Supermarket fridges and trolley

Hurrah for Supervalu supermarket chain in Ireland, for acknowledging the needs of autistic shoppers – or more accurately their parents.

A small number of stores have introduced quiet hours, with reduced lighting and the sensory assaults of humming fridges and freezers, TVs, piped music and PA announcements switched off.

Sadly, on digging deeper into the story, my heart sinks to see the low-stimulation shopping periods are in the evenings, 7-9pm.

Most people with an autistic child will agree that routine changes are a major cause of fractious behaviour, many on the autism spectrum don’t cope well with even minor alterations to their daily schedule.

In the dark early years before our diagnosis, I clung to the necessary strictness of our evening dinner, bath, book, bed. It was the only chink of sanity in our daily torment. It didn’t help my daughter to sleep, but we knew any change in that schedule would have a knock-on effect on her behaviour for days.

Many autists cling to routine because knowing what to expect is a source of enormous comfort in a world of terrifying surprises. Put simply, routine equals control and control offers a sense of security.

It’s fair to say autism has controlled our lives since my daughter was born. Social events were necessarily curtailed early. If I didn’t get her home and into the D-B-B-B routine at a normal time, the gates of hell could be opened.

So while I applaud the token efforts of these sensory-friendly initiatives, I also realise I could never have taken advantage of them. Did they really liaise with ASD parents and families? I find it hard to believe.

A quick search revealed an ASDA store in England has also introduced a quiet hour – starting at 8am! I’d never have got my youngster ready and out of the house that early, so yet again, a gesture with its heart in the right place but of limited use.

Traditional Irish brown soda bread

Traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Any visitor to Ireland will encounter delicious homemade bread, either in restaurants and cafes, or in the kitchen of friends or family. My lovely aunt can rustle up a big batch of perfect loaves in the blink of a twinkling eye and they taste so delicious.

Fortunately, even a hapless baker like myself can produce an edible attempt. The fantastic thing about this recipe is it's very easy to adjust to your liking... a sprinkle of healthy seeds or porage oats, either in with the mix and / or on top before baking can turn a basic loaf into a signature bake.

Add a beaten egg, a spoon of honey, a handful of dried fruit... anything goes! So experiment, play around and surprise and delight your hungry little ones as often as you like. You'll likely get three or four tasty loaves for the price of a decent shop-bought sliced pan.

If you can't get buttermilk, sour normal milk with some lemon juice.


  • 170g / 6oz wholemeal flour
  • 170g / 6oz self raising flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 290ml / ½ pint buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 400F / 200C / Gas 6
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the buttermilk, stirring with a knife until combined
  4. If the mix is too dry add a little milk. If it's too soggy to handle, a little more flour
  5. The trick of good bread is to minimise handling / mixing
  6. When the ingredients are combined, tip onto a well floured surface and knead very briefly into a round shape
  7. Lightly flour a baking tray and place the dough in the centre
  8. Make a deep cross over the middle of the loaf (to let the fairies out according to my Irish auntie, though really it helps the bread to bake evenly throughout)
  9. Pop into the oven for around 45 minutes
  10. When checking to see if it's done, tap on the bottom with your knuckles, you're looking for a hollow sound
  11. Leave to rest on a cooling tray for as long as your level of temptation allows

Deliciously rich chocolate cake with a moist fudgey texture

Super Fudgey Chocolate Cake

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: At least 8 large slices

I absolutely hate creaming butter and sugar and as I am lazy about it, my cakes are usually a disaster. I love this recipe because it's chucked all in one bowl and attacked with the electric whisk!

I don't know if it is my very old and wonky gas oven, or just my baking failure, or the recipe itself, but the resultant cake is not light and fluffy, rather very moist, chewy and fudgey. We like it like this! We hope you enjoy our favourite chocolate cake as much as we do.

And some great advice I saw on Facebook recently... keep your cake moist by eating it all in one sitting!


  • 225g / 8oz plain flour
  • 350g / 12.5oz caster sugar
  • 85g / 3oz cocoa powder
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 250ml / 9fl oz milk
  • 125ml / 4.5oz vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250ml / 9fl oz boiling water


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F / 176°C / Gas 4
  2. Grease and line 2 cake tins (use solid bottoms as the mixture is very runny and may leak through springform tins)
  3. Place all the ingredients except for the water into a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth (you can use a wooden spoon, an electric hand mixer or a machine)
  4. Add the boiling water a little at a time, mixing as you go, until mixture is smooth
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between both tins
  6. Bake in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes. You can check it is ready by piercing the centre with a sharp knife or skewer. If it comes out clean you're good to go.
  7. Allow the cakes to cool completely in their tins. Tip them out carefully when cool.
  8. Put the cakes together with your favourite icing or frosting recipe. My kids love a cocoa butter topping. A white chocolate icing is great, too. You can use any kind of fruit jam in the centre but I just use the icing as my little ones are not keen on jams.