Travelling with Coeliac Disease

My first year as a diagnosed Coeliac sufferer coincided with my busiest ever year of travel.  I went to Egypt 5 times, to the USA, to Spain, to the Yorkshire Dales, attended a walking leader course in Wales and made numerous visits to my mother, who suffers from dementia.  It has been quite a challenge to stay well with all with all these changes in routines and forced eating out, but on the whole the experience has been really positive.  It does take planning, and a change of attitude towards food and eating out.  It is just not possible to eat what other people do – but then having been a foodie and a health foodie at that, I have been used to being picky about food.

Firstly travelling to Egypt! This could have been the most difficult challenge but I found out that Egyptair does do gluten free meals, one just has to ring up the airline to book as it is not available on-line (although cholesterol free meals are?!!). Special meals arrive about 15 minutes before everyone else has theirs which is nice. Cairo airport only has fruit that is not wrapped in some sort of wheat parcel but arriving at 7 pm this is not a problem. The little resort at Sharm I visit has a buffet breakfast where one can choose omelettes, cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber. A slice of gf bread from my travelling stock p1050145completes a good breakfast.  The Bedouin quickly got on board with my ‘weird’ diet and soon everyone knew that I mustn’t have gluten and they have catered for me very well wherever I go.  The Marriot in Cairo was also good with so many gluten free options to choose from. I carry a Gluten Free Travel card in Arabic, downloaded off the internet so people will know exactly what my requirements are.

When we went to the USA to visit our son, we stayed with friends who were very p1010793accommodating and then hired a camper van for the journey from San Francisco to Bend in Oregon.  Self-catering is easy when there are lots of great health food supermarkets to stock up on. One night we went to a cinema called McMenamins (a chain of cinemas in the USA), to see the new Jungle Book film and they had separate catering facilities for gf so chips and all manner of junk food was available – just this once I indulged! British Airways had good gf meals on the flights there and back.

At Heathrow airport, there are gluten free snacks at Eat, gf options on the menu at Wonder Tree, and the Gorgeous Kitchen, plus a branch of Carluccio’s which is coeliac approved, so no problem having  lunch before an afternoon flight.

p1040915Going on holiday to Spain did worry me but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I didn’t get gluted once.  We booked through Collett’s Walking Holidays and they ensured that my dietary needs were communicated to their staff. Our hotel, in the tiny mountain village of Panticosa, was excellent with the chef preparing special adaptions of the meals just for me.  I bought ingredients for my own sandwiches with gf wraps I brought with me, and eating out was fine as they seem very aware of coeliac disease.  Our waitress at one restaurant said it was no problem as she had a cousin who was coeliac and knew exactly what was required.

Our walking holiday to the Yorkshire Dales, also booked with Collett’s Walking Holidays, was also fine with a choice of restaurants in the little village we stayed in.  One restaurant called Thirteen, had a menu that was all gf all the time as the chef had a problem with gluten!  The food was some of the best I have ever had. Even the village pub had meals that were gf.  The hotel we stayed in provided nice gf breakfasts and had recommended the excellent restaurant 13.

The worst experience was of Brittany Ferries on their Plymouth to Santander route.  We had previously used the ferries to get to Northern Spain on two other holidays and enjoyed great meals in the restaurant, before I had my diagnosis.  This time the company were quite unhelpful with advice when we booked, just saying we would have to ask the staff if they had any gf options but saying that they couldn’t do special meals.  When we asked one member of staff at the restaurant he just said take whatever I like from the buffet and remove the bread! Another waitress was a bit more helpful but they didn’t really know which foods were definitely gf so I worried about having a gluten attack. This spoilt the experience for me.

On visits to my mother’s house I just took most of my food with me.  She hasn’t been able to cook for herself for a while and would not have understood my problem so it was easier to sort it out myself.

When travelling I do take snacks and emergency foods with me.  9Bars are almost a meal in themselves and great if one is being very active. Packets of mixed fruits and nuts are good too, and I have found you can’t always trust the ones abroad, especially if they are spiced as they use some flour in the mix.  Naked bars are good alternatives to 9Bars.  BFree wraps are good and actually last quite a long time without refrigeration. And of course fruit is usually freely available too.

During my October trip to Sinai, Egypt, I led a group to build a small dam in the high mountains. There were 8 of us in the group, and just by chance, 3 of us were coeliacs.  The other two were mother and son and long experienced in travelling gf.  Freddie’s job takes him to some of the most remote parts of the world to film animals and he doesn’t find living gf too much of a problem, so there is hope for all us coeliacs.



Posted in Nutrition | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

More Healthy Baking

This cake is not only delicious but has good levels of nutrients.  There are vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the dried fruit, healthy fats (yes butter is a healthy fat after all!), protein from the eggs and nuts, and healthy carbs in the wholemeal flour.  For more nutritional info see below.

I call this type of cake recipe the potato masher cake because most of the work of mixing is done with a potato masher!

Banana and Hazelnut Cake


125g /4 oz prunes/apricots/dates

125g/4 oz butter or equivalent of oil such as light olive oil or coconut oil.

2 or 3 ripe bananas

2 eggs

30g/1 oz ground almonds

125g/4 oz hazelnuts

125g/4 oz wholemeal flour or wheat and gluten-free flour such as rice flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Cook the dried fruit in a small to medium-sized saucepan with sufficient water to cover them for about 15 to 20 minutes. Simmer gently, do not boil or they will burn. When cooked and mushy, add the oil or butter and mix well. Mash in the bananas. You can do all this in the saucepan with a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly.

Add beaten eggs. Mix well. Then add flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix briefly and gently then add in the hazelnuts.

Turn the mixture out into a loaf tin or cake tin which has been greased and lined. Cook in a moderate oven, gas mark 3 or 4 for about 40 minutes or until done.


You can substitute mango for the banana, and vary the dried fruit and nuts and flours.


Put about 100g/3 oz of cashew nuts into a blender with about 3 or 4 tablespoons of apples juice, blend and spread on top.

Nutritional Information

Where possible always buy organic ingredients to avoid pesticides, growth hormones, additives and other unhelpful or harmful chemicals.

Prunes are a good source of provitamin A and phenolic compounds.  They are a good source of potassium, thiamine (B1), riboflavin(B2), vitamin B6, boron and dietary fibre.  They have good levels of antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and iron.  They are notorious for preventing and relieving constipation. The insoluble fibre in prunes provides food for ‘good’ bacteria in the large intestine.  An investigation of the blood of fifty-eight postmenopausal women who ate approximately 12 prunes per day for three months revealed the presence of enzymes and growth factors that indicated increased bone formation in their bodies.  These markers were not seen in women who did not eat prunes.  Prunes contain boron which is a trace mineral essential for bone metabolism and is a necessary factor in preventing osteoporosis.

Apricots are good sources of potassium, iron, fibre and carotenes such as lycopene and lutein.  These carotenes are what give red, orange and yellow colours to fruit and vegetables.  They are particularly beneficial for preventing macular degeneration, heart disease and cancer.  Where possible buy un-sulphured apricots, usually available in health food shops.

Dates are an excellent source of fibre; the B vitamins niacin (B3), B6, riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5) and folic acid; copper, potassium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus, zinc and selenium. They are among the most alkaline of foods and contain a special fiber called beta-D-glucan which has been shown to decrease the body’s absorption of cholesterol and to slow or delay the absorption of glucose into the small intestine thus helping to keep blood sugar levels even.  Beta-D-glucan also adds bulk and softness to stools due to its ability to absorb and hold water.  The eases both stool movement through the colon and elimination – hence dates help with constipation.  In addition the soluble fibre passes through the intestinal tract more slowly than insoluble fibre which slows down the rate the stomach empties its contents after a meal.  This increases feelings of satiety and can help with weight loss diets.  Dates are surprisingly rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds.  Date extract  was found to prevent free-radical damage to both fats and protein in a dose-dependant manner – the higher the concentration, the greater the protection against free radicals.

Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin  C, fibre, riboflavin (B2), magnesium, biotin, and carbohydrates.  Potassium helps regulate heart function and fluid balance, lowers blood pressure and protects against heart disease and strokes.  In one study, researchers tracked 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine effects of diet on blood pressure.  Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods had a substantially reduced risk of stroke.  In addition the soluble fibre in bananas helps normalise bowel function.

Nutritional information from the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Healthy Baking

With the success of the Great British Bake-Off, a huge rekindling of baking skills is happening.  I come from families of cake bakers on both sides. My grandmother’s shortbread was absolutely delicious and we ate at least 2 or 3 different cakes for tea each day!   However for health-concious and weight-concious people, eating cakes is not usually on their agenda and eating sugary cakes is a fast route to blood sugar problems, diabetes and heart disease. But there are such things as healthy cakes!  Eggs, wholemeal flour and even butter have healthy properties with good levels of vitamins and minerals. If you replace the sugar with dried fruit and/or bananas, cakes can have good antioxidant levels too.  Adding in nuts adds more protein and flavour. Here is a good basic cake made without sugar – and very easily made too!

Basic Healthy Sponge Cake


8 oz dates

6 oz butter or equivalent of oil such as groundnut oil or light olive oil or coconut oil.

4 oz ground almonds

2 or 3 mashed bananas

2 eggs

6 oz wholemeal flour or wheat free flour

1 teaspoon baking powder


Cook the dates in a small saucepan with sufficient water to cover them. Simmer gently, do not boil or they will burn. When cooked and mushy, add the butter/oil and mix well. Mash in the bananas using a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly.

Add the almonds and the beaten eggs. Mix well.

Add the flour and baking powder and mix briefly and gently.

Turn the mixture out into a loaf tin or cake tin which has been greased and lined. Cook in a moderate oven, gas mark 3 or 4 for about 40 minutes or until done.

Easy and delicious!

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Office

The summer season at Green and Away is over for another year, the days are growing shorter and it is time to re-evaluate work.  Green and Away was a great success this year with great events and wonderful volunteers and already there are two bookings for next summer plus we hope to have the brilliant Pantaloons back to perform in the open air.

However things are not looking so good for our Bedouin friends in Sinai at the moment.  With the political instability and outbreaks of violence in Cairo and other parts of Egypt, St Catherine’s Monastery has been shut by the government with devastating effects for the local Bedouin.  They have been relying on tourists visiting the monastery and then climbing Mt Sinai to give them work through serving tourists in cafes, taking them on camel treks, selling local produce and providing accommodation.  St Catherine’s is a small town with almost no other employment on offer so the effects of this action are being felt by everyone. With no income, the camel men are struggling as they can’t afford the £2 a day to feed their camels and are having to sell them.  For camel men this is a desperate measure as their camels represent their business and their future income.  If they sell now they will have money but no source of income when the monastery reopens and a bedouin without his camel is like a man with no arms.

Boy and his camel

Boy and his camel

Despite the fact that St Catherine’s remains calm and peaceful, people will not travel there and yet what the Bedouin need most is visitors.  There are two journeys scheduled for next spring and we hope they will go ahead but it is difficult to publicise them in the current atmosphere of uncertainty.  There must be some people with a sense of adventure and who are happy to enjoy the peacefulness of the Sinai mountains.

We are about to launch an appeal to help the Bedouin camel men. Shortly there will be a donation page on the Just Giving website where people can sponsor a camel for anything from one day £2, to a month £60. Anything donated will help a lot. More details to follow…

Meanwhile back to the loathed admin to keep G&A on track for next year.

For more information about the situation in St Catherine’s, Sinai, see the article in The Guardian newspaper.

Posted in Makhad Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Musing on Beauty

When I was in the Sinai desert a few weeks ago there was plenty of time for reflection.  Here are some of my thoughts written as part poem, part prose.



Why is there beauty in the world?P1000842

What is beauty and what is beauty for?

How to describe what beauty is

except in poems and prose that evoke

an appreciation of beauty.

Beauty is in flowers, coloured rocks,P1000020

Smiling faces, loving eyes.

Beauty exists for us when fear falls away,

Because fear blocks by opening our minds

And shutting our hearts.

We feel beauty in our hearts, our eyes, our ears,

Our bodies, it comes in the impulse to hug someoneP1010865

Or to caress a smooth wooden bowl,

Or the sound of someone singing,

Or a meadow of wild flowers.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder

But beauty is always present in the world.

Appreciating beauty depends on the receiver. P1010909

Once we let go of fear, beauty is everywhere.

And when we see beauty we are more connected to spirit/god.

Seeing beauty lets spirit into our hearts

And hearing beauty and feeling beauty,

And touching beauty and tasting beauty…

I love the caresses of the sun and breeze on my skin.

I love the feel of smooth rock beneath my feetP1020319

I love the blue azure sky, especially when it dances with sparkly stars.

I love the cool soft, silky and sensuous early morning desert sand

As I pour it over my naked body.

I love the empty silence, full of energy and expectation

That reflects back to me my every sound tenfold.

I love all this beauty.

When I see a peony flower,

it is full of radiant colour,P1020350

a cerise nest of crimson leaves,

Stunning in its beauty.

And what of rainbow coloured topical birds

And lizards with bright turquoise heads.

Why, if nature is practical, functional and self-interested (if it is),

Does it make such DSC00004monumentally beautiful, bountiful, statements?

Nature bursts with life, exuberance, blousy extravagance – with beauty.

Surely this beauty cannot be explained as the result of a process of evolution and natural selection.

It feels above all that.

Is it spirit’s/god/dess’s present to the world?

When we live in the world, in the present,

We feels god’s present of beauty in our hearts.


Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The moral dilemmas of travel

Many people would agree that there is an innate desire for human beings to put themselves in new, exciting, sometimes dangerous situations and places.  The urge to travel, to see and experience new people and landscapes is perhaps fuelled by a curiosity to see what is over the next fence, ridge or mountain.  Lots of people have the feeling of itchy feet and want to travel to ‘broaden the mind’ and maybe to find somewhere better to live.  There are others who just want to escape from their hum drum lives, from stress and go somewhere, anywhere, to chill out.

Now that nearly everyone in the developed world can afford to travel and go on holiday we see the effects this urge has on the planet as a whole.  Most notably the estimated effects of air travel on greenhouses gases and global warming.  Research suggests these effects are a huge driver to global warming and that we should be reducing air travel to absolutely essential journeys.  There can be little justification for flying hundreds of miles to sit in the sun by a swimming pool!  There are alternative ways of travelling such as by train, by coach and by boat (all much more climate friendly) and it is far easier to do in this Internet age and with the help of man-in-seat 61.  This way of travelling is slower, more expensive and somewhat limiting in where you can travel to.  The world of people seems to be mirroring the volatility of the climate as unrest spreads to many countries.  This makes travel overland to some countries very difficult if not impossible.

If the question of travel were simply about whether we, as responsible citizens of Earth, should fly the answer would of course be ‘no’.  However travelling does not just have its effects on the traveller and the climate.  The host countries are hugely affected by

Mass tourism hotel

Mass tourism hotel

tourism.  Often the tourism business creates a large number of very low wage jobs for local people, depletes local resources and the environment, increases the strain on local infrastructure and makes a great deal of money for multi-national corporations who are based outside the country.  This sort of tourism can bring lots of money into government coffers but leave local people in a poverty trap where the only work available is low paid.  This type of tourism is mass tourism and its main beneficiaries are shareholders of big companies.  Even the tourists themselves don’t have the experiences they were led to expect.  Often the standards of accommodation are below expectation, the food can be unimaginative mass catering, and they pay a lot for a mediocre experience.  While many people put up with this and believe the adverts about their holidays, they are missing out on a great deal.

Counter to this, there is a new sort of tourism called sustainable tourism or alex-6426responsible travel.  This is tourism for those with itchy feet, a desire to see more of the world, experience the rich cultures the world has to offer and to meet people in different countries.  For the inhabitants of responsible tourism destinations, there can be much greater benefits as money spent by tourists goes straight into the local economy through tourists staying in small locally owned hotels, using local taxi drivers, and eating in local restaurants.  Sustainable tourism is especially important in areas where there is little alternative employment and can be the most important source of income.

In the case of the Jebeliya Bedouin of south Sinai, Egypt, most gain an income either directly or indirectly from tourism.  Bedouin are usually barred from working in hotels but find work offering ‘an authentic Bedouin experience’.  As most of the tourism areas are on the coast this usually involves moving away from their homelands, to where they earn little but enough to afford some basic healthcare and schooling for their children.  Low-key sustainable tourism though, could and does bring in much greater rewards pound for pound.  These rewards are being able to live in their ancestral homes in the mountains, living traditional lifestyles and keeping their culture alive.  Strange as it may sound, without any alternative industry, these Bedouin need tourism to be able to live in a traditional way.  And traditional knowledge may become more important as climate change gathers pace as there is wisdom in how to live in challenging environments, the value of having a sense of place and connection, and the ability to adapt.

However the cost in environmental terms is high.  It is now extremely difficult to get to Egypt except by air.  The overland route via Syria is no longer passable.  The ferry from Italy to Alexandria has been suspended for the time being as it goes via Syria.  Travelling along the north coast of Africa via Libya is not really an option either.  So unless tourists fly there can be no tourism in South Sinai and little or no work for the Bedouin and therefore little or no money for health care or schools, or even to buy the now expensive food.  The mountain Bedouin can’t grow food easily because they don’t have much water due to a protracted drought and a falling water table.  Deserts aren’t great for food production except for grazing, so they have to buy food, so they need money, so they need work.  In the old days they made a living by keeping goats and camels that they herded over the deserts and mountains from one rain fed area to another.  Now there isn’t enough rain for grazing animals to raise enough stock to sell. There’s not much industry in South Sinai either.  They need the income from tourists to survive.  But more than this, they need tourists coming to the mountains to enable them to live in their ancestral homes, and to keep their culture alive.  Here there is a symbiosis between the indigenous population and the conscious tourist.

The Makhad Trust has been supporting the Jebilya Bedouin in mountains around St Katherine’s for about 10 years through a series of water projects.  Where the water table has dropped below the bottom of wells, funds have been made available for garden owners to employ a skilled man to deepen the well to the new water table level.  The Trust has also been taking out working parties to work alongside the Bedouin in the construction of small dams in side wadis above the Bedouin gardens.  These dams trap rainwater when it occasionally rains, and hold it back long enough to permeate the soil into the water table.  The Bedouin reckon that water in a dam lasts 3 months with an additional benefit to the water table after the dam is dry of several more weeks.  The dam water and deepened wells have enabled some Bedouin to restore their centuries old mountain gardens, most of which had fallen into disuse due to the shortage of water.  The orchard gardens grow apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, quince, almonds, dates, walnuts, grapes and vegetables.  The gardens provide food and a source of income when the Bedouin sell the surplus.

Local Transport

Local Transport

In addition to the help the working parties provide, they also bring extra income that can be seen as expedition costs.  All food is bought, transported by camel and cooked by Bedouin in the local economy providing paid work.  Cement for the dams has to be carried by camel (there are no roads in the mountains) so paying for transport helps the camel owners.  The garden owners where the guests stay are paid for the use of the garden too.

As a result of the working journeys, there are now 14 dams bringing more water to more gardens – maybe 10 to 20 gardens per dam which is 140 to 280 gardens benefiting  – up to 280 extended families – maybe over 1000 Bedouin.  Each garden is more productive growing plants and trees especially.  This locks up more carbon and could be seen as a direct carbon offset.

Besides these costs and effects there is also the cross-cultural benefit for both the traveller and host.  The traveller sees and experiences a way of life they haven’t experienced before.  They experience different morals and values, ways of behaviour, different religions, different climates, food landscapes etc.  All of this allows the traveller to

Desert taxis

Desert taxis

compare their own lives with others and to get a different perspective on their place in the world. They can see the richness of a tight-knit community even though there is huge poverty. They can see the value of place and heritage.  While the Bedouin are the classic nomads, there is a new breed of nomadic people now because in the west people do have not a connection to the land they live on or to the people they live next to.  They move frequently and don’t put down roots like they used to.  People in the west often don’t have the same connection with nature and the seasons or to the night sky in the way that traditional people do.  Experiencing this nature-rich way of life can bring a new dimension to the lives of the travellers. Maybe they will wake up to the state the world is in and feel sufficiently motivated to do something about it.

In summary, the alternative to foreign travel of restricting holidays to one’s home country only, in order to avoid flying, has some negative consequences. There is no easy answer to the dilemma of conscious travel and flying versus environmental damage, and as with most things this is a more complicated debate than it might seem at first.  Maybe it is best for each traveller to evaluate their journey against its true costs and benefits in a very conscious way before deciding whether to go or not.  And maybe we should not judge each other for the resulting decisions.

Posted in Makhad Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Christmas Present Madness

A friend recently posted on Facebook:

“I really, really want to support local traders and craftsmen this Christmas. It would be so much easier to do so if they didn’t sell such tacky, useless and – most disappointingly – artless crap. Please someone recommend a place to buy quality gifts and save me from suicidal thoughts at the market.”

I love Christmas with all the tradition, ritual and promise of family harmony, the smell of real Christmas trees and lots of lovely food.  However present buying has become an increasing headache year on year.  I thought it was just because I am such an indecisive lib ran, but actually my friend Andy got me thinking.

We don’t have a huge budget to spend on relatives but I would like to give them something useful or beautiful or both.  However most people these days have all the practical things they want or need (within reason because they just buy them).  Beautiful things tend to cost big money.  It would be nice to buy fair trade things so that other people get the benefit of what I spend but most fair trade things are really tacky – who really wants a chameleon made of thousands of beads, that took someone in Africa 4 days to make, and costs £10?  Catalogues of cards and gifts from the major eco-charities had just as much tacky junk as the high streets so buying ethically wasn’t an option. Our shopping centres have an increasingly large proportion of shops selling “decor” which is usually tasteless and mass-produced just so we can put the useless items on the wall/shelf/table and look at them. What is the point?  It is possible to buy small items from local craftspeople that are affordable but then one can appear stingy for buying something trivial.

The thing is we don’t value people’s time and skills as much as we should when it comes to crafts.  We are so used to buying cheap mass-produced tat made in a sweat shop in india that we forget what it really costs to make things.  As a result we all have far more stuff than we need or want, don’t really value it and then start paying people to help us de-clutter or else pay for space in a warehouse to store the surplus.

Another aspect of having so many possessions is that we worry that someone else wants to steal them (which they do sometimes as thieves especially value anything electrical/digital or made of precious metals).  This results in people paying for burglar alarms, extra locks on their doors, surveillance equipment and sometimes  retreat to a gated community.  The more we have the more we worry about someone else wanting it.  This is especially true of cars but not a worry for me.  My car is a little old Peugeot that has been more reliable than expensive new cars bought by another family member, and better than that, I don’t worry about it being stolen.

There is another side to this consumerist madness.  Can we really afford to squander the earth’s precious resources on highly packaged fashion statements such as large glass vases  filled with synthetic plastic flowers?  And how many scented candles do we want or need (candle wax is a petroleum product)?  And if you count not just presents in this madness, what cost of singing reindeer or dancing snowmen?  Surely they must be the tackiest waste of the Earth’s resources ever produced.  The extra electricity for all those festoons of Christmas lights on people’s houses must be adding tons to the country’s carbon footprint.

So the solution…. Well one could buy a cow or a goat donation-present from Oxfam that helps people who really need it and give the gift card to relatives.  One could buy small locally, handcrafted items like pencil cases carved from wood.  One could buy books as they are often informative, a source of long-term pleasure and can be passed on.  If you have time you can make things for people yourself (I have done in the past). Buying experiences such as a balloon ride have become more popular and are, I think, a good idea. Or you can ask someone what they actually need.  There must be more good ideas that would help me and Andy for future Christmases – any suggestions?

Happy Christmas

Posted in Family, General, inspiration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments