How To: An ME/CFS Friendly Wedding Part 1

7 Oct
© Jess Bruce 2015

© Jess Bruce 2015

Planning a wedding is a big task for anyone. For someone with ME/CFS it poses its own challenge, namely ‘how am I going to get through the biggest day of my life without completely breaking myself’? As much as I wanted the perfect wedding, it wasn’t at all costs. Given how far I have come since the worst times of my illness, not even my wedding was worth risking a relapse. And so an ME/CFS friendly wedding became central to our planning and arrangements.

As I know coping with big life events, be it your own or attending a friend’s, is a concern for many suffering with chronic illness, I thought I’d put together a list of how we made our wedding as ME/CFS friendly as possible. As it’s a pretty long list, I’ve split it into two posts, so stay tuned for the second installment. I hope these points will help future ME/CFS brides/chronic illness suffering party guests/ concerned loved ones as much as they helped me.


Our ring cushion made by Mr B's Mum. © Jess Bruce 2015

Our ring cushion made by Mr B’s Mum. © Jess Bruce 2015

I had huge support with the wedding prep from my parents, sister and Mr B’s Mum and sister. On the day itself my sister was in charge and ran the show like a dream.

I still did a lot of the planning and prep but I did it very gradually. Leave as little to the last minute as possible. My last week was a lot of rest and a little prep. People teased me that ‘I had done it all already’ early on and this annoyed me. I had to do things seemingly obsessively early. I knew my body wouldn’t cope with having it all to do in the last few months and weeks. Listen to your body and do what you know will help you.


Our Drinks Reception outside on the lawns by the River Cam © Jess Bruce 2015

Our Drinks Reception outside on the lawns by the River Cam © Jess Bruce 2015

We chose a 12 noon ceremony so that I could have a slow morning getting ready without having to get up early but equally a ceremony time early enough in the day to allow a break late afternoon between the wedding breakfast and the evening party. By 5 pm I was really flagging and was so glad we’d planned in a break until 7 pm. During that down time I laid down (propped up on many pillows so as not to squash my hair!) and did a yoga nidra relaxation track for 45 minutes which really refreshed me ready for the evening.

Making myself stop and rest was hard but necessary. I wanted to stay at the meal and not miss a second. It is so much easier to push on and keep going at the time but much harder for your body in the long run.

If you have a long event to attend factor in some downtime, even if it’s just sitting in a quiet corner for a few minutes. It will help your nervous system reset and refresh you. My time out definitely helped me survive and, dare I say thrive, during the evening.


St John's College was our day time venue © Jess Bruce 2015

St John’s College was our day time venue © Jess Bruce 2015

We had a Registry Office civil ceremony partly because we’re not particularly religious, but mainly so that it was short, so that I wasn’t exhausted from a long ceremony before the party started. Even though it was short, it was so incredibly special. I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to see the video.

Our day time venue was the Cambridge college where we had met. In addition to the function spaces, we also reserved a bedroom close to the drinks reception location so that I had somewhere quiet to go off to and rest if needed. I didn’t actually use it on the day but it took a stress away knowing the option was there should I need it.

And finally our evening reception was held at a boutique hotel, where we also spent our wedding night (and mini-moon). This worked perfectly because it meant we were able to go straight to our bedroom to rest after our wedding breakfast before the evening party. It also meant I was able to escape from the festivities for a time-out as and when I needed it throughout the party.

Guest Numbers

Our Table Plan for our Wedding Breakfast with just 39 guests. © Jess Bruce 2015

Our Table Plan for our Wedding Breakfast with just 39 guests. © Jess Bruce 2015

Chatting and socializing, especially if you’re the bride and groom and the centre of attention, is exhausting. We deliberately kept our daytime event small with only 39 guests so that I wasn’t exhausted early on from too much talking! Our evening reception was larger at 90 but still not massive, which again helped me to circulate without it being too draining.


We were open with all our vendors about my illness and explained about the extra requirements this meant and they all took this on board without issue. Get people who understand your needs and will listen to you. That’s good advice for anyone but especially when dealing with chronic illness. This was particularly important with the photographer, who understood that I couldn’t do as many photos as perhaps he’d have liked. The hair and make-up girls were brilliant and adjusted their usual practices to meet my rest needs when getting ready.


We had a hot buffet as food at our Evening Party © Jess Bruce 2015

We had a hot buffet as food at our Evening Party © Jess Bruce 2015

With numerous food intolerances at the heart of my ME/CFS, catering to my dietary requirements was very important. I have been to too many events where I had to take my own food or worse, eaten food that has then made me sick. I didn’t want either at my own wedding. We had many meetings about the food with our venues and settled on menus that largely catered to my needs and where it was too hard or costly to do it all Jess Friendly (canapés for example) I had my own separate plate so I knew what was safe for me to eat. That said, on the day, I barely ate. I picked at most things, but I was just too happy and on cloud nine to eat! I never felt hungry. Mr B said the same, which is very out of character for both of us, we always eat!

Our main wedding cake © Jess Bruce 2015

Our main wedding cake © Jess Bruce 2015

And as I said in my wedding cake recipe post, we had two cakes, one normal as the stunning centre piece and the second a smaller gluten and dairy free cake, primarily for me! My cake was chocolate flavoured whilst the main cake was a vanilla Victoria sponge so it was crystal clear which was which and cross contamination was kept to a minimum.

If you have dietary requirements as a guest, then my advice is to let the bride/event organiser know as early as possible. With advance warning, it is an easy issue to deal with.

Stay tuned for the second installment of how we managed a wedding with ME/CFS without breaking me. The second post will cover outfits and hair styling, flowers, pre-emptive action, chairs, transport, wedding day supplies, Lightning Process and relaxation.

ME/CFS was a big factor in our wedding planning but it didn’t detract from the day one iota. Rather it enhanced the day, by making it personal and extra special that I was well enough now to cope with such a celebration. The planning decisions and modifications with ME/CFS in mind made that possible and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

If you want to read more about our wedding, and how we raised money for the ME Association, check out this post.

An Awesome Amsterdam Adventure of Food!

30 Sep
Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Amsterdam Canal and Bikes © Jess Bruce 2015

Last week my sister and I spent a few days in Amsterdam. A city-break had been on my recovery bucket list ever since I did the Lightning Process seminar back in October 2013. My sister’s 30th birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to tick it off my list. With lots of walking, sightseeing and general busy-ness condensed into just a few days, never mind the travel, a city-break is a fairly high energy activity. I’ve come back with a cold and pretty exhausted, but with time saved for rest naps each afternoon, I coped pretty well whilst we were there and had a fantastic time.

It was my first visit to Amsterdam and it is a lovely city, with a great bustling, yet laid back, atmosphere. The canals make for beautiful scenery with the tall, narrow buildings rising up along each side, lots of green spaces and enough cultural pursuits to keep you occupied for much more than the few days we had.

And then there’s the food! Pretty much the first thing I google when we book a trip is ‘gluten free [insert destination]’, ‘gluten free vegan [….]’, ‘gluten free dairy free [….]’. My searches in this vain for Amsterdam were very fruitful. We had more than enough possible eateries that would cater for Jess Friendly Food. The trouble was picking which to try. Thanks to the European Allergen Directive, restaurants are obligated to have an allergen menu and in Amsterdam most restaurants seem to have embraced this wholeheartedly, with clearly labelled menus and/or separate gluten and dairy free menus.

I’ll post about what we did (other than eat) during our time Amsterdam in a later post, but for now I want to concentrate on the most important thing – what we ate!

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haese Klaesje Restaurant Amsterdam © Jess Bruce 2015

Haesje Claes

The first night we ate traditional dutch at Haesje Claes. The little tavern was bursting at the seams, it was a good job we’d booked as they were turning people away. It is a maze of 9 separate dining rooms all interconnected with lots of wooden paneling and hearty Dutch fare.

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

Pickled Herring Salad © Jess Bruce 2015

They had a separate gluten free menu and were able to advise me which of the dishes were also dairy free. They even brought warm gluten free bread.  We decided to embrace the traditional offerings. I had pickled herring salad to start followed by cod with baked potatoes and vegetables. The herring salad ordinarily came with a dairy full potato salad so they adapted the dish and I got a whole of plate of pickled goodness – think herring, onion, beetroot and gherkin! Good job I like pickles!

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

Hotch Potch, sadly not dairy free © Jess Bruce 2015

I wanted to try the Hotch Potch, a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potato and carrot with sausage and gravy. But whilst this was available gluten free, it wasn’t dairy free. My sister had cheese croquettes and then the Hotch Potch with pork sausage, meatball and smoked bacon. We were a bit nervous that the food was going to be less than good given how busy and touristy the restaurant seemed, but we were pleasantly surprised. The food was hearty and tasty; exactly what we wanted and surpassed our expectations. Our Dutch eating experience had got off to a great start!

Alchemist Garden

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

Rainbow Salad at The Alchemist Garden © Jess Bruce 2015

After a morning at the Van Gogh Museum, we ate lunch at the Alchemist Garden, an entirely raw gluten free vegan food cafe. Not everyone visiting Amsterdam would seek out this place, but we’re very glad we did. The food was delicious and it is such a novelty for me to be able order literally anything of a menu knowing it is all safe for me to eat.

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Cashew Cream Quiche, gluten, dairy and egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

We shared the Rainbow Salad plate (a tangy mustard greens salad topped with spirulina, a beetroot based salad, herby flaxseed crackers and a potent tahini mayo), a tomato and onion quiche whose creamy cashew filling was utterly delicious and a sour apple green smoothie that reminded us of Tangtastic Haribo sweets!! (We’re not always so virtuous in our eating…!)

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake, again all gluten, dairy, egg free, vegan and raw! © Jess Bruce 2015

Chocolate slice and the amazing lime cheesecake © Jess Bruce 2015

And then there was dessert – a rich decadent chocolate slice made from dates and cacao and the most amazing lime ‘cheesecake’ made from avocado with a coconut and walnut base. The latter was literally amazing and something I am determined to recreate at home, so watch this space for a recipe. Given my sister and I are both usually chocolate fiends, it goes to show just how good the lime cheesecake was.

Kantjil & de Tijger

After our raw lunch, a restful afternoon and drinks at the Hilton Sky Lounge, we were ready to eat again! We went to Kantjil & de Tijger, an Indonesian (Indonesian is big in Holland due to their colonial past) restaurant we had spotted on the same street as Haesje Claes. Again, we were very glad we had booked as it was incredibly busy.

My sister's amazing special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

My sister’s amazing Indonesian special of the day © Jess Bruce 2015

Our waitress was super helpful and explained the allergen menu to me. Many dishes were naturally gluten free whilst others could be adapted. Deciphering a Dutch allergen menu for Indonesian titled dishes was interesting! But that didn’t stop us from eating an Indonesian Banquet! We started with the lamb satay (safe other than the soya sauce dipping sauce which came on the side to be gluten free), vegetable omelette with a sweet tomato and ginger sauce and prawn crackers (safe as made from tapioca flour and fried separately). My sister then had the special of the day, which was a selection of 4 or 5 dishes all served on a long rectangular platter and included a chicken curry, vegetable side dish, cuecumber pickle, rice and spicy egg. I had beef rendang and rice, it literally melted in my mouth the meat was so tender.

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

My Indonesian Feast Take 2! Coconut Egg, Beef Rendang and sesame vegetables © Jess Bruce 2015

The food and service was so good we actually went back the next night! Boring perhaps, but given how tasty the food was and having deciphered the menu and not having suffered any ill effects from the food, it made sense for us. This time I had egg in a spicy coconut sauce (may sound odd but was really good), sesame vegetable stir fry and beef rendang again! My sister had a rice plate, an Indonesian specialty, which came with so much food of so many differing varieites it was hard to decipher what was on it! It was all topped with a giant prawn cracker and sweet potato chips. The allergen awareness wasn’t as great the second time around, we had to send the satay back as it came drenched in soya sauce but overall the food was really delicious and I didn’t suffer ill effect so all good.

Bagel & Beans

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

My gluten and dairy free bagel © Jess Bruce 2015

Bagel & Beans is a Dutch chain with numerous outlets across Amsterdam. They have an extensive bagel menu, including a gluten and dairy free bagel, to which you can add your chosen your topping. Despite a plethora of cheeses on offer (what do you expect in a nation home to Edam and Gouda?!), there was lots of dairy free fillings available. I had smoked chicken, avocado and pine nuts with a basil dressing. The bagel was slightly too dense and chewy but the filling was delicious. With a wide array of teas, freshly pressed vegetable juices and even soya milk matcha lattes, I was in heaven. It was a great lunch stop.

My breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

Some of my breakfast supplies © Jess Bruce 2015

We breakfasted each morning at our hotel – Grand Hotel Amrath. It was an extensive hot and cold buffet. I had taken my own rice milk (there are fridges in the rooms), granola and bread so I can’t particularly comment on the allergen friendly provisions of the breakfast. But I supplemented my own supplies with fruit, juice, tea, jams, bacon and eggs from the buffet. I will say that the gluten full offerings looked fantastic and my sister can confirm that the cereals bar, donuts and chocolate croissants were excellent!

So that concludes my little foodie tour of Amsterdam, we were only there for 3 nights, we wish we had longer as there was so much to do and eat! I want to go back already, reliving our meals is making me hungry!

If you’re planning a trip to Holland, then I hope you find this post useful. Links that we found useful in planning our foodie adventure were:

A Very Special Chocolate Cake

23 Sep
© Jess Bruce 2015

My gluten and dairy free wedding cake © Jess Bruce 2015

Today I’m sharing a very special recipe: my gluten and dairy free wedding cake.

My Mum made both of our wedding cakes – yes we had two:

1) a normal gluten and dairy full naked vanilla sponge with homemade raspberry jam and marscapone cream filling; and

2) a Jess Friendly gluten and dairy free chocolate Genoise sponge filled with homemade raspberry jam and whipped coconut cream.

We settled almost instantly on the normal cake. We used this recipe from the Good HouseKeeping Insitute. We decided to do a ‘normal’ main cake to keep costs down (gluten and dairy free alternative ingredients are not cheap) and to ensure greater stability. We didn’t want a leaning tower of Pisa of a naked wedding cake and gluten free baking is generally not as robust as its gluten full foe. And by making a separate cake for me, it meant more cake, which is never a bad thing.

Two cakes, one gluten free, one normal, both delicious. © Jess Bruce 2015

Two cakes, one gluten free, one normal, both delicious. © Jess Bruce 2015

For my cake, we tried all sorts of different recipes before settling on this classic Genoise sponge. Chocolate fudge, egg-less, fat-less, flour-less almond, victoria, angel…. You name it we tried it! In the end we settled on a chocolate cake so that it was clearly distinct from the main normal cake in order to avoid confusion and cross-contamination.

© Jess Bruce 2015

© Jess Bruce 2015

And this Genoise Sponge recipe won because it was ‘simply the best…better than all the rest..!’

Tina Turner aside, this sponge is incredibly airy and so light and fluffy. The cocoa gives a rich chocolately flavour that’s irresistible – seriously irresistible, I had three slices immediately one after the other when Mum made the final trial of it (and yes then I slipped into a sugar coma! Soooo good!) I would say you would never know it was gluten and dairy free. Genuinely. I know I would say that but wedding guests ate it without realizing and really liked it. So take their word for it if you don’t believe me!

What is a Genoise sponge? It’s an Italian sponge cake made with hardly any fat, lots of whole eggs and by a whole lot of vigorous whisking. The whisking is important. My advice, use a good electric whisk otherwise your arm may drop off. But I tell you it is worth the effort. And with very little fat, you could perhaps say it is even good…for…you… Or rather with its hefty dose of sugar, perhaps not.

I can testify that this cake improves with age. Mr B and I had a few days ‘minimoon’ at the hotel in Cambridge after our wedding. The chef kindly kept my wedding cake in the hotel’s fridge and whenever I wanted a piece, I rang reception and they brought it up to our room, literally on a silver platter! Several days later the cake was still soft and moist and if anything the coconut cream becomes more dairy cream like as it sets in the cake in the fridge. So basically what I’m saying is, if somehow you don’t eat the whole cake in one sitting, have no fear, it will still taste amazing the day after (and the day after that if you’re really controlled!)

Enough preamble. Go forth and get whisking!

Chocolate Genoise Sponge

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 15 mins prep + 18 mins cooking time
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Gluten, dairy, nut and soya free


  •  5 eggs
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 55g gluten free plain flour
  • 55g rice flour
  • 1/8 tsp xanthum gum
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 30g melted dairy free fat (I used Pure olive oil based spread).


  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (160ºC Fan Oven).
  2. Lightly grease and line two 9 inch (23 cm) sandwich tins (to make a 4 layer cake as pictured, double the recipe)
  3. Place eggs and sugar into a bowl and whisk for 4-5 minutes until thick and very pale. You’re done when you lift the whisk out of the bowl and a trail is left behind
  4. Slowly drizzle the melted fat into the bowl and fold in gently
  5. Sift the flours, cocoa powder and xanthum gum together in a clean bowl and then fold these dry ingredients gently into the wet with a metal spoon
  6. Spoon the mixture into two cake tins, dividing evenly. Tap gently to settle (this removes any air bubbles)
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until risen and just firm to touch – you don’t want to overcook a Genoise sponge as it will become dry
  8. Remove from the oven and cool briefly in the tins before tipping out onto a cooling rack
  9. Once cold fill with your choice of filling, we used raspberry jam and whipped coconut cream (we used this recipe for the cream).


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