Hotel Breakfasts – Allergy Friendly?

We’ve stayed at various hotels over the years, but how easy is it to get an allergy friendly breakfast? From our experience it is pretty tricky if your daughter has a fixation with toast because the biggest sticking point is BREAD.

Now bread is normally made with flour, yeast and water but 98% of the time asking for dairy, egg and nut free bread is like asking for bottled unicorn tears. Usually the response will be: “But we do have gluten free bread?”. No Thanks, it’s great you can cater for coeliacs but gluten free bread contains egg which my children are allergic to. If the words bread and allergic are in the same sentence it does not mean I want gluten free! Otherwise we are told the bread is bought in from a bakery and they have no idea what the ingredients are but cannot guarantee it would be dairy/egg/nut free so it would be best not to.

We were visiting family in Leeds and often stay at the Hilton Doubletree at least once every year when in town. A couple of years ago they had switched to a buffet breakfast service; we found that the bread contained egg and as other dairy/egg/nut free choices were limited we stopped having breakfast there. This year we had an extended stay so hoping that they would be more allergy friendly after new allergy labelling legislation came into force in 2014, I emailed the hotel with our requirements. I received a response from the manager of the Food and Beverage team:

I would like to advise you that we have the following on offer:
Fresh fruits, fruit salads, selection of cured meats and preservatives, porridge (made from water on request), bacon and cooked vegetables as well as raw vegetables. Chef advise me that we can provide gluten free, dairy free and egg free bread as well on requests.

I included my colleagues from breakfast to this email and would appreciate if you could advise one of our breakfast staff members on arrival for further assistance.

Sounds Promising.

So on our first morning we arrived for breakfast at the restaurant, at the front desk a friendly chap called Jonathan recognised our booking from the email, and advised that any of the waiting staff would help. The buffet was available and hot food items were in separate trays, but the problem with this is that you are never sure if other people have swapped the serving spoons around resulting in cross contamination, so we steered clear of these. My daughters love ham, but the platter of cured meat included mortadella – which contains pistachio, so this was also a no-no.

It was a busy breakfast service and we had a very hungry 8 year old and a hyperactive toddler, so I tried to placate them with some raisins and fruit salad. Staff were thin on the ground but I managed to order porridge for the kids to be made with soya milk. I then enquired about the bread as mentioned in the email and the waitress looked puzzled. I showed her the email and she went to the kitchen.

Well after quite a while the waitress came back and guess what she said? “The bread we have here contains  egg but we have gluten free bread?” Argh! Never mind I thought, at least we have the porridge, it’ll be along in a few minutes. We waited nearly 30 minutes for the porridge, by which time Big One had grown bored and complained that she wanted toast all along, and Little Two had made her own entertainment wearing her fruit salad while throwing it onto the table/floor, and threatening to escape her highchair. When the porridge finally came it was boiling hot, having just been cooked and took an age to cool down; Little Two had given up on food by this time but at least Big One ate hers. However it was all far too stressful.

After our disappointing breakfast, I asked to speak to the manager who had sent the original email, and she had also brought Jonathan with her. I explained that her information was incorrect and the choices available were extremely limited, along with a long wait to feed impatient children. She apologised and offered me the option of a refund for the breakfast if I wanted to go elsewhere for the rest of our stay. I thought this was a bit of a cop out and said it was inconvenient for us to do that with the children on a cold winter’s morning, what could they offer?

Thankfully they became a bit more helpful after this and asked what they could do to provide a greater choice of food for our children. I gave them the names of brands of sliced bread available in the supermarkets that were dairy, egg and nut free (e.g. Hovis, Kingsmill and supermarket own brands). This was a revelation to them and they agreed to buy a loaf in.  I quizzed them about the ham and they said they had clean down procedures in place to prevent nut contamination, or if necessary would cut by hand. They would have a plate of ham ready in the morning and make the porridge quicker.

The following morning everything went like a breeze. The staff were very attentive and we were brought a large serving of ham straight away and a pile of allergy friendly toast shortly after. There was a bit of a wait for porridge but I guess they were cooking it from scratch. Most importantly of all my children were fed and happy (still made a mess though)!

When we were checking out, the manager was good enough to check if our breakfast was satisfactory. She said the experience had helped them for future visits from guests with allergies, the information about the bread in particular was very useful and they would offer this as an alternative option. And when we stay there next time I will know exactly what to ask for! I’m glad that at least one place has been taught to  cater better for allergies.

 

 

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More Meringues! Chickpea Style (yes really)

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The baking had stalled and I’ve been offline for a bit since a) My kitchen mixer had developed a ‘wobble’ and had to be sent off to be fixed and b) My laptop screen broke, courtesy of Little Two. In fact it’s still broken since I have to take it to the Apple Shop for a quote and there isn’t one near me for miles, so I’m using Mr Normal’s computer instead.

Following up on my last post about egg free meringues, I’ve found a different way to make them. The last time I was putting an order in with my local health food shop, I was ordering Organ Egg Replacer and mentioned I was making meringues with them. The chap I was speaking to said: “Do you know you can make them with chickpea water? I read about it in a vegan magazine”. Wow, really? So off I went to Google, and it’s true. The liquid, also known as aquafaba can be used as an egg replacer. It’s a recent discovery and there is yet to be adequate research into how this works but there’s a site dedicated to the stuff and recipes popping up all over the web.

So when my fixed mixer arrived back (hooray!) it was back to business as usual in the kitchen. I have to credit Mr Normal with making the meringues actually as he’s quite the culinary adventurer himself and is going through a bit of a baking obsession phase. The method is easy and all he did was this:

Ingredients

One can of chickpeas
Caster Sugar (at least 100g)

Method

  • Drain chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Weigh the liquid (ours  was 100g) and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • In a separate bowl weigh an equal amount of caster sugar.
  • Start whisking the liquid at high speed for 3 minutes or until a thick foam has developed. With the whisk still on, gradually add the sugar.

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  • Continue whisking at high speed and the liquid and sugar should combine to develop soft peaks resembling meringues.

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  • Spoon out in small heaps onto a baking tray lined with parchment. Bake in the oven at 120C for at least an hour (more for bigger meringues), turn off  and leave in the oven to  dry out further.

Read More »

Cake crumbs and other dangers

I take my baby to a few activities/classes, one we go to has some downtime for drinks and a biscuit while the children play for 10 minutes.
This particular week however somebody brought a proper cake in, with lashings of buttercream icing and almonds on top. Eeek. Cue watching my toddling egg and dairy allergic 16 month old like a hawk, who is eyeing up said cake being eaten by the other parents and making puppy dog eyes in begging mode. Usually the food thing is manageable as the parents are just eating a biscuit which hardly makes a mess and disappears pretty quickly. Unfortunately the slices of cake handed out were huge triangles on napkins and it was the type which fall apart and sprays crumbs everywhere once you bite into it. A couple of toddlers were also helping themselves which created a crumb shower in their vicinity.
This is the most difficult thing for both of us when we are out. My daughter is at the stage of either: a) wanting to eat anything off the floor that can fit in her mouth or b) wanting to eat anything that anyone else is eating. Both are not ideal and can be a pain but when you have and allergic child – well, it’s ten times more stressful. We were doing pretty well until just at the end when I was writing a cheque out for the teacher, the room was half empty but the floor was covered in crumbs; out of the corner of my eye I spotted her hand put something into her mouth. “No!” I yelped, jumped up and rushed over. After getting her mouth to open I fished out a piece of cake crumb. At least she hadn’t ingested it otherwise it would have made her come out in hives. A calmer response would have been more desirable as the teacher was slightly alarmed, but I was just relieved I stopped her in time.
This is one of the reasons why I don’t go to playgroups, there’s too much risk of being exposed to allergens and my daughter can’t make the distinction between what is safe and what is not. I wonder whether we are missing out, but then I think the stress is just not worth it.

Allergy Diagnosis

I’ve been lucky enough to have found GPs who have listened and assisted in getting my children’s allergy diagnosed relatively quickly. I’ve heard anecdotes from many others who have not been so lucky and their GPs seem to think it unnecessary to refer for allergy testing.

If you find the GP you have seen is not listening are there others at the practice you could get a second opinion from? I found some more resistant than others to treatment, some just didn’t know about allergies so it helped to research the information myself and go in ready to tell them what I needed, eventually getting to know which doctor was the most sympathetic. 7 years ago when we were first starting out there wasn’t that much information about but these days there is a lot more on the web given that the incidence of allergies is increasing,

If you find that your GP is still refusing to do anything the NICE guidelines is a good place to check that they are doing everything they can do diagnose your child’s allergy. If they are not, print it out, go back waving it at your GP telling them they have to fulfil their duty of care. Pester them as much as you can, they will eventually get the message!

Useful websites:
http://www.isitcowsmilkallergy.co.uk
http://www.allergyuk.org
http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG116/InformationForPublic

Is My Baby Allergic?

When my first daughter was 6 weeks old she started to develop eczema on her face which over the next few weeks would gradually get worse and spread all over her body. When she was teething and dribbling she constantly had a red patches on her cheeks and around her mouth; her skin was incredibly dry and her eczema would regularly flare up which seemed to happen randomly. We took her back and forth to the GP and after trial and error with many different kinds of emollients we eventually found a regime that worked for her using Doublebase and Epaderm, though her skin was so dry I had to apply her creams every two hours. We always had to dress her with long sleeves because the instant her arms were exposed she would scratch; it was worst at bedtime and her sleep was disturbed at night with scratching so she would often wake, I would find blood on her bedsheets from the scratching which was absolutely heartbreaking.

At 6 months her eczema was still severe and even though we were treating her with steroids it was not improving. Her cheeks would be red raw and she developed thread veins. I would regularly get comments on her skin and lectured by well meaning individuals on remedies to try (which was really, really annoying – I have tried everything Thank You very much). At this point I was still breastfeeding but looking at returning to work and started to think about formula feeding, so one day I gave her a couple of ounces of formula milk to try. She drank it all up: 10 minutes later she started scratching her face and didn’t stop, her face went red and blotchy all over and she started to bleed as she scratched, hives started to cover her body. I was absolutely terrified; realising she was having an allergic reaction we thankfully had some Piriton at home as the GP had prescribed some for her when her sleep was very bad. She calmed down after the medicine; I however, cried all afternoon. I had found out she was allergic to dairy.

All this had happened just before our appointment with the dermatologist for our baby’s eczema. We saw a lovely consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital from the Children’s Dermatology department, who agreed that she had a milk allergy and prescribed Neocate (a hypoallergenic formula) straight away and arranged a referral to the Childrens Allergy department. She also prescribed a unique preparation of propaderm (a very potent steroid) diluted in soft white paraffin to be applied to her skin – which was obtained only from the hospital. I have to say this was the turning point for us – she started to itch less when she started drinking Neocate and within a few weeks her eczema began to improve. It took another 3 years for it to very gradually, get properly under control using various forms of treatments.

At 10 months we eventually got to attend the Children’s Allergy Clinic at St Thomas’s, where they confirmed an allergy to egg, dairy, tree nuts and fish (I have to say the team are fantastic here and are one of the leading research teams in the field of allergy, I cannot compliment them enough). This was 7 years ago and it’s been a learning curve for us, and fortunately more people are becoming aware of allergies.

When I had my second baby and she started to develop eczema in the same way I suspected that she too was allergic, so I went straight to the doctor and I was right – she is currently allergic to egg and dairy. My two have also developed further allergies to chicken(!) and various types of fruit. Having said that it’s much easier to manage second time around and less daunting.