Holidays in Greece with allergies

View over Nidri, Skorpios and Meganisi

We’ve considered Greece as a holiday destination for years but usually opted for the safer (for us) option of France (D is fluent in French), but this year Greece it was, specifically Lefkada, one of the Ionian Islands. It was a long awaited holiday, postponed twice due to Covid and so we had high expectations. In fact, Lefkada delivered exactly what we’d hoped for from a Greek island holiday – wonderful sunny weather, stunning crystal blue sea, fun on beaches and boats and hillsides adorned with ancient olive trees and vibrant green Cypress. It was relaxing, restorative and just perfect, but……

It really wasn’t the easiest destination in  terms of allergies, and remember we’re concerned about milk, eggs, peanuts and sesame seeds. The different alphabet and our inability to understand Greek was a real problem. We self-catered in a villa (as is our choice even without allergies factored in) so had to visit plenty of supermarkets. The main Lefkada town had a couple of bigger supermarkets which were well stocked and had an impressive selection of some free-from products. There were plenty of dairy-free cheeses, butters, a few Alpro yoghurts and lots of dairy-free milk choices.

Bread was really difficult, as we’d expected. Luckily, I’d packed lots of wraps, pittas, bagel thins and focaccia as we only found some safe pittas on the last few days. As you might imagine with Greece, sesame was the biggest issue. We did find one loaf of Scar gluten-free bread, but only in the bigger AB Supermarket in Lefkada Town. The other supermarkets we visited were much smaller and certainly had no suitable bread, yogurts or cheese. We even found the selection of safe crisps was limited, no safe biscuits and even most sweets were not an option as European Hairbo now all seem to have a may contain milk warning. I’d definitely recommend making a trip to the bigger supermarkets and taking a list so you don’t forget anything!

Lovely quality fresh fruit and veg were available in all small scale shops but far more limited in the availability of more ‘specialist’ items.

The biggest problem was definitely having little understanding of the language. On the first day the girls saw a pina colada juice that looked tasty. They compared the highlighted ingredients with the words on our Equal Eats cards and it looked fine. Little S, being a cautious type took a small sip when we were at the villa, she thought it tasted odd. I tasted it and thought it was fine, so she had another sip and her allergy-senses went into overdrive – something made her stop and download a photo translation app to check the ingredients. This is when we noticed a little asterisk and an additional note saying the ‘powder’ contained 3% milk. Our hearts dropped as the villa was miles up a winding mountain road. Little S felt pretty bad, her throat tightened and she felt extremely uncomfortable. Luckily a double dose of anti-histamine was all that was needed, but it was a close call and a nasty start to the holiday. But we learnt a lesson, never presume, always double check, especially when you don’t fully understand the language.

The next tricky incident was in a restaurant when we wanted to order some chips and drinks to go along with our sandwiches. We asked what oil was used and the waitress looked bemused and said ‘the usual oil’, we pressed her further, again she said ‘the usual one’. So we had to get her to check in the kitchen, where she returned saying ‘the classic oil’. We did some google research and it turns out that olive oil in Greece is called classic oil – makes total sense in the land of the olive, but you have to check and it still didn’t feel comfortable!

We ate out twice, both in more touristy locations. The first was an Italian restaurant in Nidri called Pomodoro – we chose this one because Trip Advisor had rave reviews about how helpful the waiter Spiros was, and also we tend to find Italian restaurants generally have something the girls can eat. Indeed Spiros the waiter was extremely friendly and accommodating; he double checked items and made sure we had a really tasty and safe Italian meal. The pizza was a no-go because the base contained milk, but there were a few pasta options, or grilled meats the girls could choose from. Big S had simple pasta pomodoro and Little S when for the l’amatriciana, the same as the pomodoro but with the addition of ham and bacon. They both declared their meals delicious, so it was a big hit. If you’re in Nidri I’d really recommend Pomodoro as a restaurant worth visiting.

We also had lunch at Nikiana Beach club – again it was more touristy so English was widely spoken and the chicken souvlaki and chips was entirely safe once the tzatziki was removed.

Safe souvlaki

Maybe we could have been more adventurous with eating out, but we like to play it safe and stuck mainly to good old packed lunches and eating in the villa. In fact, one day I had a complete allergy-parent fail. I’d made our picnic to take to the beach and had left it in the fridge until the last moment to try and keep it fresh. What did i do? Yep, that’s right, half-way to the other side of the island I remembered it was still in the fridge. It was too far to go back, so we went via the bigger supermarket and cobbled together a just about ok lunch!

 

Ice cream didn’t feature at all – we didn’t see any suitable and the only ice lollies we saw were Calippo which are may contain milk and so off the menu for us. Luckily fresh, delicious fruit juices seem to be a big thing so we opted for nice drinks instead of icy treats.

What would I do differently? Well, definitely download a photo translation app and double check all ingredients on packs. Although, even some products looked safe but when we double checked (extra cautious after day 1!) the may contains hadn’t been added to the English ingredient list. (Such as this choc cereal).

I’d also pack even more bread, as well as spices and sauces which we found in short supply in Greek shops. I’m pleased I took some breads, biscuits, chocolate, and things for sandwich fillers (Tartex vegetarian pate, marmite, Oatly creamy spread, chocolate spread and violife cheese slices) as none of the cooked meats were safe.

So all in all it wasn’t easy on the food front, we definitely needed to cook ourselves and bring plenty of food, but it was worth it for the idyllic scenery and sea. Greece, you are a stunning holiday destination 🙂

West coast

The Stable pizza restaurant is really good with allergies

We were lucky enough to have a short holiday in Cornwall during the recent heatwave which was glorious. There is nothing like the wind swept Cornish beaches in good weather. As usual we self-catered, not only because it’s easier and takes away a lot of stress, but we generally prefer to eat home cooked food! We stayed in Kingsand, a wonderful traditional Cornish fishing village on the Rame peninsula – it’s just like the popular tourist destinations of Port Isaac or Megavissey but a bit less touristy – I’d really recommend it as a great holiday destination. Since it’s on a peninsula it’s actually a long drive from Plymouth, despite being fairly close as the crow flies, you avoid a lot of the big summer crowds. On one day we took the ferry to Plymouth, not only for the transport but also to enjoy the ride. 

 

As we were out for the day we’d done some prior research on possible lunch destinations, not only allergy-friendly but also dog friendly as Luna our Cavapoo was on holiday with us too. Top of the google search for dog friendly restaurants in Plymouth was The Stable. Now, we’ve thought of trying out The stable before as we have a local one to us, but somehow have never got round to it. We thoroughly checked the allergen menu online and it looked like a good option.

 

It was actually a super allergy-friendly meal – we had a vegan garlic bread to start which was very tasty. This was followed by a meaty pizza with vegan cheese for Big S, a Hawaiian pizza with no cheese for Little S, and a veggie option for me. All were good and tasty, although the Hawaiian with no cheese was a little dry so we’d ask for extra tomato sauce next time. The waiter took time and care with our order, coming back to check a on options a couple of times and we felt comfortable eating there.

Garlic Bread
The meat is on pizza with vegan cheese
Hawaiian Five-Oh pizza with no cheese

 

So, if you’re out and about and come across a branch of The Stable I’d say it would definitely be worth giving it a go. There are plenty of vegan options, an entire gluten-free menu and there appear to be no peanuts on the menu, only sesame on the local Plymouth pizza, and the only nuts are may contain on the pudding menu.

Aubergine Kenobi Veggie pizza

Hales of Cartmel, Cumbria

We sadly had to postpone our longed for holiday to the Greek Islands due to COVID and have ended up in the Lake District. It’s stunning and we’ve always meant to visit but it really isn’t a hot and sunny Mediterranean holiday – that’ll have to wait until things return to a bit more like normal. We also seemed to time it extremely badly, after two weeks of scorching weather it’s been chilly, unbelievably wet at times and generally ridiculously changeable! But maybe it’s often like that in The Lakes and I guess it wouldn’t be so wonderfully green and verdant if it didn’t rain a lot 😉

We’ve done a lot of the Southern Lakes including Coniston, Windermere and a fell or two and had to have a trip to Cartmel, the home of both l’Enclume and sticky toffee pudding. Sadly a trip to L’Enclume was not on our itinerary but I did get sticky toffee pudding for presents (I’ll also make my own friendly sticky toffee pudding when we get home 😊).

Cartmel is a gorgeous picture perfect Cumbrian village and a lovely place to wander about, but the highlight turned out to be Hales of Cartmel. As usual with ice cream parlours we thought it it would be a ‘oh wouldn’t that be nice’ and then move along. But Little S spied a whole list of vegan Ice creams on offer, so it was certainly worth going in and asking. Sadly on our first visit it was closing time so we had to come back the next day. Oh my we were pleased we had! The owner was so knowledgable and well informed. She has a whole range of vegan ice creams and knew exactly how they were made, with a full run down of how the ice cream machines were thoroughly cleaned between batches. As soon as we mentioned allergies the first thing she did (without prompting) was to go and thoroughly wash the scoop and fetch fresh hot water for cleaning between portions, now that’s the sort of service that makes us feel confident and happy!

Not only were there ice creams, but also a whole list of safe sorbets ranging from lemon to the rather lovely sounding passionfruit and pineapple. All these were made by Luxury Lakes Ice Cream. There were safe cones on offer and even a warning given over some varieties which were made in a facility that handles allergens, plus a variety of safe toppings from marshmallows to sherbet and sprinkles. Again the owner knew immediately which toppings were allergy safe and I even noticed that she kept these in a closed box to avoid any cross-contamination. Why can’t more establishments have care and attention to detail like this?

We were in ice cream heaven! It was such a joy to have a wonderfully allergy aware owner, safe ice cream and an abundance of choice! Since Yorica sadly shut down we haven’t had the joy of an ice cream parlour with a choice, and this find was so exciting we talked about our choices for most of the day and made a return visit for the pure joy of another ice cream 🙂

As we’re so unused to choice it was almost overwhelming, with a stunning array from the usual strawberry, vanilla and chocolate to the more exciting Biscoff, tiramisu and thunder and lightning which was by far our favourite. After all who can resist vanilla ice cream swirled with honeycomb and chocolate sauce?

So if you are visiting the Lakes and are anywhere near Cartmel I would thoroughly recommend a visit even if it’s just a pick up a delicious allergy-friendly ice cream.

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 purée, 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.

 

 

Free-from Chocolate Advent Calendar

All my daughters’ friends seem to have chocolate advent calendars. We usually have versions with toys behind each window, but since I really want to make sure they feel just like everyone else, I went on a mission to find a free-from variety.

Moo-Free makes one that looks promising, but since it “may contain traces of nuts” it is not good enough if you have a nut/peanut allergy.

Kinnerton make a true nut, dairy and egg free version but you have to be organised enough to pre-order direct from the company. I just wasn’t that organised this year.

This Celtic Chocolates advent calendar is the one we opted for, and was easily available in Holland & Barrett health food stores. It doesn’t have much allergy info on the pack (it simply says ‘contains soya’) but I’ve spoken to the manufacturer and he explained their zero tolerance policy on any nuts entering the factory. He certainly convinced me that Celtic chocolates are as safe as can be. December 1st tomorrow, and we’re ready to go.

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