Before we get started, I’d just like to clarify that this post isn’t about new gardening ideas but rather, ideas for our new garden. You see, just a few weeks ago we moved into a new house primarily so we could gain a garden for our little girl to play in and us all to enjoy. I’ve also been working on a few gardening copywriting projects this year, so I’m feeling rather inspired and eager to get stuck into remodelling our small patch of land. Steve is also quite particular about what he’d like to include, so this garden plan is a mish-mash of both our ideas and hopefully will accommodate the needs and wants of the whole family.

This is how our garden looks right now. See if you can spot Alex lounging in the background and Ruby soaking up a little sun.

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Zoning the garden

As you can see, we’ve got a relatively blank space to work with. There are a few obvious things on our to-do to-do list like trimming the hedge, painting the fence and treating or potentially re-laying the moss heavy lawn. After that, we plan to zone the garden into three areas for growing fruit and veg, space for Alex to play and a very important small area for cooking, eating and entertaining. The first zone starts at the patio as we work backwards towards the fence.

The entertainment area

We love a barbecue, my parents have always thrown the best barbecues and I’ve had the pleasure of helping to cater for some of them in the past with pizzas cooked on my pizza stone and summer cocktails. I’m hoping we will be able to hold our own soon. We’ve already got a patio table and chairs that my parents gifted us, which makes a perfect spot for a sunny breakfast. Ideally, I’d like to upgrade our barbecue and invest in something like one of the small garden gazebos from this garden camping range. It would be good to have somewhere guests can dive under cover if a little drizzle comes our way or where Steve could maybe set up a pop up bar. He’s a firm believer in barbecuing whatever the weather brings and wanted an awning for the yard in our previous home so that he could barbecue in the rain!

Also on the list is some pretty lighting. There are some solar lights on the back fence, however, I’d love some colourful festoon lights or fairy lights to brighten the space. I’ve already been looking around for lights but if you have any recommendations of where to buy some, give me a holler!

The play area

It’s hard to know what to do with Alex’s play area as inevitably, what she’s into now will not necessarily be the same in a couple of years. She loves swings and we don’t have a park with them very nearby, so we’re hoping to install a small swing and slide but leave plenty of space for running around or playing with other outdoor toys like paddling pools and balls. Her Grandad has mentioned he might build her a small wooden bench and table too where she could have her lunch or do some colouring in outdoors, which I think is a lovely idea.

The growing zone

Steve and I both love cooking, so we’re very excited to have a little more space to grow our own produce. We already have a fairly good collection of potted herbs and a bay tree, which we use for flavouring food and drinks (mmm, a spring of fresh rosemary in gin is lovely). We’re hoping to put a little greenhouse in the back right corner of the garden so we can grow some fruit and veg. Where borders have previously been dug along the path, we’ve started lining them with our herb pots. We’ll re-dig the borders when we get the chance.

Welcoming wildlife

I’m feeling really lucky to finally be in our new home, it’s nothing flash but it has space enough for the four of us and has a great layout for us too. Alex is showing a real love for gardening already and has her own tool set at my parents, she’s obsessed with bird spotting. Magpies in particular (maybe she’ll be more into football than me). While we don’t plan to have a dedicated ‘wildlife’ zone in the garden, we would like to encourage wildlife into the garden. I’ve found this guide from Ulster Wildlife helpful with planning. So far, Alex and my Dad have added a bird box on the back fence and a feeder on the side fence. I’m hoping that by next year we’ll have a border of flowers to attract butterflies and bees and perhaps a little log pile somewhere at the back too.

Up until now, I’ve never been a huge garden fan but more of a garden party enthusiast. Whether it’s age or the excitement of having our own little plot of earth I’m feeling really inspired and keen to get stuck in. If you’re a keen gardener and have factored similar priorities into planning your outdoor space, I’d love to see what you’ve done – leave your links in the comments.

This post was written in collaboration with Garden & Camping

This weekend marked my second Easter as a dairy-free mum and in all honesty, it was pretty damn good. With 18 months of avoiding cow’s milk behind me, I found it much easier to hunt out alternatives, including Easter eggs for me and the little miss. She was far too young for chocolate of any kind last year. However, while we don’t make a habit of giving her super sweet things like chocolate on the regular, this year she had a dairy free egg all of her own. Here she is preparing to crack open her Tesco white chocolate button egg mid morning.
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I’m not much of a white chocolate fan personally, but it went down a treat with Alex, even if it tasted slightly like icing or frosting to me! Luckily, this year I was very happy to receive a few Easter packages of my own, featuring some fantastic goodies from two of my retail favourites, M&S and Hotel Chocolat.

M&S Dairy Free Easter

I’ve always loved a bit of M&S for a treat. Percy Pigs have a special place in my heart and since going dairy free I’ve been delighted to discover the growing Free From range at M&S. I was invited for an introduction to the range at my local M&S Silverlink last year and was suitably impressed with the efforts the retailer has put into this growing market. Their coconut & chocolate cream Bailey’s alternative caused a frenzy at Christmas and the Coconut Cream Dessert they sell is a consistent favourite here served with strawberries.

For Easter, the brand put together some nice non-egg options, including some gorgeous little sweet boxes with deliciously juicy jellies, which just happen to be my personal weakness. Dark chocolate eggs also feature in the range. I know some parents would prefer to have a ‘milk’ chocolate alternative for little ones, but Alex rarely gets chocolate and is very happy with a little taster of dark chocolate as a result. Plus -the egg came in very shiny and elaborate wrapping – which she’s usually far more interested in.
M&S dairyfree goodies

Hotel Chocolat Dairy Free Easter

Hotel Chocolat is another brand I’m pretty smitten with. When friends, family, clients or colleagues are due a gift, it’s my go-to retailer for choosing something tasty to send. Two years ago I completed one of their Bean to Bar experience days and along with being a heap of fun, it helped me learn a lot about the brand’s ethics, sourcing and ingredients and in turn won my customer loyalty. Buying boxes of Hotel Chocolat at Christmas for clients has become a little envy inducing since I’ve gone Dairy Free but I’m glad to see the retailer stepping up and offering more vegan products within their range. For Easter they had a really decent range of dark chocolate eggs. We received some delicious almond and raisin studded dark chocolate eggs from my mum and Hotel Chocolat were kind enough to gift Alex and myself these beautiful eggs too. Again the child option is dark chocolate, but it was wrapped to appeal to littles. The ginger studded slabs with the adult egg make the perfect accompaniment to a coffee and if you act fast, you can snap them up at half price in the Hotel Chocolat Easter sale. Egg-cellent!
Hotel Chocolat dairyfree Easter eggs

Looking ahead to Easter after the ladder

Alex is now over half way up the milk ladder. In fact, if we can just get her to happily eat some baked cheese and not stay up all night screaming, her next rung up is milk chocolate. This means there’s a very real chance that next year we won’t need to launch a dairy free egg hunt at Easter. The reintroduction of dairy still produces mixed feelings for me as her mum. I’m excited for us both that a future without vigilant label checking and restaurant managers who make me cry is well within sight. However, I’m not too sure I can go back to consuming dairy to the scale I once did. I won’t go back to using it in my coffee or cereal at home because I simply don’t think we need to. Nowadays, I much prefer the taste of a good quality dark chocolate than milk chocolate too. In fact, chances are I’ll be hoping for something from the M&S or Hotel Chocolat dairy free ranges next Easter too. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Last year, I felt a bit deprived at Easter time and Easter weekend 2018 has been thoroughly indulgent. Here’s to retailers continuing to step up by providing delicious dairy-free alternatives ,so kids with allergies and intolerances never need to feel left out!

I was lucky enough to be gifted Dairy Free Easter packages by M&S and Hotel Chocolat. However, all the opinions expressed in this post are my own and I received no money for publication of this post.

Oh what a joy it is to eat out stress free. I do wish I’d appreciated the luxury a little more before I went dairy free. Last week myself and my boyfriend headed to Tapas Revolution in Greys Quarter, Eldon Square, Newcastle to try out their food and drinks and put their allergy handling skills to the test. Spoiler: the outcome was pleasingly good.

Sangria time

When Tapas Revolution first opened I missed being cooked for by the company’s founder, chef Omar Allibhoy as Alex was still fairly new and poorly and I was more than a little miffed. This was a real shame as it would have been nice to add Omar to the list after enjoying Jean Christophe Novelli‘s cooking as part of the festive feast with Aldi a few years back. Tapas Revolution has since launched an adjacent bar de tapas that boasts an impressive happy hour or sangria time Sun-Fri 12-7 which also includes 2-4-1 on gin and tonics and cocktails. We’d originally planned to visit Tapas Revolution to celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday but a family bout of norovirus unfortunately delayed proceedings for a week.

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On our rescheduled visit, as we headed in to town I was more than a little excited at the prospect of having a proper ‘date day’ along with a few drinks.  I’d scoped out the menu online and was beyond overjoyed to find a really good Tapas Revolution allergy menu. Hallelujah! I really can’t praise restaurants enough when they make a nice clear menu that’s simple to read. Where allergens in dishes weren’t broken down on the menu we found staff at the restaurant knowledgeable and able to tell us how dishes could be adapted to make them dairy free, suggesting what we might eat on the menu. Yes, they had a heads up that I was dairy free but take not other restaurants at all levels, this is how it should be done.

I was completely put at ease by first manager Sam then our Spanish waiter, Javier. My dietary requirements never felt like a problem, there was lots on the menu I could still eat and a few things that simple adjustments like leaving the aioli off made safe for me to eat. We chose eight tapas dishes and all eight were safe for me to eat. How amazing is that? Sometimes I struggle to find one or two safe options on a menu.

Tapas already has a special place in my heart and a nostalgic spot in my stomach thanks to visits to Primavera and Sonar festivals in Barcelona back when I was child free. How happily did I roam drinking Rioja and Cava and eating pinchos as I went. In honour of these sunny times we selected one of the spring Cava cocktails from the menu. The Sparkling Tropical Sangria, was light and fruity without being overpoweringly sweet and the watermelon chunks in it were delightfully alcoholic. It would be a perfect tipple for drinking in the restaurant’s bar looking out onto the street as an afterwork drink in the summer or during a shopping pit stop. A cute little plate of Iberian ham and some bread sticks accompanied our drinks and made us wish we’d ordered the Jamón Ibérico tapas plate.

What we ordered

Pan con tomate £3.25
Albóndigas en salsa £6.25
Chorizo a la sidra £5.75
Paella de pollo £5.50
Torreznos con mojo dulce £5.95
Calamares fritos a la andaluza £6.50
Arroz negro £6.50
Patatas bravas £4.25

The food came out fairly quickly in succession and was so bountiful we thought we had made a mistake ordering so many plates but we underestimated our sleep-deprivation fuelled appetites. I had ideas of taking some snazzy flat lay snaps but when the food arrived I just pointed and papped quickly because my tummy was growling.
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IMG_5862My favourite was the arroz negros – black rice with prawn and squid. I could happily eat a huge bowl of this comfort food and was so pleased to find the squid was cooked perfectly. I easily polished off most of the potatas bravas myself as they were nice and crisp and not at all greasy. The saffron touched paella also went down too easily. I’d have liked a few more beans in that but there was plenty of chicken. The caramel pork was more of aconfusing affair. The pork and fat were rendered lovely and crisp and served with a caramelised sauce, flavoured with tasted like smokey pimento. It was really quite spicy too and while I couldn’t decide whether it was for me, I ate a lot of it! I think maybe I’d prefer a different sauce but the pork was cooked to perfection. The tomato bread hit all the right notes with my boyfriend who demolished most of it himself. While I enjoyed the meatball sauce I found the herb flavouring of the meatballs a little strong for my taste. The chorizo was both salty and sweet with a little smoke thanks to being cooked in cider.I wasn’t sold on the sweetness even though I recognise it’s traditional to put Chorizo with cider or Sherry but as my boyfriend has much more of a sweet tooth it really appealed to him and he happily dunked his bread in the sauce.

I’ve become accustomed to not having too much in the way of dessert options when we dine out. Our lovely waiter said he believed I could have the churros without the chocolate but we were pretty full from our savoury feast so we passed. We liked Tapas Revolution a lot. With our jug of Sangria at half price plus eight plates of tapas our date day feast came to a very respectable £52.30. We were being greedy guts though as I swear being a parent makes you hungrier.

It’s interesting to see which brands from Greys Quarter development are staying put and I really hope Tapas Revolution is one of them. I’ll be making an effort to visit again because it’s nice to have a change from pasta and sauce when I eat out and as a big fan of a buffet, I’m sure my little foodie in the making will love it too. We spotted that Tapas Revolution offer a kids menu for £5 and as I’d much rather Alex tried new flavours and foods rather than being subjected to the usual mundane (and dairy filled) choices on children’s menus, we’ve
promised her a visit when we next head out on a family shopping trip.

Big thanks to the staff at Tapas Revolution for making us feel so welcome!

*The cost of our meal was covered by Tapas Revolution but our review is an honest representation of the food and service we encountered.

When I was pregnant, I did the sensible thing and batch cooked loads of my favourite meals and put them in the freezer to make life a little easier when baby arrived. Smashing, eh? Except all of those meals contained milk, butter and cheese to some extent, so when we discovered three weeks into the rollercoaster that is being new parents that our screaming, sick but beautiful bundle had CMPA (cow’s milk protein allergy) it was up to Steve to eat every single one of those meals out the freezer, while I needed to adopt a whole new shopping and eating strategy. Over the last 16.5 months I’ve learned to scan a label pretty darn quick and made clever swaps in all of my favourite recipes. We do a monthly online shop at Tescos for special allergy treats and a weekly top up of fresh veg at Aldi.

I get hangry pretty quickly, a trait my daughter shares with me, so it’s important we’re never caught out without suitable easy meals or snacks to grab. If you’re just starting out on  your CMPA breastfeeding or weaning journey, here are some of the habits we’ve adopted to ensure meal times go smoothly and we never have a food SOS. I hope you find them useful.

Menu Planning

I’ve planned evening meals for years. Not only is it cheaper but it makes organising cooking and eating around multiple work schedules much easier. When Alex began weaning she was still struggling to gain weight, so we wanted to make sure she had exposure to lots of interesting, nutritious and high calorie foods. To help with this I wrote out a meal plan for her breakfast, lunch and tea for the week ahead and popped it in the fridge so whoever was looking after her that day knew what was on the menu. This really helped with ensuring she was getting lots of good fats and calcium in her diet. And as a plus, when we have a dieticians appointment and they ask what she’s eating we can just take along a few of the old menus as examples. Mine was pretty taken aback with how organised we were but doing these little meal plans really helped to give me peace of mind. Now we generally only plan our evening meal but I’ll pour over our cookbook collection regularly to look at new meals to introduce. I find looking through cookbooks really relaxing so this is never a chore to me.

Batch Cooks

Chilli

As anyone who has a baby or toddler knows, cooking time isn’t in plentiful supply some days. However, since neither I or Alex eat milk or soya products, it’s not really easy to grab lots of prepared packaged food. It’s not too healthy to do so either so we still do a lot of batch cooking or making extras for the freezer. We use products like oatly cream, oatly creme fraiche and Violife cheeses in some recipes and I’ve been experimenting with a lot of vegan recipes lately.

We’re really not fans of eating the same thing every day for a week anyway, so extra portions always go in the freezer in those nifty tinfoil trays, so that we can take them out on days we know cooking from fresh will be a squeeze. We also make mini versions for Alex that we can just lift out of the freezer the night before and send to granny and grandpa daycare with her if needed. I love having soups for lunches so I throw extra portions of those into those special freezer bags so I can have a different flavour every day. Below is a sample of what’s nestling in our freezer right now. We always have plenty of frozen veggies in there too as accompaniments, including things like broccoli, chopped butternut squash and green beans. As you can imagine, the freezer is pretty packed out, so much so I’m starting to wonder whether when we move it might be wise to invest in some kind of huge commercial type freezer like these from Alexanders Direct.

In our freezer for quick meals

  • Pasta bake
  • Shepherds/cottage pie
  • Stew and dumplings
  • Chilli
  • Bolognese
  • Lasagne
  • Soups

Takeaway Alternatives

Fish and chips

Oh how I miss takeaway. Eating takeaway with an allergy to cater for has unfortunately proved an absolute minefield. I’ve become a bit of a grump about it and hate hearing delivery drivers ring the doorbells in our street when the weekend comes around. Luckily, I now have a plan for when the desire for takeaway type foods arises and that’s to reach in the freezer. Sainsburys stocks a breaded cod fillet that’s milk free in their fridge section, which goes down a treat with some Mayflower curry sauce (buy in B&M) and some frozen peas blended with mint, a squeeze of lemon and oatly cream, not forgetting some homecooked chips. Tesco has a few different options in its free from section including a sweet and sour. Asda has a chilli beef, lemon chicken and prawn toast in its fridge takeaway section, which we simply add some stirfried noodles and veg to and voila! Waitrose have a couple of super tasty curry options that Alex loves too. I’ve a future post earmarked to cover current options in more detail because I’ve personally found the odd takeaway readymeal to be a shopping saviour. The key is to know what’s in your nearest supermarket for if the takeaway urge should bite or like us to have a few things stashed in your freezer.

We’ve had some horribly unsuccessful attempts at ordering from takeaways including one attempt to have a Chinese when trialling soya, which ended up with me in tears and eating toast because the takeaway called us just as we plated up our meal to tell us it did have milk in after all. I wanted to eat that takeaway so much, after that I made a concerted effort to look for fakeaway options every time I go to a new supermarket. I love cooking Thai, Indian and Chinese food from scratch but sometimes you just want to put your pyjamas on and take the easy option. Keeping a stock of safe alternatives at home makes these occasions far more stress free for us.

Toddler Snacks

Pasties and Pinwheels

From dropping off the centiles in the red book to steadily climbing then galloping upwards once allergen free, we’ve done a pretty good job at fattening up our dinky daughter. We tried to follow BLW as much as possible and did give some foods like dairyfree yoghurt on spoons but handed those to her to eat. We found a lot of the ‘safe’ toddler snacks lacked calories and flavour. Rice cakes, puffs etc didn’t cut the mustard so we didn’t bother with them. The one exception to this being Kiddilicious wafers, which Alex still loves more than, well, me. Shop bought toddler snacks and particularly allergy safe ones seem to be crazy expensive so we keep a variety of snacks for Alex in resealable bags that we can just take out on the day and pop in the changing bag or her Yumbox. Our favourites include:

  • Savoury flapjack
  • Pinwheels and pastries (many readymade puff pastries are dairy/soya free)
  • Muffins – banana and blueberry, olive and cheese, carrot cake are regulars
  • Pizza slices (made with pastry)

Alex isn’t much of a sandwich fan at the moment, despite being a carb lover generally. If she does decide to change her mind on that front I’ll be following Nomi Palony’s tip of freezing sandwiches to grab and go on days we go to soft play. We’ve only just recently felt brave enough to start going to soft play with Alex but have quickly learned that the ones in our area are absolutely terrible for catering for CMPA, so we’re developing our own SOS strategy for that too.

If you’re breastfeeding a CMPA baby and wondering how you’ll adapt, hopefully this post has given you some reassurance and ideas. It’s a learning curve but with a few shopping strategies under your belt it’s easier than you’d think.

If you have any questions about our transition to a dairyfree diet, please pop them below. I’m always happy to help other CMPA Mamas get into the swing of things.

 

 

collaborative post

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d dropped off the edge of the coastline into the sea or given up eating out or something. However, after some decidedly dodgy dining out experiences in 2017 I’ve been working hard to put my positive pants on for 2018 and quietly plotting some exciting changes for Foodfables and lots of adventures with my little family.

Since becoming a mother, my world revolves around my daughter more than I could have ever imagined. It was a driver in my decision to change jobs at the end of last year so that we could spend more time together, and of course, Alex’s allergy is the reason why I’m still eating dairyfree too. It’s lovely therefore to be able to include Alex in bloggers events and to introduce her here too. Recently, we were both invited to Fratellos in Jesmond to enjoy brunch with some other toddlers at an event organised by Messy Little thing. It was lovely to be catered for confidently and provided with a delicious dairyfree lunch and Alex had lots of fun posing in her new long sleeved weaning bib, which we had the pleasure of reviewing and taking home. Here she is examining her bib and Messy Little Thing bib on arrival. Notice the Kiddilicious blueberry wafers in shot – we go through approximately 20 packets of these a month as Alex loves them, even though as far as I can tell they are pretty much blueberry flavoured skips in stick form.

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Alex and I both ate dairyfree choices from the menu, which were variations on a tomato pasta. I had the puttanesca, which had a little spice, olives and potatoes added, except Alex stole all my olives. Cheers babes. It was pretty tasty though and filling too, double carbs for the win. Not much to look at but safe food without stress gets a big thumbs up from me, especially if it has a bit of flavour. I’ve been to Fratellos before and didn’t rate the service too well but we’ll give it another go after this positive experience.

IMG_5633Now on to the purpose behind our outing, which was to try out the Messy Little Things Bib. With cameras on hand, Alex did some unofficial modelling for the brand and as a natural poser with blue eyes that love the camera, I think she did rather well. In fact, I’ve been considering whether it would be ethical to sign her up for some modelling so she can pay for family holidays. Of course, I could just think she’s the cutest toddler around because I gave birth to her. Here she is prancing and smooshing in the full length bib, which as you can see covers arms and legs as well as the front.

We usually use the kladdig ikea bib (£5) at home and Jojo Maman Bebe’s slightly thicker sleeved bibs (£12) with pockets when we are out and about. The Messy Little Thing bib measured up well – it’s easy to put on, washes well and comes in it’s own bag. At £14.95 it’s slightly more expensive than our usual go to but it is lighter weight and an obvious choice for a special occasion or meal out where toddles is wearing a nice outfit that we don’t want to cover in food stains. It was a lot easier to wash than our JoJo bib and comes out cleaner than the Ikea ones we use on a daily basis. It’s probably not what we would choose for everyday use as Alex refuses any kind of bib a lot of the time but it’s perfect for packing in your changing bag (mine’s in there now). Since Alex’s meal of choice when we do dine out as a family is spaghetti bolognese, I’m confident this bib will be getting plenty of use and I may well be picking up some extras to give as gifts along with a Yumbox or two, which Alex doesn’t like to go to softplay without!

It was espeically lovely to chat to the founder behind the Messy Little Thing brand, Dawn, about her own experience with breastfeeding and weaning and how Alex’s allergies have shaped my breastfeeding and blogger journey. Thank you to Dawn and Fratellos for hosting us and do let us know if you need a model in the future, though Alex may not get out of bed for less than a blueberry Kiddilicious wafer.

How have you found the mess of weaning? Do you love seeing your little one play and explore food or cringe when they splat food up the walls? I am definitely betwixt the two but after Alex’s early problems with weight gain it’s a real delight to see her enjoying new tastes and textures and getting stuck into a big bowl of pasta, just like her Mama.