Tag Archives: Allergy and Freefrom Show

Back to the Judging table

Today Mike and I have enjoyed what feels like a rare day off together. We’re away from work, away from home and away from the constant complexities of parenting 2 children with an interesting selection of food allergies between them. Instead, we have been privileged to spend the day in London as part of the judging panel for the Free From Food Awards 2017 (#FFFA17). You may remember that last year saw my debut in this exciting role and, thanks to the generosity of my Mum in providing some invaluable childcare and the need for a “normal” person in the selected groups of tasters, Mike was able to join me in the experience. It was last year’s involvement that kicked of an exciting year of opportunities for us all: from discovering our very own set of superheroes including the wonderful Ryan of Borough 22 to attending the Awards ceremony with a broken leg; not forgetting the introduction of GalaxyGazer and Marvin to their own readership and my involvement with the Free From Eating Out Awards 2016 – gosh, what a busy year it has been!

Our day started off a little later img_13641than normal with the “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category. I enjoyed some of the new products that I discovered when judging this round last year, though was disappointed to find it difficult to find some of my favourites once the Awards were over. I was looking forward to seeing what new products I would uncover this year, especially seeking out anything suitable for G. Much as I enjoy cooking and usually prepare all our meals from scratch, I love finding those quick alternatives that will make busy evenings just the tiny bit easier. There were some great foods on offer, including a delicious gluten-free quiche from Asda, some highly contentious coronation chicken sausages and a great selection of microwave-able meals. To my delight, I came across 3 dishes that I thought were absolutely amazing and would be more than happy to buy for G. The first were the most delicious Sweet Quebec sausages from Slightly Different Foods. All foods are initially judged blind so that our opinions are not unduly influenced by any preconceived ideas img_13671about any of the suppliers or manufacturers of these products. I was thrilled to discover after the tasting who had made these sausages as we had stumbled across this company at last year’s Allergy and FreeFrom Show and our lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with owners, Sonia and Steve, evidently encouraged them to submit an entry to this year’s Awards. The sausages contain that classic Canadian combination of bacon and maple syrup and are bursting with flavour. I have no doubt that G will absolutely love them and the simplicity of the ingredients makes them a great choice for many with food allergies.

Next was a fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, which was unexpectedly manufactured by Pure, better known for their range of dairy-free alternatives to normal margarine. I had absolutely no idea that they made other free-from foods and this curry was beautifully fresh with a great selection of vegetables and even some quinoa included in its list of ingredients. Finally was my run-away favourite, a beef casserole with dumplings from Tesco, which is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The meat was tender, the gravy rich and the dumplings a surprise bonus on an already superb ready meal. I’m not convinced that G would choose either of these 2 options for an evening meal, but I would be more than happy to serve her both.

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Snack-time specials

In addition to the great new breakfast and dinnertime finds from our trip to this year’s Allergy Show in London, we also managed to stock up on an impressive number of allergy-friendly snacks, some suitable for G, some just gluten-free and even one for M. Snack-time is always the hardest time of day to cater for in my experience. You want something that will satisfy your child long enough to stop the complaints that they’re “starving” and “have to eat now!“, without spoiling the next meal which is probably only 15 minutes away, but far too long for them to actually wait without moaning that their stomachs have been cut off and are feeling unloved and abandoned. I find it particularly hard to find something suitably satisfying for M and much as he loves my many bakes, I’m not so keen on giving him too many sweet treats on too regular a basis.

IMG_0805[1]Emily Fruit Crisps were an incredible find and an instant big hit with M. We were all intrigued by not just their apple crisps, which were reassuringly safe for M, but also their surprisingly tasty vegetable crisps: green bean crisps anyone? They are a great alternative to normal potato crisps with none of the slight after-taste that M has complained about with other apple crisp brands. I took advantage of a great show offer and stocked up on a dozen packs, although only 10 made their way home with us as M munched on the odd bag or 2 as we wheeled him around for the rest of the day. Whilst not widely available in many of the mainstream supermarkets, you can buy them through Ocado and, weirdly enough, will apparently find them in your local Topshop too!

M’s marks: 12/10

IMG_0739[1]One of my biggest disappointments had to be discovering this amazing product and realising that it was very nearly safe for M, but not quite. Le Pain des Fleurs Cocoa Crispbread is made from rice flour, sugar and cocoa powder and it’s that last ingredient that means that they’re not suitable for M at the moment. They are not easy to source, but a good search on the internet will uncover a few independent stockists of this lovely snack.

IMG_0840[1]This next product has to be one of my favourite finds of the whole show and I know G is equally delighted that we were pointed in the direction of this sweet treat. The Foods of Athenry Cookie Shots are bite-size G-friendly chocolate brownies and are absolutely delicious. I had never come across this family run Irish bakery before, but I will be eternally grateful to the lovely Julia of Alimentary Bites, who not only welcomed us with open arms to the Allergy Adventures stall, but then whispered this fabulous find to me and told me where I could go to buy our own pack. They are satisfyingly chocolatey and taste sufficiently indulgent without being big enough to spoil your appetite, especially when you’re a chocolate-loving tween. NB – whilst the cookie shots are MEWS-free, they are not made in a nut-free environment

G’s marks: 9.5/10

IMG_0839[1]These next two offerings are both gluten-free, chocolate-laden snacks, but sadly not dairy-free. I have chosen to mention them because they are great alternatives for those living on a gluten-free diet and I think they would be a perfect addition to the store cupboard for anyone who can safely eat them. The first is a Twix-esque chocolate bar, with a biscuit base, caramel filling and chocolate outer layer. I’ll be honest that they don’t quite hit the mark for me, but I am reliably informed by gluten-free friends that they are really delicious. Made by Dr Schar, Chocolix bars are individually wrapped, making them ideal for lunch-boxes or to carry in your handbag for whenever you might need one, and can supposedly be bought at more than one of the supermarket chains, though I have to confess that I haven’t spotted them gracing the shelves of our local IMG_0841[1]Sainsburys since I discovered them. The other is a fantastic snack that has become a personal favourite and another product from company, Le Pain des Fleurs, this time called Crousty rolls. These interestingly named treats are light chocolate biscuits which are rolled and then filled with a deliciously decadent hazelnut and cocoa cream. Just as with the Chocolix, the rolls are wrapped in pairs, which allows you to enjoy the treat whilst keeping the rest fresh for another day. These biscuits are quite sweet, but I can imagine that they would be a wonderful addition to a bowl of ice-cream for a truly indulgent dessert.

Black is the new white

When you consider M’s restricted diet, particularly the fact that rice is currently his only safe source of carbohydrate, you might find it hard to believe that there can possibly be any new products out there for us to discover. With all our exciting finds for breakfast and snack times from the Allergy show, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that was it, but I can’t wait to share these 2 new gems with you, not least because they have expanded M’s meal options even further, something for which I’m eternally grateful.

IMG_0680[1]The first is a fantastic new product that is sadly not yet available in the British market, although the company is working hard to make sure it soon will be: Gusto Nero Black Jasmine Rice pasta. This was an accidental find, but one that I’m really glad we stumbled across so late in our day at Olympia. It caught my eye as we were heading towards another stall, but I stopped to take a look as M has recently found a real love for the many varieties of rice pasta from Rizopia and I wondered if this might be another welcome addition to his meal-time options. I opted for the macaroni as I had bags of lasagne, spaghetti, penne and Fantasia lurking in the cupboard at home and variety is, after all, the spice of life. M was intrigued by the idea of a black pasta and was keen to try it almost as soon as we got back home.IMG_0684[1] I prepared a simple dish, combining the cooked pasta with some diced chicken and thin slices of cucumber, all lightly drizzled with a little rapeseed oil and topped with a sprinkling of rosemary. M savoured the very first bite and quickly devoured the rest of the bowl. The box we bought at the show has already disappeared and I’m keeping a close eye on this company waiting for the date it finally becomes readily available in the UK as I’ve no doubt we’ll become a loyal customer.

M’s marks: 9.5/10

IMG_0702[1]Our end-of-day wanderings also uncovered the second great new addition to M’s meal-times, Gallo’s riso nero or black rice. M and I were told all about the nutty flavour of this rice by their knowledgable rep and he was keen to give it a go. The success of their stand at the Allergy Show meant that they had only a very limited supply of it left by the time we reached them late Saturday afternoon, but the news that rice was M’s sole carbohydrate saw their rep very kindly giving us a microwave pouch of the Venere riso nero to take away and try.  M couldn’t wait to have a taste and was very excited once the meal was made just over a week later. The slightly different taste and texture of this rice made a welcome change to my standard offerings and M made short work of the plate I’d prepared. IMG_0705[1]I served it mixed with some small chunks of pear and drizzled with a little melted coconut oil to accompany the herby chicken pieces and slices of apples on his plate. The pack provided a good-sized serving for dinner and there was enough left-over to make a stir-fried chicken dish for both children the following evening. G seemed to enjoy the flavour of the black rice as much as M did and it will definitely be a part of our meal-times going forward.

M’s marks: 8/10

Breakfast Bonanza!

As I mentioned the other week, we came home from the Allergy & FreeFrom Show with bags full of new allergy-friendly goodies for G and M to taste test and review, and they have already made a great start in trying them all out. I originally planned a single blog post to cover our favourites, but soon realised that there were just too many to cover in a single piece of writing and that I would need to split my categories up instead. What better way to do this than by looking at these products in terms of the meals where we’ll be using them, and where better to start than with breakfast?

Breakfast has long been the bane of our household, with M following steadily in my footsteps as a reluctant eater of a meal first thing in the morning. Whilst I can, and do, have a later start to my day by munching on something in the office, M needs to eat before he goes to school and all too frequently this is where we’ve hit stalemate. I’ve turned my hand to make breakfast muffins in the past, but even those had a limited shelf-life of success and it was quickly back to the drawing board once his diet became more restricted. Every day has been a battle, mostly one I’m more than happy to fight, but on other days, well, not so much and we compromise on a glass of rice milk if nothing else. However, these past 2 weeks have been like no other and M has been up, dressed and downstairs asking for breakfast before I’ve even had time to take a breath every day. Every. single. day. Vive la révolution!

IMG_0689[1]The reason for this change of heart? The discovery of Rice Flakes Porridge courtesy of the amazing Delicious Alchemy, not something new to the market, but most definitely new to us. I’ll be honest, it is a brand I’d heard about in passing more than once, but I hadn’t really spent much time investigating it as I believed it to be big on the gluten-free front and not much else. Oh, was I wrong. As you will discover from their website, Delicious Alchemy was launched in 2006 by Emma Killilea, a coeliac who was frustrated and disappointed by the gluten-free options out there and decided to do something about it. The company has gone from strength to strength in the past 10 years and now works with a number of mainstream supermarkets and stockists to get their products on shop shelves. G was drawn to their stand by the delicious gluten- and dairy-free brownies that were wafted under her nose and I soon got chatting to their finance chap, where we swiftly found common ground on both the accountancy and allergy-friendly fronts. Despite G’s sighs of utter joy about the brownies, I wasn’t drawn to buying the mix given I’m very much a “cooking from scratch” fan, but once I spotted the packets of porridge flakes nestled amongst the other goodies, I felt certain this might prove to be our first purchase of the show. Delighted to IMG_0695[1]discover that the porridge contains rice and absolutely nothing else, I quickly snaffled 3 bags with my fingers tightly crossed that M would actually enjoy it as much as he insisted he would. I needn’t have worried. The rice porridge has been a massive success and is so easy to make too. Just 3 minutes in the microwave with some rice milk and his breakfast of choice is ready. Not only has he insisted on having it every morning, but it has become a popular bedtime snack of as well. I’m more than a little excited that this might also open up some options for snacks for M as delicacies such as flapjacks, biscuits and muffins all readily spring to mind.

 

M’s marks: 11/10 (and as he’s eaten 1.5 bags in a week, I’m thinking it’s an unmistakable hit!)

IMG_0687[1]Another producer I was determined to visit with G was Nutri-brex (recently rebranded from Nutri-bix), the overall winner of this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards and one of my personal favourites. Ever since I first tasted this breakfast cereal during my stint as a FFFA16 judge, I wanted to get some for G to try, but it has proved disappointingly difficult to find it in the less-than-well-stocked aisles of my local supermarkets. By the time we finally made it to their stand, G had gone at least 10 minutes without gorging herself on one of the many allergy-friendly samples that were on offer and was more than ready to try some of this cereal, in an attempt to shut Mum up if nothing else. The company had launched a brand new product at the show and G decided she would taste that with the added extras of some soya vanilla yoghurt and grated chocolate on top. IMG_0691[1]She was instantly won over and 2 boxes of the Coconut and Crispy Rice cereal bars soon joined the 2 original boxes that formed part of our goodie bags. Since coming home, G has enjoyed the original bars with raisins for her breakfasts and I’m so glad that I was finally able to introduce her to this product. It is tantalisingly close to being safe for M, but sadly until we trial sorghum, not something that is high priority for him right now, he’ll just have to stick to the porridge.

G’s marks: 10/10

IMG_0692[1]The day also introduced a couple of new-to-us milks, which have been brought home to trial. M is already very keen on the Rude Health Brown Rice Drink, which he claims has a slightly sweeter and nutty flavour in comparison to his regular rice milk. Whilst I love finding new products for M, given the recent problems with his broken leg, I prefer being able to buy rice milk that is fortified with calcium, something that this one doesn’t appear to be. Add to that the price of this product, which at around £2 per litre makes it considerably more expensive than the Rice Dream I usually buy for him, this will be saved as a treat for special occasions rather than an everyday commodity.

M’s marks: 10/10

IMG_0693[1]As for this last product, well the jury is definitely still out in the 7Y2D household and I will be withholding my judgement on it for quite a while. If you follow Nathalie at The Intolerant Gourmand, you may well have read about her 4-week trial of a2 milk and the conclusions she drew about it. I’ll be honest, the information we were given at the Show and that I have read via their website has left me more than a little confused. I understand the principles behind the milk and the exclusion of the a1 protein, but am unclear as to whether this means it is or isn’t safe for those struggling with lactose intolerance. Their representatives on the stand were more than happy to help, but not all of them were fully to speed with the claims the milk makes and whether it would be ok for G to drink it or not, given she can’t do dairy, but can tolerate goats’ milk. It’s a difficult one for me to assess as I have no intention of trialling G on it under the circumstances, but fortunately I had another willing tester in Mike, who is also lactose intolerant and was happy to give a2 milk a try, especially as they gave us a free carton to take away with us! The milk is incredibly creamy, far more so that either Mike and I expected for semi-skimmed and it took a couple of days for Mike to reach any conclusions. Whilst his stomach was certainly aware that he was drinking cows’ milk, something he hasn’t drunk for years, he didn’t suffer any extreme reactions to it. I’m not sure I’d rush to buy it again and would recommend that any one thinking of trying it does a lot of research first.

Mike’s marks: 8/10 and he commented that as someone who hasn’t had cows’ milk for years, the flavour took some getting used to.

Wanted: One Job

When this week started, I was expecting the usual end of term mayhem for both children as we gradually wound down towards the summer holidays and close to 6 weeks off school. The holiday child entertainment plans were falling into place with activity weeks, Over The Wall, pony camp and drama school booked to keep them occupied whilst Mike and I put in our hours at work. I had been in touch with Easyjet about our flights to and from Portugal and was well into the process of making sure we can take with us everything we might conceivably need to feed both M and G whilst on our holiday.

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What I didn’t expect was to be looking for a new job.

This week has disappeared into a wild roller-coaster of raging emotions, sleepless nights and a flurry of internet searches, e-mails and phone-calls to recruitment agents, accountancy friends and old contacts to see what leads they might have for me to follow; and I’ve not been able to slow it down enough to get off the ride. When I was told on Monday that I was being made redundant with immediate effect, I was shell-shocked to say the least. Left numb and reeling by the impact this news would have on our summer, but, as the week has progressed, my emotions have broken through the surface and have vacillated between barely veiled anger at my ex-employers, a sense of depression that threatened to overcome everything else and complete disbelief that it wasn’t just a dream.

My post as a senior accountant has disappeared due to a massive change in the personal circumstances of my most recent employers, something we were only told about a month ago. At the time my concerns were whether this change would impact on our work, but was told that nothing would happen for another 6-8 months as they worked out what to do with the business and the client base. I am angry that little more than 3 weeks on from that conversation, I’ve had to deal with the further fall-out and the unwelcome revelation of redundancy without any real warning. I’ll be honest, I had started a little tentative searching to see what was out there as the atmosphere in our office had become tense and untenable, but I truly believed that I had a little more time on my side, time that would allow me to make the decision to move on once again and find the right post for me and the family.

Drawing on the strength that has defined me as an EGID Mum, I’ve got up every morning to get the kids washed, dressed and to school on time, even though all I’ve wanted to do is stay hidden beneath my duvet and avoid the real world. I’ve spent hours in front of my computer screen every day, fine-tuning my CV, searching for available practice and industry roles in the surrounding area and retyping my information time after time after time to complete applications and establish an on-line presence in the recruitment world; before finishing the days too worn out to do anything more than watch mindless TV before collapsing into bed. I’ve taken endless phone-calls from eager recruiters, who are desperate to place an individual with my skill set and have learned to be firm about the type of role I’m looking for and where I’m willing to compromise on my requirements.

Mike and I have taken the decision to keep the news from both M and G at the moment as they need to be able to enjoy their summer without the worry of Mummy being out of work overshadowing their holiday fun. I’ve smiled and chatted and engaged in the classroom and at the school gates, celebrating the end of year excitement alongside the children. I’ve taken M to his first physio session and watched with joy as he finally starts to regain his confidence and is working to rebuild the strength and mobility of his leg, and I’ve joined in and encouraged their plans for their adventures over the next few weeks.

I’m working hard at staying positive. I know that my accountancy skills will stand me in good stead and the fact that I already have 2 interviews set up for next week, with a possible 3rd in the works too, shows me that hopefully I won’t be without work for too long. But, my biggest decision has to be about the direction I follow next with my career. I can, in all likelihood, pick up another part-time job in an accountancy practice without too much trouble, which would be the easy thing to do, but this could be an unexpected chance to make a change. I don’t love working in practice. I’ve been happiest working in industry and that’s what I ideally want to go back to. I want to use not just my accountancy background, but the business acumen I’ve picked up along the way. I am re-assessing the type of company I work for, knowing that the last couple of years have seen a real passion growing for charity work as well as my blog and the allergy world. I have loved all of the opportunities that have opened up with events like the Free From Food Awards and the Allergy Show, and the amazing friendships that have grown through those events. I have an idea for something that I’m sure would be a success if I could just work out how to get it into production, but I need a steady income to allow me to investigate whether it is a real business possibility or not.

At the end of the day, I’m an out-of-work accountant, a dedicated Mum and an enthusiastic blogger and I just want a job that allows me to put that all together in one winning combination.

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Allergy and FreeFrom Show 2016

I am so glad that we made the decision to visit last weekend’s Allergy and Freefrom Show at Olympia London as we had the most amazing day and made some great finds. The show has always been one of those lovely experiences for the children, where they have been able to try so many of the foods and drinks on offer, although we have constantly had to remind them that they can’t assume that everything is safe, even though so many of the offerings are. IMG_0645[1]This year was no different and G ate her way around the show, delighted to try some old favourites as well as the new products that we hadn’t seen before. It was understandably a much harder show for M this time than ever before, but he pinpointed on the map which stalls he wanted to visit and was thrilled that we managed to find some great new food options for him too. I am also extremely glad that we chose to take the wheelchair with us as it proved to be useful, not just for helping M negotiate the crowds flocking round each stall, but also as a receptacle for the numerous bags of goodies we gained during the day.

The day was also a great chance to catch up with some old friends from the blogosphere and allergy community, though this year I didn’t manage to make the bloggers meet-up arranged for the Saturday morningIMG_0647[1]. It was fantastic to see G and M recognised and welcomed by so many of these lovely individuals and they happily chatted away almost as much as Mike and I did. We spent some time at the Allergy Adventures stand, where Hailey and her crew of cheerful helpers were once again providing entertainment for the children in the guise of paper crafts and story-telling time, although they couldn’t persuade G and M to make the paper lollipops planned. Instead my pair went off-piste and created an array of paper lizard heads (M) and chatterboxes (G) to fill their time, some of which I think were left behind and not just stuffed into pockets and down the sides of the wheelchair.

Between us, we came home with a huge selection of new products for both children to try and I can’t wait to share their reviews of these foods with you, especially those that are not just new to us, but to the market too. We spent the entire day at Olympia, getting in when the doors opened at 10am and leaving as the tannoy announced that the Show was closed at 5pm  and I could quite easily have spent another day IMG_0651[1]discovering all those hidden gems that were tucked away in remote corners of the space. We had taken some safe food for M with us for his lunch as we just didn’t know what would be available at the site and G enjoyed a gluten- and dairy-free pizza from Schar that was cooked to order. The Show now visits 3 UK locations during the year – London, Liverpool and Glasgow – and I would highly recommend a visit if you get a chance to go. It is a brilliant day out for anyone living with food allergies and offers the opportunity to discover so many safe alternatives that often don’t make it to the High Street.

Any plans for the weekend?

We’ve got a weekend in London ahead of us and, being our usual optimistic selves, have planned a whole host of activities to keep us busy at every interval. Thanks to remarkable coincidence, we are able to combine 2 opportunities that have come our way and I’m hoping that Sunday evening will see us back home, exhausted, but also exhilarated by our experiences.

Allergy_Olympia_Logo_2Last year we decided somewhat reluctantly not to make our annual pilgrimage to the Allergy & Free From Show in London as M was in the midst of being tube-fed and had, at that point, only 4 safe foods in hand. Whilst I would have loved the opportunity to explore the offerings we’ve found at these shows in the past, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was more than M would be able to cope with and I wasn’t prepared to put him into what was bound to be an emotion-filled, stressful situation. G and I did toy with the idea of going without the boys, but other events came along and we enjoyed a weekend at home instead. To my surprise, M was incredibly disappointed not to go and was insistent that when this year’s show rolled around, he wanted to attend and was as keen as we have been before. At the start of this year, Mike and I discussed whether we really would go, talked it over at length with M and finally took the plunge and got our tickets for this Saturday. Over this past week or so, M and I have been looking at the businesses that will have stalls in Olympia when the show opens on Friday and he’s already made a note of a few he wants to visit. As I have become more active in the allergy community over the last 12 months or so, especially through friendships built at the FreeFrom Food Awards in February, we are all looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces during our visit. This show is an amazing event and one that I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies, or indeed following a vegan lifestyle. You can still get tickets to attend by clicking on this link and the show will be there until Sunday.

GOSH-logoSunday brings a different opportunity and an exciting one for G. When M and I took part in this year’s PLACE assessment at GOSH, I met and got chatting to Fiona Jones, the Children and Young people’s Participation officer at the hospital. One of her roles is to promote the GOSH YPF, or Young People’s Forum, something I had never heard about before, but was interested and keen to find out more. The YPF is for patients, ex-patients or siblings of patients at GOSH who are aged between 11-25 years old and who are interested in expressing their opinions about how GOSH can best support its teenage patients as well as being involved in projects that will help make the hospital experience a positive one for patients and their families. Unfortunately, M is too young to become a YPF member just yet, but Fiona asked if I thought G would like to become involved and I promised to ask her as soon as I could. To my delight, G was excited to be asked to join the GOSH YPF and is looking forward to attending her very first meeting on Sunday. focus-groupBoth children have already been lending a hand by trialling and reviewing an on-line project called Digital Badges, something they have really enjoyed trying out over the last 2 months or so, especially giving their feedback on how this project worked. G will spend her day with this group on Sunday at GOSH, whilst Mike, M and I explore the nearby British Museum and their Sutton Hoo exhibit and I can’t wait to hear all about it during our return journey.

A European approach to Allergy-friendly food

IMG_0515[1]Given our Italian break was courtesy of a competition win through the Allergy and Free From Show and Dr Schär, it didn’t come as any surprise that there were several gluten-free items available at the amazing Vigilius Mountain Resort. However, what we didn’t expect were the allergy-friendly offerings we discovered from the minute we arrived at Munich airport and these were the things that possibly impressed us the most. Mike and I had a 2-hour wait in Munich before the shuttle-bus arrived to take us to the hotel. It wasn’t really long enough to venture into the town itself, but gave us more than enough time to explore the airport and its shops. I was particularly keen to see if I could spot any of the German delicacies featured on the Munich episode of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes and was delighted to be able to snap a quick photo of freshly made pretzels to show M when we got home.

IMG_0516[1]Having exhausted most of the shopping opportunities available to us, we decided to take a quick whiz around the small supermarket before heading off to meet the bus. You can only imagine my surprise and absolute delight when we stumbled upon this fixture filled with dairy-free alternatives, including the all-important rice milk that is now a staple in our household. There was a slightly smaller unit with an array of gluten-free products too and browsing the store’s shelves and fridges, I was able to pick out with relative ease other allergy-friendly foods. I think what impressed me the most was this was a small supermarket at the airport. Not some major out-of-town hypermarket, but somewhere where travellers would stop to pick up a few essentials before heading on to their final destination. Obviously I can’t comment on what would be found in larger stores around Germany, but this bodes well for what I can only imagine you might be able to buy. We have had mixed success in finding safe foods for both M and G whilst on our holidays in the past and this summer will be travelling back to Portugal for the first time since M’s diet became so restricted. I can only hope we find as good a selection as we stumbled across in Munich.

TIMG_0552[1]he Vigilius resort is owned by Ulrich Ladurner, who is also the founder and president of the Dr Schär group and so it comes as no surprise that every meal has gluten-free options available if wanted. Breakfasts consist of an amazing buffet containing just about everything you could conceivably want – cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, cold meats, fruit juices, smoothies, cooked breakfasts and cheeses. There was a separate section for the gluten-free choices and I was pleased to see that soya milk, local goats milk and cheese and dairy-free chocolate sauce were available too. Our evening meals at the resort were delicious and despite our initial plans to visit Lana for dinner on a couple of evenings, Mike and I ended up choosing to stay in the hotel and eat in their restaurants. There are 2 restaurants at Vigilius: the delightful Stube Ida serving regional dishes and wine, and the more formal Restaurant 1500 with exquisite and interesting menu choices. The menus were clearly annotated to show which dishes could be made gluten-free and gluten-free bread was also available on request. We enjoyed every meal we had there, and whilst we didn’t choose to eat the “Variation of Carrots” for our main course – Tartar of carrots, carrot-ginger cream, crunchy carrot peel and carrot spaghetti with curry and carrot gel – ,IMG_0539[1]the “Herbs of the neighbour” dessert – Herb cookies, herb chocolate ganache, hay Chantilly, camomile Panna cotta and lavender ice cream – was phenomenal, even if the occasional thought did flash through my mind that it was a little like eating a bowl of pot pourri! We chose to drink regional wines with our dinners, grateful to receive recommendations from the serving staff, who introduced us to some that have quickly become new favourites.

IMG_0637[1]In comparison, our lunchtimes were spent at various of the many gasthauses in the mountains surrounding the resort, where we chose meals that were equally delicious, but much simpler dishes than those we enjoyed for dinner. We frequently opted to share platters of local products, such as fennel bread, speck, goats cheeses and other cooked meats and of course, washed these down with a glass of local beer. Friends have told me that eating gluten-free in Italy is relatively easy and our experiences would suggest that to be true as we found a gluten-free section to a surprisingly extensive menu in a small, remote gasthaus at the top of Monte San Vigilio. I have to confess that we didn’t put these allergy-friendly options to the test as we relished the opportunity to eat “normally” without M and G around, but Italy has definitely become a potential destination for us in the future.

IMG_0557[1]Our final foodie surprise was on our way back to Munich, at what was advertised as the “last service station before Austria.” The journey to the resort on the Monday had been non-stop, no toilet breaks or opportunity to stretch our legs even once during the 4 hour trip. However, thanks to the driver of our return journey, who evidently considered himself to be the Michael Schumacher of the public transport world, we somehow managed to save time and were allowed to stop for 20 minutes near lunch-time. As we wandered around the service station looking for something quick and easy to eat before we climbed back on board, I also kept my eyes open for any last-minute goodies I could pick up as small presents for M and G from our holiday. Amongst the bumper-sized packs of pasta, bottles of olive oil and chocolate bars, I also spotted boxes of gluten-free rice flour cookies sitting in plain sight alongside their non allergy-friendly counterparts, something I’ve never seen in a service station in this country. Our holiday was a real eye-opener when it comes to how this part of Europe tackles the matter of allergy-friendly foods and has made us more confident to spread our wings and travel there with the children when time allows.

The Italian Job

Sometimes you just need some time off; a week away from it all; an opportunity to have a break from the everyday, to just rest and relax and be. The thing is that that is hard enough to achieve when you’re a parent and near on impossible when you’re a special needs parent. The stress of leaving your chronically ill child with someone else, even when accompanied by a small novel’s worth of detailed instructions about what to do in every possible and conceivable situation, threatens to overwhelm and can seemingly be insurmountable for a day or two, let alone more than that. Mike and I are lucky that my Mum lives close enough to give us some nights off during school holidays, but those days usually mean longer hours at work for me as I attempt to make up time missed for hospital appointments with M and include only the occasional trip out to the cinema or for dinner somewhere where we aren’t tied to the essentials of chicken, rice and cucumber of our everyday menus.

Last December, in fact the day before M was admitted to GOSH for those disastrous food challenges, I received a Facebook message out of the blue from one of my fellow FABED Mums:

“Is that you that has won a trip to Italy with schar? Saw Twitter post? Congratulations x”

and have to confess that at that point I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about! A quick unscheduled peek at my Twitter feed and a long look at my e-mails later, I was stunned to learn that she was indeed right and I had won a 4-night stay in Italy thanks to gluten-free producer Dr Schar and the Allergy and Free from Show, Liverpool. It has taken a little while to put all the necessary pieces in place, but finally, last week, 6 full months since I first received that message, Mike and I left G and M in my Mum’s more than capable hands and jetted off for a much-needed break from it all.

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Getting to that point did take some effort and there were last-minute wobbles before we finally left. It took an unbelievable amount of time to confirm the dates for our hotel stay due to the relaxed attitude of the Italian hotel staff and our flights were researched and scheduled by me once I knew the preferred airports for us to travel to and from. Two nights before we left, Mike questioned whether we really could go abroad given M’s current ill-health, but we trust my Mum implicitly and knew we needed to take some time for ourselves. That’s something that my Mum supported fully as she knows that reality as well as we do due to my T1D diagnosis at age 9. The truth is that you should never under-estimate the impact of a sick child on a marriage: the focus naturally shifts from each other to that child and home life inevitably revolves around what they need in every waking moment. In our household, those needs have not just been during the day, but at nighttime too as M’s sleep issues have been an ongoing problem that we continue to struggle with and every time we seem to be making some headway with it, something happens to set us back to where we were before. His broken leg has been no exception and has added to that regression as it has seen us playing musical beds with G moving to M’s cabin bed and Mike to G’s room to give M the comfort he needed to enable him to sleep in the weeks following the accident. The physical strain of looking after M with his broken leg has taken its toll on me, leaving me exhausted and Mike and I have had little time to spend with each other without interruption.

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Our plane is the one on the left, which looked tiny when seen next to the Easyjet one also waiting for passengers

Last Monday passed in something of a blur and proved to be a long day of travelling with more than its fair share of minor hiccups along the way, just to keep us on our toes. We were up at 3.30am to reach our regional airport before a 6.30am flight to Munich, followed by a couple of hours waiting at the airport before our shuttle bus arrived. Then there was the 30 minutes of pure stress as we failed to connect with the shuttle bus due to the unclear instructions as to where to wait that were written on the booking form and my tears of panic as Mike desperately tried to find a helpful German airport worker to help him communicate with the bus company, before all was finally resolved and the driver turned around to pick us up. IMG_0522[1]The following 4.5 hours in a minibus without functioning air-conditioning and unable to communicate with said driver due to my lack of German and his lack of English was interesting, though we drove through some amazing countryside and realised that 4 countries in 1 day (UK, Germany, Austria and Italy) was a record even for us. We finally reached Lana, our Italian destination, only to discover that the cable car to the hotel – the only way to reach it – had broken down and we were destined to wait for an indeterminate amount of time as the statement that “..it might be 5 minutes, it could be 30…” was accompanied by an unconcerned shrug. But, we got there in the end and, having reached what is an amazing resort, it was, without a doubt, all worth it in the end.

A Power of Superheroes

What is the collective noun for a group of superheroes? Any idea? I didn’t know off-hand, but as I looked around the room at the amazing group of people gathered to celebrate the 2016 Free From Foods Awards this week, I realised that that’s what I was in the midst of: enough superheroes to make any allergy sufferer’s heart flutter. Ever since I spent a fabulous 2 days judging these amazing awards at the start of February, the ceremony had promised to be the highlight of my season and, with M and G in their new role of diary contributors to the Foodsmatter newsletter, the whole family was lucky enough to be invited to attend.

13095812_10153421370696123_3435156642706845396_nM’s broken leg required some significant amendments to our original plans, but we were determined to get the family, wheelchair and all, to the event, held near Regents Park, London at the rather impressive Royal College of Physicians. We planned to leave as soon as the children finished school, which left ample time to reach our destination and even allowed strategic stops along the way to primp and preen ourselves for the evening. We all had new clothes for the occasion and G took the matter so seriously that she hand-wrote a note for her hanger to remind herself not to wear them before the day itself. Our journey started well and as we travelled along the motorway, the children took turns to pick songs for us all to sing or compared what cloud creations they could spot out of their respective windows. Naturally things couldn’t continue in that relaxed manner and we soon joined a queue of stationary traffic that had me biting my nails and stressing to the hilt that we wouldn’t reach London in time. Fortunately for all concerned, Mike has a much calmer Cg-yOG8WIAAwdZYhead than me and was our nominated driver for the night. The traffic eventually started to move, we crept past the accident site and soon were back up to speed and on our way without me completely losing my cool. We stopped just once and Mike, G and M were all able to nip into the service station toilets to glam themselves up for the evening. I was too anxious about our timings to take 5 minutes out to change myself and the following hour or so was filled with moments much reminiscent of Dirty Dancing – remember Baby changing on the back-seat of Johnny’s car? – as well as hysterical giggling from M as I contorted my body into unbelievable positions to don my own new outfit.

Of course, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. We arrived bang on time and thanks to the helpful College staff, we were able to park in their car park to ease the burden of manoeuvering M and his wheelchair around. Convoluted lift systems negotiated – seriously complicated as we had to go down from the ground floor to the lower ground floor before taking a different lift up to the first level – we were finally there and the children were thrilled to receive name badges of their very own. From the moment we stepped into the room, I was surrounded by a group of innovative, interesting and fantastic people who all had one thing in common, their passion for the freefrom market. Some of them I had had the honour to meet at one of the judging sessions, others I know from social media, whilst others I’d never met before, but as we made our way across the room, being hugged and kissed by new friends and old, I realised that I really did feel at home with them. We parked M’s wheelchair close to the stage so that he could observe all the proceedings with ease and my thanks go to the Romer Labs UK representatives, one of the Awards sponsors, as they made sure he could see what was happening at all times.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson was the emcee Cg_buJJW4AUTEpIfor the evening and the awards presented by celebrity chef, Antony Worrall Thompson, who gave what has to be the quote of the night that “..free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people..”, which was great to hear. It was wonderful to see so many creative and innovative producers receive commendations for their hard work and the winners were all deserving in their categories. It was good to remember some of the fantastic new foods that I had tasted and wonderful to see G so excited about the gluten- and dairy-free offerings available that her own mini fist-pumps could be seen as she heard who the winners were. The full list of winning entries can be found on the Awards website, but a special mention must go to the winner of the FAIR trophy for the Best FreeFrom Food 2016, Nutribix. I was particularly thrilled to see this breakfast cereal win, not least because I had been fortunate to judge the Breakfast products category in February and absolutely loved it. Nutribix is an amazing product, reminiscent of Weetabix and unlike anything else available on the freefrom market at the moment. nutribix-awt-mmoWe’ve still to track down a box in our local supermarkets for G to try, but I’m even more determined to get my hands on some now that one of my favourites has won the overall title.

It was an unmissable night and we could easily have stayed for hours chatting to the other attendees. G and M were on best behaviour and did some impressive networking of their own – politely introducing themselves and chatting confidently to the adults in the room. I received several compliments from those they spoke to, which makes me immensely proud. G was absolutely buzzing from the thrill of having canapés and a buffet that were, more or less, all safe for her and certainly enjoyed the food – the surprise hit of the evening being water buffalo canapés which she declared “delicious” and helped herself to more as soon as she could. It was wonderful to have the time and opportunity to put faces to names of so many other allergy bloggers and companies out there and whilst I won’t even attempt to list them all for fear of forgetting someone, they know who they are and I can’t wait to the next opportunity to meet up. The free from community can sometimes be surprisingly small, but it is also very close-knit and these are people that I’m delighted to be able to describe as friends. Even better, we already have a date in mind and many of us will be able to reconnect at the Allergy and Free from Show at Olympia, London during the weekend of July 8-10th. There’s also the Free From Eating Out Awards coming up later in the year, which is looking to recognise nationwide chains as well as independent restaurants who go the extra mile to provide safe meals for their allergy-suffering diners.

Special mention has to, of course, go to our very own superhero, Ryan from Borough 22 doughnuts. He got one of the loudest cheers of the night, partly aided by our very exuberant family, as well as 2 very much deserved Highly Commendeds for his doughnuts. The highlight of M’s evening was meeting the man he now terms his “personal chef” and even more thrilled that Ryan signed his cast too. It says a lot about the difference this man has made to M in such a short space of time that today even his teacher understood why M was so excited to have met “the doughnut man” in person.

Oh, and I still don’t know what that collective noun is, but I rather think “A Power of Superheroes” fits the bill perfectly! MzQ1QzM3M0E4MzFCNjM4QjYzMUY6YWUxNzkyMGNiZWRkMjJhNGIyYWI2YTNlNDZiNGJjODM6Ojo6OjA=