Maple Syrup Flapjacks and the stress of being an ‘allergy family’

Flapjacks must be the ultimate energy giving treat, packed full of oats and sugar and easily transported, they’re definitely the bar to take when snacks will be hard to find, or pure energy is needed due to strenuous activity. I’ve tried many flapjacks recipes and believe me, there are a lot of bad ones out there which resemble sweet sawdust more than an indulgent treat. This recipe on the other hand, is knockout, resulting in such wonderful sweet gooey bars, you’ll definitely be reaching for another one!

If you follow me on FaceBook you may be aware of my recent additional stress from being an ‘allergy mum’. At age 14 we have finally agreed for Big S to go on her first foreign school trip. It has always felt like too much of a responsibility to hand to the staff before, but she’s growing up fast and we had to say yes sometime. Obviously when the trip was first advertised I had a long conversation with the lead teacher about Big S’s requirements. She’s only allergic to milk but they’re going to Northern France where dairy is used in lots of cooking. I was reassured that the hotel had been spoken to, she would safely be catered for, and arrangements could be made for her not to go into an environment where lots of milk could be present in the goats cheese making farm visit. We knew that nonetheless food would still be an challenge, but so far so good.

Then, it all went pear-shaped ūüė¶

Last week we had the presentation about the trip. There was mention that on the final day the children will have to buy their own supper at the shopping centre, or on the ferry on the way home. ¬†I started to feel a bit stressed, her command of French isn’t huge and while we can pack her off with ‘allergy cards’ to show, would she even understand the reply to be confident enough to eat the food? So many worries….

Then it got worse….. I spoke to the lead teacher and she said there was a problem. GULP! The hotel has refused to provide any food at all for Big S. To compensate, the school, has arranged for them to eat supper in a local restaurant which knows of the milk allergy and is happy to cater for her. BUT, she will not be provided with any breakfast or lunch for the entire trip, that’s 4 days! We’ve been given a slight refund and she can take her own snacks, or buy her own food in France. That’s all very well, but how can you take enough food for 4 days? We also know from experience that ready to eat food that is dairy-free is hard to find in France. She’s also a teenager who desperately doesn’t want to stand out as different. So much stress and worry on so many levels! We’re going to have to make plans, research and be extremely organised! I know she will survive (she’ll be very hungry) and still have a wonderful time, but it’s awful to think of sending my daughter to another country with little food provided and little ability to buy much there.

I’ve spoken to many people in the past few days as I’ve been so very stressed and rather tearful about the whole thing, and it’s made me realise that non-allergy families have no idea of the stress we live under all the time. My FaceBook community who ‘get it’ have been extremely supportive, understanding and helpful. Others, who don’t see the issues, much less so. It’s been suggested that i just send her with a few cereal bars and she’ll be fine. Yes, she’ll be fine, but how would they feel about sending their daughter to another country with only a few cereal bars? She can’t go and buy a bar of chocolate to keep herself going. She can’t join her friends in eating a McDonald’s hamburger or buying a crepe in the market when they get hungry. She’ll survive, but a cereal bar doesn’t quite cut it! I guess, as an allergy-mum and in writing this blog, creating safe-recipes etc. I’ve made it my priority to ensure my children are well catered for; it goes against everything I stand for to send her away to such unknown!

Anyway, I will send her with cereal bars (and much much more!), and some of these devilishly good flapjacks. Hopefully she’ll share them with her friends and they’ll provide a good hit of home-made energy and goodness!

Maple Syrup Flapjacks

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

makes about 24

200g dairy free margarine

200g demerara sugar

100g golden syrup

100g maple syrup

400g oats (preferably not giant oats)

1/2 tsp salt (preferably fleur de sel)

  1. Preheat oven to¬†180 degrees Centigrade.¬†Line a 30×20 cm (approx.) baking tray with foil
  2. Melt together the dairy free margarine, sugar, syrups and salt
  3. When the sugar has dissolved mix into the oats and spread into the lined baking tray
  4. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden
  5. Cool well before cutting into bars/squares. Or freeze whole and cut when defrosted.
  6. Try not to eat too many!!

Oreos – My Way and an issue with Tesco

 

I’m not sure if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook? (do follow the link in the sidebar if you’re interested). If you do, you might be aware of ‘cookie-gate’, with Tesco own brand Cookies and Cream Biscuits. If not, here’s a brief summery of the last nine months (it’s a very long and involved story so I won’t bore you with every detail)!

Oreos, the iconic American cream-filled cookies are vegan in the US, but for some bizarre reason they contain milk in the UK. However, Oreos seem to be everywhere, everyone eats them and my girls feel left out. Occasionally we’ll splash out on a ridiculously expensive imported US pack from somewhere like Urban Outfitters (oddly), but this is a very rare occurrence! So I was over the moon when I found the own brand Cookies and Cream biscuits in Tesco just before Christmas last year and couldn’t wait for us to taste test them.

Within seconds both girls had itchy mouths, tight throats and swelling lips. We administered antihistamine and everything was ok, but clearly there was something amiss with the ingredients in the cookies.

I contacted Tesco, returned the biscuits to store and an investigation took place. Well, they said an investigation took place. I was told that there were no nuts in the factory, and that milk didn’t produce that kind of allergic reaction (in their opinion milk allergy involves a stomach based reaction). That seemed the end of the matter for them, we hadn’t needed a doctor so I didn’t have any documents ¬†to provide which they wanted for any escalation. Here’s a copy of the letter they sent…

Then months later in early summer I came across allergy forums where others had had reactions to the same biscuits, and most bizarrely had different responses from Tesco, first claiming that there were nuts used in the factory, then that milk was used on the same line but they cleaned thoroughly between, and finally last week the biscuits (all batches) were recalled because they do in fact contain milk!

We were shocked after being so clearly fobbed off to start with, and that they now admit the biscuits do contain milk which was undeclared (in fact denied). We’ve gone back to them for at least an explanation. I just hope that nobody had a serious reaction in the past months whilst the biscuits remained on sale.

So, to make up for ‘cookie-gate’, I have revamped and improved my Oreo recipe. Who needs shop bought when these are so so much nicer!

‘Oreos’

 (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, vegetarian, vegan)

Makes approx. 24 sandwich biscuits

3/4 cup hard vegetable fat

1 cup of caster sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

1/2 cup dairy-free milk

1and 1/2 cups plain flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 tsps cornflour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Filling

1/4 cup vegetable fat

1/4 cup dairy-free spread

2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  2. Cream together the vegetable fat and sugar. When fluffy, add the dairy-free milk and vanilla. Mix well. If it looks like it’s split add a couple of tbsp of flour to the mix
  3. Sift in the remaining ingredients and bring together to a firm-ish dough.
  4. Place half on a sheet of baking paper, place more paper on top and roll out to 1/4-1/2cm thickness. Cut out rounds with a cookie cutter and remove the ‘in between bits’. Transfer to a lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on the tray for five minutes before moving to a wire rack.
  6. Repeat with remaining mixture until it’s all be used up.
  7. Meanwhile, make the filling. Whisk together the vegetable fat and dairy-free spread. Add the vanilla.
  8. Add the icing sugar in 1/2 cup measurements, until fully incorporated. It may look this breadcrumbs, so squeeze together to form a stiff paste.
  9. Roll out large grape size balls of filling and squish between two biscuits.

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.¬†

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!

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!

 

Raspberry and Chocolate Chip Sabl√© Biscuits, failed challenges and a fresh start.

 

Recently I’ve felt that my blog has gone off the boil, that my recipes were dull and not very inspiring, the photos were so-so and better resources could¬†be¬†found elsewhere. Maybe I needed a break, just to give it up or a fresh approach? These have been tough times in working out whether to invest any time and effort into creating and posting for my blog.

I think having a baked milk challenge approaching for both girls made me think that maybe it was becoming less relevant for myself too. Perhaps we had got to another stage of our journey that needed a new approach?

To be honest, we¬†were rather surprised when the Doctor suggested a baked milk challenge at our most recent appointment – it seemed out of the blue since they both had sizeable wheals from the skin prick results and we have certainly never been on the cusp of any ‘advances’ before. Actually, although we’ve¬†always been lucky enough to have had fantastic care from our allergy specialists, this year was different. The doctor was new and had a surprising approach, she wanted to discharge big S as she claimed that the appointments weren’t necessary and there was unlikely to be any further change at this stage. As most people who have tried know, it’s so hard to get under the care of a specialist that we really weren’t keen to lose this support. This particular doctor also said that skin prick tests were worthless and they should both have a baked milk challenge as it was the only way to really diagnose an allergy. I get her point to some extent, but those are not particularly helpful comments for the girls who have spent their entire lives having yearly skin prick tests!

Anyway she requested blood tests, about which Little S was rather nervous and tearful, hardly surprisingly as she’s previously had a difficult experience with a cannula involving lots of blood and bruises! I have to say that I was rather shocked by her response. She offered no compassion, despite being a paediatric doctor and said it was up to us if we had bloods taken, but if we did’t she’d write down that we refused her advice. I was dumbfounded, should a children’s doctor not have some understanding over the anxiety involved? Anyway, we did the bloods and Little S fainted as she stood up afterwards – it certainly was an eventful day.

Well the food challenge itself was the other week and in short: both girls failed. It¬†was upsetting and a setback, but not unexpected either.¬†Since the challenge my thoughts have turned back to my blog¬†and why I started it in the first place, why I felt the desire to help others in a similar position, and how hard I’ve found it myself.¬†I’ve also had some wonderful recent (and past) comments from readers, really lovely thoughts¬†that have made me feel that all my experiments and recipes are of use. I feel reinvigorated and excited about creating and blogging! Expect a flurry of innovation (I hope) to follow.

I really think I’ve found the holy grail¬†for¬†egg and dairy free biscuits with this recipe. They’re the perfect combination of crisp crunch, turning to ‘buttery’ melt and chew. You couldn’t ask for much more from a biscuit texture.

The combination of raspberry and chocolate is always one that works, it’s tried and tested. Do try using freeze-dried fruits in your baking, they add so much of the flavour and character without any ‘sogginess’¬†that fresh fruit can bring.

It really is essential to chill the dough before baking – an hour will do, at a push 15 minutes in the freezer will suffice. But if at all possible, chill for as long as possible for the very best textured biscuits.

Raspberry and Chocolate Chip Sable Biscuits

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

makes about 12-15

90-100g chocolate, chopped

2 tbsp chopped freeze dried raspberries

100g plain flour

pinch of bicarbonate of soda

75g dairyfree margarine

85g caster sugar

1/2 tsp good quality flaky salt, such as fleur de sel

  1. Cream together the margarine, sugars and salt.
  2. Gently mix in the flour and bicarbonate and combine to form a soft dough. Stir in the chocolate pieces and freeze dried raspberries.
  3. Form into a sausage shape and wrap in cling film. Place in the fridge to chill, you want it to be as cold as possible.
  4. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade.
  5. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Slice the cookie dough into 1cm slices and place well apart on the baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 11-12 minutes. They should have spread out nicely.
  7. Cool briefly on the sheets so they are stiff enough to move and then transfer to a wire rack.