Tag Archives: London

Foodmatters Live 2017

Whilst my primary focus for my recent London stay was the fantastic Free From Eating Out Awards, I took full advantage of the opportunity to explore the Foodmatters Live conference, an event I had never been to before and knew very little about until I arrived. I had spent some time perusing the lengthy list of conferences, seminars and stands that would be there over the 3 days and marked a few key ones that I knew I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t plan my stay to the nth degree and instead decided to see how things panned out and what drew my attention whilst I was there.

I arrived in London by lunchtime on the first day and headed across the city on the DLR towards the huge ExCel Exhibition centre. This was my first visit to this impressive space and walking the length of the centre to find the specific room for Foodmatters Live clocked up a fair few thousand steps. I had a simple plan for my first afternoon at the conference: to wander the exhibition space investigating and tasting some of the products on offer and chatting to the producers about them. I knew enough to realise that this wasn’t going to be like our previous visits to the Allergy and Freefrom Show over the years, but I was hopeful that I might stumble upon a few that we had yet to discover.

I wasn’t disappointed and found 4 new products, 3 of which M could try, although sadly they’re not all yet available in shops. It’s hard to know where to start, but with 3 sweet treats to describe, let’s begin with the single savoury snack I found.

Peckish Salt & Vinegar Rice Crackers

These have been on the market for a little while, though they’re not something I had seen before. Made predominantly from rice-based ingredients and containing only a very small amount of vinegar powder (1.1%), the rice crackers are gluten-free and therefore something we were happy to let M try. This baked snack is absolutely delicious, melts in the mouth and is incredibly more-ish, something M discovered after his very first taste. They come in 4 different flavours, though the salt and vinegar ones are the only flavour safe for both M and G, and even better, are readily available at most of the mainstream supermarkets. M declared them an instant hit and a ready replacement for crisps in his daily lunchbox.

M’s marks: 9.5/10

Freedom Mallows

One of the best bits about attending a show like Foodmatters Live is that you are able to speak directly to the product developers and producers and have your most taxing questions answered. It was a pleasure to meet Elvin of Freedom Mallows, another allergy-friendly product that has been around for a little while, but which has flown under our radar until now. He was able to reassure me that there is a very small percentage of maize starch in these marvellous freefrom and vegan marshmallows. The white mallows are vanilla in flavour and Elvin was kind enough to give me a bag of the pink and white bites for the children to try. We carefully split them into a pink pile for G and a white pile for M – piles that didn’t last very long in either case, a sure sign that they were a big hit.

M’s marks: 10/10

Push Chocolate

This was a truly unexpected find and a treat that has already revolutionised M’s somewhat narrow dietary existence. Push chocolate is made using cocoa butter, rice protein and sunflower lecithin – a list of ingredients that was absolute music to my ears. We don’t know for certain whether M will be able to tolerate a lot of cocoa butter, but having a small treat every now and then will boost so much more than just his energy levels. Sadly this chocolate is not yet available to buy, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for an announcement to say where and when it will be out on the market.

M’s marks: 10/10

Mr Kipling’s GF Chocolate Brownies

The final sweet treat is sadly not M-friendly, but is a wonderful new product that is just brilliant for G. Every time we visit one of our favourite coffee shops, G is drawn to the gluten-free chocolate brownies, which all too frequently are not also dairy-free and therefore not something she can choose to enjoy alongside her soya milk hot chocolate. Whilst these are branded as being gluten- and wheat-free, I discovered through discussion with the knowledgable staff on the stand, that they are also dairy-free, but cannot currently be marketed as such because of the factory environment they are produced in. Premier Foods, the company behind the Mr Kipling brand, has developed a small range of gluten- and dairy-free cakes including chocolate brownies, almond slices and cherry bakewells and will be looking to extend their offering by adding some of their other most popular cakes in due course. The cakes looked great and I’m reliably formed by a certain young lady in our household that Mr Kipling does, indeed, make exceedingly good cakes!

G’s marks: 9.5/10      (because apparently even chocolate brownies can be too chocolatey! Who knew?!)

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Being a part of history

August didn’t just mean the school summer holidays for our household. but also some much-needed time away from work for both Mike and me. We started our 2 week stint with a drive to London and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the 2017 IAAF World Championships. We’ve long enjoyed watching the athletics on TV and ever since our visit to the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been waiting for the next opportunity to watch the sports live arrive. The announcement that this year’s World Championships was to be held in London caused great excitement and last August I joined the thousands of others hoping to be successful in the ballot and be offered tickets to the events of their choice. We were lucky enough to get both sessions that we had chosen, which then dictated the rest of our plans for our summer break.

Our start perhaps didn’t quite go according to plan, with packing for our trip abroad, accidents on the motorway and a necessary, but lengthy detour hampering the relaxed beginning we were hoping for. However, we got there in the end and with time enough to park our car and unload our suitcases into our Stratford hotel room before heading to the park itself. We had allowed enough time to explore Hero village, which was filled with athletic-themed activities, events, sponsor displays and the obligatory souvenir stands and I’m so glad that we had. The children had great fun competing against each other in triathlon themed challenges, trying their hand on a wheelchair obstacle course and racing the 100m sprint against Mike. It could have been so easy to have bypassed the village completely in favour of just heading into the stadium itself, but we all enjoyed the opportunity to soak up some of the Championships spirit and really immerse ourselves in all the glory of the event.

The Friday evening session was fantastic and we had the most amazing seats, which allowed us to watch the women’s long jump final with ease. The evening was filled with a great mix of field and track events including the hurdles, the hammer throw and the women’s steeplechase final, a race neither G or M knew anything about and found fascinating to watch, especially when 1 competitor forgot to go through the water jump on the second circuit of the track. However, as brilliant as that evening was, the best was yet to come and I’d be hard pressed to say who was more excited to be a part of what would become a truly historic occasion.

Since international athletics superstar, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt announced his retirement from the track following the 2017 IAAF Championships, I had been keeping my fingers tightly crossed that he would complete as part of the 4x100m relay team during the competition. Our second session was on Saturday morning and was due to include several more of the decathlon events as well as the round 1 races for all of the relay races –  men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m. M in particular was incredibly excited that he might get see to his athletic hero race and the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing in the stadium that morning. It quickly become evident that we were witness to something spectacular and the whole family eagerly cheered the British teams who performed with enthusiasm and secured well-deserved places in all 4 finals. What wasn’t obvious at the time, but became sadly apparent at the finals that evening, was that we had seen not just some impressive races, but also what would turn out to be Bolt’s final track appearance as he sadly crashed out of the final with a heart-breaking injury that not only devastated him, but the watching world too. It was a great privilege to be to watch this inspirational man race and something we will all remember for a long time.

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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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

Takeover Challenge 2016

img_12651When it comes to thinking they know it all and can do it all better than the adults in their life, my kids are world champions. The frequency with which Mike is told that “Daddy, you just don’t understand..” is high and he often finds himself trying to defend his position to an irate 10 year-old, even on matters where he quite obviously has far more expertise than anyone else in the room – think anything building-related given his career as a chartered surveyor. There is a certain level of deference awarded to me, after all I’ve proved over and over again that Mummy knows everything there is to know and, besides which, she really isn’t someone you want to get on the wrong side of ever; but the opinion of just about every other adult is scrutinised carefully and often rejected on the basis that they just don’t understand either. M has some very strong opinions and would, and sometimes has, happily argued the case that the sky is green for hours, often with a reluctant truce having to be declared before World War III breaks out across the dinner table. As for G, well she has perfected the teenage eye-roll ahead of hitting her 13th birthday and it’s often accompanied by a surly shrug of her shoulders and a mumbled “Whatever” as she heads upstairs to the seclusion of her bedroom.

redevelopment-wed-2So, you can imagine my thoughts when G and M were invited to be a part of this year’s Takeover Challenge at Great Ormond Street Hospital through G’s involvement with the GOSH YPF. This is a fantastic project run during November by the Children’s Commissioner and sees organisations and businesses across the UK opening their doors and inviting children and young people to take over adult roles. The Challenge seeks to “…put children and young people in decision-making positions and encourages organisations and businesses to hear their views. Children gain an insight into the adult world and organisations benefit from a fresh perspective about their work.” Excitement has been building in our household for weeks as G and M looked forward to finding out more about how the hospital is run and last Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough for my two excited children. I was delighted for them to have this experience, but my true sympathies lay with those adults who would be brave enough to let this opinionated duo step into their shoes, even for a day.

The children were invited to take-over the Developmimg_12641ent and Property Services department as Director and Deputy Director for the day. The information they received in advance told them that they would have a “behind the scenes” tour of the hospital with opportunities to learn about the systems that help the hospital to run efficiently, including visiting the plant room with engineers, learning about the food ordering system and how the meals get to the children on ward and understanding more about how the hospital plans and designs spaces to be fun and interesting for the patients, their families and the staff. Ahead of the day itself, both G and M were asked to complete a profile to be shared with the Development team, explaining a little about why they were interested in this role as well as what their involvement with GOSH is. G had 2 key areas of interest – finding out how the kitchens cater for patients with food allergies and how new spaces and redevelopment work is done – whilst M was eager to see the plant and machinery that makes the hospital run and find out more about the technology in place.

img_12601Determined to dress for the occasion, M’s clothes were chosen the weekend before to make sure that everything he needed was washed and ironed, unlike his sister, who typically left everything to the last-minute and was then put out when her first couple of outfits were deemed unsuitable by me. Taking the challenge very seriously indeed, M solemnly told me that I needed to make sure he was in bed early on the Monday and Tuesday so that he could be well-rested and ready for a busy day. Our decision to head to London on the Tuesday night after a Year 6 meeting at his school slightly scuppered those plans and his night’s rest was then further disrupted by a 5am fire alarm in the hotel, something none of us appreciated. The further stress of the drive across London to make sure that we reached GOSH in time whilst being questioned constantly as to when we would arrive, tested my nerves thoroughly, though we did make it – by the skin of our teeth. The hurried unloading of G, M and me just around the corner so that we could dash to the main entrance by 10am as Mike went off to the park the car, was an unexpected drama I could really have done without.

However, the day itself was a huge success redevelopment-wed-14and we are still hearing snippets about it a week on. Whilst both children took over the same department, their mornings were filled with different activities to meet the interests they had already expressed in their completed profiles. M spent the morning with Development Director, Matthew Tulley, the highlights being exploring the roof of the hospital and learning more about CAD. That second activity earned the accolade that “CAD is rad!”, something I suspect will stick with the Development team for a long time. G headed in a different direction to learn more about different aspects of what this department does. She went with Deputy Director Stephanie Williamson and spent the morning planning and designing a new orthopaedic therapy space, which she really enjoyed, though it proved to be a challenge to fit all the requirements into the space available. She then headed to the kitchen to find out a little more about how patient meals are prepared, before meeting up with M and Matthew for their lunch. A big thank you has to be given at this point to Stephanie and the rest of the catering team who did a sterling job at providing safe meals for both children to enjoy. Both had been able to choose their menus before the day itself and the team had taken on board M’s request for either rice pudding or a rice krispy cake for pudding, which he was delighted to see.

After lunch, they both went to the Special Diets kitchen, where I’ve been told they met the 4 Simons who work there and M wondered if that was a prerequisite of working in the kitchens. I understand that the team was delighted to finally put a face to a name and actually meet a patient that they have had to cater for in the past. 15069048_10153959799661921_8246658330976253376_oThere was then enough time to head off to Coram Fields and chair a meeting about the new research centre being built and discuss the hoarding that will be used to surround the site. They even managed to find their way on to the building site, where M’s enthusiasm in particular has earned him the offer of a return visit to see the completed building in a couple of years’ time.

After our own day spent walking round London together, Mike and I met them back at the main reception where they were both clasping bits and pieces they had accumulated during their day in the job. It had been a fun day spent learning more about the hospital we have spent so much time in over the last few years and they thoroughly enjoyed every moment of their experience. We had a peaceful homeward journey after M’s gastro appointment, with M taking a nap as we headed out to Westfield for dinner and then both falling asleep as we travelled back home.

I can’t thank Steph, Matt and the rest of the Development and Property Services department enough for the time they took to spend with G and M and show them what goes into making a busy children’s hospital run. They both had an amazing day and are already talking about what department they might be able to take-over next year if they have the opportunity again.
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An evening at Fat Sam’s

A weekend in London could only mean one thing for our family: the opportunity for a night at the theatre and a meal out, something we all love to do. With a full day planned at the Allergy Show at Olympia, we decided that a hotel in Hammersmith would best meet our needs for the Saturday night and that rather naturally led us to investigating what shows were on in nearby venues, rather than necessarily having to trek into central London for the evening. Last year, G and M took part in a local drama summer school and have been serenading us with snippets of the songs from Bugsy Malone ever since, so we were delighted to spot that the Lyric Hammersmith is home to the fantastic showmanship of this very musical until the start of September and knew that we would all enjoy a night on the tiles with Bugsy, Fat Sam, Tallulah and the rest of the gang.

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The challenge is always to book somewhere safe for M to eat and this time I wanted to see if we could escape our regular haunts and find somewhere new instead without venturing too far from our final destination. I had spotted their Bar and Grill restaurant when I was browsing the Lyric’s website and the encouraging presence of the occasional “GF” on the menu as well as chicken skewers suggested this was a lead worth investigating further. I soon got Mike onto the case and he came away from the phone call incredibly impressed with the conversation he had just had. He had spoken to the restaurant manager, who, having taken notes about what IMG_0650[1]G and M could eat, quickly made informed suggestions about the dinner that they could prepare for them to enjoy during our visit. Of course, the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating, but we were hopeful that they would meet the high expectations we now had for the meal and booked a pre-performance table timed to fit exactly into the short gap we had between finishing at the Allergy Show and sitting down to watch Bugsy.

We were impressed from the start. M was still confined to his wheelchair, but a helpful security guard seated at the main reception desk offered to show us around the building to the access entrance and got us safely upstairs to the restaurant. Our waitress made mention of the allergy requests attached to our booking as she showed us to our table and within minutes the restaurant manager came to the table to discuss with us what they would be cooking for G and M that night. I was delighted to learn that they had remembered and met their first promise – to buy in rice especially for M, something not usually on their menu – so that he could enjoy a complete meal with the rest of the family. There had been a small miscommunication about M’s safe foods as a mixed leaf salad was mentioned to accompany the rice and plain, grilled chicken, but thanks to their diligence in running through our needs before cooking began, we were able to correct that mistake and instead an impressive cucumber salad arrived as the side dish. G was equally well catered for and was delighted with her GF chicken bites, chips and peas. We asked if both portions could be made adult-size as we are now well-used to the children eating huge amounts when we go out for dinner, another request that was willingly accommodated and we really felt that nothing was too much for this fantastic restaurant team. The menu wasn’t extensive, but it was well-prepared and delicious and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a great allergy-friendly meal in Hammersmith.

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Allergy and FreeFrom Show 2016

I am so glad that we made the decision to visit last weekend’s Allergy and Freefrom Show at Olympia London as we had the most amazing day and made some great finds. The show has always been one of those lovely experiences for the children, where they have been able to try so many of the foods and drinks on offer, although we have constantly had to remind them that they can’t assume that everything is safe, even though so many of the offerings are. IMG_0645[1]This year was no different and G ate her way around the show, delighted to try some old favourites as well as the new products that we hadn’t seen before. It was understandably a much harder show for M this time than ever before, but he pinpointed on the map which stalls he wanted to visit and was thrilled that we managed to find some great new food options for him too. I am also extremely glad that we chose to take the wheelchair with us as it proved to be useful, not just for helping M negotiate the crowds flocking round each stall, but also as a receptacle for the numerous bags of goodies we gained during the day.

The day was also a great chance to catch up with some old friends from the blogosphere and allergy community, though this year I didn’t manage to make the bloggers meet-up arranged for the Saturday morningIMG_0647[1]. It was fantastic to see G and M recognised and welcomed by so many of these lovely individuals and they happily chatted away almost as much as Mike and I did. We spent some time at the Allergy Adventures stand, where Hailey and her crew of cheerful helpers were once again providing entertainment for the children in the guise of paper crafts and story-telling time, although they couldn’t persuade G and M to make the paper lollipops planned. Instead my pair went off-piste and created an array of paper lizard heads (M) and chatterboxes (G) to fill their time, some of which I think were left behind and not just stuffed into pockets and down the sides of the wheelchair.

Between us, we came home with a huge selection of new products for both children to try and I can’t wait to share their reviews of these foods with you, especially those that are not just new to us, but to the market too. We spent the entire day at Olympia, getting in when the doors opened at 10am and leaving as the tannoy announced that the Show was closed at 5pm  and I could quite easily have spent another day IMG_0651[1]discovering all those hidden gems that were tucked away in remote corners of the space. We had taken some safe food for M with us for his lunch as we just didn’t know what would be available at the site and G enjoyed a gluten- and dairy-free pizza from Schar that was cooked to order. The Show now visits 3 UK locations during the year – London, Liverpool and Glasgow – and I would highly recommend a visit if you get a chance to go. It is a brilliant day out for anyone living with food allergies and offers the opportunity to discover so many safe alternatives that often don’t make it to the High Street.

Any plans for the weekend?

We’ve got a weekend in London ahead of us and, being our usual optimistic selves, have planned a whole host of activities to keep us busy at every interval. Thanks to remarkable coincidence, we are able to combine 2 opportunities that have come our way and I’m hoping that Sunday evening will see us back home, exhausted, but also exhilarated by our experiences.

Allergy_Olympia_Logo_2Last year we decided somewhat reluctantly not to make our annual pilgrimage to the Allergy & Free From Show in London as M was in the midst of being tube-fed and had, at that point, only 4 safe foods in hand. Whilst I would have loved the opportunity to explore the offerings we’ve found at these shows in the past, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was more than M would be able to cope with and I wasn’t prepared to put him into what was bound to be an emotion-filled, stressful situation. G and I did toy with the idea of going without the boys, but other events came along and we enjoyed a weekend at home instead. To my surprise, M was incredibly disappointed not to go and was insistent that when this year’s show rolled around, he wanted to attend and was as keen as we have been before. At the start of this year, Mike and I discussed whether we really would go, talked it over at length with M and finally took the plunge and got our tickets for this Saturday. Over this past week or so, M and I have been looking at the businesses that will have stalls in Olympia when the show opens on Friday and he’s already made a note of a few he wants to visit. As I have become more active in the allergy community over the last 12 months or so, especially through friendships built at the FreeFrom Food Awards in February, we are all looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces during our visit. This show is an amazing event and one that I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies, or indeed following a vegan lifestyle. You can still get tickets to attend by clicking on this link and the show will be there until Sunday.

GOSH-logoSunday brings a different opportunity and an exciting one for G. When M and I took part in this year’s PLACE assessment at GOSH, I met and got chatting to Fiona Jones, the Children and Young people’s Participation officer at the hospital. One of her roles is to promote the GOSH YPF, or Young People’s Forum, something I had never heard about before, but was interested and keen to find out more. The YPF is for patients, ex-patients or siblings of patients at GOSH who are aged between 11-25 years old and who are interested in expressing their opinions about how GOSH can best support its teenage patients as well as being involved in projects that will help make the hospital experience a positive one for patients and their families. Unfortunately, M is too young to become a YPF member just yet, but Fiona asked if I thought G would like to become involved and I promised to ask her as soon as I could. To my delight, G was excited to be asked to join the GOSH YPF and is looking forward to attending her very first meeting on Sunday. focus-groupBoth children have already been lending a hand by trialling and reviewing an on-line project called Digital Badges, something they have really enjoyed trying out over the last 2 months or so, especially giving their feedback on how this project worked. G will spend her day with this group on Sunday at GOSH, whilst Mike, M and I explore the nearby British Museum and their Sutton Hoo exhibit and I can’t wait to hear all about it during our return journey.

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=

London: our whistle-stop tour

With our appointment at GOSH over, we then focussed our attention on the activities we’d chosen for the rest of our London stay.  We had narrowed down our choices from the lengthy starting point created by G and M and suggested that each child chose 1 activity each that they really wanted to do on this trip: be that museum, park, art gallery or tourist attraction.  G quickly settled on the Imperial War Museum, M picked the London Eye and Mike and I agreed on booking tickets for a show as well as attempting to complete the amazing “Shaun in the City” sculpture trail.  It was, without question, an ambitious plan, but with some careful planning and the agreement of both children that the amount of walking required would far outweigh the maximum moaning I was prepared to accept, I was confident we might just be able to squeeze it all in.

Imperial War Museum

imperial-war-museum-aburtThis has been on our “hit list” for quite some time, but our previous 2 attempts to visit had both been scuppered by an extended closure to prepare the exhibits marking the centenary of the start of WWI last year.  With nothing to stop our visit this time, we travelled across London via tube and finally convinced our pair to head inside after the requisite hundreds tens of photos had been taken of the impressive naval guns at the front entrance.  G was keen to work her way through the WWI exhibits, whilst M had a yearning for learning more about being a spy and Mike was intent on seeing the Holocaust display.  I had allowed a full day for our visit and we certainly needed it.  There was an incredible mix of posters, photos, short films, interactive displays, war memorabilia and oodles of facts to work our way through and the children were able to dip in and out of the information as they wanted.  We lasted until mid-afternoon before G and M started to flag, interest was lost and we made our way back to the apartment for a little downtime before we headed out for dinner.

The Railway Children – near Waterloo Station

rcIn the run up to our visit, M had spotted an advert for “The Railway Children” and was keen to see the show.  As this was a perfect opportunity to watch a play, rather than the musicals or pantomimes we usually attend, we agreed to get some tickets and had great seats near to the front of the seating area.  M and G loved that the characters came out to talk to the audience before the play started and were enthralled throughout.  I won’t spoil the experience – but it does include a real steam train and the most amazing staging I’ve seen in a long time – and would definitely recommend going to see this fabulous classic if you have the chance.

London Eye

IMG_0746This has quickly become an instantly recognisable icon on the London skyline and is actually something the family has done before.  Every time we head to GOSH for an appointment, M begs for a trip on the Eye and every time I say no, not least because it’s actually nowhere near the hospital and our regular visits are almost always somewhat tight on time.  Having given them free rein to choose one thing they each really wanted to do, it was no surprise that this was M’s selection.  The 30-minute revolution offers spectacular views across London and both children were fascinated with trying to pick out various buildings they knew from the pod.  I was also impressed with the thoughtfulness of the member of staff directing people into the waiting lines.  You can easily end up queuing for around 20-30 minutes, which is never ideal when you have children in tow and definitely not when one of them is sporting a litre feeding bottle and pump on his back.  This lovely lady spotted us in the queue with M and invited us to enter via the fast-track system instead, stating it was “.,just too chilly..” to be standing around waiting.  Of course we all realised that M and his tube were the real reason behind her kind offer, but appreciated her not making a fuss about it and simply offering us an alternative that would make life a lot easier and our experience a lot more fun.

Shaun in the City sculpture trail

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Yet another sculpture trail to echo a multitude that have been seen across the UK over the past few years, including the Paddington Bear one we dipped into whilst visiting the poppies at the Tower of London last November.  This year’s trail was based on Nick Park’s popular character, “Shaun the Sheep” and featured 50 sculptures, each individually decorated by a host of celebrities, found at strategic locations around the capital.  The sculptures were split into 5 groups – 4 distinct trails and then 5 “lost sheep”, who were not particularly close to any of the other ones – and most were close enough together to allow us to attempt to find nearly 40 of them in one day.  G and M’s aim was to find and be photographed with all 50 before our trip was over and we managed it, though with very little time to spare before we needed to catch our train home.  These London sculptures are only in place until 25th May and then there will be 70 Bristol counterparts during July and August.  Later in 2015, all 120 will be auctioned to raise much-needed funds for children’s hospitals across the UK through Wallace and Gromit’s Children’s charity.  We loved following the map before finding ourselves in parts of London we wouldn’t normally visit and there’s a real camaraderie between fellow Shaun-spotters you come across along the way.  You can find out more about the “Shaun in the City” trail here.

Stomp – Ambassadors Theatre

Our final treat was unplanned, but was definitely a winner.  Every time we travel up, or down, the escalators at tube stations, G and M love to look at the advertising posters that adorn the walls.  If you ever hear cries of “Seen that one…and that one…but we haven’t seen that,..yet!“, then it’s a fairly safe bet that we are somewhere in the vicinity.  Stomp is one of those productions that they’ve been longing to see for quite some time, but we’ve been reluctant to go because G, in particular, doesn’t cope well with loud noises.  Our search for Shaun led us into Leicester Square and the hordes of theatre ticket booths that can be found there.  For those not in the know, these sell last-minute tickets for many of the numerous shows being performed in London at any given time and often represent great value for money due to the discounts they give.  We decided to see if we could get some discounted seats for Stomp and were delighted to have the choice of 4 prime seats on the second row of the circle.  The children were a little shocked to learn that there was no interval in the performance, but were even more surprised at how quickly that 1.5 hours passed notably as they were left wanting more.  The skill of the performers is phenomenal, especially when you realise that you hear no words and no music for the duration of the show, but are totally absorbed by the percussive masterpieces they produce.  Another fantastic show that we’d highly recommend.

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

So, it was definitely something of a whistle-stop tour of the capital for us this April, but a great break that we won’t forget for a while.