Sunday, 14 October 2018

a complicated dance


There have been two food allergy-related deaths recently reported widely in the UK, where both victims had eaten food bought from branches of Pret A Manger. In at least one of the cases, it has been accepted that existing loopholes in food labelling standards need to be addressed, particularly where there are ‘in-house’ kitchens preparing the food.

After a yoga class today I needed some lunch, and visited a branch of an itsu. There are now noticeable updates to the shelf-edge tickets, highlighting the allergy charts available at the till point, and stating that itsu cannot guarantee that there are no traces of allergens in any of the food prepared in the ‘in-house’ kitchen. I am sure lots of other food retailers/cafes have made similar labelling updates.

I pick out something that I have eaten before, but follow their instructions to check out the till-point allergy chart again - that's absolutely fine with me - and sensible, in case the recipe has changed. The server checks the chart and confirms there is no dairy or egg in the ingredients. However this time - different to earlier visits - he highlights that itsu cannot guarantee that there are no traces of allergens. He asks if it is a severe allergy. I confirm that yes, I need to be careful and avoid trace ingredients, but that dairy and egg won't cause me to go into anaphylaxis.

We then get into a strange circular discussion (and I can see he has the best of intentions, and is following the guidance he has been given), where ultimately - it is made clear that it is my choice to have the food served here; and I need to understand that there may be contaminations...so as long as I am happy to do that…

I say yes, I understand. I buy and eat the food.

But I am steaming away inside. Is this what every food-buying interaction will be like from now on? It's up to me to take the risk every time I eat that it may have ‘some’ level of contamination of dairy and egg in there? For me (and if you are eating, stop reading now), that means ‘some’ face rash, diarrhea, sleepiness and worst case - stomach bleeding. Potentially every time I get a snack or buy a meal that I haven't prepared myself.

I wouldn't have this discussion with the servers in the cafes/lunch places/chain restaurants that are taking this approach, as they are just conveying what they have been trained to say - but I would like to say to those in charge - can you really not control the level of contamination in your food so it is reduced to a very minor level? Can you really not use different knives/chopping boards etc, addressing basic food preparation so traces of allergens becomes less likely?

And from my reading of the news reports, it doesn't sound like the two people who died recently had consumed only a minor level of ‘trace’ contaminants of the allergens. In one case, I understand that sesame seeds were baked into the bread, and in the other, dairy was present in what was meant to be a non-dairy yoghurt filling.

It feels like every future food purchase will be exhausting. Folk without food issues have commented that it doesn't seem worth the risk to eat something when out that could cause a reaction. I agree - reduce risks wherever you can, but does that mean I can't eat anything produced outside my home? It can't be. So now I need to have made a packed lunch for every day of the week when I am away from home, including all meals for multi-day work trips?

There's a real opportunity here for food retailers to take a different approach - offering food that is cleanly produced with clearly labelled ingredients so that everyone (whether it's an allergy, an intolerance, or an ethical or dietary preference) can eat comfortably. But at the moment I can't see how that can be done, while we are in this position of - you can eat this thing we have made, but on your own head be it.



Sunday, 5 March 2017

Nostalgia & comfort food




When I first worked out that dairy and egg were a problem (allergy/intolerance), I was first entirely focused on cutting out everything I had been eating that contained them. Sounds obvious, no? Actually this is much harder than you would think, as there are a whole range of foodstuffs - and medicines - quietly containing dairy and egg (see some listed here).  And this left the cupboards quite bare and my stomach empty and growling.

Then I was focused on trying out all new-to-me recipes, making clean eating, free-from or vegan meals either in vegan cookbooks or by adapting recipes in cookbooks on dieting (see examples here - these are the easiest to adapt, as generally diet recipes go lighter on dairy and egg). I am still doing this, and still discovering new recipes.


But now I am most interested in finding replacements for the food I really miss - the textures and tastes. I am nostalgic, sentimental eater, and am missing the textures & tastes of some old favourites.

In no particular order, here are some things (specific brands or meals) that I miss, and the progress in finding replacements.

Pizza that feels like there isn't something missing - great progress here, with particular note to a local sourdough pizza place, Bertha's. The vegan options there are sublime. 


Bertha's vegan kale pizza. MMMMMMmmmm

Honourable mention to UK chain Zizzi who do a vegan pizza with a mozzerella alternative. Applause. Although, I actually prefer not bothering with vegan cheese or going light on it - as chefs can overestimate how much to use compared to real mozzerella. Whilst I am grateful someone invented it (!), a heavy serving of vegan cheese can result in a weird tangy taste that overrides the pleasure of having a melted 'cheese' on the pizza.

The nostalgic choice: Cadburys chocolate buttons

Replicated with: so very tricky to get an alternative that is creamy, rather than tangy. Best buttons so far - Asda own-brand free-from chocolate buttons (showing as out of stock at the time of posting. Sorry, I ate them all). Honourable mention to the Sainsbury's own-brand free from version


The nostalgic choice: Heinz tomato soup
Replicated with: Pret tomato soup
Heinz tomato sauce is fine for dairy & egg free folk, but not the soup. What?! I have tried many d&e free tomato soups, most are of course fine. But they just don't have that particular, memorable processed Heinz flavour. Which I am failing to be able to describe. 

Thank you to Pret for finally supplying an equivalent - their spicy tomato soup is just perfect. Tastes just like Heinz! And they shared the recipe even. Well done PretTo reach ultimate perfection, I would have a grilled/toasted (fake) cheese sandwich to dip into. Mmmm.

The nostalgic choice: Pret tuna mayonnaise baguette
Replicated with: a home-made version, w/ vegan mayonnaise
A packed lunch win here - I miss grabbing a Pret tuna, cucumber & mayo baguette. Thankfully vegan mayonnaise* has moved on beautifully.  




The nostalgic choice: Lasagna - made by me, or indeed anyone
Replicated with: Sainsbury's free-from ready meal
I know I could make my own lasagna, sourcing egg-free lasagna sheets, vegan equivalent to bechamel sauce, cheese etc etc. But life is a bit short that for it if you aren't massively excited by cooking. As blogged previously, this ready meal version from Sainsbury's makes me so very happy (available in beef* or vegetable). Only oven-cook it, as microwaving won't make the top crispy - and add 10 more mins oven cooking time so the top goes blackened and crunchy. Mmmm. So happy in fact, that I learned how to direct-message to Sainsbury's on Twitter in order to thank them. Thank you to the person who came up with the recipe, you are awesome.


*as mentioned before, I am not vegan. I greatly respect the decisions that lead to being vegan, but I eat meat. Not all the time, and only free-range, and good quality. And I also eat honey.

Monday, 7 November 2016

I have died and gone to lasagne heaven




Monday
Monday in November
Must.have.carbs.

Oh wait, lasagne ready meals are a foolish dream if you have to avoid dairy and egg. Bechamel sauce! Grated cheese! Layers of egg pasta! Silly me.

But what is this? Milk-free lasagne - are my eyes deceiving me?


Cue me standing the supermarket aisle (Sainsburys) with confused face. Wheat free, gluten free, MILK free - and once the ingredients checked - EGG free. 

And I can happily confirm it was DELICIOUS. Tasted just like lasagne. Recommend cooking nuking it for a bit longer (in the oven) to get it properly crispy. Is also microwaveable. 

It must be a new product as they are still listing a Sainsburys Free From beef lasagne filled with cows milk under that name - I eventually tracked it down here

Ingredients (as at link above):
British Beef, Coconut-Based Alternative to Milk (Filtered Water, Coconut Milk, Grape Juice Concentrate, Calcium Phosphate, Emulsifier: Sucrose Esters of Fatty Acids; Sea Salt, Colour: Carotenes; Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12), FreeFrom Pasta (Rice Flour, Wholegrain Rice Flour, Maize Flour, Quinoa Flour, Emulsifier: Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Tomato, Onion, Tomato Purée, Red Wine, Cheddar-Style Coconut-Based Alternative to Cheese (Water, Coconut Oil, Soya Protein Concentrate, Salt, Spirit Vinegar, Acidity Regulator: Lactic Acid; Yeast Extract, Flavourings, Sugar, Thickener: Carrageenan; Colour: Paprika Extract), Carrot, Mushroom, Cornflour, Grated Cheddar-Style Coconut-Based Alternative to Cheese (2%) (Water, Coconut Oil, Modified Potato Starch,Soya Protein Concentrate, Maize Starch, Salt, Thickeners: Carrageenan; Guar Gum, Modified Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Flavourings, Acidity Regulator: Lactic Acid; Sodium Lactate, Colour:Carotenes), Cauliflower, Garlic Purée, Salt, Rosemary, Black Pepper, Mustard Powder, White Pepper, Nutmeg.

You are welcome.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Shelf-edge joy



Food shopping has never been so much fun. I haven't got excited by shelf-edge pricing tickets before - but look! An ingredients key. Across almost all the aisles, I couldn't get over it. Well done Better Food :-) So all I have to do is look for purple stickers (vegan) or light green (dairy free - & then remember to check for egg too). So it avoids picking up and reading the back of Every.Fricking.Packet.Of.Everything - but also encourages me to try a few new brands and not stick to same old, same old. The Doves Farm biscuits (centre of pic) are delicious, and taste just like 'normal' biscuits.

The Better Food supermarket is a Bristol independent with three food stores in the city, taking food seriously - selling only local, organic, ethical and fair trade

This shop opened recently as part of a new development, Wapping Wharf, in Bristol, by the harbourside and the old city gaol (where they would hang pirates from the front gate, to warn thieves & bad folk entering Bristol to behave themselves. Nice). Quite a different feel now, I don't think the pirates would recognise it, with food shops, cafes, flats - and a cider shop & florist on the way.

 I carried on the not-a-social-pariah-with-awkward-food-requirements here -


This is Betha's, right opposite the supermarket. They couldn't have been friendlier - bringing our dog some water, explaining the menu - sourdough pizza bases with easy to avoid cheese options, plus a vegan option. 


Mmm, ginger ale.

And here was the beauteous vegan kale pizza. Snapped a picture at breaking speed so I could get back to gobbling eating. The unanimous vote was that this was quite possibly the best pizza ever eaten. I am going to add into that shared tally all the pizzas I ate when I lived in Italy, so I'm really not saying that lightly.


So that was a good food shopping trip, then :-)

Monday, 30 May 2016

Eating out with a dairy & egg allergy - Copenhagen edition

Some great eating was had in Copenhagen last week...

don't let me loose with a timer in very bright sunshine

I cannot recommend allergy translation cards enough - I got mine from Allergy UK - here.

There are many English-speakers in Copenhagen, to put you to shame, but as grumbled about mentioned here before, for some reason, whether it is your first, second or third language, people do appear to panic when you say, 'I have an allergy to...' and they either don't hear to what - or it gets modified on the way to the kitchen ('ah, no gluten in this' etc). I think it is also presumptuous to assume everyone - including the chef & their kitchen team all speak English too. 

My cards had English on one side & Danish on the other - I passed it over a few times for it to go to the kitchen, and other times I just felt it was a helpful opener - when ordering, after greeting - holding the card out while telling them about the allergy.

I'm actually going to reuse them in the UK as I still think it is helpful to pass along something in writing to the kitchen.

Anyway - the eating. 

The first evening I dropped into a very hip pizzeria in the former meat-packing district - Mother. The waiter was Danish Benedict Cumberbatch and made two ladies squeeze along the bench to fit me in. I spotted a description of the pizza bases as being made from sourdough and thought - aha. I have always thought pizza base was dairy & egg free but after an odd experience at a chain in Bristol who insisted theirs had egg extract in them (Zero Degrees - why include egg?) I check now.

Mother was fantastic. It was no issue to flash the card & agree that all the Marinara pizza needed to be perfect (for me) was no cheese.

I forgot to take a picture of the pizza, here is my Aperol Spritz..
So good that when the pizza came, I just dived in & completely forgot a photo. You'll just have to imagine it.

I was there for a work conference. It took a little bit of effort to get lunches for two days sorted - the waiter confidently showed me the tiny labels next to the food indicating gluten & lactose. Once I explained that lactose is only one part of dairy and egg was a problem too, and got the cards out it was fine. They gravely agreed that yes, only two things were ok (shrimp in tiny pots that were more a side dish and something else) - even bread in Denmark has milk in it. So they made me up a salad with roast beef, and with salmon the next day. It just took a bit of explaining. My conference trick is to leave the session before lunch early to (nicely) collar a member of the kitchen team.

Salad + meat for each lunch at the conference was fine

At the evening event, at a restaurant near the Mermaid statue -The Langelinie Pavillonen, again I flashed the card with success. I had a delicious nut-bread roll when all the evil milky ones came round :-) then a main of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots with berries and vegetable crisps.


And a pudding of baked rhubarb and some sort of a creamy sauce - I think cashew. The other puds looked nice but still, others at the table voted this to be nicer-looking than the dairy option. I like it when that happens. Fellow conference folk were also eyeing up my poached salmon salad the next day and asking where I had found that. 



I went to get a train to the airport, behind a McDonalds, Starbucks & other lacking-joy places, I found this lovely place - Pasta Du Nord

Pasta Du Nord at the station

Gorgeous decor, comfy seats, attractive staff ;-) and great pasta. It reminded me of Leon in the UK. There were around 5 dishes - one was fine - broccoli spaghetti. The chaps there confirmed it would be vegan if they missed off the cheese and used plain seeds (they are usually mixed with an egg marinade). I encouraged them to sticker it / label it as vegan. I think they just hadn;t thought of doing that before, and that's what it is often - people think dairy allergy = lactose only, and also often a meal is completely free-from something, but no one thinks to label it up. Anyhoo..

nom nom

Lastly, for Borgen fans, the bridge where Birgitte Nyborg confronted Lars von I-forget-his-name. But he is a baddie.



Copenhagen, I'll be back. 

Next up - airports & travelling with a food allergy.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

thank goodness for vegans



Vegan diet = safe for dairy & egg allergies, wherever you sit on consuming meat and animal products.

A good article today in the Guardian on eating out on a vegan diet in the UK - see here




Wednesday, 10 February 2016

I say dairy free, you hear - gluten free

gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free gluten free


I'm really pleased the gluten free thing has sunk in. Labelling is improving for what is essentially a tricky thing to describe (a good explanation of what gluten is - and isn't - is, can be found here).

But man alive, on many occasions recently I have gone up to a counter or chatted to a waiter or waitress in a cafe/ restaurant - something like - 'Hi, I am allergic to dairy and egg. Can you tell me what food I could order please' to be met with a knowing smile and - 'oh but all our X is gluten free'

Seriously, over and over. Good. Great. Gluten is not dairy. Nor is it it egg. It is not a word for All The Allergies. So I explain - 'no, actually, I can eat all the gluten I like it is actually dairy & egg that's the issue here. Can I have X on the menu perhaps?'

A central London takeaway place (Jamie Oliver burger bar) did exactly the above - then listened to my clarification & then proudly proclaimed the fried onions would therefore '...be fine for you, as they are only fried in butter'.

I politely made my excuses and left.

Why don't people who work in food - whether you make it, or sell it - how can you not understand what all the food groups are? Maybe they mishear me the first time, fine. But after that I still have issues when I just what to check what.the.f*ck.is.in.that.food.

And recently, in Sainsburys - 

Me: is there any dairy or egg in this pizza base please? I am allergic so need to check.
Deli assistant: umm, there probably is.
Me: Ok can you check please?
Deli assistant: ummm.
Me: Do you have an ingredients folder I can look in please? (As the base wasn't labelled with the ingredients)...

etc etc. 

In the end the magic folder was located, and the base was fine, and of course I avoided a cheese topping - although I'd suggest that £4 for a small pizza cooked for you at the supermarket is not going to be top quality ingredients. I never thought to ask how much it was. So no allergic reaction but it wasn't exactly top-quality ingredients. But sheesh, the pain in getting there. I just wanted a junky lunch, not another salad.

/rant