The Realities of Living with Food Allergies

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It’s not often I talk about myself or my food allergy story on my blog. After almost 10 years being dairy free, I still find it hard to talk to people I have known all my life about what it is like living with a life threatening dairy allergy… as often these people have known me eating dairy and clearly I survived then! But as this is the 100th (!!) post on my blog, I thought it was about time I added another voice to the ongoing allergy awareness community.

Almost 10 years ago I saw a doctor who connected the dots (severe asthma, eczema into adulthood and a poor immune system) and asked that I consider that a food might be causing my symptoms. We decided to try cutting out milk for a few weeks to see what happened, and, miraculously, everything improved beyond belief and I felt so much more like myself, happy and filled with energy, then I think I ever had. But now I have a life threatening allergy to dairy. Only two and a half years ago I had this confirmed by the allergist as milk finally came up on my skin prick tests and blood work, despite having known for a long time after cutting it out that when I came into contact with milk my tongue and throat would swell. That appointment was a mix of emotions – but perhaps the one that overrode them all was elation. At finally, finally, having the medical proof to show what I knew was happening.

 

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And then the fear kicked in. For a long time before my formal diagnosis I had managed on being careful and relying on quick administration of liquid antihistamines to tamper any reaction. Now, I had epi-pens. At once life saving and terrifying; I felt it was just my fear of needles that made me nervous but, looking back, I was much more scared of the thought that my allergic reactions felt so out of my control. It was a wake up call that I needed to accept my situation, and made me realise that perhaps there was more I could do to avoid needing to use them.

Where this becomes difficult is when food is not under my direct control. A few months ago an episode of Rip Off Britain (not my usual choice but I was intrigued as I knew it featured food allergies) highlighted how common the issues I face eating out are. As they said, I am unavoidably putting my life into someone else’s hands when I eat food I have not prepared. I am trusting that they have checked all the ingredients, and the ingredients of ingredients. That they have cleaned a work station properly and used fresh pans and cutlery before cooking my meal. That they have done everything possible to make this meal safe for me, if they told me they could accommodate my allergy.

The episode made me feel both better and worse. One section featured a young boy and his mum having a giggle about having to educate restaurant staff that cheese and butter contain milk. It sounds unbelievable, but is horrifyingly accurate in my experience. Whilst nice to know I’m not alone, it is terrifying when you think about the consequences when it goes wrong.

One part of the episode focused on just that with a story about Amy May, who suffered a life altering anaphylactic shock four years ago at age 26 to a tiny bite of nut containing food in Hungary. Amy was resuscitated but suffered from brain damage, and now lives life severely disabled. Amy, at 26, had suffered from a nut allergy all her life, and had checked with the restaurant verbally and with translation cards that the food she ate was nut free. Amy’s parents never got to the bottom of exactly what was in the food, as the incident happened 3 months before the new EU legislation came into place. Now, even though we see a spate of heavy fines and jail terms being placed upon restauranteurs for a cavalier attitude to food allergies after an incident, still the problems persist.

After the episode a lot of people commented that they thought that people with severe allergies should just not eat out and accept their limitations. And whilst to a point I do actually agree – I have no problem with being told I can’t be catered for, or being given a very selected menu of things to choose from – the real issue is that restaurants often don’t take the time to check what you are really asking, and just keeping telling you that it is fine to eat.

And whilst there are issues like this with restaurants, it becomes another way that food allergies are incredibly alienating for both adults and children. Especially in adult life, it is not always possible to avoid eating out of the house. Weddings, work events, travel, birthdays, nights out can all be anxiety inducing incidents when eating out is out of your control and unavoidable.

I’m lucky perhaps to have had some great experiences to balance out the not so good. I have a local Thai restaurant where I know I can eat safely. I have wonderful friends and family who go out of their way to make sure the food I eat at their house or out and about is safe. I had an amazing experience recently away on a work trip where the management of a hotel could not have been more helpful in making sure food was safe for me – they even changed the wine on all the tables to ensure it did not contain milk and there were no mix ups! These experiences prove that with the right care and caution it is possible to cater for most people with severe food allergies, restaurants just have to be willing to work with the customer to see what can be done to make food safe.

 

With the prevalence of allergies rising, I hope that in the years to come things will get better for the allergy community. I hope that people will be more understanding, will see and understand the difference between cutting something out for choice and cutting something out for a life or death reason. I hope that the people who make negative comments never have to experience living with a food allergy. I hope that more restaurants, cafes and caterers will take the time to learn from those establishments leading the way in allergy food management. I hope I am able to be part of this change, in any small way that helps.

Here’s to the next 10 years ❤

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Vegan Lemon Drizzle

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Whoops. It’s been quiet here for a very long time. Where have the months gone?! Our family expanded with the addition of our beautiful puppy Arlo, and he certainly has been keeping us busy. Whilst running a business, working part time, and looking after a pup, finding time to blog has been hard; not only do you need time, you also need significant surface area (read… the floor!) to photograph the bakes which has been challenging with an inquisitive puppy!

My plan for 2018 was to post at least 1 new recipe a month… safe to say that being in March already, it hasn’t gotten off to a good start! But that being said I already have a few recipes in the pipeline for you ready to go.

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For now you’ll still see a heavy vegan influence on my blog. My first attempt at reintroducing eggs was not much of a success, so for now I’m still egg free. That being said, I’m winning more and more every day at creating vegan bakes, so I feel like I’m missing out less and less.

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All that said, here is my recipe for a vegan lemon drizzle. It might not be the fanciest of bakes, but I love a good, punchy lemon cake and it’s something I’ve really missed since going egg free. This recipe is loosely based on a basic cake recipe in Ms. Cupcakes Naughtiest Vegan Cakes In Town book. As I’ve said before, I can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone starting out with vegan baking. This cake is light, fluffy, delicious and smack-you-in-the-face lemony. What’s not to like?!

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Vegan Chocolate Salted Caramel ‘Cheesecake’

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Sweet buttery biscuit base, chocolate ‘cheesecake’ with grated chocolate, caramel & berry topping. Irrelevant that it’s vegan, it’s simply delicious.

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Mmm cheesecake. My love of cheesecake goes way back, and it’s been one of those things I really accepted I would never eat again. Let alone a chocolate cheesecake – the king of all the cheesecakes. However, this has revolutionised my dessert repertoire.

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I would just say – if you’re screamish about vegan ingredients – don’t read the ingredients (or any more of this blurb!) and do a blind taste test. That’s what my brother and his girlfriend did to me, and I have to say… I’m not sure I would have tasted with an open mind if they told me it was made with tofu!! It really is silly though to be put off by an ingredient that really is very healthy and the perfect vehicle to a dairy free cheesecake. It doesn’t taste funky, I promise!

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I have done a vegan cheesecake before, which relied on being frozen. There are also a lot of other vegan cheesecake recipes out there that ask you to soak nuts and then blend them, or cook them. This recipe is far, far, far more simple! And that was a big part of its appeal. Just tip the tofu out of the packet, add melted chocolate, orange zest and syrup and away you go. With just an hour or so in the fridge, it sets and slices well. Just like a cheesecake should.

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Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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A great teatime treat, these vegan cookies will have even the most ardent peanut butter hater craving more! For non vegans and vegans alike, these cookies are sure to be loved by everyone. Make a double batch and watch them disappear!

These cookies are the perfect combination of caramel, peanuts and chocolate. I’m told it’s ‘just like a Snickers bar’ – but I honestly wouldn’t remember, it’s been so long now! Either way, these cookies are a really delicious, easy, one-bowl-mix-it-all-together recipe. They’re so good I may have eaten 3 in-between them coming out of the oven and being photographed… whoops!

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Continuing my vegan baking streak, these cookies contain no dairy and no eggs, and you honestly wouldn’t know. With all the flavour and fat from the peanut butter, it’s one of those rare times you don’t miss the richness that dairy usually brings to a recipe.

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You can use whatever type of peanut butter you have in these, and the end result will vary accordingly. I use an all natural, no added sugar, crunchy variety; I love the little pieces of peanut in the cookies and personally think the recipe is sweet enough. However, I’m really keen to try it with smooth peanut butter, and if you use a variety with sugar in it, consider reducing the sugar in the recipe a little.

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This recipe is based on a recipe from a vegan baking book that I absolute love and would highly recommend – Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes In Town. Full of all sorts of vegan sweet treats, I’m yet to come across a recipe that hasn’t been a roaring success.

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Vegan Scones

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Vegan scones; this recipe proves they can be just as light and delicious as their dairy and egg filled counterparts!

Oh, scones. I’ve waxed lyrical on here before about my love of scones, and since having to cut out eggs, they’ve been something I’ve really missed. I honestly was not convinced that this would be possible, but after a bit of trial and error I’m so happy to say that scones are back in my life!

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I’ve been egg free now for almost 4 months, after first cutting them out to see whether my eczema improved. Sadly.. (or luckily, I suppose, depending on which way you look at it!) my eczema is doing so much better without eggs, so I think they’ll be gone for good. Although this has presented more than the odd food challenge, it’s wonderful to have something to aim for again – winning the battle of egg free baking and making sure these recipes are just as delicious.

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Having scones back in my life has been a huge plus recently, and it has been encouraging me to go after some of the other bakes I don’t think are possible without eggs, like brownies. Whilst the brownie recipe might still be work in progress, this scone recipe is complete. Light, fluffy and flavoursome, just begging for some dairy free butter and jam, these are perfect and a great bake to have up your sleeve for the dairy and egg free person in your life! The best thing? You’ll have the ‘normal’ eaters loving them too!

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Vegan Chocolate Walnut Banana Loaf

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Moist, delicious chocolate and nut banana loaf. A play on the usual banana bread by adding chocolate, this has turned something a little over-done into something a little magical.

Sometimes the best recipes are the spontaneous ones. Although for those of you who know me well, you will know that spontaneity is not one of my top qualities! So it really says something to me when a recipe is quickly pulled together, only to be a roaring success. So much so that in the last 4 weeks, I’ve made this recipe three times! And no, there are still only two of us at home, and, yes, we ate it all each time…

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I do love a banana bread cake, but recently I’ve been trying to improve my diet a little (being at home now with all these cakes is definitely starting to take it’s toll on my waist line…Safe to say my jeans are feeling a little more snug than they used to!). So when I fancied a sweet treat, that was only a little bit naughty, I saw I had two lone and blackening bananas. Well, at that point it was obvious what I fancied, but I also was really wanting something chocolatey. So out of the oven 45 minutes later came this amazing Chocolate Walnut Banana Loaf!

This is a fabulous Vegan recipe, that it doesn’t matter if you’re vegan or not – you’ll love it. It’s sweet, but not too sweet with the bitter walnuts. It’s chocolatey, but not so much that you can’t taste the banana. And it’s banana-y without being overbearing. In my book, it’s just perfect with a cup of tea for a mid-afternoon pick me up.

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If you can leave the walnuts in, do. If you can’t (or would prefer to remove them), add in 10g less of sugar. The walnuts give lovely texture to the otherwise quite soft and moist loaf; but crucially they also take away some of the sweetness with their lovely bitter flavour.

This is a quick mix in two goes recipe. The most involved part is smashing up the bananas which you can put as much or as little effort as you like into. Or, why not get some small hands involved? This would be a great recipe to make with little children with a little bit of adult supervision.

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Vegan Hot Cross Buns

 

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Vegan Hot Cross Buns; moist with grated apple, warm with gentle spices, and sweet with dried cranberries, these are worth every minute of work. Get baking, there’s less than a month till Easter!

It just wouldn’t be Easter without Hot Cross Buns. Maybe this is something very specific to the UK but here you know Christmas is over when the mince pies are replaced with Hot Cross Buns even though Easter is still 3 months away! That being said, this is not a complaint as I love the ever changing seasons, and what better way to celebrate than with food that reminds you that warmer weather is on the way.

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This is my second Hot Cross Bun recipe on the blog. Without eggs, these are slightly lighter and more justifiably a breakfast food, and potentially slightly better for you! For me, this was all about making sure I still had a way to eat a tasty, delicious, and fresh Hot Cross Bun in time for Easter!

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My Hot Cross Buns are heavier with fruit than normal. As well as the traditional mixed peel and sultanas, I’ve added grated apple and dried cranberries for a nice sweet and sour hit. The apples tend to melt away here, but they keep the buns deliciously moist and sweet.

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These don’t need any topping apart from a light scraping of dairy free butter, and perhaps a smidge of honey or golden syrup if you eat these for elevenses. Personally, this is one of my breakfast treats, but that doesn’t mean I can’t eat them at 11, and again at 4, and again after dinner!

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Doughnuts, Take 2!

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Vegan doughnuts, so naughty and so good. Yes they involve a bit of deep frying, but, trust me, they are sooo worth the effort!

Who knew vegan doughnuts could be so good? Honestly, I’ll never go back to making them with eggs (even if I could eat them!) as it’s just not necessary! This is such a good recipe that’s quick to make, and if you can be brave to deep fry them, you’ll never go back to buying any sort of doughnut.

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I chose to fill my doughnuts with raspberry jam. It’s a classic for a reason, right? These are definitely my favourite was to finish off a doughnut… I don’t know what in life could be better than biting into a freshly made still warm doughnut, sticky and crunchy on the outside with an explosion of jam in the centre that just dribbles all over your fingers.

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These are definitely quite high up on the naughty scale… I know you can bake doughnuts…. but personally I sort of think if you’re going to eat one, do it properly and make it fried. The baked ones, although good, just miss the addictive texture of soft, fluffy dough in the middle with a crisp skin on the outside. These definitely hit the spot! And with quite a lot of sugar in them already, the extra bit of oil from frying really isn’t going to kill you!

I might do another post showing some other ways to finish off these doughnuts soon. I’m making it sound like that’s for your benefit…when really it just justifies me eating these again!

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Vegan Crepe Pancakes

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Fabulously simple, it’s hard to believe these are vegan. These are still as light and moreish as their eggy counterparts, just a teeny bit better for you.

I love pancakes, and every year I like to focus on bringing a new pancake recipe to the blog. This year, however, you’re being treated to two new recipes – both vegan! Although I’ve always been keen to experiment with more vegan recipes, I will admit that I have another personal reason for now giving it a wholehearted go (but that is a story for another time). Safe to say for now that finding a way to make great vegan pancakes has been a big part of my happiness in the last few months. The approaching Pancake Day (next Tuesday 28th Feb!!) is just a great excuse to share them!

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I will admit that I was very sceptical of vegan crepes working. I just couldn’t understand how they could hold together without an egg… let alone how they could be as light yet crispy as a ‘normal’ pancake. But these really are, and they honestly use the simplest of ingredients; flour, baking powder, non dairy milk and oil. That’s it. Unless you count the lemon and sugar toppings of course!

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I’ve said it before that I think baking powder is the secret to amazing vegan baking, and here it is no exception. The purpose of the baking powder here isn’t really to ‘rise’ the pancake, but to give it a light texture from all the air bubbles – much like an egg does. The only thing then that you’re missing is the fat. Ever so important in baking, this is such a key step to cracking vegan recipes. So don’t be put off by the oil content. It may sound a lot, but trust me when I say it’s needed to help bind the pancakes together, and to give them flavour.

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So here it is… my last pancake recipe for Pancake Day 2017. I personally don’t think these need anything other than a light sprinkle of sugar followed by a generous squeeze of lemon. But maybe that’s because I’m old school! Go mental with these and top them however you like – chocolate sauce and banana, ice cream and caramelised oranges… the combinations are delicious and endless!

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Vegan Banoffee Pancakes

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Fluffy American Banoffee pancakes, good for breakfast or dessert! And just in time for Pancake Day!

So, you might be seeing a lot more vegan recipes on here from now on! That story is for another post though, so here you’re just going to hear me marvel about how you can still make delicious, soft and chewy American pancakes with no dairy and no eggs!

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How, I hear you say?! Well, it seems that often the best results come from using no traditional egg replacers at all, but a simple bit of added baking powder. Perhaps the end result is slightly denser than an eggy-American pancake – but, with the added banana and caramel you are honestly not going to notice or care!

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I often make these for breakfast (without the caramel, but I will admit I add a light drizzle of maple syrup at the end!) but with Pancake Day fast approaching (28th of February people, get that date in your diaries!!) I thought I would add a special sweet pancake to my blog’s collection.

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I love caramel, and as I alluded to in my Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe, and have become slightly obsessed. It just goes with everything, and at least with some banana and cinnamon in here you can *almost* trick yourself into thinking these are healthy! They are delicious though, and perfect topped with ice-cream and lashings of the caramel sauce. These would make a fantastic Pancake Day dessert!

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