Malta and Gozo with allergies

We’re just back from a wonderful, relaxing and very sunny summer holiday and I thought I’d pass on some thoughts on Malta and Gozo as holiday destination from the point of view of a family with food allergies to cater for. Whenever we go somewhere new I do a search on the supermarket availability for safe foods and allergy-friendliness of a destination, frequently coming up with nothing useful or only snippets of information. So maybe if I write my thoughts , other people may find it helps them in future.

I haven’t been paid in any way for this review, it just to help others who travel with allergies by passing on my thoughts 🙂

Similar to most families with allergies, we went self-catering; even if we could easily go to stay in hotels or all inclusive I’m not sure it would be my chosen option. It is not an issue and I think I just like cooking too much, and the trip to the local supermarket is always an interesting holiday activity for me. On this occasion we splashed out on a private villa with a pool and much needed air-con. This proved to be a highlight and certainly helped us relax and cool off. See below for our beautiful villa and pool in traditional Gozitan style.We used a company called James Villas and I have to say that the whole process from booking to returning home worked like clockwork. If you’re looking for a Mediterranean villa holiday I’d really recommend having a look at their site.

The first notable feature that made this holiday so easy was the language. Although everyone speaks Maltese, the official language is still English and that made getting our message across so much easier. It’s so reassuring when trying to convey such important requests to know that the person you’re talking to is really getting the message. I should add that the Maltese people as a nation are incredibly laid back, friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure I even heard a car horn in anger.

As we were staying on Gozo which is a small island only 14km long by 7km wide, there wasn’t a huge selection of food shops, but we did come across a Lidl, one supermarket in a shopping centre called Arkadia which we used and various little convenience stores. The selection of brands available was excellent; they even had Waitrose own-brand products!

We found the range to include products from the UK, France, Italy and Malta. The free-from brands we came across included Alpro, Pure, Valsoia, Misura and Schar. A really impressive range for a small island you might visit on holiday. So we were very well catered for, for buying dairy-free margarine, dairy-free yogurts, ice cream and milks, free-from biscuits and croissants.

We don’t need gluten-free products ourselves, but that range was even better. Amazingly, even the small convenience stores had a few free-from products available.

We did however have a problem with bread. I didn’t find any sliced loaves that didn’t have ‘may contain sesame’ labels and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on a small island. I only managed to buy some UK produced pittas that we survived on, along with the supplies I’d brought from home! More concerning was the fact that the peanuts were bizarrely kept within the bakery cupboards – that really wasn’t a welcome sight.

A lot of the ice cream parlours advertised vegan ice cream, but again we weren’t taking any risks whilst on an island with no big hospital, so opted for very cooling, iced ‘slushies’ instead which were available everywhere.

We ate out a couple of times. Lunch whilst visiting the Citadella in Victoria, the Capital, and one in a restaurant near our villa called Il Girna by Peppe. Both occasions were successful. The staff were very accommodating and we felt confident that they took our concerns seriously. Both adapted the menu to suit our needs, and whilst the resulting dishes were fairly plain, they were safe, so we were happy customers. If you’re after gluten-free or vegan food, the provision was excellent with dishes available in all the establishments we checked.

So, all in all, it was a really good destination for a holiday with allergies/food restrictions and I’d definitely recommend considering it as an option. We only visiting Malta once to go to the excellent aquarium, but I believe it offers more of the holiday resort type holiday. Gozo was much quieter, with stunning architecture (and really interesting house names – our favourite was ‘Reality’!). It’s fairly rocky with dramatic cliffs, stony bays and always beautiful crystal clear sea and inlets. Seafood lovers will be very happy, many very simple looking beach cafes and shacks seem to be turning out the freshest seafood. Sandy beaches are few and far between, with the red sanded Ramla Bay being the favourite. It should be noted that we had some fairly hairy drives with roads suddenly ending in front of us, or being so steep that the car couldn’t make it up in 1st gear, something I have never experienced before.

There’s also plenty of culture from pre-historic temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by one thousand years, to hilltop Basilicas aplenty. It seemed to me that Visit Malta has invested a lot in their tourist attractions and they were all modern and top-notch. I’d say we did everything in Gozo in one week, but then we like to be busy and you could happily stretch it out with more ‘relax time’, and that would be rather lovely in the wonderful southern Mediterranean climate.

Strawberry Creams

One thing Little S dreams of but has never been able to indulge in is a box of chocolates. A pretty box filled with an array of beautiful chocolates with delicious fillings… well, who wouldn’t want such a thing? So I’m on a mission to make one for her birthday as a little surprise (Shhhh!)

We have a great fondness for Choices caramels, but they’re all one flavour which isn’t quite the same as the surprise and choice you get from a selection. I want to recreate the thrill of looking at the mini chocolate menu and choosing your favourite!

So these strawberry creams are the first in a series of filled chocolates and one of my very favourites. In my opinion the flavours of dark chocolate and berrry flavoured fondant are a match made in heaven. They’re also as simple as can be – as long as you have a chocolate mould and some patience you too can make shop worthy chocolates.

The fondant filling is simple: icing sugar (I used Sugar and Crumbs flavoured icing sugar as it’s totally safe and adds an extra oomph of flavour) mixed with a fresh strawberry purĂ©e, what could be easier!

Strawberry Creams

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

1 tbsp fresh strawberry puree (or maybe a little more)

1 cup icing sugar

100g dairy-free dark chocolate

  1. Melt the chocolate following the instructions here. It needs to be tempered to get a lovely shiny finish.
  2. Coat the moulds with the about 3/4s of the chocolate. Leave to set.
  3. Meanwhile make the strawberry fondant filling. It needs to be like very thick icing, so start with 1 tbsp of puree and add more if necessary.
  4. Pour the fondant into the set chocolate moulds.
  5. Cover with the remaining chocolate and leave to set.
  6. Try not to eat too many at once 😉

 

A Guide to Buying Olive Oil

I was approached by Jamie’s Italian to feature this rather gorgeously designed infographic on buying olive oil. As I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver, especially since his recent affection for more plant-based foods in his cooking, I was happy to say yes.

It’s also pretty useful and I’m certainly going to refer to it when buying olive oil in the future, especially next week when we head to Italy, so the timing couldn’t be more handy for me! Besides, who knew Spain produced more olive oil than Italy and Greece combined?

Apparently Jamie’s Italian also caters well for allergies, we’ve never tried eating there but I hope we can seek one out soon – here’s one in Norwich as an example: https://www.restaurantchoice.co.uk/restaurants/jamies-italian-norwich.html

Disclaimer: I was paid a fee by Jamie’s Italian to feature this infographic, but only decided to do so as it is rather useful and fits the content of my blog. 

Yorica! Exclusive Q & A with Director Monika Jagielo and my review of our visit.

Yorica! Soho

When word got out a couple of months ago about a new allergy-friendly ice cream, shake and Fro-yo parlour opening in London the allergy community on-line got rather excited, and not least us! Could it be true? Could there really be a safe destination that sold allergy-friendly iced treats? It was really rather unbelievable. Enquiries were promptly made – would it really be suitable and safe for us? And lo and behold, the wonderful reply of yes came back. Unbelievable. And so we duly made the pilgrimage.

freedom to be free-from sign

Now, we have once or twice eaten in the New Forest Ice Cream parlour in Lymington which makes some wonderful sorbets, but the choice is relatively limited and is accompanied by strict instructions over newly opened tubs, no scoop sharing etc etc. This was an entirely different matter – a shop where we could choose ANYTHING! Little S got a bit overexcited browsing the website and decided she’d have a Fro- yo and a shake – we knew she’d probably only get through about half one item as she’s not very used to rich foods, but it’s nice to dream about choice isn’t it?

free-from choice at Yorica!

I was intrigued though – what was the motivation? How did they make their lovely products and source the toppings – as we know it’s not easy to find allergen-free goodies. So I approached Yorica! and asked if they were interested in answering some of my questions. Here is what Monika Jagielo, Director at Yorica! had to say:

 

1) What was your motivation for setting up a free from ice cream parlour?

We wanted to set up a sweet treat cafe that those suffering from allergies could walk into and literally go wild! No worrying about what they can and can’t eat, we wanted them to be able to have choice: something that allergy sufferers often don’t have. All Yorica! treats are free from most of the 14 allergens including wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts – so it’s a free from haven for all!

2) Where do you source your ingredients, in particular all the yummy toppings!

We want all of our products to be deliciously healthy, natural and free from, so where we source our ingredients is really important. Everything we use is certified, sustainable and traced – from crop to cone! Our most popular topping is our delicious, chocolate biscuit topper which is sourced from Canada.

3) We loved the taste and texture of both the ice cream and Fro-yo – how did you develop the recipe and do you have any tips for others?

Thank you, we’re so pleased you like them :). The exact recipe is a bit of a Yorica! HQ secret but I can tell you that to make them free from and delicious we have used quite a few natural substitutes. We only use natural sugars, which stops our ice cream from going rock hard and helps keep them silky smooth. We’ve developed all of our recipes in house and are constantly experimenting to find new flavours – our latest is violet flavoured ice cream, which you can order with tasty edible flowers!
 
4) What are your plans for the future?
We’d love to see a whole raft of Yorica! cafes opening up nationwide, or even across the world. We think we have something really unique and special going on, so would love to share it with more people. Our customers have been so brilliant and can’t get enough of our free from goodness, so we couldn’t be happier. 

Yorica! Wardour St

And what about our visit? We had a lovely day out – a trip to the British museum for some Roman history which Little S is currently studying at school, a ‘light’ picnic ( well we had to have plenty of room for some ice cream!), a meet up with Uncle J and a trip to Yorica. Bliss.

And Yorica!? The shop is small, a little more space to sit and eat would be welcome but the design is lovely, fresh and inviting. Unfortunately there was a mechanical problem with the fro-yo machine when we visited so only vanilla and strawberry were on offer. Both girls opted for fro-yo having never eaten it before but were totally bamboozled by having toppings and a choice at that! So, they both panicked and just got one topping each, rather than a pile of goodies on top of their Fro-yos. The fro-yo was light and creamy but not rich in texture and taste and was very moreish. The vanilla had a slight coconut undertone, but that wasn’t apparent with the strawberry.

free-from vanilla fro-yo

D, Uncle J and I all opted for mixed ice cream with plentiful toppings. The flavours were delicious, particularly the blackcurrarnt and cookies and cream. We were one happy bunch. The ice cream is light enough to gobble down and the only difference with usual dairy ice cream is you don’t feel a bit queasy after such a rich, big bowlful.

blackcurrant and cookies and cream ice cream, dairy-free, egg-free

All in all, I couldn’t recommend Yorica! more highly as a safe treat destination. We’ll definitely return with regularity – fingers crossed they’re such a success that they expand all over the country.

 

I did not get paid for this review, I just wanted to spread the word to the allergy community about a fab new foodie destination (and I’m really looking forward to trying the violet flavour!).

plenty of safe sprinkles!

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The Bran Tub, Petersfield

Health Shops, worth taking a detour for:

The Bran Tub, Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

This lovely, cavernous health food shop has been a regular pilgrimage for us – a true well stocked treasure trove which is always buzzing with customers. I’ve found some real hard to find gems here, from soya condensed milk to real dairy-free choc ices. Definitely well worth a visit!

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Tabasco sauces and marinades review

I’ve started being sent products to review which is a welcome little bonus to writing a blog! I haven’t been paid to write this article and only received the free products I mention. All the opinions are my own, based on tasting the products.

Most products offered just aren’t suitable – I’m talking to you Mr PR person who asked me to feature a poster of how to best cook eggs! I don’t think he’d even looked at my blog, in fact I know he hadn’t. I just happened to appear on some list of foodie bloggers. How lazy. And this happens a lot. It’s very much one-way product featuring from the companies’ marketing departments on the whole, and while I may accept their product, I often don’t write about it.

Anyway, I was delighted with this offering – 4 spicy marinades/sauces from the Tabasco brand – or should I say D was especially happy as he loves spicy sauces and is always looking to grow the collection. All four are free from any ingredients that would cause us difficulty and we took great delight in having a taste testing session.

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Starting at the mild end of the scale:

Sweet chipotle and cola – this was a sauce to appeal to the whole family. Predominantly sweet with smokey undertones, I would say this is reminiscent of barbecue sauce. Pretty similar really. The heat factor is mild and I would happily use it as a sauce as well as a marinade – in fact a dollop on beans on toast was a rather nice addition.

Next up: chipotle and smokey bourbon – again this is a mild sauce but definitely one for the grown ups. The bourbon flavour is quite pronounced and the smokeyness is a little more intense. I see this one as working more as a marinade for a barbecue.

Moving onto the medium spicy peppery Deep South creole – the heat has been cranked up a notch, but it’s a pleasant and fresh chilli flavour that shines through. Fresh, fruity and spicy is how we rated this one and it worked equally well as a sauce or a marinade. It was too hot for my children though!

Finally at the hot end I’d the scale was fruity and fiery habenero – wow this was hot! Or should I say hot, hot, hot! Far too hot for me I’m afraid. I found it fruity but with the bitter twang you can get from very spicy foods. I can see it appealing to real heat fans, but still probably best as a marinade. But maybe Tabasco should have one that’s up there in the heat scale, as that is their roots. It’s going to last a while.

Are they worth buying? Well, I’d say yes, they have really tried to evolve the spicy flavours and I can see a lot of uses. I’m not sure I’d buy all 4 but it would be well worth having one in the fridge to enliven a plain dish.Perhaps one of the two more mild ones would be enough and one of the hotter ones.