Browse Month by March 2015

A Word or Two about Spelt

Spelt bread -

Any ideas what the following list of ingredients is from?

Water, tapioca starch, potato starch, vegetable oil, wholegrain maize flour, egg white powder, yeast, cellulose gum, concentrated fruit juice, dextrose, rice bran, cornflour, sugar beet fibre.

Would you believe me if I told you it was the ingredients of a shop-bought gluten free loaf? And that isn’t the whole list either.

Ever since discovering that my son is intolerant to both wheat and dairy, I have had to resort to buying the gluten free, wheat free and dairy free bread that is available in the supermarket. But looking at the ingredients list horrified me and so I knew that the only option left was to make my own.

Well finally I bought a bread maker, which has a gluten free programme and was so excited when it arrived at the weekend (yes, it is amazing what I get excited about these days). In the meantime I have been doing some investigating, looking at different options and I have found an alternative to wheat that my son can tolerate (because he is not sensitive to gluten, he does not technically need to be gluten free, but the majority of wheat free options naturally are).

The grain is Spelt, an ancient grain, which was the staple of the poor until modern farming took over in the 20th century. Although classed as a member of the wheat family, spelt is a genetically different species, remaining unchanged by genetic modification, cross-breeding or any other form of hybridisation. Spelt fell out of favour to its cousin, wheat, due to the ease with which wheat could be mass produced. The tough outer husk of the spelt grains requires an extra step in the processing stage in order to remove it. This made it a more expensive and less viable option to grow.

Spelt is seeing a resurgence in popularity. Some people who are intolerant to modern wheat find that they can tolerate spelt. The higher level of protein in spelt, which is molecularly more brittle and water soluble than the protein in wheat, is possibly why it can be more easily digested. Unfortunately spelt is not a gluten free grain, so is not suitable for Coeliacs. But for my son it is a blessing that he is able to eat spelt, as it is a tasty alternative to wheat and one that we can all enjoy. The gluten in this grain allows it to be substituted for normal wheat flour in order to make a ‘normal’ loaf. And guess what? I made my first loaf in the new bread maker yesterday (and it didn’t require the gluten free option either). Here it is:

Spelt bread

It looks pretty rustic, but it tastes good and better still, look at the ingredients list:

Spelt flour, yeast, sugar, butter (sunflower spread, in our case), water.

That’s more like it, isn’t it?


What Is It Like To Be Gluten & Dairy Intolerant?

What is it like to be dairy and gluten intolerant - Nikki Young Writes

Dear cafes and restaurants,

I am six years old and I am gluten and dairy intolerant. That means I have a big list of things I can’t eat and drink, including bread, pastries, biscuits, cakes, milk, cheese and butter.

When we go to town, my mum brings me some food to eat, because she can never be sure if we will be able to get something while we’re out. We know what most of the places offer now and that the choice is very limited, but still, I always hope that one day there might be something for me.

In Costa, the only thing I can have is a pack of mini cherry Bakewell’s. Sometimes there are gluten free wraps, but they aren’t always dairy free and mum says they taste like cardboard anyway. In Café Nero, I can have a fruit salad, or a raspberry and coconut slice, which is very dry and too sweet and in Malabar, they sometimes have gluten and dairy free cake, which is a nice treat for me, but that’s all.

It’s nice to have sweet things, but that doesn’t count as lunch, my mum says. If we need to eat something proper, we have to go somewhere else. Even then, there isn’t much choice. In Marks & Spencer’s café, they said they had gluten free rolls, but they ran out, so all I could have was a jacket potato and beans (the pre-packed sandwiches, even if gluten free had butter on them). I also had the same thing at Soprano’s café another time, although I could also have had some bacon and maybe a poached egg.

The best places for me to eat when we go out are Zizzi’s and Pizza Express. At Zizzi, I can have gluten free pasta and sometimes they have a yummy chocolate pudding. Mum likes that they have a special menu showing what all their dishes have in them, so we can always check if it’s safe for me. At Pizza Express, I have gluten free pizza and they make it without the cheese, which is fine. They don’t always have any pudding for me, though, unless they have some fruit to offer.

A few restaurants always look after me. One is the King’s Head at Bessels Green, where they make me a special breakfast and they even do some gluten free toast just for me. The other is St Julian’s Bar, where they always have gluten free bread and pasta. Restaurants like these, as well as the Bullfinch at Riverhead and the Rose and Crown at Dunton Green, are always happy to make sure my lunch is safe. That means that they will make me a separate portion of vegetables without butter on them and check if I can have the gravy. Things like this do make a difference and it’s nice that they understand.

I know that not everybody has to avoid the things that I do, but it seems unfair when my sisters can eat things and I can’t. Am I the only one who suffers like this? My mum thinks that there must be many other people who can’t eat dairy and gluten, but they seem to be invisible, especially in coffee shops.

All I want to say is I’m not a fussy eater, I just can’t eat the same as everybody else, so please don’t make me suffer anymore by refusing to acknowledge me and my needs.

Allergy badge


Using Elimination Diets to Identify Food Intolerance

Using elimination diets to identify food intolerance -

My son has suffered from food intolerances since an early age. He the time he was five now I had a good idea of what was causing him problems.

Firstly, I would like to clarify the differences between food allergies and intolerances. An allergic reaction is caused when the body reacts negatively to food by making antibodies against it. This immune response is immediate and can be triggered by minute quantities. The effects, if not treated, can be life threatening.

With food intolerance, the onset of symptoms is delayed but can last for longer and the amount of food that can be ingested before symptoms arise varies from individual to individual. Symptoms include bloating, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. They do not involve an immune response.

There are a number of potential causes of food intolerance. A lack of the enzymes required to digest a particular food stuff is one, for example, the enzyme lactase occurs naturally in the body to digest lactose, which is present in dairy products. Other causes include an inability to tolerate certain chemicals in food, either naturally occurring, like caffeine or man made, such as additives.

Identification of food intolerances is achieved by eliminating one or more foods known to cause problems and re-introducing them at a later period, monitoring the symptoms as you go. These elimination diets, as they are known, can last from 2-6 weeks, depending of the severity of the symptoms. Following the elimination period, the foods are re-introduced one at a time to see if any symptoms return.

During the elimination period it is important that the individual sticks 100%to the diet. It is equally important to replace foods with other foods of similar nutritional content, in order to avoid a diet that is lacking in essential nutrients. A dietician can help with this.

This is what I did for my son:

Initial swap of cows milk for goats milk
Replacement of ordinary dairy with lactose free cows milk products
1 month elimination of all dairy (including lactose free) and wheat
Re-introduction of wheat (no dairy)
Re-introduction of lactose free dairy products (no wheat)

By completely eliminating dairy, my main concern was to ensure that my sons diet was not lacking in calcium. In order to compensate I made sure that I included broccoli and raw spinach with every meal (calcium is found in dark green leafy veg such as kale, but as most parents will sympathise, getting children to eat their greens can be tricky. Most like broccoli, though and this is a good alternative).

I chose almond milk because my son liked the taste, but also because it contains added calcium. I also gave him almond butter on his toast (wheat free of course). In addition our fridge was never short of houmous and a soya based cheese alternative.

I bought wheat free products for the trial, but I found it much more restrictive when catering for our family as a whole. Flour is used as a thickener, so it is present in so many things, such as sauces, stocks and products like sausages. Biscuits, cakes and puddings were all out, plus anything coated in breadcrumbs. The alternatives aren’t great, plus they are expensive.

The results.

Being both wheat and dairy free completely eliminated my son’s symptoms. So now we know, lactose, cows milk and wheat have to be avoided for the long term. This means changes for our family as a whole, because when preparing a meal I will take this into account, rather than making separate meals for us and for my son.

I know this will be a continual challenge, but one that will be worth it for the sake of my sons health. I can imagine that for anyone who sufferes from food intolerances it must be difficult to work out what is causing the problem and to be finally symptom free must be such a relief.

Have you had a similar experience, yourself or do you have a child who suffers from a food intolerance? Let me know. I would love to hear from you.


Nightshades and Food Intolerance

Nightshade intolerance -

Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.
Not just a random list of food, they are all part of the same group, the nightshades, along with the spices, cayenne and paprika.

First thoughts when it comes to nightshades may well be the age old poison, ‘deadly nightshade’ but whilst this food group is not deadly, it might surprise you to know that in some individuals it can cause problems.

Nightshade foods contain alkaloids, particularly steroid alkaloids. For individuals who are sensitive to these compounds, common symptoms can manifest themselves as joint or muscle pain/stiffness, skin rashes or digestive discomfort.

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Travelling with 5

City Breaks with the Kids – New York

City breaks with the kids - New York -

My husband and I really wanted to go to New York for his fortieth Birthday last year and we were originally planning to go on our own. But then we had a change of heart. Our kids are aged ten, seven and five now. They can walk unaided, are fully toilet trained and can sit for long periods of time and amuse themselves. We’ve spent years avoiding foreign travel (particularly long haul), due to the sheer effort and organisation that is required to take three young children away on holiday. But we felt we’d done UK holiday parks to death and had reached a point where we were itching for some adventure further afield. It didn’t feel right to not share this with the kids. It was time.

First stop – book flights. That was the easy bit, but at the same time it was a scary moment knowing that we had actually committed ourselves. We were really doing this.

Second stop – accommodation. This is always the difficult bit when organising a holiday for a family of five and New York was no exception. When I looked on line at hotel rooms, the majority would only allow four people per room (the drop down menu for adding children often only allowed a maximum of two). The problem is, if you try to book two rooms, you can’t always guarantee that they will be interconnecting.

I got around this problem by contacting the hotels directly to find out what they could offer us. Hotel rooms in New York are notoriously small and the last thing I wanted from my holiday was for all five of us to be cramped in to a small space and getting on each other’s nerves. When you have a large family, it doesn’t matter how large the room actually is, you are much better off if you can spread yourself out over two rooms instead of all being in the one.

I was lucky to find a room at the Hotel Beacon. It was a one-bedroomed suite, with two Queen size beds, plus a double pull out sofa bed in the living room area. There was also a kitchenette, complete with cooker, hob, microwave, fridge/freezer and coffee machine. This was the perfect option for us, as it had enough beds for all of us, the space to move around in (and be able to put the two younger kids to bed, whilst we stayed up in the other room) and as we were staying on a room only basis, we had the option to be able to use the facilities in the room for breakfasts and light meals.

Third stop – planning the trip. One thing’s for sure, you know with a city break that you won’t be spending your time relaxing by a pool. But the good thing about choosing a location like New York is that it has so many famous landmarks you know what you want to see before you even get there. This is a great advantage when it comes to planning your trip.

The first thing I did was make a list of all the places that we each wanted to go to (I love lists, so this was no problem at all for me). Then I printed some maps of New York city and highlighted all the locations. I used where I found separate maps for the Uptown, Midtown and Downtown areas of the city. New York is huge, so it is easier to break it down in to sections. I could see which of the museums, shops and sites that we wanted to go to were near to each other, so that we could plan our days.

Things to organise before going to New York:

1. Application for each family member to ESTA, a pre-entry visa that must be completed by all foreign nationals before entering the United States.

2. Pre-book tickets for major attractions. There are three main New York ticket passes that are available:

New York City Pass – a pre paid ticket for entrance into six of the major New York attractions.

New York Explorer Pass – you pay for 3, 5 or 7 attractions (you don’t have to pre-book which ones).

New York Pass – one pass that you pre pay for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days.

The selling point of these passes is that you save money on entrance tickets and can skip ticket lines.

I chose the Explorer pass, as I thought it would work best for us. My advice upon returning is that the City pass is by far the best option. Every place we went to had a separate queue for City pass holders. We skipped some queues with our pass, but in most cases still had to join a ticket queue along with everybody else.

3. Booking a Broadway show:

If you plan on seeing a show whilst you are away it is advisable to pre book your tickets, as they sell out months in advance. I used Kanoo Travel and they were really helpful. They got me eight fantastic stall seats for the Saturday matinee showing of Matilda.


Fourth stop – enjoy the holiday. I’m not saying we had a rigid itinerary, but we knew what we wanted to see and we knew roughly where everything was. Once there, we had to allow for jet lag and to gauge how the children would cope with the full on days, but on the whole, we stuck to our original plans.

Here’s my guide on what to see:

1. Natural History Museum – huge dinosaur section and a space centre worth visiting for.

2. Metropolitan Museum of Art – full of ancient artefacts. Particularly of interest if you have Percy Jackson fans.

3. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – set on the aircraft carrier, Intrepid. Includes numerous aircraft carriers, Concorde and the retired space shuttle, Enterprise.

4. Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Centre observatory – amazing views of the city, including a direct view of the Empire State building. Not as busy as the Empire State building either.

5. Toys R Us, Times Square – huge toy shop, with a Ferris wheel at its centre. Displays of Transformers, Lego figures and a life size T-Rex make it well worth a visit. The kids had more fun in here than at FAO Schwarz, which is only really worth a visit for the floor piano.

6. American Girl store – one for the girls, but a must. Beautiful store dedicated to this hugely popular doll.

7. Central Park – a gorgeous space in the middle of a busy city. Look out for the Hans Christian Andersen and the Alice in Wonderland statues, the model boating lake and the zoo.

8. Statue of Liberty – a boat trip to Liberty Island and entrance to the statue is included in the City Pass tickets (tickets to go to the crown are extra).

9. Grand Central Station – apart from seeing where Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria escaped to from the zoo (for all Madagascar fans), parents are sure to appreciate this beautiful station building.

Where to eat:

I looked specifically for restaurants that had a gluten free menu, so we could be assured we would at least be able to find something our five year old could eat. But these restaurants are all family friendly too.

1. Pappardella – Uptown – a short walk from our hotel, this Italian restaurant was able to provide gluten free bread and pasta and sorbet desert, so my son was over the moon. For the rest of us, there was a good choice of tasty and reasonably priced dishes.

2. Nice Martin – Uptown – also near our hotel, this French restaurant was pricey, but the food was good.

3. Viand – Uptown – this restaurant was literally next door to our hotel and opened all day. They had a fantastic choice for breakfast and although they didn’t have gluten free options, they were very flexible on mixing and matching options from the menu, plus they had soya milk, which was a bonus.

4. Nizza – Theatre district – lovely Italian restaurant, which also offers a gluten free menu.

5. American Girl Store – Midtown – we ate in the restaurant here. It was pre-booked and any allergy requests were specified upon booking, which meant that my son was catered for in advance. The lunch was a three course set menu, with a choice of main courses.

6. Bills Bar & Burger – Downtown (near World Trade Centre) – fantastic food and great service. Was pleasantly surprised to find that the burgers were wheat free and they offered gluten free buns.

Travelling around:

We thought that we would end up having to get two taxis everywhere we went, but all of the yellow cab drivers were happy to let four of us in the back (though I’m sure that it wasn’t legal). Travelling by cab was not my favourite way to get around New York though. The roads are terrible. Not only are they horrendously busy, they are full of potholes after the long harsh winter. The cab drivers are impatient and swerve in and out of the traffic queues, speeding up whenever possible, only to be heavy on the brakes as they catch up to the rest of the traffic again.

The subway was a little tricky to work out, but one local showed us how to get a Metro card, where you put in an amount that you need to travel, so that it is all on the one ticket (each subway journey is $2.75 per person each way). There are no officials working down there to ask, but for some reason when you get down to the subway, the locals are more friendly than they are up on the street!

New York may have a reputation for being unfriendly, but apart from the occasional service worker, we found quite the opposite. More than once, we were approached by a local whilst studying our map and asked if we needed help, pointing us in the direction we needed to go.

Fifth stop – the verdict:

April was a great time to go. It was busy in the main areas like Times Square, Broadway and down by the World Trade Centre, but in general it was nowhere near as busy as I was expecting it to be. The weather was great, warming up over the course of the week to be pleasant enough to walk around without coats on, but not too hot that it became unbearable. We all had a fantastic and unforgettable trip. The only thing I didn’t get to do was any girly shopping, so I will definitely be going back.

Top of the Rock

Savoury Dishes

Lentil and Vegetable Bolognese

Lentil and vegetable Bolognese -

There are so many potential variations to this dish, making it both a versatile and nutritious option for a family meal and one I felt was worth sharing. This is a vegetarian recipe, but can also be free from dairy, wheat and nightshades.

Basic Recipe:

1 clove of garlic
1 red onion
1 courgette
About 250g of butternut squash
75g of green lentils
150ml of vegetable stock
1tsp dried thyme
400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2014-05-12 14.29.47

You can substitute the butternut squash for carrots, the courgette for aubergines and add mushrooms for a ‘meaty’ bite, plus you can use any herbs you like or a mixture of your favourites.

I used a substitute sauce that does not contain tomatoes, due to a tomato allergy. Here is a recipe for the sauce I made:

1 clove of garlic
2 sticks of celery
5 carrots
1 small pre-cooked beetroot (cooked in water, not vinegar)
500ml vegetable stock

Cook the raw vegetables for a few minutes to soften, before adding the stock and beetroot. Simmer for around 15 minutes, then blitz to form a smooth purée. Adjust the thickness by adding extra water, if required.

Instructions for recipe

1. Cover the lentils with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for around 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and set to one side.

2. Meanwhile chop the vegetables into cubes and fry in a little olive oil until beginning to soften (around 5 minutes).

2014-05-12 14.36.49

3.Add the tinned tomatoes (or alternative sauce) to the pan, along with the stock. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

2014-05-12 14.57.56

4. Bring another pan of water to the boil to cook the pasta. Allow around one handful of dried pasta per person. I used spelt spaghetti in this case.

5. Add the thyme and the lentils to the vegetables and heat through for a further 5 minutes. An option at this stage is to blitz some of the vegetables to make a smooth sauce for younger children.

6. Serve with the cooked pasta. Grated cheese is an option for those not avoiding dairy.

2014-05-12 18.25.44


Travelling with 5

Gluten and Dairy Free Dining in Rome

Gluten and dairy free dining in Rome -

Eating out with children when you’re on holiday can be challenging, especially when you have a child who is gluten and dairy free. As much as is possible, I do my research before hand to make sure I find us suitable places. But on this particular occasion I didn’t.

We went to Rome. It’s Italy, I thought. The land of pizza and pasta. They’re bound to do gluten free versions. I’ve also been to Rome twice before and always had wonderful food, so I wasn’t worried. That said, I don’t need to eat gluten and dairy free.

The reality was, it was really difficult. On the one hand the Italians understand if you ask for something ‘sensa glutine’ and are happy to find you a suitable alternative from the menu. But this is Italy for goodness sake, where practically every restaurant you go to is either a pizzeria or trattoria, offering an abundance of pizza and pasta dishes. How do you tell a five year old that he can’t have the pasta at any of them, when it’s his all time favourite food?

On our first night we arrived late and so had to dump our suitcases and go out to find somewhere to eat. My son was tired and hungry and had been looking forward to a comforting bowl of pasta pomodoro. By the fourth restaurant we had to give up and ended up ordering him some chicken and potatoes. As we sat waiting for our food, we suddenly realised that our little one had his head bowed and was crying silent tears.

‘I just want some pasta,’ he said.

As I’ve said on previous occasions, not once has he moaned about having to eat differently or miss out on treats that the girls have had. But the combined effect of tiredness, lack of food and being in Italy and expecting to be eating pasta ’til it was coming out of his ears, took its toll.

There was a sinking feeling in my stomach at that moment and I regretted not having done my research. The realisation that it might not be so easy to find suitable restaurants in Rome hit home.

Thankfully, the lovely Rosanna from our hotel was so helpful and understanding. When we got back and told her what had happened she rang around until she found us a place that offered gluten free pasta and booked us a table there the very next night. That restaurant, plus one other that was recommended by a local Roman became our new favourite places to eat over the next three nights.

What we learned is that restaurants in the popular strips and squares of Rome, whilst they may promise that they can cater for gluten and dairy free dining, don’t in fact offer alternatives for the allergy sufferer. They are mainly interested in getting bums on seats and profiting from the vast numbers of tourists that pass their way.

Those restaurants that truly cater for people who avoid gluten are few and far between and are more likely to be found on the lesser known streets and in quieter areas. What we did find out about these places, though is that they were so welcoming and helpful and they made such a fuss of our little man that it completely made up for that disastrous first night.

That and the fact that Rosanna also found us a Gelateria that offered soya ice cream, made the whole trip worthwhile. Because as well as going to Italy for the pasta, you can’t possibly go there and not sample the ice cream too.

Il Gelatone


The restaurants we went to:

Hostaria Perdingianu e Croccoriga

Restaurant 1

La Taverna Dei Fori Imperiali

Restaurant 2