Ice cream cones – I know it is raining, but I still want them! 4

As the weather is so poor at home, we decided to head to the seaside for the rest of half term. My parents live in Christchurch, Dorset and seem to get better weather than us. We don’t have to bring too much of Zac’s special food with us, as there is a large Sainsbury’s close by and a Waitrose. Both usually stock a good range of free from foods and Mum is great at catering for Zac. But she had run out of his special dairy free, wheat free, gluten free ice cream cones and so had I.

The last time I managed to find any was at the Allergy Show last month. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the Barkat stall and even more happy to find that they were selling them. Annoyingly, I didn’t have much cash on me so could only buy one box. And the nice weather last month caused us to run out – very quickly.

I have been to our local Sainsbury’s several times since and had no luck. So the first thing we did when we arrived in Christchurch was to run out and see if we could find them. Sadly, they had none on the shelves, and there wasn’t even a ‘space’ for them, so it doesn’t look like they have been selling them lately.

I expected not to find the ice cream cones on the supermarket shelves in winter, but I had expected them to have made a comeback by now. The dairy free ice cream is in the freezers all year round so it doesn’t make much sense. Also, I have only ever seen one brand – Barkat and I have only ever found them in Sainsbury’s.

I don’t understand why they are not in more supermarkets or why they are not on the shelves yet. I know the weather is poor but kids love ice cream all year round. If I had found them I would have bought several boxes and I am sure others would too. They are expensive and so the supermarkets are really missing a trick here.

It is easy enough to find the well known Askey’s ice cream cones and wafers all year round, so why not the free from versions? Also, I have looked carefully at the Askey’s cones and they have a worryingly long list of not very natural ingredients, and in my opinion don’t even taste that good. The Barkat cones that we love are in the style of a Belgian waffle cone and taste really good. It is not often that a ‘free from’ product is a better flavour or texture than a ‘normal’ one but these are great.

So today, I decided to have a look and see where else I can find them. Here are the sites. Please take a look and try them. Perhaps if enough of us try them and buy them we can help them convince more supermarkets to stock them. Definitely a product for all the family and not just the food intolerants among us.


Foods on prescription – anything for dairy intolerants? 3

I know I am a bit late to this debate, but I have been doing a lot of investigating since the ‘furore’ blew up the other week about the cost of foods for Coeliac sufferers.

Like many others, I was so angry, but for more than just the usual reasons. I do not think it is right that these foods should cost the NHS so much – but I believe the problem is with the manufacturers and we cannot blame the sufferers.

I imagine the reason that Coeliac sufferers are granted an allowance is because it is widely acknowledged how ridiculously expensive it is to buy the gluten free products. The impact on the ‘purse’ is staggering. So we should be grateful that this provision is made.

The ‘free bread’ is not widely or recklessly dished out. There is a lot of confusion over intolerance, allergy and autoimmune diseases such as Coeliac. Only the Coeliacs are entitled to an allowance. With certain food intolerances you can be ‘cured’ with desensitisation and that is not the case with Coeliac, so the sufferers face a life of having to buy these foods and it makes sense that they get some help.

Many people have just a mild sensitivity to gluten and wheat and some have a much more severe intolerance, but these people are not entitled to anything. I suppose because there are so many of them and they have a chance of managing their conditions themselves and it is not so detrimental to their general health if they have the odd slip up.

I also imagine that this might be the reason it was so difficult for me to get anyone to test Zac. Less interested doctors probably don’t want to uncover yet another sufferer and put more strain on the NHS purse.

It sounds terrible, but in a way, I was disappointed when his Coeliac blood test came back negative. Not just because it meant we did not get our ‘free foods’ but mostly because it left our questions unanswered. Why was he so ill from eating these foods? What happens next? Should I push for a gut biopsy? Nobody else felt the need to find the answers to these questions, so we were just advised to keep him off his trigger foods as he has an obvious bad reaction and just hope grows out of it. So instead, we regularly meet dietitians to review his case.

At the most recent meeting, the penny dropped and brought up some new questions. Zac’s first intolerance was to dairy, the others came along after. At the very first meeting with a dietitian we discussed his milk and dairy replacements, were given advice but that was all. Every time since, the first thing anyone ever asks is ‘what is his dairy replacement?’ How much does he have each day and they always check his height and weight. The gluten intolerance appears to be of little interest and the whole discussion is about his calcium levels.

The most recent meeting was poignant because this dietitian actually explained why she and the others were more interested in how we cope with his dairy intolerance. It is because it is absolutely crucial that a child as young as Zac is getting the right levels of calcium in his diet, not to mention protein and the all important vitamin D. So why is there no help for the children with dairy intolerance/allergy?

Zac is almost at allergy level – we have been told, based on his reactions. No tests have ever been carried out. He has never shown signs of anaphylaxis but he will be running to the toilet within minutes of eating a crisp that has ‘cows milk protein’ listed as one of the ingredients. His tummy blows up like a balloon and his tummy ache lasts hours.

When he was still in nappies, he would explode out of his nappies and it could take a whole packet of wipes to clean him. It looked like someone had vomited in his nappy and it could be blasted as high as his shoulders and down to his ankles. In fact, he was three before he could be toilet trained because his tummy and brain had no time to ‘talk’. So his sensitivity is extreme and we have been advised to keep him away from all dairy for several years yet with no ‘challenges’ unless advised.

We are always told he could grow out of it. However, at the recent Allergy Show, I got tested and showed up as diary intolerant. It did not surprise me. I stopped drinking milk as a very young child and am almost phobic about it. Just watching someone drink it makes me feel queasy and now I know why. It is not my imagination, it is my memory! It really did make me feel sick. As I dislike dairy so much, I have avoided it for years, so didn’t think about it. But now I know I am still intolerant after almost 35 years of dodging it, I think it is very unlikely that Zac will grow out of it. He is much worse than me and if it hasn’t worked for me, it is unlikely it will work for him.

So what help will we get? Dairy intolerant babies, quite rightly get their dairy free formula on prescription, until they are twelve months, but to my knowledge, there is no provision for dairy intolerant children. Zac was just over twelve months old when he became so ill. I had to fight and fight just to see a dietitian and was given minimal advice. When I met the first paediatrician he congratulated me on keeping Zac so healthy as he has seen so many dairy intolerant children suffering from malnutrition as ‘their mothers are doing it all wrong’. Surely, these people need as much help as the Coeliac people.

An infant needs to consume a huge amount of ‘dairy replacement’ to ensure that they are getting adequate levels of vitamins and calcium. I received little advice on how to achieve this. I worked it out for myself. I have been lucky that Zac actually likes the Alpro Soya Junior milk and loves the yoghurts. It is not unusual for him to eat three a day, which costs a fortune. At the most recent visit the dietitian advised me that the reason he is so well is probably because the yoghurts and milk are so full of everything he needs, it is almost like he is back on formula.

At the moment, there is a great deal of concern and press coverage about vitamin D deficiency, which is widely blamed on our poor climate and poor diet.  Vitamin D is mostly ‘supplied’ via sunlight and dairy products, so for a dairy intolerant infant, surely it is crucial that the parents are given all of the information they need and ideally some help to buy the products! A chronic lack of vitamin D can lead to many serious conditions, e.g. rickets and osteoporosis, and it seems amazing that no-one has yet waved the flag for all the dairy intolerants out there, as a group in dire need of some help.

If anyone needs a bit of extra help buying foods for their ‘intolerant’children, surely it is people like us? The people with Coeliac understand the damage that could be caused to their bodies, if they consume aggravating foods. But not enough people understand the damage done to the body of an infant who does not get adequate calcium and vitamin D. So I am afraid to say, I think the government needs to dig a bit deeper and think about the provision for the dairy intolerant children out there. I realise that there is as much chance of this happening, as there is of Zac ‘growing out’ of his condition, but I would love to get some awareness. Anyone want to help me? 

Fairy Cakes failure – thank goodness for packet mixes 2

They say pride comes before a fall and I have discovered that is definitely true, in the world of ‘free from’ baking. After the success of the flapjacks earlier in the week, I decided the time had come to try and create some dairy free, gluten free fairy cakes for the school jubilee party.

Even though I am not very good at making cakes, my confidence was up as a result of my recent triumphs. The rock cakes, brownies and flapjacks were all so easy and I have to admit I did enjoy making them. The kids loved them and they had already vanished, so I decided to branch out and try something more complicated and suitable for a jubilee tea party. Fatal error. The first in a series of mistakes.

My biggest mistake was deciding to try and do two things at once. I had decided to make some fairy cakes and a Victoria sponge. Perhaps I got the recipes mixed up or missed something out because I didn’t have enough batter to fill the two cake tins for the sponge. And when I started on the mix for the fairy cakes, I measured out my sugar and then the flour and then combined the two! I wasn’t concentrating. I was supposed to add the butter first and cream them together. So I had to dump the sugary flour mix and start again.

That was when I realised I didn’t have enough caster sugar for another attempt. So I decided to improvise by topping up with a bit of ‘ordinary sugar’ and some light brown sugar. I was also low on Pure ‘sunflower’ spread and used some coconut oil instead. I am not really sure what happened but when I added the eggs and eventually the flour and milk it all started to look rather curdled and nasty.

I suppose you just cannot substitute the butter and the flour and the sugar and expect a good result. Too many changes at once. I am not sure what went wrong but the mix was very thin and watery and starting to separate a bit.

So I decided to pour it all into one of the sandwich tins as it looked like it would not hold inside the flimsy fairy cake cases. I thought I could then stick the two cooked sponges together and they could be my Victoria sandwich.

I decided I could make the fairy cakes later on, once I had run to the supermarket for more ingredients. I hoped that the cakes would not look too bad when they came out of the oven and I would be able to pretty them up with a bit of icing, some sprinkles and chocolate drops. I had even decided to swap out the jam for some dairy free chocolate spread. This would be my take on the Victoria sponge – mine would be filled with chocolate and topped with chocolate and forever after known as the Elizabeth sponge.

The plan was a good one at least. But the reality was not so good. The cakes looked good and smelled good. They came out of the sandwich tins very easily. I decided to make ‘mini’ sponges, by using cookie cutters to get the perfect little discs. Impressed by my spontaneous creativity, I pushed down with the cookie cutter on the first sponge, I could feel the sponge bounce back – but not in a good way! As I pressed down into the other sponge I didn’t even manage to cut through. Oh dear.

I had created a sponge but the sort of sponge you could clean your car with. You know it will absorb water, you could also squeeze it out and it would probably bounce back to its original shape. The inside was rather yellow too. So I have decided to blame the eggs. I was supposed to use medium sized, but had used ‘extra large’. That was all I had left in my fridge! Anyway, I took a bite of one of the sponges and it had a nice flavour but it was chewy and after a few seconds I realised it was actually pretty inedible!!! So I spat it out and threw it all away. Annoying, a waste of time and money but I was now left with a bigger problem. I still needed to make something for Zac to take to the jubilee party.

I decided to have one last stock take of my cupboards and see if I had enough ingredients left to knock up a handful of rock cakes at least, and that is when I discovered my saviour. Hiding behind a packet of not yet tried bread flour, was a Hale & Hearty branded, dairy free, gluten free chocolate chip cookie packet mix.

 I was saved. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl add my last scrape of Pure spread and add an egg. It all created a lovely cookie dough in no time at all and a few minutes later I had ten perfect little cookies baking in the oven. 15 minutes later the warm little cookies were cooling down and one was missing! Well I thought I should make sure they were ok and they were perfect.

So what did I learn today? Many things really. Definitely don’t try and run before you can walk. I am a novice baker and the world of ‘free from’ baking is actually a bit more complicated than normal baking, so I should have known better. I should also remember to always check the cupboards and fridge before I start, to make sure I have enough ingredients to make the thing, and have plenty in reserve for when I make mistakes and need to start again!

And the most important lesson of all is that it is ok to use packet mixes and sometimes taking a few short cuts isn’t so bad. If it weren’t for the clever people at Hale & Hearty, Zac would have had nothing to take to the jubilee party today. And that is the point, when you have an intolerant child you will do anything for them to be able to feel ‘normal’ at kids parties – even if that means spending all day making a mess and not much else in the kitchen!

So what if all the other kids are eating fabulous artisan standard cupcakes made from scratch by an extremely talented Mummy. My little boy thinks my cakes and cookies are the best in the world and he doesn’t know how they were made or where they came from, all he knows is that I gave them to him and they were made ‘specially’ for him.

Rainbow pasta sauces Reply

Rainbow pasta sauces – the free from family favourites

Anyone reading my blog could be forgiven for thinking I only feed cakes to my children. There is a reason all of my recipes to date have been baked in the oven. My gas hob was broken. A super cautious plumber condemned it when he came to fix our boiler. Long and dull story but I was not able to cook on gas for over a month.

Fortunately the oven was still working, and I have a microwave and slow cooker. So I was able to get by. Luckily, I also had a freezer full of batch cooked meals, so it was not so tough – but it didn’t leave me with much to blog about – so that is why I started experimenting with cakes.

Since Zac started doing three full days a week at pre-school, I have had a bit of time on my hands and seem to spend most of it cooking and stocking up my freezer. I love to cook big family meals and working out new dinners for Zac has been a fun challenge.

When you have an intolerant child, you are even more aware of the need to make sure they get their five a day. With a dairy intolerant child you also have to carefully consider the sources of protein, calcium and essential vitamins, particularly D and the B vitamins. That is why I created my rainbow pasta sauces.

Zac loves all of the gluten free pasta shapes but is picky about sauces and he has become very fussy over the years. So in some ways I have had to go back to the start. Even though I did everything right to ensure he would be an adventurous eater, baby led weaning, not pureeing foods, following Annabel Karmel etc etc, nothing could have prepared us for the impact food intolerances would have. Our non fussy one year old gradually turned into a very fussy three year old, thanks to the years of elimination tests as advised by the dietitians. Every time we took a food item out of his diet for a period of time to test it as a possible culprit, he forgot he liked it. So when we reintroduced the foods that passed the test he flatly refused to eat them anymore and claimed they gave him a tummy ache.

So here we are now, right back at the start and I am back to creating pasta sauces full of vegetables, that I eventually whizz up with a hand blender. Not ideal I know, but when your child has dietary issues, you do anything you can to get the food in him. I just tell myself he will get there in the end and it is not as if he cannot eat lumpy food. He does all the time. He is just weird with certain textures and I need to be patient.

Today was a great day, not only was my flapjack a huge success, but it was also the first day I could use my new cooker. I had waited over a month and couldn’t wait to fire up the burners and do some proper cooking.

I had pretty much run down my freezer stocks, so decided I would make some new sauces. I grabbed all of the vegetables from my fridge and some meat and made a Bolognese type sauce and a turkey, tomato and vegetable sauce. Here are the recipes. Both were very straightforward and worked very well. I shouldn’t imagine many Italians would approve them as particularly authentic, but that is not the point of this exercise. I just need to create delicious and healthy food that gives my intolerant child all he needs.

So tonight, the children had the ‘Bolognese’ sauce with gluten free spaghetti . Tom and I had the turkey and tomato sauce with farfalle (butterfly pasta, according to Sophia). Both were delicious and are very versatile. Worth a try. I only blitz the sauces for Zac. I prefer them with some texture. So if you are making them for yourself, just make them to your taste – with finely chopped vegetables, chunky vegetables or whizzed up to a smooth sauce.

The most important thing to me, is to ensure that there is good quality meat included, as well as a rainbow of vegetables. We are always being reminded that it is best to eat a large variety of multi coloured vegetables as often as possible, hence my ‘rainbow’ home brand name. I usually have a good selection in my fridge and it is always so rewarding to see the children attack their pasta, knowing that it is covered in sauce that is packed with vitamins and nutrients and looks attractive. It worked tonight but I still need to keep working on it. Who knows, one day, Zac may return to eating like the little baby in the photo, with a courgette in one hand and a carrot in the other. But until that day comes, it is up to me to find other ways to get that rainbow in him!

Turkey rainbow sauce Reply

Turkey rainbow sauce

4 large turkey breasts or 6 thin turkey steaks

1 Kallo Chicken stock cube – gluten free, dairy free

1 medium red onion

3 sticks of celery

1 yellow pepper

1 courgette

1 small aubergine

1 handful of mushrooms

Handful of broccoli florets

1 tablespoon of ‘pesto’

1 tablespoon of tomato puree

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika

1 dessert spoon of mixed herbs

1 glass of red wine

1 splash of balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic or 1 dessert spoon of garlic puree

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Chop up the turkey and gently fry it/brown it in the pan with a splash of olive oil. I use turkey because it is cheaper than chicken, has a stronger taste and the texture absorbs the flavours of the sauce better. Once the meat has coloured add the stock cube and let it melt into the meat. Season the meat, with the salt, pepper and smoked paprika and then add the onions and garlic. Soften them on a medium heat for about five minutes. Keep stirring so that the garlic does not burn. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to sweeten it and then add the celery. Once that starts to change colour, add the herbs and aubergine. As the aubergine changes colour and absorbs some liquid, add the wine. Cook for five minutes or so and then add the mushrooms, followed by the courgettes and peppers. Next stir in the pesto. I have just discovered a gluten free, dairy free and nut free one that was really delicious and added a real depth to the dish.  See picture. I found it on the free from shelf at Waitrose. Obviously, if you are ok with dairy, you can use normal pesto, but for us, this has been a revelation. We used to love pesto and it was a real favourite with Zac, so I am glad I found this one.

After the pesto, then add the broccoli and let it cook for a few minutes, before adding the tinned tomatoes. Stir it all through and taste the sauce. Add extra seasoning or a splash of wine, paprika or tomato puree if it needs more intensity. Keep going til you like the taste and then cover it and cook it on a low heat for about 40 or 50 minutes. Keep an eye on it and stir from time to time. You need the sauce to reduce and intensify but you don’t want it to burn or stick. This sauce is great with any pasta, but also works just as well with rice. Again, a naturally non-dairy meal, full of protein, vegetables and vitamins. It also blends up really well and goes quite creamy in texture if you blend it till it is smooth. A big hit with the children.

Bolognese rainbow sauce 1

Bolognese rainbow sauce

500g steak mince

1 x Kallo Beef Stock cube – gluten and dairy free

1 large handful handful dried mixed herbs

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 splash of balsamic vinegar

1 glass red wine

1 medium red onion

3 cloves crushed garlic or 1 dessert spoon of garlic puree

3 sticks celery

1 large carrot

1 small courgette

1 small yellow pepper

2 handfuls of chopped mushrooms

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Season with salt and pepper

I always chop and prepare all the vegetables first, so I can add them as I am going along. Brown the meat in a large pan over a medium heat, season with salt and pepper, add the stock cube and stir it around so it melts into the meat. I always use the Kallo branded stock cubes, as they are gluten free and usually a bit lower in sodium than other brands. They are easy to find, usually amongst all of the other brands and not particularly pricey.

Next, add garlic, onions, splash of balsamic vinegar, tomato puree and then the wine. The balsamic vinegar sweetens the onion and adds a nice warmth to the sauce. Cook gently until meat is really brown and the garlic and onions are soft. Next add the carrot and celery and let them soften, keep stirring over the gentle heat. Once they are looking softer add the courgettes, pepper and mushrooms. Season again and keep moving until they start to soften too. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, let it heat up til it bubbles and then turn it back down and cover with a lid so it simmers very slowly. Cook it as slow as you can for at least an hour until the meat is really soft and the vegetables have all softened. Keep tasting and if it needs extra flavour, you can always add a bit more garlic, a sprinkle of herbs, a splash more wine or some more tomato puree. I don’t think I ever do it the same way twice, I just taste and add and taste and add until I am happy.

Sometimes, I transfer it to my slow cooker at this point and leave it on low for several hours. The flavours really come together and the meat is always nice and soft, which the children definitely prefer and I am just happy that they have eaten a meal containing seven different types and colour of vegetables, not to mention good quality lean meat. A naturally nutritious dairy free, gluten free, wheat free meal. No particular cooking skill or fancy expensive ‘free from’ ingredients required.