Tag Archives: Free From Food Awards

#FFFA20 Confectionery

Now, I fully accept that there may be some of you out there wondering what on earth a PWD* is doing even considering judging a category at the #FFFA20 called “Confectionery”, but let me assure you, it means that I don’t tend to over-indulge in the first few mouthfuls and with 35 entries in total – 32 of which were chocolate-based – that’s definitely a good thing! On a more serious note, my Freestyle Libre gives me the opportunity to have tight control on my blood sugars at all times and helped me keep things on an even keel that afternoon.

 

I love judging this category as I have 2 food-allergic children who enjoy the occasional sweet treat and it’s always a great opportunity to find something new to tickle their taste-buds. After a busy morning trying the delights of “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” and a wonderfully refreshing light lunch prepared by Michelle and her #FFFA team, we were ready and set for the challenge ahead. And believe me when I tell you that tasting and judging so many sweet entries really can present some problems, especially when trying to give constructive comments to the 3rd dairy-free dark chocolate in a row!

These were my highlights:

M&S Fizzy Dinosaurs: In a category that was dominated with chocolate offerings, it was great to find these sweet treats. It took a while for us to realise that M reacts to gelatine, so we are always delighted to find sweets that are gelatine-free and delicious. He and I both love sour, tangy, fizzy sweets, so I knew the moment I tried these dinosaurs that they would be a big hit with my youngest…and the speed with which the bag I took home with me disappeared would absolutely support that!

Truffle Pig Truffles: We tried several truffle selections on the day, and these stood out from the crowd with their wonderful Butter Nut variety, which was perfectly reminiscent of their more well-known dairy counterpart, Ferrero Roche. The peanut butter content obviously means these are not safe for those with nut allergies and disappointingly to me, even though they are vegan and delicious, they are not soya-free either. A great treat that would be a brilliant gift and make the recipient feel truly spoiled, but not one for our household yet.

My Sweet Chickpea: The surprise success story of the day for me, and one that has proved to be popular at home too. There were 2 flavours that we were lucky enough to try: cappuccino and coconut, and both were delicious. The chickpea was not at all detectable, something which I tried out and proved with G, who was surprised to learn it was a key ingredient. Dairy-free, soya-free, hidden chickpeas and snack-size – what isn’t there to like about these?!

Moo-free Sea Salt & Lime Chocolate: I am not the biggest fan of anything salty and I definitely do not like caramel, so the whole “sea salt and caramel” revolution has passed me by, even though I’ve successfully created a safe version for G and M. So, I was intrigued by the lime and sea salt flavour offered by Moo-free and this will probably have me raving for weeks about it. A perfect balance to the sweetness of chocolate and very definitely more-ish. This is my winner of the day, not least because it was one of the few chocolates that was both dairy- and soya-free.

All in all, it was a great day of judging with lots of memorable products and not too many that completely missed the mark for me this year. The final award winners will be announced on 28th April, so keep an eye on your social media to find out who won those much-coveted golds.

*Person With Diabetes

#FFFA20 – 5 years on

Last week saw me back in London for one of my all-time favourite events of the year: judging a couple of categories for this year’s Free From Food Awards (#FFFA20). It hardly seems 5 years since I completed my first stint and I can honestly say that every year since has been fantastic. It’s a day spent with an amazing group of people from the free from community, be they bloggers, allergy sufferers, parents of children with allergies, food manufacturers or producers. Every year sees me widening that tribe of mine and I absolutely love getting to know new people and oft-times linking faces to names I’ve seen across the various social media platforms I frequent.

This year saw me return to 2 of the categories judged at my first FFFA in 2016 – “Meaty & Fishy Ready Meals” and “Confectionery”. As ever I’m always on the lookout for new possibilities for both G and M and even more so this year as we see the number of safe foods for M slowly, but steadily increasing. I find it fascinating to see what products are entered into each category, particularly with the “Meaty & Fishy Ready Meals” as the range of options can be so wide. From 10am, we were tasting and critiquing breaded fish, breaded chicken, sausages, burgers, a few microwave meals and even a prepacked sandwich. What was particularly great this year was that there was nothing that was really dreadful and whilst not everything might have been to my taste, the final award winners are all very much deserved in my opinion.

My own highlights from this category include:

M&S Made Without Wheat Honey Roast Ham and Mature Cheddar Cheese sandwich:  Honestly, if I hadn’t known that I was eating something freefrom, I absolutely would never have guessed. Forget dry bread, hole-y bread, doesn’t-really-taste-like-bread bread…this sandwich was unquestionably as good as its gluten-filled counterparts and generously filled with ham and cheddar cheese. If I had to find a criticism, perhaps that it is a little limited in just being gluten-free, but that really is being incredibly picky. It didn’t really “fit” with the rest of the entries in the Ready Meals category, but with no “Foods to Go” category this year as part of the #FFFA20, I don’t object to it having been entered. This is definitely one that I would recommend to anyone needing or wanting to follow a wheat-free/gluten-free diet.

Co-op Irresistible Pork Sausages: “Wow!” – my honest comment after a taste of these sausages. We are, without a shadow of a doubt, a family that enjoys any meal including sausages and indeed G’s favourite and go-to meal is a plate of bangers and mash. These were delicious – juicy, succulent and absolutely more-ish, the description of these GF sausages as “irresistible” couldn’t be more accurate. We buy nearly all of our meat from our local farmers’ cooperative or from our small-holding friends, but it was great to discover such a good product at a competitive price in a supermarket chain.

Co-op Chunky Breaded Cod (MSC-approved): There were several free-from fish fillets to compare, as this photo shows, but this is the one that absolutely stood out to me. The crumb coating was crispy and robust and the piece I took didn’t fall apart on the fork before it had left the plate and reached my mouth. Well-seasoned, tasty and a balanced mouthful where the fish was definitely the highlight. Even better, the cod is responsibly sourced and MSC approved, which really made it stand out from the crowd.

Tesco Free From Chicken Korma with Rice: A more traditional ready meal in my eyes and a fantastic one at that. Not only gluten-free, but top 14 allergens free and included an interesting mix of brown rice and quinoa in the dish which made it stand out from a competitive crowd. It has been on the supermarket shelves for a little while as this was one of the dishes we were lucky enough to be sent to try just after their launch, but it reminded me just how good these ready meals really are. A rich creamy flavour, which was well-balanced and didn’t taste too watery despite being microwave cooked, something I have found to be the case with other similar ready meal options.

As you can see, it was a real mix of what I would consider the more traditional ready meals that are ready in minutes and foods that need little preparation other than cooking. It was great to see offerings from many of the major supermarkets and, whilst I didn’t mention them above, there were also some good options from both Aldi and Lidl. I love seeing more and more supermarket chains coming on board with their free from food choices and making them more available and affordable than they perhaps have been before.

#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.

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.

#FFFA18: The Shortlist

It’s really only been a couple of weeks since I was a third-time judge at this year’s FFFA and the exciting news is that the shortlist for the Awards has already been published. I absolutely love scanning through the shortlist, even for those categories where I’ve been involved in the judging, because I find it so encouraging to discover a plethora of products, many of which I’ve never heard of before, which will make such a difference to those living with a variety of food allergies. As well as those I’ve already identified as particular highlights for me on the day, I was excited to see La Crèmerie’s rice yoghurt detailed on the Milk Product Alternatives list. I actually discovered this rice yoghurt during my visit to the Foodmatters Live conference back in November and whilst I have yet to try this with M, I know it’s something that could be a real game-changer for him and I’d love to see this do well in the overall Awards.

What has been even better for me this year than list after list of amazing foods, is the final named category: the FreeFrom Hero Award. Back in December I was asked if there was anyone I would like to nominate for this special category and it’s been really encouraging to us as a family to see our 2 nominees appear on the final shortlist. You can only imagine my delight this week as I received copies of the emails that have been sent to tell our very own heroes of their success. When you look at the list I’ve no doubt that you’ll immediately be able to identify one of the nominations I made, that of Steve Whitaker and Jason Conners, the cooks at Over The Wall. Ultimately I don’t know whether either of our suggestions will be the winners of the category, but I wanted to share my reasons for nominating this fantastic pair for special recognition at FFFA18:

Your reason for nominating them: M’s rare gastro condition, complex food allergies, restricted diet and associated problems has meant that he has never been able to stay away from home except with his Grandma. At nearly 12, he has never stayed away on a school camp or even had a sleepover with friends. In 2016, he was offered a place on the South Health Challenges Camp run by charity, Over The Wall, which meant he would be able to stay away from home for a week, fully looked after by an amazing group of volunteers who cheerfully give their time to support these children, who suffer with life-changing illnesses.

In preparation for the week, I spoke to OTW several times to discuss M’s dietary needs and at least 2 months before camp, I was sent a sample menu of the food that the chefs were planning to cook for him based on his extremely limited diet (just 5 foods plus 1 oil and sugar), which was truly amazing and that M loved the sound of. We touched base the week before camp to just check whether there were any changes and when we arrived at camp, the staff took time to meet with me to discuss all of his needs.

M ate like a king the entire week he was away and reluctantly told me that “Sorry Mummy, but their food was even better than yours!”. He was kept safe, had no allergic reactions because of their incredible awareness of the care that needed to be taken, was able to make friends with others facing similar health challenges, tried out so many experiences he’d never been able to have before and just felt like a child as his health problems firmly took a back seat to the more important job of him just having fun. As Mum, I felt confident that they knew what they needed to do to support him and have subsequently seen just how amazing their care can be when they called whilst G was away on sibling camp because they were concerned that she wasn’t eating the GF/DF food they were preparing for her.

We are hoping that he will be able to go to OTW camp again this year, but are just so grateful that he even had that opportunity to experience it once. These chefs (and all staff to be honest!) really deserve recognition for making M’s first experience of being away from home such a positive one.

The results will be announced on Twitter, on the evening of April 17th (@FFFoodAwards) and I’m hoping that we might once again be able to be there to recognise the hard work and incredible dedication of all those shortlisted finalists as well as celebrating the success stories of the worthy winners.

Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.

Every little helps

This week marks the start of the 2018 Free From Food Awards (#FFFA18) and another stint of judging, something that has become a real highlight of my year, especially as it brings a highlight to an otherwise grey and somewhat miserable month following the excitements of Christmas. Ever since the list of fellow judges reached my inbox, I’ve been looking forward to the day itself as I will be a judging a new category to me with a group of fantastic bloggers and friends that I’ve got to know over the last few years and I’ve no doubt it’ll be a day filled with laughter and chatter and good-natured banter.

However, with the FFFA just around the corner, I’ve realised that I owe an apology to a fellow judge from last year’s awards, who gave G in particular a great opportunity after we met and who I never got round to thanking via my blog. Mike and I were fortunate to meet Nicki, a Brand manager from Tesco, who was keen to send some samples of the then new range of Freefrom chilled meals that Tesco were about to launch. A cool box of meals arrived with us and G, Mike and I all enjoyed trying and tasting the variety available to anyone looking for a gluten-, dairy- and egg-free ready meal. They weren’t all to G’s taste, but it was wonderful to see the selection she was able to choose from for dinner.

From traditional Chicken Hotpot with stuffing and Beef casserole with dumplings – both of which G loved – to the more exotic flavours of Katsu Chicken curry and Green Thai Chicken curry – which became firm favourites with Mike and me – there really is something for everyone. G is not always the bravest when it comes to trying new dishes and some of these really did push her taste buds to their absolute limit, but I was impressed, for the most part, with the quality of the meals as well as their flavours. The biggest disappointment was the two Italian dishes: Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom pasta and Pulled Beef and Red Wine Ragu with Spaghetti, neither of which survived being frozen and then recooked at a later date. Both the pasta and the sauces became watery and were, in our opinion, frankly inedible by the time they reached the table. It was disappointing as pasta is usually a favourite in our household, but having had surprising successes with some of the other meals, my overall review would definitely be positive about this new range. As much as I love to cook from scratch, and usually do, the opportunity to be able to keep a few firm favourites in the freezer for those unexpected times when being able to throw something into either the oven or microwave is much-needed is absolutely invaluable to me as a working Mum and I’m grateful to Tesco for creating these dishes.

Just the other day, I was reminded once again of just how far the supermarkets have come with their allergy-friendly offerings since our freefrom journey started, when I spotted this fantastic array of dairy-free choices in the fridges of our local Tesco. It was an absolute delight to be able to take my time exploring all that was there to see what treats I could find for G to enjoy at the end of her meals. These are exciting times for those of us in the allergy community as more and more shops, cafes and restaurants strive to improve and increase what they offer to those on restricted diets and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

Birthdays, exams and an awards ceremony too

The last 10 days have been busy ones and I for one am glad to be heading into the last week of term, though the dawning of the school holidays definitely does not equate to any time off work for me this year. Looking back at my blog posts from previous years, it does appear that March and April are consistently a hectic time for us and this year was no different. World Book Day passed surprisingly easy, with M heading to school in his own clothes for his school’s Roald Dahl-themed day as he chose to represent “…a material witness at the trial of Goldilocks, Mummy…” in Dahl’s version of that well-loved Fairy tale.

We seamlessly segued from my 40th celebrations to M’s 11th birthday and onto my 4th blogaversary before celebrating Mother’s Day in fine style too. School presented its own challenges to both G and M, with homework tasks, concert rehearsals and posters revising the finer details of grammar and punctuation – fronted adverbials anyone? – filling our evenings and weekends. Next came 2 sets of exams: Performing Arts exams for both children with their Stagecoach school, followed just a few days later by M’s Grade 1 Cello exam, which I’m delighted to say he passed despite a persistent reluctance to give much more than a cursory nod to his daily practice. Continuing with the music theme, G performed with the school clarinet group at her school’s Spring music concert last week, whilst M is singing with his school choir at a regional music concert involving children from Junior schools across our county this week.

On top of all of that, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to London for 4 and an evening spent celebrating the success stories from this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. Once again held at the Royal College of Physicians near Regent’s Park, the evening was a glittering event designed to recognise some of the fantastic freefrom products nominated this year and was a great opportunity to not only catch-up with friends from the allergy blogging world, but also try those tasty treats that had pipped their competitors to the winning post. Hosted by the fabulous Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, director of the FreeFrom Food Awards, with a helping hand from restaurateur, celebrity chef and awards patron, Antony Worrall-Thompson, the Awards were a real testament to the changes brought about in the Freefrom world over the last few years.

The complete list of winners from #FFFA17 can be found here, but the big winners of the night were Irish bakers, Bfree, whose Sweet Potato Wraps are impressively top 14 allergen free and won high praise from many of the judges for being “…enormously versatile, beautifully soft and pliable, a lovely warm colour and tasting delicious…” This year was the 10th anniversary of the FFFA and to acknowledge this remarkable achievement, nominations had been invited to recognise a Freefrom Super Hero from within the industry itself. There were 5 very worthy nominees, all of whom are, without a doubt, heroes within the Freefrom world, but there could only be one winner and the inspirational Clare Marriage of Doves Farm was chosen for her unquestionable dedication to the production of numerous flour blends that have transformed the lives of those having to bake freefrom.

It was a fantastic night and it was wonderful to be able to mingle with the crowds of fellow freefrom foodies, rather than negotiate them with a small child in a wheelchair as we did last year! G not only enjoyed helping herself to a number of the goodies on offer on the Winners’ Buffet, finding a new gluten-free favourite with Kelkin’s chocolate-flavoured teacakes, but also found the courage to strike up a brief conversation with her very own Super Hero, Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, the creator of G’s gluten-free bread of choice, Genius. I can’t wait to see what the year ahead brings for the Freefrom industry and am definitely looking forward to #FFFA18!

#40thcelebrations

It will come as no great surprise to many of you when I say that February 2017 has been all about the #40thcelebrations in our household. Last year, I marked the occasion of 30 years living side by side with T1D, so this year it only seemed fitting that I celebrated with equal clamour that next big milestone in my life: hitting the big 4-0. c5ao3diwmaatk4uI am a huge fan of celebrating birthdays in style and you will often find the birthday cards in our house hanging around for a good 2 or 3 weeks past the notable date itself. Unlike my husband, and possibly much to his disappointment, I don’t likeabsolutely hate…’m not so keen on surprises and would much prefer being involved in the planning, to a greater or lesser extent, of any significant occasion. The plans for celebrating my 40th this year were no different.

When I turned 30, there were 2 destinations I wanted to visit, Las Vegas and New York. We discussed at length where we would go and settled on Las Vegas, with the clear understanding that only New York would do when it came to turning 40. The last 12 months or so have been filled with booking, researching and planning the finer details of our perfect trip to this iconic city and since just before Christmas, the excitement has gradually been building. Thanks to my Mum, we were able to spend an entire week in the USA and even managed to tag on a couple of extra days at the beginning to be part of the judging panels for this year’s Free From Food Awards. Her generosity meant we could take full advantage of travelling without children and fitted the trip in before we hit the price hikes of February half-term.

c3p22qjweaihqonWe decided to travel with Virgin Atlantic, from whom we have had great customer service in the past and again were not disappointed, especially when they marked my birthday with a couple of complimentary glasses of bubbles and bars of chocolate on the flights. We also chose to book our hotel and city passes as part of a Virgin holidays package and settled on the Hotel Beacon for our stay. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC and within 5 minutes walking distance of Central Park, the Hotel Beacon was a fantastic choice and we loved everything about it. As well as being able to walk to Central Park, we were also able to walk the couple of blocks to the 72nd subway station and were surrounded by a great selection of cafes and restaurants to try. What we particularly liked was the fact that the rooms have fully equipped kitchenettes, which may have only had a limited use for our stay this time, but would be perfect for when travelling with anyone with food allergies who might want to prepare safe food themselves.

img_34951Our trip was understandably dominated by our sightseeing plans and we did pretty much everything we wanted with a few added extras thrown in for good measure along the way. I’d be hard-pushed to narrow down my favourite part as everything we did was gloriously marvellous in their own unique ways. Mike loved seeing the architecture of the city, from the splendour of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, to the stunning beauty of the interior of Grand Central Station and the sheer engineering magnitude of the Statue of Liberty. One of Mike’s favourite parts was, without doubt, our Sunday spent on Ellis Island, where he was able to track down the immigration paperwork for when his mother and her family moved from Jamaica to Canada by way of NYC in the late 1940s.
img_35731I loved our wander through Central Park, both in the blazing sunshine and then again in the snow as we made our way to the Frick Collection, a fabulous small museum containing some leading Old Master paintings and sculptures. Around every corner we stumbled across yet another masterpiece and I am so grateful to my colleague who recommended this as an ideal way to spend a couple of hours seeing these well-known pieces of art. Thanks to our open bus city tour, we also discovered, to my absolute delight, where we could see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends given to Christopher Robin Milne before they became the inspiration for that much-loved children’s classic, a visit that took up hardly any of our time and yet was a worthwhile stop for this literature fan. In stark contrast, we spent a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial, a hauntingly heart-breaking and harrowing museum to visit, which did an amazing job in walking the visitor through both the timeline as it unfurled on the day and the stories of great heroism and unbelievable tragedy.

Our week-long stay was a truly fantastic way to celebrate my 40th year and there is so much more that I’ll be sharing over the next few blog posts.

#FFFA17 – Foods to go…and bars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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