Tag Archives: Cake

Cafe Nouveau, Frome

cafeThere’s nothing better than finding a hidden treasure and this small cafe is an absolute gem. We were visiting friends who moved to Frome at the start of the summer and on recommendation from another friend, decided to try out Cafe Nouveau in Tytherington for our Saturday lunch. Long gone are the days of just dropping into a cafe or restaurant and hoping for a safe meal to feed both children, so about a week before our visit I wrote a quick email to the owner, Susan Green initially asking if it would be possible for us to bring a packed lunch for M to enjoy whilst the rest of us ordered from their menu. Much to my delight, Susan replied offering to prepare a cooked lunch for him based on his 5 safe foods and then impressed me further with some extra questions about which herbs and seasonings could be added to his meal to give a bit more flavour. This was already a meal that was sounding like a success and I couldn’t wait for our visit to see exactly how well it delivered.

img_12441I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t realise at first that the entire menu is gluten- and dairy-free, but as soon as we had established that fact, G was in her absolute element. I cannot adequately put into words her reaction when she realised that she could choose anything she fancied and soon settled on a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta with a small side salad and accompanied by her perennial favourite, a soya milk hot chocolate. When we placed our order for her drink, Susan reassured us that because G needed to be dairy-free, she would use dark chocolate powder to ensure the drink was completely safe for her. They had a fantastic range of alternative milks and milk-based drinks on the menu, including almond, coconut and soya milk as well as some cows’ milk for those customers who don’t want to try something different. We were told that the cows’ milk is kept separately and different containers used depending on the milk used. img_12451M was keen for G to try the “Vanilla Soya Frothy”, which I assume is a vanilla milkshake, but G was determined to indulge and stuck resolutely to what she knows she likes.

Mike and I both decided to take a look at their specials board, which is updated I believe on a daily basis and contained some delicious sounding dishes. I checked to make sure that their soup of the day didn’t contain potatoes and chose the chicken soup with a gluten-free roll on the side. Mike opted for their daily special of a spinach-filled chimichanga, which img_12461Susan mentioned was a fairly small portion and so added the Mezze plate, which included houmous, olives and some delicious seeded crackers. The plates, when they arrived, looked wonderful and the food was absolutely delicious. My soup had that real home-made feel to it, was packed with chicken and tantalisingly fragrant in its flavours. I was impressed with the gluten-free bread, which we were later told is baked off-site in a img_12431bakery that has an exclusively gluten-free area to make sure there is no cross-contamination risk. G’s sandwich soon disappeared and her hot chocolate didn’t last long either! As for M, he was thrilled to receive a healthy-sized portion of plain rice, topped with 2 roasted chicken thighs and some apple and ginger purée. He was a little disappointed that they didn’t stock any rice milk for him to drink, but was happy with the cartons of cloudy apple juice that were on offer instead. We were all delighted by our fantastic meals, little realising that the best was yet to come.

Anticipating that there wouldn’t be much on offer for M as a dessert, I had brought some safe snacks with us for him whilst the rest of us enjoyed a pudding. For the first time ever in her life, G had the chance to experience something that is commonplace for all her friends. She and I went to the counter, where an impressive array of cakes, cookies and other sweet treats were on display and she could eat every single one of them. That is a treat that is absolutely priceless and I loved seeing her struggle to pick just one item to enjoy after her lunch. There was chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, reduced sugar apple cake, flapjacks and some amazing-looking bite-size vanilla and nut ball treats. G finally settled on a toffee popcorn cookie, whilst I savoured a slice of the Victoria sponge.  Neither stayed around long enough for me to snap a photo, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine how wonderful they looked. We were so impressed with the selection that M helped me choose a few to take with us for afternoon tea at our friends’ house and was particularly keen that the man of the house had the chance to taste the allergy-friendly chocolate and orange torte.

Cafe Nouveau really was a most remarkable find and one that the whole family would happily recommend to anyone eating out with food allergies. It is part of a very small development on the edge of 30 acres of parkland that also includes 4-star Bed and Breakfast, The Lighthouse. Susan and her team open the cafe from 7am to provide breakfast for The Lighthouse’s guests as well as other customers, something that I absolutely love as it would save the need to pack boxes of cereal and cartons of safe milk on our travels.

Our marks: 9.5/10

Something sweet for the weekend

If there was one thing we were all in need of last weekend, it was a sweet treat and I really wanted to bake something that I hadn’t made before. M was keen for me to make an entry for Delicious Alchemy’s own version of the Great British Bake-off, the Gluten-Free Magic Bake-off, so I needed something that would feed both children as well as hitting the brief he gave me of “something spectacular Mummy“. Hiding in the kitchen cupboard was a packet of Delicious Alchemy’s Gluten and Dairy-free Vanilla sponge cake mix, an item I’d bought on something of a whim to go with the 5 bags of their Rice flake porridge that would keep da_bake_off_logo_2016M going for the next few weeks. I pondered on whether I could use the mix to bake similar cupcakes to those I would be making for M and settled on the classic flavour combination of pear and ginger that has served me so well in the past. I haven’t made pear and ginger cupcakes before, but combining my recipe for pear and apple cupcakes with that for pear and ginger cookies, I was certain that I was onto a winner.

I started with a batch of M’s cupcakes and carefully tasted the batter mix to make sure that the ginger wasn’t too overpowering, something I’ve been guilty of in the past. Satisfied that the flavour combination was exactly what I wanted, it was time to move on to G’s cupcakes and I couldn’t wait to try out the sponge mix. Such mixes are a convenience I don’t use very often, usually because they don’t meet our complicated allergy needs, but given our last 2 Decembers with M disappearing into hospital and missing G’s birthdays, I figured that anything that could make the whole cake-baking experience a little easier for whoever ends up making her a cake can only be a good thing. I was really impressed with the sponge mix and how easy it was to use. I followed the packet instructions precisely, including using an egg  –salted-caramel-1 I can’t remember the last time I used an egg in my baking – and then added my own twist of pear and ginger. A quick taste reassured me that the flavour was good and then, with M’s cakes already out and cooling on the rack, popped G’s batch in to bake. The results looked and smelled delicious and soon joined M’s to cool, whilst I moved on to think about the icing.

Now this was where I wanted to venture into something completely new. I perfected coconut oil icing for M about this time last year, so it was time to take that knowledge and use it to create a different flavour. I turned to my ever faithful companion on these allergy-friendly recipe hunts, Google and discovered this great recipe combining ginger cupcakes with a salted caramel icing. I’ll be honest, salted caramel is not really my thing, but a couple of months ago, M had asked if I could make M-friendly caramel for him and I decided that there was no time like the present to take on that challenge. Rolling my sleeves up, I followed the recipe carefully, tweaking and swapping out ingredients as necessary to meet our allergy needs. I started with making the caramel and was delighted with the result. It does have a slightly unusual flavour because of the rice cream used to make it, but it wasn’t bad for a first attempt and I was certain that M and G would both love it. Once the caramel had cooled, I mixed it in with the coconut oil icing and then piped it onto the top of my cupcakes. A sprinkle of crystallised ginger added the final touches and I ended up with some beautiful cupcakes to serve. G and M both loved the look of them, but to my surprise the icing proved to be just a little too sweet for my sugar-fiend, M. Nevertheless, they’ve been a hit in our household this week and it’s great to have found a way to make tasty dairy-free caramel.

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Summer Bakes

tumblr_static_wendy2The first 3 weeks of the summer holidays were filled with clubs and camps and activities and I needed to create some M-friendly bakes that could be packed into a lunch-box or, in the case of
Over The Wall, included as a bedtime snack to share during the evening cabin chat session with the rest of his team. With M’s tally of safe foods still stuck at 5, I wanted to bake something new, something we hadn’t tried before, and where better to start than a quick search using my trusty internet search engine. There are not many recipes out there that incorporate those safe ingredients only, so I looked for some vegan and gluten-free suggestions and decided to do the rest of the tweaking myself where necessary.

The first recipe I found was for Pear blondies, a vanilla version of the ever-popular chocolate brownie without, rather obviously, the chocolate and I was intrigued to see if this could be made for M. Using apple purée as my egg replacer, I stirred my mix and then kept my fingers crossed as the small cakes went into the oven. The smell as they baked was amazing and, as always, a certain young gentleman appeared alongside me as I pulled the final product out, ready to cool. The quantity was enough to make a dozen bitesize blondies, which were perfect as a snack during his busy days. Both children enjoyed the blondies, with IMG_0762[1]M particularly keen on the small chunks of pear that had become melt-in-the-mouth and golden as they baked in the sponge mix.

My second new baking venture were Pear and Ginger cookies, which seemed to me to be a perfect combination of sweet and spice, something I was sure M would love. This was another easy recipe to whip up, made from the staples stored in my kitchen cupboards. The dough made an impressive 18 cookies and within minutes of them hitting my cooling rack, my hopeful duo found something important to do in the kitchen in the hope they might be successful in picking up a stray biscuit as they passed. However, whilst they were tempted to taste one straight from the oven, the lure of the lemon icing to be drizzled when the cookies were finally cooled was enough to gain me around 20 minutes extra before my store started to be depleted. These were an amazingly good bake as the rice flour didn’t make the cookies taste granular at all and the ginger was subtle enough to give a little extra heat without overpowering the sweetness of the pear. The children were both big fans of this bake too and I was intrigued to see which one M would settle on as his final choice for taking to OTW camp. In the end, much as he loved both of these new treats, he decided the pear and ginger cookies would be his cabin chat snack of choice and the empty pot returning from camp was all the proof I needed that they had been a success.

Limping towards the Finish line

bucket listDo you remember that long, long list of things that I was facing at the beginning of March? With the month-end in sight, I am, quite literally, limping towards the finish line, just thankful that the long Easter weekend ahead means the opportunity for some much-needed lie-ins and down-time; but how did March go in then end?

World book day and required costume x 1 – M decided on what can only be described as something of a left-field choice for your average 9 year-old and dressed up as Ford Prefect from Douglas Adams’ well-loved trilogy of 5 books, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“. It was one of the easiest costumes he’s ever asked me to make and to our delight, he won a £5 book token for the best WBD costume in his class.'Oh yes we're very proud of him. He's in publishing you know!'

Parents evenings x 2 – Both evenings went extremely well and we are so proud of the strides both children have made during this school year. M has been working hard at beating the challenges of his dyslexia and dyspraxia and is developing some beautiful handwriting when he remembers to try. G has settled well into Year 7 and was described to me as a “conscientious, hard-working, empathetic and focused” member of her tutor group. I was delighted to hear that her confidence has grown throughout the year and that she is developing into a well-respected and natural leader amongst her peers too.

School book fairs x 2 – Attended and books bought.

M-friendly croissants – Recipe adapted, croissants baked and hugely enjoyed as part of the school’s French role-play activity. I achieved above and beyond what I thought was possible with so little notice.

Mothers Day – We enjoyed a quiet day together, although sadly my Mum was unwell and not able to come out for lunch with us. We ate at one of our favourite M-friendly restaurants and were once again impressed by the phenomenal memory of the restaurant manager and the care awarded to both children by all the staff. Well done Wagamama!

Riding lessons – G continues to ride every other weekend and her passion for this hobby is growing. Her latest lesson saw her not only trotting and cantering with confidence, but beginning some preparatory steps to get her ready for jumping – scary stuff but she’s loving every moment.

A 10th birthday and a class assembly – These happened on the same day and were both celebrated in style. It’s hard to believe that my little bean has reached the end of his first decade and I can’t begin to imagine what the next one will hold.IMG_1765

Birthday celebrations – M chose a reptile-themed birthday party and I braved holding a tarantula to help encourage G to beat her fears and do it herself. We combined the day into a double celebration and headed out to a local trampoline park in the afternoon with a couple of friends for a belated marking of G’s 12th birthday too.

Dentist and hair appointments – These both happened as planned and really there’s not much more to say.

GOSH appointment – Mike, M and I headed to London for our first appointment at GOSH since the disastrous admission last December. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, not least because the gastro department is currently in a state of great upheaval. M is doing well, even though we haven’t managed to introduce any more foods safely into his diet since last summer and continues to impress us all by drinking the 400mls of E028 necessary to supplement his limited repertoire of food. His weight has dropped on the centile charts and will need some careful monitoring over the next few months as we continue to search for some more safe foods for him. There is, at long last, a chance of some shared care between GOSH and our local gastro team, which would add some much-needed local level support for our family and the next step is really to wait and see when and if that happens.

School play – Thankfully M’s role as Poseidon meant that I could re-use his toga from Stagecoach last year, so that was one costume crisis off my hands. He was only able to take part in one performance as the matinée was on the same day as his GOSH appointment and unfortunately I wasn’t able to see his evening performance as it clashed with G’s parents evening. However, Mike and G went to watch and told me it was great fun and he did really well.

Performing Arts Exams x 2 – Taken by one very-tired G and one determined-to-do-well M. We won’t know just how well they’ve done until mid-April, but I’m told that they both worked hard and performed well on the day. Having watched their performances the week before, I can’t wait to see if all their efforts paid off and are reflected in their marks.index

Spa day – This was a late birthday celebration, a treat that Mike had sorted out for me and my dear friend, and M’s godmother, L. We had a lovely afternoon being pampered, drinking coffee and chatting without interruption by small people, before enjoying a delicious dinner and a few bubbles to mark the day.

Events linked to school topics – This term M’s topic has been India and part of the school experience was to share an Indian meal from a local restaurant. Thanks to previous experience from G’s time in Year 5, I had been anticipating this one for months and a few mini trials of herbs and spices meant that I’ve been able to create a curry-esque meal that’s suitable for M. A mix of cumin, coriander, ginger and rosemary combined with our new discovery of rice cream created the sauce for his staples of chicken and rice. It might not be an authentic dish, but he loves it and it’s meant that he has been able to join in a meal with the rest of his class.

Preparations for G’s sibling camp – I haven’t quite started on this one, but the weekend’s going to be busy as G goes off to camp on Monday. She’s been looking at the list of things she needs and chatting to a friend via e-mail as she prepares for a week filled with fun and activities away from the hustle and bustle of home. She also went to her first Young Carers meeting this week and seemed to settle in really well. There are some other girls the same age as G, including one from her school, who have just started too and she’s looking forward to an afternoon at a local trampoline park during the Easter holidays. Watch this space for more of an update once she’s back and has shared all the news with me!

Easter – Preparations are sorted, food trials are planned, eggs have been bought and I’m looking forward to a peaceful family weekend at home.

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Happy Easter!

 

A Birthday* surprise (*cake recipe included!)

11009339_10152614451586123_8225188594845865541_o20140912_225331Six months ago I tackled the challenge of a birthday cake for M, where the only ingredients he could eat safely didn’t lend themselves to whipping up a tasty sponge and he ended up with a 3-tier Cluedo-themed “fake” cake. Six months before that, I adapted a crazy cake recipe to create a M-friendly chocolate masterpiece for my Mum’s milestone birthday.

Somehow it seems fitting that we’ve come almost full circle in our cake journey and I’ve recently found myself facing the task of another birthday cake for Mum and, more than that,  one which could be eaten and enjoyed by us all. The apple and rice flour cupcakes I’ve been making have been a real winner with the children, but the ever-persistent problem of a granular taste to these bakes, no matter what I’ve tried, meant that I was desperate to find an alternative and better recipe to mark this special occasion. Despite frequent google searches, that recipe was proving to be irritatingly elusive and it was only when we finally achieved a fifth safe food for M that I struck birthday cake gold.logo-eureka-01

To be perfectly honest, it really all came as something of a surprise success as I had no great hopes of yet another search turning up a rice flour cake that would 1) accommodate M’s restricted diet and 2) taste delicious. Despite my doubts, I thought it worth a look with our new ingredient of pear added to the mix and came across this easy recipe for pear and rice flour cupcakes that were not only gluten- and dairy- as advertised, but also egg- and soya-free too. I decided to do a test run and made a quick batch whilst G and M were in school. By the time they arrived home, the house was filled with the tantalising smell of fresh baking and M’s nose instantly went into impressive action as he begged to know if he could taste-test the cakes I’d been preparing that afternoon. Three cupcakes quickly disappeared from the cooling rack and I was thrilled to discover that there was none of that unpleasant granular taste that I’ve come to associate with rice flour baking. With an instant hit on my hands, I now needed to decide whether to attempt a cupcake tower for my Mum or see if I could cook a more traditional cake using the same recipe.

Due to an abundance of apples in our household at the moment – the benefit of apple trees conveniently located at my Mum’s, my office and at a friend’s – I tweaked the recipe to include some apple and reduced down the original quantities of oil and syrup as the original cupcakes had been a little too sweet for my liking. I waited nervously as the cakes baked, fingers tightly crossed that the larger layers would turn out as well as the cupcakes had and I needn’t have worried. The cakes looked impressive and I now have yet another great recipe to add to my list. Having left them to cool in the fridge (no #GBBO-style “wafting” in my household!) I sandwiched them together with some home-made apple purée before turning my mind to the knotty subject of how to decorate it all.

appleswansNow, if I had seen at that point episode 7 of #GBBO, I might have taken my inspiration from Paul’s amazing apple swans and spent my afternoon carving the intricate decorations to top the cake, but fortunately, or maybe unfortunately – I suppose it depends on your point of view – that episode had yet to air and instead I found myself using my time much more wisely: I was back on google trying to work out if a dairy-free buttercream icing was at all possible. To my delight and complete surprise, I found a way to adapt a recipe and create my very own coconut oil icing, which would tick all the boxes when it came to M’s dietary requirements. Whilst he is unable to eat coconut milk or flesh, he is able to tolerate the oil and I was over-the-moon to have the chance to finally bake a cake that actually looked and tasted like “real” cake for him to try for the first time in nearly a year. I took a tentative and small first mouthful to check the taste before spreading it across my cake. It has, unsurprisingly, a strong coconut taste, but this complimented the apple and pear flavours of the cake and was beautifully easy to use.

The icing was easy to make and I’ve no doubt I’ll be making more the next time a M-friendly cake is required. To make my recipe, I used:

  • 250g solid coconut oil
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 3tbsp rice milk
  1. Put the “solid” coconut oil – it should not be liquid at room temperature – into a bowl and blend until smooth 20150912_185526
  2. Slowly add the icing sugar and vanilla, continuing to beat the mixture 20150912_185815
  3. Finally add the rice milk, 1 tbsp at a time until you reach the consistency required. You can add more or less rice milk depending on how spreadable you want the icing to be 20150912_190502
  4. At this point I added some food colouring, one drop at a time, until I got the colour I was after – I’m not too sure about the green icing I ended up with, it was Mike’s suggestion and I’m not convinced it was the right one!
  5. Use to decorate cakes or cupcakes. Whatever your opinion of the colour, the finished result looked spectacular and I’m pleased to say it tasted amazing too!20150912_204048

NB – you can add any other safe flavours or colourings instead of the vanilla

This recipe is an entry into the #Swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at http://www.swearbyit.com”

 

 

 

A Wild 10th birthday!

This week I’m planning to take a break from any suggestion of a complicated bake – after 3 sets of birthday “cakes” last week and croissants the week before, I really think I deserve it. IMG_1731I have to confess to keeping it simple on the big day itself as M had huge ambitions for the day of his party and so a cake-stand full of rice krispie treats seemed to fit the bill. I did jazz them up a little by splitting the batch in two and adding chopped apple to one half and crystallised ginger to the other. The birthday boy seemed delighted with my choices and with that success firmly under my belt, I moved on to the next phase of my baking challenges for the week: the party cake!

M has been fascinated by the natural world for as long as I can remember, hence the arrival of Leo in our household just after Christmas. He loves watching wildlife programs on television, reading nature-themed books, be they novels or factual, and appears to absorb the facts he hears in a sponge-like fashion, ready to share at any given opportunity. So when Mike suggested a wildlife party for his birthday, M leapt at the chance and immediately asked if I could make a bearded dragon cake for it. I tentatively agreed, with my usual proviso that I couldn’t guarantee anything before the day itself and he would just have to accept it, no matter the end result. I researched and found a company who would bring a selection of reptiles and insects to our party location and would teach the children about each one as well as allowing them to touch and hold them if they wanted. It wasn’t my idea of a perfect birthday treat, but M was hugely enthusiastic and so I booked the party session, having somewhat madly decided to hold it at our house to make life a little easier.

12670399_10153297404071123_3934501200587725837_nParty booked and themed party favours ordered, next came the matter of the cake. For once I decided to learn from previous experiences and didn’t leave decorating the cake to the last moment as I usually do. The prospect of a 2am finish really didn’t appeal, especially if I was battling with creating the perfect bearded dragon cake topper and so planned to start a week earlier, with the hope of finishing at a much more reasonable time the night before. I found some images on-line and, with “Les Miserables” blaring in the background, carefully copied the individual body parts before attempting to put them together. Given Leo’s rather vivid orange skin tones, I chose to make a bright orange dragon and whilst it might not have been the most realistic coloured one, I was thrilled with my crafted copy. I carefully covered and stored it away from peeking eyes, determined that M would be left guessing until the last possible moment.

Fast forward a week and Saturday afternoon found me whipping up a batch of stone grey coconut oil icing to recreate a rock, having already baked a M-friendly pear and apple cake, which was now sitting on a bed of brown sugar “sand”. With icing, dragon and cake now all ready and waiting to be assembled, I turned to the matter of some un-birthday birthday cupcakes for G. As you may remember, for the second year in a row M was in hospital over G’s birthday and we were unable to celebrate the day with her. Last year we held a joint party for them both and had a lot of fun at their Cluedo-themed extravaganza, but I wanted to do something separate for G this year. Taking advantage of our tradition that each child has a friend at the other’s party, 12790894_10153315764351123_4961913402772457111_nwe decided to hold a small event on Sunday afternoon for G and invited her 2 friends to M’s party in the morning as well as 1 of his to hers in the afternoon. Given it was a very much belated birthday celebration, of course we needed more cake and I decided a batch of cupcakes would hit the mark and decorated them with some rather glamorous silver icing and snowflake patterns for my December baby.

10441207_10153315937021123_5876452706470659349_nSunday dawned with the most glorious weather and an anxious countdown to the party starting by M. The 8 boys and 3 girls spent their time racing around our back garden, bouncing on the trampoline and admiring the varied animals that arrived to entertain. M, of course, held all that he was allowed and G beat her fears to hold the tarantula, despite shaking hands and the occasional tear. The cakes were greatly received and M declared my bearded dragon the “best cake ever!

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“Little pockets of heaven”

That was G’s description of the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts that I brought back for her from my stint as a judge at the Free From Food Awards 2016 at the beginning of February. I had been impressed with the quality of these delicious allergy-friendly treats when I’d tasted them during the Tea-time treats category of the awards and was delighted to find that my somewhat fussy 12 year-old was showing a similar enthusiasm as soon as the first bite entered her mouth. She’s not usually given to waxing lyrical about anything, so these words constituted high praise indeed and the only disappointment was the look on M’s face which he just couldn’t hide, even whilst masterfully trying to celebrate his sister’s excitement with her. It was at that point a tiny seed of inspiration started to sprout and I soon had a cunning plan up my sleeve which I was determined to pull off if at all possible.

My hope was based on the comprehensive ingredients list found on Borough 22’s website and these promising words “We use the following ingredients which, where possible, can be substituted if you have an intolerance to them or are vegan/ vegetarian/ lifestyle conscious…if there are any that don’t agree with you then please let us know. Because we bake to order in small batches we will try our very best to substitute it for something that you can have!” Hardly pausing for breath and most definitely with every part of my body tightly crossly, I penned a quick email to ask if there was any possibility of a doughnut recipe that would cater for M’s particular and restrictive food requirements, stressing that I completely understood that this might be a challenge too far. I included my review from the #FFFA16, told them just how thrilled G had been to taste their doughnuts and then sat back to nervously wait a response. The return email, when it came, led to a lengthy phone-call, a flurry of e-mails and the development of what is rapidly growing into a great new friendship.

IMG_3397Ryan Panchoo, owner of Borough 22, is a truly inspirational man, who had a vision and didn’t just make it a reality for himself and his family, but chose to share it with the greater food allergy community too. It all started with the observations of his food-allergic wife and children that restaurant desserts were usually fruit or sorbet and lacking in quality and imagination, and the dream to create one dessert for everyone; something that tasted great, was of a great quality and that initially was both gluten- and dairy-free. He started with chocolate brownies, created a recipe that received the thumbs-up from family and friends alike and could then quite easily have stopped there. However, in a move that I feel really reflects his determined nature, Ryan decided to experiment with doughnuts and despite never having baked one before in his life, researched and tweaked recipes until his multiple allergen-friendly and delicious treat was perfected.

Ryan tells me that his ambition was never to sell his brownies or doughnuts, instead he simply wanted to be able to enjoy safe sweet treats at home with his family; but his friends had a different idea and in October 2014, Borough 22 was launched. It really is in the tradition of the very best “rags-to-riches” fairy stories to learn that he has never invested millions in some snazzy marketing campaign, instead depending on personal recommendations and his use of social media to spread the word. 12694884_571032356387193_4099041063554217609_oHis colourful and eye-catching Instagram photographs led to a situation that he willingly admits was surreal, when he found himself sitting in a meeting with a buyer for Selfridges, discussing exactly what he needed to do to sell in their prestigious food hall and, even more impressively, how they could help him achieve it.

Nearly 18 months on, Borough 22 is a flourishing business, who sells its wares in several outlets in South East London (The Plumstead Pantry & Good Food Catford) as well as through mail-order via their website. The business with Selfridges is currently on hold as Ryan searches for a suitable manufacturing partner to help him meet demand as he still works full-time as a Project Manager for a property investment company. Once that trickiest of partnerships is settled, the plan is to return to Selfridges and hopefully develop the business even further. 12717848_563378083819287_7037755747881912271_nI’m delighted to be able to share that Borough 22 was also shortlisted in both the “Teatime!” and “Start ups and Small Producers” categories of the #FFFA16, although everyone, Ryan included, will have to wait until the awards ceremony in late April to find out just how well they did. To shortlist once is impressive, twice simply astonishing, but I’m honestly not surprised as this is a product we are more than happy to endorse and recommend to everyone, food allergies or not.

Even better news for the 7Y2D household’s youngest member at least, Ryan agreed to try his best to adapt his recipe and accommodate M’s complicated food allergies. I decided not to mention our plans to M or G until I knew whether it was a possibility or not and even on the day I took delivery, kept quiet until the doughnuts were safely in my hands. However, as those who know me will attest, my excitement on that Friday was impossible to hide and I spent the day counting down the hours until I could pick my pair up from their respective schools and share the news. I captured every precious moment of the “big reveal” not just for posterity’s sake, or for my blog, but most importantly to share with Ryan himself:

I’m not sure that you really need my words to tell you about M’s response as these photos pretty much capture it all. I will tell you that M was left speechless and in tears when he realised these doughnuts were for him. I will confess that as he squeezed me tight and desperately sought to compose himself, I had to swallow down the huge lump in my own throat and wipe away a few stray, but happy tears. I will gladly share M’s own endorsement that Ryan can “…succeed at whatever he bakes Mum, because these doughnuts are almost better than birthdays..!

Ryan, you may be a full-time project manager by day, but in my little allergy-sufferer’s eyes, you’re a true superhero by night.

March comes in like a lion

Ever had one of “those” days? You know, the ones where you’re already insanely busy and barely have time to breathe and yet everything that could conceivably go wrong, does go wrong to an unbelievable extent, plus those few extra and unexpected hiccups and challenges that appear along the way. After the last 48 hours, I appear to be heading into not just one of “those” days or even one of “those” weeks, but more realistically, one of “those” months. The next few weeks promise to be extremely busy and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll get everything done on time and in the right order. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when we’re only on the third day of the month and I’m already counting down to the start of the next one.

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

The month started with our rather low-key marking of “Dydd Dewi Sant”, or St David’s Day for those of you not au fait with the Welsh language. Fortunately, this simply required some frantic scrabbling around my drawers hunting out the daffodil brooches that the children and I wear every year and remembering to pin them securely to school jumpers before heading out the door. The children were both keen and proud to wear their daffodils, though equally unimpressed that their friends didn’t know why they wearing them and so took the opportunity to quickly educate their classes. If I’d been more organised, I might have posted on the day itself, but I wasn’t and I didn’t, so this is me recognising that celebration of my heritage now.

But after that gentle start to the month, things have already started to ramp up. The next four weeks include:

Gotta love my left-field boy - who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Gotta love my left-field boy – who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

  • World book day and required costume x 1
  • parents evenings x 2
  • school book fairs x 2
  • M-friendly croissants (eek!) for French role-play at school with just 3 days advance notice to attempt adapting my MEWS-free recipe
  • Mothers Day
  • riding lessons
  • a 10th birthday (how did he get to be a decade old?)
  • birthday celebrations, including themed party and cake
  • class assembly x 1
  • dentist appointment
  • hair appointment
  • GOSH appointment
  • Easter
  • Performing Arts Exams x 2
  • school play, which translates into costume provision, rehearsals and performances
  • Spa day – a late birthday celebration which will be much-needed as it comes in the middle of the busiest week
  • events linked to school topics which will undoubtedly require some inventive cooking from me
  • preparations for a sibling camp for G, which gives her a week away with other youngsters in similar situations and, more importantly, a week away from M

gin-and-tonI’m sure that there will be things I’ve already forgotten and likewise, there’s no doubt that there will be more items added to my list as March passes by. Needless to say, I will be blogging about many of these occasions and just how I overcome the challenges of taking my M-friendly cooking and baking a step further than I ever imagined possible. Once all of these things are out of the way, it’ll be time for a well-deserved drink and, in case you’re wondering, mine’s a large gin!

Inside the Free From Food Awards 2016

I’m writing tonight’s post in the peace and quiet of the hotel room in North London that has been my home for the last 2 days. It feels a little surreal to be away from my sound proof bubble at home, where I desperately try to ignore the perpetual chaos of family life that swirls around me and I can’t quite get used to being able to write completely uninterrupted by demands for food or drink or the need to referee between any 2 of the other 3 members of my household. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been counting down to these days away for months and have had to work incredibly hard to not spill the beans about my involvement with this year’s Free From Food Awards, #FFFA16. I feel incredibly honoured to be included on the judging panel and have enjoyed every moment of this experience.

fffaFor those of you who are not in the know, the #FFFA are the brainchild of Michelle Berriedale-Johnson and were launched in 2008 to celebrate excellence and encourage innovation within the free from food industry. Each year a group of judges from across the allergy and free from community are invited to taste a variety of new free from products and rate them on quality, usefulness, innovation and nutritional value. The foods are all tasted “blind” in the first instance, with names and packaging removed so that the products really are assessed on their own individual merits. Then follows an active discussion as each individual judge is asked to help reach a group consensus on the category winner and which other products deserve to be shortlisted, commended or given a highly commended award. Given the judges have a variety of backgrounds from free from food professionals to health professionals and from allergy sufferers to allergy bloggers as well as the occasional “normal” person to compare each item to their non-allergy counterpart, you really do get a rounded point of view about what makes the highest quality free from product. Believe me when I say that any manufacturer who wins a category is producing something that has impressed across the board.

IMG_0092

This is what judging confectionery looked like!

I was keen to judge the Breakfast and Tea-time categories as I felt these were areas where it would be amazing to find some new foods to tempt G and was delighted to be included not just on those panels, but on those for Confectionery and Meaty & fishy ready meals too. The ready meals was a real added bonus for me as, whilst I cook from scratch 95% of the time, the option to have some good gluten- and dairy-free meals stowed in my freezer for those occasions when a quick meal is needed for G was incredibly attractive. The number of entries was overwhelming to a #FFFA16 newbie and I was extremely grateful to Ruth at What Allergy who had advised me to skip breakfast that first morning to ensure I had space for all the foods I’d be trying. With 36 breakfast products, 22 confectionery items, 32 meaty & fishy ready meals and 26 tea-time treats to taste over around 12 hours, no wonder I left London feeling extremely well fed.

Even better I found some great new-to-us foods that I thought G might like to try and these are my top picks from each category:

  • IMG_0089Breakfast: Nutribix – a great alternative to the well-known breakfast brand, Weetabix. These were MEWS-free, taste delicious and would definitely provide a hearty, healthy and filling breakfast. I particularly liked that they were so reminiscent of their wheat-filled counterpart, a cereal that G had loved when she was tiny in the days before we knew she needed to be gluten-free.
  • IMG_0093Confectionery: Eskal Chocolate Wafer Rolls – I have to be honest and say there was a whole host of amazing chocolates for this category, which left me in some of a chocolate-induced haze by the time we got to the end of the judging session. However, these wafer rolls were the stand-out product for me as they were light whilst still being indulgent, deliciously tasty and would make a great accompaniment to a bowl of ice-cream for that extra-special twist. The only downside is that they currently contain soya, especially as they are amazingly gluten-, dairy- and egg-free.
  • Meaty & Fishy Ready Meals: I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with the vast range of free from ready meals that we got to taste and, to my delight, this category produced 2 top picks for me. The first is one that G will love and that would have ticked so many boxes for M pre going elemental. Tesco is adding a gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free scampi to their own brand Free from range, which I’m sure will prove to be a huge success with many allergy families.IMG_0094[1] I’m so excited for it to hit our shelves in the next couple of months and can’t wait for G to try it. My other choice is something I know G won’t want to try, but it ticked so many boxes for me as it was tasty, free from and could be prepared in the microwave in less than 5 minutes, truly the quintessential ready meal. Better Than Rice Chicken Massaman Curry introduced konnyaku rice to me, which has a completely different texture to normal rice and I’m looking forward to trying it out with M. He might not be able to eat the rest of the dish, but with such a limited diet, this new rice will bring an interesting twist to mealtimes.
  • Teatime: By the time my fellow judges and I reached this final category in my judging timetable, I was definitely suffering from a little food fatigue. As M calculated for me when I got home, I had tried over 100 different free from offerings in my 2 days away and had enjoyed a good many of them. doughThe teatime category was again filled with a delicious array of biscuits and cakes, but there was one product that for me stood head and shoulders above the rest: the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts. These were impressively gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and also vegan, but most definitely not flavour-free and were the biggest hit of my #FFFA16 experience. I know that doughnuts are one of those indulgences that so many allergy sufferers really miss and these will more than ably fill a definite gap in the market. Not only did I get to savour them, but even better, the #FFFA16 team offered me the remaining 6 doughnuts to take home for G and my girl has been delighted to receive this treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and the rest of the team at the #FFFA16 for their welcome and commitment to encouraging development in the free from community. I loved every moment of my time as a judge and have met some great individuals who work in different aspects of the allergy world and were a lot of fun to work/eat/disagree with over the 2 days. The shortlist of contenders for the final awards will be published on February 10th and the winners announced at the awards ceremony in April. I can’t wait to see who won in each category and share some more of these innovative products with you.

Some of the amazing free from cakes

 

To my darling daughter,

To my darling daughter on the eve of your 12th birthday:

This wasn’t quite what I had planned.

Today I was supposed to be baking up a storm in the kitchen, IMG_0063[1]making some special cupcakes to celebrate your 12th birthday tomorrow, cakes to make up for you having to celebrate your last birthday at GOSH with M and without a cake. The ingredients are bought and hiding at the back of the cupboard, so maybe I’ll have the chance to bake them for you for Christmas because instead I’m over 100 miles and 3 hours travel time away from you.

Today we were supposed to be enjoying time together as a family as well as with your beloved Godfather, Uncle A and his family; instead you and Daddy are at home with them all, whilst M and I while away our hours within the confines of GOSH on our own.

Tomorrow M and I had planned to serenade you awake with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” before watching you open your presents and cards and sharing the excitement of each new gift with you; 20151018_133210instead we’ll be watching via FaceTime to see what goodies you’ve received with our fingers crossed that our cards have arrived from London in time.

Tomorrow was going to be a busy day: first to watch you both in our church Nativity, then head off for a special birthday riding lesson before a late lunch at Wagamama to celebrate your big day; instead you’ll be doing those things with Daddy, Uncle A and the rest of the gang, whilst M and I share a quiet day and hope to be able to get to the Carols by Candlelight service at the church around the corner from GOSH.

However, it doesn’t really matter what was planned or what’s going to happen. The most important thing is that even though we’re all these miles apart for your special day, M and I will be thinking of you and celebrating with you and loving you as always. I’m so sorry that we can’t be there with you this year, that we can’t spend your birthday in the way that we all wanted to, but I’m glad that Daddy, Gu and Uncle A are all there to help you enjoy it as much as possible. The last 10 days have been hard, especially knowing that we wouldn’t be home in time and I hope that next year will be very different. In the meantime, know that Mummy loves you very much; that, as I tell you so many times, you will always be my baby, no matter how old you get; and be warned that, when I see you next, I’ll be wrapping my arms tight around you and hugging you close for an awfully long time. B128

Happy 12th Birthday Floss xxx