So on Saturday I'm hosting a family meal/get together/garden party to celebrate mine and T's house-versary! That's a year of living together, paying a mortgage, and with no spousal abuse.
For normal families this would be a simple, relaxed, "I'll just chuck it in the slow cooker dear!" sort of affair. But not mine. Unfortunately my family have many dietary requirements that means any affair takes planning, a bucket-load of ingredients, and a will of steel.
First there's one of my sisters, who as lovely as she is, has a digestive system which rebels against wheat and rich food in quite a dramatic manner (allergies combined with IBS for good measure). I've been cooking and baking specialist wheat-free food stuffs for her for about 10 years now so I'm used to thinking in a coeliac-friendly way. For example; no ready-made breadcrumbs (buy a gluten-free loaf, let it go stale, whizz it in the food processor), no ready-made pastry or cakes (gluten-free flours have come a long way and some are just as good as normal types), and always make sauces from scratch (thickeners are a gluteny minefield; try xantham gum or arrowroot). Sometimes though I forget and have been known to make celebration cakes that she just has to look at and sniff dejectedly.
Secondly there's my dad. He has, among other medical conditions, diabetes and renal failure. It's probably self-explanatory as to how diabetes affects the diet, but renal diets aren't well known; I had no idea about them until my dad's specialist discussed it. Basically it's about cutting down, or out completely, on the substances that make it difficult for the kidneys to do their job; you need to make their lives as easy as possible when they're not firing on all cylinders. The biggest issue is salt, and coming a close second is potassium (which means low-sodium salt equivalents are a no-no too as they're packed with potassium). So you have to be imaginative with seasoning to combat the blandness; using chilli, herbs, lemon, and vegetables all have to be boiled or par-boiled and the water discarded in order to drain them of potassium (so mashed potatoes good, jacket potatoes bad). Time-saving ideas like stock cubes are unfortunately off the menu, as are salty or sweet flavourings such as soy sauce or ketchup. And with all the sugar and bananas, banoffee pie is completely out of the question.
Then there's my nephew and brother-in-law, who are both just a bit fussy. I have to make sure there's always the option of beef and potatoes on the menu just for them. My mum doesn't eat garlic or red meat, and whenever she smells garlic in the near vicinity emits a high-pitched squeal of derision.
And lastly, me. I have an intolerance to nuts. Obviously I am excellent at avoiding them, except when T kisses me after eating peanut M&Ms, but 'careful' is the buzzword when Dad, Sis, and I all go out to dinner. There was an unfortunate incident in a restaurant in Hay-on-Wye one time when I accidently, on the assurance of the waitress that it was nut-free, ate a chunk of roulade with walnuts in and promptly threw up on the plate. We got our meal for free that day.
Luckily my eldest sister and T will eat whatever I bloody well put in front of them.
So here's the menu: