Wednesday, November 20, 2013

School lunches - Planetbox Review.

Last week an exciting online purchase arrived at the front door. It was my long awaited Planetbox lunchbox. Well, Ben's lunchbox actually. These things are expensive and because you can't purchase them in Australia I also had to spring for a substantial shipping cost as well. It was with a lot of thought that I finally hit the 'confirm' button at the checkout!

Was it worth it? I can honestly say that it was. We bought the Rover complete set which came with an insulated lunch bag, magnets for the top, two dipper containers and the stainless steel bento style lunchbox. I also bought the cold sleeve which you can freeze and pop into a pocket inside the lunch bag to keep things cool. The lunch bag also has a spot for utensils and two pockets on the outside - one for a drink bottle and one for the big dipper container. Ben chose a black bag with space magnets but there are lots of options, and thankfully the accessories aren't too expensive on their own so you can change them as your child gets older.

The insulation and the cold sleeve were two reasons I really liked the idea of this lunchbox. Because it's metal it cools down really quickly and stays cold. That's important because we live in a hot climate and without sandwiches to fall back on I am often packing meat or rice for Ben's lunch. I've never been comfortable sending meat to school to sit there for hours so this gives me peace of mind and opens up some new lunch ideas that I would have considered unsafe before.

We've used the lunchbox for a full school week and it's been brilliant. I've packed fruit and we haven't had any leaks. Ben can easily open and shut the latch on his own and he's had no trouble opening the dipper containers. I love that the box stays in the lunch bag so that it won't get scratched and knocked about like his other plastic lunch boxes (we have been through 3 plastic ones this year already).

I have loved not searching for containers and lids in the morning. Even better is not having to tackle the complicated jigsaw puzzle of fit-the-containers-in-the-box. Ben is eating more lunch than he ever has because he can see it all in front of him and doesn't have to bother with little screw top containers. My biggest issue with him and his lunches has been that he can't be bothered opening anything to see what's inside, so he often won't eat for the whole day. He doesn't have a huge appetite so I guess the incentive wasn't there.

I never would have thought that a lunch box could be a game changer, but it really has made my mornings better. Making school lunches used to be one of my most hated chores but I really am enjoying them now. So much so that I bought another set for my daughter and a larger 'Launch' set for my husband.

Here are some photos of 4 of this week's allergy friendly lunches in the new box.

(GF, vegan apple sauce and carrot muffin, GF vegan choc chip cookie, walnuts, avocado and cucumber sushi, kiwifruit)

(apple sauce and carrot muffin from freezer, brown rice crackers and roasted broad beans, GF pizza bread with home made hummus, strawberries and GF marshmallow treat)

(white corn tortillas toasted and cut up with home made hummus, roasted broad beans and rice crackers, thai coconut sticky rice pudding with peaches, kiwifruit)

(GF, vegan chocolate cake, chickpea chips, GF vegan bread roll with avocado and salmon, strawberries)

Recipes for the baked items will follow in the next couple of days. The bread roll is a brand called Zehnder that I discovered by accident in the freezer section of our local IGA. They make a great, fluffy bread roll which we use for hamburgers or the occasional lunch roll like the one above.

So the low down?

The rover set cost us USD 59.95 plus shipping. All up it came to almost $100 Australian.

It's easy to wash, strong, and can fit enough food for my kids (6 and 9). There is a larger version for older (or hungrier) kids and adults.

The only downside for me is the price, particularly the shipping costs. There is no shipping discount for buying more than one item and when my next parcel arrives I will be checking carefully to see if I have been overcharged. I do think that the lunch box will pay for itself after a while because I won't be buying wrap or any more containers / snack tubes / lunch boxes (hooray!).

For more info see: Planetbox

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steamed Rice and Chicken Buns with Asian Noodle Salad


Asian food can be tricksy when it comes to allergy friendly cooking. My kids love the bold fresh flavours of asian food so tonight I decided to try out something new. Not only was it new, it involved a dough. I have a history of GF dough flops so I was a bit nervous about trying this one. As it turns out, it was pretty easy and they came out really soft, sweet and delicious. The recipe looks a little long, but most of it you can prepare and leave.

The chicken (filling for the buns and for the salad)

500g good quality boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 C water
1/2 C balsamic vinegar (GF)
2 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 C GF soy sauce such as tamari
1 clove garlic
1 bunch of asian green such as bok choy washed and chopped finely

Mix together all ingredients except the chicken in a shallow pan and place on medium heat. Add the chicken and simmer for approx 20 mins until the liquid has reduced and is sticky. Keep turning the chicken so that both sides are nice and brown. When the liquid starts to go sticky remove the chicken and add the greens to the sauce. Continue simmering until the liquid reduces further and becomes a glaze. Chop the chicken and place in a bowl then add the greens and remaining sauce.

For the buns:

1 Tbsp dry yeast
1 1/2 C luke warm water
1/4 C honey
2 C glutinous rice flour (this is GF despite the name, and found in Asian supermarkets)
2.5 C fine rice flour
1/2 C olive or vegetable oil
Sesame seeds

Place the warm water, the yeast and the honey in a bowl and stir until dissolved. Whisk in the 2 C of glutinous rice flour and cover the bowl with cling film. Place in a warm spot for 30-40 mins until the mixture is bubbly.

Add the 2.5 C of rice flour and the oil and stir until combined. Knead with your hands and form into balls a little bigger than a golf ball. It's not going to be a smooth elastic dough but never fear - it'll work. Wet your hands if that makes it easier. I got around 10 balls from my dough. Place the balls onto a tray lined with baking paper.

To form the buns press each ball with the heel of your hand to form a disc. Add 1 Tbsp of the chicken mix and fold the edges around the chicken. You're meant to pinch it to seal but my dough was rather cakey and difficult to handle so I made a ball as best as I could using wet hands. If there are some cracks just smooth them over, and if some sauce leaks out don't worry about it! You can see from the pic below that it's a dry dough rather than a traditional elastic wheat based dough. You can use this recipe for dumplings as well by rolling it out thinner and placing filling inside before folding it over.

To cook the buns place a bamboo steamer over a wok or large pan with water covering the bottom of the pan. Line the steamer with baking paper and use some spray oil if you have some. Place 3 - 4 buns in the steamer at a time, making sure that they don't touch each other or the sides of the steamer. Place the lid on and steam for 15 mins. Don't peek! But do make sure the pan doesn't boil dry. Keep topping it up as you go. Keep the first batch of buns warm while you make the second. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you wish.

For the salad

1 'cake' of vermicelli noodles (rice)
2 carrots grated
1/2 cucumber peeled and cut into batons
1 bunch coriander leaves
Sesame seeds

Place rice vermicelli noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

Add vegetables, coriander, sesame seeds and remaining chicken in a bowl. After 10 mins add the drained noodles. Run a sharp knife through the noodles in the bowl a few times to chop them up. Toss everything together.

There we go! And you thought you'd never be able to eat dumplings or steamed buns again.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vegan Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Stew with Millet (from Veganomicon)


Yesterday the weather was a bit cooler so I decided to use up an eggplant I had in the fridge in the form of a stew. I'm eating a lot of vegan dishes at the moment and really enjoying them. My absolute favourite vegan cookbook is Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. It has everything you need to know about vegan food in it and is great for beginners.

So, back to my stew. After I decided to make it I realised that my cookbook is with a pile of precious things at my husband's work due to the bush fires we've had here recently (see, I told you the cookbook is good - it made it into the "must take" pile!). We evacuated on Wednesday and now we have things scattered about all over the place so that if the fire hits our house we'll still have a few important bits and pieces. Another thing that's been evacuated is my DSLR camera. The pics of this post were taken with my phone, so my apologies. Without my recipe book this is an adaption of the original using other blog posts I found and my memory.

The first step to this stew is roasting some eggplant, garlic and red capsicum on a tray. I heated the oven to 200 degrees C and put 1 eggplant sliced up, two capsicum halved and seeds removed, and some cloves of garlic with the skins on onto the tray. I sprayed a bit of olive oil over everything and popped it into the oven for around 25 mins.

This is it when it came out. Yummo right? Then I put the capsicums into a plastic ziplock bag and sealed it up so that they steamed. This is to make the skins easier to peel off.

While that was happening I sautéed a diced onion in some oil and then when it was turning brown I added 2 cloves of minced garlic.  After that I added 1/2C vegetable stock, 1 tin diced tomatoes, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt. Once that was all happening I added the eggplant, squeezed out the garlic from the skins, and added the peeled and chopped capsicum. The last step was to add a drained tin of chickpeas. You can add a little more water at this stage if it's too thick.

Once it was all mixed up I let it sit for 20 mins off the heat with the lid on while I made the millet. 

Millet is a really yummy GF alternative to couscous. We buy hulled millet from the food co-op and  use it in place of rice or couscous with a casserole or a stew.  You can add flavouring to it or vegetables for a complete meal or have it cold as a salad. It's cooked using the absorption method with a 3:1 ratio of water to millet. Once it's boiling turn the heat down as low as it'll go and place a lid onto the pot. 1C of millet takes me around 20 mins to cook. Check it regularly so that it doesn't catch on the bottom. Once the water has almost absorbed take it off the heat and leave it for another 5 mins or so with the lid on to steam then fluff with a fork.

We served it with a little parsley over the top. 

The kids had the stew and millet and also some beef which I covered in rice milk and then rice crumbs. Even though I'm eating vegan food a lot I still want to give meat to Ben regularly because he's already on such a restricted diet, and he needs the protein.

I got a great deal on some organic beef from Coles, this will do 3 meals for the kids.

Ingredient list:

1 large eggplant
2 red capsicum
olive oil
1 onion
vegetable stock
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas
millet, polenta, couscous or rice

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gluten Free Anzac Biscuits

GF, DF (option), VG (option), EF

Everyone down this end of the world loves an Anzac right? There's no reason why those of us on gluten, egg or dairy free diets should miss out. Here's an easy and delicious recipe for allergy friendly Anzac biscuits.


125g ghee (or use a DF margarine for a DF option)
1C GF flour (use your favourite baking blend, or try 1/2C buckwheat and 1/2C brown rice flour)
1C quinoa flakes
1C desiccated coconut
2/3C raw or brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp boiling water
2 Tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.

Mix flour, quinoa flakes, coconut and sugar in a large bowl.

Melt ghee or margarine and syrup in a pan on medium heat.

Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and add to melted butter and syrup mixture.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix well. Make sure that when you press a spoon to the side of the bowl that the mixture sticks together and is not too crumbly.

Grease and line a baking tray. Using a tablespoon, form flat shaped balls and place on tray.

Cook for 16 - 20 mins (depending on whether you like a darker, chewier Anzac or a golden soft Anzac)

Makes approximately 15 medium sized biscuits.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

20 Allergy Friendly Lunch box Ideas

Without a doubt the hardest aspect of this whole allergy business is packing a school lunch. When we're in our own environment and I'm buying and preparing the food it's easy to feel pretty normal. It's only when we venture out that reality hits.

Making an allergy friendly lunch box 5 days a week can be really hard work when you can't use sandwiches or bread rolls. GF baking needs to be fresh - which is why you can often find me bending over a bowl of muffin mix at 7am on a school morning. I want Ben's lunches to be interesting, yummy, satisfying and full of nutrients - and the key to this is all in the planning.

Here's a list of 20 allergy friendly lunch ideas made up of things I've successfully tried over the years. If you have some ideas of your own I'd love to hear them in the comments section - let's keep this list a work in progress!
  1. White corn GF tortillas sandwiched together and crisped up in a dry frying pan (like a quesadilla) with fillings inside. Fillings we like are: salmon and cheese (if we're eating cheese); baked beans; Mighty Mite (GF marmite) and cheese; tuna and vegan mayonnaise.
  2. GF mini pizzas with either vegetarian toppings or salami. I make a big pizza and cut it into smaller portions to freeze. Hummus is great in place of cheese.
  3. Meatballs - either organic beef or chicken using soy milk and GF breadcrumbs to bind
  4. Chicken drumsticks
  5. Sushi - watch for GF rice wine vinegar and use GF soy sauce
  6. GF mini muffins - make a basic muffin mix and alternate with sweet and savoury additions
  7. Pasta salad - GF pasta spirals, vegan mayonnaise, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, salmon
  8. Potato salad - Vegan mayonnaise, leftover roast potatoes, chopped herbs
  9. Apple slices with nut butter - Sliced apples spread with nut or seed butter and sprinkled with raisins
  10. Fruit salad - with yoghurt (dairy, sheep, goat or coconut) and sprinkled with ground seed mix
  11. Hummus and rice crackers 
  12. Toasted GF bread with seed butter
  13. Leftovers GF pasta and sauce in a Thermos
  14. Asian style rice noodles and vegetables
  15. GF cheese scones - make DF by omitting cheese and adding flavour enhancers like chopped sundried tomatoes or roasted capsicum instead
  16. GF pumpkin scones - using cold mashed pumpkin as a binder
  17. Potato cakes
  18. Corn fritters
  19. Roast vegetable salad with lemon juice and olive oil dressing
  20. Tapioca or chia puddings - For Chia Puddings see the recipe here
Tips for easy lunch-making:
  • Invest in some good lunch packaging - small containers with no leak lids are great
  • Make in bulk and freeze individual portions
  • Buy a good quality Thermos
  • Think about how to keep high risk foods like meat or sushi cold, especially in the summer months. Ice packs and insulated lunch bags are one idea - or see if you can access a fridge at school for your child
  • Plan ahead - with allergy lunch boxes improvisation is not your friend

Friday, September 27, 2013

Vegan Gluten Free Chocolate Cake with Cashew Cream - Bob's Red Mill Review


When your child is on a restricted diet I think it's important to try to normalise food as best you can. There are so many social activities centred around food - birthday parties, shared lunches, Christmas, Easter and eating out to name a few.  I may not be able to make those things completely normal for Ben (separate Tupperware container full of food anyone?) but I can make food a normal part of life at home.

All kids love baking with mum or dad. Gluten free, egg free baking can be tricky to do with kids because precise measurements are usually required - but it's still worth having a go. Today I used a Bob's Red Mill Chocolate Cake mix to make a lovely moist chocolate cake with jam and cashew cream in the middle. Ben did almost all of it himself and was so proud to serve it to his "guests".

Bob's Red Mill products are great quality and don't have a lot of the fillers and starches that cheaper GF products contain. The ingredients in this packet are: Evaporated cane juice sugar, unsweetened cocoa, chickpea flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, whole grain white sorghum flour, broad bean flour, baking soda, xanthan gum, sea salt, cream of tartar. There's nothing too ominous in there at all and it can be handy to have a packet cake on hand when little people are in the mood to bake.

Bob's Red Mill products are pricey in Australia, but there are ways to get a good deal. The website and app Grocery Run has regular Gluten Free days where you can buy 2 Bob's products for the price of one. I wait until Gluten Free day appears and then stock up for a month or two. By doing it this way I get a cake mix like this for around $4.50 each, which isn't bad for gluten free.

In addition to the cake mix we added:

1/4 C canola oil and 1/4 C vegan margarine (recipe suggests 1/2 C butter or margarine)
1 C Bonsoy soy milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed in 6 Tbsp water (left to stand for 2 mins to gel) - this is a replacement for 2 eggs
1/3 C hot water
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

The mix came together really easily with no lumps. It has a nice smooth rich consistency too.

The cake went into the oven at 190 degrees C or 375 degrees F for around 45 mins. I tested the centre with a bamboo skewer before taking it out.

While we waited for it to cool down Ben got to lick the spoon! Such a simple childhood pleasure that I remember well from baking with my own mum - but something that can be hard for an allergy kid to experience. 

Once it was cool we sliced the cake in half so we had two thinner pieces. Then we spread some nice allergy friendly raspberry jam. We wanted cream, but we're not doing dairy at the moment so we made a cashew cream by blending up 3/4C raw cashews and 3/4C water until smooth. After spreading the cream on top of the jam we popped the top portion of the cake on and sprinkled some icing sugar on top.

The nicest thing about this cake is the texture. It can be hard to get a good crumb on a GF cake and without eggs you run the risk of it being dry. This cake was moist and chocolatey - just like a good choccie cake should be!

I'd definitely use Bob's Red Mill Chocolate Cake again - I think it would be great for a special occasion or for when non allergy guests come for dinner. I'm convinced that no-one would know this cake is GF. 


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Raw Vegan Gluten Free Strawberry Tart with Macerated Strawberry Topping


I really love a raw dessert. I find baking tiresome at times so being able to just whip something up and throw it in the fridge is satisfying and rather therapeutic.

This raw vegan strawberry tart is gluten free and full of goodies. It's perfect for a warm spring evening - enjoy!


3/4 C raw cashews
3/4 C almond meal
1/2 C dates
2 Tbsp white chia seeds
1 Tbsp coconut oil

Blend all ingredients until you reach a rough crumb and press into a greased pie dish


250g strawberries hulled
300g organic firm tofu
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch salt

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Pour into base and put in the fridge for at least two hours.


250g strawberries hulled
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp maple syrup

Combine and leave in a bowl for at least 30 mins so the strawberries macerate. Pour on top of the tart just before serving.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gluten Free Vegan Lemon Coconut Cake


Yesterday some gluten free guests from Sydney visited so I thought I'd try out a new recipe. This lemon coconut cake is moist and delicious with a subtle lemon flavour. It's gluten, egg and dairy free and easy to make.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

1 C desiccated coconut
1 C gluten free flour blend (I used 1/4C buckwheat, 1/2C brown rice flour and 1/4C almond meal)
3/4 C raw organic sugar*
2 tsp GF baking powder

1 C coconut cream**
1/2 C soy or rice milk
Juice of two small lemons
Zest of one lemon

* You could use less sugar if you wanted to or replace with 1/2C maple syrup

**The coconut cream I use is the thickened fat that sits on the top, not the water underneath. To help your coconut cream separate in the tin place it in the fridge first.

Mix all dry ingredients together and combine with a whisk. Add the coconut cream, milk, lemon juice and zest and mix well until smooth.

Place in a greased and lined loaf tin and bake for 50 - 60 minutes until cake springs back in the centre.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

No cheese cheesy bake.


It seems that the older I get, the more intolerant of dairy products I become. It's almost at the point of no return for me now, with even a tablespoon of cows milk in a cup of tea leaving me feeling queasy. For the most part I don't miss it at all because I have a horrible association with it after many nights sweating and feeling incredibly nauseous. The one thing I do miss however, is creaminess.

I've been having a play with nut creams and tofu lately and tonight I made a no cheese cheesy bake. This is gluten free but you could substitute the gluten free pasta with normal wheat pasta if you choose to.


GF pasta shells
1 jar of organic tomato pasta sauce
1 tin of diced tomatoes
1 packet of tofu - try and buy organic because soy beans are a crop that can be exposed to heavy use of pesticides and fertilisers as well as some being genetically engineered.
1 C raw unroasted unsalted cashew nuts
3/4 C - 1 C soy milk (again, try for organic)
2 zucchini's or spinach
Salt and white pepper
Olive oil

Let's Cook!

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until just cooked. Meanwhile, cut the zucchini into rounds and cook on a tray in the oven with a little olive oil at 180 degrees centigrade for around 15 minutes or until soft.

To prepare the creamy cheesy element of the dish blend the cashew nuts with 3/4 C of the soy milk until smooth. Add the tofu broken into chunks and blend it together until it makes a thick cream, about the consistency of ricotta cheese. Add a little more soy milk if you need to. Season with salt and a pinch of white pepper.

Mix the pasta sauce and tin of tomatoes together in a bowl.

To assemble the dish brush some olive oil in a large rectangular oven proof dish then add a layer of tomato sauce. Add a layer of pasta on top of the sauce then dot 1/2 of the nut tofu cream on top of the pasta evenly. Add another layer of tomato sauce then the zucchini overlapping the pieces as you go. Lastly add the remaining pasta and finish with a final layer of tomato sauce and the remainder of the nut tofu cream.

Cook for 20 minutes in a 180 degree oven (fan bake works best) until golden and bubbling.

You won't taste nuts or tofu, but what you will have is a lovely creamy texture and a healthy no meat protein boost. Even better, my kids loved this meal and didn't miss the meat or cheese at all.

Not Peanut Butter


Ben used to have a peanut allergy and we're still wary of giving him peanut butter. I'm not a huge fan of peanut butter anyway because peanuts are so acidic and the state of the guts in our family is tenuous at the best of times. That leaves me with almond butter, or sunflower seed butter, and both are pretty expensive.

The other day I was doing the supermarket shop and as I approached the spreads aisle I had a thought. How hard can it be to make a nut or seed butter? Super easy as it turns out.

This morning I made a jar of almond and sunflower seed butter while I was making the kids their breakfast. It takes no time at all and the taste is amazing - nutty, sweet, salty and none of that gluggy oily taste. And have you ever read the ingredients on the back of a peanut butter jar? Some of the things you may find listed are: icing sugar, sugar, mono-diglycerides, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Making my own means I can use organic seeds and nuts if I choose to, for a fraction of the cost of a store bought organic spread. It also means I can control the amount of salt I use and I can keep it sugar free.

For this batch I used 200g of raw sunflower seeds and a handful of raw almonds with the skin on. When you're buying your nuts and seeds make sure they are unsalted, unroasted, and have no additives.

Place your nuts/seed mix on a tray and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius or until golden brown. You'll have to shake the tray every few minutes to stop them burning, and they do catch quite quickly.

Once they're nice and golden let them cool for a bit before blending them up. They'll turn to a powder first and then if you take it a step further the mix will start to form a paste as the oils in the nuts are released. I add a bit of oil to loosen it up, I like to use almond oil. Peanuts are naturally oily but almonds and seeds are less so, so I find it does need a bit of oil to turn it from a paste to a spread. I like mine a bit salty so I also add a small pinch of sea salt.

Once you're happy with the consistency and taste pop it into a jar and refrigerate. Yum!

I hope you'll give this one a try, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to make your own super yummy nut spread.

What the heck is Kombucha?

Have you heard of Kombucha? I hadn't up until about 18 months ago. I had ordered Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and in her book she raved about it.

Part of my challenge with Ben is to not only feed the kid, but also keep his gut in as good a condition as I can manage. Kombucha has many great healing properties and it's loaded with probiotics. I ordered a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and I haven't looked back.

Kombucha is made from sweet tea that is then fermented by using a SCOBY. The SCOBY eats the sugar in the tea creating a tangy and fizzy drink that's, well, yum. Before I tried my first bottle of Kombucha I had read a bit about it, and I wasn't expecting it to taste so good. The best description I can give is a crisp apple cider with the taste of stone fruits.

So what exactly is a SCOBY? It's a weird looking pancake like jellish thing that floats in your jar of tea. It's odd. In Kombucha circles (yes, there are some) the SCOBY is called the mother and when a white layer forms on the mother, it's called the baby. I told my husband that and he gave me a look that said, let's just call it a SCOBY- Ok?

You can buy a SCOBY and some starter tea from health stores and from eBay. I bought mine for just under $13 including postage from eBay and it arrived in great condition with lots of instructions to get me started.

So why drink it? Apart from the taste, Kombucha has incredible health benefits. The tea has lots of goodies in it like probiotics, it contains lactic and gluconic acid, and a range of B vitamins. Lactic acid helps with digestion and gluconic acid can help with yeast infections and liver detox. Kombucha lovers report benefits in aiding acid reflux, constipation, and weight loss.

How do you make it? My recipe is very simple.

Take 1L of water and bring it to the boil, remove from the heat and add 2 black tea bags, or for flavoured tea use 1 black tea bag and 1 flavoured tea bag. I've had success with pomegranate, strawberry, blackberry, rooibos tea and orange & ginger.

Brew for 15 minutes (longer if you like it stronger), and add 1/4C of white cane sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, remove the tea bags, and wait until it's cooled down to luke warm.

Add 100ml of starter tea (that comes with your SCOBY when you buy, and then you save 100ml of each batch to use next time).

Poor into a clean big glass jar (make sure it's big enough to hold all the liquid) and slide in the SCOBY.

Cover with a breathable cloth like a hanky or a cheesecloth and attach a rubber band around the rim.

Place in a cool dark place for 7 days to ferment.

After 7 days pour off a bit of the liquid and taste it, if it's still sweet then leave it another day and try again - it should be pleasantly tangy and fresh but not like vinegar.

Bottle it into clean bottles and leave for 3 days to carbonate. Plastic is good because you can tell when it's carbonated - the bottles are hard.

Place into the fridge and consumer within a month.

Is it safe? Now as with any food product, especially fermented food, you do need to be careful with hygiene. I always wash my hands and sterilise my glass jars in boiling water before I start. I also did my research before I started both online and by reading through the detailed instructions my eBay seller provided. If you have a go at googling Kombucha you'll no doubt find a few scary websites talking about Kombucha and people getting sick etc. There are also people all over the world who have been making Kombucha tea for generations, and in much dirtier conditions than our kitchens. I take an educated and common sense approach when fermenting foods.

I don't think there is any good reason why we can't make and enjoy these products at home (and I'm a bit cynical about the blogs who say never to make your own Kombucha and then magically have a commercial brand endorsed as part of their blog post - ahem).

I suggest you do your own research if you're concerned. I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. There's lots of info out there - far too much for me to write out here.

One thing I do want to mention is that some people have reported a 'cleansing crisis' or a 'healing crisis' in the first few days which is basically the intestines have a bit of a freak out at all the good bacteria. Symptoms are a gurgling tummy, diarrhea, and tiredness. You can help that if it happens by drinking less tea more often - so lots of frequent sips, and by drinking a lot of water. It should sort itself out pretty quickly.

Is it alcoholic? It is slightly. About 1%. You'd need to drink a lot of it to get drunk - and I don't recommend that because it would be way too much for your tum.

So there we go, Kombucha Tea! My kids absolutely love it. Their favourite flavours are pomegranate and ginger & lemon.

Vegan Mayonnaise


Ooooh baby! I'm pretty excited about this one. Up until about 3 weeks ago Ben could tolerate a bit of cheese in his diet. I relied on it for school lunches as a "glue" to hold a white corn quesadilla together, or on top of a GF mini pizza. Things were swimming along and then in early September we all came down with the most aggressive stomach virus I've ever encountered. One unfortunate effect of that was that Ben can no longer tolerate dairy.

I'd heard about Vegenaise and Gwyneth raves about it in her book It's All Good. Could I find it here in Australia? No, I could not. As it turns out, vegan mayonnaise is actually easy to make. I used a recipe I adapted from Vegan Epicurean:

1/2 C soy milk (preferably unsweetened and not vanilla!)
1 C plus 2 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp agave nectar
1/8 tsp dry mustard powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
Black pepper to taste

Put everything except the oil in a blender and give it a couple of pulses. Slowly add the oil while pulsing gently until it emulsifies and comes together in a nice thick mayonnaisy kind of way. The original recipe says to add everything and blend, but mine didn't thicken this way. It's important not to go crazy with the blender - gently, gently does it.

The taste? I like it. My first batch was a little too sweet for my taste so I would add less agave next time and more lemon. I can't wait to use this in a potato salad, on toast, or in a pasta salad. Enjoy!

Coconut and Chia Breakfast Puddings


Breakfast is a tough one in our house. My Ben just doesn't feel like eating when he gets up. Gone are the pre-school days when he could nibble for a couple of hours until his gut was ready to accept a meal. Now that he's at school it's my every-morning battle to get a decent breakfast into him. I needed something easy to eat, not too strong in flavour and really filling in small quantities. These Breakfast Puddings were a hit. They're fantastic to eat when you're in a rush or for soothing sensitive tummys.

These Coconut Chia Breakfast Puddings have the consistency of a rice pudding. They're sweet but not too sweet, and the chia seeds make them really filling. Here's how I make them:

400ml Coconut milk or other dairy free milk
1/2 C Chia seeds (white)
1/2 C Frozen berries
1 tsp Good quality vanilla extract
1 tsp agave or maple syrup (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into glasses. Place in the fridge for at least 30 mins or overnight to set. 

My Bombproof Vegan Gluten Free Chocolate Cake


I've made this cake for years and she's never let me down. It's simple to make and has no gluten, dairy, egg or nuts. It also has a moist consistency and a really chocolatey flavour. Add some icing and GF sprinkles and you have yourself a birthday cake.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees centigrade.

190g gluten free flour - I use a blend of 100g brown rice flour, 50g sorghum, and 40g tapioca starch
200g raw sugar
20g raw cacao powder or cocoa powder
5g baking soda (bicarb)
3g salt

Whisk all dry ingredients together.

In another bowl mix together:

80ml neutral oil
5ml white vinegar
235ml warm water

Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour into a greased and lined tin and bake for 45 mins or until the cake springs back.

What it is, and what it's not.

Now that I've introduced myself and given you some background I thought I'd write a post about The Scientific Cook.

Why, you may ask, am I bothering to write a food allergy blog in a world already saturated with food blogs? There are a few reasons.

One reason is that I'm a writer, both in spirit and sometimes by profession. I miss writing and I wanted to create a space where I could indulge in writing and practice my craft.

Another reason is that I love blogging, but I'm time poor. My other blog Born Again Creations has brought me great satisfaction and lots of fun, but I don't have a lot of time for crafts these days. I may not have time to make an upcycled cushion cover but we do have to eat.

Lastly, I wanted something to motivate me and keep me passionate about allergy friendly food. It's tough out there sometimes. I don't want to slip into a "This is unfair! It's too hard!" mentality, because at Ben's current age - I'm it. If I don't make food yummy and enjoyable for him, if I don't try to normalise food and make sure he participates in food socially then he misses out. Big time.

So what's the idea behind The Scientific Cook? Food stopped being about normal ingredients for me a long time ago. Learning how to make vegan, GF food has forced me to learn how these ingredients work - how they react and what happens when I combine different things together. My kitchen is more science lab than anything else these days - hence the name.

When we started on this GF journey I did what most people do. I went straight to the GF section of the supermarket. I loaded my trolley with GF flour blends and any baked goods or cereal Ben could eat (and in Wellington a few years ago the selection was slim).  I spent my first year relying heavily on GF substitutes and packaged food. I don't think this is a bad thing necessarily - those first few months of feeding a child on a restricted diet are challenging enough. A year in, I decided that I didn't just want to feed Ben, I wanted to nourish his body. I started thinking about the sweeteners and thickeners used in many packaged GF foods, the bright white flours we were using and the preservatives and numbers on the backs of the packets. Now that I was used to allergy friendly foods, it was time for the second stage of my journey to begin.

I started the process of learning how to bake using wholefood ingredients. I stopped buying GF flour blends and started mixing my own flours using buckwheat flour, brown rice flour. sorghum, and millet. I bought books on wholefoods and experimented with raw food baking and desserts. I now only use packaged GF foods for parties or if I need to make something in a hurry. My preferred way to prepare food is to buy natural ingredients and make things from scratch.

So now that I've told you what this blog is about, I should also tell you what it isn't. I'm not a food photographer - or any kind of photographer actually. I can take an OK pic, but that's about as far as my talents behind a camera go. This isn't a foodie blog either - I'm not a chef, I don't claim to be incredible in the kitchen, although I think I do pretty well. What I am is a mum who was thrust into the world of coeliac disease and allergies kicking and screaming. No-one wants this for their child, but it happened. I  sincerely believe that Ben can have a healthy, normal, enjoyable experience of food even with all of his limitations. That's why I'm here.

Our Story

My name is Becs. I'm a New Zealander living in the beautiful Blue Mountains of NSW with my two kids and lovely husband. See that little boy up there? He's the reason why I'm introducing myself to you right now. His name is Ben and as I write this, he's gearing up for his 6th birthday in 10 days time. 

When Ben was 8 months old he was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. I knew egg was going to be an issue due to a projectile vomiting incident in a craft store - but I was shocked to learn that he was also allergic to dairy, peanut, fish, tomato and wheat. Oh boy. After a few teary visits to the supermarket I began to read books, I searched the Internet and eventually I learned how to feed my son.

Despite my efforts the next year was spent anxiously watching as our previously chubby baby got thinner and thinner. He stopped eating and was surviving on Neocate specialist formula and the occasional banana. His stomach was hard and distended and he had dark circles under his eyes. He spent his days lying on the living room floor, too exhausted to get up and play. The most obvious symptom to the outside world though, was that he hadn't grown at all in nearly a year. 

The following year it wasn't unusual for strangers to gasp at the seemingly super advanced baby in front of them as he walked around and spoke in complete sentences. It was only when I told them that he wasn't 9 or 10 months old as he appeared, but two years old that I was on the receiving end of sympathetic nodding of heads and confused looks. He was on the hospital's radar as "failure to thrive" and was constantly undergoing tests to see what was causing his lack of growth and appetite. 

Ben endured numerous blood tests, x-rays and hospital visit after hospital visit. He was tested for coeliacs and it came back "inconclusive" because he wasn't eating wheat due to his allergy and he wasn't eating enough of anything with gluten for the test to be accurate. Because of his symptoms and strong reaction to wheat his specialist suggested a gluten free trial. We tentatively started Ben on GF foods and were amazed to see him actually want to eat. He still had a lot of fear around food and would only eat while sitting on my lap or holding my hand - but he was eating! It seemed like a miracle. At his follow up dietitian appointment 4 weeks after beginning a GF diet we were all shocked to see that he had grown an astounding 6cm. Miracle number two.

Four years on, and Ben has now officially been diagnosed with coeliac disease. He still has an egg allergy but is now able to eat fish and tomato, and his allergies to dairy and soy are now intolerances. He is small for his age but he's a healthy and happy wee boy. On top of his numerous food issues he has an eye disease which was picked up when he was 2. This is a kid who keeps on going, no matter what life throws at him. He rarely gets upset when he misses out on food and deals with life with a sense of calm and peace that I often envy. 

Along the road my husband also discovered he has a severe intolerance to gluten (we suspect coeliac disease, although he hasn't been tested). Just to make things more interesting -my daughter and I are lactose intolerant. 

On this blog I hope to share with you the things I've learned over the years about healthy, gut friendly food. I'm passionate about wholefoods, raw foods, and most of all - creating yummy family friendly meals that are both safe and delicious. 

I plan to share resources and recipes with you, I'll tell you when things I try work and when they don't. I welcome your ideas too, as well as your stories and your support. Caring for a child with food issues can be overwhelming, exhausting, scary and heartbreaking. I'm living it, and I understand. 

My dream for Ben is for him to live as normal and as healthy a life as he possibly can, and I've made it my mission to do everything I can to help make that happen. Thanks for joining me!