The Best Ever Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies and the worries of school trips

My thinking is that in the U.K. a cookie, by definition, is a chocolate chip variety, a nod to the giant soft but chewy versions of our American friends, rather than a firmer crunchy British biscuit. These chocolate studded beauties sit right on the cusp between an English biscuit (crunchy, sweet, sometimes dunked) and the all the more soft and gooey American counterpart. I have to say I like both crunchy biscuits and softer cookies, so these tick all the boxes – crisp round the edges, soft and yielding in the centre with more chocolate than you could hope for. Surely the ultimate in sweet comfort food, and that’s certainly what we need this half term with two school trips in progress.

My stress levels have been high for months ever since these trips came on the horizon. Clearly school trips are fantastic experiences, are great at promoting independence and growth and well, I wouldn’t want the girls to miss out. But factor in no only missing them dreadfully but also food allergies and the worries about safe food, then you have the ingredients for a stressful time!

These aren’t the first school trips, they have both been on them before. However, other than a French trip for Big S where the hotel refused to give her any food as there had been a serious allergic reaction in the region (my that was one tricky trip!) they have generally been to residential venues which are set up to cater for schools, and so generally pretty on the case for catering for everyone. Food might not have been fantastic (and there have often been some problems) but at least it’s been safe and each time I’ve spoken to the chef involved who has cooked all the meals. So there has always been a sense of being as prepared as possible.

These trips are a whole different scenario. Both girls are going some distance, staying in hotels and eating at different places every day – we would never dream of doing this kind of holiday as a family! Even the thought of staying in a hotel for more than one night seems out of the question, and then eating at places like leisure centres and bowling complexes – it’s a big no way!

I have done everything I can – contacting the hotels and the chef, going through every meal, checking options, providing alternatives and snacks. But it’s still a big worry. It’s hard to hand over control and totally trust others when you’re asking them to be so vigilant to one child when they have a whole group to look after. Luckily both girls are sensible and if anything will come home starving having eaten very little, but it does make me sad that they don’t have the freedom and carefreeness of their friends.

Anyway, these cookies are to help us through the next two weeks, to give us all a metaphorical hug when the stress is feeling a bit too much. Hopefully, they can do the same for you and your family and friends when you need a big cuddle.

The Best Ever Tripe Chocolate Cookies

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

 

makes about 24

150g dairy-free margarine

100g caster sugar

70g soft brown sugar

big pinch of bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt

200g plain flour

85g dairy-free dark chocolate, chopped

85g dairy-free ‘milk’ chocolate, chopped

30g dairy-free white chocolate, chopped

  1. Cream together the margarine and sugars until light and fluffy
  2. Sift in the flour, bicarb and salt and bring together to a soft dough
  3. Stir in the chocolate chunks
  4. Form into a sausage shape, wrap and chill in the fridge. If you like you can freeze at this point, then slice and bake the dough from frozen, adding one extra minute to the cooking time
  5. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Centigrade. Line baking sheets with parchment
  6. Cut 1cm slices of dough and place well apart on the lined baking sheets.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They should be just turning golden at the edges but still soft in the centre.
  8. Cool for a few minutes on the baking tray to firm up, then more to a wire rack.

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.

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 😦

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!