Let the packing begin….

travel_064And so today the suitcases come out, I need to figure out what we are bringing and do a test pack, tomorrow is the last day for washing things and getting anything we may have forgotten. But what DO you bring when you are a gluten free family going to Europe for a month…? Let me tell you, ALOT.

The list making started weeks ago, medications, inhalers, medical related documents, food, electronics, frying pan, lunch box, etc etc. Clothes are very very far down the list. Shoes are another problem, kids only own school shoes and flip flops, me, I only own flip flops! Thats what happens when you live in a country that has summer pretty much all year. Going to Europe now, to us, will seem like stepping in to winter. We did buy a pair of shoes each the other day, but Im not so sure it will be enough?

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Celiac kid calls us the flip flop family, guessing now we can be the converse family 🙂

You might wonder why we are bringing a frying pan? (Yes, we ARE bringing a frying pan, I wasn’t joking) Well, non stick pans can soak up gluten, and while we have kitchen access the entire time we are away, Im not sure there are stainless steel pans available, so what to do?  Im also thinking I may bring a toaster…. is that weird..? If we were away for just a week or so Id go with toaster bags, but we are away an entire month! The amount I’ll spend on toaster bags can probably buy us a new toaster…? This is the longest we will have been away since diagnosis, and although Im exited and looking forward to it, I also know that one mistake can cost us more then its worth. So plan plan plan. Long gone are the days when I breezed through airports looking chilled and comfortable, now Im the woman with bags and kids everywhere who has packed half the house and then some. Oh well.

Happy Holidays to us, if you see me back here in the near future you will know I survived the packing stage!

-Linda

Gluten Free and 4 Birthday Parties

Originally Posted on Gluten Free UAE in May 2013

Birthday Party. Just that bit alone right there is enough to make many parents take a big deep breath.
Birthday parties are supposed to be fun and enjoyable for all, but for the parent of a child with a special dietary need it can be a hugely stressful event.

Just as every Celiac (intolerant / allergic) child is different, so is every parent of a Celiac child.

While some parents are happy with a host preparing food for their child, others are not, others again cant be. Because no matter how hard a host may try, the child will almost certainly get sick.

I get many people approach me to ask what they should feed a gluten free guest at a party, and my reply is always the same, ASK them, ASK the mother. Because what is right for me and my child, may not be right for someone else.

My own child is hyper sensitive, so for someone to feed her would be an absolute no go. I will make her food thank you very much, less stress on the host and less stress for me, and above all, SAFE for my child. People sometimes get offended when you don’t want them to cater to your child, but lets remember here, that as little as a part of one stray crumb can cause a reaction, thats as little as a speck of gluten stuck in a chopping board. A tiny speck not because your chopping board is dirty, but because its been used for gluten foods. We all have to remember here that this is not about being polite, its about being safe. So yes, Im happy to give brands of gluten free sweets for a goodie bag or list gluten free ice cream brands and drinks, but the food, thats my department and I wont have it any other way.
Off course, this means that every party we go to, I have to replicate all the party food best as I can. If the other kids are having mini burgers, pizza and chocolate cake, so will mine! Lots of work on my part, but I will gladly do it to have my child not feel left out.

There are parties and there are parties. I used to love going to birthday parties in someones home. Sit and chill with the other adults while the kids play. Those parties now look very very different. There is often a buffet set up with food, which means children and adults are all helping themselves throughout, often running around with a biscuit in their hand. Its a total gluten horror scene when you are the parent of a small gluten free kid. I often find myself stalking my child with my packet of hand wipes making sure she doesn’t put her fingers in her mouth. Over reaction? I challenge anyone who thinks so to spend 5 days with my daughter after she is contaminated.
Much better now the play area parties, the kids play for an hour or 2, no food in sight, then they all sit nicely and eat before going home. Easy to control.

What about the gluten free childs own birthday? We have had 3 now, and all were great, a learning curve for me and also goes to show that even the parent of a hyper sensitive celiac can learn to relax if only just a little 🙂

Party number 1. 
We were just over a month in to our diagnosis and Celiac kid was turning two. I was still very much learning the ropes but I had made the house a gluten free zone. I was not yet the expert gluten free baker / cook that I am today and I was very very worried about getting things right while keeping her safe.

I ended up having a small birthday breakfast, the only people invited were 4 close mum friends (and their kids) who ‘got it’ and who were all super supportive. I made fruit salad, coffee & tea, had biscuits and crackers available, and for the cakes I did a chocolate fudge cake (Swedish kladdkaka) and an ice cream cake. The party was a success and as the setting was small and intimate in a gluten free environment we were all able to relax.

Party number 2.
After just over a year of being diagnosed we were ready to take on the bigger party in a gluten environment. I went with the easier option and we went to a play area. The other kids ate gluten foods and my kid ate her food, then they all ate a gorgeous gluten free chocolate cupcake with pink icing and princess decorations. I went with cup cakes because I was nervous about the blowing out the candles part of the party with so many young kids, the kids often help to blow and cant help themselves but may also touch the cake possibly contaminating it with gluten. Cup cakes made me relax because I was able to give birthday girl a fresh cup cake when serving with no risk of contamination. None of the gluten eaters even realised they were eating gluten free so all in all a success again.

Party number 3.
This is actually not Celiac kids birthday party but big brothers. He wanted to have a party at home, and with us being gluten free it was off course a gluten free party. Gluten free food is expensive, and hard work doing it all yourself when you cant get anything catered! With some imagination it all worked out. We did chicken drum sticks, crudites and chips and dips and a pasta salad. Then big brother wanted cup cakes because thats what his sister had had. A very successful party and the first time I catered to many people gluten free in my home. It was so nice watching my kids play at a party and just be ‘normal‘. No hand wipes in sight!

Party number 4. 
We are experts by now. Celiac kid wants a BIG party. So its off to a play area again, to much stress doing all the food myself again. My daughter wanted just one thing this year, to have a party, a BIG party, and to eat her cake. So I put my big brave pants on and ordered a cake from skinny genie. We are not easy to bake for as we always aim for 0 gluten, but skinny genie did a great job, no food colourings, no artificial flavours no ingredients that may have come in to contact with any gluten at any point during the manufacturing process. They even managed to make it pink, and with chocolate. When my daughter saw the cake she gasped and said, ‘Mummy, is it mine? Can I eat it?’ She was so so exited. She didn’t stop smiling for over 2 hours, then ate 2 huge pieces of cake. I fought hard to blink back tears.

As parents all we want is for our children to be safe and happy. It IS possible to make sure they are both, at the same time, although sometimes it takes some extra work. Im exited to add more parties to our list in the years to come. Please keep inviting the food intolerant / allergic / celiac kids to your homes, talk to the mums, we are happy to help.

-Linda

Cake by skinny genie Dubai,
tel 04 33 888 98

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My top 10 tips for a gluten free lunchbox

Originally posted on Gluten Free UAE in November 2012

The first few weeks of being a gluten free family can be very daunting, especially when it comes to making lunch boxes for kids, even more so if you are used to sending sandwiches every day. It can take some time to get used to gluten free bread, and a gluten free bread slice often doesn’t do so well in a lunch box because of crumbling. After a year and a half of being gluten free I am sure I am close to being an expert now. It has become almost a ‘sport’ to see how many days I can go without sending bread! My older child used to be nightmare when it came to eating at school, we have used every trick in the book to get him to eat.

  1. Forget bread. Don’t miss it, don’t think about it. You don’t need bread for a lunchbox. If the lunch is appealing enough, your kids wont even ask for bread.
  2. Decide in advance how many foods you are sending and what they should be. By having ‘rules’, making the lunch will be faster and easier, as you are always following the same ‘rules’. I send 4-5 foods for my older child, and 3-4 for my younger. Each child has a vegetable or fruit food, a ‘main’ food, a dairy food, and a snack.
  3. Sending one big portion of something often means it goes uneaten. Smaller portions are less daunting for a fussy child, and usually there will be less waste. If your child doesn’t eat, send less foods (less choice) for a week and you may be surprised.
  4. Let your child choose within the food rules that you have set. ‘Do you want yogurt or cheese sticks today?’, ‘Do you want pasta or pancakes today?’, ‘Cucumber with hummus or an apple?’ etc.
  5. Prepare some foods in advance. While I always do the fruits and most veggies fresh on the day, many of the ‘main foods’ can be prepared in advance and kept for a few days in storage containers in the fridge.
  6. Experiment! Don’t be afraid to try new crazy things, get the kids involved too. Very often the crazy stuff is what works.
  7. Become best friends with your muffin tin. Really. Im serious. Its amazing what you can do in it, and its just the right size for a child! Try Spanish Omelette, baked eggs, pancakes, quinoa bakes, pasta bakes, crustless quiche etc etc.
  8. Try to stay away from pre packaged gluten free stuff, more often then not its not very nutritious, and it probably cost more then dinner in a fancy restaurant too! Make things yourself if you can, or use mainstream products that are naturally gluten free.
  9. Don’t give the same food every day, even if your child requests it. The last thing you want is for your child to stop eating the one thing he always eats! Its also not very good from a nutritional stand point. A varied diet is usually better (unless you have managed to get your kid to eat a superfood of some kind).
  10. Keep an emergency (non perishable) lunch box with the teacher! You don’t want your child to go without food if his lunch box becomes contaminated, dropped on the floor etc. Our emergency box has 2 muesli bars, some raisins and gluten free crackers. It’s sealed shut, with my child’s name and gluten free stickers all over. Its kept with the teacher and I check the box regularly to see if it needs updating.

-Linda

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Why we made our house gluten free.

8324104_origOriginally posted on Gluten Free UAE in October 2012

I often get asked about why our whole house is gluten free, are we all Celiacs? If not then why aren’t the rest of you eating gluten? Well, let me explain how I see it…

Our Celiac is 3 years old. Still a young child. A young child who doesn’t yet fully understand the ins and outs of cross contamination. But thats not the main reason we have made our house gluten free. We made our house gluten free because we want our child to feel normal. Because she is! She’s just a normal kid, she likes pink, she likes to dance, she likes to play football with her brother and she loves squinkies! She’s only different from most 3 year old girls when it comes to food. And she is only different when we are out.
Why? Because we, her family, have decided that this diagnosis is not hers, its ours. We are a Celiac family and this is how it has to be.

I personally believe that every Celiac has the right to feel safe in their own home. If there is gluten in your house, no matter how many systems are in place, you always run the risk of contamination.

Cooking, in a mixed house where both gluten foods and gluten free foods share a space is extremely stressful, or at least it was for me. Watch a pot of pasta boiling. Did you know water can jump out of the pot and jump in to the pot next to it? Never mind the spoon confusion, gluten free to the right, gluten to the left, gluten free to the right, gluten to the left…. then the phone rings, the doorbell goes, the dog barks, older child spills a juice and which spoon was it again???

For a Celiac, less then a bread crumb (or a very tiny bread crumb) is enough to cause a reaction. For my older (non Celiac) child this took the enjoyment out of eating his chocolate cupcake, I was a nervous wreck, right there with my tissues, waiting to clean any crumbs, ‘lean over the plate, careful, careful…. don’t touch anything, come, now wash’. I was on edge, worried, and most meals I had tears in my eyes when she asked for something she couldn’t have.

We lasted like this less than 2 weeks. The decision to make our home a safe home for our girl, was the best I ever made. Now we all eat chocolate cupcakes together and the crumbs can go wherever (although my cleaning nerve does twitch a little), we all eat the same food, and everyone is able to open any cupboard and eat anything they want. It is all gluten free, all safe.

From the work I now do with Gluten Free UAE, it seems to me that those who have a mixed house (gluten and gluten free foods sharing a space), have a much more limited diet with less variety. Why buy variety if its just for one person anyway, its a waste if it goes off?

In the beginning our food costs were sky high off course, they over doubled once we all went gluten free, now, a year and a half later, they are back to almost the same as they were when we were gluten eaters, and I must tell you, we are all, much much healthier.

If you are still mixing products in your home and finding it a challenge, try making your house 100% gluten free for a while – it may just work for you too – if not, you can always change back 🙂

-Linda

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Staycation, a Gluten Free trip to Fujairah Rotana Resort and Spa.

Originally posted on Gluten Free UAE in August 2012

Like many other gluten free families, we rarely travel unless its for a big reason. Those last minute trips and sleepovers that were so much fun before, are no longer possible. Even short trips away require planning and shopping, and plenty of worry and stress. What if there is no gluten free food? What if our Celiac gets contaminated and spends the whole trip being ill?

Having spent the whole summer (so far) here in the UAE, and many many loooong hot days doing very little, me and the kids were absolutely climbing the walls. Lets take the risk, lets GO somewhere!

We booked one night at the Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa. One night , because booking 2 nights seemed very very risky, given that we didn’t know how it would work, gluten free wise.

We brought with us a loaf of freshly made gluten free bread, plenty of biscuits, crisps and bananas, crossed our fingers and left. We had a big breakfast before leaving, plenty of snacks, and some sandwiches in a cool box, worst case scenario all we eat is dinner, then if its not that great we can always go home after breakfast tomorrow we thought.

We really needn’t  have worried. Not long after arriving we had been introduced to the Executive Chef and Half the waiting staff. A basket of fruit and a tray of sweets (all gluten free) were sent to our room, as well as a basket of bread rolls. The bread was good! Too good, I had to call the kitchen just to double check that it really was gluten free (you just never know right?).

We had a great afternoon by the pool, the kids going crazy on the water slide and enjoying being outdoors.

Dinner time came, and we went to the restaurant. We were looked after like celebrities at this point, the ‘gluten free family’, yes yes, here. The head waiter came to greet us. We discussed what our Celiac would eat and it was decided she would have chicken (plain, no marinade, made in a clean pan) and home made chips made in a clean pan with new oil. Plain perhaps, but absolutely perfect for a Celiac 3 year old, and in terms of stress levels for the mum, less is more!

The rest of us had the Iftar buffet avoiding obvious gluten. When out of the house we don’t worry about trace amounts or contamination for the rest of us, but we wouldn’t eat ‘real bread’ around her, besides, real bread now makes me ill too!

The chef also made us some gorgeous home made thin and crispy potato chips (crisps).

We had a nice and relaxed evening and a good sleep.

Breakfast came and another buffet for the rest of us. We had 3 types of gluten free bread given to us, and we all enjoyed them. Had our celiac wanted eggs, or bacon or anything else, a fresh portion would have been made for her in a clean pan just to be sure. She was quite content though – stuffing herself with bread rolls!

We enjoyed lunch in the pool snack bar before leaving, another meal which went off without a hitch. The Celiacs meal was made in the main kitchen- again under the watchful eyes of the executive chef.

Our short break has given us not just a well deserved break, but also some extra confidence. We will be going away soon again for sure. Maybe even for 2-3 nights.

A big thanks to executive chef Tarek Mouriess and his staff for looking after so well. We will be back 🙂

-Linda

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I am not a food critic, or a resort critic (I bet you can tell!) But I really wanted to share our POSITIVE experience with you all, because for some people – like us – food safety is top priority. So while I may not be able to tell you about the succulent this or that, I can tell you that our Celiac was happy, and didn’t get ill! :)) Apologies for the bad pictures, they were taken in hindsight with a very dirty iPhone! 

Check out the Fujairah Rotana

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What is Celiac disease?

Originally posted on Gluten Free UAE in July 2012

This must be one of the questions I get the most. And the answer is SO long, and not always easy to understand. Celiac Disease is a complex auto immune disease that can show in so many different ways in different people. But just incase you (like I often do) need the short version, here you go (once you are done reading it, hit the F or T at the bottom and share it on Facebook and twitter, more awareness = a better life for Celiacs 🙂

Celiac (Coeliac) disease is an autoimmune disease. When someone with Celiac disease eats gluten, the immune system triggers a reaction and releases antibodies, the antibodies cause damage to the villi in the small intestine. The villi in the small intestine is responsible for soaking up all the nutrients in our food, so once it is damaged a whole range of issues can follow.

Symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person, some researchers say there are around 200 symptoms associated, others go as far as saying over 300 symptoms! Some people may have only 1-2 symptoms, others will have 10, or many many more.

The more common symptoms are:

Bloating / Cramping
Abdominal discomfort / pain
Diarrhea or constipation (or both)
Fatigue
Energy loss
Anemia
Joint Pain
Muscle wasting
Weight Loss (or sometimes weight gain)
Infertility
Depression
Migraines
Skin Rash
Mouth Sores
Failiure to thrive (in children)
Dental and bone disorders (such as osteoporosis)

There is currently no cure or medical treatment for Celiac (Coeliac) disease. The only treatment is to go on a life long gluten free diet. Once on a gluten free diet, symptoms will clear up and the villi will heal. It is important to watch out for small amounts of hidden gluten in foods, as even minute amounts are enough to cause a reaction, and if the exposure is frequent there will (again) be damage to the villi.

-Linda

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Breakfast changes and making the whole house gluten free.

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Originally posted on Gluten Free UAE in March 2012

One of the most challenging meals in our family after diagnosis was breakfast and snack times. Bread had always been a big thing in our house. As Northern Europeans we eat a ton of open sandwiches, not just for breakfast, but often also for lunch and as snacks throughout the day. It only took us about a week from diagnosis to ban gluten from our house entirely. A piece of bread now represented something dangerous, with crumbs that could almost jump across a table and ‘attack’ the little Celiac. Breadcrumbs DO jump a lot when bread is eaten by a 4 year old sibling, so banning gluten from our house was the right thing to do.

Personally I believe all Celiacs (gluten intolerants, or people with wheat allergy) need to have a ‘safe place’. A haven, somewhere where they can just BE, and not worry about contamination.
Off course, the perfect place to be this safe place, is your home. Managing the kitchen and dining area is also a lot less stressfull if there is no gluten around at all. No separate cloths or equipment. We dumped all the wooden untensils and got new chopping boards. The Teflon pans went too (to a good cause), I can honestly say, hand on my heart, that there is no gluten to be found in my kitchen (apart from one tiny area, but we will get to that another day).

When other Celiacs visit my home they can touch anything they want and lick their hands after (although I hope they dont!). They can open any cupboard or the fridge and everything they see is safe to eat. The soaps are all gluten free, as is my floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner and kitchen cleaner. Some people would argue that its not necessary to go that far, I argue that why buy a cleaning product with gluten when ones without are just as easy to buy? Do you really want to wipe your gluten free kitchen down with a cleaning product containing gluten? With small kids anything can happen, and I mean anything. While an adult wouldn’t lick the sink or suck on the corner of a sofa cushion, to a child, this is just a natural part of exploring their environment.

So Breakfast, what did we do at first? We bought bread, we made bread, we tried all the bread mixes, and we pretty much dismissed all of it. It wasn’t nice, it didn’t taste ‘ right’, it wasn’t gluten. Because in the beginning, thats the taste you look for, weather you realise it or not, so anything that doesn’t taste like gluten just doesn’t cut it. Someone told me it takes time, and that eventually our tastebuds would change, we would forget the gluten taste and everything would taste better.

We used Gluten Free cereal, we gave up on bread and used corn crisp bread and rice cakes.
A Sandwich in our now house means rice cake with topping. We also took all the pre set expectations of what a certain meal is meant to be and threw them out. If the kids want soup for breakfast or snack time, let them, have some yourself too! Who says you cant have soup in the morning anyway? There is no rule anywhere as far as I am aware. Let the kids have those gluten free crisps in the afternoon if they hate every single gluten free cracker you try. Its not the end of the world (as long as its not every afternoon for months on end).

Almost a year down the road it turns out the person who told me our taste buds would change, she was right. We are now going back to products we tried at the start, and they aren’t so bad. I am baking cakes and bread and it tastes good. Different yes, but not bad. 4-5 months ago I had a moment and I don’t know what happened, but I bought a subway sandwich when I was out, I only had 2-3 bites because frankly, THAT tasted bad. Gluten wasn’t all what I remembered it to be, and no, I don’t miss it. If you still do, then find alternatives that suit your life and lifestyle. Don’t go without, go with something else.

-Linda

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