Tag Archives: Food

Heading North for the Bank Holiday

No sooner had we arrived back from London, than G and M disappeared off to South Wales with my Mum and my Aunt for the week leading up to the August bank holiday, leaving Mike and me at home to work, wash clothes and start to sort out what was needed for our bank holiday adventure in Manchester. We travelled to South Wales on Friday evening to pick the children up and spent the night there before heading off to Manchester the following morning. We decided to try and avoid as much holiday traffic as possible, so wended our way across mid- and North Wales to reach our final destination and that decision proved to be the best one we could have made as we saw very little traffic at all. We reached Manchester, and one false start later – who knew there’d be so many Premier Inn hotels in the Salford area? – had arrived and were ready to start our visit.

Sunday was dedicated to the IWM North (that’s the Imperial War Museum for the uninitiated) to support G’s GCSE History studies about the rise of Hitler in the inter-war years and the Cold War period, and proved to be an excellent exhibit to visit. Their audio-visual short films shown every hour were a great addition to everything that was on display and there was a nice mix of interactive elements for the children to do as well. The sections covering the time periods of most interest to us were, perhaps, not as in depth as we would have liked, but overall we enjoyed the time spent there. G and I also took some time to walk around their special exhibit about the Yemen crisis, although M had definitely had his fill of all things history about that point and abandoned the galleries for the cafe with Mike. It was fascinating to see G’s reaction to the photos and displays about this more recent crisis and she was keen to express her thoughts about the responses of politicians and their excuses for not doing what they knew was needed.

Originally we hadn’t planned to do anything for the rest of the day as we weren’t sure how long we would spend at the IWM, so over our lunch, we investigated and discussed where to head next. M was keen to do something “fun as a family” and so was delighted to learn that we could visit EscapeHunt Manchester and try our hand at one of their themed escape rooms. We were lucky to get a booking for their “The Last Vikings” challenge and had just enough time to walk our way from Mediacity across the city to the escape rooms. It’s the first time we’ve attempted an escape room as a family, but is definitely something we will try our hand at again. We had lots of fun, although we failed at the final hurdle and were in the midst of solving the last clue when our time ran out.

Our decision to go to Manchester were twofold, the first being the IWM North, but our second was perhaps the more exciting, especially for G and M. This was the day for their indoor skydive in aid of Over The Wall and despite a somewhat grumpy start from our youngest, we arrived at iFly Manchester with 2 very excited children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate due to a shoulder injury I sustained at the start of the year, but Mike was keen to try his hand too, so we had booked them a family session which allowed them to split 10 minutes “flight time” between them. I was impressed at what appears to be the natural skydiving skills of my husband and children and the smiles on their faces said it all. Mike and M are both keen to go back and do it again, but G is less convinced, though glad she gave it a try in the first place. All in all, it was a fantastic bank holiday weekend and we were back home for a rest before school went back the following week.

Eating Out with Allergies in London

I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.

Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G  is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,

Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.

No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.

We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!

We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.

Eating Out with Allergies in Berlin

With breakfast, lunches and snacks sorted out, all that was left to do was to find a few places for dinner whilst we were in Berlin. Mike had done a lot of research on the museums and sights to see during our trip, so I had taken on the challenge to see what options for safe dining there might be. We had great success with the 3 restaurants we ended up eating at, even if none of them could be described as being “traditionally” German, and the allergy information was readily available and easy to read.

Pizzeria Simela: In my extensive internet research this restaurant consistently appeared with excellent recommendations for its brilliant gluten-free offerings of both pizza and pasta and I was delighted to read a more recent review that revealed they could also offer vegan – and therefore dairy-free – cheese. Based just around the corner from the fantastic Denns Biomarkt, this tiny restaurant has just a handful of tables, but is definitely worth a visit and booking in advance! We settled on some fresh tomato bruschetta on GF bread as well as a charcuterie platter for the four of us to share as a starter before selecting pizzas for our main course. Mike, G and M all opted for the GF buckwheat pizza bases, whilst I chose their regular base. It was also great to see a GF beer on offer and Mike willingly gave it a go, giving it a thumbs up. The food was absolutely delicious, there was a huge number of safe options G and M could choose from and there was very little left once my fellow diners had eaten their full. Definitely a winner in our books and one I would highly recommend.

Corroboree: This was a surprise find after a busy day involving 3 museums, a tour bus, lots of walking and even a lunchtime boat trip down the River Spree. We found ourselves at the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz, which seemed like a good place to search for a restaurant that might be able to cater reasonably well for even the most difficult of dietary requirements. Corroboree serves Australian-Asian fusion food and provided M with the chance to try some more unusual meats, something he’s been wanting to do for a very long time. The allergy menu I was given was fantastic and really easy to navigate and work out what was safe for both M and G. We were having a relatively early dinner, so G decided she would have a chicken Caesar salad supplemented with a bowl of chips, whilst Mike and I shared a Caesar salad with kangaroo steak as well as a platter for 2 which included Asian chicken, calamari and bruschetta. M, however, was the most adventurous of us all and decided to try the Corroboree platter with dairy-free tandoori chicken, crocodile tournedo and kangaroo filet. He enjoyed almost every mouthful and would happily eat crocodile again, though he’s less sure about the kangaroo as it tasted too much like beef for his liking. Something a little different to what we’d normally eat, but a big hit and a definite thumbs up for the freefrom offerings.

Hard Rock Cafe: It should come as no surprise that our first, and in fact, final meals were at our family favourite, the Hard Rock Cafe. Once again the allergy advice available was comprehensive and the restaurant manager came to discuss our dietary needs with us before the children placed their orders. We were reassured to hear that their GF fries are cooked in a separate fryer and there was no problem with tweaking the children’s choices to make sure they were as safe as they could possibly be. G once again chose the pulled pork sandwich which she first tried in Glasgow and now absolutely loves, whilst M changed his choices up a bit by choosing the pulled pork sandwich on the first night and a chicken and bacon “burger” for our final dinner. Both children were extremely happy with their meals and M was delighted to be able to try a selection of their smoothies too, having quizzed our poor waiter to make sure there was no milk added to them at all! Mike also decided to try their Local Legendary burger, which changes in each restaurant location and in Berlin was a burger topped with a serving of currywurst – the local delicacy of a bratwurst sausage topped with a curry sauce. I’m not sure its a burger I would have chosen, but Mike enjoyed it – and the generous glasses of beer that accompanied it. One of my favourite things about the Hard Rock Cafe is seeing what memorabilia they have on display and here they had a guitar made from a piece of the Berlin Wall with barbed wire as its guitar strings. Once again a restaurant we’d recommend to those eating out with allergies in the beautiful city of Berlin.

Sweet Treats in Berlin

The benefit of picking an apartment or apart-hotel to stay in is that there’s enough of a kitchen to allow us to cook safely for the children and we always travel with our extra suitcase of safe foods to make sure that we have enough of the essentials to see us through our time away from home. We never know what we’ll be able to find food-wise and it’s good to have a plan in our back pockets “just in case”. However, let’s be realistic, who really wants to cook when they’re on holiday? Certainly not me and so we had settled on a good compromise for a short break in Berlin, one that we’ve found has worked well for us in the past and which keeps the children happy too.

Even when we travel in the UK, I always make sure that I have breakfast cereals and cartons of rice milk packed as we’re never quite sure what dairy-free milks we will find and we start our days with breakfast in the room. Thanks to the great location of our Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin hotel, there was a Starbucks coffee shop and local bakery within easy walking distance, so Mike trekked out each morning to pick up a coffee for me and some freshly baked pastries and bread rolls for us to enjoy. We had also agreed with G and M that we would take packed lunches out with us daily and so had taken some Bfree wraps for M to enjoy, whilst we had picked up some great gluten-free bread rolls for G in a local supermarket. Both kids love cooked meats, so finding some safe lunch meat in the same supermarket was a great bonus and absolutely delighted them. Sadly, this same supermarket didn’t stock any rice milk, although there was an impressive array of other alternative milks and we ended up getting some soya milk for G and just used our supply from home for M’s daily breakfast.

However, as we found our way to dinner one evening at the fantastic Pizzeria Simela – don’t worry, there’ll be more about this in my next blog post – we stumbled across Denns Biomarkt and as we had a few minutes to spare, I suggested we popped in to have a quick look around. This has to be one of the best spur-of-the-moment decisions I’ve made in quite a while as, not only did their bakery have gluten-free fresh bread available, but there was a great selection of other allergy-friendly options available too, including numerous cartons of rice cream, which somehow made their way into the spare suitcase for our homeward journey! M also took a fancy to the black rice milk that he discovered, though sadly the final product proved not to be as tasty as he was hoping it might be. Here are a few of the freefrom finds that were the biggest hits with G and M:

Friederike from Jute Backerei: Well, who could refuse these amazing looking cookies from this gluten-free bakery? The clear labelling meant I could see from a quick glance that these were gluten-, dairy- and egg-free, so potentially a safe treat for M to enjoy alongside his sister. With the help of Google translate, I scanned through the list of ingredients and was happy to see that whilst they were baked in an environment containing soya, the cookies themselves were soya-free and didn’t contain anything that made me particularly worried about M eating one. They were absolutely huge and, I am reliably informed by both children, also extremely delicious!

Das Eis Triple Choc Ice-cream: Since getting home from Berlin, I’ve discovered that Das Eis is a huge vegan brand of ice creams and sorbets. Made from almond and rice milk, this ice-cream was also soya-free and so another treat that I was happy to let M try – once he had taken an extra dose of his array of anti-histamines and other medicines. There were a couple of flavours available in Denns Biomarkt as well as some other brands of dairy-free ice-cream, but the Das Eis Triple Choc was the only one that was also vegan and soya-free and therefore the best option for M. The children somewhat reluctantly shared the small tub with Mike, but they all agreed it was worth it.

Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chunky Monkey Ice-cream: After our trip to the DDR museum, M asked if we could go on river cruise to enjoy our lunch and given the glorious day, Mike and I were both more than happy to agree. I had spotted some ice-creams for sale in the museum shop and had somewhat mindlessly looked to see what was available as I waited for Mike and the children to complete their purchases. G is notoriously difficult to buy an ice-cream for when we’re out and about as she won’t eat ice lollies and it’s rare to find a dairy-free ice-cream available for her. So, I was delighted to spot this vegan ice-cream, not least because we also felt we could allow M to try it as well whilst we were on holiday. The small pot was enough to satisfy them both before they tucked into their packed lunches and kept the smiles on their faces for the rest of the afternoon.

A pudding for every day

M’s restricted diet has come with a number of challenges over the years, not least of which is finding some delicious desserts for him to enjoy at the end of a meal. I have worked hard to adapt recipes or create new ones for him, but sometimes all this busy working Mum wants is to be able to pull a pudding out of the fridge and not have to do anything more than remove the lid and provide a spoon. One of the staples of my childhood for weekday desserts was fruit yoghurts and when M was small, he absolutely loved eating a yoghurt whenever he fancied it. G has always been less keen, although she definitely enjoys the odd soya pudding – especially the chocolate ones – on occasion.

So, I’m constantly on the look-out for an M-friendly alternative and you can imagine my delight when my hours of internet trawling uncovered the wonder that are Bio Organic Rice Desserts. Now sadly these puddings are incredibly difficult to source and I have spent a small fortune in shipping boxes of them to our house. However, the chocolate desserts have been a huge hit with Master M and those boxes definitely don’t last long unless a few are hidden away from his immediate view.

18 months ago I came across  La Crèmerie’ and their rice yoghurts at the Foodmatters Live Conference in London and last summer I eventually managed to convince M to give the yoghurts a try. We placed an order for both the plain and the vanilla flavours, but unfortunately  La Crèmerie was low on stock and we had to wait a little while for just the plain yoghurts to be delivered to our door. The rice yoghurt is delicious, although M wasn’t too keen on the plain flavour – I just wish that he’d had the opportunity to taste the vanilla ones as well. However, whilst they weren’t the biggest success we’ve ever seen, they did make a great addition to his smoothies and I was also able to use it to create a stewed apple and yoghurt pudding for him. Sadly, these are another more expensive option and perhaps not one for everyday, but they are a good dairy-free alternative and one I’d happily recommend.

Rocky Road

Over the last few months, I have been encouraging G and M to become more engaged with the treats they like to eat, in particular asking them to find, choose and make the goodies they want to eat themselves. Part of my reasoning was to make sure M has some safe desserts to include with his lunch at school as it’s so difficult to buy safe options for him, and part was to help them both develop the skills they need to cook safe food in the future. It has been a mixed success and as soon as their initial enthusiasm wore off, the number of biscuits and snacks they had similarly reduced to almost nothing. However, after a couple of busy weeks at work, I decided to seek solace in the baking process myself and chose to experiment with adapting a new recipe for them both to enjoy.

My starting point was a favourite treat of mine, which I thought I could adapt, but actually needed me to perfect another biscuit first before I could even attempt the final product. I love shortbread, especially at Christmas time and I thought that an M-friendly shortbread might be a great starting point and something G and M would both like on its own. Some quick online research and I found a great and simple shortbread recipe, which thanks to our recent successful introduction of Vitalite dairy-free margarine to M’s diet, only needed me to swap the flour to make it perfect for him. It didn’t take long to whip up the first batch and G and M were delighted to taste-test them for me.

With the success of the shortbread in my back pocket, it was time to turn my attention to my final goal – M-friendly Rocky road. This time I recruited G as my kitchen help and she enjoyed the tasks of chopping the Freedom mallows as well as smashing some of the shortbread into bitesize pieces too. Whilst the standard recipe calls for the inclusion of raisins or cherries in it, we haven’t yet introduced them into M’s diet and so instead used dried banana chips, which again had some attention from G and her trusty rolling-pin. Moo-free chocolate has proven to be another safe option for M and was the final ingredient needed for the recipe.

An hour or 2 in the fridge and the Rocky road was ready. It was another resounding success with G and M and they certainly enjoyed the week or so that followed as either shortbread or rocky road was included in their packed lunches every day. Even better, M was so taken with both recipes that it reignited his interest in doing some safe baking himself and he spent a Saturday afternoon making the shortbread and prepping everything for the rocky road before he had to head to bed. He even told me off for not having put my recipes onto my blog quick enough for him to find and follow – so here they are, ready for the next time my youngest ventures into the kitchen!

Pizza and Ballet

One of the Christmas presents we were treated to this year was family tickets to go and see Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” at the Bristol Hippodrome. We have only been to a couple of ballets with the children over the years despite our love of the theatre and my Mum was keen for us to experience this unconventional retelling of this classic ballet. Of course, no family evening out can start without dinner out too and this time round, partly as we were later arriving in Bristol than we’d originally planned and partly because, well, why not, we decided to veer away from our known safe restaurants and look for somewhere new to try.

It’s always a challenge when eating out with G and M because of their dietary needs, but our decision over the last 18 months or so to relax M’s restrictions on high days and holidays in order to find a better quality of life and balance for him means that on occasions like this, we’re able to eat in places where we’re confident he can choose safe ingredients to make a tasty meal. We know that there are a number of restaurants near to Bristol Hippodrome from Pizza Express to Wagamama, so I made the suggestion that we wandered up Park Street to see what else might be available, with our end target being Pizza Express if nothing else seemed to suit.

About halfway up the hill, we stumbled across the marvellous Molto Buono restaurant and, spotting gluten-free pizza bases on the menu, decided to stop there and see how their food measured up to the children’s somewhat exacting standards. It didn’t take too long for G and M to decide what they wanted to eat and were delighted to discover that as well as gluten-free pizza bases, the restaurant also had vegan mozzarella available as a topping. Much to my surprise, G opted for the GF Marinara pizza – tomato sauce, olive oil and oregano – and M chose the GF Diavola – tomato, salami and vegan mozzarella. Mike joined them in trying one of handmade pizzas, whilst I settled on a pesto pasta. The dishes that arrived looked amazing and tasted even better with portion sizes that satisfied even the voracious appetite of the youngest member of our family. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this restaurant – excellent food, prepared simply, served quickly and all at a great price.

Fully satisfied by our meal and with more than enough time to meander our way back towards the theatre, our evening had started in fine fashion. We all then sat enthralled for the next couple of hours as the story of Swan Lake unfolded before us. Matthew Bourne’s interpretation brings a more modern-day twist to the tale and replaces the well-known Dance of the Cygnets with an incredible male troupe of swans instead. The dancing was incredible and brought real inspiration to both G and M as they watched it in absolute awe, something that should never be under-estimated as M had expressed his concerns about watching a ballet – “…there are no words to explain what’s going on, so how do you know the story-line..?” before it even began.

I think we would all heartily recommend seeing this production, though it turns out that I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to the setting, much preferring the classic portrayal of the Swan Lake tragic love story. It was fascinating to talk to G and M about their thoughts on the production, with M uncertain as to whether the second half was a dream or not and both expressing the view that the role of the Swan/Stranger represented the 2 sides oft he Prince’s psyche. This was a performance that really challenged everything we knew and expected of a ballet and was a truly amazing experience. Despite my hesitations about some parts of this version, I am fascinated to see how Matthew Bourne has adapted and updated other ballets and hope to be able to see another of his productions soon.

Birthday blessings

This weekend has been one of “those” weekends. You know, one of the ones where there’s so much to do and just not quite enough time to manage to do it all. A combination of birthday celebrations, performing arts classes, auditions and hospital appointments has left us feeling somewhat exhausted; but tonight, after a fun few hours with M, G and a group of their friends, I’m also counting our blessings.

It’s been no secret that M found last year, his first at secondary school, tough. The move into a school environment where his year group was considerably bigger than his entire junior school combined with family deaths and the inevitable challenge of his continued restricted diet left not only M, but all of us, struggling to find a positive way forward. Circumstances last year meant that we didn’t really do much to celebrate his 12th birthday, so I was determined to kick off his teen years in whatever fashion he wanted.

The celebrations started with an M-friendly pear and ginger cake with caramel buttercream icing on Friday evening to accompany his presents, which included the bass guitar and amp that he’s been yearning after for a few months. He had been slightly frustrated with Mike’s refusal to take him to look at guitars last weekend and was only marginally mollified by the promise to get up early this Saturday morning to visit our local guitar shop and examine exactly what was on offer. As you can imagine, his excitement in finding the guitar and its own mini amp waiting for him when he got home from Stagecoach was wonderful to see and we’ve been serenaded with renditions of both “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Seven Nation Army” since late Friday night! I’m just glad the bass guitar lessons he’s been having at school appear to be paying off already and delighted to see him so wiling to practise in every spare moment.

However, the culmination of M’s birthday weekend came yesterday afternoon as we spent the late afternoon and early evening with a group of his and G’s friends. M had chosen a group of old friends and new, some from school, others that he’s grown up with and the best bit was seeing just how well these different strands of his life hit it off and enjoyed the few hours together. After lots of chat, M had decided he wanted to try his hand at an escape room and we booked 2 rooms at one of our local escape rooms sites. We amicably split into 2 teams, each with an adult and a mix of the older and younger children and determined to compete against the clock, rather than each other to escape our locked rooms.

I was impressed with how well they all worked together and certainly those on my team managed the frustration of solving some of the clues well, with only one of M’s friends needing some redirection and reminders to focus from time to time. We were lucky to escape with just 2 minutes to spare and although Mike and M’s team were not quite so successful – they had found all 4 keys, but failed to open the door in time – everyone enjoyed themselves and were ready to move on for a dinner to suit all dietary needs that were present.

The chatter, camaraderie and chuckles around the table were wonderful to experience and all the children were a delight to spend time with as they enjoyed their food and just spending time together. It was a wonderful way to celebrate M’s 13th birthday and I really have counted my blessings tonight that M has finally found his way out from the darkness of last year with the help of some amazing friends, who accept him for who he is and don’t see his health challenges as a barrier to their friendship with him. A perfect celebration with both new friends and old; and a combination of friendships that I hope will keep going for many years to come.

#FFFA19

It seems almost impossible that a year has passed since my last journey to London for a judging stint at the FreeFrom Food Awards (#FFFA19), and yet, here I am, on the train heading home after another great day of finding some fab free from foods. I feel so privileged to be a part of the judging team and it really is no exaggeration to say that it is easily one of the highlights of my year. Not only do I get to taste and discover some fantastic new products to the market, obviously always feeling very hopeful that I might even find some that are M-friendly as well as delicious, but I have made some lovely friends along the way and the judging sessions are always the best opportunity to do some much-needed catching up over food and a cup of tea.

My day started with “Foods to Go”, which Mike and I judged on the one occasion I let him join me for the experience and which nicely balanced out the sweetness that I knew the afternoon would be filled with. You never quite know what you’re going to get in this category and this year was no different as the first few mouthfuls included dried fruit snacks, soup, noodles, sandwiches and sweet rice cakes! It was a relatively small category for us to make our way through thing – just 16 items to try – which is always a good thing and I was one of the lucky few able to try everything being neither gluten-free or vegetarian.

My highlights of this session were:

Thai Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup: This was a surprise hit for me. I am not usually a big fan of carrot soup as I find it inevitably sweet, but the delicate balance of the Thai spices alongside the vegetables gave every mouthful a tantalising delicious and fragrant flavour. I haven’t spotted this soup on the supermarket shelf before – though to be perfectly honest, I’d probably have passed it by anyway – but I will definitely be looking out for it in the future.

Made Without Wheat Chicken & Bacon Sandwich: Apologies for my failure to get a photo of this, but this was a delicious, well-filled chicken and bacon mayo sandwich, which was not only gluten-free, but also dairy-free and I know will be a definite winner with G. I was impressed by the quantity of the filling as well as the flavour and texture of the bread – you really wouldn’t be able to tell it was gluten-free if you didn’t know. Sandwiches can be one of the hardest things to find when we’re out and about, so this will no doubt become a firm favourite in our family.

Caramel Rice Cakes: These weren’t necessarily the biggest hit in the room due to their to-be-expected sweetness, but I fell in love with them as they’re pretty much safe for M and will give him a great sweet treat that can be added occasionally added to his lunch-box.

This year saw my return to one of my favourite categories, that of Tea-time treats, not least because it was there in 2016 I first discovered the incredible Borough 22, who perfected the most indescribably delicious doughnuts that are safe for both children and are still a regular favourite in our household. I had gone with strict instructions from M to see if I could find anything that might be safe for him, and with a few more ingredients to play with I was hopeful that I might just have some luck. The afternoon session did not disappoint and with 5 different chocolate cakes to taste amongst the 29 products, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

My highlights?:

Gluten-, dairy- and nut-free Occasion cake: First of all, we were completely blown away by the appearance of this incredible wedding cake which had been carefully driven to the FFFA HQ for our enjoyment; and then the taste simply took my breath away. Amazing sponge, creamy buttercream without being too sickly sweet and enough sharpness in the jam to cut through the sweetness – utter perfection and one I would definitely recommend.

Tea-cakes: Nothing beats a toasted tea-cake and a cup of tea and it was wonderful to find this vegan and gluten-free alternative for this Sunday tea favourite. Another one of those “I don’t think you’d know it’s free from” treats we got to try and one I’m definitely going to be trying out with G.

Raw Mince Pie: Now, this will be a surprising highlight to just about anyone who knows me as they know that I absolutely hate most things with dried fruit – fruit cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies are not anything I would willingly put near my mouth on your average day. But, this was not your average day and I absolutely had to try a small bit for the sake of fair judging. It was surprisingly tasty and whilst I’ll confess that I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy these for myself, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an allergy-friendly, vegan Christmas treat.

My thanks go to Michelle, Cressida and Sue for their hospitality today and to all those producers who keep working hard to produce these delicious free from foods that give those living with food allergies, just like G and M, the opportunity to eat the same things as the friends and family safely. Keep an eye out for the shortlist in February and final winners, who will be announced on March 20th.

Battle of the Birthday cakes

December is always a busy month for our family, what with birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas to celebrate and squeeze in alongside the end of term and all the added demands that that almost always inevitably brings. As well as the last-minute rush to make sure cards have been written (and sent) and that presents have been bought (and wrapped), I also have to make sure I have time to bake the perfect cake to help us celebrate G’s birthday in style.

Over the years I have tried my hand at all sorts of cakes and I love spending the time to let my creative side really come out, though Mike might disagree as some of my more complicated masterpieces have kept us up into the early hours as I strive to get every detail just right. Last year I attempted a gluten- and dairy-free red velvet cake for G, which tasted great, but didn’t look as appealing as I’d have liked and so this year I was determined to create her a special treat that looked and tasted the part. G is a definite chocolate lover, something that can be a little tricky when you’re dairy-free, but there are lots of great dairy-free options available and I was determined to use a mix of them to make G a cake that the whole family, including M, could enjoy.

The obvious starting point was the beautiful chocolate mayonnaise cupcakes that I had perfected for Mike’s birthday and which I knew I could turn into a fantastic 2 layer cake. I wanted to create a really sumptuous filling and to my delight discovered this salted caramel flavoured icing mix as I wandered around our local supermarket. Mixed with our regular dairy-free spread, this made the perfect buttercream filling and topping for G’s cake. I finished it off with handfuls of Freedom mallows, shavings of Moo-free chocolate and sprinkles of Sainsbury’s Free From White chocolate chips. The final cake was a huge success: gooey, delicious and everything my chocolate-lover could have wanted for her 15th birthday.

Once G’s birthday celebrations finally came to an end, I was then on to my next birthday cake project, which was to bake a cake for my Aunt for her birthday on December 23. This year was her first celebrating without my Uncle, who sadly passed away earlier in 2018 and the plan was for a family gathering at my Mum’s house to mark the day. Mum was keen for me to bake some more of the chocolate cake that I had made for G’s birthday, but I wanted to do something a little different, especially with Christmas right around the corner, and instead settled on one of M’s firm favourites, banana bread.

When it came to making the cake, G was a huge help and offered to bake a dozen cupcakes, whilst I decided how to decorate them. She did a great job and by the time I’d found the perfect design and all the necessary ingredients, there were 12 wonderful looking cupcakes waiting and ready to go. I took inspiration from the front cover of a fantastic cupcakes cookery book that I’ve used before and gave a nod to my Welsh heritage with a plateful of sheep cupcakes. Safe buttercream icing, a small supply of Freedom mallows, safe cocoa powder and a little fondant icing was all that was needed to create these fun birthday treats,which were not only enjoyed on the 23rd, but saw G and M through Christmas too.