Delicious date and ginger cake

I hadn’t been planning on yet another bake, but I remembered at the last minute that the children needed cake for the following afternoon at their holiday club.  Once again I needed to work with whatever was hiding in the cupboards and although G was keen for me to make my chocolate cake, I wanted to head in a new direction.  We’ve only just finished the frozen chocolate cupcakes leftover from our fundraising at the end of May, so I relished the idea of something different.  I’d recently bought a packet of dates and decided to investigate a date and ginger concoction instead.

SAM_1364I couldn’t find a good allergy-friendly recipe to use, but settled on this recipe and adapted it to make it M-friendly.  These days I try to find recipes that have not only already done some of the work for me, be they gluten-free, vegan or otherwise allergy-friendly, but that also look relatively easy to bake.  Fortunately, given my ever-growing experience in the kitchen, I was able to work out my substitutes fairly quickly and, once the children were in bed, started in the kitchen.  My biggest challenge to date then faced me.  My electronic scales had given up the ghost – I’m guessing the repeated falling out of the cupboard really hadn’t helped – and I had to revert to using my Nigella cups for measuring the ingredients instead.  I’ve never baked using just cup measurements before as I usually convert them into grams and millilitres, but needs must and all, so I rolled up my sleeves and got on with it.

20140728_223632I needn’t have worried as the final cake was delicious, though perhaps a little overdone from 5 minutes too long in the oven.  The ginger was a bit strong, though M insists that won’t hinder him eating the cake.  G is less sure, but is happy to eat it in small pieces and certainly didn’t refuse the slice offered to her for holiday club.

Holiday planning

countdownIt’s that time of year when months, weeks or maybe just days of frantic planning come to fruition and families across the UK enjoy a week or two away from it all.  Whether it’s time in the sun, travels to far-flung shores or even just a few days experiencing something new in the UK, most of us wouldn’t think much beyond making travel arrangements, booking somewhere to lay our heads and throwing the essentials into a bag.  For years my saving grace was the thought that, insulin aside, if I had forgotten anything else even vaguely important, as long as we had money, we could pop to the shops to find a replacement.

Once you have children with chronic illnesses or food allergies, everything suddenly becomes that tiny bit more difficult.  No longer can you risk forgetting any part of the equipment or medicines you need to get your child through each day.  No longer can you assume that you will be able to get hold of the gluten-, dairy- or any other allergen-free food that your child needs to remain healthy.  And you have to consider what you would do if any one of your “what if” worst case scenarios was to actually happen.  With all of these things to complicate what should be a fun and relaxing time away from home, it’s no wonder that many families living with chronic illness choose to holiday at home, or within reasonable spitting distance, so that many of those concerns are alleviated.

Whether you consider it courageous or complete and utter madness, we’ve never been a family to stay close to home.  Mike and I both love travelling and have chosen to nuture a similar passion and willingness to explore the unknown in our children.  Part of that has no doubt been fuelled by our want to go back to Canada regularly to visit family and friends and over the last couple of years we’ve developed strategies to help us cope with travelling with M.  I carry doctors letters and copy prescriptions for both M and me in with our passports and last year discovered that we’re entitled to ask for additional luggage allowance to carry all of M’s medicines and foods with us free of charge.

walt-disney-mickey-mouseWith all this in mind, and our plans for this year’s holiday well under way, I contacted our travel company and airline to discuss our needs.  This year is our “holiday of a lifetime” as we are going to Florida to enjoy all things Disney and Universal before spending a relaxing week on the beach in St Petersburg and I want it to be as straightforward as it possibly can be given the challenges of EGID and multiple food allergies.  Planning for this trip started months ago and I had drawn up a list of things I wanted to find out to make our holiday as stress-free as possible.  My first set of questions was all to do with our flight out and I contacted the Virgin Atlantic Special Assistance team to talk over our needs.  I was quickly reassured that, as before, we could carry all of M’s medicines and foods in an extra suitcase and was advised to make sure I had copy prescriptions and doctors letters with me to make our security experience as smooth as possible.  They’ve also added a note to M’s booking to make it clear to all staff that we are entitled to carry extra luggage free of charge for medical reasons.  A big tick there that there will be no problems carrying M’s medical supplies.

Next the small matter of M’s in-flight meal.  I couldn’t imagine that any of the special meals on offer were going to avoid the wide range of allergens we needed them to, but again the Special Assistance team were able to help.  I sent an email with a full list of the foods M can’t eat and then followed it up with a phone-call.  The lady I spoke to agreed that it would be difficult to accommodate him with their standard meals, but asked what, if anything, would suit him.

Plain chicken and rice,” said I, “with no butter or sauces added and a few vegetables on the side.”

Leave it with me,” she said.

A couple of hours later an email popped into my inbox.  “I’ve spoken to the catering staff and they will make plain chicken and rice as requested for M for the flight.  I’ve passed on a complete list of his allergies for their reference, so please let us know if anything changes between now and your flight.  I’ve added all this information to your booking.”  I was amazed at just how easy adapting a meal to suit M was, but because I’m something of a worrier, I gave VA a quick call last week to confirm everything was okay for the meals.  “Yes absolutely.” said the man I spoke to this time round.  “I can see this meal marked on M’s booking and this list of foods to avoid.  Is that all correct?”  They’d even had the sense to annotate the return flight too, so I can be confident that M will be eating something safe in both directions.  They also suggested we carry a supply of safe snacks in our hand luggage (another extra bag could be carried free of charge if it was necessary), so that M won’t go hungry during the flights.

vroom_header_tcm4-588081The final element was our booking in the V-room airport lounge before we make our flight.  A complete breakfast menu is available to us, but scanning my eyes down the list of food, I could see that there was little on there that would be safe for either child, though G had a few more options than M.  This time I contacted Virgin Holidays as they run the airport lounges and asked what our options were.  I was given a list of foods that are M-friendly and advised to ask to speak to the chef when we arrive at the lounge to discuss what M would like for his breakfast.  They stock gluten-free foods as a matter of course and whilst they had soya milk as an alternative for dairy, this wouldn’t suit M.  Once again I was told that this wasn’t a problem and was hugely impressed to receive a follow-up email telling me that the chef of the V-room had contacted their suppliers and would get in some rice milk just for M on the day of our flight.  What more could an allergy-Mummy ask for?

fingerscrossed

Of course, there are no guarantees that any of this will work out as planned and I am cautious enough to be taking supplies sufficient to meet our needs as we make the trip to the US.  I will, naturally, let you all know how it goes once we’ve made our flight!

Eye adventures

Have you ever even heard of a chalazion?  No?  Me neither, but after last weekend’s events, I now consider myself to be an expert.  It all started with what I thought was an innocent stye in G’s right eye a week ago.  Her eye was a little swollen, but I’ve suffered with styes myself over the years and simply set to bathing it regularly with cooled down boiled water and bicarbonate of soda.  I had my fingers crossed that this treatment plus a trip to our GP on Monday would do the trick – why do children always get ill on the weekend? – but luck wasn’t with any of us last weekend.

Courtesy of medypal.com

Courtesy of medypal.com

Whilst Mike and M enjoyed a fast-paced weekend of adrenalin-filled 8th birthday parties, G and I were subjected to 7 hours visiting 3 of our local hospitals.  By the time G woke up on Sunday morning, it became abundantly clear that a trip to A&E was going to be necessary.  Poor G looked like someone had whacked her in both eyes, which were heavily swollen, red, weeping and extremely tender to the touch.  The single stye appeared to have multiplied and she now had a row of them across the bottom of both eyes.  We started at our local children’s hospital, a place I’ve visited more in the last 3 months than in the past 3 years due to our bad experience with their previous care of M.  The doctor there identified that G had had an allergic reaction to something unknown and gave her an anti-histamine to start to reduce the swelling around her eyes.  However, she was concerned about the number of small lumps along G’s lower lid and referred us on to the local eye hospital, who could see G just after lunch.

Fortunately, the hospitals are within walking distance of each other and we were able to pick up the prescribed anti-histamine from the main hospital (the only hospital pharmacy open on a Sunday), grab some lunch from a coffee shop and make our way in plenty of time for G’s appointment.  Once at the eye hospital, G was diagnosed as having a series of styes as well as a chalazion, which has resulted in preseptal cellulitis, a severe inflammation and infection in her lower eyelids.  Another prescription written, this time for antibiotics, eye drops and eye ointment and a mad dash back to the hospital pharmacy to get the medicines before it closed at 3pm ended our day and G and I were finally back home by 4pm, a full 7 hours after we left it that morning.

10359040_265190260333785_8817047899935492808_oThe great news is that a few days on, the medicines and continued regular bathing and massaging of her eyes has started to work and the swelling and redness is starting to subside.  This morning her left eye looked almost back to normal and her right eye has improved hugely, though the chalazion will take a little longer to disappear and return my girl to her full beauty.  G sadly missed her last days of Year 5 due to the infection, but I’m hoping for a great summer holiday now she’s well on the road to recovery.

Perfect Pizza

20140721_174621Today a parcel arrived for me.  To say I was excited by its delivery is something of an understatement as the contents of this parcel meant that M had only one request for tea – pizza.  At the Allergy show a couple of weeks ago we discovered the wonders of Mozzarisella cheese, a cheese made from germinated brown rice and which is therefore 100% safe for M.  I recently perfected a M-friendly pizza base recipe too, so this proved to be the ideal opportunity to put these magical ingredients together and taste the final result.

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s quick and easy to make and both the kids love choosing and adding their toppings to the pizza base.  I mixed up the pizza dough, rolled out the bases and then let M and G loose in the kitchen.  Today’s toppings were fairly simple, G chose ham, sweetcorn and grated Ewe’s milk cheese, whilst M settled on ham, sweetcorn, olives and slices of the mozzarisella.  He braved a taste of the cheese before it was cooked, but decided it was too slimy to enjoy “raw”.

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Fifteen minutes later and this was the final result.  The pizzas smelled amazing and both children tucked in.  The mozzrisella cheese got a big double thumbs up from M, so I know it must have been good and he’s asked for the leftovers in his lunchbox tomorrow.  All in all a resounding success and a recipe I’d definitely recommend to anyone.

 

Three square meals a day

Last week cooking at school soared to a whole new level and, I have to confess, so did my heart rate when I first heard about it.  I love the fact that both G and M have been able to participate in cooking at school this year and have been involved every step of the way to ensure that they’ve been able to eat whatever they’ve cooked – be that by providing adapted recipes, suitable ingredients or, on occasion, a friendly alternative for them to enjoy after cooking with “normal” ingredients.  A stream of constant communication between myself, the school secretary, both class teachers and the SENCo has been key to this success.

This time round, however, the plan completely changed. The Square Food Foundation were coming into school to cook with the children, one class at a time and when I asked the obvious question – “What are they cooking?” – the school had no idea what was on the menu. The letter home had asked parents to list any food allergies as they knew that some could be accommodated, so I felt confident that G would be okay, but I wanted to understand whether M would be able to taste the food that was being taken back to the classroom after the session, or if I would need to come up with a back-up plan for him.  The Headteacher said that he would be contacting the Foundation himself to ask the question and, armed with the full list of M’s current allergies, he made the phone-call.  To my delight, he was reassured that M would be able to take part fully in the lesson and I agreed to be a parent helper for M’s class to make sure that all ingredients used were definitely safe.

20140710_094912The day eventually came, we got to school and here is where I need to make a very big apology to the organisers from the Square Food Foundation.  I caught sight of the tables and ingredients set up in the school hall and my heart sank.  I saw piles of baguettes, cartons of natural yoghurt and boxes of eggs; and I doubted what they had said.  At first glance I couldn’t see how M could possibly be able to taste the food with those ingredients involved and we started the lesson with me quickly trying to work out if I could fit in a quick dash home to pick up something M-friendly for the tasting afterwards.  However, I was wrong.  As they discussed the different ingredients they’d be using, the children were asked what they thought they could prepare using the eggs and oil:

Fried eggs“….”something yummy“….”something I can’t eat

(you can guess who that last response came from)

Ah yes.  You must be the young chap with food allergies.  What can’t you eat?

20140710_093537As I reeled off the list, the man in charge sagely nodded his head, “Then you will be in our houmous team” and with that comment, all become clear.  The plan was to prepare 3 different dips – houmous, aioli and tzatziki – and assorted crudites during the 30 minutes cooking time.  The class was quickly divided into 3 equal groups and sent to 3 banks of tables, where all the necessary ingredients and equipment were ready and waiting for them. The children had an amazing time.  They were trusted to use sharp knives to chop the vegetables and crush the garlic.  They drizzled the oil, squeezed the lemons and ground the cumin seeds.  20140710_094403Finally, they mixed the ingredients together and plated up their finished houmous and crudites for the class to admire and enjoy.

All 3 dips looked amazing and I am assured by M that the houmous was delicious.  It was a great morning’s activity and I know that G enjoyed her chance to make aioli later in the day too.  So it’s a very big “Thank you” to all the members of the Square Food Foundation who came to the school, taught some new skills to the children and made no fuss about meeting the needs of M in such an amazing way.

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Allergy Adventures

adventureIn my recent blog about the Allergy and Freefrom show in London, I mentioned in passing the wonderful Allergy Adventures, who M was keen to visit during our day at the show.  We first discovered Allergy Adventures at last year’s show and were so impressed with their products that we’ve kept going back for more.

Allergy Adventures was set up by the lovely Hailey, who explains her reasons for starting the company on her website.  She produces beautifully illustrated children’s books that take the reader on a magical journey inside their lunchbox, accompanied by a character with the same food allergy as them as they look for safe foods to enjoy.  Each book focuses on one main allergen and teaches the child “how to tell others about their allergy and stay safe around food.” These books are bright and colourful and drew M’s attention last year as we wandered the stalls of the Allergy show.  Whilst he and G joined in with some paper-plate crafts – an absolute godsend to any parent who wanted a break from complaints of aching legs due to the amount of walking needed – Mike and I flicked through the books.

Stickers_5_largeUnfortunately, due to the extent of M’s allergies, there isn’t one particular book that we could buy for him to enjoy and to share with his friends, but there was another product that caught my eye and which I snapped up in an instant.  These fantastic “stickers” have proved invaluable in labelling any pots, products or boxes that go into school for M’s use.  His lunchbox, water bottle, medicine pots and individual tupperware containers all have a sticker, indicating that the contents are M-friendly and for his use only.  Even the children’s swap-boxes have a couple of “Hands off” stickers, so that everyone knows that they are specifically for G and M.  What I particularly love about these stickers is that they create a positive association with his food for M.  Rather than focusing on the “free-from” label and listing what he can’t eat, they instead stress that the food is special because it belongs to M or G and not to anyone else – a great message for my allergy-challenged boy.

Earlier this year, Allergy Adventures also produced an amazing allergy-friendly cooking guide, which lists out easy substitutions that can be made when baking or cooking for someone with food allergies.  Not only does it make sensible suggestions about replacement products to use, but the notes highlight key areas to consider when using alternatives.  Best of all, this has been produced as a free resource and can be found by following this link. With plans afoot for creating more resources to support children with allergies both in hospital and in schools, this is definitely one to watch.

After our first hour or so at the show, we finally listened to M’s request and headed for the Allergy Adventures area.  Once again both G and M created paper-plate masterpieces, whilst resting their aching feet and Mike and I had a break from their moans, for a few minutes anyway.  I grabbed the opportunity to catch up with Hailey, who I chatter with on Twitter and 10outot10also the fabulous Vicki, the FreeFrom Fairy, another Twittersphere friend.  Once G and M had finished their creations, they were captured on film for the Allergy Adventures video all about the 2014 Allergy show.  There’s really nothing more to add.  This is a great set of resources for anyone with a child with food allergies and I would really recommend you spend some time exploring everything Allergy Adventures has to offer, it definitely won’t be time wasted.

 

Allergy & Free From Show, London 2014

allergy show

Last weekend was the annual Allergy and Freefrom Show in London, one event that has been pencilled in my diary since we visited it for the first time last year.  This amazing show features a multitude of companies and charities who provide goods and services for those struggling with a life with allergies.  From the well-known brands to smaller businesses who have only just started out, the stalls offered both G and M the opportunity to taste and try a range of safe foods and drinks.  This year we visited on the Sunday, hoping for a marginally less hectic day there than the one we experienced last year.  We arrived before the doors opened and despite joining the long queue that was forming outside, the sensible decision was made to open the doors slightly ahead of schedule and we were inside the hall in no time at all.

As soon as we spotted the map, we ran our eyes down the list of stall-holders, noted the location of our key stalls to visit and formulated our plan.  I wanted to see as many of the allergy stalls as possible, hoping to find some more M-friendly products to add to our cupboards.  Mike and G declared themselves happy with just wandering around and tasting whatever free samples were on offer and M had 2 specific requests for the day – Ms Cupcake and Allergy Adventures.

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Courtesy of simranb94 on Instagram

M often talks about the decadent cupcakes that he enjoyed at last year’s show, which were revolutionary for him as he hadn’t had such a large choice of cakes to choose from since before his diagnosis.  All of these cakes are vegan and some are baked to be gluten- and soya-free too.  He remembers well just how large these treats were and had discussed at length that he thought it best if this year he and G chose one to share rather than one each.  Needless to say, the reality and temptation proved too much and all his plans went out the window the minute he laid eyes on Ms Cupcake’s stall.  M chose a Black Forest cupcake and a choc chip cookie sandwich, whilst G had a wider choice and settled on a Chocolate and peppermint cupcake as well as a choc chip cookie sandwich.  As they started on their mouthfuls, I asked for their opinions as to the taste, but they had no comment to add as their mouths were crammed full – a true sign of just how delicious they are!

milkWe made our way around the myriad of stalls, tasting tidbits, chatting with stall-holders and discovering some wonderful new products to add to our M-friendly repertoire.  I picked up some old favourites, such as Nakd bars, Frank* bars and Newburn Bakehouse wraps, at amazing show prices as well as finding Le conserve della nonna pesto and Free’d crackers, which I’m hoping will quickly become new staples in our home.  There was a lot of gluten-free items on offer, but we struggled more this year with what was available for those with multiple food allergies, which was disappointing given that forms the basis of our allergy needs.  All that being said, we came home with a carload of M- and G-friendly foods, including enough KoKo Chocolate and Strawberry flavoured coconut milk to last us at least a couple of months!

It was a long day, especially after our amazing day out at Silverstone on the Saturday, but I’m glad we made the detour from Northamptonshire to London to experience the show.  Everyone there was helpful and informative and I had no problem in identifying what M could and couldn’t try.  This is definitely a trip I’m planning to make again next year and one I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies.  Even better, if you live further North in the UK and don’t fancy the trek to London, there is now the Liverpool show to enjoy in October and you can find out more about visiting that here.