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.

Marella Explorer 2, Seven Shores, Caribbean cruise – disabled travel and gluten free review.

First note I must add: sorry this is months late going up as it is from Feb/March but my health has recently deteriorated and I needed a break to rest and recover.
My latest adventure was a cruise around the Caribbean with Marella who are part of Tui. It was my first cruise in years and I have to say that I absolutely loved it! 5 of us went, my Mum and Dad and two of their friends. I was wary at first, visiting so many places when my chronic illness could flare up at any minute. We had lots of trips planned from different ports and I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially if I didn’t have enough time to rest when we got back on the ship. Turned out I had plenty of relaxing time in between ports and of an afternoon.

So I’ll start by listing the destinations I did visit:

  • Boarded in Bridgetown, Barbados
  • Bequia, Grenadines
  • Scarborough, Tobago
  • St. Georges, Grenada
  • Roseau, Dominica
  • Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe
  • Castries, St. Lucia
  • Bridgetown, Barbados (we decided to stay here for 4 nights but decided to do a separate blog post about this hotel etc)

As always the staff in Manchester Airport could not have been more helpful in assisting me, the sunflower lanyard system, put in place to be able to identify people with hidden illnesses and disabilities, works amazingly. Meaning I don’t have to stand in long lines risking my PoTS kicking off and my hips becoming painful before I’ve even got on a plane.
Upon landing in Barbados you and your suitcases are taken directly to the ship, this avoided all the usual messing about in the airport getting cases, finding transport etc, when all you want to do is get started with your holiday. The bus was on the runway near to the plane, which was great.
Upon boarding you are informed that your cases will be dropped off at your cabin. This gave us time to figure out the layout of the ship, find out where everything was and to get a much needed snack and a cocktail in the Caribbean sunshine.

The ships decks are all pretty much flat meaning they were very easy for me to navigate my way around with my walking stick and limited mobility. There are a number of lifts throughout the ship to get to different floors and we never really had a problem getting one at any time of the day to change decks. Upon arrival I was pleased to find we had been assigned a room near the lift as per request on booking. The pool deck had enough space to negotiate your way through rows on sunbeds using my walking stick with ease. I cant say I found any mobility related issues on board, which I was surprised at as I had a misconception in my head that on a ship things would be more cramped together than they were. It was actually quite the opposite. It is literally like a big floating holiday resort. To add to my love of it, the explorer 2 is adults only, no offence to your children, but getting round a buffet restaurant on a walking stick with small children running around is really difficult. I don’t have the best grip strength on my plate as it is, someone knocking into me is likely to end up wearing some of my dinner haha.

Excursions I would recommend
Rhum Runner 2. Probably my favoruite excursion, in St. Georges in Grenada. It started off with a shortish sail, while a steel band played Carribean music, to a lovely picturesque beach. From the time you first set sail until the time you arrive back you receive complimentary rum punch, probably not the trip for you if you don’t drink alcohol. Once you reach the beach you can get off for a couple of hours to sunbathe/swim in the sea. A member of the crew comes round a tray of rum punch, so you can have a refreshing drink whilst floating about in the sea. After this you get back on the boat to a more party atmosphere for the sail back, they had everyone up dancing and even held a limbo competition, (obviously limbo isn’t my forte) but everyone seemed to enjoy it. Probably my favourite day.

Wacky trucks in Dominica. This is another I would definitely recommend, it is great for those with limited mobility. You get to still see the island but from the ‘comfort’ an open topped 4X4.
You could also swim in a waterfall from the film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ unfortunately I had to give that part a miss due to hip pain flaring. My Dad swam in it and said it was amazing though.

Activities onboard I recommend
Mini golf, located on deck 15. It is like golf with a view, especially if the ship is docked in a port! We absolutely loved it for a laugh of an afternoon. You do have to climb a set of stairs to get to it, so while not entirely accessible to all, on a good day, I could manage.

White party. The white party night was amazing, they had a Robbie Williams tribute act on the week we were sailing. He was really good and had everyone up dancing on the pool deck and the deck above. I would suggest getting there early as to make sure you get somewhere to sit as it got extremely busy.

Silent disco. There was also a silent disco night on the pool deck which was hilarious. It was on quite late so everyone had had a couple of drinks by this point, it definitely had a good party atmosphere with a lot of laughter going on.

Board games in coffee port. If you fancy something a bit quieter, located on deck 7 in the coffee port, there are board games you can play at no extra cost. They did the best coffee on the ship, they also do specialty drinks (I personally prefer my coffee flavoured). Sometimes it’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ship for an hour or so. It was always quite quiet when we visited.

Quizzes and poolside activities. If you’re like me and you like to bask in the sun like a lizard by the pool, there’s always something going on. From Bollywood dance classes to random general knowledge quizzes over the tannoy. Never a dull moment. Sometimes I prefer to just lie there blasting music through my headphones. I couldn’t hear anything going on around me with them in, so if that’s more your thing, there’s something for everyone.

Gluten free food.
Firstly I must say that the staff onboard were excellent when it came to attentiveness and ensuring you were catered for and well looked after with a dietary requirement. The restaurant manager was straight over to us if he spotted us walking into Marketplace (the buffet restaurant) to ask if there was anything in particular I needed. There were hand sanitizing stations available as you entered a new area/restaurant which was something that I found an added bonus, especially in these germ filled times.
Breakfast
Of a morning we ate in Marketplace and in the main restaurant depending on the time we got up. There was something to eat in both restaurants. The highlight for me in Marketplace would definitely be the gluten free pancakes. You did need to order these a day in advance with the chef or restaurant manager but they were honestly worth it. In the restaurant, I always went for the option of the omelette with gluten free toast. You could add whatever fillings you liked from a list to the omelette so it was to your taste. All gluten free options are clearly marked out on a menu card in the main restaurant so it makes it much easier to order.
Lunch and snacks
Of a lunchtime we tended to only visit the pool snack bar or the Marketplace restaurant, however meals are available in the main dining room. In the buffet restaurant the gluten free choices were varied, with each food item marked up as to if it contained gluten or not. I could always find something to my liking, that filled me up for the rest of the day. However on days you were just sunbathing and fancied a snack by the pool, I found to be quite difficult. The only hot food available from the snack shack was fries. Cold food wise they had a couple of salads that were GF. I had read online chicken wings were available for coeliacs, but I was disappointed when this was not the case. A food highlight for me was definitely afternoon tea in the buffet restaurant. They had a wide variety of sandwiches, biscuits and cakes, all gluten free to select yourself. It was lovely to sit out on the deck, with a cake and a cup of coffee to break the day up.
Dinner time/evening meal
Of an evening we generally went to the main dining room, which was separated over two floors into Latitude 53 which had your classic dining style of food, or Vista which was essentially contemporary Italian food. A gluten free menu was posted to the room each morning to select the food you wished to eat that evening. It had to be handed back in at reception once complete, first thing of a morning. The food was incredible and most nights I had three courses. In latitude 53 a lot of the dishes were local to the islands you had just visited, so it was cultural as well as being delicious. I literally have zero faults to pick with the main dining room as it was spacious, beautiful and spread over 2 floors.
The other restaurant we frequented on more than one occasion was Nonna’s Italian. It served pizza and pasta dishes, both available as a gluten free option. This was a great restaurant for me as you could personalize the dishes to your taste by selecting your own ingredients if you wanted. I am a massive pizza fan so had a pizza piled high with my own chosen toppings on more than one occasion.
One final point is that there are other restaurants on board available, that are not included in the price. However we personally didn’t feel the need to visit them as their was always something I wanted to try in the previously mentioned restaurants. The gluten free is also clearly marked out on these menus to check out before you book into them.

Pizza in Nonna’s

On a final note, I would definitely recommend a cruise to anyone, young or old. I am not the best person on boats for sea sickness usually but I had no problem at all with this once onboard the ship as you could barely feel it moving. If you are worried about getting about on a ship with a disability or chronic illness, I would say they have it all covered. I found no problems at all getting about with limited mobility and I know there are specially adapted cabins available at request for wheelchair users and those with less mobility than myself. Finally as you have seen being gluten free or having dietary requirements is more than catered for on board and I did not have a single issue food wise other than a lack of poolside snacks, more of a personal preference thing though than anything else.

I loved the Marella Explorer 2 for my first cruising experience and I will definitely be going cruising again in the near future!

Onion rings [GF/DF/Vegan]

Ingredients
1 Large white onion cut into rings (I found batter sticks better to white than red onions)
Vegetable oil
85g GF plain flour
1Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp chilli powder
1 Tsp cajun seasoning
50ml almond milk
50ml water
1 Tbsp cornflour

Method
Heat up enough oil in a pan to completely cover onions when dropped in.
Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, chilli powder and cajun seasoning in a bowl.
Add almond milk and water to form a thick batter that sticks to the back of a spoon.
Put cornflour in a food bag with sliced onion and shake until onion gets a slight coating on.
Shake off any excess flour.
Dip the coated onions in the batter until generously coated.
Add coated onions to hot oil and fry until crispy (depending on pan size you might need to repeat this process more than once until all onions are done).
Drain off the excess oil, I used kitchen paper.
Serve as a starter, side dish or a snack and enjoy!

Crispy, gluten free onion rings!
Onions and batter
Coating in cornflour
Frying

Key Lime Pie [GF]

Ingredients
300g/2 boxes of gluten free HobNobs or similar
175g butter/dairy free alternative
400g of condensed milk
3 egg yolks
4 limes
300ml of dairy free double cream (trying to reduce the lactose levels but normal cream is fine)
2Tbsp of icing sugar

Method
Heat the oven to 160*C fan/140*c
Smash up the two packets of HobNobs until they are crumbs.
Melt the butter until it is liquid either in a microwave or a pan.
Add the butter to the crumbs, making a sticky mixture.
Put the mix into a loose based tart tin, making sure you fully line the base and sides.
Bake in the oven for 12 minutes, remove and cool. I cooled mine in the fridge.
While base is cooling put egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until they are thicker and foamy. About 3-4 minutes should be enough.
Add the condensed milk and whisk for a further 3 minutes.
While whisking juice and zest the four limes. These should slowly be added to the mixture as the whisk runs for a further 4 minutes.
Pour the mixture into the now cooled base, put back in the oven for 15 minutes. Cool and then chill in the fridge for approximately 5 hours or more.
When ready to serve whip up the double cream and icing sugar with a whisk on a high speed.
Once thick enough consistency, use to decorate top of tart.
Remove from base, slice, serve and enjoy!!

My easy take on strawberry and chocolate pavlova [GF/DF]

Ingredients
For meringue:
300g caster sugar
6 egg whites
For topping:
400g of strawberries
150g of dairy free white chocolate
50g of dark chocolate
300ml of dairy free double cream

Method
Preheat oven to 140*C
Cover two baking trays with grease proof paper.
In a mixing bowl whisk egg whites for about 4/5 minutes until a white fluffy foam is achieved.
Gradually mix in the caster sugar about a tablespoon at a time until a white glossy consistency is achieved that forms stiff peaks when the whisk is removed.
Split the mixture between the two trays, shaping into disks, with a thicker outer rim so they can be filled.
Bake for 45 minutes – an hour.
Bake until the meringue solidifies and is crispy on the outside, be careful it doesn’t burn.
Allow both meringue disks to cool on a wire rack.
Once cool, take one disk, top with half the topping ingredients; cream, strawberries, and melted white and dark chocolate.
Then top this with the second meringue disk and top with the remainder of the toppings and serve immediately! Enjoy!

Completed pavlova!

Profiteroles [GF/DF]

Ingredients
50g dairy free spread
95g GF plain flour
200ml water
3 eggs
3 tsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
110g of dark chocolate
400g of dairy free double cream (whipped)

Method
Preheat oven to 200*C.
Line baking tray with grease proof paper and grease.
Sift flour onto a plate with sugar and a pinch of salt.
Crack eggs into a bowl and beat.
Melt dairy free spread on a low/medium heat and add the water.
Bring pan to the boil.
Remove from heat and add the flour mix, stirring together at a very fast pace.
Return to heat and stir vigorously for 30 seconds until a dough like consistency.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly and add the eggs, ensure the mixture is cool enough or you will essentially cook ans scramble the eggs. This will form a thick smooth paste.
Pipe or use two small spoons to make a small ball of dough on the baking paper about 5cm in diameter. Repeat making even sized balls, spread out on baking paper, until all dough is used.
*if dough is not thick enough, you can use baking tray for cakes/muffins to pipe the mixture into*
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Prick each profiterole with a thin skewer to allow steam to escape.
Wait until chilled.
Whip cream with a whisk until thick consistency achieved, can add icing sugar to sweeten.
Pipe cream to fill each profiterole.
Melt the dark chocolate on a plate over boiling water or more easily in a microwave but be careful not to burn it.
Dip each profiterole into it.
I also added edible glitter for extra decoration!
Once chocolate is set, serve and enjoy!!

Finished profiteroles!
*baking tray type to use if mixture is too thin!

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!

Basic small cupcakes [GF/DF]

Ingredients
100g Caster Sugar
100g gluten free (GF) self raising flour
100g dairy free spread (I use vitalite)
2 Eggs
1/2 TSP baking powder
1 TBSP almond milk

Method
Preheat the oven to 180*C/160*C fan.
Add all the above ingredients in a bowl, sifting the flour in and then mix with an electric whisk or with the paddle attachment of a stand food mixer on a medium speed for 2-4 minutes.
Make sure ingredients are completely combined and you have a smooth consistency of the mixture.
Separate mixture out evenly into paper cake cases.
Bake for 15-20 mins in the center of the oven until golden brown and they feel spongy to the touch.
Leave to cool for 30 mins and then decorate as you like.

Decoration
I decorated these cakes using Betty Crocker Vanilla buttercream icing and some sugar paper unicorns I got from B&M, but feel free to decorate yours however you like!