Tag Archives: Gluten-free diet

Supporting our favourite Foodpreneur

Every now and then you stumble across something wonderful that makes an unbelievable difference to your life or that of those around you. Since I uncovered this brand at the Free From Food Awards 2016, I’ve not hesitated to sing the praises of this particular allergy superhero from the proverbial rooftop and finding myself in the position to do this once again, I’ve not hesitated in lending my voice in support. The best thing about this particular discovery is that M’s superhero has become a firm family friend in the 18 months since our first conversation and for all the right reasons. Not only did he lovingly create sweet treats that went beyond the wildest dreams of M and G and were deliciously safe for them both, he has also sent messages of love and support, not just when M broke his leg last year, but as he prepped for his SATS this year too.

Up until a month ago, I’d never even heard of the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur 2017 competition, but I’m now eagerly waiting for the final results with fingers and toes tightly crossed for our favourite foodpreneur: the awesome Ryan, from Borough 22 doughnuts. The competition looks to recognise and celebrate UK-based food and drink startups, with the winner being offered mentoring from industry experts as well as a 6 weeks selling opportunity through joint sponsors, intu, who own shopping centres across the UK. From the hundreds of entries received, 15 were shortlisted for the first stage of the competition, where each startup were invited to give a 3-minute presentation about their business, why they started it and the direction they’re hoping to take it in the future. From a home-delivery wine service to vegetable- and fruit-infused water and vegetarian hot dogs to hand-crafted chocolates, there’s a lot of delicious options to choose from.

I was delighted to learn this week that Ryan has moved on to the next stage and is one of 8 semi-finalists, who will receive a week’s worth of pop-up shop space at one of nationwide intu’s shopping centres to introduce their wares to a new audience. Ryan has been given a kiosk at the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex and will be working 12-hour days, 10am to 10pm, from this Friday, June 30th to July 7th. If you’re in the area and able to stop by to see Ryan, taste his amazing doughnuts and show him some support, I know you won’t be disappointed with his fantastic freefrom ware.

And don’t forget to tell him that M sent you!

Pub dinners and Picnic lunches

Our 2 days in Stratford-upon-Avon meant that we had to find somewhere safe to feed both G and M for all our meals and we took the opportunity to try out some new options that we hadn’t had time to explore before. As far as breakfast is concerned, these days we tend to go for the easy option, which involves taking M-friendly cereal, a couple of litres of rice milk and a pot full of raisins for a cosy breakfast in our room. The tempting array of breakfast treats, from bacon and eggs to toast and jam, is just too much for M to cope with first thing in the morning and we know that having to deal with that temptation will cause an anxiety that will last the rest of the day. Daytime snacks are also easily covered as we take a supply of rice cakes, home-baked goodies and fresh fruit for M and a selection from perennial favourite Nakd date bars, sesame snaps, fruit snacks and gluten- and dairy-free treats for G.

However, when it comes to lunch and dinner, especially if we haven’t timed our trip perfectly to allow for a packed lunch or tea to cover one of our meals, we are left to search through the shelves of local supermarkets or scour the menus of available restaurants with our fingers crossed that we’ll find something that will suit us all and keep the children full and happy. Our first night’s dinner was a resounding success and we were left wondering whether the rest of our meals would be so adequately met.

At last year’s Free From Eating Out Awards, pub chain Wetherspoons won a Silver award in the Pub restaurants category, with their impressive gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian/vegan offerings. I’ll be honest, Wetherspoons is not somewhere we would usually choose to eat when there are so many other world cuisines to taste, but The Golden Bee in Stratford looked welcoming and promised to be another success story when it comes to feeding M. I will confess to breaking from our norm as we checked with the restaurant beforehand to see if they could cook an M-friendly meal and then made a reservation to make sure there would be a table waiting for us and our peculiar dietary needs. As is so often the case, there was no rice option available for M, but 2 grilled chicken breasts, plenty of cucumber and 2 packets of pre-cut apple slices proved to be all our hungry boy needed for his dinner. G struggled a little to decide on what she wanted to eat, not least because she had to cross-reference between the extensive gluten- and dairy-free menus, but she finally settled on gammon and egg, which is a definite favourite of hers. I was impressed by the range of foods available and whilst they weren’t able to provide safe alternatives for dessert, the plates themselves were more than enough to feed and satisfy my hungry duo.

Our next challenge came with our picnic lunch the next day, but I thought I had another potential ace up my sleeve and was delighted to discover that I couldn’t have been more right. Thanks to friends from the wonderfully active on-line allergy community, I had heard more than once about the improved selection of freefrom foods available at Marks and Spencer and it was great to finally have a chance to test it out. The selection of “Made Without” sandwiches and wraps available for G was impressive and, in the Stratford store, incredibly easy to find, though a trip to our local M&S this week has proved a lot more challenging as they hide their allergy offerings in plain sight amongst all of the other sandwiches for sale. It didn’t take G long to zoom in on her sandwich of choice and the gluten-free prawn mayonnaise sandwich was definitely massively enjoyed. She also chose some plain crisps and was keen to try the gluten-free scotch eggs that we had spotted in the chiller cabinet. She later confessed that she hadn’t enjoyed them as much as she hoped she would because of the flavour of the sausage meat, but it was just so nice to be able to buy her some picnic foods that were just like those others would eat. We managed to find some safe cooked chicken slices for M and accompanied by rice cakes, pink lady apples and pears, we had a great picnic to keep the whole family happy.

All in all our weekend stay in Stratford-upon-Avon was a great success and both children want to visit again soon and perhaps see a Shakespeare play in the theatre.

Wonderful dinner, shame about the price

After a busier-than-originally-expected National Eosinophil Awareness Week, I took a much-needed sabbatical from my blog and concentrated my efforts on getting my day job and home life back in order to varying levels of success depending on which particular task you’ve decided to look at. With May half-term now behind us, it seemed an opportune moment to get back to the writing and catch up a little with our adventures over the last few weeks. Whilst there are lots of things to tell you about, I decided to start with one of my favourite things to share – the success story of a fantastic meal out.

Our household has been filled for months with the unbelievable stress of M’s SATS and by the time half-term hit, that particular challenge had been well and truly put behind us. Thanks to the unfailing support of M’s class teacher and school, we all came through the experience relatively unscathed and Mike and I wanted to do something to mark the end of that pressure and instead look forward to the rest of M’s final term in Junior school. The first weekend of half-term was the May bank holiday and we decided to surprise the children with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to discover more about this beautiful Warwickshire town and its most famous forefather, William Shakespeare. We had lots planned for our 2 days there and the glorious May sunshine on the Sunday made for a fantastic day. However, as always, our skills in finding somewhere safe for the whole family to eat were stretched to the limits, though our final destination on the Saturday evening proved to be a great choice.

For those of you who have never been to Stratford-upon-Avon, it is not filled with a plethora of the chain restaurants we have somewhat come to rely on as a “safe bet” when we need to feed M somewhere new and sadly the few small independent eateries we explored were unable to prepare anything that he could eat. Finally, I spotted a Zizzi restaurant and whilst we haven’t eaten there for a long time, I had in the back of my mind a vague memory of a discussion within our EGID support group, where others had had great success with eating there. We headed inside and started questioning the manager about whether there was any chance of an M-friendly dinner or not. To our delight, he reassured us that they could manage a plain grilled chicken breast with cucumber and were happy for M to eat his own rice cakes at the table.

As G, Mike and I perused the menus to make our own dinner choices, I had a sudden flash of inspiration about something I was sure I had read and, upon checking once again with our extremely accommodating manager, was delighted to be able to tell M that he could also have some mozzarisella cheese added to the dish to add a little something extra that he hasn’t been able to have when eating out before. M couldn’t wait for his dinner to arrive and G was similarly excited about her pepperoni pizza. The plates looked fantastic when they finally reached our table and both children soon made quick work of clearing the dishes without any argument. Mike and I also enjoyed our meals and we would have been more than happy to call it a night there, but it turned out that the best bit was yet to come.

Whilst G had been studying the extensive allergy menu, she had identified a couple of gluten- and dairy-free puddings that she could have and my eagle eyes had already spotted the rare possibility of lemon sorbet as a dessert for M. Our waitress was happy to grab the lemon sorbet label for me to check and as soon as I gave the go-ahead, a double scoop of sorbet and a fantastic-looking Sticky Chocolate and Praline Torte with coconut and chocolate ice-cream arrived at our table for G and M. For the last couple of years or so, there has been a campaign called #fruitisnotapudding, which seeks to encourage allergy-friendly options for dessert, rather than the somewhat ubiquitous fresh fruit salad. Over the last few months, this campaign has really flourished on social media and it’s been great to see what restaurants can do when they really think about it. As a family we rarely eat pudding whilst we’re out because there is only very occasionally some tempting and tasty options that are both gluten- and dairy-free for G, without even beginning to think about preparing a safe alternative for M. Our discovery of this delicious Torte and ice-cream  for G was, for her, a dream come true and only goes to show that it absolutely can be done with some effort.

It won’t surprise you to learn that the dessert dishes were emptied just as quickly as their main course plates had been and we had 2 very happy children by the end of the meal. We thought nothing could spoil a great evening meal out for us all…until the bill arrived at our table. There is no rhyme or reason to how any restaurant charges us for the meal that they prepare for M; sometimes we have a double portion for the price of one, sometimes they just bill us for an extra or a side dish and very occasionally we have been fortunate to be gifted M’s meal for free. As is so often the case, M asked for a double portion of chicken and the plate of 2 grilled chicken breasts topped with some melted mozzarisella cheese and a healthy serving of cucumber was added to the bill at an eye-watering £27.90! Unfortunately, Zizzi’s approach to billing left us with a slightly bitter aftertaste and even though the duty manager did eventually concede to just charge us half of the original cost, we will have to think very carefully about when and if we choose to visit them again. It was a fantastic meal out for us all, but we ended up paying a lot for less than a handful of ingredients.

M’s marks:             10/10                                                                                                                               G’s  marks:             9.5/10                                                                                                                               Parents’ marks:    9/10 for food, but a disappointing 2/10 for approach to billing

Every Cloud…

Easter weekend, and a piece of bad luck combined with a chance encounter led to the discovery of an absolute hidden gem that we wouldn’t have discovered under any other set of circumstances. G, M and I were enjoying a Saturday out and about, when an unexpected puncture disrupted our day and found us searching for the help of a Kwik Fit centre in the small North Somerset seaside town of Clevedon. The staff warned that it would take a couple of hours to replace my tyre as I was at the back of a somewhat lengthy queue and so the children and I headed in the direction of the town centre to see what we could discover whilst we were there.

Shrugging off the unwelcome stress of the situation, we enjoyed the sun as we chatted and walked together, with G and M laughing and sharing their thoughts on just about any subject that crossed their minds as we wandered the streets. However, the lack of a prompt lunch soon began to catch up on us all and following the advice of the cashier at a nearby shop, we found our way to a local café to see what, if anything, we could have for lunch. My expectations were low and I had managed to pick up a pack of rice cakes that M could eat, whilst I kept my fingers crossed that I might be able to buy something that was not only safe for G, but that she’d eat as well. I could never have imagined the ultimate success story that was about to unfold before us.

Café Fusion is an unprepossessing cafe in this lovely seaside town, tucked away on Old Church Road, nestled between a hairdressers and a charity shop. I took a quick glance at the menu in the front window and didn’t hesitate to enter the minute I spotted the large number of gluten-free sandwiches so clearly on offer to customers. It didn’t take long for G and me to decide what we were going to eat – an egg mayonnaise sandwich on toasted gluten-free bread for G and a cranberry, bacon and brie one for me. M took a fancy to the Apple Tango in the fridge and a quick perusal of the can suggested that this would be a great option for him to enjoy alongside his plain rice cakes. Not an exciting lunch by any stretch, but I hoped that it would fill a gap as a temporary measure at very least.

The waitress was understandably confused that I only ordered 2 sandwiches for the 3 of us and I soon found myself explaining the situation and that M is only able to eat a handful of foods on a regular basis. The chef had obviously been listening from the kitchen and popped his head around the door to ask what M’s safe foods were. Within minutes of me listing the 6, he offered to whip up a serving of plain steamed rice, plain chicken and fresh cucumber for M’s lunch. I couldn’t believe my ears that this tiny cafe was able to offer a completely safe meal without any fuss, something that has never happened without the careful planning and implementation of strategic military-esque manoeuvres beforehand. M was thrilled to hear that he could eat a proper lunch alongside G and me and couldn’t wait for his plate to appear. The food when it came was absolutely delicious and the sight of 3 empty dishes was all the indication needed to show just how good that unplanned lunch was.

It absolutely wasn’t the Easter Saturday the kids and I had in mind when we set out that morning, but it only goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining, even when it comes to complex dietary requirements.

 

A touch of Disney magic

Three months since Christmas and nearly all of those festive treats have disappeared from the kitchen cupboards to be replaced with Easter ones instead, but last weekend G finally got to enjoy her Christmas present, just in time for the Easter break. Having waited so long for the day to arrive, we decided to make it into a mini family celebration,  starting with a car journey to Cardiff with G and M wiling away the time singing along to the Cats soundtrack. Once we arrived, we started with a brief stroll into the City centre, looking for the perfect place to stop for an early tea.

I had done a little research before we left home as I was keen to find somewhere new to eat and was hopeful that Mexican chain restaurant, Wahaca, might be able to provide us all a dinnertime treat. Before we were led to our table, I spoke briefly to our hostess about the somewhat complex dietary requirements we have at the moment and was assured that she was confident that they could put together a safe meal for us. I took my seat, clutching their comprehensive gluten-free menu and accompanying allergens listing to study whilst we tried to choose our dishes. Wahaca is a new dining experience for us all and we were hard pressed to know where to begin with our choices, especially as we had no real idea about portion size.

Mike and I opted for their Mexican Feast to share, which is made up of a number of smaller portions from the menu, including tacos, quesadillas, tostadas and empanadas, and was more than enough to fill us before we reached our final destination for the day. I was impressed with their gluten-free menu, which explains that there are a mix of dishes available, some that are completely gluten-free, whilst others are suitable for those with a gluten intolerance. G pondered the menu for a long time and struggled to reach a decision, not least because so many of the dishes include dairy as well as a spiciness that she would prefer to avoid. In the end, she actually ordered from the Kids menu, where she could have grilled chicken in soft corn tortillas. There were a few too many vegetables adorning her plate for her liking, but she did eat the rest in fairly quick fashion.

Our new approach to food challenges means that M can occasionally add an extra into his dish and I had my fingers crossed that we might be able to combine a little onion to his meal to add some flavour, but unfortunately their green rice included vegetable stock and garlic as well,
which would definitely be a step too far at the moment. After a lengthy discussion with the restaurant manager, M opted for a double portion of grilled chicken, cucumber and apple, all washed down with a Virgin Mojito, although the last didn’t quite hit the mark. Our meal was nicely finished with a dairy-free hot chocolate for G and a coffee for me. We were once again disappointed by the lack of choice when it came to dessert and instead decided to give it a miss and head on to our final destination.

Dinner done, it was off to the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena for 100 years of Magic marked by Disney On Ice with one very excited young lady and a slightly less certain younger brother. G has been desperate to go to see Disney on Ice for a long time and the evening really was fantastic as she loved every moment of it. Despite his initial reservations, M was equally spellbound, even during the lengthy part dedicated to the story of Frozen. From everybody’s favourites, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, to Tiana and Prince Naveen from modern classic, The Princess and the Frog, there was more than enough to keep everyone entertained. The skating was superb, the spectacle fantastic and the songs had many in the audience clapping and singing along. G didn’t stop smiling the whole evening and it really was a Christmas present worth waiting for without a doubt.

 

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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I often flick through those “You know you’re a…” memes and have a quiet giggle to myself. I love the funny images that reflect the reality of a certain situation and I’m happy to admit that I do have a sense of humour about the jokes that poke gentle fun at the world’s response to the seemingly meteoric rise in food allergies in the past few years. In my opinion, and I willingly accept there will be many who don’t agree with me, life’s too short to not be able to laugh a little and find humour in what can be incredibly challenging situations. I know how difficult life with allergies can be and that ability to smile in the face of adversity is often what gets me through the hardest of times.

The truth is that when you’re an allergy parent you never really get the day off, which is why I found myself having to write this post in the midst of relaying tales of our recent trip to New York. It was a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday and yet, just as I did when we had our short trip to Italy last year, I found myself snapping photos right, left and centre img_3430whenever I came across any food or drink that would be suitable for either of the children. The thing is that for once in my life I wasn’t actively looking for safe food options, but the discovery of that first gluten-free sandwich triggered a level of excitement that would be completely incomprehensible to anyone other than those walking the very same journey that we do. And no sooner had I discovered that first little gem, than I started looking everywhere to see just how well G and M would be catered for should we find ourselves in the Big Apple in the next few years.

Our trip to see the most well-known lady of the USA was also the site of this unexpected windfall in meeting dietary requirements. Having climbed our way to the top of the Statue of Liberty, we headed on to Ellis Island, where we decided to stop for lunch before exploring everything on offer in this former immigration inspection station. We had opted for a burger each as it was a cold and wintry February day and whilst Mike was placing our order at the counter, I took to the fridges to pick out our drinks. img_1449There, nestling amongst the other cold food options available, was this amazing gluten-free ham and swiss cheese roll and I was so impressed that I just had to take a snap. I’ve commented so many times on how difficult it can be to locate the gluten-free offering in cafes and coffee shops in the UK, so to discover this one so prominently on display and clearly labelled was just fantastic. Obviously, I really can’t comment on whether it tasted good or not, though I can assure you that the burgers Mike and I had were delicious, but to even have the option so readily available was a real breath of fresh air.

From that point on, my eagerness to see what other allergy-friendly offerings were available was back to its normal level and whilst I didn’t actively seek out restaurants that could serve freefrom alternatives, I kept my Allergy Mum eagle eyes on red alert to see what I could spot on our travels around this vibrant city. Our quick stop at Eataly to find a drink and small snack after a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial museum revealed some sheep’s milk and cheese for those looking for dairy-free alternatives, but disappointingly we couldn’t spot any of the gluten-free goodies we had unearthed on our Italian trip last year.

I didn’t spot many allergy-friendly menu items as we ate out in several of the many restaurants on offer, but we were delighted to spot a couple of gluten-free options at what was, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant of the trip. The fantastic Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50s themed diner that combines classic all-American dishes with amazing live entertainment. As you sit to enjoy your meal, you are serenaded by your talented waiter or waitress and their fellow servers. The staff members are all looking to break onto Broadway whilst working at the diner, which understands not only their need to supplement their income and take further performance classes, but also allows them to accept those last-minute audition opportunities whenever they appear. The food is good, but it’s the staff who really make this a dining experience like no other. Discovering a couple of gluten-free meals was a real treat, though I’m not sure they could really cater for the more complicated needs of a certain young member of our household.

However, our best finds came on a very wet, grey and miserable Monday afternoon as we trudged across the city towards the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. We needed to grab a light lunch before we reached our final destination and, as Mike had been hankering for a proper bagel New York-style, stopped at 2 unassuming locations to find what we had been looking for. As well as eventually finding a great deli serving some delicious lunch foods, we also discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave of freefrom goodies. From the unbelievable number of allergy-friendly cereals, bread, frozen foods and milks on sale at the impressively named Food Emporium on West 43rd Street and the added delights of camel milk and coconut or almond milk ice cream at Sunac Natural Market on West 42nd Street, there was enough to satisfy the cravings of even the pickiest of allergy tourists. There may not have been a huge variety of options for M, but we did find some great and different types of rice for him and I know G would have been hard pressed to choose from the wide selection of gluten- and dairy-free foods that we found between these 2 great spots.

And so, in the tradition of all those Allergy parent memes that are out there….

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when your holiday photo album looks like this!

 

#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.

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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In the blink of an eye

Despite the numerous hospital visits over the last few weeks – think local hospital…GOSH…local eye hospital…Moorfields…local hospital….local eye hospital….local hospital – this December has been everything I’ve longed for it to be and so much more. For the first December night in a long time, it’s fast approaching midnight Friday and my evening of work is only just beginning. In the last couple of hours, I’ve knocked up a batch of img_12811M-friendly apple and pear cupcakes, a batch of G-friendly vanilla cupcakes and I’m currently struggling with the chocolate brownie sponges that are refusing to be moved from the cake tins. There’s 2 lots of icing to sort out, decorations to be finalised and they all need to be applied to the cakes themselves, but I’m delighted to find myself spending this winter evening like this.

Not only have we broken the December 3rd curse of an admission to hospital, but we’ve also beaten the steady stream of bad luck that has engulfed G’s birthdays for the last couple of years and are getting to spend the day itself at home with our most favourite young lady. Well, I say at home, but of course, the path of G’s birthday never did run quite that smooth, but it’s as close to being at home for the evening as we could wish. It’ll be a day of “work as usual” for us all and our evening plans are dominated by M’s school’s carol service, but we’re all together and that’s something that hasn’t been possible since 2013. All that being said, it does appear that we have created a new December tradition when it comes to G’s birthday and it’s a good thing img_12861that my sense of humour is very much in tact. It was with a wry smile that G and I summoned a black cab to take us to GOSH on Sunday from the train station, not for a visit to a hospital-bound younger brother, but  this time for the final YPF meeting of the year. I’m not sure that Christmas would be Christmas for me without the opportunity to wander the length of Oxford Street on the hunt for last-minute gifts and small stocking stuffers!

img_12881It feels even more special this year as my baby girl, my precious first-born, hits the start of her teen years and all the emotions that those have to bring. In the proverbial blink of an eye, my December 2003 baby is turning 13 and in front of me stands a beautiful young lady, with a little more attitude and grumpiness than I would have chosen, but with a kind heart, generous spirit and the most loyal friendship on offer that you could ask for. She is growing up fast and we are quickly losing sight of the easy-going, chatty toddler that she was as an opinionated, independence-seeking, moody teenager appears in her place. She can slam doors with the best of them and her stomping feet can make it feel as if the kitchen ceiling is about to come down at any moment – and indeed it pretty much has done. These days she brooks no nonsense from her little brother and yet she will defend him to the hilt when it comes to it and is there to comfort and hug even when he doesn’t want it. She’s looking to make sense of a world that often doesn’t and is trying to understand how to interpret the nuances when it would be so much easier if everything was clearer defined in black and white. She can be the much-needed splash of colour in a reality that is all too often dark and depressing and yet will quietly fade into the background when everything gets too intense and too much. She is an incredible blessing to all our lives and we are all so grateful to be celebrating a life that is so much better for the 13 years she’s been an integral part of it.

Happy 13th darling G, we love you so very, very much xxx