Category Archives: Reviews

A Canadian Treasure Trove

Whenever and wherever we travel, I also keep a beady eye out for any new foods that are safe for both children. I do, of course, take an ample supply of M-friendly snacks with us as there are no guarantees that we’ll find anything that he can eat, but I always keep my fingers crossed that his hopes are met, if not exceeded whilst away from home. This year I was especially hopeful that we might find a handful of items for them both, though our last visit to Canada showed us how challenging it can be to avoid soya and corn, which can be found in the most unexpected of places.

The good news is that we did found some great snacks and even managed to bring some of them home with us to keep G and M going for a short while at least. We discovered them all at the Independent grocery shore on the shore of Lake Huron and don’t really know how readily available they are elsewhere, but I’d definitely recommend giving them a go if you get the chance. These are just a few from this hidden treasure trove:

Soy-free Vegenaise – G absolutely adores mayonnaise and can, of course, eat “normal” brands without problem. However, M often feels he’s missing out and it’s taken a long time to find a rice-based version which he can eat and even then it’s not that easy to buy it. Discovering this brand just sitting in the fridge alongside other food items was so exciting and something I hadn’t expect to be able to replace during our holiday. M said it tasted great, G was equally happy to eat it and I was delighted to carry a jar around with us for the entire 2 weeks we were there.

Laiki Rice Crackers – another big success with M were these rice crackers, not least because he had a choice between their red rice and black rice versions, something he rarely gets in everyday life when it comes to his food. They proved to be the perfect accompaniment to lengthy car journeys, of which there were several, and were surprisingly moreish, with the pack not lasting long once opened.

Daiya Cheezy Mac – It’s a well-known fact that I am a big fan of Kraft Dinner, a boxed ready meal of macaroni cheese that became a staple of my diet whilst studying at Ottawa University over 20 years ago. G similarly loves macaroni cheese and I was thrilled to find Daiya’s gluten- and dairy-free boxed equivalent for her to try. This was a resounding success with my sometimes picky eater and we brought several boxes home with us, although they’ve all disappeared now!

Made Good Crispy Squares – despite the previous successes achieved, the biggest hit of our holiday was the discovery of these Crispy squares, which came in both Chocolate chip and Vanilla flavours and made M smile for days. They came at the perfect time as we had found several gluten- and dairy-free treats for G, but the prevalence of both soya and corn, neither of which M can tolerate, was making it near impossible to find something safe for him to enjoy. I had promised to make him some banana cookies whilst we were staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and whilst I did that also, the addition of crispy squares to our rucksack each day made a huge difference.

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Eating Out with Allergies in Toronto

There’s very little we love more as a family than finding the perfect places to be able to go out and eat a safe meal together. Having found some wonderful restaurants and cafes in both the UK and abroad since M went elemental 4 years ago, we couldn’t wait to see what Toronto might have to offer. The first part of our holiday spent near Lake Huron with Mike’s parents meant that we ate home-cooked food with a few very welcome additions that we discovered at the local Independent grocery store; whilst at the Beachwood resort we were very grateful to their accommodating chef, who agreed to whip some plain rice, chicken and bacon for M to enjoy.

It was once we were downtown in Toronto that we really had a good chance to get out and explore what restaurants we could find. I had taken the precaution of packing our usual extra suitcase full of safe foods before leaving the UK, had kept it topped up with the new treats we had found and booked to stay in a self-catering apartment fairly close to the lake – just to make sure every base was covered when it came to feeding my hungry pair. Our biggest disappointment was that there are no longer any Hard Rock Cafes in Toronto, so we had to search hard to find a great alternative.

Our day spent at the CNE meant that we didn’t venture too far to find our meals, instead heading into the expansive food building to work out what from the hundreds of offerings might be safe for both G and M to eat. Mike and G went in one direction to find her ideal lunch, whilst M and I disappeared in a different one to find his. My wonderful sister-in-law managed to secure a table in front of the Colossal Onion booth and we all eventually wound our way back there to actually sit down and enjoy some food. M was thrilled to find some apple fries dusted with sugar and I then queued an inordinately long amount of time at the aptly named Bacon Nation to buy a cup of bacon to provide his protein, where I refused to even consider the purchase of the $100 Gold Burger, though I did see someone else carrying one away from the counter. Fortunately, we were carrying a number of rice-based snacks around with us too, so it wasn’t the completely unbalanced meal that perhaps it sounds!

For our one meal out, we chose to go to Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill, thanks to some frenzied internet-searching on my part to find an allergy-friendly restaurant to try. They had a good array of gluten-free offerings to choose from and both children opted for a bacon cheeseburger, without the cheese. Decisions made and food ordered, G and M enjoyed writing and drawing on the paper tablecloths whilst they waited for their meals to be cooked. The plates of food that arrived looked amazing and didn’t last long with either child – a sure sign that the food is good. The portion was as large as we’ve come to expect with Canadian servings, but that didn’t stop them eating it all, although we had no complaints about being hungry for the rest of the evening!

Visiting Edinburgh in every weather

There’s been so much going on in the last few weeks and I have a lot to catch you up on, including some fantastic new recipes that have been a great addition to my kitchen, but I wanted to make sure I also took the time to tell you about the last few days of our Scottish adventures back in March. Having started in Liverpool before travelling on to Glasgow and Inverness, via Falkirk and Loch Ness, it was finally time to start our long journey home and we simply couldn’t miss out the Scottish capital city itself, Edinburgh.

Mike and I have some amazing memories of Edinburgh as it was our honeymoon destination back in 1999 and we were keen to retrace some of our steps and share some of the wonderful sights with the children for them to experience too. We had chosen to spend an extra night there and given the weather we had, it was a good thing we had made that decision. On our first full day, we caught the tram from our hotel into the city centre, before jumping on to the City Sightseeing tour bus and heading towards the castle. Edinburgh is an undoubtedly beautiful city, but we struggled to convince G and M of that as we tramped our way up Castle Rock in the cold, sleety rain and rapidly darkening grey skies.

Despite our warm winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves, M got progressively colder and more miserable as we made our way between the different exhibits you can find within the Castle grounds. One of M’s godmothers is married to a lovely military man and both children were keen to learn more about the various Scottish regiments in the regimental museum. First exhibit done, we acknowledged the need for a temporary break from the wintery weather and headed into the cafe, where we enjoyed hot drinks, some safe lunchtime food and were in place to hear the 1 o’clock gun salute.

Having warmed up enough to bring a smile back to M’s face, we convinced them to traipse around a few more exhibits before we headed back down to the bus, stopping on the way for some dry wool socks and a brand new woollen hat for M. We had originally planned to stop at the Scottish Parliament, but the weather had quite literally put a damper on our travels and instead we completed a full loop and a half, before getting off and heading to the Hard Rock Cafe for an early supper.

However, the next day was almost a complete opposite to the day before and much to our surprise, M’s yearning for a day at Edinburgh zoo was an absolute success, despite the lengthy queue to get in, as we enjoyed a beautiful, sunny and surprisingly warm spring day. G and M were particularly keen to see the pandas, but we also had great fun spotting the lions and tigers and watching the penguin parade. We didn’t perhaps do all that we had wanted whilst we were in Edinburgh, but the children enjoyed the time we had there, even the snow, and would love to go back for another visit and the chance to see a bit more when it’s not so cold.

Eating Out with Allergies in…Glasgow

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend spending an hour or so wandering the streets of Glasgow looking for somewhere to buy the right kind of cereal with a stroppy 12 year-old and his big sister in tow, I have to be grateful that we stumbled a great little cafe which provided us with the allergy-friendly packed lunch we hadn’t actually realised we were looking for.

iCafe, Sauchiehall Street – As we trudged our way down the street, Mike spotted this unassuming cafe and suggested we stopped to take a look at the menu before we went on too much further. Our eagle-eyes spotted both the gluten-free bread option to accompany the soup and the vegan offerings, so it didn’t seem like too big a leap to hope that they might be willing to make us some gluten- and dairy-free sandwiches to take with us for our lunch later that day. We made a quick decision to allow M to have a “treat” and agreed that he could have a chicken and bacon gluten-free sandwich (no spread) as his lunch choice. He has long been hankering for some bread and we all agreed that this was a fantastic opportunity for him to do so. I was also impressed by the selection of allergy-friendly snacks they had on display and G was also thrilled to have a soya-milk hot chocolate to take away with her and enjoy as we headed towards the bus stop. These toasted sandwiches went down a storm whilst we were at the Riverside museum and I was delighted by this unexpected find.

Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow – This isn’t the first time we’ve successfully eaten at a Hard Rock Cafe, having tested the allergy-friendly mettle of those in both Lisbon and Athens over the last couple of years. I think that now is an opportune moment to confess that I am something of a die-hard Hard Rock fan and love nothing more than visiting the Hard Rock Cafes of the world, picking up a City Tee in each location to add to my collection. G and M have become mini fans too and every time we travel anywhere, once of M’s first questions is whether there’s a HRC for us to go to whilst we’re there. It was therefore inevitable that our dinner would be at the Glaswegian Hard Rock Cafe and G decided to try something a little bit different by ordering the GF pulled pork sandwich with chips for her main course. M agreed to compromise on what he really wanted and played it safer as he had already had the GF bread earlier in the day, finally opting for a plain GF burger accompanied by a chicken breast, bacon and cucumber sticks.

Despite the initial run-in we had with our waitress, who wasn’t prepared to accept my first answer that it was easier to tell her what M could eat, rather than list his allergies in full, we eventually convinced her to work with us and with the restaurant manager to place our order. Once they had grasped what we were trying to explain when it came to feeding M, things turned round quite quickly and I absolutely cannot criticise the care that was taken with the children’s meals for the rest of our dinner. Once again we enjoyed a superb meal at yet another restaurant from my all-time favourite chain and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit there to anyone with allergies.

Glorious Glasgow

When we first started planning our holiday in Scotland, I had a quick internet search to try to uncover what there would be to do and see for the few days we were in Glasgow. Disappointed by my search results, I turned to my Mum who has visited there in the past to see if she had any recommendations to make, but her comments were equally sparse, though perhaps more understandably given she had been there for the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Having now spent less than 48 hours in this city, I can honestly say that it’s somewhere that I would like to visit again and take the time to go to some of the hidden gems that we didn’t discover until this trip. There were, however, 2 things that we all agreed were a “must-do” whilst we were there – the hop-on, hop-off bus tour and the Hard Rock Café!

Our day started out a little less successfully than we’d have liked. M had munched his way through the cereal I had brought and was in desperate need of a new box to supplement his banana and milk. It was cold and wet, though we had planned for the likelihood of wintery weather conditions in Scotland in late March/early April so were well equipped with hats, gloves and coats; and even worse, as far as the children were concerned, we had to do some walking before we could join the bus tour around the city! Our hotel was conveniently located opposite the SSE Hydro and SEC Centre, both of which look incredibly impressive when seen all lit up from across the river at night. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck in finding the Nestle GoFree rice pops that are M’s current favourite breakfast cereal, though we did stumble across a great little cafe where we were able to pick up some freshly made gluten-free sandwiches for lunch.

With Mike fully laden down with sandwiches, soft drinks and other suitable snacks, we finally made it to a bus stop, bought our tickets and settled down on the next bus for the City Sightseeing tour of Glasgow. M absolutely loves taking these bus tours whenever we’re visiting somewhere new and it really is a great way to learn a little more about where we are as well as being a helpful way of planning the rest of our time in the city. Our plan for Glasgow was to complete around half of the bus tour before we reached our next destination and our stop for lunch, and for the afternoon. Despite our pitiful attempts to find something to do in Glasgow before we arrived, the success story of our time there was the Riverside Museum – and that discovery was thanks to the tenacity and determination of our youngest.

M had taken very seriously the responsibility for finding things to do or visit or see in every place we visited and on the night of our arrival, spent some time before bed scouring Google to find somewhere to go. He had stumbled across the Riverside Museum and instantly announced that he was keen to go there, confident that we would all enjoy what it had to offer. I’ll be honest to say that a transport museum didn’t initially sit at the top of my list of things to do, not least because I’ve been involved in setting up a similar museum over the last 18 months, but I will absolutely take my hat off to him as it was an absolute success. We spent a fantastic afternoon in this gem of a museum, that had more cars, cycles, boats, planes, trains and motorbikes squeezed into the space than you can even begin to imagine. We have visited very many museums over the years, but this exhibition is truly incredible and all 4 of us would highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit to Glasgow in the future.

Our time at Riverside drew to an end and we caught the penultimate bus back into the centre of Glasgow, finishing the tour we had started a few hours earlier. The final destination for our day was the Hard Rock Cafe and it was just a short walk from the final bus stop to the restaurant for our last dinner in Glasgow. We didn’t spend a lot of time in this glorious city and there are definitely things I wish we had done whilst we were there. Of course, the answer to that dilemma is an easy one – it just requires another visit to Glasgow to be planned!

Eating Out with Allergies in Liverpool

As I promised in my last blog post about our short visit to Liverpool, it’s time to reveal the wonderful places we found to eat safely whilst we were there. I’ve said it before, and no doubt will again, but whenever we travel on holiday, be it home or abroad, we always relax the restrictions on M’s diet a little to allow him to enjoy some more “normal” meals with the rest of the family. M has now reached an age where we allow him to make more of the decisions about what he will and won’t eat on any given day and he understands the direct link between that choice and any fallout he might experience in the hours or days that follow.

There were 2 restaurants that we found that were absolutely brilliant in accommodating our allergy needs and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either of them. M and G absolutely loved the meals that they had here and were desperate to find an opportunity to visit either one of them again, but most especially the first.

Ed’s Easy Diner – This is actually part of a national chain, but not one that we had ever heard of before, though as their website reveals, there are a number of locations across the length and breadth of the UK. There’s even one not too far from us, though I haven’t yet revealed that particular fact to M! G and M were thrilled to discover a lengthy gluten-free menu for them to pore over and whilst G was disappointed that she couldn’t select from their breakfast/brunch options, she quickly decided what her choice would be for our late lunch. We continue to encourage both children to order for themselves and to make their allergy needs known to the servers, only stepping in when it looks like the message might be misunderstood or they haven’t quite made themselves clear.

G settled on “Big Bubba’s Bacon ‘n’ Cheese” burger with gluten-free fries and without the cheese. M was desperate to have a gluten-free burger bun, so he asked for the “BBQ Chicken ‘n’ Bacon” burger – without any of the constituent ingredients apart from the grilled chicken breast, streaky bacon and the bread roll. He shared a handful of G’s gluten-free fries and enthusiastically savoured every single mouthful. Mike and I were a little disappointed that they had run out of hot dogs by the time we got to the diner for lunch, but instead shared a caesar salad, onion rings and sweet potato fries as well as a burger. All in all, this was a fantastic find and I wouldn’t hesitate to eat here again.

Marks: G – 8.5/10     M – 9/10

Chung Ku – G and M absolutely love Chinese food, so I was delighted to find this much-lauded Liverpudlian restaurant during my quick internet search. With a menu catering specifically for those with coeliac disease, there was much excitement with my discerning duo as they pondered their choices for dinner. They eventually settled on Jasmine rice, Aromatic crispy duck served with lettuce instead of pancakes, Salt and Pepper chicken fillet and, especially chosen by M, King Prawns in rice paper. Mike and I were still full after our late lunch at Ed’s Easy Diner, so we agreed to share a platter of dim sum, supplemented by a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup for me, with full knowledge that we’d be able to pick at any leftovers once the children had eaten their fill of their choices.

The food was absolutely fantastic, but sadly the service at the restaurant very much let it down. Our dim sum platter arrived first, only beaten to the table by the prawn crackers that had been delivered with our drinks. We tried to take our time in eating our food, painfully aware that the children were just sitting there watching, but at the same time, we didn’t want to let it go cold and we were waiting a long time for the other dishes to appear. M’s King prawns were the next to arrive, eventually followed by the Salt and pepper chicken and Jasmine rice. G picked at some of the rice and chicken, patiently waiting the arrival of the Aromatic duck, which is her all-time favourite Chinese dish. By the time it reached the table, there wasn’t much left for the rest of us and unbelievably we then had to chase down the lettuce leaves – they delivered normal pancakes by accident – and my bowl of soup. Everything did eventually arrive and the food was absolutely delicious. The poor service we experienced was a huge disappointment that spoiled what was otherwise a memorable dinner and would certainly make Mike and me think twice about visiting another time.

 

Marks: G – 9/10     M – 8/10

“War is over if you want it”

In planning our Easter adventure around Scotland, we quickly realised that our desire to visit all the places we were hoping to go would create what can only be described as a whistle-stop tour of the country. We could easily have chosen a half-dozen more places that one of the other of us, or perhaps even both, wanted to see and I can already foresee more visits North being squeezed into our future travel plans. For each location we settled on, we decided to stay just 2 night only, giving us one full day to explore where we were and so asked G and M to do a little research about different museums they wanted to visit or landmarks they’d like to see. There were no promises that we’d manage to do any or all of these, but I was keen for them to be as excited about our travels as we were.

The first leg of our journey took us to Liverpool, famously home to The Beatles as well as Premier League football clubs, the Grand National and the White Star Shipping Line, owners of the ill-fated Titanic. Mike and I spent a long weekend in the city for our 15th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago and so had already determined that we wanted to take the children to “The Beatles Story” exhibition at Albert Dock. A lengthy Google search by G and M led to the discovery of “Western Approaches”, a museum delving into Liverpool’s role during WW2. As both children have been studying aspects of the First and Second World Wars at school, they quickly decided that this was somewhere they absolutely wanted to go and Mike and I were more than happy to agree.

After a quick breakfast in our hotel room, something we usually choose to do as it ensures we have safe cereal and milk for both children whilst we’re away from home, we headed off on foot to our first destination, “The Beatles Story” exhibition. This marvellous museum is based at the iconic Albert Dock and charts the history of The Beatles, starting with childhood stories and finishing with all that the individual members of the band have gone on in their solo careers. As always, we all opted for the audio guides, something that M loves to do as he listens to the stories unfold as he traipses round the exhibits and touring at our own paces, moved from room to room. I’ll be honest and say that M didn’t manage to stay engaged for the entire exhibit, but he did reasonably well and by the time he’d had enough, I was ready to remove my headphones and wander the remaining spaces with him. Both children enjoyed the museum, especially the areas displaying memorabilia and costumes and picked up some interesting facts about one of our favourite bands. They also loved walking around Albert Dock and exploring the multitude of small shops that are there.

From Albert Dock, we walked back to Liverpool One, where we found a fantastic allergy-friendly diner for lunch. I will leave reviewing our dining choices until my next blog, but I will tease you with the tidbit that this lunch-time destination was easily one of the best we went to and M was desperate to go back again if only time had allowed. After a late lunch, it was time to go on to the children’s choice of the Western Approaches War museum. Hidden in a fairly unprepossessing building, I cannot begin to tell you just how fantastic this small museum turned out to be. Based in the wartime bunker beneath Derby House, Western Approaches takes you on a journey explaining just how the Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allied Forces. The staff were incredibly knowledgable and helpful and took a keen interest in explaining what we were going to see to both children before we entered. G had just been learning about the Battle of the Atlantic at school and so it seemed a particularly apt museum choice, especially when she was told that young women, not much older than her, would have been working down there during the war years.

What particularly appealed to M whilst we were here was the Treasure Hunt that saw him toting a gas mask case filled with instructions, code-breaking equipment, notepads and a mini UV light around with him. Some of the clues were easier to crack than others and both children had a great time trying to find where they were hidden and working out where they needed to look next. Most of the exhibits were hands on, which is great for children of all ages and both M and G quickly spotted the link to Bletchley Park and the code-breaking work that went on there during WW2. My favourite bit came right at the end of our visit, when we reached the street scene set up, including unexploded bomb and the tiny canteen asking for 2d for a cup of tea or coffee. I happily paid my 2p over, plus a little bit more to support their cause, and sat down to enjoy it whilst we all played one of the period board games that was available. It was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours on a fairly grey and miserable afternoon and I would highly recommend this museum to anyone who’s looking for something to do in Liverpool.

The only disappointment with our visit was that we hadn’t realised that the Terracotta Warriors are currently on display at the World Museum, something that Mike and I would both love to take the children to see. We were lucky enough to see them in-situ in Xian when we visited China back in 2001 and want to take advantage of this opportunity to share this fascinating exhibit with G and M. Our plan is to book tickets for a visit there over the summer and have another long weekend in Liverpool, perhaps experiencing some of the other things we didn’t manage to do on this trip.

#FFFA18: The Shortlist

It’s really only been a couple of weeks since I was a third-time judge at this year’s FFFA and the exciting news is that the shortlist for the Awards has already been published. I absolutely love scanning through the shortlist, even for those categories where I’ve been involved in the judging, because I find it so encouraging to discover a plethora of products, many of which I’ve never heard of before, which will make such a difference to those living with a variety of food allergies. As well as those I’ve already identified as particular highlights for me on the day, I was excited to see La Crèmerie’s rice yoghurt detailed on the Milk Product Alternatives list. I actually discovered this rice yoghurt during my visit to the Foodmatters Live conference back in November and whilst I have yet to try this with M, I know it’s something that could be a real game-changer for him and I’d love to see this do well in the overall Awards.

What has been even better for me this year than list after list of amazing foods, is the final named category: the FreeFrom Hero Award. Back in December I was asked if there was anyone I would like to nominate for this special category and it’s been really encouraging to us as a family to see our 2 nominees appear on the final shortlist. You can only imagine my delight this week as I received copies of the emails that have been sent to tell our very own heroes of their success. When you look at the list I’ve no doubt that you’ll immediately be able to identify one of the nominations I made, that of Steve Whitaker and Jason Conners, the cooks at Over The Wall. Ultimately I don’t know whether either of our suggestions will be the winners of the category, but I wanted to share my reasons for nominating this fantastic pair for special recognition at FFFA18:

Your reason for nominating them: M’s rare gastro condition, complex food allergies, restricted diet and associated problems has meant that he has never been able to stay away from home except with his Grandma. At nearly 12, he has never stayed away on a school camp or even had a sleepover with friends. In 2016, he was offered a place on the South Health Challenges Camp run by charity, Over The Wall, which meant he would be able to stay away from home for a week, fully looked after by an amazing group of volunteers who cheerfully give their time to support these children, who suffer with life-changing illnesses.

In preparation for the week, I spoke to OTW several times to discuss M’s dietary needs and at least 2 months before camp, I was sent a sample menu of the food that the chefs were planning to cook for him based on his extremely limited diet (just 5 foods plus 1 oil and sugar), which was truly amazing and that M loved the sound of. We touched base the week before camp to just check whether there were any changes and when we arrived at camp, the staff took time to meet with me to discuss all of his needs.

M ate like a king the entire week he was away and reluctantly told me that “Sorry Mummy, but their food was even better than yours!”. He was kept safe, had no allergic reactions because of their incredible awareness of the care that needed to be taken, was able to make friends with others facing similar health challenges, tried out so many experiences he’d never been able to have before and just felt like a child as his health problems firmly took a back seat to the more important job of him just having fun. As Mum, I felt confident that they knew what they needed to do to support him and have subsequently seen just how amazing their care can be when they called whilst G was away on sibling camp because they were concerned that she wasn’t eating the GF/DF food they were preparing for her.

We are hoping that he will be able to go to OTW camp again this year, but are just so grateful that he even had that opportunity to experience it once. These chefs (and all staff to be honest!) really deserve recognition for making M’s first experience of being away from home such a positive one.

The results will be announced on Twitter, on the evening of April 17th (@FFFoodAwards) and I’m hoping that we might once again be able to be there to recognise the hard work and incredible dedication of all those shortlisted finalists as well as celebrating the success stories of the worthy winners.

Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.

Every little helps

This week marks the start of the 2018 Free From Food Awards (#FFFA18) and another stint of judging, something that has become a real highlight of my year, especially as it brings a highlight to an otherwise grey and somewhat miserable month following the excitements of Christmas. Ever since the list of fellow judges reached my inbox, I’ve been looking forward to the day itself as I will be a judging a new category to me with a group of fantastic bloggers and friends that I’ve got to know over the last few years and I’ve no doubt it’ll be a day filled with laughter and chatter and good-natured banter.

However, with the FFFA just around the corner, I’ve realised that I owe an apology to a fellow judge from last year’s awards, who gave G in particular a great opportunity after we met and who I never got round to thanking via my blog. Mike and I were fortunate to meet Nicki, a Brand manager from Tesco, who was keen to send some samples of the then new range of Freefrom chilled meals that Tesco were about to launch. A cool box of meals arrived with us and G, Mike and I all enjoyed trying and tasting the variety available to anyone looking for a gluten-, dairy- and egg-free ready meal. They weren’t all to G’s taste, but it was wonderful to see the selection she was able to choose from for dinner.

From traditional Chicken Hotpot with stuffing and Beef casserole with dumplings – both of which G loved – to the more exotic flavours of Katsu Chicken curry and Green Thai Chicken curry – which became firm favourites with Mike and me – there really is something for everyone. G is not always the bravest when it comes to trying new dishes and some of these really did push her taste buds to their absolute limit, but I was impressed, for the most part, with the quality of the meals as well as their flavours. The biggest disappointment was the two Italian dishes: Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom pasta and Pulled Beef and Red Wine Ragu with Spaghetti, neither of which survived being frozen and then recooked at a later date. Both the pasta and the sauces became watery and were, in our opinion, frankly inedible by the time they reached the table. It was disappointing as pasta is usually a favourite in our household, but having had surprising successes with some of the other meals, my overall review would definitely be positive about this new range. As much as I love to cook from scratch, and usually do, the opportunity to be able to keep a few firm favourites in the freezer for those unexpected times when being able to throw something into either the oven or microwave is much-needed is absolutely invaluable to me as a working Mum and I’m grateful to Tesco for creating these dishes.

Just the other day, I was reminded once again of just how far the supermarkets have come with their allergy-friendly offerings since our freefrom journey started, when I spotted this fantastic array of dairy-free choices in the fridges of our local Tesco. It was an absolute delight to be able to take my time exploring all that was there to see what treats I could find for G to enjoy at the end of her meals. These are exciting times for those of us in the allergy community as more and more shops, cafes and restaurants strive to improve and increase what they offer to those on restricted diets and I’m delighted to be a part of it.