News

Winter Flu, Pneumonia and Coeliac Disease

Winter is coming…

We visited the medical practice yesterday for some travel inoculations. That was fun, as you can imagine: me, plus three large teenagers, in a small nurse’s office, each receiving a variety of jabs in both arms…

Anyway, as we were wrapping up (and retrieving one feeling-faint daughter from the floor) the nurse said something in passing about coeliac daughter.

Has she had her pneumonia jab?

Um… no? What pneumonia jab? We decided long ago that we wouldn’t take up the winter flu vaccination, as coeliac daughter is very healthy; she just needs a special diet.

The nurse dug around in her paperwork, and found our daughter on a list of people to be called in. Apparently, these days, infants all receive a pneumococcal vaccination as part of the routine series of inoculations. Because of their ages—born long before 2006—my children did not receive the pneumococcal vaccine: too old.

And now, it turns out, it is recommended that coeliacs (especially those whose spleens are not working well – fortunately, this doesn’t apply to us) should receive this jab, no matter what their age. And, we should be reconsidering our views on the winter flu jab.

The pneumococcal vaccine will protect her against pneumonia for 10 years, apparently; the winter flu jab against influenza, but only for one season.

Have you had this vaccine? What do you think? Find out more at Coeliac UK.

Experimenting with Almond Milk

almond milkDo you have a preferred non-dairy milk?

Luckily, we don’t need to be lactose-free in our house, though there was a little friend some years ago who was dairy-free, so I got used to using Pure to cook with, to having Swedish Glace dairy-free icecream in the freezer, and even soya milk occasionally. Though I’m not a fan of soya milk…

I was offered the chance to try some almond milks – Almond Breeze, from Blue Diamond – and since I love almonds (there’s always an open packet here, for snacking on) I thought I’d say yes. They kindly sent me two: one ‘original’ and one ‘unsweetened’.

Because I was hesitant about the ‘sweetened’ version (sweet milk?), I decided to try making yoghurt with it. I have a yoghurt maker, because we do get through a lot of yoghurt, and there are lots of recipes for almond milk yoghurt on the web… How hard can it be? I thought. Instead of using live yoghurt as a starter, which I’d usually use for ‘normal’ yoghurt, I bought some freeze-dried yoghurt starter, and I added a little extra sugar, so the culture would have something to eat.

Oh dear.

It went well for the first few hours, but overnight the yoghurt split and curdled, turning a rather unpleasant grey colour. I wasn’t expecting it to be exactly the same – because almond milk just isn’t the same colour as dairy milk – but this was a disaster.

Checking up on the Almond Breeze site, it does say ‘don’t make yoghurt’—and now I know why.

However, the unsweetened almond milk experiment worked very well.

It has a pleasant and extremely mild taste, and worked well in hot chocolate (the hot chocolate drinker in the house said it was ‘awesome’ – hmmm) and was surprisingly OK in tea: I thought it might taste a bit odd, but it really didn’t.

We enjoyed it on cereals in the morning, and even in porridge (use gluten free oats, obviously – and only if you can tolerate them).

And today I made a medieval apple almond soup, from A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook*… very nice. This is essentially apple puree, let down with almond milk and honey, with cinnamon sugar, saffron and salt. Very much a ‘honey’ taste, and again, very mild in flavour – and very autumnal, somehow. (How appropriate, if ‘winter is coming’…)

A bonus is that Almond Breeze is not only lower in calories and carbs than cows milk, but also has just as much calcium, so if this is something that matters to you – and it should be – then you could switch without losing the calcium benefits.

Will we switch? Well, we don’t need to be dairy-free, so probably not all the way—besides, I really like yoghurt—but next time I have a dairy-free visitor, I’ll look for almond milk.

Braving the Dragons Den

Are you a fan of Dragons Den?

It’s a ‘reality show’ where entrepreneurs face a team of potential investors and try to persuade them to invest money into their business in exchange for a share in the business. Naturally, for it to make good television, there has to be a certain amount of drama… a few completely bonkers ideas, a bit of confrontation, and the occasional good news story.

This weekend, we watched Lisa and Helen, from Sweet Mandarin, pitching to the investors for some money for their gluten free Chinese table sauces (sweet and sour, sweet chilli and barbeque). They wanted £50,000 in exchange for 20% of their business.

Initially, there were some negative comments about the brand not being unique, the margins being tiny, and it being a niche market. The Dragons didn’t seem to understand the significance of the fact that the sauces are gluten free—despite the fact that we were all shouting at them. Don’t they know that we don’t eat Chinese any more because we didn’t think our daughter could? Don’t they see the potential?

Lisa and Helen did explain the size of the dipping sauce and condiments market (£600m per year, growing at 16% per year) and the size of the gluten free market (they said £200m per year, but I think it might be larger).

But it wasn’t until Lisa and Helen explained that Wing Yip have ordered 50 cases per week (50!), and that they are in discussions with big retailers, that the Dragons really started listening. (Wing Yip, for those of you who don’t know, is the biggest and most famous Chinese food supplier/superstore chain in the UK).

In the end, Lisa and Helen had offers from all 5 Dragons, and chose to work with 2 of them, in exchange for 40% of the business. Yay for Sweet Mandarin!

And yay for us too:

  • there are three gluten free Chinese sauces for coeliacs – and the Dragons said they were delicious. They’ve been tested at the Manchester Food Science Laboratories and it is confirmed there is zero gluten. You can buy them online
  • Sweet Mandarin run a Chinese restaurant in Manchester – and 90% of the menu is gluten free (90% ! )
  • they did mention a cookery school, in passing – and it turns out there’s a gluten free Chinese cookery course in November this year.

Who fancies eating Chinese? A good news story indeed.

Gluten Free Wheelin’ and the Open Road: A musicians perspective

Darius Lux is a rock star—and is also gluten free. I asked him how he manages to live gluten free while on the road… travelling at all is often difficult enough for coeliacs, but how does he manage, travelling the world?

Find out more about Darius, and listen to some of his preview tracks too. I really enjoyed No Problem.

Do you pack food from home?

Absolutely, there is no other way unless I know exactly what is available wherever I am going (which is rarely). A lot of festivals and venues very kindly have food for musicians to eat, but even if it’s really healthy food it will still usually have a lot of gluten in it – I used to wing it and kinda hope to find gluten-free foods but after a while you just don’t want glutens in your body for any reason and so prepping at home is the best.

How easy is it to find food in different countries?

Thats an interesting question, it depends on a lot of factors. I think that South East Asia can be good because there are areas that don’t particularly make their food from the traditional (Western) glutenous staples such as wheat or white flour. They will often have rice as the main carb at almost all meals, and often brown rice is available. As much as I grew up loving Italian food, in Italy it was tough avoiding glutens because so much of their best cuisine is pasta or bread based, tho I have to say I found the food in italy a lot less allergenic than here in the US. I think once you know what your restrictions are you get good at finding what you need mostly anywhere you go. The Australian outback is a tough one too, especially when you really get out into the desert – tho that might warrant trying some of the ancient Aboriginal cuisine such as bugs! Bugs don’t appear to be glutenous LOL.

What is the easiest country (in your experience, as a visitor) to find gluten free food?

Thailand – hands down. Almost everything is rice-based and incredibly delish – even the noodles are rice based, coupled with a strong tradition of reverence in the food preparation and Vegan tendencies of the culture. India too if you can avoid the famous breads, there are still countless curry dishes that pair well with rice.

Any tips for travelling gluten free?

Simplest is to make sure you have a strong staple on you, I often like to keep trail mix and dried fruit handy, they satisfy appetite well and are relatively light to pack and carry – you have to make peace with the fact that you probably wont find what you’re looking for a lot of the time.

Secondly, when I traveled in countries that have less English speakers in them, I would find somebody at the hotel or airport or wherever and have them write a sign for me in their native language explaining my food allergy – this helped a lot along the road in more remote areas and saved a lot of confusion.

What food do you miss (and eat first on returning home!)

My favorite is a rice-based pizza crust with tapioca cheese and roasted veggies on it – the BEST!

Thanks Darius!

Yes! You Can

Which gluten free bread are you eating at the moment?

Maybe you make homemade regularly; maybe you get bread on prescription… but if you buy gluten free bread from a UK supermarket, do try the new Roberts Bakery bread, branded ‘Yes! You Can’.

They do white and brown sliced loaves, and they are really very good indeed.

After my earlier posting, when I found the Yes! You Can loaves unexpectedly in my local supermarket, I was contacted within 3 hours by the General Manager at Frank Roberts & Sons (GF Division). Impressive response times!

He sent us some loaves to try, both white and brown: I think we’ve given them an exhaustive tryout, using the bread at a variety of meals, fresh, toasted, and in recipes such as fish cakes, including in packed lunch sandwiches for daughter’s Duke of Edinburgh expedition – yes, they survived without crumbling!

Apart from the taste, which we like a lot, and the texture, which is soft and pliable without falling apart, the bread has been carefully made to be low in fat. We know this is an on-going issue with gluten free products, and I think this is commendable. The loaves are also wheat free and dairy free – and are made without egg and nuts, though eggs are handled on-site, and nuts are handled by suppliers of ingredients.

Notably, the bread was enjoyed by coeliac and non-coeliac alike: yes, we run a mixed household here.

Do try the bread. You can find the loaves in Tesco and the Co-op across the country: our Tesco had more in yesterday.

They’re made at the Davies Bakery near Chester, which is a dedicated gluten free bakery, and which was bought specifically so that the Roberts Bakery could enter the gluten free market.

There are plans for other products… I’m looking forward to finding out what those might be!