I LOVE Christmas food in all its forms. Whether it’s my mum’s perfect sausage rolls, or the wow as the Christmas pudding is carried flaming to the table, it all gets my taste buds going.
For me, Christmas is all about family sharing good food together. As you’d expect, things changed a few years ago when we first began worrying about allergies. Now, when I think about Christmas food I feel a big emotional tug on my stomach.
Felix was first diagnosed with multiple allergies aged 6 months back in November 2011. Our health visitor told me not to introduce any new foods until we’d seen a paediatrician for further tests, but that was after Christmas. So Felix’s first Christmas was free from gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, soya, nuts, sesame, coconut, fish, shellfish, berries and citrus. What a list!
If only I’d known then what I do now. I could have prepared a whole traditional Christmas dinner with a few minor adjustments and nobody would have noticed.
Coming up with new dishes got easier over time, however buffets never seem to go without a hitch. I watch the cross-contamination nightmare. It starts with double dipping; a sour cream dip-covered carrot stick drips in the salsa, the spoon from the coleslaw is plunged into the potatoes. A cheese knife used to hack another chunk from the ham. Your host may have catered with love and care, but other guests turn the buffet into a potential hospital visit. There is only one thing for it; get in first and make no apology for your haste! We’ve always taken back-up food just in case, as we just can’t risk Felix going hungry at a party.
It’s important to remember gifts of food may be given by teachers, football coaches, beaver leaders and of course not forgetting when you visit the main man in red. This year, I’m keeping a stash of allergy-friendly chocolate selection boxes close to hand. If Felix is offered a gift of food, I’ll have something up my sleeve to swap it with before his bottom lip begins to wobble. I’m afraid I learned this the hard way last year with uncontrollable sobs when Felix realised he was allergic to a Christmas present. I’ll always remember the injustice as he wailed ‘I hate being allergic Mummy, it’s not fair!’
When Asda contacted me to share my top tips for their Christmas inclusivity guide I was thrilled to share what I’ve learned. To be invited to the development kitchen to gain some extra inspiration from Andrew Johnston taught me so much.
You can read more from the other bloggers involved in the campaign here. But first, I’ll share what I’ve learned. Some the hard way:
1. A traditional roast is one of the easiest meals to create free from the top 14 allergens. A generous joint, roast potatoes and vegetables are all naturally free from gluten, dairy, eggs, soya and nuts after all!
2. I must keep reminding myself nobody will enjoy their Christmas lunch if I’m a hot and sweaty mess. If anyone offers to bring a dish or roll up their sleeves in the kitchen accept their help. They can put all their effort into researching the best dairy-free trifle recipe or whatever you suggest they contribute to the feast!
3. Christmas puddings are one of the easiest things to make allergy friendly. They are nearly always dairy free and can be easily made gluten free with an alternative flour. If you’d rather buy one I’ve been really impressed with the quality of pudding in the free from ranges. Most little children love raisins and a Christmas pud is 90% dehydrated grapes, you might be surprised how much the little ones enjoy it, especially with the theatre of setting fire to and singing ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’ as you carry the glowing spectacle to the table.
4. Our family seems to be more interested in the trimmings than the main roast. Chipolatas and sausage meat from Extra Special ranges are nearly always gluten free so make the perfect accompaniment for any coeliac guests.
5. Devils on horseback (prunes soaked in port, wrapped in bacon and roasted for 25 minutes) make a delicious canape easily prepared on Christmas Eve. Serve with a drink and nobody will notice if it’s taken a while to get lunch on the table.
6. Make your gravy in advance. I roast chicken wings with vegetables on Christmas Eve, simmering with wine and stock on the hob with a little cornflour will make a perfect allergy-friendly gravy. If the gravy is tasty and hot it will bring your whole roast to life.
7. It’s more likely in 2018 than ever before you’ll have a vegetarian or vegan diet to cater for. I know in recent years goose fat has been favoured for the perfect roast potatoes. Next time you need your roasties to be vegan try roasting in cold pressed rapeseed oil. It has a very high burn temperature so you can enjoy a perfectly crunchy potato.
8. I love a colourful rainbow of vegetables on my Christmas plate. You can prepare red cabbage, glazed carrots and roasted sprouts without having another pan boiling on the hob. I love that red cabbage can be prepared weeks in advance and stored in the freezer!
9. Find out what your guests can’t live without at Christmas. We don’t like bread sauce but for some families it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. If they have a special request ask them to prepare it in advance to bring along – a good guest will always lend a helping hand!
10. Create some new tradition – who cares if your uncle grumbles there are no nuts for him to crack. If you don’t feel comfortable having food your children are allergic to within reach just don’t do it!
11. If you’re worried your roasting tins have traces of allergens on them Christmas is the perfect time to splash out on heavy duty foil roasting trays. You also have the added benefit of less washing up when you fling them in the bin.
12. For some reason it’s not uncommon for well meaning relatives to come out with some corkers about allergies. My personal favourite is ‘we didn’t have all these milk allergies in my day!’ I like to deal with this one by agreeing ‘yes that’s right, in your day I suppose milk allergies in babies would have been called failure to thrive. It’s so much better now we have alternatives to milk, isn't it?!’