The catering conundrum (and some easy steps)

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Get that pinny on and get scrubbing

THE BATTLE to convince more people to cater for food allergies is double-edged.

On the one hand, you want to stress how simple it can be – some common sense, a clean kitchen, clean utensils and being scrupulous about ingredients does the trick. On the other hand, it’s vital to stress how dangerous it can be if those simple processes aren’t undertaken properly.

I understand why many run scared. Legally, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to describe their premises as 100 per cent guaranteed ‘nut free’. But, as our visit to Higher Lank Farm proved, it is possible to cater safely for both allergic and non-allergic guests.

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Kinnerton’s a winner

4 FACING CLASSIC LOLLY SOT_F_2-1I CAN’T BELIEVE it’s taken me this long (herein proof it’s a bum ache finding allergy safe food) but I have just discovered that Kinnerton make a nut free, egg free milk chocolate for kids.

I knew they made the dairy free bars and lollies, which are pretty liberally stocked by the major supermarkets. But for some reason none of the supermarkets I have ever visited stock the milk chocolate versions.

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Addendum, or, ‘I need a drink’

MAN, I SHOULD never blog in haste. After all my waxing lyrical about M&S, turns out their allergen labelling isn’t so perfect after all.

Off we trotted to buy some bread for a picnic tomorrow: after checking and cross referencing each of the egg free, nut free and sesame free lists on the M&S website I had settled on the ‘supersoft’ white as being our safe option.

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O brave new world (and its pitfalls)

IMG_7084DAY ONE of our bold new world and a very proud little boy shows off his haul of goodies from M&S.

It’s astonishing what a difference losing just one allergy can make – previously I struggled to find anything worth buying in Marks & Spencer and couldn’t see why others raved about their allergen labelling. Gluten free foods contained eggs and everything else was plastered with nut and sesame warnings.

Now I can better appreciate the efforts they have gone to to cater for allergies: their website is explicit that anything featuring a ‘may contain’ label does so because of very real risks. And anything without a warning is manufactured in a controlled environment free from the dreaded allergen – so no need to triple check each item at every turn.

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Higher Lank Farm’s fruity fairy cakes

Wheat free, gluten free, egg free, nut free, soya free (optional: dairy free)

IMG_6870I RECENTLY posted about our fab stay at Higher Lank Farm, where the lovely Lucy became the first person outside our immediate family to cook for Sidney. Among the treats were her fruity fairy cakes – little sponge revelations where spoonfuls of stewed apple or apricot replaced egg.

I wish I’d had this recipe months ago. It’s so easy – barely more than half an hour from start to finish – and even the non-allergics love them.

When Lucy appeared with a pile of mini apple ones during our welcome ‘high tea’, Sidney wolfed down five. They keep brilliantly in the freezer, defrosting in just half an hour if you need them in a hurry. They’re delicious plain, or iced with a glacé cherry topping, or decorated with a thick layer of lemon buttercream and sprinkles.

Even better, Sid was able to help Mum make a batch of them last week and immensely proud of his efforts he was, too: it’s heart-warming to see him baking. I so want him to take delight in food and not (always) view it with fear.

The only tweak I’ve made here is to omit Lucy’s inclusion of xantham gum. For some reason my early efforts resulted in horribly chewing gum-textured cakes (whereas hers were fluffy and light) and there seems to be no downside to leaving it out. In any case, xantham is already in the Dove’s Farm flour blend.

Ingredients

4oz caster sugar (I use Billington’s unrefined)

4oz Dove’s Farm gluten free white self raising flour

4oz unsalted butter or Pure Dairy Free Sunflower Spread

1tspn baking powder (try Barkat)

2 heaped tablespooons of either stewed apple or stewed apricot

The juice of one lemon if using the apricot recipe

Method

Peel and chop the fruit and stew without water, constantly stirring, until softened to a pulp. Mash well.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Ideally, use a food processor to really whizz it up – not enough mixing can lead to a ‘granular’ sugary texture.

Add in the sieved flour and baking powder, and two heaped tablespoons of the fruit. Add the lemon juice for the apricot cakes. A tiny touch of milk for the apple cakes can also help, but isn’t vital.

Whizz the lot in a food processor until smooth. Using an ice cream scoop or a dessert spoon plop the mixture into little fairy cake cases in a baking tray (these ingredients will get you around 12 cakes) and cook in a non fan oven on 180.

Bake until golden brown, which depending on your oven can take anything from 15 to 25 minutes. Don’t ask me why, but if I ever try to double this recipe and batch bake more the cakes sink – yet when I stick to the amounts here and bake 12 at a time, they come out perfectly. I read somewhere once that doubling up gluten free baking recipes isn’t straightforward so maybe there’s something in it.

For plain icing I mix Tate & Lyle or Whitworths superfine with water (most other brands contain an ‘egg trace’ warning) while I followed this lemon buttercream recipe to dress the apricot cakes and added Dr Oetker sugar strands, which are wheat, nut and egg free.

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Just none Cornetto…

computer_says_noYOU might think that with the proliferation of ‘may contain nuts’ labels across our foodstuffs, people with allergies would find it easy to gather all the necessary info on what they can and cannot eat.

You’d be wrong. As a glimpse into the doublespeak-heavy world of trying to find out what’s safe and what’s not, here’s an excerpt from my dealings with Unilever’s customer “care” people…

I’ve been trying for weeks to find out which, if any, of their Walls brand ice creams might be safe and free from eggs, peanuts and tree nuts (and all traces thereof). My first call hit a dead-end when the woman on the other end assumed she knew more than I did and kept repeating the mantra “it’s UK law for us to declare if there are nut traces” (it’s not). I felt if she didn’t know the law then there was no way I’d trust her to reassure me on what might be safe for my child to eat.

So I asked for an email response and got a bundle of confusing lists stating which products contained nuts (no mention of eggs) and which didn’t, along with this:

Hello from Walls

Dear Alexa

Thank you for your recent telephone call requesting information on which Unilever UK and Ireland ice cream products nuts and tree nuts.

I have enclosed two lists which I hope you will find useful. This information has been provided in good faith using the most up-to-date information available at the date of going to print. Please note that the information is subject to change due to recipe amendments and therefore ALWAYS check the product label for the most accurate information.

Thank you for your interest in our products and please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have any further queries.

Kind regards,

Belinda Bekaraze
Careline Advisor

That’s a start, granted, but I wanted to know if it was Unilever company policy to state on the packaging if there ‘may’ be traces – and if there was no such warning could I be sure there was no risk of cross-contamination? What are the cleaning processes? Are eggs and nuts used on the same lines? Are the ‘safe’ ice creams made in nut free or egg free factories?

Despite my very best efforts I have received just one subsequent response from “Sophie Michels, careline advisor”. She sent the same lists again, along with a very nearly identical letter. May I direct you, also, to the third paragraph:

Hello from Walls

Dear Alexa,

Thank you for your recent email requesting information on which Unilever UK and Ireland Ice Cream products are produced in a nut free and egg free environment.

I have enclosed a list which I hope you will find useful, so you can compare the lists to see which products are suitable. This information has been provided in good faith using the most up-to-date information available at the date of going to print. Please note that the information is subject to change due to recipe amendments and therefore ALWAYS check the product label for the most accurate information.

The products on these lists CONTAIN Egg and Nut as an ingredient or traces of Egg due to cross contamination they will be produced in a nut/egg free environment.

Thank you for your interest in our products and please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have any further queries.

Kind regards,

Sophie Michels
Careline Advisor

Sorry if I’m being pedantic but when it’s my two-year-old’s life at risk I’m not prepared to take this as a resounding statement of safety.

I replied, suggesting that “Sophie” might like to re-read her email and re-send information that made sense. That was a month ago. Isn’t it ironic that Unilever sponsors allergy research when it can’t get its arse in gear to pass on the most basic information?

Hello, Hazel

Unknown-1GOOD news: we are OK with hazelnuts!

After scoring a zero on Sidney’s last two skin prick tests, we were given the go-ahead to try a taste challenge at home. Actually, we were given the go-ahead a year ago but couldn’t for the life of us find any hazelnuts in their shells (naked ones run the risk of being contaminated by other nuts) until Christmas. And then I had a baby and we only got round to it now.

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Yum Thai Chicken Curry

Nut free, wheat free, gluten free, dairy free

IMG_5488FOR each parent of a child with food allergies there is some food, some childhood favourite or adult obsession, that in more maudlin moments they wish their little one could one day try. For my husband that vetoed dish is curry.

There is very little my husband loves more than a curry. Let’s put it like this: on my hen night, my sister roped him in to help compile a ‘Mr & Mrs’-style quiz. What would be his perfect night out? she asked, as thoughts of moonlit strolls and romantic trysts floated around my head.

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Allergy-friendly holiday: Higher Lank Farm (Part II)

IMG_5707SO we booked, and we went, and we will definitely go again.

Despite the fact that he’s currently going through a poker-face-meets-wuss phase, Sidney had a wonderful time. No, he didn’t crack a smile when we bottle-fed the clamouring lambs with warm milk; yes, he took some convincing to perch atop Bill, the placid pony, leaning fearfully into me, his riding hat tipping drunkenly over one eye; and, yep, he did thrash about wailing when Ruby the goat made a bid for his bucket.

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