Tag Archives: freefrom

FFEOA 2017

This week has been a busy week for me and, for the first time in very many months, my focus has all been on my blog and the allergy and freefrom community, rather than on my day-to-day job. Much to the disgust of both G and M, I abandoned them to my Mum for the week and headed off to London, on my own,  to the Foodmatters Live conference. My planning for these 3 days away was incredibly well-organised, though I suspect I actually have my Mum to thank for that, as I missed out on attending last year and so had apparently looked ahead 12 months and had put the dates on her calendar to make sure I could go. I had then promptly forgotten all about it until she pressed me to confirm whether the children would be staying with her for the week or not.

My main focus was the Awards ceremony on the first night for this year’s Free From Eating Out Awards (FFEOA 2017). Despite the chaos of our household right now as Mike and I are both trying to find a work-life balance that suits us all, I had been keen to be a part of the Judging team again this year and M and G were just as excited by the possibility of finding some new places to eat that would suit us all. Luckily for us, we were able to find a couple of restaurants that we felt could cater for M in particular and were delighted to put them through their paces and see just how well they could meet their allergy and freefrom promises.

The evening kicked off with a quick overview of the plans going forward for 2018, which included some new categories, a simplified entry process and the promise of a monthly newsletter. They also revealed the new interactive map, which shows all the bronze, silver and gold award winners for the last 3 years and links to the all-important judges’ comments, which can help any discerning freefrom diner decide whether to eat there or not. I think this will be a great addition to the FFEOA offering and certainly will be something I recommend to those I come into contact with in the allergy community.

Despite my best efforts on the night itself, my fingers weren’t quite nimble enough and I just couldn’t keep up with tweeting the impressive number of gold award winners that were announced in each category. For any I didn’t manage to congratulate then, my apologies, but from the sounds of it, each and every award was well-deserved. I must make special mention of the wonderful Cafe Nouveau in Frome that we judged last year, who succeeded in achieving another gold award this year and also the Bangkok Canteen in Gloucester, who also won gold this year. Mike, the children and I visited there as part of this year’s judging stint and a review will follow in due course. For a full list of this year’s winners, please visit the FFEOA website.

As ever the best bit of the evening came after the awards had been announced. I was able to spend some time chatting with a few of the lovely friends I’ve met through the allergy world over the past few years, including Natalie of Intolerant Gourmand, Ryan of Borough 22, Ruth of What Allergy? and the Free From Fairy herself, Vicki. All in all, a wonderful evening and a great start to 3 days of learning more about all aspects of the Freefrom and allergy world.

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A Power of Superheroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best food trial EVER – and just in time for Easter!

I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but Easter is always one of those celebrations that creeps up and takes me by surprise. I suspect that the general busy-ness of the 6 weeks beforehand plays a big part in my seeming inability to effectively organise for it. Every year I say I’ll be sorted and every year I fail miserably. When you consider the steady pace of events through our household this year: from Shrove Tuesday’s pancakes to Valentines Day, my birthday swiftly followed by M’s 10th and Mothers Day thrown into the mix for good measure, there’s no wonder that having finally paused for a much-needed breath, I’ve once again almost let Easter pass us by,

In previous years both M and G have been able to enjoy dairy- and soya-free Easter eggs, 20150402_183827although last year was very different as by the time the day arrived, M was only eating rice, chicken and cucumber and our options were limited to plastic eggs and an accompaniment of non-edible treats. Thanks to some strategic conversations with M’s dietician and some canny planning on my part, Easter 2016 is promising to be a much more exciting time for him as we’ve timed to perfection his next food challenge: cocoa and dairy-free chocolate!

M is now counting down to when he can start this food trial and I’ve been frantically exploring the free from market as, believe it or not, there have been some exciting new ventures in the dairy- and soya-free chocolate world that we’ve yet to discover. Here I’ve decided to share some of the great options available for those of you looking for a fantastic dairy-free Easter chocolate treat and hope that you’re able to find the perfect one for you.

Please note: Due to M’s previously identified hypersensitivity, we are avoiding soya lecithin as well as dairy and soya, but not all of these products use an alternative, so I’ve listed any “may contains” listed by the manufacturer.

Plamil Foods – This is a brand that I’ve seen, but knew very little about. easter-eggs-xlThey are the oldest vegan company in the UK and as well as not using milk, their factory is also gluten- and nut-free. Impressively they were the first company in the world to make dairy-free milk chocolate in 1983 and the first organic chocolate in the UK. Their Easter products include a variety of Easter Bunny bars and bags of half chocolate eggs as well as the more traditional hollow eggs.


Moo Free Chocolate
– We’ve been big fans of Moo-free chocolate for a long-time, not least because they were one of the first dairy-free brands that I discovered that used sunflower lecithin, making them really safe for M. As well as their ever available chocolate bars, they are selling hollow Easter eggs in 3 flavours: moo-free-3-eggs-diagonal-web-mediumOriginal, Bunnycomb and Orange.

  • Dairy-, gluten-, lactose-, casein- and wheat-free. Also vegetarian and vegan
  • Uses sunflower lecithin
  • *May contain traces of hazelnuts
  • Available from a number of stockists including Sainsburys, Waitrose and Holland & Barrett. For a full list, click here
  • Prices from £4.00 to £4.99
  • G’s mark out of 10: 10/10

 

D&D Chocolates – This is a new brand to the whole family and I was lucky enough to have a taste at the recent #FFFA16 judging days I attended. As their website shows, they have a whole range of really lovely Easter products from the delightfully named Chuckling bunnies, mini eggs and various felt bags and baskets crammed full of chocolate. choccbunniesHR-bigThey also sell carob products and have a similarly impressive range of those themed for Easter too.

  • Dairy-, nut- and gluten-free. Also vegan
  • Uses sunflower lecithin
  • *May contain traces of soya
  • Available on-line as well as Independent health stores
  • Prices from £2.50 to £29.99
  • G’s mark out of 10: 8.5/10


Cocoa Libre
– These are a relative newcomer to the freefrom market, but impressively have been shortlisted at both the #FFFA15 and #FFFA16. When I first saw their products, I got very excited as they are made with Rice Milk, which is clearly labelled on their packaging, but sadly they also include soya lecithin at the moment.This means that they’re not currently suitable for M, though I’ve no doubt that G would love this box of 10 Easter chicks.UfubKWw9Rb4AWzEU3q0Ot-jlK0Y

  • Dairy-, gluten-, wheat- and nuts-free. Also vegan
  • Uses soya lecithin
  • Available on-line as well as a number of small independent stores around the country
  • Prices from £1.95 to £4.95
  • G’s marks out of 10: Unfortunately G didn’t manage to try this one before I published this blog, but the chocolate I tasted at the #FFFA16 earned a 9/10 from me

 

Booja Booja – If you eat dairy-free chocolate and want to be indulged, you need look no further! Booja Booja makes the most decadent and delicious chocolate, which is perhaps far more suitable for the adult taste than for children, though needless to say,
G and M both loved their champagne truffles a few years ago! They have a beautiful selection of Easter eggs in this years collection and I’d be hard pushed to know which to choose.

  • organic as well as dairy-, gluten- and soya-free
  • *May contain nutsboojabooja2
  • Available from stores including Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and Sainsburys. Other stockists can be found on-line here
  • Prices from £9.95
  • G’s marks out of 10: We didn’t try their Easter eggs, but their truffles deserve a richly indulgent 10/10

The Bionic Woman

For the last 6 days Mike has taken to calling me the “bionic woman”. Needless to say, I have not recently had a skydiving accident which has led to bionic modifications to my broken body resulting in amplified hearing, a right arm with the strength of 10 men and the ability to run at speeds over 60mph; in fact, there has been no incident of note and my 1 broken body part, my pancreas, remains well and truly broken. Rather there has been a conscious decision on my part to finally fully embrace a relatively new technological development that I hope will make a significant difference to my diabetes care.

I first became aware of this new bit of kit through M’s school friend, F and his fantastic parents, L and I. I can’t remember quite how we got onto the subject, but I’m reasonably certain that it had something to do with school Sports Day, the challenge of T1D vs. the active child and watching L check his blood sugars simply by waving a black box over his arm. To be fair, M had been wittering on telling me for quite some while about the “white, circular sensor-thingy” attached to F’s arm that enabled him to test his blood glucose levels (BGLs), but the lack of clarity in his description combined with my own lack of relevant knowledge meant that I had absolutely no idea what M was talking about and had dismissed the subject without really giving it a second thought. However, my interest was piqued through that chance encounter on the school field and it led to the opportunity for an enlightening conversation about what this thing was.

The Freestyle Libre (FSL) is marketed as a “flash glucose monitoring system” with a tagline of:

FL

and I was intrigued enough by this to want to find out more and discover whether this might be for me, or not. I read their website, researched on-line for users’ reviews, joined the FB forum for FSL users and wondered if it was too good to be true. I’ll be honest, when I first looked into whether it would be a benefit to me and my T1D care, I loved how easy it appeared to be and, having spoken at length to L and I on more than 1 occasion, could see just how revolutionary it could be, especially for children with T1D.IMG_0131[1] But, and believe me when I say it was quite a big “but”, the sticking point sadly was the price. This type of technology is not available to anyone through the NHS as yet and funding the sensors alone would cost in the region of £100 a month. I know that you cannot put a price on good health, but as a Mum to 2 children with multiple food allergies and an already increased monthly bill due to the high costs of free from food, the challenge of finding that extra £100 each month (£125 extra earned pre-tax) felt quite daunting and I shelved any thoughts of such an investment for the time being.

However, even though the price was making me think twice, I was reluctant to dismiss the option out-of-hand and, given the lengthy UK waiting list, decided to add my name and wait to see what happened in the meantime. The daily events of life with M and G quickly overtook everything else and the FSL soon dropped far down my list of priorities, though it was never far from my thoughts. I’m not exaggerating when I say months passed, but at long last, in January 2016, I saw the message I’d been waiting for: the news that monitors and sensors were once again readily available in the UK and I decided to bite the bullet and order a starter pack to finally see if the FSL’s claims were all true.

IMG_0135[1]The concept is a simple one and reassuringly easy to use. You insert a small sensor with a thin, 5mm needle into the back of your arm and, although the initial instructions for applying it appear quite complex, it really was quick and easy to do. I didn’t find it painful at all and whilst it takes some time to get used to the constant presence of this sensor on my arm, I’ve had no problems with it. The sensor measures what is called the interstitial fluid glucose levels, which are not identical to BGLs as this is the fluid found between the cells, but are considered accurate enough for monitoring what is going on. To find out your BGL, you simply wave the scanner over your arm and it gives you the result almost instantaneously. IMG_0129[1]The sensor continually reads the changes in the glucose levels and, as long as you scan at least once every 8 hours, the easy-to-read graphs given on the screen indicate what has happened during the times you didn’t test. As with most CGM systems (Continuous Glucose Monitoring), it is recommended that the FSL user occasionally uses a standard glucose monitor to test their blood sugars and check that reading to the one given by the FSL – my tests have shown a difference of less than 0.3 mmol, which is incredible.

I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am with this small device. It really was easy to understand how to use it and the whole family – Mike, G, M and even my Mum – have taken their turn in testing my BGLs for me. Everyday I sit with the scanner amongst the rest of my accountancy paraphernalia in front of me on my desk IMG_0128[1]and am able to discreetly test whenever I want or feel the need. The amount of information available is vast and you can look at enough graphs, bar charts and log books to satisfy even the biggest techno-geek. It has become strangely addictive to do and has already started to give me an even greater understanding of what my T1D is doing than I’ve ever had before. The non-invasive nature of the testing means that it would be easy for a parent to do during the night with no fear of disturbing their child’s sleep, and similarly for Mike to do if he ever feels that my blood sugars are dropping overnight – no need to wake me to ask me if I’m going hypo and then having to survive the often stroppy response his concerns are rewarded with, whether they are or not – yes I am precious about my sleep! I also have no doubt that it would appeal to every tech-savvy under-18 out there, which would no doubt reduce the chances of non-compliance and teen rebellion that so many young T1Ds experience,IMG_0130[1] thereby similarly reducing the risk of complications from poor control. I really can’t speak highly enough of my experience so far with the Freestyle Libre and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to every T1D out there. It has been a struggle to find a down-side other than the price, which is due to the £50 sensors needing to be replaced every 14 days. My personal solution to that is to fund 1 sensor a month for the time being, or at least until the point I finally win that elusive lottery jackpot!

 

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Perfect pancakes

During our recent GOSH appointment, the conversation naturally turned to the food I’m cooking for M these days and how we could continue to vary the options available to him with such limited ingredients. The subject had turned to our plans to introduce white fish and whether there were any M-friendly free-from fishfingers on the market, which there aren’t. I was just saying that I had perfected a rice-flour tempura batter, which would be ideal for making fish bites, when M, without looking up from the handheld computer device he was engrossed by, piped up to inform them that “…Mummy cooks me chicken nuggets and deep-fried rice-balls and flatbreads and pancakes…” before carrying on with his game. The conversation paused briefly as the dietician took note and then carried on from there, but it made me realise that I had never shared my rice-flour pancake recipe and I vowed to change that as soon as I could.

20141007_173343Pancakes are one of those recipes that I attempted very early on in our free-from journey and are still a family favourite 4 years on. I make the big, fluffy ones most associated with North America and use the batter as a basis for other savoury treats such as corn or courgette fritters. The basic recipe contains very few ingredients and proved easy to convert to the updated M-friendly version that you can find here. I flavour them with a variety of green herbs and they form a tasty accompaniment to any meal, enjoyed by the whole family, not just M and I even cooked them recently when he had a friend round for tea, where they proved to be a hit.

One of the best things about these pancakes, other than how quickly you can whip up a batch, is just how versatile they can be. With a few careful choices about flavours, they can be either savoury or sweet and both have proved popular with M. They will also form the perfect platform for our mini-challenges on spices and flavourings over the coming weeks, which I know M can’t wait to try.

A Birthday Treat – Lemon Meringue cupcakes

This time last year, M was admitted into GOSH for scopes and he and I spent Mike’s birthday away from the birthday boy himself, leaving him to celebrate at home with the rest of the family.  There was a point this year when I thought history was about to repeat itself as we’re once again waiting for an admission date for M, who needs further testing to try to sort out the games his body is currently playing.  However, Mike’s birthday came, and went, with no sign of a phone-call from GOSH and I finally had a chance to make a long-awaited attempt at the Lemon Meringue cake I’d been dreaming of making last year. lemonmeringue

Lemon Meringue pie is Mike’s favourite dessert and there was a time, many eons ago, when I’d actually make him one from scratch for his birthday treat.  With the arrival of G and M, the general busyness of work and juggling the school-run alongside business meetings and the general day-to-day running of the household, I don’t think I’ve turned my hand to such a dish for at least a decade.  Add into the mix, the newer challenges of egg-free meringues and MEWS-free pastry and it’s not been the easiest pudding to make.  I attempted a cheesecake version for Fathers’ Day this year, but that didn’t quite go as planned, so I put my thinking cap on to see if I could figure out an alternative format for this popular dessert.

I settled on lemon drizzle cupcakes topped with vanilla butter-cream icing and small meringues.  I’ve made Lemon drizzle cake before, but found that the rice flour made the sponge taste very granular and I was keen to see if I could improve the texture.  I found a lovely recipe for vegan lemon drizzle cake and read around the options for replacing the flour to make the cake both gluten- and potato-flour-free. 20141015_194117 My final recipe included gram flour – an ingredient that’s been lurking in my cupboard for a while, but which I had yet to brave using – rice flour and tapioca flour and the end result was infinitely better than the last time, though some further tweaking to create the perfect lemon drizzle cupcake is needed.

I whipped up a small batch of my vanilla butter-cream icing and used it to secure the mini egg-free meringues to the top of each cupcake.  I was delighted with how these cakes looked and M spent most of the day, and evening, before Mike got home from work, begging to try one to “just check it’s okay for Daddy!”  I am assured by the family that the cupcakes were a huge success and so that’s another recipe added to my ever-increasing repertoire.