Tag Archives: Free From Food Awards

#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.

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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.

#FFFA17 – Biscuits, cakes and breads

You might have noticed that I’ve taken a small break from blogging over the last couple of weeks and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that Mike and I have spent some time away in New York as an early birthday celebration. There is so much to share from our week away, but you’ll have to wait patiently for those posts to come as I still have lots to tell you about the rest of our time at this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. As well as the wonderful “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category, we were lucky enough to judge a further 4 categories too and those revealed some more great freefrom options for those with allergies to choose from.

The Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning sessions were spent tasting some fantastic teatime treats and allergy-friendly breads. Just as I experienced last year, the teatime treats offered a good selection of biscuits and cakes, and whereas last year there was a huge number of biscotti to taste, this year was all about shortbread. Now I absolutely love shortbread, it is my favourite Christmas dessert, especially when enjoyed with lashings of rich brandy butter and I was excited to taste the freefrom options that were entered in the awards. img_13741Unfortunately, as great as some of them were, none was both gluten- and dairy-free, which is always a disappointment when I’m looking for something new to add to G’s diet. By the time we reached the end of the shortbread and other similar cookies, I have to confess I was looking for something refreshingly different and new.

The following, however, were absolutely amazing and whilst not all of them were gluten- and dairy-free, there was a good variety of treats that would be a great freefrom offering for any special occasion or teatime. The first came from Sponge Cakes Ltd, who make mail order gluten-free cakes. We were lucky enough to try both the Victoria sponge and the Apple crumble sponge and my run-away favourite was the apple crumble one. Both had a great texture, looked tempting and tasted delicious with the only downside being that they were just gluten-free and so not suitable for G. img_13721However, since returning from our trip, a quick perusal of their website has shown that they do in fact make a gluten- and dairy-free cake as well, which we may well have to try at some point in the future.

My next favourite was a delicious treacle tart from Mummy Bakes, which was impressively gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. Sadly I failed to snap a shot of this treat during the afternoon, probably because I was waxing lyrical about the taste of the tart itself. I am not usually a treacle tart fan; in fact, I usually steer clear of this sweet treat as just being too sweet for me to enjoy. However, there was an amazing lemon flavour that cut perfectly through the treacle and balanced it so that it had just the right sweetness for an indulgent pudding.

img_13751The next product scored highly with me because it was delightfully simple in its ingredients and looks like being an addition we can introduce to M. When we visited the Allergy and Free From Show in the summer, I discovered some delicious chocolate and rice crispbreads from Le Pain des Fleurs, which sadly just missed the mark because M is unable to have cocoa. Safe snacks are always hard to find, so I was thrilled to see another crispbread from this company entered into the awards. The coconut rice crispbread may not have been a favourite with everyone, but the prospect of finding another snack for M was truly exciting for me. It seems somewhat ironic that last year I stumbled across the amazing Borough 22 doughnuts, which the owner, Ryan, has kindly adapted to be 100% safe for M, during the Teatime category and this year the coconut crispbreads seem to have ticked the box again. We will need to trial them as M is currently only able to tolerate coconut oil and not cream or milk, but I’m hoping that the low percentage of coconut in them (just 15%), will make them a viable option for my young foodie.

img_13771As for the breads on Wednesday morning, there were some great products and it was fantastic to see several entries from the big supermarkets as well as the more specialised brands we’ve come to known. The Bfree pitta breads were great and impressively had the perfect pocket to cram with your filling of choice, and I also loved the Tesco petit pain rolls and sandwich thins, either of which would be ideal for G’s lunchbox. However, my absolute favourite was the impressive Tesco Ancient Grain Cob, which looked amazing and tasted just as good. In my opinion it would be difficult to distinguish this bread as gluten- and dairy-free when compared to its “normal” counterparts and I’ll be looking out for a loaf in my local store to buy for G to try.

Back to the Judging table

Today Mike and I have enjoyed what feels like a rare day off together. We’re away from work, away from home and away from the constant complexities of parenting 2 children with an interesting selection of food allergies between them. Instead, we have been privileged to spend the day in London as part of the judging panel for the Free From Food Awards 2017 (#FFFA17). You may remember that last year saw my debut in this exciting role and, thanks to the generosity of my Mum in providing some invaluable childcare and the need for a “normal” person in the selected groups of tasters, Mike was able to join me in the experience. It was last year’s involvement that kicked of an exciting year of opportunities for us all: from discovering our very own set of superheroes including the wonderful Ryan of Borough 22 to attending the Awards ceremony with a broken leg; not forgetting the introduction of GalaxyGazer and Marvin to their own readership and my involvement with the Free From Eating Out Awards 2016 – gosh, what a busy year it has been!

Our day started off a little later img_13641than normal with the “Meaty and Fishy Ready Meals” category. I enjoyed some of the new products that I discovered when judging this round last year, though was disappointed to find it difficult to find some of my favourites once the Awards were over. I was looking forward to seeing what new products I would uncover this year, especially seeking out anything suitable for G. Much as I enjoy cooking and usually prepare all our meals from scratch, I love finding those quick alternatives that will make busy evenings just the tiny bit easier. There were some great foods on offer, including a delicious gluten-free quiche from Asda, some highly contentious coronation chicken sausages and a great selection of microwave-able meals. To my delight, I came across 3 dishes that I thought were absolutely amazing and would be more than happy to buy for G. The first were the most delicious Sweet Quebec sausages from Slightly Different Foods. All foods are initially judged blind so that our opinions are not unduly influenced by any preconceived ideas img_13671about any of the suppliers or manufacturers of these products. I was thrilled to discover after the tasting who had made these sausages as we had stumbled across this company at last year’s Allergy and FreeFrom Show and our lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with owners, Sonia and Steve, evidently encouraged them to submit an entry to this year’s Awards. The sausages contain that classic Canadian combination of bacon and maple syrup and are bursting with flavour. I have no doubt that G will absolutely love them and the simplicity of the ingredients makes them a great choice for many with food allergies.

Next was a fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, which was unexpectedly manufactured by Pure, better known for their range of dairy-free alternatives to normal margarine. I had absolutely no idea that they made other free-from foods and this curry was beautifully fresh with a great selection of vegetables and even some quinoa included in its list of ingredients. Finally was my run-away favourite, a beef casserole with dumplings from Tesco, which is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The meat was tender, the gravy rich and the dumplings a surprise bonus on an already superb ready meal. I’m not convinced that G would choose either of these 2 options for an evening meal, but I would be more than happy to serve her both.

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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.