Weekend Project – Feed the birds

We like to make our own bird feeders so that there are no Allergy Brother allergens lurking in them when the boys handle them.

Supplies

250g Suet or lard (you can get vegetable suet, if you avoid animal products)

250g Berries, nuts, dried fruit, oats, cheese, birdseed (choose the things that you are not allergic to)

Garden twine

Yoghurt pots or small plant pots

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  1. Melt the suet or lard either by melting in a large heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water or by putting it in a bowl in the microwave for a minute.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients into the suet or lard.  Set this aside to cool until the lard or suet becomes opaque, but it is still soft enough to spoon into your pots.
  3. While, the mixture is cooling, assemble the pots.  Make a hole in the bottom of the pot.  Tie the twine on to the peg, stick or twig then thread it up through the hole.  Finally make a loop to hang the feeder.  20171224_114332
  4. Fill as many of your containers as you can with your mixture and allow it to cool and solidify completely.20171224_131934 1
  5. Cut away the plastic pot and recycle.
  6. Choose a suitable spot in your garden, at least 1.5m off the ground with some foliage to shelter shy species of birds.20171228_125115You might like to make a variety of bird feeders.  There is another idea here.20151123_140648

 

 

 

 

 

Two young boys are on a beach. They are facing away from the camera and are a bit over dressed.

People Say The Strangest Things…

The weather has been glorious for the last week.  The Allergy Brothers and I have been taking full advantage of the unseasonal sunshine.  We are very fortunate to live in walking distance of the sea.  This means that we can go to the beach and make sand castles after school.  The problem is that most of the Allergy Brothers’ food requires cooking from scratch and this cuts down on our playtime.  I had noticed that a local fish and chip shop was advertising that they can use gluten free batter and had other dietary options.  I thought I would give them a ring and see if they could cater for the Allergy Brothers as this would be a perfect post-beach, no cooking treat.  This is how the phone call went:

Me: Hi.  I need to ask some questions about whether you will be able to cater for my sons, who have multiple allergies.  Are your chips cooked in a separate fryer to the other food?

Lady: Yes, they are.

Me: (getting a bit excited) And what oil do you use?

Lady: Sunflower.

Me: (getting quite a bit excited): And they are definitely cooked on their own?

Lady: Oh yes.  Hang on, we use a chemical to stop the potatoes discolouring after they have been cut.  I’ll go and check the label.  [She comes back and reads me the label.  It’s basically some sulphites, which, although a problem for others, do not seem to affect the Allergy Brothers].

Me: (really very excited about a night off from cooking)  That sounds great.  We’ll see you soon.  (I’m about to put the phone down and tell the Allergy Brothers the good news when…)

Lady: (on a roll of helpfulness) We do jacket potatoes and salads too.  Or they could have something with gluten-free batter because that will be okay because we cook them with the chips.

Me: (inwardly yelling “Nnnnnnoooooo” while falling to my knees in slow-motion) So the gluten-free battered items are cooked with the chips?

Lady: (sheepishly): Yes.

Me: Okay, well thanks for your time, but unfortunately we won’t be able to eat at your restaurant. Thanks, and goodbye.

Two young boys are on a beach. They are facing away from the camera and are a bit over dressed.

Allergy Little and I have been using his non-nursery days to enjoy local tourist attractions without the crowds, but with good weather.  We have a season ticket to an animal park.  On our latest visit, I noticed that they now sell non-dairy ice cream.  I asked the sales assistant if he could tell me the ingredients.  He looked at the tub and seemed really puzzled.  Finally, he said “Well, it says it’s non-dairy, but it’s got egg in.”  This is not the first time I have heard this and I have never really found a nice way of replying that doesn’t make the other person sound silly.  So I just said “Well, cows don’t lay eggs, but I agree this might be a problem for vegans.  Thanks for your help.”

These were just the silly things people said to me about allergies and food this week!  What is your favourite or most hated comment you have ever had about allergies or your food choices?  I would love to hear that I am not alone!  Also, if anyone has a gracious response to the dairy and eggs situation, could you share it with me as I don’t like to be unkind, but the correct response is alluding me?  Finally, if you have had an allergy disappointment this week then don’t forget to cheer yourself up by entering our amazing Free From giveaway!

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.

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A home made pizza on a plate with some grapes.

Getting A Pizza The Action With Allergies 2 – Make Your Own Pizza

Unfortunately, the Allergy Brothers can’t eat the pre-made bases we reviewed earlier in the week so we had to make their pizzas from scratch.  Well, we got a little bit of a helping hand from Orgran’s Gluten Free Pizza & Pastry Multimix.

Orgran’s  Pizza & Pastry Multimix Ingredients – Potato starch, Maize starch, Maize flour, Raising agents: Glucono Delta Lactone, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow Pea Flour, Salt, Vegetable gums (Stabilisers): Xanthan Gum, Carboxymethylcellulose, Methylcellulose.

This multimix has had a rebrand in the last few months with new packaging and new cooking instructions.  I use the old method that requires yeast, but if you are pushed for time or allergic to yeast, then you can just follow the instructions on the packet.  It’s really very easy.

For my method, you will need half a packet of Orgran Pizza & Pastry Multimix, sugar, yeast (I use Allinson Dried Active Yeast for Hand Baking), 250ml water, 40ml oil (I use olive oil), and your toppings (I used Pepperami, Vegan pesto and Vegan cheese).

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F, and oil a baking sheet.
  2.  Dissolve a tsp of sugar in 50 ml of hot water.  Add 75ml of cold water.  Add 1 tbsp of dried yeast.  Give it all a stir.  Leave it to do its thing for about 15 minutes.  You should get a few centimetres of scummy foam on the surface of the water, when it is ready.
  3.  Mix together half a packet of multimix, the water and yeast together, and the oil.  Combine it with a spoon until a dough has formed.  Then knead it by hand.
  4. Form the pizzas and put them on the baking tray or pizza pan.  You can roll out the pizzas with a rolling pin, but I am making child-size portions so I just form them by making a ball of dough and squashing it flat with my hand.  I divide the dough into two and make two mini pizzas for the Allergy Brothers.  A full packet should give you enough for 3 full-size pizzas.  Allergy Little likes to have pepperami mixed into the dough, and then vegan pesto and vegan cheese as the topping.  He thinks the pepperami dries out too much if it is a topping!
  5. The pizzas take about 15 minutes to bake.  The pizza should be golden brown, but fluffy inside like a deep pan base, and the toppings should be bubbling.
  6. Enjoy your pizza.  Serving it with grapes is optional!
A home made pizza on a plate with some grapes.

Creative Nature “Heavenly Cacao” bar

I am going to have a slight digression to explain why my blogging might not be quite up to standard today.  Suma, the natural food wholesaler, provided me with a sample box of their new products for July and August.  This evening, I thought I would try a tin of Edamame beans (by Geo) as an accompaniment to my main meal shared with the Allergy Brothers.  I was quite surprised when I opened the tin as the beans were surrounded by jelly.  However, this was fairly simple to wash off and then I was left with lots of bright green beans.  I was quite a bit more surprised when I had an allergic reaction after eating them. So I am writing this while high on Piriton.

Anyway, I am not holding this against Suma and, earlier in the day, I was happy to try this raw bar from Creative Nature that was also in the sample box.

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Ingredients : Dried fruit (sultanas, dates, cranberries, goji berries), Oats, Vegetable glycerine, Cacao powder, Cacao nibs, Cacao butter, Maca powder.  Contains sulphur dioxide.

This came with a leaflet that proclaimed that this bar was “healthy chocolate!”  I, cynically, thought that that just means not very nice chocolate.  I was pleased to be proved wrong.  This bar really was very chocolate flavoured, although not chocolatey in texture.  Often with these type of bars, there is a small amount of a superfood and lots of cheaper, filler ingredients, such as oats.  This bar has it the other way round.  As there is so much dried fruit, this bar is also really sweet and it didn’t feel like a chore to eat it.

Right, I think I need to lie down in a darkened room to recover.  Please report any errors in the comments, and I will correct them when I am not in an anti-histamine haze.

A screen shot from the Food Maestro app

Initial Impressions – “Food Maestro” App

I first heard about this app at The Allergy Show at Olympia before the summer holidays, but I have only just got around to trying it.  Incidentally, I think I may have slightly scared the man on the Food Maestro stand with my enthusiasm (I didn’t hug him. but I wanted to) because this app has a lot of potential for our family.  Basically, it allows you to create profiles for each family member of foods they have to avoid then you can search through all the UK supermarkets’ databases to find foods you can eat.  I know, how awesome is that!

Then I remember that the Allergy Brothers are allergic to some pretty odd foods.  It turns out that this is not a problem at all.  For example, the Allergy Brothers are allergic to chicken, but not turkey (different proteins, apparently).  This is not a problem, for their profiles, I can choose from a poultry menu and add in chicken, but leave turkey unchecked.  However, I could also check an “all poultry” button if I wanted to exclude that group completely.  It was actually kind of nice (in an odd way) to see that rice was listed as something to exclude.  Does this mean that the Allergy Brothers are not the only people in the world to be allergic to rice?  (Please leave a comment, if you are one of those people!).  The only allergen I couldn’t find on the list was chia seeds so I emailed Food Maestro, and, in less than an hour, I had an email back saying that chia seeds were now added to the seeds menu.  I checked and there they were, ready to be added to the boys’ profiles.

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Once, you have set up your profiles then you can search for appropriate products.  I have had a few plays with this function, but I will report back in a few weeks when I have had a chance to play some more.  I decided to search by category for ready made foods using both boys’ profiles.  I really could do with some ideas for easy meals on school nights when they have clubs.  Food Maestro pulled up a list of an impressive 188 possible options.  The list included some good ideas, such as ready made polenta, ready to cook vegetable dishes, olives etc.  Unfortunately, there were some odd choices, chicken breast mini fillets and steak pies!, which were clearly not suitable.  The odd choices all seemed to be Asda products, and due to a lack of proper ingredients information feeding into the search engine.  For example, the Asda steak pie had 19% beef listed as its only ingredient.

So clearly, there are some issues, but I was also very impressed about the ideas that popped up that I might never have considered.  Also, as they showed when I asked about adding chia seeds, the Food Maestro team are very responsive to suggestions.  So here are my suggestions:

  1. I would like to see an option to choose which supermarkets appear in the search results.  There’s no point seeing the results for Waitrose, if you live 50miles from the nearest store.
  2.  I would like to see an option to add in lifestyle and religious options, such as vegan or kosher, as well as the allergy options.  This would be more inclusive as allergies can affect anybody.
  3.  This app only works if the information going into it is good.  It seems like this might not always be the case.  It would be nice if companies realised that ingredients lists really do matter.  I am not sure this is something that Food Maestro can change.  Maybe they could just not include companies that are persistent offenders?

In conclusion, my initial impressions are that this is a good app, that could be great with a bit of tweaking.  I will certainly continue to use it and report back.  It is available for Apple and Android devices.  There is also a website.  Finally, to end on some really fantastic news, the app is free because it is partially funded by the NHS.