Capsule Kitchen – A Food Philosophy That Works With Multiple Allergies

For the last few years, we have been exploring minimalism here at Allergy Towers.  So what is minimalism?  Well, according to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom”.  It certainly has been a positive force in our lives.  We have decluttered considerably (still a work in progress) and reduced the amount of decoration around the house so that everyone feels calmer here.  I have emptied out my wardrobe so I only have clothes that I wear rather than clothes that make me feel vaguely guilty.  We have even extended minimalism to our calendars so we plan to have empty space and down time in our lives rather than filling every minute with activity.

So what has this got to do with food allergies?  Well, thanks to the Allergy Brothers’ needs, our kitchen has become quite sparse too.  It turns out that there is a minimalist challenge for the kitchen.  It was invented by Courtney Carver and is called The Capsule Kitchen.  The Capsule Kitchen concept is that we should cook with 33 ingredients, changing our choices every 3 months.  This does not include water or items that you would use less than one tbsp of at a time, eg salt or spices.

The obvious criticism of the Capsule Kitchen might be that we need a variety of foods to be healthy.  That’s true.  That’s why there are thirty three foods and not three.  Thirty three items leaves plenty of space to eat a rainbow of nutrients.  We do need a variety of foods, but not the variety that we are confronted with every time we visit a supermarket.  Frankly, too much choice is a bad thing.  We end up with decision fatigue and then we make lousy decisions.  Have you ever wondered why Barak Obama and Angela Merkel wear the same clothes all the time?  It’s because they don’t want to waste their thinking time on which shirt goes with which trousers; they have bigger things to be dealing with.  On a much, much smaller scale, I used to faff around deciding what I wanted for breakfast every morning when I really needed to be getting everybody clean, dressed, fed and out the door with their packed lunch.  Now, I have gluten free muesli if the weather is warm or gluten free porridge if it is cold, and we all get to school on time.

I like the fact that there is flexibility built into the idea as your list changes every 3 months so you can eat seasonally.  I have to be honest that we haven’t stuck strictly to the 33 items for 3 months guideline.  I built a cheat into our original list because item 33 for us was “a new thing that we want to try”.  Our version has slowly changed into adding a rhythm to our meals through the week.  On Tuesdays, we have tacos (thank you, Lego movie!).  On Thursday, I bake with Allergy Little as he is at home during the day so we have pizza or rolls.  On Friday night, we have chips and popcorn to eat from a bowl while watching a film.  I think the Allergy Brothers find this predictability comforting.

The biggest benefit of The Capsule Kitchen concept is that it shows that limiting your foods can be good.  Nobody would choose to have multiple allergies, but there might be some benefits to it nonetheless.  For example, you might have to use the ingredients you can eat more creatively.  One thing I noticed was that my “too small” kitchen became a “just right / bit big” kitchen as I was no longer trying to store such a huge number of ingredients.  Linked to this is that it will save you money as you are more likely to meal plan and less likely to be left with food going off.  You might have more time as food shopping takes less time.  You might simply have more “brain space” for thinking about other issues.  It might be that it is easier to eat healthily.  If you are limiting yourself to thirty three foods then it’s unlikely that you are going to waste six of your choices on six different types of biscuit.  So only one packet of biscuits goes into the trolley at the supermarket, and it’s easier for you to make the right choices at meal times.

If nothing else, then it’s good to concentrate on what you can eat, rather than the list of things you are forced to avoid by your body.  Making a list of what you or your family member can eat might be just the kind of positive thinking you need right now.  I know it helped the way I thought about our family’s eating.  It just so happens that we have three months left in 2015.  I would love to hear in the comments what your thirty three items would be if you did this challenge!

P.S. Look out for our blog’s first birthday celebration competition.  Coming very soon.

Treasure Biscuits

Ingredients

180g margarine (we used Pure sunflower spread)

120g sugar (we used raw cane sugar)

200g corn flour

150g polenta

1tsp vanilla essence

2 tbsp. cocoa (check it is gluten free, if you need this).

12 squares of chocolate

You will need some circular biscuit cutters, preferably of two sizes.

  1.  Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
  2.  Cream the margarine and sugar.
  3.  Stir in the corn flour and polenta and work together to form a soft dough.
  4.  Halve the dough.  Add the vanilla essence to one half of the dough and mix in.  Add the cocoa to the other half of the dough and mix in.
  5.  Roll out on a floured surface and cut into shapes.  If you are using two size cutters then use one size for the vanilla dough and the other size for the cocoa.  You will need an equal number of each type of biscuit.  So you might have a little leftover to make a bonus biscuit for the chef!
  6. Assemble the biscuits.  Put a square of chocolate on the small size biscuit. [ N.B.  I had to use the same size cutter for all the shapes as I discovered my biscuit cutters had got very badly squashed in the drawer and they couldn’t be coaxed back into shape.  Also, note that we used OhSo Good chocolate, that has very small squares.  Four OhSo Good chocolate squares equals one Dairy Milk square for comparison.  A good thing about using the OhSo Good chocolate was that the raspberry flavour made these taste like Jammy Dodgers.]  Then put a larger biscuit circle on top of the chocolate.  Finally, press the edges down to seal in the chocolate.  Don’t worry if the dough cracks a bit.  It’s part of the charm of home baking!  You will have made a two tone biscuit with hidden, chocolate treasure.20150926_203847
  7.  Put the biscuits on a baking sheet, that has been coated with corn flour, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  8.  Leave to cool before removing from the baking sheet.  If you can catch them, when the biscuit has cooled, but the chocolate is still runny, then you are in for an extra treat!

P.S. Next week is our blog’s first birthday.  We will be celebrating with a competition so don’t forget to look out for that!

Rawkin’ Roons by Raw 46

Ingredients: Desiccated Coconut (44%), Coconut sugar, Water, Extra virgin coconut oil, Almonds, Cacao Nibs (6.16%), Vanilla extract, Vanilla beans, Himalayan pink salt.

Produced in a facility that processes tree nuts, soya, sesame seed and mustard.

A packet of rawkin roons against some flowering honeysuckle.

These were surprisingly nice.  Even more surprisingly, Allergy Dad, our resident salad dodger, liked them too.  The macaroons were quite challenging in texture as they were dense and hard.  The macaroons are quite small so the texture was manageable.  Even if your baked goods eating skills aren’t quite as honed as mine,  you should be able to chomp through them.  The cacao nibs were used generously so that the chocolate flavour was definitely tangible.  I probably won’t buy them again as they would be just for Allergy Dad and me.  However, if I was committed to a raw lifestyle then I would probably have a stash of Rawkin’ Roons somewhere.

Armstrong’s Restaurant – Clacton-On-Sea

Allergy Dad and I don’t get many chances to go out together in the evenings so we could have kicked ourselves when we forgot that our friend had volunteered to babysit for us.  We had already eaten our dinner with the Allergy Brothers, but we thought we could sneak in a bit of dessert.  Another friend had recommended Armstrong’s Restaurant in Clacton-On-Sea as being an excellent choice when you are gluten free.  We decided to test it out with dessert and see if we wanted to return for a meal.

It really is the most unlikely setting for a restaurant that specialises in dining out for those with allergies and intolerances.  Next to Clacton Pier, there is an amusement arcade.  You walk through the amusement arcade, continue past the bowling alley, and then there is a lounge area with snooker tables, and finally, instead of a fast food joint, there is a civilized family restaurant!  I was immediately impressed by the menu as more of the desserts are gluten free than are not!

Unfortunately, it’s a popular restaurant.  All the tables were booked for the night.  However, the helpful staff were happy to accommodate us with drinks and dessert in the lounge.  It wasn’t romantic, restaurant ambience, but it was quite fun watching music videos on the screens in the bowling alley while happy families hung out together at the tables around us.  The desserts were worth trying, and the staff mixed a mean Pimms cup too.  I had a pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream.  Allergy Dad had a chocolate brownie.  The desserts may have been gluten free, but I didn’t feel I was missing out at all.

Now, we just need the opportunity to test out the rest of the menu.

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Food Maestro App Update

Since I wrote my blog post about the Food Maestro app, I have been having a very helpful email chat with one of their developers.  It turns out that many of the suggestions I made in the blog will be happening soon so I thought I would report back.  We can look forward to:

  • Being able to split user profiles into allergy, intolerance and lifestyle factors.
  • Searching by ingredients (both inclusion and exclusion).
  • Search results filtering by key brands, latest, popular, etc.
  • Updated categories to improve consistency.
  • And finally, some general design updates.
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There are longer term plans to work with manufacturers to improve the quality of the information that they receive.  And I sincerely wish them luck with that.

Oatly Apple & Pear Drink

Ingredients – Oat base (water, oats 10%), juice concentrate of apple and pear, sugar (1%), natural apple flavouring.  Contains 24% apple juice, 20% pear juice.

A carton of Oatly Apple & Pear drink against a patterned background

I was a bit sceptical about this product.  It just seemed wrong!  The reality was different.  It had a refreshing, lightly fruity flavour, but it filled me up more than a juice drink.  I drank it during the break in an exercise class, and I decided I didn’t need the cereal bar I had with me as well.  It would be fantastic to fuel little people through a busy day (unless they are allergic to oats, like The Allergy Brothers, ho hum).

Getting A Pizza The Action With Allergies 3 – Domino’s Takeaway

This week, we have looked at ready made bases and pizza base mixes, but sometimes, on a Saturday night, that is just too much like hard work.  It’s time for takeaway, but what do you do if you are gluten free?  Obviously, you get takeaway pizza!

When I first heard that Domino’s make a gluten free pizza I was very, very happy then I remembered all the times I have been let down by allegedly gluten free options in the past.  Seriously, how could you make a pizza gluten free if there is wheat flour floating around everywhere?  Well, it turns out Domino’s have an advantage here as their dough is made off site and delivered to each store daily.  The dough is stretched into pizzas in their kitchens and they use corn flour to dust their trays.  I also read about the controls they have in place to keep the product as gluten free as possible.  So we decided that, while I was putting the Allergy Brothers to bed, Allergy Dad would venture out to Domino’s.  Unfortunately, the Allergy Brothers are allergic to some of the ingredients so this is an after they are asleep treat, and, as we live in the land that time forgot, Domino’s don’t deliver to our house.  But it was worth it.

A four veggie pizza in an open takeaway box.

I’ll be honest the pizza crust doesn’t compare that well with a wheat base, but that’s not really the point as the whole purpose of takeaway pizza crust is to act as a receptacle for yummy pizza toppings; the four veggie option in my case.  It’s also not really about gastronomic excellence so much as embracing my laziness.

The main bonus for me was that I didn’t get glutened.  In fact, I have had this several times (you will notice I am very thorough in my junk food testing) and have never felt ill after this pizza.  The only problem we have had is that once they used the wrong crust (Allergy Dad now checks our order thoroughly before leaving the store).  I was able to see this instantly as the gluten free pizzas are a different size and are never cut up (two of the controls Domino’s use to prevent accidental glutening), but if this had been my first gluten free pizza there then I might have been initially very impressed about how similar the pizza seemed to a regular pizza and then very quickly very ill.  It’s important to say that there is a risk of cross contamination with this product so you will need to judge how sensitive you are and whether it is worth the risk.

Another nice aspect is that the gluten free base is also dairy free so you could potentially make your pizza vegan by removing the cheese.  It would be really great if Domino’s could offer a dairy-free cheese option too.  Hint, hint, Domino’s!

News – The Science of Nutrition, and Gluten-free Dating!

It’s a Friday afternoon news roundup!

If you have allergies or significant others with allergies, then the chances are you spend a lot of time scrutinising ingredients lists.  And it might be that you have, on occasion, wondered “what is lecithin anyway?”  Luckily, there is a free course to help you out.  I have signed up for it and I thought I would share the link with you.  It’s through the Future Learn website, and the course is called The Science of Nutrition.  It’s run by The Open University, and takes about three hours a week for four weeks, but, as it is all online, you can choose when you study.  You also choose how much of the course you do, although there is a certain amount you have to complete to be eligible for a certificate (which is the only bit you have to pay for and it’s optional).

Yesterday, I was reading an article about niche dating sites on the BBC news site.  I thought one of the niche agencies, a gluten-free dating site, sounded like an excellent idea so here is the link.

A lighthouse in front of a sunsetFinally, I hope you enjoyed today’s photograph.  The Allergy Family are very lucky to live somewhere so photogenic.  This photo was taken about 500m from our home.

Getting A Pizza The Action With Allergies 2 – Make Your Own Pizza

Unfortunately, the Allergy Brothers can’t eat the pre-made bases we reviewed earlier in the week so we had to make their pizzas from scratch.  Well, we got a little bit of a helping hand from Orgran’s Gluten Free Pizza & Pastry Multimix.

Orgran’s  Pizza & Pastry Multimix Ingredients – Potato starch, Maize starch, Maize flour, Raising agents: Glucono Delta Lactone, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow Pea Flour, Salt, Vegetable gums (Stabilisers): Xanthan Gum, Carboxymethylcellulose, Methylcellulose.

This multimix has had a rebrand in the last few months with new packaging and new cooking instructions.  I use the old method that requires yeast, but if you are pushed for time or allergic to yeast, then you can just follow the instructions on the packet.  It’s really very easy.

For my method, you will need half a packet of Orgran Pizza & Pastry Multimix, sugar, yeast (I use Allinson Dried Active Yeast for Hand Baking), 250ml water, 40ml oil (I use olive oil), and your toppings (I used Pepperami, Vegan pesto and Vegan cheese).

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F, and oil a baking sheet.
  2.  Dissolve a tsp of sugar in 50 ml of hot water.  Add 75ml of cold water.  Add 1 tbsp of dried yeast.  Give it all a stir.  Leave it to do its thing for about 15 minutes.  You should get a few centimetres of scummy foam on the surface of the water, when it is ready.
  3.  Mix together half a packet of multimix, the water and yeast together, and the oil.  Combine it with a spoon until a dough has formed.  Then knead it by hand.
  4. Form the pizzas and put them on the baking tray or pizza pan.  You can roll out the pizzas with a rolling pin, but I am making child-size portions so I just form them by making a ball of dough and squashing it flat with my hand.  I divide the dough into two and make two mini pizzas for the Allergy Brothers.  A full packet should give you enough for 3 full-size pizzas.  Allergy Little likes to have pepperami mixed into the dough, and then vegan pesto and vegan cheese as the topping.  He thinks the pepperami dries out too much if it is a topping!
  5. The pizzas take about 15 minutes to bake.  The pizza should be golden brown, but fluffy inside like a deep pan base, and the toppings should be bubbling.
  6. Enjoy your pizza.  Serving it with grapes is optional!
A home made pizza on a plate with some grapes.

Inspiral Kale-Os (Tomato & Pizza Flavour) & Thanks To All Our Readers

Hello/Bonjour to our readers in the USA, Australia, Canada, France, and here in Blighty!  I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has been reading the blog.  We relaunched the blog just two weeks ago, and since then it has been so exciting logging on every day and seeing how many hundred views we have had.  So thank you; we really doing appreciate you popping by our little corner of the internet.  I had a massive backlog of product reviews I wanted to do and the packaging pile is now at a manageable level of clutter so we might not be blogging quite as regularly!  However, we are hoping to be able to do some more in-depth posts now the Allergy Brothers are back at school and nursery.  Also I will have time to test some new recipes.  Finally, I really want to work on the accessibility and look of the website.  Plus, I need to finalise our big birthday surprise to celebrate the blog’s first birthday.  Busy times, but happy busy!

And now to the product review…

Photograph of Kale-Os packet

Ingredients: Curly kale (73%), Extra virgin olive oil (10%), Sundried tomatoes (6%), Deactivated nutritional yeast, Palmyra blossom nectar, Himalayan crystal salt, Lime juice, Basil, Tomato juice powder, Garlic, Black pepper, Oregano.

I wish the packaging hadn’t said kale crisps because that made me think of crisps!  In comparison with a slice of delicious, greasy, fried potato, these are disappointing.  The kale isn’t even that crisp.  However, if I wasn’t making that comparison then I would have been really happy.  They are flavoursome and tasty, while still being green and leafy.  In fact, I didn’t even use them as crisps.  I used them as a convenience food and mixed them with some rice and vegan cheese to make a quick meal.  A thing the packaging did get right though is that the crisps are packaged in special ecobags that can be composted at home.  So yay to Kale-Os as a superfood ready meal!