Sant Yago, Southsea

As I get older I find that organising a night out with friends is becoming more and more difficult. We no longer have the time that we once had. Children, work and other commitments invariably get in the way. So I was lucky to spend an evening last weekend with some of my favourite people.

After a long and somewhat bizarre WhatsApp group chat we eventually settled on a date and a cuisine that we fancied. Our faithful group leader booked a table at Sant Yago in Southsea, which is on the south coast on Portsea Island. Sant Yago is a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar, located in one of the trendier areas of Southsea. I love tapas, and having spent several years visiting family in Spain, I am quite comfortable with Spanish food and generally know what to avoid. Regardless, I also like to forewarn an establishment that feeding me can be a challenge, so I decided to contact Sant Yago well in advance of our visit.

I sent a message explaining my many allergies and asked if they had an allergy menu that they could send me. And that was that. I heard nothing more and then forgot to chase up a reply.

On the day, my friends asked if I’d managed to speak to the restaurant about my allergies, and when I told them I’d not had a reply we all thought the restaurant had not seen my message.

When we got to the restaurant we were welcomed to our table and while we were ordering drinks, the server asked who in the party had the allergies. I was gobsmacked. They had seen my message after all. Not only that, they’d written me a list of everything on the menu that I could have. Double gobsmacked!

The list was extremely helpful, but I was surprised that dishes were missing that I would expect to be ok. Bread, for example. Also, there was no chorizo on the list, which in my view is a staple tapas ingredient and Mr Allergy and I virtually live on it at home. The slow cooked rib meat was also missing from my special menu, which was rather disappointing as it sounded amazing.

The other disappointing thing was that the menu advertised on the website was not the menu being offered in the restaurant. Some dishes were still offered, but others had been swapped for new dishes. This meant no chorizo in pear cider, braised pig cheeks or venison stew. I’d particularly been looking forward to the chorizo in pear cider as I’d eaten it here once before and it was divine.

I spoke to the server about my list and questioned why some things were missing. The rib meat and chorizo and chicken skewers apparently contained dairy. Now I know that some chorizo recipes do contain a bit of milk, but on the whole it’s such a small amount that it wouldn’t hurt. The bread was bought in, so they couldn’t guarantee it didn’t contain nuts. I said that as long as nuts aren’t part of the recipe, I’m happy to eat it (otherwise I’d have to avoid most foods made in a factory or environment where there might be nuts), but they were really nervous and not willing to let me try. I’m pleased that they took my allergies seriously, as many establishments don’t, and I understand that they have to manage their risks as they see fit. The last thing they would want is to serve someone potentially fatal food. But when an item on a menu may contain an allergen because of the environment where it is made, and not because it is in the recipe, I think the choice should rest with the diner.

I also wondered if one of the dishes ought to have been on my list. The steak skewer says it is served with pesto, which usually contains nuts and dairy. There was another steak dish that I wanted to try, so I didn’t ask about the skewers, but I can only imagine they wouldn’t have served the pesto.

I chose the pork crackling, sweet potato stack, potatoes in tomato sauce, bavette steak and pork belly from my list to share with Mr Allergy. He also ordered the slow cooked rib meat, chicken and chorizo skewers and mixed bread for himself. When my dishes came out, they had been specially prepared, which is very reassuring.

I have to admit that I was a bit naughty and tried a bit of Mr Allergy’s bread with balsamic vinegar dip. It was a risk I was happy to take, and I was armed with two epipens which my Navy medic friend was prepared to use.

The food was very good, in particular the pork belly and sweet potato stack. My only criticism about the food is that it wasn’t overly Spanish; it seems to take the idea of small dishes from tapas but then diverts into different cuisines. The service was excellent; attentive, professional and very friendly. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. If I was looking for traditional Spanish food I’d go to Nicholson’s on Albert Road in Southsea, but otherwise I would be very happy to go back to Sant Yago. J

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Allergy testing in 2019; what to expect and what not to do

I must start my post by apologising. I know I haven’t posted for quite a while as I’ve been busy studying for an exam and writing assignments. I’m still mid-study, but something happened to me yesterday that I want to write about, so I’m typing this while sat on the train home from an all day seminar.

Over the summer of 2018 I had two allergic reactions to unknown foods. They were pretty bad reactions, one of which left me with a swollen, puffy face and eyes for approximately 24 hours. It wasn’t a good look:

I’d not had a reaction like that for more than 10 years, so I decided it was time to see my GP about being re-tested.

My appointment day finally arrived yesterday. Mr Allergy battled his way through the rush hour traffic to get us to Southampton General Hospital for 9am. The traffic tried its best to thwart us, but at 8:58am he chucked me out of the car towards the West Wing entrance while he disappeared to find the elusive hospital parking space.

The night before the test I thought I’d better check the appointment letter to see where I had to go and find out how long it would take to get there. I also thought I ought to find out whether or not I needed to avoid any particular foods in advance of the test. What I hadn’t realised (and if I’d actually read the letter when it arrived, I would have known) is that you’re supposed to stop taking antihistamines 3-5 days before a skin test. I didn’t do this, so upon arrival at my appointment I had to own up and say I’d taken a tablet the day before.

I’ve had skin testing done before, over 10 years ago. I also would have been tested as a child, but I don’t remember this as I was too young. The test I remember was where the specialist tested different allergens on my skin. The results showed a very severe peanut allergy as well as allergies to dairy, egg, other types of nuts, fish, pollens and animal fur.

I couldn’t have a skin test this time because of the presence of antihistamine in my system. However, my specialist told me this wasn’t actually a problem. Apparently skin tests on people who had bad eczema as a child can give a false positive result, as the skin is naturally more sensitive. For results to be accurate they need to be read in conjunction with blood tests. Thus, I lost around 7-8 ampules of the red stuff to a friendly looking vampire in the phlebotomy department.

It was a fascinating appointment. Things have moved on considerably in the space of only a few years. I’m due to go back for some skin testing once my blood test results are in. I’ve also been referred to a nutritionist who can make sure I’m not missing anything vital in my diet. Once all of the tests are complete I may be put on a programme of introducing different foods, which both excites and scares the bejeezus out of me.

I also learnt that it is possible for a person to have an allergy to locusts (for the record I don’t think I’m allergic to them). Apparently it’s similar to a shellfish allergy and brings on hay fever-type symptoms. This came up in conversation as, in my bid to be allergen free, I have pet geckos; little did I know my pets’ food could cause allergic reactions. For clarification, it’s an airborne allergen, the allergy isn’t from eating the locusts, although I’m sure if you did feel a bit partial to a ‘hopper’ it might give your mouth a tingle. It does make me wonder what happens if/when insects become a main part of the human diet; will new food allergies appear?

The key thing I learnt is that the method of treating allergies now is very different from the methods in the early eighties when I was first diagnosed. The medical opinion back then was to avoid the allergens altogether with the hope you would grow out of it. Unfortunately for me, this means that I have never had the opportunity to desensitise from these allergens and I’ve grown into more allergies as I’ve got older. If I was diagnosed as a child now, they would expose me to the allergens to help build up an immunity. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so I’ve got to work with how things are now, in the hope it might get a little bit better.

That’s all from me for now. Hopefully I’ll have some good news over the next 6-12 months, but I’ll keep you posted on how things go.

Tried and tested: Swedish Glace vanilla dairy free ice cream sticks

It’s been a while since I posted anything, as I’ve not really tried anything new for a while.

With the recent spell of warm weather, it’s been perfect for ice cream.

I usually buy Tesco’s dairy free ice cream sticks, but finding myself in Sainsbury’s and in need of ice cream I thought I’d give the Swedish Glace ones a go.

They come in a pack of five (compared with Tesco’s three pack), but they are really tiny, like a mini Magnum. Two bites and they’re gone.

The chocolate flavoured coating is a bit too thin and not chocolatey enough for my liking. I like a crisp dark chocolate coating that cracks when you bit into it. This one just sort of melts as soon as it gets anywhere near your mouth.

Once inside though, the vanilla ice cream is fantastic. It’s really creamy and full of a rich vanilla flavour. It’s definitely high quality ice cream. But it’s gone so quickly!

If you’re looking for great ice cream and don’t mind the size, these are probably for you. If you want a decent sized lolly with a good coating of chocolate on mediocre ice cream, go for Tesco’s. If only we had Mercadona supermarket’s own brand Hacendado in the UK. They tick all of my ice cream boxes.

Warning: Contains Nuts

I had a very narrow escape yesterday. Following a training seminar near Fleet Street (where an Allergy Girl friendly lunch of ham salad with balsamic vinegar was provided), I decided to detour back to Waterloo via Le Pain Quotidien near the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Le Pain do a very nice Cocoa and Pear cake, and I thought I’d treat myself to a slice to indulge in during my commute home. On entering Le Pain, the conversation went like this:

Me: Do you have any of your vegan cocoa and pear cake?

Server: No, the only vegan cakes we have are the salted caramel and passion fruit cakes.

Me: Do they have nuts in them? I’m allergic to nuts.

Server: I don’t think so, let me just check.

She gets a typed piece of paper out of the folder, looks at it.

Server: There’s no nuts.

Me: Can I check?

I look at the typed list of ingredients in the salted caramel cake, and 2nd or 3rd on the list is cashews (not in bold type).

Me: There are cashews in it.

Server: Oh sorry, yes I didn’t see that. What about this one? (Pointing at the passion fruit and beetroot one)

At this point we both read through the list of ingredients, which seemed to be mostly coconut based. I purchased a slice of this for a whopping £5.95, and carefully carried it to the station for fear that a hurrying commuter might knock it out of my hand.

It got there in one piece.

On the train I opened the little box. The cake looked pretty and inviting and I was looking forward to trying something new.

I stuck my fork on the pointy end, and as soon as it reached my mouth my spidey senses were telling me that something was not right. I’m lucky that when I eat something I shouldn’t I get strange taste in my mouth, usually accompanied by a tingling feeling. My alarm bells were now ringing.

I quickly went onto Le Pain’s website to find their allergen information, but there wasn’t any. I then did an internet search for “Le Pain Quotidien Allergen Menu.” This came up with allergy menus from January and March 2017. I searched the menu and there were no passion fruit and beetroot cakes listed.

I then did a more general search for “Le Pain Quotidien passion fruit cake recipe.” This took me back to their website, and the menu, but no ingredients. The only passion fruit and beetroot cake I could see was a Passion fruit and Beetroot raw nut cake. Uh oh! The clue’s in the name. Interestingly the menu doesn’t say that this item contains nuts and there is no allergen information present at all. I thought by law they had to inform people if there are allergens present?

Anyway, just to be on the safe side I called them (from the Quiet Zone, I must add. I wouldn’t usually do this and I’m the first to tut and roll my eyes but at this point I was getting concerned that I might have a full blown allergic reaction on a train that was an hour away from home).

The lady I spoke to was very nice. She started reading the recipe; passion fruit, coconut cream, cashews…. Hang on!! Cashews?

You haven’t eaten any have you? Yes!

She offered a refund next time I’m in. I was less bothered about the refund than why both the server and I had missed the crucial piece of information that the recipe contains nuts. I’ll probably never know the answer, and can only assume it was missed off the recipe when it was typed up, or somehow we both missed it as it wasn’t in bold type. Had I known the name of the cake before purchasing it, I wouldn’t even have considered purchasing it, but unfortunately I didn’t see a menu and the full name of the item was never mentioned in the conversation I had with the server.

In a mild panic, I promptly swallowed three antihistamines and guzzled an entire bottle of water (the idea is to flush the allergen out). I then located the train guard and told him I was having an allergic reaction and where my epipen was kept just in case.

It turns it that apart from being extremely dozy from the antihistamines I was ok. It’s great that my body warns me that something isn’t right, and I’m able to catch it early. Had I eaten the whole thing it could have been a very different story. Le Pain Quotidien really need to sort out their allergen information. It needs to be clear and readily available, and I will be writing to them to this effect.

I think the moral of the story is check the ingredients. Then check again. Or just don’t buy the cake in the first place. It’s better for the wallet and the waistline!

Update

I saw the manager this morning. She was very apologetic and gave me a refund. She will raise the issues of training and allergen information with their food standards people.

She also pointed out that it’s called a “Nut Cake” for a reason!! Lesson learnt, I will always look at the menu in the future!

You’re having a Giraffe!

It has always been a tradition for my kickboxing class to go for a cheeky Nando’s after class on a Wednesday. I’m not sure where this originated, but it’s quick and easy, and packs the protein needed after a workout.

In true tradition we met at Nando’s in Gunwharf Quays yesterday evening only to find that our group of thirteen couldn’t be seated together and there would be a wait of 45 minutes to an hour.  Why so busy, we thought, then it dawned on us that it’s half term.

We split up and trudged around every food establishment in Gunwharf looking for an available table. Just as we were about to settle for a few plastic tables in Burger King, Giraffe said they could fit us in.  They moved tables around and made space for us to sit as a group, which was no mean feat at such short notice. 

I’ve never eaten at Giraffe, but I knew that their philosophy was to serve food from around the world, so thought there must be something on the menu that’s Allergy Girl friendly. 

Not wanting to cause a fuss, I went onto their website and found their interactive allergy menu, which at a first glance looked good. It allowed me to tick the different allergens and would show the dishes that don’t contain those allergens. In theory……..

In practice it was just wrong. One of the items it said I could have was the Bao Buns, so I looked at these on the main menu. In small letters underneath the description of the dish it said “please be aware the buns are topped with peanuts.”  Now we had a problem.

By this point everyone was ordering and I still didn’t have a clue if I could eat anything on the menu, so I asked the waiter the question they all hate to be asked.  He brought the allergy menu over, took the rest of the orders and said he’d give me a few minutes to look at it.

The allergy menu was fairly standard looking.  It had a grid with the main allergens, and there was a tick in the box if it contained the allergen or “M” for might contain.  The only problem was the grid clearly didn’t fit the A4 paper it had  been printed on and half of each dish name was missing, meaning I had to guess what it was I was actually looking at. This took forever and I was getting fed up. 

I wasn’t convinced by the allergen information on the allergy menu either. For example, it told me there was no milk present in the chicken curry with naan bread, but as naan is usually made with butter or ghee I thought this was incorrect.

I eventually settled on a steak with sweet potato fries and a side salad, as you can’t go wrong with meat and veg. The steak was a little rarer than I’d normally have it, but it was delicious and I’d definitely have it cooked that way again. The salad of spinach, rocket and cucumber was nice and made a welcome change from the watery iceberg lettuce that often accompanies steak in chain restaurants.

I spoke to the waiter about the allergy menu, pointing out that the website didn’t work and that you couldn’t read the paper menu properly.  He said they were aware of the problems with the website and the paper menu was only a temporary solution while the website was being sorted. 

I personally think it’s not good enough.  It’s hard enough when you have an allergy trying to work out what you can and can’t eat. The information you’re given needs to be clear and accurate.  Allergies are not be taken lightly and one small error in allergen information could kill someone with a serious allergy.

Although the food was nice, I won’t be going back as Giraffe simply do not take their responsibilities towards customers with allergies seriously, and probably won’t until they find themselves trying to defend a compensation claim or prosecution.

Cheat’s chicken and chorizo paella 

Ok, so this isn’t technically paella. For one, it isn’t cooked in a paella pan. It also doesn’t have any fish in it as that would make my face swell up and I’d stop breathing. So it’s more like paella rice and things. But all the same, it uses Spanish ingredients and flavours and goes brilliantly with a nice glass of Rioja (or two).

Serves 2

Ingredients 

1 skinless chicken breast, diced

1 red (bell) pepper, chopped

1 large white onion, diced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/2 chorizo ring, sliced

Approx 250g paella rice

Pinch saffron

1/2 pint Chicken stock

1 small tin chopped tomatoes or one large fresh tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons sweet/smoked paprika or pimienton 

1 teaspoon hot paprika or pimienton (optional)

2 bay leaves 

Handful Frozen peas

Method

  1. Heat oven to approx 200c (190c if fan assisted).
  2. In a wok or sauté pan, fry the chorizo on a medium-high heat until the fat starts to come out. You shouldn’t need to add any additional fat or oil but if you do, use a drizzle of olive oil.
  3. Next add your chicken and brown. 
  4. Add the pepper, onions and garlic and cook until softened. 
  5. While the veg is softening, add the bay leaves to the pan.  Make up your chicken stock and add the saffron strands into the stock. The saffron will release its flavour into the stock. 
  6. Now add the paella rice, and the paprika/pimienton and stir together, making sure the paprika coats all of the rice.
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes and the chicken stock and stir together. 
  8. Add the frozen peas. I’ve suggested a handful but you can add as many as you like. If you don’t like peas you could substitute these with chickpeas. 
  9. Reduce the heat and cook for approx 5 mins, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking. Once the liquid has begun to reduce, tip your paella into an ovenproof dish with a lid. 
  10. Cook for approx 20 mins in the oven with the lid on, until the rice is soft and the edges of your paella are going a little bit crispy. You may want to stir it halfway through to make sure all the rice is fully cooked.
  11. Remove the bay leaves (and don’t be tempted to lick them, I did this once and it wasn’t good!)
  12. Enjoy! 

This recipe is very versatile and you can change the quantities of the ingredients quite easily.  I sometimes like to mix up different chorizos in my paella to give different flavours. Our local Sainsbury’s sells sweet (dolce) and hot (picante) chorizo so I’ll often add a bit of each. My recipe only uses one chicken breast but you can add two if you want more protein. If I fancy a spicy paella (which isn’t the traditional flavour) I add more hot pimienton. You could also add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. 

Dairy, egg and nut free Cinnamon doughnut cupcakes

I like cinnamon. I like doughnuts. I like cupcakes. Therefore I like cinnamon doughnut cupcakes!  

I’ll get the disclaimer out of the way early. These are not doughnuts. They just remind me of the hot cinnamon doughnuts I used to get at Bognor Regis beach when I was younger.   As no frosting is required they’re quick to make and are super yummy whilst still warm from the oven, just like the doughnuts from my childhood. 

The recipe uses my Basic dairy and egg free sponge recipe. 

Ingredients 

As per Basic dairy and egg free sponge

2-3 tablespoons ground cinnamon 

Approx half a cup of light brown granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons Olive oil

Method

1. Make as per Basic dairy and egg free sponge recipe.  At step 3 add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon with your flour.

2. While the cakes are baking, mix together the light brown sugar and 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon in a small dish or bowl (must be larger than the circumference of your cakes). These amounts are approximate and you can add more or less cinnamon depending on how you like the taste.  If I end up mixing too much cinnamon sugar, I keep the leftovers in a Tupperware container ready for next time.  Pour the olive oil into a small dish or bowl. 

3. Once baked and still warm, brush the olive oil onto the top of each cake with a pastry brush, then dip into the cinnamon sugar mixture. 

4. Leave to cool or eat straightaway!! 

I’d love to know how you get on and what you think of these little gems (that are my 87 year old Nan’s favourites).  Happy baking!!