Sunday, 12 September 2010

If you have a food allergy, eating in can be just as challenging as eating out - although you can control exactly what you are eating. Having friends over to dinner is always an interesting experience because you imagine they must be worried as to what you will serve up. Previously, I always explained each dish as I served it as "dairy and wheat free" - especially desserts and everyone would always opt for the "normal" dish and only Ray and I would end up eating the wheat and dairy free dish. So I learnt over the years not to say anything. Just serve up everything normally and hope they enjoy it.

What I found it that guests ate the wheat and dairy versions without any qualms and were amazed to later discover that yes they had indeed eaten custard made with soya milk, while yes the gravy was wheat-free.

So when we had friends over on Saturday night, I served up dairy free fish pate (Ray's creation made with goats' butter) as a starter. For the main course, I adapted one of Gordon Ramsay's lamb cobbler dishes substituting wheat-free flour and alcohol-free wine. I sometimes think these chefs would be appalled if they knew how I used alternative ingredients, but actually the finished course tasted excellent. To end up, I served an apple and ground almond dessert recipe from Delia Smith, using Pure soya margarine instead of butter accompanied by soya milk custard.

And you know what? Our friends enjoyed it - all the plates were empty anyway. Of course I know what you're going to say - that they were being polite, but I don't think so!

Imagine my delight when I chanced upon Nigella Lawson's gluten free and dairy free Venetian carrot cake in the Mail on Sunday's YOU magazine. It's in her new book "Nigella Kitchen". Immediately I made up the recipe and it is truly scrumptious! If only more celebrity chefs would publish "free from" recipes.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The challenge of eating out with food allergies

Welcome to the first world “eating out with allergies” challenge. Take one fifty something man with over 20 food intolerances – Ray - and his wife Jackie (that’s me), who is wheat intolerant, as they face the challenge of eating out, whether it’s a coffee shop or five star dining. What about eating at friends’ houses or, even more scary, being invited to a wedding or social occasion with a sit down dinner or buffet? So we have begun our journey into how to cope with eating out with these food intolerances and I don’t just mean in restaurants – I mean at friends’ houses, at functions, weddings, work events, everywhere.
Have you ever tried eating out with a food allergy? Ray suffers from food intolerances, but most people don’t know what “intolerances” are, let alone waiting staff in restaurants. So we generally use the term “allergies”, which seems to be understood universally.
The foods Ray can’t eat include lemon, oranges, grapes, melon, strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, gooseberries, celeriac, parsnips, raspberries, apricots, blackcurrants, cherries, peaches, broccoli, celery, spinach, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, ice cream, eggs, butter, milk, cream, margarine, cheese
So you might ask – what exactly can he eat?
Fruit – only apples, pears, bananas, dates and figs (but only cooked figs); Olive oil instead of butter and salad dressing. Generally he can’t have any sauces because they tend to have cream in them.
Eating out in restaurants in a real lottery situation – some are sympathetic, while others clearly don’t care. I will always ring up in advance and explain the challenge. There are two extremes – either total incredulity at the end of the phone or someone who understands totally and assures me they can cater for these food intolerances.
When we turn up at the restaurant, however, it’s often a different story. They can deny all knowledge of the phone call. You learn from experience which restaurants to avoid – like the ones who serve Ray a steak with butter (after having been told Ray is intolerant to butter). We sent it back again – only for the same steak to reappear again minus the butter. We know the butter has simply been scraped off. How? Ray has to gallop to the lavatory after 20 minutes after the leaving the restaurant!
Enough said. It’s got to the point where I will taste something on his behalf and see if I can identify whether there is any butter remaining!