Six Weeks of being a Greyhound Family

Asleep with her favourite toy

Six weeks ago, a retired racing greyhound trotted into our family’s life. She has basically slotted in as if she has always been here, although sofa space is at a bit more of a premium these days. It’s amazing considering how many new things she has had to learn about: stairs, TVs, washing machines, children, etc. However, the outside world is still a little concerning to her.

Things that are terrifying, according to our greyhound:

  • buses
  • lorries
  • plastic bags blowing in the wind
  • all spaniels

It’s also been a steep learning curve for us. We have had to work out exactly how high she can reach and what things need to be kept out of her way. It’s like when a baby starts to crawl or walk and you suddenly have to toddler proof your house and move everything up. Except a greyhound is a 30+kg former athlete with a full set of teeth so it’s a bit more of a challenge. Things that might have been food and needed to be checked for tastiness, according to our greyhound:

  • several clothes pegs
  • a pizza box
  • an empty Amazon box
  • a spoon
  • a scouring pad
  • many garden shrubs
  • the straps on two muzzles
  • a new pair of sunglasses
  • a Fidel Castro cap

The straps of the muzzles were particularly embarrassing. People conspicuously avoid you, if you are walking along with a muzzled dog. This is doubled if the dog is wearing a muzzle repaired with cable ties (while the replacement is on order) so it appears that she has tried to bite her way out of her muzzle. She basically looked like a canine Ronnie Kray.

I was keeping her muzzle on because she didn’t really believe that any dog smaller than a West Highland terrier is a dog. A racing greyhound will only meet other greyhounds so other breeds of dog are a new experience. Each new specimen of small dog was sniffed closely until she was convinced that they are actually a fellow dog. Unfortunately, the smaller dogs sometimes objected, or occasionally their owners did, and scared her, which could be nasty for all parties. Now, she has had enough time to learn that dogs come in many sizes, we can trust her to go muzzle free.

Allergy Wizard summed up how we feel about our new greyhound, when he said “Things are funner around here now we have a dog.”

Is Prosecco gluten free and vegan?

I am developing our spring and summer cake ranges at the moment. After the success of our gin and tonic cakes, it seemed like a good idea to try another favourite drink in cake form. Prosecco is a delicious and much-loved Italian white wine, which seems perfect for a spring cake.

Let’s start with the good news. Is Prosecco gluten free? I would never say that all Prosecco is 100% gluten free, but I think it is fair to say, it is pretty much gluten free. Obviously, wines aren’t fermented from gluten-containing ingredients, like beer or whisky are, but there are possible sources of gluten contamination. For example, some wine barrels are sealed with a gluten-containing paste. It is possible that this gluten could contaminate the wine inside. However, Prosecco is produced using the Charmat-Martinotti method, which uses steel tanks, rather than casks or fermenting in the bottle. This means Prosecco is cheaper to produce, and removes the potential gluten source of the cask sealant. Hooray!

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Is Prosecco vegan? Maybe. The Charmat-Matinotti method requires clarification of the Prosecco, after the second fermentation. This process is called fining. A fining agent is added to the wine to bond with suspended particles, such as grape fragments, and even soluble substances, such as tannins. Some fining agents are of animal origin: egg whites, casein from milk, gelatin, and isinglass from the swim bladders of fish (as an aside, how did anyone discover this? “Well, Gianni, we’ve tried tiger spleen and armadillo kidney, but it’s not clarifying the wine. Let’s give it one last go with a goldfish swim bladder and see what happens.”) Wines made using animal-origin fining agents may be a concern to vegans. The good news is that there are non-animal alternatives made from minerals, for example bentonite clay or activated charcoal. The only way to know is to check the brand of Prosecco you are buying. Luckily, the fantastic website, Barnivore, has already done the hard work for you. You can be sure that we will check the brands we use to make sure that they are vegan.

Is Prosecco gluten free and vegan? Very probably, and maybe!

One month on…

Wow!  It has been a busy month here at Allergy Towers.  I have been jumping through hoops, like an overexcited collie in an agility competition.  I am really pleased to say that I passed my Level 2 in Food Hygiene and Handling.  We also passed our Food Standards Agency inspection, and got the top grade (5, very good).

20180622_105948We have been testing lots of vegan, gluten free cakes, including a gin cake with tonic icing that I felt the need to test extensively.  Our testing panel have been generous with their time and taste buds, and supportive.  Yesterday, we delivered our first batch to Cornflower Wholefoods, Brightlingsea, Essex, UK.  I don’t know how well the cakes will sell, but we are going to give it our best shot.

The next stage will be about fulfilling our whole purpose.  We’ll be looking at developing relationships with local organisations so we can offer work-related learning to autistic young people.

It’s all really exciting, bit scary, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens over the next few months…

 

 

Is Gin & Tonic Vegan and Gluten Free?

I don’t know about you, but, in these troubling times, I find comfort in the minutiae of life.  There’s nothing like disappearing down a rabbit hole of information to escape reality.

At the moment, my mind is often preoccupied with thinking about new recipes for The Allergy Brothers Cakes.  I am wondering if it is possible to make a vegan and gluten free gin and tonic cake…  Not for the Allergy Brothers themselves, they are a bit young! Maybe for all the parents contemplating the school summer holidays?  The obvious first question is “is gin and tonic vegan and gluten free?”

Gin is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a clear alcoholic spirit distilled from grain or malt and flavoured with juniper berries”.  Grain and malt doesn’t sound very gluten free.  However, as the gluten proteins are removed during the distillation process, all spirits, unless a gluten-containing ingredient is added after distillation, are gluten free.  However, some very, very sensitive individuals might react to gin distilled from grain and malt.  In the UK, Chase’s gin is made from an apple base, and not grain.  However, gin is gluten free enough to get a thumbs up from the Coeliac UK website so I feel confident with sticking with my old favourite, Bombay Sapphire.

Bombay Sapphire is gluten free, but is it vegan?  Luckily, there is a fantastic website called Barnivore that allows you to check whether specific alcoholic drinks are vegan.  Bombay Sapphire is marked as vegan friendly.  A very few gins are not because gelatin is used to remove impurities in the filtration process, because honey is added as a flavouring, or because beeswax is used to seal the casks.

Now to check the tonic water!  Tonic water is just carbonated water with quinine and flavourings and sweeteners added.  It should be naturally gluten free.  It should also be vegan.  However, some vegans are concerned that some tonic waters, particularly American brands, contain High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Some vegan writers felt that this was just a bad product to consume, and were concerned about the level of pollution caused by mass corn production.  I am planning on using Fever Tree tonic water, which is made from Natural Quinine, Cane Sugar, Spring Water, Citric Acid, and Natural Flavours, so my recipe will be HFCS free.

Phew!  Gin and tonic is vegan and gluten free!  I think I might have a glass to celebrate.  Purely, for research, of course.

Future of The Allergy Brothers (& GDPR)

The Allergy Brothers has always been a team effort with the boys and I working together to test foods and develop recipes (Allergy Dad is chief cake tester!).  Allergy Wizard is particularly motivated and will tell anyone, who will listen, about the blog.

Recently, we visited our favourite, local whole foods shop, Cornflower in Brightlingsea.  Allergy Wizard was busy talking to Christy, Cornflower’s owner, about our cakes.  She was so impressed by his sales pitch that she gave him some free ingredients to make her some samples.  We were very pleased and surprised when Christy asked if she could stock our cakes.  Yay!

It turns out there are, rightly, lots of hoops to jump through before you can sell food to the public.  I am pleased to say I passed my Level 2 in Food Hygiene and Handling.  My next job is to complete a 92 page document for the Environmental Health Officer!

I don’t know if this is feasible, but we are going to give it our best shot.  The Allergy Brothers will become a food producing company.20180524_122818

And now for the compulsory GDPR information!  If you subscribe to the blog or you leave a comment then you will have typed in your name and email address.  This information stays with WordPress (our website publisher) and we do not have access to that information.

Thank you, if you have subscribed.  We will still be updating the blog, but not as often.  We will also be updating our Instagram regularly too.

The Allergy Brothers is Changing!

It’s all change here at Allergy Towers, and the change has been led by the boys.  The blog will become a secondary, although still very important, aspect of the Allergy Brothers brand.  We’ll be posting less frequently, but with an emphasis on longer, more informative posts.  We’ll be updating our Instagram more often though.

As to what our primary brand activity will be, well that’s going to be a secret for a little bit longer!  We have lots of work to do in a very short time!

 

Jungle Adventure – Stanway, Essex, UK

The Allergy Brothers conveniently only have a few days between their birthdays, and just less than two years between their ages.  This means they are cursed to have shared birthday parties forever!  Luckily, they get on very well and have shared friends and interests.

This year the boys’ party was at Jungle Adventure in Stanway, Colchester.  This is our favourite soft play centre.  It’s light, clean, and well-maintained.  There is a wide range of equipment so it’s very accessible.  Our only complaints are that the music can be too loud, especially if you sit at the sides, and that the Allergy Brothers might be aging out of Jungle Adventure.  Is it too much to ask for the Jungle Adventure team to open a centre for older children too?!

Birthday parties can be a bit sad for us, because everyone, except the birthday boys, can eat the party food.  The Allergy Brothers usually have to bring a packed lunch.  We were really pleased that the Jungle Adventure staff worked so hard to cater for them.  The Allergy Brothers each had a platter of ham and vegetable batons, with crisps and tortilla chips.  For dessert, they each had a bowl of fresh fruit.

Finally, we want to thank unflappable party host, Teni, who was so calm and efficient.

The Allergy Brothers definitely had a happy birthday party.

Happy Birthday, Allergy Wizard!

I am really very bad at cake decorating so my heart sunk when Allergy Wizard asked for a Harry Potter birthday cake.  Then I googled Harry Potter cakes and I was both impressed and even more discouraged.  I mean, look at these cakes.  It’s not cake decorating; it’s sugar sculpture.  These cakes are art!

So thank goodness for Hagrid and his wonky, misspelt birthday cake in the first film.  Something vaguely attainable, except Allergy Wizard doesn’t like buttercream and the green writing icing had an allergen in so I had to use blue.  The birthday boy was happy though and that is the only thing that matters!  Happy Birthday, Allergy Wizard.

The Emotional Impact of a Visual Processing Disorder

April is Autism Acceptance Month. I wrote a post at the beginning of this month about a visual processing disorder called Meares-Irlen Syndrome. This disorder is more common in autistic people, but is also pretty common in the general population. Click here if you want to read that original post. I wanted that post to be full of practical ideas. I hoped that, after reading it, readers felt they could potentially identify behaviours that might suggest they or someone they know has Meares-Irlen Syndrome and what they could do about it. That’s not the whole story though so I wanted to post a second blog about the emotional impact of having Meares-Irlen Syndrome.

The most basic way that Meares-Irlen Syndrome affects a person’s emotional development is by reducing their independence. A lot of the markers of a child’s increasing self help are difficult for people with Meares-Irlen Syndrome. For example, using cutlery is harder. You probably don’t realise it, but, as you move food from your plate to your mouth, this process is monitored by your eyes. If your eyes can’t smoothly track a moving object then they can’t provide your hand with accupexels-photo-1005373.jpegrate feedback about where a fork is in relation to your mouth. This means a lot of stained clothes and, with age, embarrassment about missing your mouth with your food. Crossing a road safely is hard when you can’t visually judge speeds and distances. Riding a bike is difficult when you can’t keep your balance. All these little and big difficulties make it harder to think of yourself as a competent and independent human.

It goes a little deeper than that though. I was talking to a friend and we happened to mention the word “gaslighting”. An extremely astute 9 year old girl was listening to us and asked us what it meant. We explained that it is when someone questions or manipulates your perception and memory so many times that you start to think you are going mad. She coolly replied that it sounded like what people do to her with her sensory processing; “my eyes are so sharp that I can see things that others can’t and then they tell me it is not there.” I thought that was really insightful and sad; and it’s similar if you have Meares-Irlen Syndrome. You perceive the world differently to others: a striped white and black t shirt might cause you to see wavy, rainbow auras in the stripes.

pexels-photo-714698.jpegYou also perceive the world differently to how others expect you to.  In primary school, I was quite verbally clever, but I really wasn’t doing that well at school.  The general consensus was that I was lazy and didn’t concentrate enough.  I started to fulfil my promise suddenly when I moved to secondary school.  I didn’t work out why until I was a teacher myself.  I had a classroom with a whiteboard and a black board next to each other.  I realised that I could read black pen on a white board, but I could not read white chalk on a blackboard at all.  My secondary school had white boards, and my primary school had black boards.  That was the difference in my achievement!  None of my teachers had considered that the gap between my potential and my achievement  due to my perception, not any defects in my personality!

I wonder if having Meares-Irlen Syndrome actually changes your world view.  I couldn’t find any research on this, but it seems plausible that the way you experience the world would impact on how you feel about things.  Someone with Meares-Irlen Syndrome lives in a world, where everything is relative.  Things are not always where you think they are.  Objects, people and animals don’t travel through space in the way you expect.  The world is unpredictable and a difficult place to trust under these circumstances.  I wonder if that extends to how you view people too, and whether people with Meares-Irlen Syndrome are more likely to be anxious and depressed as a result.

I may be taking things too far, but there is the Jesuit saying “Give me a boy until he is 7, and I will show you the man.”  At seven years old, I was clumsy and not really doing that well at school.  I still feel that way, regardless of what I have achieved since.  I can’t help thinking that having Meares-Irlen Syndrome has informed my personality, both my strengths and my weaknesses.