop. You could return them (once empty) in exchange for 10p. 

I'm so glad I didn't need free from food back then, as I'm absolutely certain that the Spar didn't have any Free From foods - that was probably an unknown in those days.

Where we live now, there's a Co-op. I don't know whether you've ever tried shopping at the Co-op (I have to say that I tend to find them a bit variable). I don't usually darken the door of this one - mainly because it soon became quite apparent that it didn't stock Free From food... of any kind. I wasn't too surprised, as it was really just a convenience store and whoever heard of a convenience store with a Free From section??

Now, that's not to say that Co-op is always that limited, with regard to Free From. Where we used to live, the nearest Co-op used to be a Somerfield's (before they went out of business) and was consequently much bigger and better - especially as far as Free From shopping went. It certainly wasn't the greatest - I preferred Tesco Extra or Sainsbury's, as their ranges are much wider, but it was worth the odd fly-by from time to time.

Recently, however, our local Co-op closed for refurbishment and 'Lo and Behold' it has undergone a real transformation! Its cleaner for a start, but also, having a slightly larger shop floor, it now boasts a Free From section. It's mainly gluten free, with nothing specifically dairy free, apart from Alpro soya desserts, but that's a start. 

Ok, so it's only the end of an aisle!

The Co-op does stock dairy free milk, though, both in the chiller and the long life aisle, but it's no good for me, as it's all made with soya. However, on the plus side, the dairy free margarine in the chiller is Pure sunflower margarine, which I can have. It was also priced very reasonably. AND, what's more, they now stock The Black Farmer's dairy, soya , gluten, nut and sesame free sausages in packs of ten - just right for a BBQ, I reckon!

So, it would seem that things are on the up, and wonders will never cease - a village convenience store can have a Free From section after all! Although, I have to wonder... is it just because we live in a fairly  'affluent' area (well bits of it are, anyway, compared to some other parts of the UK)? 

It does seem to me that affluent areas are slightly better catered for in this respect. Waitrose in Cobham (more affluent still), where my sister lives, seems to have a lot more choice than our nearest branch. How is it for you, where you live??

More on shopping:

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Allergy Show - Mission Accomplished!

Last year I was an Allergy Show virgin, this year, I was a bounty hunter.

I was prepared with tickets, cash, trolley, snacks, bottles of water, phone. Oh yes!

Shame we left our tickets in the car. 

Good job you can download etickets on an iphone (phew) and show them at the door!!

'Baby' had been carefully primed - I told her there would be dairy free donuts, cake and chocolate. She needed to know no more than that. We were in search of bounty - gluten and dairy free!

So once we got inside, we wasted no time, but headed straight for Sweetcheeks for donuts. We could have got cakes as well - they looked delectable, but a bit too fragile for my trolley!

First objective achieved, it was soon time to head for Allergy Adventures. 

I'd heard about these online and was keen to see how they were going to help children with allergies. It turned out they offered crafts and told stories. I'd noted a dairy free adventure story time and wanted 'Baby' to join in. 'Baby' seemed to enjoy the story time, so we bought the book.

After that it was time to really get stuck in.

I have to say, having found some really great products, this year, it was mostly about visiting their stands and picking up stock at bargainous prices. 

Before long, though, despite the larger hall, this year, it became apparent that it wasn't going to be that easy - the place was soon heaving! And exhibitors were telling me that they were selling out, of their stock because Friday (which they had expected to be quiet) had actually been very busy!

Busy, busy, busy!
However, we got the Bounty that we came for. It was great to visit Zero Zebra for chocolate; Lovemore for Oreos; Amy's Kitchen for Macaroni CheeseKoko for strawberry and chocolate milkshake; Eskal for ice cream cones; Hale and Hearty's mixes, cereals and flapacks; Del 'Ugo pasta; and Orgran for a whole host of stuff!

There were others we've enjoyed that I'd love to have visited, but I ran out of time, such as: Pudology desserts; Kirsty's ready meals; Smooze ice lollies; and Dr Lucy's Cookies.

Some were sampling, rather than selling, like Co-yo coconut yoghurt Bessant and Drury dairy free ice cream, also Mozzarisella, whose cheese was sampled on a new find...

Venice Bakery pizza bases. I'll probably have to go into more detail another time. BUT, suffice to say, they're dairy, gluten and soya free! And we're obviously not the only ones who thought so, because their bases were selling like hot cakes! If you want to try them, they're available online.

Another find that everyone seemed to love was ilumi. Such a great innovation - dairy, gluten and various other things free ready meals. Unique in that they can be stored at room temperature and then heated up -  a must for anyone going on holiday and uncertain of what they might find, and tres delicieux! Also available online, they have a special offer on orders this month. Do not miss out, you won't be disappointed!

There were, in addition, some French companies that looked as though they had interesting products, like a dairy free almond cheese, but unfortunately, they had no samples nor any stock to sell. Oh well, maybe next year!

By the end of our time at the show, my trolley was bulging, our pushchair was loaded, and even though The Hub had whisked her off to Kensington Park, to play for an hour, 'Baby' had clearly had enough!

Just some of our haul!
I had just enough time to buy the last cake from Ms Cupcake's stall, before we left the show with our stash... for this year anyway!

And on the way home, I picked up another treat I'd missed at the show, from Kensington Whole Foods Market - Glamour Puds Chocolate Fudge Pudding. Yum!

All in all, we had a great time. If you go, we hope you do too.

Some additional practical notes, for those yet to go:

  • We experienced difficulties with lifts at two stations - Clapham Junction and Olympia itself.
  • Cash machines can be found near the train station.
  • Small children will find it difficult to cope for long.
  • Changing facilities for those in nappies are limited.
  • Be prepared to queue for the loo (ladies).
  • The show was extremely busy, so go early if you can.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Baking Dairy Free

Loyal long-term followers of this blog will know full well that I've never claimed to be Nigella - in fact quite the opposite! And, if the newer followers among you take time to flick through the few recipes on this blog, I'm sure it won't take you very long to agree. However, I can actually follow a recipe (well, usually, anyway) and in the few years that I've been doing this dairy free thing, I've learned a thing or two that might help out those of you who are completely new to this game and want to do some baking.

I love the philosophy on this tin
I wonder if, when you were first faced with the prospect of going dairy free you felt the same way as I did?

I was devastated. 

I loved dairy and without it in my life, I felt like eating was never going to be quite the same again - for as long as it lasted, anyway! For a while my food was certainly restricted. I well remember my first dairy free Christmas. Although The Hub did a marvellous job with the turkey, and potatoes dinner was rather dry minus gravy (did you know chicken gravy is made with milk?) and lacked a dessert. 

I eventually came to the conclusion that the way to deal with this - to bring yumminess back into my life, was to return to baking, so I started looking for recipes. However, I learned that you don't necessarily need to acquire a whole new repertoire of recipes - although you can if you like. You can actually bake many of the recipes that you used to - using dairy free alternatives instead. You just need to find some and experiment a bit, to find out what suits you. 

These days there are lots of dairy free substitutes that really can do the job. Here are some that we like to use:

Dairy free milk
Perhaps the most important aspect of going dairy free is choosing the right milk substitute. Some may be unsuitable for dietary reasons (like nut allergies) or because of age (rice milk is unsuitable for children under five, soya for children under six months - at the very least). The following post outlines some of the most common dairy free milk substitutes and shares some of the ways in which we have used them:

Dairy free fats
Okay, butter it certainly 'aint, but there are a number of acceptable alternatives for margarine. 

Pure also have recipes online
We started off with Pure as a spread and Stork margarine (the block variety) for baking. You can read more about Pure here. Since then, we have also used Vitalite. All of these have worked well in cakes and scones etc. and are available in major supermarkets (who also now have their own brand dairy free margarines). 

Having said that, I've yet to really get to grips with pastry making, so don't shoot me, if it doesn't work quite as well, for that!

Flora Cuisine is a liquid form of baking fat, which my sister favours - she reckons she gets really good results with it, but it's no good for me, as it contains soya. See this for information about conversion for use in recipes and recipe ideas.

Trex is a vegetable-based shortening, that is also suitable to use. 

Vegetable cooking oil can also be used as a substitute, but requires a little more experience to adapt (in my humble opinion). Advice on using this, can be found here.

A newer form of fat, that has become quite trendy, is coconut oil, which can be bought from most health food stores. I've yet to get to grips with this one, I've ony used it for frying pancakes, so far, but really want to try it out more.

Dairy free cream
Scone without cream, anyone?
If you're going to get in to dairy free baking, at some point you're going to require a form of cream - even if it's just to accompany your scones. If you're okay with soya, then Alpro probably have you covered and you can find their products quite easily in most supermarkets. If not, or if you'd like to see what else is out there, then look no further than this post:

Dairy free yoghurt
If you're okay with soya, as before, Alpro seem to have this one covered. I've not used any of these in baking just yet, but as I'm unable to tolerate soya, I have tried the following dairy and soya free yoghurts:

Wot no dairy! Wot no soya!

Dairy free cheese
Now, if your taste is for something more savoury, such as 'cheese scones', these posts might come in handy:

Since posting these, I've come across even more 'cheeses' available from the Alternative Stores - an online Vegan store. So there's plenty of choice!

Dairy free chocolate
Mmm! Chocolate!
Yes, well, those of you that know me well, will know that I'd have to bring the subject of chocolate up sooner or later! Sometimes, chocolate is called for in baking - especially if I'm the one who's baking!

In terms of a bar of chocolate, I usually use dairy, egg and gluten free Kinnerton's dark chocolate. If chocolate chips are called for, I tend to use Plamil's. They're a bit pricey, but work really well. That said, I'm sure most dairy free chocolates would work fine.

If you'd like to know what else is out there, see this post, here: Oo! Ah! Chocolat!

Dairy free baking cheats
If you can't bake... cheat!
Ok, so some times, life, time, energy run short and some baking help may be required! Some ready mixes in the supermarkets are, quite surprisingly, dairy free! However, personally, being gluten free, I turn to Hale and Hearty or Mrs Crimble's packet mixes. They've always worked well for me. You can buy these in the Free From sections of the larger supermarkets, online and also in good health food shops. 

There are others, made by Orgran and Glebe Farm, which are available from health food shops.

Other dairy free baking 'cheats' can be found in this post:

How to cheat at baking dairy free

And for icing cheats: The icing on the cake

Dairy free recipes
Now, having said all I have about not needing recipes that are specifically dairy free, it's still nice to know where to look if you need one. There are loads out there that are absolutely brilliant, but here are a few bloggers that I've picked out for your attention. Some of these are specifically for allergies, others are Vegan, which means that they're dairy and egg free - as well as meat, of course!

If, after all that I've left anything off this list, then please come back to me and ask! 

Adios amigos - 'til next time! Meanwhile, enjoy your baking!!

Update: Dec. 2013
I have added a link to an American blog which has since created a similar page, with American products. It also has some other useful tips which I am sure could come in useful.

Some cunning allergy free baking substitutes via Pinterest!

Just seen this article on Veganising cakes - Amazeballs!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Are Tesco Tops for Free From?

Once upon a time I wasn't too choosy about where I shopped for food - I just went to the nearest large supermarket and topped up at a smaller local one in between trips to the larger store. Not any more, though! These days I find it essential to live near a Tesco Extra, a large Sainsbury's, a reasonably sized Waitrose, and well within range of Ocado, as well. We're moving shortly, and I'm rather worried that in our new locality, we'll find it difficult to get hold of products that we've come to love, and on which we've come to rely. 

I've often heard it said that Sainbury's is best for Free from food, and that Tesco mainly cater for the gluten free. AND, to be fair, it is true that Tesco has started stocking a number of new gluten free products, some of which are also dairy free, such as Heinz gluten free pasta and Newburn's bread, wraps etc. However, maybe it's just the one near me, but it's beginning to look to me as though Tesco is taking the challenge on - actually developing and seeking new products, that are specifically dairy free, especially in the chilled department. The only problem is that it's a bit of a postcode lottery - it's a bit hit and miss, according to where you happen to live!

I really wish that it wasn't like this, but that all 'Extras' stocked the same, all 'Metros' stocked the same, all medium-sized stores stocked the same, so that at least you'd know what to expect - based on the size of the store.

An example of this, is that recently I discovered that Tesco had started stocking strawberry flavoured Koko milk. Some Extras had them in stock, but not either of the Extras near me, though. I was quite disappointed, as I really wanted to get my hands on some. Eventually, the health food shop that I frequent came to my rescue, otherwise I'd still be waiting!! 

There have been, however, some new products that we have been able to get hold of. I've already mentioned the new Free From Desserts in a previous post, and they were exciting enough in themselves, however there are more products out there! If they're not in your store yet, keep your eyes peeled for these (and badger the manager like crazy, until they stock them):

Coconut based dairy free smoothies 

Perfect for going out and about

I love these - purely because they're a dairy free product that has not made with soya!   Yay! Another great thing about these smoothies, is that they're made with added calcium - always good to see, when you're dairy free!

There are two flavours. We've only tried this Tropical Fruit one so far. The other one is banana. Baby was not keen (probably because it didn't taste of chocolate) but I really enjoyed it. They are sold in a box of four, in the chiller cabinet. Smoothies are not great for your teeth, but one of these (every now and again) would be a lovely treat.

Allergy Advice: Recipe/factory nut free. Cannot guarantee completely nut free.

Dairy Free Dessert Shakes 

Also great for taking out

Another find from the chiller. They're a bit of an odd shape and come in a net bag. They're not huge. I can't have them, because they contain soya, but Baby loves having one as a treat.

Allergy Advice: Contains soya. Recipe no nuts. Made in nut free area of a factory that handles nuts elsewhere. Cannot guarantee nut free.

Gluten and dairy free lemon cake bars 

Just right for an afternoon tea

We found these in the Free From aisle. There's four in a pack. I'm not normally a fan of lemon flavoured cakes (by default, I prefer chocolate) but as shop cakes go, these are really quite nice. They're delicately flavoured, so the lemon doesn't over-power. They're obviously manufactured, rather than home-made, but not too dry and hold together well. I'll definitely be buying them again.

Allergy Advice: 
Contains egg. Recipe nut free. Cannot guarantee completely nut free - equipment previously handled products containing nuts.

Pack of two gluten free and dairy free pizza bases

There's two of these bases in one pack. Okay, so they are not fancy artisan pizza bases, baked in a wood stove, but I really quite like them. In fact I prefer them to the large Sainsbury's Free From large pizza base, because that one tends to fall apart, before I've even got it home!! Just the right size for one person, I find these smaller pizza bases very convenient for making a quick lunch at home.

Allergy Advice:
Contains egg. Recipe/factory no nuts. Cannot guarantee nut free.

Gluten and dairy free Cupcakes 

Sorry they look a bit bashed - they were all like that

I have to admit I was quite disappointed with these.  However, I have added them into this post, as I could be wrong - Tesco seem to keep restocking the shelves, so someone must be liking them and buying more.

There are two flavours, chocolate and strawberry. You get two in a packet but they're quite small.  I couldn't eat the chocolate one as it contained soya. Baby liked the sponge but not the topping. It was not until I tried the strawberry that I understood why - I thought the topping didn't taste very nice. The sponge was quite nice, though - it had a nice flavour and texture to it - if a wee bit dry!

Allergy Advice: 
Contains egg.
Recipe nut free but cannot guarantee nut free, as equipment used in their manufacture was previously used for products containing nuts.

Well, these are some of the new products that we have enjoyed. Now, back to the question in the title: How about you? Are Tesco 'tops' for you?? What products have you found and enjoyed?

Or, have you found Tesco's range (in your area) rather disappointing??

Related posts:

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Diagnosis Murder

One of the programmes on the telly that 'Baby' really loves is called 'Get Well Soon'.

The premise is that a variety of colourful puppet characters visit a very kind and attractive young doctor (Dr Ranj), who listens carefully to his 'patients', and always diagnoses their complaints correctly, whilst informing them about what's happening to their bodies, so that they're not scared.

It has an upbeat and catchy theme tune, with a line that, although I'm sure it was composed with the best of intentions, always makes me wince. It goes something like this:

'... the doctor always knows what is good for you...'

I can't help thinking, 'If only this was always true. If only it always was that simple.'

I'm writing this post, because although I have covered this before, I had a conversation recently that completely shocked me and brought to my attention that here is still so much ignorance about this condition - within the MEDICAL PROFESSION... never mind anyone else!!! 

Don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking the medical profession. I feel not so much anger, as despair - as my diagnosis of the issue is that the problem mostly appears to be down to lack of knowledge. 

'What on earth is going on?' I think to myself, 'that this can still be allowed to happen? And that other mothers are still being passed off as hysterical first-time mothers, to whom motherhood has just come as a bit of a shock, and who are overreacting to the realities of life with a new baby??'

This is the way in which I am convinced they viewed me, when I tried to discuss my concerns about Baby, when, as merely a two week old, she began exhibiting the following symptoms:

  • pretty much constant mustard yellow, watery, explosive diarrhea which leaked everywhere (usually shortly after a feed)
  • writhing due to what looked like stomach pain before, during and after a bowel movement
  • full-volume heart-breaking wailing before, during and after a bowel movement
  • a very red, sore, 'burnt'-looking bottom that nothing seemed to ease
  • very little sleep - short bursts only, day and night (so very little sleep for me too)
  • constantly hungry day and night (because food was passing through so quickly)
  • struggling to maintain weight (if I hadn't switched to feeding on demand, I think she would have struggled to gain weight, even more than she did)

Ten midwives, two GPs (doctors) and one health visitor, failed to make the connection, between these symptoms and cow's milk protein intolerance - now referred to, more correctly, as Non-Ige mediated Cow's Milk Protein Allergy. 

Instead, these were the things I was told:
  • the red bum was due to nappy rash - I should clean it up straight away (I was, what on earth did they think I was trying to do?), use Metanium nappy cream (which actually made her sorer) and give Baby 'air time' without a nappy to get the air to her skin (pretty tricky with constant explosive diarrhoea)
  • my latch (the way a Baby fastens onto the breast - I was breastfeeding) was wrong
  • she had thrush and I should use an anti-fungal cream on her bottom (that cream really hurt her raw botty)
  • because she was born early (three weeks) her intestines weren't fully developed and needed to heal
'Baby' in the early days

I cannot tell you how low I felt at this time - I just do not have the words to describe it. 

It was truly horrible though - looking at our suffering newborn and feeling completely helpless. I mean where do you go, if the GP can't help you??

I  do remember wondering how on earth I was going to carry on and get through it. 

So when I hear of others going through the same thing, it brings back the pain and sense of helplessness and makes me sad, frustrated and angry. 

We need to change this situation! There are others out there who need to know about this. I can't bear to think that there are others who are still having to suffer - because they can't get a correct diagnosis... it's murder...  

Don't believe me? Think I'm overreacting? Well, looking back, I am pretty sure I was suffering from post-natal depression, as a result of all this. Let me tell you that it was only my faith, along with my love for my husband and Baby that kept me from contemplating the route to suicide.

One more thing - if you have a similar story to share, inbox or tweet me. I'd like to include some of your stories, as the symptoms that I've listed might be different to yours. 

Let's get the knowledge out there!