Your dry January guide to alcohol free alternatives. From wine to spirits.

So as you may or may not know, I don’t always drink alcohol for a number of reasons. I try to limit my drinks to once or twice a month or special occasions, but as you can probably see on my instagram it varies. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to keep up when you love a bevy haha. First and foremost is because I have bipolar disorder. Alcohol and bipolar do not go very well together. It can push me into a full blown manic episode. It will reach a point where I’m drinking with imaginary friends, run off with them into the night, go bat shit crazy and I will probably fight you if you try to take my wine away. Let’s be honest over the years, it’s got me into all kinds of trouble. The other is living with a chronic illness (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). Alcohol seems to make my chronic pain and fatigue considerably worse, it also sets my bowel off. I will end up with either diarrhoea for days or my gastroparesis will flare up and I’ll be vomitting every time I eat, for what can sometimes be weeks.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been sampling different alcohol free wines, gins, beers and ciders. I know a lot of people are doing dry January (well Boris put a spanner in the works of that one for some of us didn’t he) or those who also have health issues so do not drink. So I’m going to share my top 3 of each with you.

Alcohol free wines:
Sparkling:
1. Scavi & Ray alcohol free. 10/10. If you’ve ever had the alcohol containing version there’s not much flavour difference, so all the prosecco, zero the alcohol. Retails at around £8.99 on amazon. I have yet to find it in a shop!


2. Freixenet sparkling rose.’ This is a wine I’ve bought time and time again because it’s so good. £5 in selected supermarkets.


3. Belle & Co alcohol free sparkling rose.’ This pops up in supermarkets every now and again, really lovely but is not as wine tasting as the others. Really good value and usually ranges from £3-£5.


I know I said I was only doing 3 however they can be on the pricey side, so if you’re looking for a cheaper version Asda do their own version and it’s really good value at £3.50 and is a lovely dry sparkling wine. Not 100% alcohol free but really low alcohol.

I just want to add in two wines that aren’t sparkling they are:
Hardy’s alcohol free chardonnay. If you drink white wine you will love this. You could be drinking an alcohol containing wine, it’s actually that good.

If you have people over and you fancy some sangria without the alcohol I highly recommend using Fre’ alcohol removed merlot, which actually went down really well with even the alcohol drinkers when we had people over. To give it a bit more flavour I used fanta instead of lemonade which sounds weird, but believe me it’s a game changer.

Alcohol free beers and ciders:
For me there are only a small number of alcohol free beers I can drink as most contain gluten, so I am by no means an expert on them. Ciders however, are pretty much all free from gluten.


Beers I’ve tried:
1. Big Drop Brewing co. paradiso citra IPA. This did taste like the real thing. I love a gluten free IPA so this is right up my street. Honestly drinking these I did not feel like I was missing out on anything as they look so much like a normal beer.


2. Free star – completely gluten and alcohol free. It was nice but I personally found it was lacking full flavour. I would easily drink one or two but it isn’t something I could drink all night at a party.

Top 3 alcohol free ciders:
1. Old Mout Cider – alcohol free berries and cherries flavour. I often order this in the pub if they have it. You can tell it’s alcohol free, however it tastes so fruity and sweet that it doesn’t matter. Plus you don’t feel like the odd one out with a bottle of this on the table.

2. Strongbow ultra low alcohol cider. I used to drink the alcohol version of this, so it’s obviously going to score highly with me. Again can kind of tell it’s not the real thing, but it doesn’t matter because it tastes so good and does have that cider aftertaste. This was my drink of summer 2020.

3.Sheppy’s Low Alcohol classic cider. Not completely alcohol free, but is only 0.5% so good luck getting drunk on them haha. I’ve only had this a couple of times, but if you prefer a more classic cider to a fruit one this is the one for you. Does have that cider taste with only a fraction of the alcohol.

Finally onto the good stuff my top 3 alcohol free gins:
Right these are difficult for me to put in order because some of them are amazing and all for different reasons. Here goes:


1. So there is a tie for joint first because I love both of these gins for completely different reasons.
Gordons alcohol free both smells and tastes exactly like the alcoholic version. This is quite a rare thing to find when looking at alcohol free spirits because though they are full of botanicals there’s always something missing which this one has. Similarity to the real thing.

Seedlip spice 94. This is a favourite for the fact is tastes absolutely amazing with tonic water and a slice of lime. It’s light and fruity and I can have several of these without getting bored of them. However for an alcohol free spirit it comes in at one of the more pricey ones retailing at on average £25 for a bottle.

2. Ceder’s distilled non- alcoholic gin. This is full of your classic gin botanicals so you’ll definitely feel like you’re enjoying your favourite gin without the hangover. On average this is about £20- £25 and stocked in a quite a few of your standard supermarkets.


3. Amplify zing and zest. Another fruity alcohol free alternative that goes great with Mediterranean tonic water. It’s not quite on the same level as the others, but is a little cheaper at £15 a bottle.

Hope this helps you manage your dry January/not drinking a little easier.

Ego at the Punchbowl, Sefton. First meal out since lockdown.

Since the UK first went into lockdown, I’ve been really weary and cautious about the places and scenarios I put myself in. I haven’t been completely shielded, however as someone with a chronic illness I am vulnerable and ‘at risk’. I would literally only go into shops at like 8am when I knew they’d be empty. Finally, last weekend, I decided to be brave and re-introduce myself into society by going out for food on the Friday night. We visited Ego at the Punchbowl in Sefton and I must admit it really has reduced the anxiety I feel about visiting restaurants in the future. This will cover a little about Coronavirus measures and then obviously the amazing gluten free food.

Health/safety/cleanliness
Before arriving at the restaurant, I must admit I had quite bad anxiety on how the new procedures would be put into place to protect customers and staff and whether or not they were being monitored and followed throughout the night. As soon as I arrived it was like a huge sigh of relief seeing one staff member completely cleaning and disinfecting both tables and chairs in between customers. The tables were spread out to a safe distance and there was a lot less loitering about as drinks were table service only, no people queuing or chatting at the bar. Drinks were delivered to the table on a clean plastic tray, you took them off their yourself, so staff aren’t leaning over you and touching the glasses and then they took the tray away. Food ordering was pretty much the same as previously, but with staff taking extra precautions staying a safe distance away from the table.

Gluten free choices
Onto the good stuff, food. I must really begin by mentioning that Ego has one of the most varied gluten free menus I have seen. Don’t worry if you don’t live locally to Liverpool/Sefton, as they have a chain of restaurants scattered around the country. They are a Mediterranean style restaurant so the menu has everything ranging from pastas, to Moroccan mains, fish courses and steak.

Starter
For my starter I got Chorizo Frito Al Vino. This was chorizo in red wine, garlic, rosemary and thyme. It was absolutely gorgeous, literally some of the best tasting chorizo I’ve ever had. The portion size was just right for me. It was even served with toasted gluten free bread, which I used to mop up the sauce as it was so good! A few other starters to choose from included a vegetarian goats cheese starter, chicken liver pate and they even had vegan friendly options of soup or garlic mushrooms.

Chorizo

Main Course
This was a very tough choice for me as their are so many mains to choose from, but I went with the hanging piri-piri chicken kebab, with a side of skin on fries. I was not disappointed. The kebab contained chicken chunks, onions, courgette and peppers all skewered together and char-grilled served on a bed of salad. It was cooked to perfection with a lovely char-grilled aftertaste, would definitely recommend. Fries were nice and crispy, just how I like them. Once again the menu not only catered for gluten free, but covered gluten free vegans and vegetarians with dishes such as a vegetable paella and Moroccan falafel. If I visited again I’d definitely try a pasta dish or steak, other people’s meals coming out the kitchen looked amazing.

Hanging peri-peri chicken kebab

Dessert
For dessert I went with my general go to when I see that it’s on the gluten free menu, warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. It was so rich, gooey and delicious, I feel like I could have ate another and felt sickly all night, with no regrets haha. They had a selection of desserts available on the menu including creme brulee and eton mess, both of which I love, but I’m such a chocolate fiend that nothing could sway me.

Triple chocolate brownie

The experience overall I would say has put me at ease when it comes to dining out in these times of a post covid lockdown, ‘new normal’. The food here is absolutely worth a try as I cannot find fault in any of it. This is a restaurant I would definitely visit again and would have no issues in ordering a different meal on 3 or even 4 visits, without having to order the same thing over, as the gluten free menu is so big and varied.

Simple, easy, gluten free

I’ve decided to share with you some of my simple, easy to follow gluten free and almost always dairy free recipes. (I will also be trying to add in some vegan alternatives to egg where possible) I try to only use basic ingredients that are readily available in local supermarkets, using mainly GF plain and GF self raising flour, as I know a lot of people don’t have in or struggle to get hold of other weird and wonderful varieties. I absolutely love both cooking and baking and it has been a big part of my life over the last few years.

As I struggle a lot with standing around and bending over due to my chronic illness, I thought I’d also add in a few tips for those who, like me, struggle with basic day to day tasks.

I try to bake a couple of times a week (illness dependent) and keep the tasks and processes involved to a minimum. My first handy tip is definitely to keep a chair/stool/anything that you can sit down on handy. If it’s high enough to still reach the work surfaces it’s an added bonus. I spend a lot of my time sitting down and resting or actually weighing out my ingredients from my stool. If near a plug, I can even plug in my heated back pad.

For mixing my ingredients together, my Mum and Dad bought me an amazing stand food mixer for Christmas (Kenwood multi one) that literally does everything. From mixing my cakes, chopping up veg and even grating cheese. It has made my life when baking 100% easier. These are quite pricey so if that isn’t an option for you, I would definitely recommend an electric hand held whisk/mixer which I previously used.

The magical mixer 🙌🏻

Finally there are also all kinds of cool gadgets out there you can get to help you in the kitchen such as adapted knives, tools with better grips on and things to help out with cake decorating. I use cake tins that have removable bases, so it’s easier to get the baked cake out without having to tip it as this can be difficult, especially if heavy. My last little saving grace came around because I personally struggle using a piping bag as my fingers often get stiff and sore. I bought myself a solid plastic desert decorator from Hobbycraft in the sale, you only need to push a button down on the top to pipe the icing out. It’s saved my hands from so much unnecessary pain.

These are all my little tips and tricks to help you out in the kitchen. I hope they’ve been helpful and happy baking!

My emergency box of tricks for managing pain.

Living with Ehlers Danlos is never really easy, for me it involves a lot of different aches and pains. This can be anything from stomach pain, to joint pain, to non specific widespread chronic pain and anything in between. I try to avoid heavy opioid painkillers like tramadol and morphine as best I can for a few reasons. Firstly they make me terribly drowsy and unable to concentrate, preventing me being able to drive and taking away some of my independence. Secondly they slow down my bowel even more than usual and can increase my nausea. Last but not least they are addictive, my body gets used to them and after a while they don’t work anymore but my body is convinced they’re still doing something. This is not me saying don’t take them or passing any judgement, it’s just what I’ve found in my own case. Plus I still use them if I dislocate a joint or in any other short term extreme pain cases. This means I’ve had to find alternative treatments, therapies and remedies to get me through.

Heat pads etc
My main lifesaver recently has been using a variety of different heat pads, wraps and water bottles depending on the location of the pain.
I have two different heat wraps; a shorter one that can either cover my lower back or stomach and then a full back one that goes right up to my neck. They plug into the wall which unfortunately means you can’t walk around in them, however they do stay warm for a long time and you can just velcro yourself in and out when you need to move. The full back one I got in Lidl for £14.99 which was quite a bargain. I find it a bit more uncomfortable to sit around in than the smaller one, but if my whole backs aching it’s much more effective.
As I can’t really go to bed plugged into the wall I have a standard hot water bottle I use on my stomach when things are bad. It’s in a tigger teddy cover to prevent me burning myself, though most of the time I feel like I’d be better just boiling my stomach alive the pain is that severe.

Heat pads and water bottle

Lotions and potions
I think I’ve pretty much tried every single pain relief cream and gel that is out there, everyone is different and reacts differently to them, but these I’ve found are the most effective for me personally.
1. Tiger Balm – available from most pharmacies and some super markets. There are a few varieties but I use the red ointment. It is a natural pain relief remedy made up of camphor, menthol and other ingredients used to help treat muscle aches and pains. Not a miracle worker but I find it works a lot better than the other natural, over the counter balms out there.
2. Biofreeze or deep freeze. Alternating between hot and cold treatments for pain is supposed to be more effective than just using one alone. In combination with applying heat, this gel works to cool and soothe aches.
3. Deep Heat spray – the opposite of the biofreeze. It warms up the painful area, however, it really stings my skin after a few applications. If you have sensitive skin it might not be for you.
4. Volterol – I find this only really works well on my shoulder. It comes in different strengths so I always ask the pharmacist for the higher one.
5. Nurofen medicated plasters – these are ibuprofen containing pain patches. As my stomach can’t handle NSAID’s such as ibuprofen, I find these a stomach safer alternative. Only downside is that they can only be worn for a few days at a time. They also can’t be used in combination with the volterol so I tend to alternate.

Collection of lotions and potions

Box of braces
Depending on the joint that is in pain, I can be 90% sure I have a brace to hold it in place and help it heal without me hurting it every time I move. From ankle to shoulder I’m pretty much covered. If I don’t have a brace for it there’s always kinesiology tape to strap it up, this is usually saved for back and hip pain/injuries.

Wrist and fingers
Back and shoulders
To knee and ankle

Tens machine
The tens machine is a small battery operated device that sends electrical impulses through small sticky pads (electrodes) that you attach to your skin in the painful area. You can increase and decrease the frequency to different amounts to find what works for you. The tens machine can vary with the number of sticky pads, mine has four. I’m not 100% sure how they work but according to the internet they interupt and reduce the pain signals travelling to the brain and spinal cord, reducing the amount of pain you feel. It does tingle and feel funny on your skin but it definitely does something to reduce pain levels in me.

Tens machine

I wouldn’t say any of these items work miracles, but if they can each reduce my pains by 5% that’s 5-25% less pain. This may not sound like a massive amount but with a combination of all the above I can really get on with my day so much better. If it saves me from having to take my morphine and be a zombie, I’m pretty happy.