Free From Favourites

Thursday 28 April 2016

This week is Allergy Awareness Week here in the UK.
I've been meaning to share a post about some of our favourite free from buys for a while now and so this seemed like a perfect week to finally do so!

Since we first started buying Free From foods, around 13 years ago when we first found out what Calum's allergies were, I have noticed a huge improvement in the range of free from products around. The gluten free market is continually growing, and the taste of the products has come a long way too. If you are catering for more than one allergy though, the choice is quite a bit smaller. I'm just glad that the boys can eat eggs in baked products otherwise their choices would be tiny!

As a quick recap, we have one boy with a nut, lentil, and egg allergy, which seems a breeze to manage compared to the three boys with dairy, wheat, egg and nut allergies. We also have one boy who can, and does, eat anything and everything that he wants! All four egg allergies are the type that allow them to eat a cake or biscuit containing egg, but they can't eat a mainly egg product - scrambled egg, meringue, quiche etc - or touch raw eggs.

They all have allergies as opposed to intolerances.

They don't just avoid these foods to improve the condition of their eczema, if only it were that simple!

And it's not OK for them to have something containing just a little bit of an allergen, as some people seem to think. The tiniest amount of anything they are allergic to will cause them to complain that their throat feels funny, their mouths start to puff up and they break out in hives anywhere on their body.

It's far from a health fad, and I seriously object to the perceived opinion of allergy parents as slightly paranoid and over protective. If you have seen your child wheezing, swelling up and becoming distressed after eating something that you were assured was safe then you certainly wouldn't think so!

Anyway, onto the foods.

A long time favourite of the dairy free boys is this Swedish Glace Dairy Free Ice Cream. Our local supermarket only sells the vanilla flavour, but it is also available in chocolate or raspberry flavours too. The boys have tried the other favours but Vanilla remains their favourite, thankfully! It tastes really nice, with a real vanilla flavour, and is a perfectly good substitute for 'normal' ice cream.

 A few months ago we also found that Swedish Glace had started making an ice lolly, similar to a Magnum, with Strawberry Ice Cream surrounded by a layer of chocolate. The boys absolutely LOVE these. The only trouble is that they are sold in packs of 5, and 5 into 3 does not divide very evenly!

Sticking with the sweet theme, one of Ally's favourite treats is a slice of Lazy Day Foods Millionaire's Shortbread. These are not only dairy and gluten free but also egg free too. I bake most of the cakes and biscuits for the allergy boys but it's great to have something that tastes as good as this as an option to have in the cupboard.

He and Fraser are also rather partial to the Lazy Days Rocky Road and Tiffin, and I rather like their chocolate orange slice.

Calum, however, has more particular tastes and doesn't like any sort of shortbread based product. He also despises raisins and so that rules out Millionaires Shortbread, Rocky Road and Tiffin!

He does like these Angelic Cookies though, as do the other two boys. We first discovered Angelic Gluten Free at the Royal Highland Show a few years ago. They had a stall with samples of their cookies, which we tried and loved. Everyone in our house, including the non allergy boys, who are only allowed to have one very rarely, loves the Orange Chocolate ones the most. But the Cranberry ones come a close second. I haven't been able to find these in a shop near us and so have to buy them online instead, or stock up when we visit my parents!

Moving away from the sweet stuff now, and I should say that I make no apology for starting with it. I'm sure that most people who have to avoid allergens will tell you that it's the sweet things that are harder to replace.

That and bread.

Gluten free bread is one thing that has really come a long way since we had to first start buying it. Mostly I tend to buy Sainsbury's own brand free from bread. Ally and Fraser both enjoy eating it, either as a sandwich or as toast. And it's not as expensive as other brands either! Calum, however, much prefers to eat the Newburn Bakehouse bread. I have to agree that it does have a much better texture, and more 'normal' feel to it than the supermarket bread, even if it is more expensive.

Calum doesn't like to eat sandwiches though, and instead prefers to take one of the Newburn Bakehouse sandwich thins in his packed lunch instead. Every single day he has one of these with tuna on it for lunch. He's very much a creature of habit that boy.

Newburn Bakehouse also do a lovely gluten & dairy free wrap that the boys have when we are having Fajitas for dinner. Before these were available I used to have to make my own wraps for fajitas!

We have also found that Newburn Bakehouse do a very good Artisan loaf, which the boys love to have with soup. It really does taste and look as much like a 'real' loaf as any I have ever seen.

The two holy grails of free from baking, that I have either never tried making, or had any success with are bread and puff pastry. So I was delighted a couple of years ago when Genius brought out their frozen puff pastry. If you've read my blog for any length of time you will have seen how Steak Pie is one of the non- gluten free boys' favourite dinners. Whenever I made it in the past I would cook all the meat in the slow cooker and then separate it into two portions. On one of these I would add my own rough puff pastry. The other portion I would serve just as a stew for the gluten free boys. Since we discovered Genius pastry I can now make the gluten free portion into a steak pie too.

Genius also do a shortcrust pastry.


When I make our steak pie I use Beef Bisto Best to thicken and help flavour the gravy. I also use it to make gravy for roast beef, flavour our mince and tatties/cottage pie and use the Chicken Flavour for gravy for our roast chicken.

It's not an official free from food, but the beef and chicken flavours are both wheat and dairy free. Other flavours are not though, so do check the ingredients, and definitely do not use ordinary Bisto instead of Bisto Best as it is not wheat free.

For those Saturday nights when I really want a night off in the kitchen, Genius have a perfect solution in their ready made steak or chicken pies. While hubby and I enjoy something ready made, my current favourite being a Sainsburys boxed Thai meal, the two boys who can have it enjoy some pizza, and the three gluten & dairy free boys will always choose these Genius pies. Ally and Fraser like the chicken pies, and Calum loves the steak pies.

Finally, and still with Genius, Calum's current Saturday morning breakfast favourite is a warmed Genius Pain au Chocolate. They are lovely and flaky, with plenty gooey warm chocolate inside them.
These are all products that we have discovered over the last few years and that are regulars in our cupboards at home. We weren't asked to review any of them and their popularity in our house is purely down to the choices of the free from boys.

I hope our wee selection will be helpful to someone, either starting out on a free from diet, or who may have a free from friend and have no idea what to feed them!

Like I mentioned at the start, it's great that free from foods have come such a long way in recent years. Now if only they could find a way to reduce their costs and make them a bit less expensive then that would be perfect!

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Makings - Crochet Blankets and a new CAL

Tuesday 19 April 2016

During the Easter holidays I was working on two crochet projects, both of them blankets.

I took this photo in our holiday cottage in Cumbria, but the lighting wasn't very good and doesn't show the true colours properly.

The ripple blanket is one that Calum (13) asked me to make for him. He chose the colours himself and I started it some time ago but it keeps getting put to one side when something else comes along. I don't know why, because every time I do some work on it I remember how working all those ripples, and getting into the rhythm of them, is somehow so relaxing and soothing.

It's about half way done now, although I haven't a chance to pick up a crochet hook since we got back from our holidays!

I did manage to get a daylight photo that shows the colours a bit better, but the darker turquoise colour still isn't showing up right. It's not as dark as it looks in photos.

The other blanket in the first photo is one I started making on Mother's Day, with the aim of using up some colours from my stash basket. I'm calling it my Mother's Day blanket and it's just for me. I love a granny square blanket as you can just work up a square or two here and there, and I never go on the school run (which is by train) without having some yarn and a hook in my bag, just in case I get the chance to rustle up a square!

I'm also using the join as you go (JAYG) technique for my Mother's Day blanket, the first time I've used it. I never understood what all the fuss was about it before trying it out, and the times I had read tutorials about it I didn't really understand them. But then I stumbled on a YouTube tutorial by Bella Coco for the continuous join and it all made perfect sense. Now I think it's a fabulous technique! I still think that when making blankets for children I would stick to my original joining method of single crocheting every square together as it gives a stronger join, but for an adult's blanket that isn't going to get the same wear and tear as a child's one then I do love the JAYG.

Moving on to the new CAL that I'm hoping to follow.

A CAL, for those who might not have heard of one, is a Crochet Along, where a pattern is realised a little bit at a time and then you follow along at your own pace. The only CAL I have done before was the Attic 24 Cosy Stripe blanket that I made last year, although by the time I started making it the CAL was all finished, so it doesn't really count.

The new CAL is run by Scheepjes yarn and the first pattern is released tomorrow.

There are three colour schemes for the CAL, which were all released at the start of April. I couldn't decide between two of them.

I liked the neutrality of the Dance in the Rain colours...

But I really loved the colours in the Dance in the Sea colour scheme and always found myself drawn to them...

Then last week it dawned on me that the reason I loved them so much was that they reminded me of this, the beaches back home!

Don't the colours look just like those of a Hebridean beach?

So that's the colours I've gone for.

Given how long it has taken to get my current two blankets done, I'm not holding out much hope of keeping up with this new CAL, but it's always good to have something to aim for, isn't it?!

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From Lewis to the Lakes, via Livingston

Wednesday 13 April 2016

We had a rather busy time in the Easter holidays. 

The boys and I spent the first week at my parent's house on Lewis. We came back home for just a couple of days before we all headed down to Cumbria to spend a week in a holiday cottage with my parents in law and sister in law. One of the reasons for our Cumbrian holiday was to celebrate my in-laws' Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Our trip to my mum and dad's was reasonably quiet, in that we didn't really venture very far. I hadn't taken the car across to the island with us and so we only did things that could be done by walking from the house. Besides, Ally (6) was still getting over his nasty sickness bug and so wasn't quite at his usual energy levels. He had, however, got his appetite back very quickly and spent the whole holidays eating. I think it was his body's way of putting back on all the weight he must have lost!

My brother and his wife and family were also across on holiday at my parents' so it meant that the boys didn't need to be entertained by me much as they had their cousins around to play with!

Back home again, we paid a fun visit to the indoor crazy golf. More to follow about that in another post, but let's just say that yours truly showed them how it's done!

Ally had pocket money saved up and a trip to Toys R Us left him a very happy boy. LEGO Nexo Knights are his current big thing. LEGO has such a wide appeal that his 13 year old brother was eager to help him put it together.

The day we travelled down to Cumbria we went via Durham. Not because it is on the way there, but because my hubs had a meeting there and he tied it in with our journey south since we were kind of heading in that direction. Well. we would have been heading south west to Cumbria and we had to head south east to Durham, but the two places are both a similar distance south so it meant that we could then drive straight across from Durham to Cumbria, if that makes any sense!

Anyway, while dad was at his meeting, the boys and I headed to the centre of Durham, and paid a visit to Durham Cathedral. 

Not only is it a huge old cathedral, more than 1000 years old, but it is also where some of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

AND, they are building a scale model of it in LEGO!

Our Cumbrian holiday, in a beautiful cottage that we had stayed in on a previous holiday about 18 months ago, again with my in laws, involved quite a few more day trips than our Lewis one.

We visited ruined castles...

We had quite a few walks in the rain...

I should point out that in the photo above I was wearing my favourite boots that had a tiny hole in the sole, which on that walk began to let in a LOT of water! So my gentlemanly husband helped me over this rather flooded part of the gardens we were visiting! Later on that day he also took my boots to be resoled and I hunted out a shop that sold wellie boots!

We picnicked in the rain...

Cumbria was very badly affected by flooding at Christmas/New Year, and some shops and businesses are still trying to recover from that. The ground is still very wet all around and it has been a wet Spring so far.

However, we did get some lovely days too, and on one of them we walked a little bit of the Pennine Way...

Ally and David (10) made little wooden cars at a woodworking class...

Fraser (2) washed Auntie Anna's car. Sort of...

I took the youngest two boys to see Peter Rabbit and his friends at the Beatrix Potter exhibition. The last time we visited here was when our older two boys were a similar age to the age they are now.

Fraser fell in love with some baby chickens...

Calum (13), David and Ally did some more woodworking and made swords out of sticks...

We spent a morning playing the hilarious game of Footgolf, which is just as it sounds - golf played with a football instead of clubs, with extra large holes to get the ball in.

And before we headed home again, James (16) left a caricature of us all in the visitors book...

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