Maidenhead MUm

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A mini Winter adventure, just ten minutes from home.

Ice skating at Harehatch Shetlands

This afternoon, the Little Lady and I headed over to Harehatch Sheeplands Garden Centre to join in the launch party for their new ice skating area. 

For those of you that haven't yet been to Harehatch, I should warn you that 'Garden Centre' is probably not the right word to use, its more of an emporium, with an eclectic mix of plants, a mini farm (including goats and rabbits), an indoor play area and a large assortment of stone animals, christmas decorations... and pretty much anything else you can think of. It's utterly random, but we love it. 

So when I saw their Facebook post advertising a mini party I thought we'd go and have a look. And to be fair, I was curious to see if the Little Lady (She's two and a half) would like to have a go at ice skating. 

Here's how we got on....

We started off by watching... I had a feeling she would be shy.
There were people of all ages skating, but as we were there early it wasn't too busy.

She was fascinated watching everyone... but wouldn't go on

They have skates in every size...

...and there was lots of help on hand to help you find the right size.

But I was intrigued by the toddler skates.

They have blunt blades and slip on over the shoes.

Despite the fact that the Little Lady was shy, one little boy loved it!

Jacob was super cute and happily skated/shuffled around on his own.
Looking quite the little dude at two years of age on ice!
There he goes again! Proof that toddlers can ice skate! 
Check Jacob out in action:

(Left, right, left, right!)

After watching the skating we checked out the 'Walking on Water' which I knew would fascinate the Little Lady as she has a slight obsession with footballs (more so than dolls, wonder how long this will last!). You can choose to pay £3 for skating, or £5 for both, which seems pretty reasonable. Plus you get access to the usual indoor play area which is normally £2

Forget 'Walking on the Sunhiiiiine, Woah-oh', walking on the water is where its at!
I think its harder than it looks - all about great balance once you're in there.
This captured the little lady's imagination!
Despite the party music and the new winter activities, I still couldn't convince her to have a go at ice skating, even though there were friendly Harehatch staff on the ice to help lure her on. So at her insistence we went inside to check out the animals and the Christmas bits and pieces. Revisiting her regular haunts. 

She was thrilled to see the goats.
They're indoors for the winter/Nativity! 

Just like the farm in the summer, the 'Living Nativity' runs off donations. 
After waving to the goats and the rabbits we ventured inside in the hope of getting her hands a bit warmer. Note to anyone going ice skating with the little ones; it gets cold outside! Inside, it was a magically random world of stone animals, doggy door stops, full size polar bears and lots and lots of Christmas lights. Words can't really do it justice... 

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...
Meer Cat Bond? What do you mean it's not on your Amazon wishlist?!

The Christmas range is extensive.
And for a Little Lady obsessed with animals, there's a lot to look at!

Plenty of Christmas Tree decoration inspiration.

And then we hit the lights!
Presenting the Harehatch Illuminations!
Covering everything from illuminated snowmen to illuminated bunches of flowers. 
Looking for the snowman's nose... I told her to be gentle! 
After perusing the lights and the Christmas displays we decided to head back outside (via the Giant Polar Bear, obviously). You'll spot that she's carrying a little white bear with her and his nickname is Polar Bear, so I think she had a bit of a moment.... 

Back for another hug!   
I think its true love!
This time, to go outside we went via the cafe area, which was starting to get busy as people stopped for tea. Walking through their extended seating area it was also clear to see that Harehatch is 'Christmas Ready'! From Santa and his reindeer, to a purpose-built grotto, there was lots to look at. 
The cafe does a great Americano and Bacon Sarnie on a Sunday.
And it has lots of kid-friendly options, including a lunch bag for around £4.
Plenty to capture the imagination.
There's a Santa's Grotto and 'Breakfast with Santa', check the website for details.
She was relatively unbothered by Santa. Definitely secondary to the Polar Bear!   
A mini letter box for Santa. 

The Grotto is ready for action!
Back outside the crowds were starting to gather and the BBQ had gathered a bit of a queue. But at 6pm, for us it was time to go so we agreed to make our way home for our own tea. Although there's no such thing as a quick goodbye... we had to say goodbye to the Penguins... and the Guinea Pigs... and the lights! 

Some more people getting ready to 'hit the ice'.
Plenty of room to skate/shuffle. 
The ice rink was getting busier with people skating (well, being honest, it's more of a shuffle than a Torville & Dean glide) Here's a video... Watch carefully to see what my little lady is doing instead of skating, it tickled me.

Yes... she wanted to milk the cow! I'm assuming that at some point the animal obsession will end and the Disney Princess dresses will take over, but for now, it's lovely this way!

The BBQ was proving popular.
Sausages and Burgers... Om Nom.
Saying Good Bye to the Guinea Pigs.
And the Penguins.
And a final stroll under the lights.
We bumped into Andy who works at Harehatch on the way out. He'd been around to help us in case we wanted to skate earlier. I'd told Anya it was 'Andy's party' that we were going to so it was nice to say goodbye to him in person. She immediately went shy, and coy, and shy again and wouldn't say very much. But as we walked towards the car she kept saying 'Bye Bye man!', 'Bye Bye'. As we drove away this had turned into 'Bye Bye Grandad!!' (take it as a compliment Andy?!) 

I hate being in a Selfie, but here's me and the little lady!

Thanks to Harehatch Sheeplands for having us along, and to the other Mums I spoke to for letting me use photographs of their kids on the ice. 

Let me know if any of the rest of you head down to Harehatch over the next few weeks, there's LOADS on! I love the fact that you can pop there for an hour or so without having to pay for a whole day out. With a toddler, that's really handy as we can squeeze in trips in between nap times and I don't get frustrated by having to pay for a hefty admission fee for me and then skulk home if she has a toddler meltdown! (One day I'll be able to talk about our day at Odds Farm, but not yet!) And no, I haven't been paid to write any of this, I was just really keen to support a great local business and genuinely pleased to see so much going on just ten minutes down the road! 

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

An insider's guide to going Dairy and Gluten free.

If you're deciding to follow a dairy and gluten free diet (either by choice or necessity) it can be a bit overwhelming to begin with. As you pore over the labels in the supermarket you quickly realise that a lot of products have hidden ingredients (Salt and Vinegar crisps contain dairy! Why would they do that?!).

As I embarked on my intolerance journey I found that the dairy- and gluten-free world can seem limited and confusing - and definitely expensive! Fancy a loaf of bread with 6 slices for £3? Sure! 

Gluten Free Pizza. Note the HUGE box and tiny pizza. This happens a lot with gluten-free food!

But in the interest of sharing everything I've learned along the way, this post talks about a few of the quick 'cheats' I've found. I make no claims for them to be the healthiest options, although to be honest, a side effect of being gluten- and dairy-free was that I lost lots of weight. Having to turn down all the cakes and biscuits in the office soon makes the weight drop off!

Desk drop of Doughnuts that you can't eat? ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Sigh. 
The bonus: I lost lots of baby weight without joining a gym.

How do you know you're intolerant?

I found after having the little one that I couldn't eat the same foods as I used to. I seemed to be bloated all the time and sometimes had stomach cramps after eating. After lots of tests I found I was intolerant to dairy, and also that I felt a lot better when I excluded gluten from my diet (I had tests for Coeliac but they all came back negative). I had tests through my GP and also through a private doctor. Either way, it can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle as there aren't any simple ways to find answers or solutions, and it's usually by a process of elimination that you find the answers. 

Where to start?

Not everyone is gluten AND dairy intolerant, and just because something is classed as 'free from' in a supermarket doesn't mean that it will be free from both, so I've split this post into 5 sections:
  • Everyday food you can buy from supermarkets that's Dairy or Gluten-Free (or both)
  • My favourite Dairy-free options
  • My favourite Gluten-Free options
  • Where to buy Dairy- and Gluten-free in Maidenhead.
  • Eating Out

1. Everyday food you can buy from supermarkets that's Dairy- and Gluten-Free.

The following are foods that are naturally gluten- and dairy-free and can be found in most supermarkets, without having to go to a specialist food shop or without having to venture into the 'free-from' aisle at your local store. They're meant to give you some ideas as to how you can recreate the meals you're used to without having to buy specific dairy- or gluten-free foods from the specialist aisles in the supermarket.

Birds Eye Potato Waffles. Perfect for Breakfasts or quick meals for oneCook them straight from frozen in the toaster, (take about two turns) a great swap for toast and a lifesaver in a hurry: egg on waffles, beans on waffles... they're waffly versatile!

Frozen Hashbrowns. Another good weekend breakfast fry-up substitute for toast.

Hash browns or waffles make an awesome breakfast treat without the Toast!
Polenta. An interesting side to your main meals, buy it ready made from Tesco for 75p, slice it up and put in the oven. You get a sort of polenta chips. I have this with a spicy homemade chorizo stew. Although you will need to find dairy free Chorizo as it contains milk!

Take one packet of Polenta, slice and cook for 45 mins. Tasty.

Plain Tortilla Chips. The Tesco Everyday Value ones are gluten-free. When I stopped eating bread I really missed the crunch so this was a good treat. I have these along with some chilli and rice.

Microwave rice. A quick lunchtime lifesaver in the office. I sometimes add some prawns in sweet chilli sauce from M&S. 

Microwave rice is great, just remember to open the packet before you microwave. Whoops! True story!

Taco Shells. e.g. El Paso meal kits - gluten free.

McCain Oven Chips. Sometimes you just need quick food. You cant go wrong with egg and chips! Make sure you read the labels though, some chips have gluten in the coating.

Flavoured Olive Oil. This is great as an alternative to butter on mashed potato and baked potato or as a dressing on salad or gluten free pasta. I have tried the lemon, basil, garlic and chilli oil and they're all tasty. 

Infused oils come in lots of flavours, great mixed into mash potato or on salad.
Pure and Vitalite Spread. Most supermarkets have a pure vegetable spread in the chiller cabinet, and I use both of these regularly for baking and cooking (rarely eat toast these days!).

Mrs Crimble Macaroons. Because you will always need some snacks or treats when everyone else is munching on chocolate biscuits! These are Dairy- and gluten-free, although they do have a disclaimer saying they are produced in a factory that handles dairy so you may have to see how sensitive you are.

Seabrook Crisps. Gluten free, but you'll have to avoid the cheese and onion variety if you're dairy intolerant!

Seabrook crisps are Gluten Free. So is Gin & Tonic. Wahoo!

Popcorn. Either homemade or the cinema-style popcorn is gluten- and dairy-free too, just avoid the Butterkist version - the clue is in the name!

2. My favourite Dairy-free options.

Lactofree. Look out for the Lacto range of cheese and milks. Although I couldn’t digest the lacto milk, it tastes just like real milk so its worth giving it a try as some people can still digest it. I use the lacto cheese and soft cheese without any reaction though, so they must be made differently!

Almond milk. When I first started to go dairy free I could have cried for a 'proper' cup of tea. I really missed milk! I found Soya and even Soya light overpowering in flavour. I have found that I prefer the unsweetened almond milk and you can buy it from the chiller cabinet or the longlife milk section. Sometimes you can get it for £1 a carton - in which case I tend to stock up on the longlife variety.

Mini Cartons of Rice Milk Great for dairy free on the go. I take these away when I've had to stay in hotels and have used them in my room or carried with me for breakfast. I haven't yet found small cartons of soya or almond milk though, so these are my emergency go-to. Strangely enough, Coffeemate is dairy-free so you might find it useful to carry some of that round with you when you visit family and friends.

Its all about being prepared and taking your own milk so you can have tea in bed.
Snacks. The Nakd bars are dairy-free and gluten-free and readily available from Tesco and other supermarkets. I also love Hale & Hearty flapjacks which you can get from Tesco, Sainsburys and Ocado. 

Lunch at work. You'll have to find some good work arounds for the usual sandwich or baguetteI have found the simplest option is to look for ready meals that are gluten- and dairy-free by nature e.g Chilli and Rice. A jacket potato with some flavoured olive oil (e.g. basil oil) is a great way of avoiding butter on the jacket. 

These ready meals by 'Kirsty' are dairy and gluten free and available at Sainsbury's.

Lactase Tablets. If you struggle to digest milk, then you can get supplements to help. (Why don't doctors tell you this?!!) Holland & Barrett do lactase tablets which enable you to digest milk and dairy for the next 3 hours if you take 3 before a meal. These have been life changing for me as I can dine out for a gluten-free meal, or can go to a friends house without having to give them crazy dietary requirements if they want to cook for me. They're around £10 for a jar, and are often in the 'get another for one penny' promotion. I asked my doctor about them and he said they were harmless, but I prefer to limit them to special occasions rather than 3 times a day. I say its like 'Dairy Vegas, Baby!' Eat like a King for three hours with ice cream, chocolate and cake!

My magic pills, check with your doctor first though.

3. My preferred Gluten-Free options:

Gluten free bread is often smaller than normal bread!

Gluten-free bread. The winner for most people seems to be Genius bread. Although everyone has different tastes and I just couldn't get used to it. I've preferred to just go without. Another tip: if you do buy a loaf and don't like it you can always turn it into breadcrumbs and freeze it for your own gluten free fish fingers.

Gluten-free wraps. My other half commented that gluten must be the thing that makes things taste great, and although the gluten-free bread can be hit and miss, I found the gluten-free wraps to be great! They’re about 3 for £3, but tasty for a sandwich, worth stocking up on and freezing if you see them on offer. I like these by the Newburn Bakehouse.

Gluten-free pasta. Awesome, and readily available from Tesco and most supermarkets. Cooks much quicker than usual pasta and tastes great. You could serve it to people as part of their meal and they'd never know.

Cereal. I like the Doves Farm flakes. Usually £2.79 but sometimes on offer for £1 at Ocado. I buy in bulk when that happens, and I use unsweetened almond milk. I should add that after 12 months of eating them I've just spotted on the label that it contains skimmed milk powder! Presumably in very small amounts as I've never had a reaction to it.

Gluten-free couscous. Available from Asda and Ocado, although quinoa is gluten-free and more readily available. 

Gluten-free Sausages. Black Farmer do gluten-free sausages and many of the more premium supermarket ranges of sausages are gluten-free, but you'll need to scour the labels. I also like Tesco Finest Chipolatas.

You can also buy lots of gluten-free flours and start experimenting. I found that it was often easier to try and make my own, either by following a gluten- and dairy-free recipe, or swapping ingredients from standard recipes. It can be a bit trial & error though as different flours behave in different ways! 

You'll have a well stocked food cupboard with mysterious items.
I made giant dairy- and gluten-free Yorkshire puddings.

I tried to merge all three, cheap, quick AND gluten- and dairy-free!

4. Where to buy Gluten- and Dairy-free in Maidenhead

Most supermarkets have a 'free from' section, and if you're just going gluten-free you'll be in luck because there is an ever increasing range of gluten-free products on the market, (although less so for the dairy-free peeps amongst us).

Sainsburys in the centre of town has a a big range of free from products including cereal, flour and stock cubes.

Tesco in the Nicholson centre has a very limited range (mostly pasta and gluten free bsicuits) and the Tesco on the Bath Road also has a small end of aisle 'free from' section. They also stock almond milk in the chiller cabinet.
This is the 'Free From' section in Tesco in town. Its pretty basic.

Waitrose has a much bigger range and is great for some research and a mooch. You'll be most likely to find tasty gluten free sausages and dairy free chorizo here!

Holland & Barrett have a mix of products including flours and bread and have a range of dairy-free cheeses in the chiller cabinet, although I didn't really get on with many of these.

Harehatch Sheeplands Farm Shop has a brilliant range, including two freezer cabinets full with everything from gluten-free yorkshire puddings to dairy-free ice cream.

Harehatch Sheeplands Farm Shop wins hands down!

All of this is dairy- and/or gluten-free

They even have a frozen section with Yorkies.

And a choice of dairy-free ice cream. Amazing!

Being honest though, the simplest way to shop for dairy- and gluten-free stuff is online. Otherwise I found myself going to Sainsburys for one thing, Tesco for something else. I've shopped around and have ordered items from Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda, but beyond a shadow of a doubt, Ocado have the best range, and it's easy to find on their website. I've searched on Tesco Groceries for gluten-free sausages and been presented with a list of Dog Food. True story!

5. Eating Out

You'll find quite a few of the big chains and restaurants offer gluten-free items on the menu now. In Maidenhead both Prezzo and Pizza Express do gluten-free pizzas, and for me, if I take the lactase tablets with me this means I can have a 'normal' meal out. Here's the Pizza Express Gluten Free menu.

Pizza Express gets my vote - their gluten free pizzas are great.

A Campari Spritz, dairy- and gluten-free!
I've found Mexican food is often gluten- and dairy-free; Tacos, Tortillas and Tacquitas are often naturally gluten-free. My favourite is Wahaca in London, but we also have Poco Loco in Maidenhead too. 

Wahaca on the Southbank in London.

Quite often though, restaurants can be a bit baffled by the request so it pays to talk to them before you get there. Otherwise you may find that your Christmas dinner, which is mostly gluten- and dairy-free could be a little like this:

How very festive! Turkey and salad. And fruit. Not even any roasties or sprouts.

Oh, and you'll need to get used to the 'fruit' thing. Even though really, fruit is not a dessert, it's about the only thing you'll find on most dairy- and gluten-free menus. 

Ok, sometimes, when it looks pretty, fruit can be classed as a desert.
Hopefully some of this information helps if you're just starting out on an intolerance 'adventure'. With a little bit of knowledge it's not as daunting as it first seems, and after a while you get used to not eating chocolate, biscuits, cake... I promise! 

If you think you might have food intolerances it's best to get checked out by your GP. A lot of people have Coeliac disease without knowing it and it can have really serious consequences if left undiagnosed. Plus, if your doctor confirms you are Coeliac and gluten intolerant then you might be able to get help on the NHS for gluten-free items.

I'd love to hear if you have any tips to include here, or any experiences at local restaurants or shops - just drop me a note in the comments. 

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,