Tag Archives: eating out

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 touch of Disney magic

Three months since Christmas and nearly all of those festive treats have disappeared from the kitchen cupboards to be replaced with Easter ones instead, but last weekend G finally got to enjoy her Christmas present, just in time for the Easter break. Having waited so long for the day to arrive, we decided to make it into a mini family celebration,  starting with a car journey to Cardiff with G and M wiling away the time singing along to the Cats soundtrack. Once we arrived, we started with a brief stroll into the City centre, looking for the perfect place to stop for an early tea.

I had done a little research before we left home as I was keen to find somewhere new to eat and was hopeful that Mexican chain restaurant, Wahaca, might be able to provide us all a dinnertime treat. Before we were led to our table, I spoke briefly to our hostess about the somewhat complex dietary requirements we have at the moment and was assured that she was confident that they could put together a safe meal for us. I took my seat, clutching their comprehensive gluten-free menu and accompanying allergens listing to study whilst we tried to choose our dishes. Wahaca is a new dining experience for us all and we were hard pressed to know where to begin with our choices, especially as we had no real idea about portion size.

Mike and I opted for their Mexican Feast to share, which is made up of a number of smaller portions from the menu, including tacos, quesadillas, tostadas and empanadas, and was more than enough to fill us before we reached our final destination for the day. I was impressed with their gluten-free menu, which explains that there are a mix of dishes available, some that are completely gluten-free, whilst others are suitable for those with a gluten intolerance. G pondered the menu for a long time and struggled to reach a decision, not least because so many of the dishes include dairy as well as a spiciness that she would prefer to avoid. In the end, she actually ordered from the Kids menu, where she could have grilled chicken in soft corn tortillas. There were a few too many vegetables adorning her plate for her liking, but she did eat the rest in fairly quick fashion.

Our new approach to food challenges means that M can occasionally add an extra into his dish and I had my fingers crossed that we might be able to combine a little onion to his meal to add some flavour, but unfortunately their green rice included vegetable stock and garlic as well,
which would definitely be a step too far at the moment. After a lengthy discussion with the restaurant manager, M opted for a double portion of grilled chicken, cucumber and apple, all washed down with a Virgin Mojito, although the last didn’t quite hit the mark. Our meal was nicely finished with a dairy-free hot chocolate for G and a coffee for me. We were once again disappointed by the lack of choice when it came to dessert and instead decided to give it a miss and head on to our final destination.

Dinner done, it was off to the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena for 100 years of Magic marked by Disney On Ice with one very excited young lady and a slightly less certain younger brother. G has been desperate to go to see Disney on Ice for a long time and the evening really was fantastic as she loved every moment of it. Despite his initial reservations, M was equally spellbound, even during the lengthy part dedicated to the story of Frozen. From everybody’s favourites, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, to Tiana and Prince Naveen from modern classic, The Princess and the Frog, there was more than enough to keep everyone entertained. The skating was superb, the spectacle fantastic and the songs had many in the audience clapping and singing along. G didn’t stop smiling the whole evening and it really was a Christmas present worth waiting for without a doubt.

 

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!

 

Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

In the blink of an eye

Despite the numerous hospital visits over the last few weeks – think local hospital…GOSH…local eye hospital…Moorfields…local hospital….local eye hospital….local hospital – this December has been everything I’ve longed for it to be and so much more. For the first December night in a long time, it’s fast approaching midnight Friday and my evening of work is only just beginning. In the last couple of hours, I’ve knocked up a batch of img_12811M-friendly apple and pear cupcakes, a batch of G-friendly vanilla cupcakes and I’m currently struggling with the chocolate brownie sponges that are refusing to be moved from the cake tins. There’s 2 lots of icing to sort out, decorations to be finalised and they all need to be applied to the cakes themselves, but I’m delighted to find myself spending this winter evening like this.

Not only have we broken the December 3rd curse of an admission to hospital, but we’ve also beaten the steady stream of bad luck that has engulfed G’s birthdays for the last couple of years and are getting to spend the day itself at home with our most favourite young lady. Well, I say at home, but of course, the path of G’s birthday never did run quite that smooth, but it’s as close to being at home for the evening as we could wish. It’ll be a day of “work as usual” for us all and our evening plans are dominated by M’s school’s carol service, but we’re all together and that’s something that hasn’t been possible since 2013. All that being said, it does appear that we have created a new December tradition when it comes to G’s birthday and it’s a good thing img_12861that my sense of humour is very much in tact. It was with a wry smile that G and I summoned a black cab to take us to GOSH on Sunday from the train station, not for a visit to a hospital-bound younger brother, but  this time for the final YPF meeting of the year. I’m not sure that Christmas would be Christmas for me without the opportunity to wander the length of Oxford Street on the hunt for last-minute gifts and small stocking stuffers!

img_12881It feels even more special this year as my baby girl, my precious first-born, hits the start of her teen years and all the emotions that those have to bring. In the proverbial blink of an eye, my December 2003 baby is turning 13 and in front of me stands a beautiful young lady, with a little more attitude and grumpiness than I would have chosen, but with a kind heart, generous spirit and the most loyal friendship on offer that you could ask for. She is growing up fast and we are quickly losing sight of the easy-going, chatty toddler that she was as an opinionated, independence-seeking, moody teenager appears in her place. She can slam doors with the best of them and her stomping feet can make it feel as if the kitchen ceiling is about to come down at any moment – and indeed it pretty much has done. These days she brooks no nonsense from her little brother and yet she will defend him to the hilt when it comes to it and is there to comfort and hug even when he doesn’t want it. She’s looking to make sense of a world that often doesn’t and is trying to understand how to interpret the nuances when it would be so much easier if everything was clearer defined in black and white. She can be the much-needed splash of colour in a reality that is all too often dark and depressing and yet will quietly fade into the background when everything gets too intense and too much. She is an incredible blessing to all our lives and we are all so grateful to be celebrating a life that is so much better for the 13 years she’s been an integral part of it.

Happy 13th darling G, we love you so very, very much xxx

The Best Eateries in the Country

FFEOA 16 200X200Last week saw the third annual Food Matters Live event being held at ExCel, London. This event, which brings together hundreds of visitors, exhibitors, speakers and organisations from across the food and drink industry, aims to “…enable collaboration and innovation to support a sustainable food landscape for the future…” as well as encouraging cross-sector discussion and collaboration. I had first heard about it during the FreeFrom Foods Awards and was keen to attend if at all possible. Unfortunately, the necessary childcare arrangements just couldn’t be worked out to allow me to attend the 3-day event, but I did take some time to follow what was happening via some very active Twitter feeds. Tuesday afternoon was of particular interest as the winners of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2016 (#FFEOA16) were being announced live at the event and fortunately coincided almost perfectly with the hour I spend sitting outside of M’s lesson at the Dyslexia centre, allowing me to focus on my Twitter feed to see the results as they happened.

Earlier this year I wrote about the launch of the 2016 FFEOA and the exciting news that Executive Chef, Dominic Teague of Indigo at One Alwych had won the first ever Pathfinder Award given to those who have “…really thought outside of the conventional freefrom box…”. Dominic not only accepted his award on the day, but then also took on the role of presenting the awards to all those worthy winners. When you look through the list of winners, goldstarsit becomes immediately obvious that there have been huge strides forward in the realm of catering for those with allergies and it was amazing to see so many fantastic food service providers from across the UK on the list.

I was delighted to see that each of the awards category was hotly contended and included well-known names such as Wetherspoons, CentreParcs and the Rainforest Café amongst its success stories*. These are places we haven’t yet dared to venture with M and his restricted diet, but will definitely consider visiting in the future when we’re in the vicinity. We were also thrilled to see some of our personal favourites winning well-deserved accolades including M’s all-time favourite, Borough 22 and our newest discovery, Café Nouveau in Frome. It was also good to spot the odd recommendation within reasonable driving distance and we’re already planning when we might be able to make some visits and try the freefrom offerings out for ourselves.

14650222_315615772146548_6413808020440687219_nThe overall winner was the Labyrinth Holistic Café, a community café found in Stockton-on-Tees. It is run as a not-for-profit community enterprise and is keen to welcome everyone, from all walks of life and no matter what their diet. The reviews given by some of the FFEOA16 judges commended the extensive menu, amazing fresh food and attention to detail that led to it being given the highest recognition.

Next year’s Food Matters Live conference is being held from November 21-23 2017 and I’ve already pencilled it into my diary as a must-do event for my year.

*a full list of winners can be found by following this link

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

My name is…

14141873_10153684384151123_244385722473814537_nI have a confession to make. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no biggie and it certainly won’t come as any great surprise to my nearest and dearest, but I have to admit that…

my name is bluesingingdragon and I am something of a coffee shop addict.

Admittedly, I’m not yet at the stage of needing a daily fix of my favourite flavoured drink, but when the opportunity arises to partake, let’s face it, I’m not likely to say no. Days out often involve a quick game of “hunt the coffee shop for Mummy” whenever possible and travel breaks are carefully timed to match our approach to a service station housing either a Costa or Starbucks, depending on my current preference. Is it wrong to love that my kids know to order me a “decaf vanilla latte”? I don’t think so, especially when it has saved my drink on the odd occasion that Mike has forgotten one crucial element or another from my order.

img_12061My coffee shop of choice does change on a fairly regular basis, depending on the time of year and the flavoured drinks on offer. For the last couple of years, Starbucks has held the monopoly on my business from the end of September until Christmas, thanks to their Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Black Forest Hot Chocolates, which have unfailingly kept me going during M’s GOSH admissions. As for the rest of the year, well if I’m perfectly honest I’m fairly ambivalent to where my decaf comes from most of the time, but whenever G and I are having some much-needed girls time, Costa always wins hands down. Our recent trip to London for the last YPF meeting proved to be the perfect opportunity to try out a few of the free-from foods that Costa has to offer and we weren’t disappointed.

img_12511G always chooses a small soya hot chocolate* with marshmallows and loves nothing more than accompanying it with a gluten- and dairy-free cake. However, this time we were travelling late afternoon by train and I wanted to pick her up a light tea for the journey home. As well as the obligatory drink and cake, G also chose a gluten-free roll and packet of crisps to complete her meal. I was interested to find out just how much she enjoyed her sandwich and whether she’d be happy to eat it again. To be honest, G was a little uncertain about the sandwich as she’d picked a chicken salad roll and she wasn’t impressed that there was tomato in it too, img_12081but once I’d removed the offending item, she was happy to give it a go and ate the lot, telling me that it was surprisingly filling. The crisps rapidly disappeared as did the mini pecan pies that rounded off her supper beautifully.  All in all, G gave her meal 8/10, a decent score given the disappointing inclusion of tomatoes in her sandwich.

Much as I was delighted to be able to buy a complete light meal that was safe for G to enjoy, I was disappointed by the limited choice, which seemed to ignore what can be the simpler tastes of children. I know that G would have been much happier to have a plain ham roll, but the only sandwich available was the chicken salad roll and that had been challenging to find as it was hidden amongst the other sandwiches, wraps and paninis available in the fridge, something I’ve found to be true in every Costa I’ve visited in the last few months. Likewise, as fantastically delicious as the pecan pies are, they are the only safe cake available as the gluten-free chocolate brownie contains milk and their fruity flapjack contains oats. They did previously sell gluten- and dairy-free mini bakewell tarts, which were another huge hit with G, but those were discontinued and replaced by the pecan pies, something that G still grumbles about these days. I love that a mainstream, high street coffee shop is trying to cater for those with food allergies, but I think there’s still some work to be done to make this a really great elevenses or lunch-time option.

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*Costa states that milk is present in the manufacturing site/factory/supply chain of their soya hot chocolate and that there is a significant risk that this allergen could cross-contaminate the food. Do not choose this if you have a severe dairy-allergy.

School Dinners

One of the roles that I’m most proud to have taken on in the past few years is that of Allergy Ambassador for the wonderful restaurant review website, Can I Eat There?, not least because we are a family who enjoys to eat out and embraces the challenge of finding somewhere safe for both M and G. We have to accept that there a some places that we just can’t visit as a family because of their allergies and whilst that causes the occasional moments of heartbreak, we’ve learned to avoid them as best we can. In similar fashion, we have had to adjust our thinking when it comes to the matter of school lunches for both children. G’s food allergies have been a part of our lives for long enough that we’ve always had to make special provision for her lunches at school and, whilst her first school was prepared to buy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives to cook for her on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult once we made the decision to move away article-1052305-0283dca100000578-744_468x306from the independent sector to a school with external caterers. We did manage for a couple of years once M had started at school by making sure that G and her teachers knew to pick the safe option from the choices given, but once M went MEWS-free in 2011, school dinners became a thing of the past and packed lunches were the way forward.

I was recently talking to a good friend when the subject of school lunches came up in the conversation. If I’m honest, I can’t quite remember what led us to that topic, but I was really interested to hear about the steps her daughter’s school was taking to make more than adequate provision for those with dietary needs. The school in question, Ashcombe Primary in Weston-Super-Mare, runs their own kitchen and work hard not just to maintain their healthy school status, but also to use local produce and to minimise waste. They are also keen to be inclusive in their approach to cooked school lunches and ask parents to talk to their kitchen manager if there are specific dietary requirements or allergies, menuso that they can work together to provide a healthy and nutritious alternative menu customised for that child. I’m sure that they cannot be the only school to make such efforts, but they are certainly the first I’ve heard about from someone in the know and I was impressed by what she told me they offer.

However, when I saw this sample menu that she e-mailed across to me, I was even more impressed. This school kitchen has really taken on board the requirements of the 2014 changes to EU legislation concerning allergens and their monthly written menu reflects them. Every single item on the menu indicates which of the top 14 allergens are included in the dishes and as each day offers 4 alternatives, that is no mean feat and shows a level of dedication to getting this right that is admirable. The steps this school has already taken in making this effort would reassure me, as an allergy Mum, that the kitchen manager knows her stuff when it comes to catering for children with allergies and that is something that is, without a doubt, absolutely priceless. Of course, I don’t know how successful they are in preparing freefrom alternatives when needed and would be fascinated to discover if their encouraging start actually delivers in reality.

Do you know of a school that offers a similar service or have firsthand experience of one? I’d love to hear from you and be able to share and celebrate these individuals who are working hard to be inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to lunch-times at school.