Tag Archives: Allergy

Shocking Customer Service

At first glance, these look like great plates of food. These reflect a restaurant that has obviously understood our allergy requirements and nailed it. Right?

Actually, these represent a lunch that almost didn’t happen. An experience that certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth and almost resulted in an outright refusal to stay anywhere that could treat an allergy family so badly. I’m a keen proponent of giving praise where it’s due, especially in the world of free from eating out, but rarely will I actively name and shame those who get it so absolutely wrong. However, I am so incensed by our bad experience that I just couldn’t stay quiet this time.

We recently found ourselves in the Somerset town of Street, home to the Clarks village outlet stores and decided to head in to see if we could pick up any last minute bargains ahead of our summer holiday. Having arrived and parked our car, both children started mumbling about a need for food and we decided to start our shopping trip on a good note and have lunch. Whilst the map indicated that G’s favourite, Pizza Express, could be found on the far side of the shops, we thought we’d give a brand new eating out experience a try and opted for Frankie and Benny’s instead.

It has been a long, long time since we last ate there and, to be perfectly honest, it will be an even longer time before I choose to step foot in one of their restaurants ever again. We asked for their allergy menu, made some key choices and then waited for our waitress to arrive to start the ordering process. G was keen to have their GF pepperoni pizza and eager to exert her new-found confidence by ordering her own complicated requirements. And that’s where the problems began.

G asked to have their GF American Hot, without chillis and replacing the mozzarella with goats cheese, something we do the world over and something that has never been a problem. The waitress said that wasn’t possible and, when we explained that we needed the pizza to be both gluten- and dairy-free, she shrugged her shoulders saying that the pizza wouldn’t be dairy-free if we replaced the normal cheese with goats cheese instead. I patiently explained that G has a problem with the cows’ milk protein and can in fact tolerate goats cheese ok. The waitress walked off to “check the label” in the kitchen, before marching back to triumphantly announce that the label said it contained milk, so we couldn’t make that change.

I’ll be honest, I was slightly frustrated by now and so asked if it was possible to either see the goats cheese they use or perhaps instead, talk to the manager. I was polite in both my tone and my words, but determined that dealing with the restaurant manager would be a safer option for us and so our waitress’ response stunned me. She told me that the manager had told her it wasn’t a safe alternative and when I asked again if we could talk directly to the manager as M’s needs were considerably more complicated, she threw her hands in the air and rather rudely informed me that she was refusing to serve us because of my attitude.

In another time and place, I would have insisted on leaving right then, but I had 2 hungry children to feed and I didn’t want to start the ordering process all over again. Mike took over talking to the manager and the resulting plates of food were the success we needed them to be. We received an apology for our waitress’ attitude and reassurance that they would be very careful in preparing G and M’s lunches. They arranged a special drink for M – lemonade with vanilla- and worked hard to ensure the rest of our experience went without a hitch. I can accept that perhaps our waitress was having a bad week, my work week hadn’t been the easiest either, but for someone working in the service industry to be so dismissive and rude to a customer with additional requirements is completely unacceptable in my book. It’s a shame because both children really enjoyed their meals when they arrived, but if I never go back to Frankie and Benny’s with them, it’ll be too soon.

Supporting our favourite Foodpreneur

Every now and then you stumble across something wonderful that makes an unbelievable difference to your life or that of those around you. Since I uncovered this brand at the Free From Food Awards 2016, I’ve not hesitated to sing the praises of this particular allergy superhero from the proverbial rooftop and finding myself in the position to do this once again, I’ve not hesitated in lending my voice in support. The best thing about this particular discovery is that M’s superhero has become a firm family friend in the 18 months since our first conversation and for all the right reasons. Not only did he lovingly create sweet treats that went beyond the wildest dreams of M and G and were deliciously safe for them both, he has also sent messages of love and support, not just when M broke his leg last year, but as he prepped for his SATS this year too.

Up until a month ago, I’d never even heard of the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur 2017 competition, but I’m now eagerly waiting for the final results with fingers and toes tightly crossed for our favourite foodpreneur: the awesome Ryan, from Borough 22 doughnuts. The competition looks to recognise and celebrate UK-based food and drink startups, with the winner being offered mentoring from industry experts as well as a 6 weeks selling opportunity through joint sponsors, intu, who own shopping centres across the UK. From the hundreds of entries received, 15 were shortlisted for the first stage of the competition, where each startup were invited to give a 3-minute presentation about their business, why they started it and the direction they’re hoping to take it in the future. From a home-delivery wine service to vegetable- and fruit-infused water and vegetarian hot dogs to hand-crafted chocolates, there’s a lot of delicious options to choose from.

I was delighted to learn this week that Ryan has moved on to the next stage and is one of 8 semi-finalists, who will receive a week’s worth of pop-up shop space at one of nationwide intu’s shopping centres to introduce their wares to a new audience. Ryan has been given a kiosk at the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex and will be working 12-hour days, 10am to 10pm, from this Friday, June 30th to July 7th. If you’re in the area and able to stop by to see Ryan, taste his amazing doughnuts and show him some support, I know you won’t be disappointed with his fantastic freefrom ware.

And don’t forget to tell him that M sent you!

Pub dinners and Picnic lunches

Our 2 days in Stratford-upon-Avon meant that we had to find somewhere safe to feed both G and M for all our meals and we took the opportunity to try out some new options that we hadn’t had time to explore before. As far as breakfast is concerned, these days we tend to go for the easy option, which involves taking M-friendly cereal, a couple of litres of rice milk and a pot full of raisins for a cosy breakfast in our room. The tempting array of breakfast treats, from bacon and eggs to toast and jam, is just too much for M to cope with first thing in the morning and we know that having to deal with that temptation will cause an anxiety that will last the rest of the day. Daytime snacks are also easily covered as we take a supply of rice cakes, home-baked goodies and fresh fruit for M and a selection from perennial favourite Nakd date bars, sesame snaps, fruit snacks and gluten- and dairy-free treats for G.

However, when it comes to lunch and dinner, especially if we haven’t timed our trip perfectly to allow for a packed lunch or tea to cover one of our meals, we are left to search through the shelves of local supermarkets or scour the menus of available restaurants with our fingers crossed that we’ll find something that will suit us all and keep the children full and happy. Our first night’s dinner was a resounding success and we were left wondering whether the rest of our meals would be so adequately met.

At last year’s Free From Eating Out Awards, pub chain Wetherspoons won a Silver award in the Pub restaurants category, with their impressive gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian/vegan offerings. I’ll be honest, Wetherspoons is not somewhere we would usually choose to eat when there are so many other world cuisines to taste, but The Golden Bee in Stratford looked welcoming and promised to be another success story when it comes to feeding M. I will confess to breaking from our norm as we checked with the restaurant beforehand to see if they could cook an M-friendly meal and then made a reservation to make sure there would be a table waiting for us and our peculiar dietary needs. As is so often the case, there was no rice option available for M, but 2 grilled chicken breasts, plenty of cucumber and 2 packets of pre-cut apple slices proved to be all our hungry boy needed for his dinner. G struggled a little to decide on what she wanted to eat, not least because she had to cross-reference between the extensive gluten- and dairy-free menus, but she finally settled on gammon and egg, which is a definite favourite of hers. I was impressed by the range of foods available and whilst they weren’t able to provide safe alternatives for dessert, the plates themselves were more than enough to feed and satisfy my hungry duo.

Our next challenge came with our picnic lunch the next day, but I thought I had another potential ace up my sleeve and was delighted to discover that I couldn’t have been more right. Thanks to friends from the wonderfully active on-line allergy community, I had heard more than once about the improved selection of freefrom foods available at Marks and Spencer and it was great to finally have a chance to test it out. The selection of “Made Without” sandwiches and wraps available for G was impressive and, in the Stratford store, incredibly easy to find, though a trip to our local M&S this week has proved a lot more challenging as they hide their allergy offerings in plain sight amongst all of the other sandwiches for sale. It didn’t take G long to zoom in on her sandwich of choice and the gluten-free prawn mayonnaise sandwich was definitely massively enjoyed. She also chose some plain crisps and was keen to try the gluten-free scotch eggs that we had spotted in the chiller cabinet. She later confessed that she hadn’t enjoyed them as much as she hoped she would because of the flavour of the sausage meat, but it was just so nice to be able to buy her some picnic foods that were just like those others would eat. We managed to find some safe cooked chicken slices for M and accompanied by rice cakes, pink lady apples and pears, we had a great picnic to keep the whole family happy.

All in all our weekend stay in Stratford-upon-Avon was a great success and both children want to visit again soon and perhaps see a Shakespeare play in the theatre.

Stunning Stratford-upon-Avon

We may have had less than 48 hours to explore and enjoy all that Stratford-upon-Avon has to offer, but we certainly gave it our best effort. We had been hoping to introduce the children to their first Shakespeare play, but felt that “Anthony and Cleopatra” was perhaps not the ideal starting point, even for our theatre-loving duo. Instead, we settled for a backstage tour of both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre, a climb up the Tower for some spectacular panoramic views and a visit to their fantastic interactive exhibit, “The Play’s the Thing“. I would be hard-pressed to say which particular tour was the favourite, but I think that for G and M, the hands-on activities and the costumes and props in “The Play’s the Thing” just edged out the lessons learned about fake blood, lighting and the other backstage secrets that keep these theatres running.

Our Sunday was gloriously sunny and M in particular was desperate to spend some time on the river. After our successful Saturday night dinner at Zizzis, we had meandered our way through Stratford and along the riverbank, where the children spotted some boats that they were keen to hire the following day. Our luck was in and we spent a fun, though occasionally slightly stress-filled 40 minutes exploring some of the river itself. G and M both took their turn to row the boat and thanks to some cunningly strategic seat choices, Mike ended up soaked through, whilst I remained comparatively dry. It hadn’t been a part of our original plans, but was a lovely way to spend an hour giggling with the family.

Our Sunday had been glorious, but sadly Bank holiday Monday itself turned into a fairly wet and miserable day. We had decided to spend Monday looking around the various Shakespeare properties and started at The Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street. Situated next door to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the Centre had some great exhibits exploring not just the life and works of Shakespeare himself, but the time in which he lived. G was drawn to the lengthy list of his plays and took great pleasure in mentally ticking off those she has read, although I hasten to add she’s been enjoying abridged versions, rather than the original plays themselves. She has been studying “Much Ado about Nothing” at school and was keen to not only share her knowledge of the storyline, but also to invest in her own copy of the play to read at home. She made the sensible decision to buy a version that explained the nuances of the text alongside the word themselves and couldn’t wait to get started on reading it.

M was less entertained by all we could see, though his attention was grabbed briefly by the small group of actors performing extracts from various Shakespeare plays in the grounds of his birthplace. Having gleaned all the information we possibly could handle, the children spent some time browsing potential pocket-money purchases in the shop before we headed off for our next destination. We managed to pick up a semblance of a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed riverside, sheltering under the trees from the somewhat persistent rain and then walked on to Halls Croft, a property that none of us had ever been to before. The top floor of the house contained displays of various pieces of historical medical equipment, which both children found fascinating and they also took part in the mouse treasure hunt, albeit really for a younger age group. The gardens were glorious, but the weather just a bit too wet to really enjoy and so we beat a hasty retreat and trudged our way back to our hotel and car to start our homeward journey.

G was keen to make one last stop before we set off towards home. although M pointblank refused to leave the warm and dry environment of the car once he had settled into it. So instead, G and I made our way into Anne Hathaway’s cottage, where she listened intently to the short talks we were given about what we would be seeing and the history of the Hathaway family. Unfortunately, being the end of a grey, wet and fairly miserable day, there was not much natural light coming through the windows and the low-level internal lighting, in keeping with the age of the cottage, made it incredibly difficult to see, even for my eagle-eyed daughter. Cottage toured, we made a quick exit via the unavoidable gift shop and met up with Mike and M to start the journey home. All in all we had a great weekend in Stratford and are hoping to make a return visit in sunnier times to see all those bits we had to miss out this time round.

Wonderful dinner, shame about the price

After a busier-than-originally-expected National Eosinophil Awareness Week, I took a much-needed sabbatical from my blog and concentrated my efforts on getting my day job and home life back in order to varying levels of success depending on which particular task you’ve decided to look at. With May half-term now behind us, it seemed an opportune moment to get back to the writing and catch up a little with our adventures over the last few weeks. Whilst there are lots of things to tell you about, I decided to start with one of my favourite things to share – the success story of a fantastic meal out.

Our household has been filled for months with the unbelievable stress of M’s SATS and by the time half-term hit, that particular challenge had been well and truly put behind us. Thanks to the unfailing support of M’s class teacher and school, we all came through the experience relatively unscathed and Mike and I wanted to do something to mark the end of that pressure and instead look forward to the rest of M’s final term in Junior school. The first weekend of half-term was the May bank holiday and we decided to surprise the children with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to discover more about this beautiful Warwickshire town and its most famous forefather, William Shakespeare. We had lots planned for our 2 days there and the glorious May sunshine on the Sunday made for a fantastic day. However, as always, our skills in finding somewhere safe for the whole family to eat were stretched to the limits, though our final destination on the Saturday evening proved to be a great choice.

For those of you who have never been to Stratford-upon-Avon, it is not filled with a plethora of the chain restaurants we have somewhat come to rely on as a “safe bet” when we need to feed M somewhere new and sadly the few small independent eateries we explored were unable to prepare anything that he could eat. Finally, I spotted a Zizzi restaurant and whilst we haven’t eaten there for a long time, I had in the back of my mind a vague memory of a discussion within our EGID support group, where others had had great success with eating there. We headed inside and started questioning the manager about whether there was any chance of an M-friendly dinner or not. To our delight, he reassured us that they could manage a plain grilled chicken breast with cucumber and were happy for M to eat his own rice cakes at the table.

As G, Mike and I perused the menus to make our own dinner choices, I had a sudden flash of inspiration about something I was sure I had read and, upon checking once again with our extremely accommodating manager, was delighted to be able to tell M that he could also have some mozzarisella cheese added to the dish to add a little something extra that he hasn’t been able to have when eating out before. M couldn’t wait for his dinner to arrive and G was similarly excited about her pepperoni pizza. The plates looked fantastic when they finally reached our table and both children soon made quick work of clearing the dishes without any argument. Mike and I also enjoyed our meals and we would have been more than happy to call it a night there, but it turned out that the best bit was yet to come.

Whilst G had been studying the extensive allergy menu, she had identified a couple of gluten- and dairy-free puddings that she could have and my eagle eyes had already spotted the rare possibility of lemon sorbet as a dessert for M. Our waitress was happy to grab the lemon sorbet label for me to check and as soon as I gave the go-ahead, a double scoop of sorbet and a fantastic-looking Sticky Chocolate and Praline Torte with coconut and chocolate ice-cream arrived at our table for G and M. For the last couple of years or so, there has been a campaign called #fruitisnotapudding, which seeks to encourage allergy-friendly options for dessert, rather than the somewhat ubiquitous fresh fruit salad. Over the last few months, this campaign has really flourished on social media and it’s been great to see what restaurants can do when they really think about it. As a family we rarely eat pudding whilst we’re out because there is only very occasionally some tempting and tasty options that are both gluten- and dairy-free for G, without even beginning to think about preparing a safe alternative for M. Our discovery of this delicious Torte and ice-cream  for G was, for her, a dream come true and only goes to show that it absolutely can be done with some effort.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the dessert dishes were emptied just as quickly as their main course plates had been and we had 2 very happy children by the end of the meal. We thought nothing could spoil a great evening meal out for us all…until the bill arrived at our table. There is no rhyme or reason to how any restaurant charges us for the meal that they prepare for M; sometimes we have a double portion for the price of one, sometimes they just bill us for an extra or a side dish and very occasionally we have been fortunate to be gifted M’s meal for free. As is so often the case, M asked for a double portion of chicken and the plate of 2 grilled chicken breasts topped with some melted mozzarisella cheese and a healthy serving of cucumber was added to the bill at an eye-watering £27.90! Unfortunately, Zizzi’s approach to billing left us with a slightly bitter aftertaste and even though the duty manager did eventually concede to just charge us half of the original cost, we will have to think very carefully about when and if we choose to visit them again. It was a fantastic meal out for us all, but we ended up paying a lot for less than a handful of ingredients.

M’s marks:             10/10                                                                                                                               G’s  marks:             9.5/10                                                                                                                               Parents’ marks:    9/10 for food, but a disappointing 2/10 for approach to billing

Rediscovering Mozzarisella

Three years ago, as this post reveals, I discovered Mozzarisella at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show, which was received with mixed success by my discerning youngest foodie. M enjoyed the flavour when it was added as a topping to his pizza, but he was less certain by its slimy texture and whilst that first block bought was eaten, we didn’t bother buying it again. However, as we head into the third year of M’s heavily restricted diet, he’s become more keen to explore any food that can be considered safe for him to enjoy and has been asking for a retry of this rice-based cheese.

I honestly can’t remember if the range of cheeses was as extensive then as it is now, but I was impressed to discover 6 varieties of Mozzarisella and whilst they can’t all be considered safe for M, there was enough choice for me to pick 3 I thought might make a difference to mealtimes – the original mozzarella-style, the cheddar-style slices and cheese slices with basil. I didn’t tell him I’d ordered the cheeses until the day they arrived in the post and it seemed a sign of success when the parcel reached us on his birthday. He was so excited to unpack the box, treating it very much as an additional and unexpected birthday present, and struggled to decide which type to try first. At the end of the day, it really didn’t matter as all 3 of those choices were a big hit and the sliminess appeared to no longer be an issue.

M’s mealtimes have really been revolutionised, from being able to have “cheese sandwiches” (rice-cakes and mozzarisella cheese slices) in his school lunchbox to cheesy pasta for dinner and we have made a huge stride forwards to him feeling that his meals are a lot more like those of his friends. I’ve just placed another order for more cheese at the great Veggiestuff website and have decided to put their cream cheese alternative to the test too. It might seem like only a small thing to many, but rediscovering Mozzarisella at this point in time has proved a much-needed boost to his flagging spirits, now I just need to revisit and reinvent pizza for him too!

Every Cloud…

Easter weekend, and a piece of bad luck combined with a chance encounter led to the discovery of an absolute hidden gem that we wouldn’t have discovered under any other set of circumstances. G, M and I were enjoying a Saturday out and about, when an unexpected puncture disrupted our day and found us searching for the help of a Kwik Fit centre in the small North Somerset seaside town of Clevedon. The staff warned that it would take a couple of hours to replace my tyre as I was at the back of a somewhat lengthy queue and so the children and I headed in the direction of the town centre to see what we could discover whilst we were there.

Shrugging off the unwelcome stress of the situation, we enjoyed the sun as we chatted and walked together, with G and M laughing and sharing their thoughts on just about any subject that crossed their minds as we wandered the streets. However, the lack of a prompt lunch soon began to catch up on us all and following the advice of the cashier at a nearby shop, we found our way to a local café to see what, if anything, we could have for lunch. My expectations were low and I had managed to pick up a pack of rice cakes that M could eat, whilst I kept my fingers crossed that I might be able to buy something that was not only safe for G, but that she’d eat as well. I could never have imagined the ultimate success story that was about to unfold before us.

Café Fusion is an unprepossessing cafe in this lovely seaside town, tucked away on Old Church Road, nestled between a hairdressers and a charity shop. I took a quick glance at the menu in the front window and didn’t hesitate to enter the minute I spotted the large number of gluten-free sandwiches so clearly on offer to customers. It didn’t take long for G and me to decide what we were going to eat – an egg mayonnaise sandwich on toasted gluten-free bread for G and a cranberry, bacon and brie one for me. M took a fancy to the Apple Tango in the fridge and a quick perusal of the can suggested that this would be a great option for him to enjoy alongside his plain rice cakes. Not an exciting lunch by any stretch, but I hoped that it would fill a gap as a temporary measure at very least.

The waitress was understandably confused that I only ordered 2 sandwiches for the 3 of us and I soon found myself explaining the situation and that M is only able to eat a handful of foods on a regular basis. The chef had obviously been listening from the kitchen and popped his head around the door to ask what M’s safe foods were. Within minutes of me listing the 6, he offered to whip up a serving of plain steamed rice, plain chicken and fresh cucumber for M’s lunch. I couldn’t believe my ears that this tiny cafe was able to offer a completely safe meal without any fuss, something that has never happened without the careful planning and implementation of strategic military-esque manoeuvres beforehand. M was thrilled to hear that he could eat a proper lunch alongside G and me and couldn’t wait for his plate to appear. The food when it came was absolutely delicious and the sight of 3 empty dishes was all the indication needed to show just how good that unplanned lunch was.

It absolutely wasn’t the Easter Saturday the kids and I had in mind when we set out that morning, but it only goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining, even when it comes to complex dietary requirements.

 

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

#FFFA17 – Foods to go…and bars

Having finished the huge selection of breads for breakfast time on Wednesday, we moved on to the final two categories that Mike and I would be judging during #FFFA17: “Food to go” and “Bars”. These were 2 new categories to me and whilst I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. We started before lunch with the savoury half of the entrants in the “Food to go” category where there were, as ever, some unexpected options to tantalise my taste-buds, before moving on to enough delicious drinks and desserts to satisfy anyone with a food allergy.

img_13841Interestingly, for a savoury food lover, I was delighted to shortlist as many of my personal favourites from the sweet selection as from the savoury. The hardest part now is knowing where to start in sharing those I think note-worthy, but let me begin with this gluten-, dairy- and soya-free chicken and bacon roll from Tesco that I absolutely loved. I’m hoping that this will be easy to find amongst their sandwiches as I’m certain this will be as much of a hit with G as it was with me. I couldn’t disagree with some of the other opinions that said they could make as good a sandwich at home, but I know firsthand how frustrating it is to stand in front of the chiller cabinet in a supermarket searching high and low for something that will feed my oft-time picky eater for a quick lunch and failing miserably each time. It was img_13831tasty and a much simpler offering than the chicken roll we recently reviewed from Costa – another almost impossibly difficult option to find in store when in a hurry – and something G would willingly eat each and every time.

I also have to highlight these 2 surprising success stories, or at least, those that would be surprising to any who know me well. The hulk-like green soup (Core Body Cleanse Supergreen soup) ticked more boxes that I thought possible when I read that it contained peas, kale, spinach and wheatgrass and I’m not afraid to admit that I was blown away by its amazing, fresh flavour. img_13871Likewise,the spices in London Falafel‘s Sweet potato falafels were perfectly and delicately balanced and the final product tasted great hot or cold, and even microwaved, despite that being against the cooking recommendations of the manufacturer.

With all these great savoury go-tos, I was hard-pushed to choose my top pick, but I’ve finally settled on these white cheddar flavour Quinoa puffs from Eat Real. I am a self-confessed crisps addict and the hardest part of my own intolerance to potatoes is the absence of “proper” crisps in my life. The cheese puffs were a more-than-adequate replacement to their img_13801well-known counterpart and as well as being corn and quinoa-based, thus rendering them a perfect snack for me, they are also fantastically gluten- and dairy-free and therefore a great and safe cheesy snack for G. I would love to see these sold in single portion packs and then stocked in mainstream supermarkets as part of their meal-deal offerings, but, for now, I’ll take them anyway I can.

img_13901For those with a sweeter tooth, these 2 picks were delightfully indulgent and unbelievably freefrom. These incredible Raw chocolate and raspberry tarts by Somerset-based small producer, Liberty Loves are MEWS-friendly as well as being nut-free and just melted in the mouth. I’m not sure I could eat a whole tart myself, but it would be a perfect accompaniment to a coffee and dairy-free hot chocolate when G and I are out and about together. As for the Miiro dairy- and soya-free img_13911salted caramel choc ices, well, words simply fail me. They tasted just like the real thing and once again I would defy anybody to be able to tell the difference between these and a cows milk ice-cream alternative. The salted caramel flavour was there, but not overpowering, which made them a real winner in my books.

img_13921I also loved the CocoMojo Bean iced drink, made with coconut water, coconut milk and coffee and the perfect dairy- and soya-free alternative to iced coffee. It’s a little too grown-up for G to enjoy at the moment, but I was more than happy to drink as many tasting cups-ful of it as I could. It was a completely new find to me as I’m not aware of any other freefrom iced coffees out there on the market at the moment and I’m sure it could be a big hit with anyone missing this popular treat. My delight in this product was obvious for my fellow judges and the Awards team to see and resulted in an extra can making its way home in my suitcase!

Our long two days spent judging finished with the “Bars” category, one that I am willing to confess I was a little apprehensive about doing. As well as the inevitable food fatigue that had set in after hours spent trying 100+ freefrom products, I don’t really eat cereal, energy or superfood bars, although I have been buying Nakd bars for years as both G and M, when he could eat them, loved them as a snack. However, my mind was open to trying something new and I was surprised and delighted to find one that really did appeal to me. The Roo Bar  Probiotic img_13931Choc Chip Matcha Energy Ball didn’t taste as heavy or as cloying in the mouth as some of the others did to me and the hint of peppermint was an unexpected and refreshing twist on an otherwise plain chocolate flavour. This category caused perhaps the most division in the judges of all those sessions Mike and I were a part of and the final result was a hotly contested decision.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the #FFFA17 team for their time, hard work, effort and hospitality during not just our 2 days, but for the entire 2 weeks of the judging sessions. The entire #FFFA17 shortlist was published on February 8th and can be read in full here and is well worth perusing to see what other goodies were found by not just me, but the other discerning judges too. The final winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on March 28th 2017 and, just as we did last year, we’re hoping to be there on the night. Make a note in your diary to keep an eye on my live Twitter feed that evening and look out for a subsequent blog post as I reveal those products that really excelled in the Freefrom awards this year.