A secret weapon for gluten free/vegan eating on the road!

The Allergy Family recently made the journey from our home in the South East of England to visit family in Yorkshire.  We travelled along the M1/A1, which is the main route up the middle of England.  Usually, it is hard for us to eat in motorway service stations.  We were very pleased to discover a new chain of restaurants, El Mexicana, which has  several branches around the UK, including several service stations.  It is possible to eat gluten free, vegan, and even gluten free and vegan there easily.

You start by choosing your base; both the salad and corn tortillas are gluten free.  You then add your filling, with a choice of chicken, pulled pork, beef, and two vegetarian options.  You add the extras that you want rice, refried beans, cheese, sour cream, etc.  Finally, it is topped with a salsa of your choice.


20180307_135309The front tortilla in the photograph above is vegan and gluten free.  The base is a corn tortilla.  The filling is vegetable chilli with rice, pinto beans, onions, peppers and lettuce.  It is topped with tomatillo salsa.  It tasted amazing.  Fresh and flavourful.  I really can’t understand why there was a queue for McDonald’s when I could walk straight up to the counter here and get something much healthier that tasted so much better.

Unfortunately, their gluten control was a little variable.  We visited two branches: Peterborough and Cambridge.  The staff member at the Cambridge branch took great care.  She put on fresh gloves to make our order and wrapped the tortillas in foil so that when they went in the griddle they didn’t touch the same metal surfaces as the wheat products.  The staff member at Peterborough was clearly new to the job and wasn’t quite sure what she was doing generally.  She didn’t know to put the tortillas in foil before heating them, for example.  At both branches, the corn tortillas were stored in a separate sealed box away from the wheat products.

Thanks, El Mexicana, for making it a little easier for us to visit our family!


High Woods Country Park, Colchester

The Allergy Brothers love visiting High Woods Country Park.  They will spend hours dragging around huge logs to make dens.20180116_123903

Another benefit of visiting here is the little café in the High Woods Country Park Visitor Centre.  It’s very small with a couple of tables inside and some picnic tables outside.  However, it stocks a really amazing range of Allergy Brother-friendly products.  Allergy Little could choose from the whole range of Bear Paw and Yoyos fruit snacks, crisps, and juices from Cawston Press.  They also stock vegan flapjacks.


Six Bells, Boreham, Chelmsford

When a pub restaurant is absolutely heaving on a Wednesday evening, and every table is booked, then you know you are somewhere good.  I was here as part of a club meal with AllergyDad.  The organiser had chosen the Six Bells because they like the food there, but it was a good venue for me as the website proudly proclaims “gluten free and coeliac friendly kitchen”.  There is a complete gluten free menu; there are even gluten free beers behind the bar.

For starter, I ate Homemade Chicken & Liver Pate served with Fruit Chutney and gluten free toast.


For main course, I chose Seabass with a tomato sauce served on stir fry vegetables and sauté potatoes.


I was pretty full, but it’s not often that I actually have a choice of dessert.  I chose a chocolate brownie with a warm chocolate sauce.  In the interest of a full review, I did my best and polished off the lot!

20180112_120558There was nothing flashy on the menu, but everything was cooked with skill.  The novelty of having a choice on a menu is almost enough to keep me happy!  The only negative was the lack of vegetarian or vegan dishes on the gluten free menu.

This one gadget changed my gluten free, vegan lunches for the better!

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links to help me pay for the costs of running this blog.  Thank you

If your New Year’s resolution is to eat better then this post is for you!  It’s really hard to eat healthy, gluten free lunches in the winter.  Salad doesn’t seem right on a cold, sleeting day, gluten free bread doesn’t make great sandwiches, and gluten free pasta doesn’t work in pasta salads.  This is why I am so glad that a friend introduced me to a soup maker.  I do not use lots of gadgets in the kitchen, but I love my soup maker.  All you do is put the chopped up ingredients in the soup maker, and press a button.  Then you can go away and carry on with something else while it cooks and blends your soup.  My soup maker (Tefal BL841140 Easy Soup and Smoothie Maker, Stainless Steel, White) even has a keep warm function so I can have my lunch when I am ready for it.

This is my favourite recipe to cook in my soup maker.  You need to make sure all the vegetables are chopped to approximately the same size.


2 shallots, peeled and chopped

400g leeks, trimmed and chopped

300g potatoes, peeled if necessary and cubed

1 Knorr vegetable stock pot

1 carton of Alpro soya single cream

You just put all the ingredients in the soup maker.  I find it works best if you put the stock pot half way up the soup maker so it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom or wrapped around the blender at the top.  My soup maker has a minimum liquid level so I add a bit of water to take it to that level.  Choose the creamed soup option and off you go!

Obviously, if you work from home, like Allergy Dad does, then this works really well, but equally you could set this going in the morning and take your fresh soup in a flask with you.  This soup maker (Morphy Richards 501018 Soup and Smoothie Maker, 1.6 Litre, 1160 Watt, Red) looks like an absolute bargain.

The Olive Branch, Wivenhoe, Essex, UK

A crucial part of the Christmas story is people making long journeys from the Middle East and finding themselves without accommodation.  It seems in keeping with the season to review a Syrian restaurant in the UK.

The Olive Branch (1a Station Road, Wivenhoe, CO7 9DH; 01206 615741; website) is in a fairly unprepossessing building.  Despite this, on a Friday lunch time on a cold, drizzly December day, there was nearly no room at the inn, or tables in the restaurant.  Luckily, the customers were feeling positive, and strangers ended up sharing tables so everyone could fit in.

20171209_133253 1

I (gluten and dairy intolerant) visited with my friend (severe nut allergy).  When we stated our food needs, there was absolutely no sign from the welcoming staff that this was in any way a problem, and it wasn’t.  The only physically uncomfortable feeling was eating slightly more than we should have because it was so delicious!

We ordered a platter for two, and were given the choice of vegan or vegetarian.  My friend had a hankering for halloumi so we went with the vegetarian option.  We were so eager to get stuck in that I forgot to take a photo so the platter is already looking a bit wrecked in the photo.  Our platter consisted of hummus, falafel, marinated halloumi, tabbouleh, warak inab (vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables), marinated olives, baba ghanouj, midammas (seasoned fava beans in a sauce), green salad, and pickles with flat breads or, in my case, toasted gluten free bread).


To accompany the platter, we had freshly squeezed orange juice and minty lemonade.  The food was excellent.  This is the sort of vegan restaurant to take a confirmed carnivore to.  They will be so excited by all the different flavours, textures and spices that they will completely forget that there is no meat in the meal.  The only things I can think of to improve this meal are that, although it was great to have gluten free bread available, it would have been nice if it was more like the flatbread normally served; this would be perfect.  The only improvement to the restaurant would be moving to a slightly bigger building so more people can enjoy this fabulous food.