Tag Archives: #FFFA16

Small businesses too good to miss!

There really is something very rewarding about shopping local and supporting small businesses and that is even more true when those small business owners are also friends, or become friends as a result of their business. We have been extremely lucky over the last few years to develop friendships and therefore fantastic working relationships with food producers who have, as a result of those friendships, readily taken on the challenge of feeding M, even at his most restricted, and succeeded to the absolute delight of us all. I would really recommend getting to know your local farmers and food producers and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them to see if they can help – you might just be surprised by their reply.

Borough 22 is one such success story and someone I love to shout out about on a fairly regular basis as you’ll quickly discover if you browse my blog. Created by the incredibly talented Ryan, who holds the as yet unchallenged place of ultimate superhero in M’s heart, this company bakes the most delicious allergy-friendly doughnuts, which have graced our table on many occasions. I discovered Ryan through the FreeFrom Food Awards a couple of years and he readily accepted my challenge to create an M-friendly doughnut using just the 5 safe foods M had at the time. Not happy with just creating a passable doughnut, Ryan continued to try to perfect the recipe each time we ordered until he produced a masterpiece that has kept us all delighted. With the countdown to Christmas now fast approaching, I will be placing our order for doughnuts soon and would highly recommend you beat the final order deadline of December 12 to add these unmissable treats to your seasonal table.

Another favourite was also a discovery thanks to the FreeFrom family of Awards, though this time the Eating Out Awards, rather than the Food Awards. Café Nouveau near Frome is a worthy three-time gold winner and owner Susan has become another family favourite since we first judged the venue 3 years ago. She has also embraced the challenge of feeding M safely and was delighted to hear this year that his list of safe foods had expanded enough for her to try a new dish when we visited as part of this year’s judging panel. This paragraph is something of a confession to Susan, who I know is a regular reader of my blog, as we had gone on the pretence of a late birthday lunch for Mike, carefully concealing the fact that it was a convenient cover story for our judges’ visit. This anonymity is critical when acting as a judge and it was fantastic to see first-hand that Susan’s care for her customers extended to all who were visiting the café that afternoon and not just those she might have suspected! G loves eating out here as she can happily choose anything from the menu and was delighted by the prospect of safe waffles the weekend we visited, though she was disappointed to learn they had run out of the dairy-free ice-cream she was hoping to sample.

My final shout-out is for a new business to my blog, but one that we are delighted to have found. Ben is an ex-work colleague of mine and he and his wife Mandy have become firm friends over the last few months. They own a small-holding just outside of Bristol and Ben has ventured into the world of producing home-made meat products, including some great gluten-free options, through his business, Ben’s Farm Kitchen. G has been delighted with their delicious GF honey roast sausages and sausage rolls, whilst Mike and I have become big fans of the “normal” and GF scotch eggs, especially the pickled beetroot ones. However, the real success story has been their willingness to try and prepare M-friendly sausages and burgers, which has possibly been one of the highlights of 2018 for M. I worked with Mandy to make sure the ingredients used were as safe for M as possible and the meat mix she created has been a huge hit in our household. M has already asked me to make sure we have a supply of “his” sausages and burgers in for Christmas and that’s a request I’m delighted to fulfil. Not only do we know the provenance of the food we’re eating, but I’m reassured that they want to get it right for the family as much as we do.

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Breakfast Bonanza!

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

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

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

 

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

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

G’s marks: 10/10

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

M’s marks: 10/10

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

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

Wanted: One Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2016

FFEOA 16 200X200As promised in my last blog, it’s now the turn of the second of the recently opened awards and one that I’m really delighted to be able to share with you. The FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2016 are now heading into their 3rd year and are part of the Foodsmatter family  run by the same, highly successful team who organises the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. The Awards were launched to show that creating gluten, dairy and allergen free food that would be as good, if not better, than ‘normal’ food was completely possible as well as encouraging innovation and celebrating excellence in the freefrom food service industry. Working with members of the allergy community, including website Can I Eat There?, experts and bloggers, this year the awards are hoping to find more hidden gems than ever before.

Eating out is a treat that we love to be able to do as a family and I’m always on the look-out for new restaurants to visit with the children, be they part of a chain or independent, especially when I can be confident that they can and will prepare safe food that we all can enjoy. I have already suggested some of our favourite haunts to the #FFEOA16 team and would ask you to do the same if there are any you would love to see recognised for their allergy awareness. These are restaurants who have taken on board the changes to EU legislation back in December 2014 regarding the provision of information about the presence of top 14 allergens in their dishes and, rather than continuing to complain that its cramping their style, have embraced the changes and used them to make a difference.

This year there are 8 award categories:

  • Cafes & teashops
  • Fish & Chip shops
  • Pubs & pub restaurants
  • Restaurants
  • Corporate hospitality and catering – venues and outside catering
  • Hotels & guesthouses
  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • Foods manufactured for food service

Just as with the Allergy UK Hero Awards, it’s great to see such a cross-section of eating out venues included in the #FFEOA, especially the corporate hospitality and schools, colleges and universities categories. I will be watching the progress of these awards with interest and look forward to being able to tell you the final winners after the presentation in late November. In the meantime, I want to share with you the winner of the first ever Pathfinder Award, which has been given by #FFEOA to mark the opening of the 2016 competition. The Pathfinder Award is a discretionary award for anyone, or any establishment, that is really pushing the boundaries of freefrom and thinking outside that box. The 2016 winner is Executive Chef Dominic Teague and his team at restaurant Indigo at One Aldwych Hotel, Covent Garden, for their ground-breaking work in catering for those on freefrom diets.

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Last year, after a brief closure for kitchen refurbishment, the restaurant created massive social media buzz when it was revealed that it was now serving a new and entirely gluten- and dairy-free menu and had been for 3 months without anyone realising it. Dominic had been inspired by increasing customer demand for gluten- and dairy-free food and had taken the opportunity of his kitchen refurb to ensure that he could continually create culinary masterpieces in a freefrom-friendly environment. The compliments came flooding in, from regular non-allergy customers and new diners alike and since revealing the truth to the world, Indigo has seen a huge increase in the number of its bookings, which only goes to show it really can be done if only you put your mind to it.

You can find out more about Indigo and Dominic Teague’s revolutionary decision on the #FFEOA16 website here.

Lasagne – an unusual last supper!

I’ve been fascinated looking back over the last 4 awareness weeks and seeing how our approach to “Eating like M” has developed over time. When we first started in 2013, we chose to eat the foods that M could eat at the time, even if they were things he wouldn’t have touched with the proverbial barge pole such as mushrooms, tomatoes or courgettes and followed the lead of other EGID families by eating exactly the same as him on the Friday, including the much-dreaded Neocate Active. Year 2 followed a similar approach, though Mike matched M mouthful for mouthful on the Friday to truly understand what it felt like to be on his diet and again drank the obligatory pint of Neocate for full effect. By 2015, M’s diet had changed dramatically and when we hit NEAW15, he had only 3 safe foods he could eat. Despite initially rejecting the idea of eating like M, IMG_0496[1] Mike and I decided we would once again support him through what was proving to be an extremely challenging time and agreed to spend the week with just 3 foods making up our 3 meals with a litre of E028 to wash it all down for Mike.

2016 has taken us another step forward in our “Eating like M” adventures and this year saw G choosing to stand in solidarity with her brother and join in our week with just 5 safe foods. I am so proud that she decided to take part in this challenge with us and stoically managed the week without complaint. Once again, our week led to opportunities to share our family’s EGID story with others, including Mike’s discussions with fellow attendees at a fully catered RICS training course in London. He had expected the standard buffet lunch to be provided and had armed himself with rice-cakes and apples to get him through his day, so the hot meal that was prepared on request to meet these strict dietary requirements was a more than pleasant surprise.

One of the highlights of the week for me was our final meal on the Saturday night. I had been looking for the perfect opportunity to try out what was, to me, a completely new product and our last M-inspired dinner gave me that chance. I first heard about this product back in February at the #FFFA16, when fellow judge, Stanley Montwedi, founder of online shopping website FreeFromMarket recommended it to me and couldn’t stop raving about how amazing it was. IMG_0469[1]With NEAW16 in mind, I had ordered a couple of boxes from him and knew exactly what masterpiece I’d be whipping up next.

As a family we have always enjoyed eating pasta, but M’s food restrictions have made enjoying a variety of different pasta dishes almost impossible. Thanks to this new-to-me range of products, that is no longer the case. Rizopia Organic Brown Rice Lasagne was actually the winner of the 2015 Free From Food Awards Pasta & Pizza category and I must say that it was definitely a worthy winner. I used it to make a M-friendly chicken lasagne, layering strips of chicken with the pasta sheets and lashings of white sauce flavoured with basil and oregano. I didn’t pre-soak the sheets as per the cooking instructions, but given the limited sauce that could be added to my lasagne, we all found them quite chewy, so I think I will try soaking them beforehand the next time I cook it. And believe me, there will be a next time because the whole family was impressed with this dish. M enjoyed it so much that he asked for it for lunch and dinner 3 days in a row and was most disappointed to discover that it did eventually run out! The Rizopia rice pasta range includes lots of different shapes of pasta which are all safe for M and will add some much-needed variety to his meal-times.

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A Power of Superheroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Storytellers

FM-logo-new-07-15-copyDuring my judging stint at the #FFFA16 earlier this year, I got chatting to the lovely organiser of these awards, Michelle about the possibility of an ongoing working relationship between the organising body, Foodsmatter and 7Y2D. Always keen to promote my blog through any networking opportunities out there, I was as enthusiastic to explore the options as Michelle and eager to see where it might take us. One of the ideas we discussed was the introduction of a new diary looking at EC and food allergies on the Foodsmatter website and newsletter, to run alongside the well-established Coeliac and Allergy ones already there. Michelle proposed a different twist on the subject and asked if I thought G and M would like to write these regular entries to give a child’s perspective on life with food allergies. It didn’t take long for me to accept on their behalf, even without discussion, as I knew M in particular would leap at the chance to get his views out there, especially after his tube-feeding contribution to “Complete Nutrition” at the end of last year.

When I got home, M, G and I discussed at length this request and all its implications. Whilst both were as eager to agree immediately as I expected, I needed them to fully understand the commitment they were signing up to and reminded them that if they then decided to go ahead, I would be making sure that they kept to it every step of the way. I was keen to see G and M take up this fantastic opportunity for so many reasons and felt that with some focus they could really make something valuable of it. Both children are quietly fascinated by my blog and I have never hidden from them that I’m writing it or the reasons why. From time to time, one or the other will ask me to “..take a photo for your blog Mummy..” or “..will you be writing about this?..blogI know that M occasionally takes a peek at what I’ve been writing and G has expressed a passing interest in getting more involved at some point too. Writing these diary entries for the Foodsmatter newsletter would give them a voice to express and explore their own attitudes, opinions and feelings about life where EC and food allergies are ever-present.

However, I strongly believe that there is much more to be gained by them than simply sharing their experiences with a wider audience and, as important as that is, these other life lessons have great value and will teach them well for their futures. The original proposal was for them to work in collaboration to produce a monthly diary entry to be included in the newsletter. They will have to learn to work as a team, sharing ideas, taking turns to write it down and, most importantly, listen to and recognise the value in each other’s opinions. I stressed that there would be no bad or wrong ideas about what each post should be about, simply thoughts that might need discussing and refining without argument or insult. 284454_10151027743256123_703224883_nSome months their entries might be a joint effort and for others, one might end up taking the lead with little or no input from the other, The responsibility of monthly articles is theirs, and theirs alone – I will not be stepping in if they leave it too late or can’t agree on what to write.

Having committed to writing every month, G and M need to make sure that they meet their deadlines and have an article ready for me to review and send before the publishing date. This requires a level of organisation that, for the time being at least, I will be helping them achieve as well as gently nagging them if the deadline is creeping ever closer. I suggested making a list of possible subject areas they might want to cover in their diary entries and reminded them that preparing this would mean that they could, if either was so inclined, get a head start and make notes for a future piece, thus saving themselves stress and heartache when time is running short. Flexibility, of course, is key and ideas can be shelved for a future edition if something more interesting, or relevant happens that they want to comment on instead. After 3 years of writing my blog, I know well the difficulties of having little to say when I want to post a new piece and how having something simmering in the background is always a real blessing at those times.

Most excitingly for me is waiting to see just how their writing voices and styles develop over time. M, despite the challenges of his dyspraxia and dyslexia, has never struggled with his imagination and is able to dictate fascinating stories that are filled with his character and sense of humour. In comparison, G has always found literacy a difficult topic to conquer and despite her breadth of reading and extensive vocabulary, struggles to express herself in the written word. I’m hopeful that the experience of writing this diary will help them both achieve more than they ever thought possible when it comes to their writing skills. If the giggles that floated downstairs to Mike and me as they wrote their first piece together are anything to go by, they really will enjoy this opportunity and I look forward to reading more from both of them.

For a taste of their contributions so far, you can read their entries for March and April here:

The diary of Galaxygazer and Marvin

And if you enjoyed those and want to keep reading on a regular basis as well as other great articles, you can sign up to the Foodsmatter newsletter here

 

“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.

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