Capsule Kitchen – A Food Philosophy That Works With Multiple Allergies

For the last few years, we have been exploring minimalism here at Allergy Towers.  So what is minimalism?  Well, according to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom”.  It certainly has been a positive force in our lives.  We have decluttered considerably (still a work in progress) and reduced the amount of decoration around the house so that everyone feels calmer here.  I have emptied out my wardrobe so I only have clothes that I wear rather than clothes that make me feel vaguely guilty.  We have even extended minimalism to our calendars so we plan to have empty space and down time in our lives rather than filling every minute with activity.

So what has this got to do with food allergies?  Well, thanks to the Allergy Brothers’ needs, our kitchen has become quite sparse too.  It turns out that there is a minimalist challenge for the kitchen.  It was invented by Courtney Carver and is called The Capsule Kitchen.  The Capsule Kitchen concept is that we should cook with 33 ingredients, changing our choices every 3 months.  This does not include water or items that you would use less than one tbsp of at a time, eg salt or spices.

The obvious criticism of the Capsule Kitchen might be that we need a variety of foods to be healthy.  That’s true.  That’s why there are thirty three foods and not three.  Thirty three items leaves plenty of space to eat a rainbow of nutrients.  We do need a variety of foods, but not the variety that we are confronted with every time we visit a supermarket.  Frankly, too much choice is a bad thing.  We end up with decision fatigue and then we make lousy decisions.  Have you ever wondered why Barak Obama and Angela Merkel wear the same clothes all the time?  It’s because they don’t want to waste their thinking time on which shirt goes with which trousers; they have bigger things to be dealing with.  On a much, much smaller scale, I used to faff around deciding what I wanted for breakfast every morning when I really needed to be getting everybody clean, dressed, fed and out the door with their packed lunch.  Now, I have gluten free muesli if the weather is warm or gluten free porridge if it is cold, and we all get to school on time.

I like the fact that there is flexibility built into the idea as your list changes every 3 months so you can eat seasonally.  I have to be honest that we haven’t stuck strictly to the 33 items for 3 months guideline.  I built a cheat into our original list because item 33 for us was “a new thing that we want to try”.  Our version has slowly changed into adding a rhythm to our meals through the week.  On Tuesdays, we have tacos (thank you, Lego movie!).  On Thursday, I bake with Allergy Little as he is at home during the day so we have pizza or rolls.  On Friday night, we have chips and popcorn to eat from a bowl while watching a film.  I think the Allergy Brothers find this predictability comforting.

The biggest benefit of The Capsule Kitchen concept is that it shows that limiting your foods can be good.  Nobody would choose to have multiple allergies, but there might be some benefits to it nonetheless.  For example, you might have to use the ingredients you can eat more creatively.  One thing I noticed was that my “too small” kitchen became a “just right / bit big” kitchen as I was no longer trying to store such a huge number of ingredients.  Linked to this is that it will save you money as you are more likely to meal plan and less likely to be left with food going off.  You might have more time as food shopping takes less time.  You might simply have more “brain space” for thinking about other issues.  It might be that it is easier to eat healthily.  If you are limiting yourself to thirty three foods then it’s unlikely that you are going to waste six of your choices on six different types of biscuit.  So only one packet of biscuits goes into the trolley at the supermarket, and it’s easier for you to make the right choices at meal times.

If nothing else, then it’s good to concentrate on what you can eat, rather than the list of things you are forced to avoid by your body.  Making a list of what you or your family member can eat might be just the kind of positive thinking you need right now.  I know it helped the way I thought about our family’s eating.  It just so happens that we have three months left in 2015.  I would love to hear in the comments what your thirty three items would be if you did this challenge!

P.S. Look out for our blog’s first birthday celebration competition.  Coming very soon.

a tray of biscuits ready for baking.

Treasure Biscuits


180g margarine (we used Pure sunflower spread)

120g sugar (we used raw cane sugar)

200g corn flour

150g polenta

1tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp. cocoa (check it is gluten free, if you need this).

12 squares of chocolate

You will need some circular biscuit cutters, preferably of two sizes.

  1.  Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
  2.  Cream the margarine and sugar.
  3.  Stir in the corn flour and polenta and work together to form a soft dough.
  4.  Halve the dough.  Add the vanilla essence to one half of the dough and mix in.  Add the cocoa to the other half of the dough and mix in.
  5.  Roll out on a floured surface and cut into shapes.  If you are using two size cutters then use one size for the vanilla dough and the other size for the cocoa.  You will need an equal number of each type of biscuit.  So you might have a little leftover to make a bonus biscuit for the chef!
  6. Assemble the biscuits.  Put a square of chocolate on the small size biscuit. [ N.B.  I had to use the same size cutter for all the shapes as I discovered my biscuit cutters had got very badly squashed in the drawer and they couldn’t be coaxed back into shape.  Also, note that we used OhSo Good chocolate, that has very small squares.  Four OhSo Good chocolate squares equals one Dairy Milk square for comparison.  A good thing about using the OhSo Good chocolate was that the raspberry flavour made these taste like Jammy Dodgers.]  Then put a larger biscuit circle on top of the chocolate.  Finally, press the edges down to seal in the chocolate.  Don’t worry if the dough cracks a bit.  It’s part of the charm of home baking!  You will have made a two tone biscuit with hidden, chocolate treasure.20150926_203847
  7.  Put the biscuits on a baking sheet, that has been coated with corn flour, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  8.  Leave to cool before removing from the baking sheet.  If you can catch them, when the biscuit has cooled, but the chocolate is still runny, then you are in for an extra treat!

P.S. Next week is our blog’s first birthday.  We will be celebrating with a competition so don’t forget to look out for that!

A packet of rawkin roons against some flowering honeysuckle.

Rawkin’ Roons by Raw 46

Ingredients: Desiccated Coconut (44%), Coconut sugar, Water, Extra virgin coconut oil, Almonds, Cacao Nibs (6.16%), Vanilla extract, Vanilla beans, Himalayan pink salt.

Produced in a facility that processes tree nuts, soya, sesame seed and mustard.

A packet of rawkin roons against some flowering honeysuckle.

These were surprisingly nice.  Even more surprisingly, Allergy Dad, our resident salad dodger, liked them too.  The macaroons were quite challenging in texture as they were dense and hard.  The macaroons are quite small so the texture was manageable.  Even if your baked goods eating skills aren’t quite as honed as mine,  you should be able to chomp through them.  The cacao nibs were used generously so that the chocolate flavour was definitely tangible.  I probably won’t buy them again as they would be just for Allergy Dad and me.  However, if I was committed to a raw lifestyle then I would probably have a stash of Rawkin’ Roons somewhere.

Armstrong’s Restaurant – Clacton-On-Sea

Allergy Dad and I don’t get many chances to go out together in the evenings so we could have kicked ourselves when we forgot that our friend had volunteered to babysit for us.  We had already eaten our dinner with the Allergy Brothers, but we thought we could sneak in a bit of dessert.  Another friend had recommended Armstrong’s Restaurant in Clacton-On-Sea as being an excellent choice when you are gluten free.  We decided to test it out with dessert and see if we wanted to return for a meal.

It really is the most unlikely setting for a restaurant that specialises in dining out for those with allergies and intolerances.  Next to Clacton Pier, there is an amusement arcade.  You walk through the amusement arcade, continue past the bowling alley, and then there is a lounge area with snooker tables, and finally, instead of a fast food joint, there is a civilized family restaurant!  I was immediately impressed by the menu as more of the desserts are gluten free than are not!

Unfortunately, it’s a popular restaurant.  All the tables were booked for the night.  However, the helpful staff were happy to accommodate us with drinks and dessert in the lounge.  It wasn’t romantic, restaurant ambience, but it was quite fun watching music videos on the screens in the bowling alley while happy families hung out together at the tables around us.  The desserts were worth trying, and the staff mixed a mean Pimms cup too.  I had a pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream.  Allergy Dad had a chocolate brownie.  The desserts may have been gluten free, but I didn’t feel I was missing out at all.

Now, we just need the opportunity to test out the rest of the menu.


A screen shot from the Food Maestro app

Food Maestro App Update

Since I wrote my blog post about the Food Maestro app, I have been having a very helpful email chat with one of their developers.  It turns out that many of the suggestions I made in the blog will be happening soon so I thought I would report back.  We can look forward to:

  • Being able to split user profiles into allergy, intolerance and lifestyle factors.
  • Searching by ingredients (both inclusion and exclusion).
  • Search results filtering by key brands, latest, popular, etc.
  • Updated categories to improve consistency.
  • And finally, some general design updates.
There are longer term plans to work with manufacturers to improve the quality of the information that they receive.  And I sincerely wish them luck with that.
A carton of Oatly Apple & Pear drink against a patterned background

Oatly Apple & Pear Drink

Ingredients – Oat base (water, oats 10%), juice concentrate of apple and pear, sugar (1%), natural apple flavouring.  Contains 24% apple juice, 20% pear juice.

A carton of Oatly Apple & Pear drink against a patterned background

I was a bit sceptical about this product.  It just seemed wrong!  The reality was different.  It had a refreshing, lightly fruity flavour, but it filled me up more than a juice drink.  I drank it during the break in an exercise class, and I decided I didn’t need the cereal bar I had with me as well.  It would be fantastic to fuel little people through a busy day (unless they are allergic to oats, like The Allergy Brothers, ho hum).