Tag Archives: Gluten-free diet

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

Christmas Countdown

The beginning of December has finally arrived. With it comes freezing temperatures, roaring log fires, Christmas trees, pantomimes, carol-singing and, in our household, some frantic last-minute plans for impending teenagehood and a quick anniversary celebration if we can only find the time to squeeze it in. And yes, we perhaps didn’t plan things too well – can you guess that I’ve heard those comments just the odd once or twice before?

These days most children seem to expect a chocolate advent calendar as a necessary part of the Christmas countdown, but what do you do when your child has allergies and can’t enjoy something that’s the same as all their friends? M has asked if we can bake enough of his safe gingerbread cookies for him and G to enjoy 1 everyday between now and the big day itself. It is, without doubt, one of those things that always features highly on any allergy parents’ to-do list at this time of year as it takes some time to find the perfect, safe alternative, but there are some really great options out there and I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you:

And not forgetting one for those much-deserving Mummies out there (it contains gin in case you couldn’t work it out)!

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The Best Eateries in the Country

FFEOA 16 200X200Last week saw the third annual Food Matters Live event being held at ExCel, London. This event, which brings together hundreds of visitors, exhibitors, speakers and organisations from across the food and drink industry, aims to “…enable collaboration and innovation to support a sustainable food landscape for the future…” as well as encouraging cross-sector discussion and collaboration. I had first heard about it during the FreeFrom Foods Awards and was keen to attend if at all possible. Unfortunately, the necessary childcare arrangements just couldn’t be worked out to allow me to attend the 3-day event, but I did take some time to follow what was happening via some very active Twitter feeds. Tuesday afternoon was of particular interest as the winners of the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards 2016 (#FFEOA16) were being announced live at the event and fortunately coincided almost perfectly with the hour I spend sitting outside of M’s lesson at the Dyslexia centre, allowing me to focus on my Twitter feed to see the results as they happened.

Earlier this year I wrote about the launch of the 2016 FFEOA and the exciting news that Executive Chef, Dominic Teague of Indigo at One Alwych had won the first ever Pathfinder Award given to those who have “…really thought outside of the conventional freefrom box…”. Dominic not only accepted his award on the day, but then also took on the role of presenting the awards to all those worthy winners. When you look through the list of winners, goldstarsit becomes immediately obvious that there have been huge strides forward in the realm of catering for those with allergies and it was amazing to see so many fantastic food service providers from across the UK on the list.

I was delighted to see that each of the awards category was hotly contended and included well-known names such as Wetherspoons, CentreParcs and the Rainforest Café amongst its success stories*. These are places we haven’t yet dared to venture with M and his restricted diet, but will definitely consider visiting in the future when we’re in the vicinity. We were also thrilled to see some of our personal favourites winning well-deserved accolades including M’s all-time favourite, Borough 22 and our newest discovery, Café Nouveau in Frome. It was also good to spot the odd recommendation within reasonable driving distance and we’re already planning when we might be able to make some visits and try the freefrom offerings out for ourselves.

14650222_315615772146548_6413808020440687219_nThe overall winner was the Labyrinth Holistic Café, a community café found in Stockton-on-Tees. It is run as a not-for-profit community enterprise and is keen to welcome everyone, from all walks of life and no matter what their diet. The reviews given by some of the FFEOA16 judges commended the extensive menu, amazing fresh food and attention to detail that led to it being given the highest recognition.

Next year’s Food Matters Live conference is being held from November 21-23 2017 and I’ve already pencilled it into my diary as a must-do event for my year.

*a full list of winners can be found by following this link

Cafe Nouveau, Frome

cafeThere’s nothing better than finding a hidden treasure and this small cafe is an absolute gem. We were visiting friends who moved to Frome at the start of the summer and on recommendation from another friend, decided to try out Cafe Nouveau in Tytherington for our Saturday lunch. Long gone are the days of just dropping into a cafe or restaurant and hoping for a safe meal to feed both children, so about a week before our visit I wrote a quick email to the owner, Susan Green initially asking if it would be possible for us to bring a packed lunch for M to enjoy whilst the rest of us ordered from their menu. Much to my delight, Susan replied offering to prepare a cooked lunch for him based on his 5 safe foods and then impressed me further with some extra questions about which herbs and seasonings could be added to his meal to give a bit more flavour. This was already a meal that was sounding like a success and I couldn’t wait for our visit to see exactly how well it delivered.

img_12441I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t realise at first that the entire menu is gluten- and dairy-free, but as soon as we had established that fact, G was in her absolute element. I cannot adequately put into words her reaction when she realised that she could choose anything she fancied and soon settled on a prawn mayonnaise ciabatta with a small side salad and accompanied by her perennial favourite, a soya milk hot chocolate. When we placed our order for her drink, Susan reassured us that because G needed to be dairy-free, she would use dark chocolate powder to ensure the drink was completely safe for her. They had a fantastic range of alternative milks and milk-based drinks on the menu, including almond, coconut and soya milk as well as some cows’ milk for those customers who don’t want to try something different. We were told that the cows’ milk is kept separately and different containers used depending on the milk used. img_12451M was keen for G to try the “Vanilla Soya Frothy”, which I assume is a vanilla milkshake, but G was determined to indulge and stuck resolutely to what she knows she likes.

Mike and I both decided to take a look at their specials board, which is updated I believe on a daily basis and contained some delicious sounding dishes. I checked to make sure that their soup of the day didn’t contain potatoes and chose the chicken soup with a gluten-free roll on the side. Mike opted for their daily special of a spinach-filled chimichanga, which img_12461Susan mentioned was a fairly small portion and so added the Mezze plate, which included houmous, olives and some delicious seeded crackers. The plates, when they arrived, looked wonderful and the food was absolutely delicious. My soup had that real home-made feel to it, was packed with chicken and tantalisingly fragrant in its flavours. I was impressed with the gluten-free bread, which we were later told is baked off-site in a img_12431bakery that has an exclusively gluten-free area to make sure there is no cross-contamination risk. G’s sandwich soon disappeared and her hot chocolate didn’t last long either! As for M, he was thrilled to receive a healthy-sized portion of plain rice, topped with 2 roasted chicken thighs and some apple and ginger purée. He was a little disappointed that they didn’t stock any rice milk for him to drink, but was happy with the cartons of cloudy apple juice that were on offer instead. We were all delighted by our fantastic meals, little realising that the best was yet to come.

Anticipating that there wouldn’t be much on offer for M as a dessert, I had brought some safe snacks with us for him whilst the rest of us enjoyed a pudding. For the first time ever in her life, G had the chance to experience something that is commonplace for all her friends. She and I went to the counter, where an impressive array of cakes, cookies and other sweet treats were on display and she could eat every single one of them. That is a treat that is absolutely priceless and I loved seeing her struggle to pick just one item to enjoy after her lunch. There was chocolate cake, Victoria sponge, reduced sugar apple cake, flapjacks and some amazing-looking bite-size vanilla and nut ball treats. G finally settled on a toffee popcorn cookie, whilst I savoured a slice of the Victoria sponge.  Neither stayed around long enough for me to snap a photo, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine how wonderful they looked. We were so impressed with the selection that M helped me choose a few to take with us for afternoon tea at our friends’ house and was particularly keen that the man of the house had the chance to taste the allergy-friendly chocolate and orange torte.

Cafe Nouveau really was a most remarkable find and one that the whole family would happily recommend to anyone eating out with food allergies. It is part of a very small development on the edge of 30 acres of parkland that also includes 4-star Bed and Breakfast, The Lighthouse. Susan and her team open the cafe from 7am to provide breakfast for The Lighthouse’s guests as well as other customers, something that I absolutely love as it would save the need to pack boxes of cereal and cartons of safe milk on our travels.

Our marks: 9.5/10