Essential Holiday Packing Guide

Holiday Packing by Big S

Does holiday packing stress you out too? With our holidays fast approaching I’m starting to fret about what we need to take with us, so I thought it would be handy to share my holiday checklist. It might settle my packing nerves which are slightly heightened this year due to a new destination country where our command of the language is pretty feeble, and maybe it could help with your packing wobbles too.

If you have any essential that I’ve missed off, please let me know. Perhaps we could make a definite allergy-friendly packing checklist? I hope you like the added hand drawn pictures that go with this post? The girls wanted to be involved and it’s provided a useful creative activity for this rather damp and dreary summer holiday!

Essential holiday Packing by Little S

 

MY Packing Checklist

  1. Documents – Well, I guess everyone knows this, but as an allergy family a few extras are necessary
    • Passports and/or identity cards
    • Travel documents such as flights and hotel bookings
    • *Travel insurance which covers allergic reactions* –  call the company and check.
    • E111 or European Health Insurance (EHIC) card as it’s now called (if travelling in Europe as a European)
    • Letter from the doctor to confirm the need to carry medicines (it’s also probably best to gloss over you are carrying sharp items when going through security at a provincial airport when you don’t have a great command of the language! – I have learnt this at my cost!)
  2. Food – I’m thinking that it’s unlikely that non-allergy families think so much about food whilst packing for holidays, but for us it’s a BIG preoccupation. This is an example of what we’ll take:
    • Dairy-free margarine – seems to travel pretty well if kept relatively cool
    • Dairy-free milks – We prefer Oatly and it isn’t available everywhere so if possible we take a few cartons. This obviously has to be in check-in baggage on a flight and depends on weight allowance. Otherwise unless you’re going totally ‘off the beaten track’ most reasonable size supermarkets in most countries will sell soya milk
    • Dairy-free soft cheese – only if possible, but it does make great emergency dips and sandwich fillings
    • *Biscuits* – for us this is crucial. We have never come across brands we can buy whilst on holiday and we always find it’s important to have those sweet treats to keep up energy when on holiday. And I tend not to get the option to bake on holiday.
    • Savoury snacks – similar to biscuits it can be hard to find safe snacks, so things like rice cakes, crackers and bars can be a godsend.
    • Chocolate – I’ve never found any safe chocolate on holiday and everyone needs chocolate, right?
    • Spreads such as marmite and dairy-free chocolate spread. Clearly it’s not just us, as there was a news report this week that said Marmite was the most confiscated branded product at London City Airport! These spreads may not be available, the jars provided in guest houses may have cross-contamination from buttery knives and they make great standby sandwich fillings.
    • Breads – again safe breads can be hard to source so if we’ve space we’ll chuck in a few packs of wraps and pittas that won’t get squashed
    • Stock powder – I always pack some Vegan Marigold Stock powder, essential for quick magic pasta or risottos
    • Cake! – Am I only person who bakes a cake or two to go on holiday?!? I generally opt for a golden syrup loaf cake which transports pretty well in a suitcase
    • Sandwich bags or clingfilm – essential for all those picnics and food for journeys
  3. Information – it’s well worth doing the research before you go, it certainly makes me feel more at ease!
    • Allergy translation cards – essential to feel at ease when the language is unfamiliar
    • Information on location of pharmacies, Doctors and Hospitals (and how to ask for them)
    • Research into suitable local food and potential restaurants – there may well be a branch of your favourite chain restaurant which you can rely on
  4. All the usuals I really don’t need to give you a list of clothes, books, phone chargers, games etc!
  5. For the journey – again it needs to be thought about in advance, sadly as an allergy family spontaneity isn’t part of our holidays!
    • Picnic and plenty of food for the journey – airports and ferries/trains have proved particularly bad at giving us any food options other than crisps and sweets!
    • All necessary medications to hand
    • Anti-bacterial wipes for those generally pretty grimy fold-down trays or hired car seats

Those are the items that come to mind, and are definitely in our rather over-laden bags. I think our days of taking just hand luggage are well behind us!

New Forest Ice Cream – Sensational Sorbets

A big shout out about New Forest Ice Cream, or more specifically their delicious sorbets. Totally free from dairy, eggs, nuts and sesame these sorbets are a god-send on days out in the South, particularly Hampshire and the New Forest.

We’ve been aware of New forest Ice Cream for a while as they are the most common brand in local ice cream vans, but sadly not many of their ice lollies are suitable. Only the Super 5 multi-coloured lolly is totally safe for us (the push up lollies may contain nuts which is never a good risk to take on a day out at a beauty spot). Then a few years ago we came across mini tubs of raspberry sorbet at a National Trust property. We were in heaven! It was the first time my girls have had the delight of their own mini tub of iced treat; at last they could be just like their friends.

Since then we’ve sought out the New Forest Ice Cream Parlour in Lymington, Hampshire which gives the whole ‘choose your flavour and eat in experience’ as everyone else can enjoy in a parlour, but with sorbet. Sadly their range has got smaller with the passionfruit, mango, blood orange and lemon being discontinued since last year. Sad times 😦

Happily the remaining raspberry and blackcurrant flavours are AMAZING! The parlour goes to great lengths to ensure the scoops are clean and there is no cross contamination. I thoroughly recommend it. In fact we love the sorbet so much we bought a tub to take home 🙂

The manufacturing site has an impressive nut ban with no nuts allowed on the premises (the pistachio flavour is made off site) making both the sorbets totally safe, but also the ice cream if dairy is fine for you.

Allergies in Amsterdam

 

I don’t know about you, but since allergies have become part of our life, holidays make me nervous. Or perhaps I should say, I’m very good at dreaming about and planning holidays but the practicalities of allergies have totally changed our viewpoint.

On the whole we’re pretty cautious about holiday destinations. Allergies have added a whole new consideration to holiday planning. We’ve never braved a catered holiday, or one where we’d be eating every meal out, so it’s always a self-catered option for us so we can cook ourselves. Probably sounds crazy to anyone who doesn’t have to think about it. We frequently stay in the UK or go to France as D is fluent in French and we know we can get our requirements across with none lost in translation. And yet we used to travel far and wide, perfectly happy in other cultures and countries where we couldn’t speak the language at all. We used to be so much bolder in our choices, but these days feeling comfortable, safe in our surroundings is as important as excitement and adventure.

But this time we strayed a little from our comfort zone. We needed to show the girls that they can travel as long as they’re careful and plan well. So we planned a short city break to Amsterdam to experience (or revisit for D and I) another culture and see some beautiful sights and awe inspiring art. I have to confess that I was really keen on the idea and happily booked the flights and then I started to fret! Why did we choose a country which eats so much cheese? What if we couldn’t find the ingredients we needed, what if people didn’t get our concerns? Looking in our guide book at the traditional dishes the Dutch like to eat, it was mainly a large selection of items that would be off our menu in any case – cheese, waffles, pancakes, chips with mayonnaise. It was starting to look rather a poor choice, although as is widely known, the Dutch speak English incredibly well.

Well I needn’t have worried. Yes, we can’t eat the traditional items but we managed and had a fabulous, if rather tiring few days. Ok we only ate out once at a tried and tested Wagamama. I know not at all traditional or adventurous, but we all felt happy with that. In fact the waiter was more than capable of dealing with our concerns in the most amazingly fluent English that he even learnt that the chicken in European Wagamama branches has a pre-marinade that contains sesame oil, so the chefs put their heads together and came up with a suitable safe alternative for Little S. It really was impressive service.

Otherwise we cooked in our own apartment or came out with pre-packed picnics on the go. I do think that we have some real advantages by self-catering, we not only save lots of money but also get the opportunity to have a good browse in the local supermarkets. It’s actually become a bit of a holiday treat for us. The local cavernous shop was a Dirk van den Broek and had a fantastic range of Alpro products, even the – sadly missed and discontinued in the UK – pouring yogurt and an Alpro brand margarine which I’d never seen before.

In fact there was so much dairy it was kept in its own closed refrigerated room, ideal for dairy avoiders! We also came across Oatly which is always a bit of a relief. European standard food labelling certainly helped when making our choices and trying new products. Luckily it was a short trip and I’d packed loads of food, as we did struggle to find suitable nut, sesame and milk free bread and I didn’t come across any safe biscuits or easy snacks we could buy.

I think the hardest part was probably the travel – not only the worries of flying with allergies, but being unable to find any suitable snack or meal at an airport or on the flight. I know others brave long haul flights but we’re not there quite yet.

Sorry, I know this post doesn’t give reams of useful information about travel to Holland with allergies, and may seem ridiculous to those who don’t have any concerns, but we found it a hugely positive experience to step outside our comfort zone, to be that little bit braver and show the girls that their horizons can extend to new and different places. For me, the crucial aspect is planning and taking the right stuff to make sure we can get by without surviving on bags of crisps alone!

 

Afternoon Tea at The Langham Hotel, London

children's afternoon tea menu at The Langham Hotel

I’m always astounded by my girls that they have never made a fuss, never whined and whinged about having food allergies. They’ve always just taken the whole thing in their stride, but for the first time at the age of 12 Big S has voiced a complaint. We were on holiday and the children’s menu came with ice cream – clearly a no go, but the nice waiter claimed there was a dairy-free sorbet. Having searched extensively in France for a safe sorbet and never having found one, we were sceptical, and there was no possibility to check the label ourselves. Besides, we were on a lovely day out on a beautiful beach and had to factor in scoops with ice cream traces having been used in the sorbet tub (happened more than once before), so we erred on the side of caution and said no. For the first time she voiced how unfair it is. We felt awful, it’s such a little thing, but being able to eat an icy dessert on a hot day can make have a big impact on your enjoyment, especially if you’re young.

the Langham Hotel

Anyway, it gave me the push to make plans that I’ve been harbouring for a little while come true. We’re massive fans of the Great British Bake Off Creme de la Creme (you may not know but the wonderful Claire Clark taught me patisserie when I studied at Le Cordon Bleu) and I’d heard that Cherish Findan, one of the other judges, serves a vegan afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel in London. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to make a fancy 5* tea for us too?? So I contacted Cherish and the hospitality team at the Langham, and yes they’d be delighted to cater for us and give us a memorable afternoon. Wow, exciting! The sorbet incident was long forgotten, luxury tea here we come!
children's afternoon tea The Langham Hotel, dairy-free egg-free

The hospitality and bookings team were most helpful (no doubt they always are in such a luxurious hotel, sadly I’m not so familiar with such surroundings 😦 … Yet!) I went through our multiple requirements many times and was reassured that we’d be admirably catered for. The only caveat was that nuts are used in the kitchen. How could they not be in a kitchen serving fine patisserie? So they couldn’t guaranteed no traces of nuts. Little S is ok with most nuts; peanuts and sesame are our problems, so we took the decision that just this once for an ultimate treat we’d go with a nut warning. I also wanted the discussions over and done with in advance – the girls have to always put up with conversations with waiting staff who then to and fro to the kitchen, ferrying labels and often knocking choices off the limited menu as they go. Just for once, I wanted us to go to a restaurant and eat wonderful food with no fuss. We were also all going to have dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free versions so we could taste each other’s delights.

We booked it for the 1st September just before the shock of the start of Autumn and the return to school after a long, magical summer. Yes, you bet were we excited! We talked of the forthcoming treat daily, and planned what to wear, guessed what we might eat. Little S had high hopes of vegan macarons but I kind of knew that it wouldn’t be that experimental, there’s no reason for a usual pastry chef to have worked out the magic of aquafaba just yet!

So what was it like? It was totally magical. Expensive yes, but we felt like true VIPs for the afternoon, and that is priceless when you’re used to multiple long conversations with catering staff, limited choice on menus and indeed limited destinations to eat out.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

We entered through the marble lined entrance hall, waited on by top hatted doormen and the first impression was, wow, what is that divine smell? It wasn’t food or perfume, it was just a delightful aroma. If this is what top hotels are like, I’d love to visit more often! Of course you have to check the bathrooms in these places, no?  Gilded features, soft music, freshly laundered individual hand towels and beautifully scented soap and hand cream. Check!

Palm Court at The Langham

The actual dining room of Palm Court is stunning. The epitome of luxury, with stunning chandeliers, softly played piano, extremely comfortable squidgy chairs and wonderful Art Deco features. This was going to be special. The girls were having the Hamleys children’s tea so were greeted by wonderful cuddly complimentary teddy bears holding their menu.

We were first offered drinks. The girls had a choice of strawberry and kiwi tea, fruit juice or hot chocolate. They chose fruit juice with was refreshed at regular intervals in our two hour sitting. Now neither D nor I drink tea, but were persuaded to try the drink of choice. I sampled the Langham blend which was without doubt the nicest tea I have ever tasted – taken black it had a light, delicate and flavourful with none of the bitter tannins I associate with tea. I wonder if they sell this blend anywhere as I could develop a serious habit with this one. The waiting staff were attentive and discreet which is probably perfect as waiting staff go.

strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in sherbet, vegan

Then the food started to arrive – wow! The girls began with a strawberry sorbet lolly dipped in strawberry sorbet which was probably the most strawberry tasting thing we have ever eaten. The looks on their faces were priceless as they savoured every last morsel. This was far better than a sorbet on holiday. D and I were served vegetarian champagne jellies flecked with gold flakes. I don’t make this kind of thing at home!

vegetarian champagne jelly

Next up were the sandwiches – the girls’ were cut like interlocking jigsaw pieces and contained ham, smoked salmon, red pepper and cucumber. There was an uncomfortable moment when we were told the red pepper also contained hummus which is obviously a no-go due to sesame, but thankfully it was a slip of the tongue, hummus had been kept out of our sandwiches. The adult vegetarian range included sweet red pepper, guacamole, cucumber and tapenade. And they kept coming, we had to refuse the multiple rounds which kept on being offered after a while.

vegan sandwiches at The Langham

The girls then had their teddy bears picnic pastries – a vanilla carousel cake, a chocolate and raspberry cake, mango pate des fruits and a mango and pomegranate jelly all served with a rich chocolate drink and a bag of sweets. The highlights were certainly the cupcake and sweeties. The chocolate drink was actually too intense and the chocolate cake not as stunning as I hoped for, but overall we were mightily happy.

vegan children's afternoon tea

For the adults tea we had plain and fruit scones which were out of this world delicious. I think I make good scones but these had a wonderful glazed top and finer texture – they were heaven on a plate served with wonderful soft set strawberry jam. Honestly we’d have been happy to finish there, but next came the cakes! We had thought before that we might be hungry when we left, it was only afternoon tea after all, but we certainly didn’t need to worry at all!

plain and fruit scones, vegan

Our vegan/vegetarian version contained three sponges of which the raspberry was my favourite, along with a chopped pineapple cocktail and the most wonderful light and crispy shortbread. I cannot fault the food in any way, it was wonderful especially if you take into account our various difficult requirements.

vegan afternoon tea at The Langham

Just two negatives soured the occasion – we didn’t mention anything as we didn’t want to make a fuss and it was overall amazing and they’d gone to so much trouble. But, my vegetarian sandwich had a bit of ham stuck to the bottom – not nice! And worse for us was the waiter who came to chat about our requirements and started asking if any of us were ‘normal’ or we all had allergies – I’d just wanted to avoid that ‘oh you’re not normal’ attitude for once. He meant well certainly, but it was just a bit clumsy.
All in all I salute you the catering team at Palm Court, our requirements aren’t easy to cater for, especially when you’re also producing world class patisserie for other clientele. The whole occasion was an ultimate luxury treat and we were admirably catered for.

At one point one of the chefs came out to chat and offered a tour of the kitchen to our girls, but sadly we had to leave before he reappeared. We also saw Cherish herself on our way out, managing to thank her for the wonderful experience but I was not bold enough to have a proper conversation! But if you’re reading this Cherish, thank you so much you really made our day a very special occasion. We very much hope to return one day.

Disclaimer: I was not paid in any way for this review.

dairy-free, egg-free afternoon tea

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!

IMG_8446

Health Food Shops – Carmarthen, South Wales

Having just returned from a relaxing mini-break in Carmarthenshire, I thought I’d continue my series of reviews on health food/speciality food shops around the country.

Despite managing to miss the main shopping centre of Carmarthen we came across three well stocked health food shops within a five minute walk. Could Carmarthen be the best stocked town for health foods in the UK? Admittedly, one was a very small Holland and Barrett, but that still counts if you’re looking for essentials!

We first came across Aardvark Alternatives at 6 Lammas St. A veritable little warren of interconnected rooms, packed with interesting and well chosen products. The shop keeper was deep in discussion with a girl who had just had restrictions placed upon her diet and was offering lengthily and knowledgeable advice – always a great sign in a Health Food Shop.


Aardvark Alternatives had everything from fresh, local vegetables to a well stocked fridge and freezer, store cupboard essentials, as well as an upstairs filled with health and beauty supplements and on site treatments. It’s well worth a detour.


 Further up the road at 23 Lammas St, we came across Waverley Stores and Vegetarian restaurant.


This cavernous shop had a similar good range of products (maybe a slightly smaller variety) but also housed an impressive deli style counter and cute vegetarian restaurant at the back of the shop. It was closed when we visited at nearing 5pm, but the menu looked appealing and how wonderful to find a veggie restaurant in a small town. The shop owner was delightful and gave us some fantastic advice over the best local attractions for our short trip.


 Well done Carmarthen, I’m mightily impressed 🙂