Tag Archives: London

Summer Photo Round-up 2019

Summer 2019 was all about home-grown entertainment and experiences before heading into a year of GCSEs – both exams and options!

Hard Rock Cafés – London & Manchester

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the Hard Rock Café is not only a firm favourite when it comes to choosing somewhere safe and delicious for the family to eat, but is also now something of a tradition with one of the children, almost always M, asking whether there’s a branch for us to visit whenever we go somewhere new, no matter where in the world we are. Believe it or not, it is also a question raised when we investigate holiday destinations, though it has not yet dictated our final vacation decision. I fully accept that I am to blame for my children’s obsession with going to as many HRC locations as we possibly can and the collection of their “City tees” carefully stored under my bed is testimony to just how long my love affair with HRC has been going on.

Given all of that, it does seem odd that despite our very many weeks spent in London, that until our most recent visit, we had never visited the flagship restaurant before. Well, to be more accurate, I had been there many years ago, but hadn’t taken either Mike or the kids there when looking for somewhere to eat out. So, we decided to make the original restaurant our final pitstop before heading back to the station to catch our train home. We arrived a little later than originally planned due to some confusion over where exactly we needed to go as there have been 2 further locations opened in London over the last few years. Despite our initial false start and unexpected visit to their Piccadilly branch – and deciding that that is somewhere we will definitely go back to eat another time – we eventually reached Mayfair in one piece and after a somewhat lengthy wait, finally sat down to enjoy our dinner.

We actually began our visit there with a short trip to “The Vault”, a small museum holding some of the rock paraphernalia that they don’t currently have on display in the main restaurant, before we ordered our food. It occupied a few minutes, but wasn’t as interesting, or vast, as we were hoping it might be. G and M already knew what they wanted to eat and opted for the GF pulled pork sandwiches with fries which have become a firm favourite with them both. The service was as excellent as ever and we were impressed with how quickly the food arrived with us despite our somewhat lengthy wait.

What we weren’t anticipating was a visit to another UK HRC location just 2 weeks later during our Manchester adventures. This unexpected surprise was thanks to the eagle eyes of M, who, despite being told by me that I thought the Manchester branch has closed down in the time between my university years and today, spotted it on the Google map as we were planning our walking route from the IWM North to the escape rooms. Just as in London, it was the perfect ending to our weekend there and they devoured their meals with an enthusiasm no doubt stoked by their time skydiving. M decided that this time he’d venture away from the pulled pork and instead ordered a GF legendary burger, which he proclaimed to be just as delicious as he hoped.

Two great locations, two sets of excellent service and two fantastic lunches. Would we recommend? Absolutely and I can’t wait to see which Hard Rock Café we’ll discover next!

Culture, crowns & crime

After our late night at the theatre, you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that we might take it easy and start our Friday off in a more relaxed fashion; but you’d be very wrong. We had lots planned for our second day in London and wanted to achieve as much as we could before catching our train back home, which meant one thing, a much earlier sleep that maybe any of us would have chosen.

Our first stop was a tour of the Globe theatre, just 5 minutes from our hotel and G’s choice of must-see sights for our visit. It’s the first time we’ve been to the Globe, despite having walked past it and discussed seeing it on very many previous occasions. The 40 minutes spent learning more about the history of the original theatre as well as the efforts to build the reconstruction were absolutely brilliant and M enjoyed being able to ask questions of our guide based on bits and pieces he had previously learned at school. My only regret is that we hadn’t built in time to go to a Shakespeare play whilst we were there as both children have eagerly asked if we could see one, so at some point in the future, of course, we absolutely will.

With the Globe ticked off our list and a watchful eye on the impending grey clouds, we found our way back to the Tower of London and headed in to explore as much as we could given the August tourists, darkening skies and 2 children who were growing hungry rapidly. We decided to start with the Crown Jewels and just about survived the spots of rain that fell as we made our way through the fairly lengthy queue. The exhibit has been updated since the last time Mike and I visited there many moons ago and is definitely worth a visit as there is a great balance between the information boards, video footage, photographs, timelines and the Crown Jewels themselves.

Unfortunately, our late night the night before combined with the poor weather and hunger meant that G and M really didn’t want to queue to see anything else at the Tower, so we made the decision to convert our admission tickets into annual passes to allow us to return and see the bits we missed out this time over the next year. As I am keen to also visit Hampton Court – poor G is being inundated with “educational” visits that fit with her GCSE syllabuses at the moment – this will hopefully prove to be a canny decision as we can visit there as well as other palaces as part of the Historic Royal Palaces membership.

Once we all were fed and watered to our fill, we then spent some time trying to decide how to round off our day in London. The original plan had been to stay at the Tower of London for the rest of the day, so it was now time to find an alternative that would fit with our plans for dinner and the train journey home. After lots of suggestions, some more extraordinary than others, we eventually settled on a visit to the Clink Prison Museum, which is tucked away just along the road from our hotel. It was a decision based on our need to escape the rain for an hour or so, but was definitely the unexpected success story of our whole trip. This museum is not big, but it certainly is crammed full of information, artefacts and stories about what is considered to be the oldest prison in England. Both kids were able to wander through at their preferred pace and spend time in the bits that interested them the most. It was come as no surprise that M was particularly taken with the torture devices on display and shared everything he was learning with whoever would listen.

From the Clink, there just enough time to pick up our bags from the hotel, journey across London for dinner and reach the station to catch our train back home.

Return to an old haunt

At one time, London was very much our home from home as we visited several times a year to attend M’s hospital appointments at GOSH and whenever those appointments didn’t fall on a Wednesday afternoon in term-time, always tried to tie it into a few days away from home. Both G and M had the chance to stay in London as part of their school’s enrichment week residential trips, and both said no. After all, why would they go with school to a city they’ve spent more time in than sometimes they’d care to remember?

Bearing all that in mind, it could come as something of a surprise that we’ve spent the last couple of days back in this old haunt of ours – and by choice, not by necessity thanks to our success in getting theatre tickets through Kids Week London. We’ve been extremely fortunate to see a number of shows over the years and this time we decided to chat over the choices with G and M before I attempted to buy the tickets the moment the website opened. Much to our surprise, the children had very different ideas about the shows they wanted to see and so I was set the challenge of trying to get tickets for G and Mike to see “Phantom of the Opera” on the same night that M and I headed to “School of Rock”. Fortunately, I was successful and with our theatre trips confirmed for the Thursday evening, we decided to make a short break of it and visit a handful of sights we haven’t been to before.

Our day started with a 20 minute walk to our local station to catch the London-bound train. I had made it clear to both children that I didn’t want them plugged into their electronics for the duration of our journey, so M had selected a few card games to take with us and, much to my amazement, we spent the entire time playing an array of card games as well as a couple of rounds of Marvel Top Trumps.
In no time at all, we had reached London and then it was a case of trekking across the city until we reached our first destination of the day, Tower Bridge. Thanks to M’s hard work researching and planning our routes and timings before we arrived, we decided to get off the underground at Monument and then walk along the river path to the Tower of London, where we ate our picnic lunch before climbing the stairs to explore the history of Tower Bridge itself.

The climb to the top of one of the towers was interspersed with facts about the construction of the bridge itself 125 years ago and, having reached the top, were then able to walk across the walkways linking the 2 iconic towers at either side, including a stretch of glass walkway that looks down onto the road and river below. This is not our first glass walkway – we’ve ventured onto the one at the CN Tower in Toronto too – and M was quite happy to wander across, jump onto and sit down on it. G, however, was lot more reluctant, but with a little gentle persuasion and a lot of hand-holding from me, she tentatively stepped onto the odd corner here and there, though she pointblank refused to do much more than that. Walkways conquered, we then headed on to the pump house to understand how the original mechanisms to raise the drawbridge worked before stopping for a vegan ice-cream treat from the ice-cream van cannily parked in the square beneath the bridge.

By the time our ice-creams were devoured, we were all ready to head to our hotel, fortunately just a short walk away along the South Bank. We have stayed at this Premier Inn near Borough Market several times before and find it wonderfully centrally located and easy to reach as well as surrounded by a number of chain restaurants that make it easy to feed both G and M. We had just enough time to unpack bags, dig out the theatre tickets and freshen up before we headed back out the door in search of dinner and our shows. Once we had finished our meal at the nearby Pizza Express, Mike and G disappeared in one direction, whilst M and I went off in another in search of our respective theatres. It was a wonderful evening and both children absolutely loved their musicals of choice. I would highly recommend a trip to see “School of Rock” as would M, whilst Mike and G raved about “Phantom of the Opera”.

Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.

Taking Over once again

In November 2016, G and M were lucky enough to be invited to participate in the first ever Takeover Challenge at GOSH. They spent the day running the Development and Property services department at the hospital and even managed to somehow convince the staff to take them onto the building site of the new research centre being built opposite nearby Coram Fields. One of the jobs they had undertaken during that Takeover Day was to help design the hoarding to surround the building site and we were delighted to see it in place when we visited GOSH for the Big Youth Forum Meet-Up in mid-October as both children got to see their hard work actually being used in real life.

 

So it will come as no great surprise that the minute they heard that there would be another opportunity to Takeover at GOSH this year, both G and M leapt at the chance. Unlike last year, when they opted to be part of the same department, this year they determined to do different things and each took on very different roles with G joining the ICT department as an ICT project manager, whilst M became a clinical scientist for the day. We were fortunate that their secondary school recognised the value in them attending this day and were happy to authorise their day off, something that M in particular was delighted about. I was already in London for the week attending the Foodmatters Live conference and so Mike set off from home extremely early on the Wednesday morning to get the children to the GOSH reception area in time for their respective days to start.

We had arranged that I would meet up with them for tea and over an early supper at Wagamama in Leicester Square, I was regaled with excited tales about the adventures of their day. G’s day was spent learning about how the ICT department is involved in the day-to-day running of GOSH and more specifically understanding how the staff ICT helpdesk is run and looking at solutions to common IT problems. G had an opportunity to visit different hospital departments and help resolve the problems some staff members were experiencing and even managed to successfully close a couple of cases herself. Her final task of the day was to visit the brand new clinical building that has recently opened at GOSH and understand how the decisions around what ICT equipment to provide for patients are made. One of her mentors for the day also took her to visit one of the laboratories in the hospital knowing that M was based there, although she didn’t spot him during her visit.

M’s day was focused on understanding the role of the clinical science team at GOSH and in particular learning more about gene and cell therapies as well as the research that is undertaken in the hospital. He was keen to take on this role because of the rare status of his own condition, EGID, as it demonstrated just how important this type of research is. M spent the day  learning how to split blood samples into different cell types, preparing the cells for analysis, generating DNA fingerprints and analysing DNA for mutations. The team also showed him what eosinophils look like when they’re put under the microscope and gave him an insight to what his scopes might have looked like prior to his diagnosis. As usual, M learned a lot from his day and when he and I attended our local hospital a week later for a set of bloods to be taken, he was keen to explain to the nurses there just what would happen next with the samples they were taking from his arm.

Both G and M had an amazing day at GOSH and we are, as ever, extremely grateful to the YPF and youth liaison team who not only offered them this fantastic opportunity, but also made sure the day was a huge success for them both. I know M already has his sights set on Taking Over yet another department next year, but we will just have to wait and see what happens!

A Winter-themed weekend

For the 4th year in a row, I found myself not only in London, but also spending a little time at GOSH during the weekend closest to G’s birthday. Thank goodness that this year there was no admission attached to what is fast-becoming a December tradition, instead, just like last year, our reason for going was the December meeting of the GOSH YPF and with both G and M now active members of the YPF, we decided to make a weekend of it and round off the birthday celebrations in style, whilst gently kicking off our Christmas ones as well.

In the lead up to a previous YPF weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Travelodge in Hounslow, which has quickly established itself as our destination of choice whenever we need to head to London for the weekend. A lot more affordable than central London prices, it is a short walk away from a secure car park and both the East Hounslow and Hounslow Central tube stations, making it an easy commute into GOSH in particular as all are stops on the Piccadilly line. This close to the end of term, we were able to take advantage of the fact that the out-of-school activities have now finished and headed to London on the Friday evening once G and M’s school day was over, and even managed a reasonable night’s sleep before our busy winter weekend began.

It started with our morning commute to GOSH, where we dropped G and M, both kitted out in their Christmas finery, for a YPF meeting filled with a whole host of activities and treats, including a hotly challenged Christmas quiz. Once the children were settled, Mike and I set off on foot towards Covent Garden and spent our day meandering the streets, exploring the shops and even managing to pick up the odd present or two as well. We stopped for a light lunch at the amazing Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square. This is fast becoming one of our favourite spots whenever we are in London as the food they serve is simple, yet delicious, they serve a few allergy-friendly snacks too and is a place I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a peaceful break from the busyness of London itself.

Lunch done, we started our trek back to GOSH along Shaftesbury Avenue and stumbled across this group of festive, charity bike riders as we turned the corner towards our final destination. It really was a sight to behold as we were surrounded by Father Christmases as far as the eye could see and lovely to watch excited small children wave and shout out Christmas greetings as the cyclists sped past.

 

There was one last stop I wanted to make before we met G and M and that was at the Baileys Treat Stop pop shop located not far from Covent Garden. It was only open for 2 weeks and I was determined to take advantage of our trip and pay a visit there for a Baileys-inspired hot drink. The queue was long and it took over 40 minutes to finally get into the shop itself, though our patience was well-rewarded by the plethora of treats that was brought out to keep those waiting happy – chocolate eclairs filled with Baileys-infused cream, cups of popcorn and chocolate covered Baileys fudge and toffee. I finally made it to the front of the queue and having never tried their Pumpkin Spice version and not fancying a treat-laden hot chocolate, I decided to customise a Pumpkin Spice latte instead. I think the server was a little disappointed with my rather tame selection of “just” chopped nuts and wafer straws, but despite his best efforts, I held firm to my decision, which I maintain was absolutely the right one. However, the latte itself was incredibly disappointing and absolutely not worth the time and money I’d spent to get it. What I hoped would be a small Christmas treat for me really wasn’t and we wasted close to an hour with that detour.

However, the rest of our Saturday went according to plan and was a fantastic ending to G’s birthday celebrations. Both children had a great day at the YPF meeting and came away with some small and unexpected gifts and treats. G was really keen to have a Chinese meal for dinner and so we chose to double up M’s medicines throughout the day and then allowed him to relax his diet for the evening. Mike and I had done scouting around Chinatown during our day and we headed to the Feng Shui Inn for a few carefully selected dishes which the whole family enjoyed. From there, it was just a stone’s throw away to the Prince Edward theatre where we were treated to the delights of Agrabah, the fantastical quirks of the Genie and the addition of a handful of new songs to Disney’s Aladdin. This was G’s choice of show and I knew she’d enjoyed it when she asked at the end if we could see it again! It was an amazing production and we were incredibly lucky to see Trevor Dion Nicholas in the role of the Genie, a role he was reprising after a successful stint on Broadway.

Sunday morning saw another tube ride into London, though this time our destination was the Tower of London where we had booked an ice-skating session on the rink set up in the moat. Both children were keen to have a go at skating once again and Mike was just as excited. It took a little while for G and M to find their feet, but they were soon off and even attempting to get around on their own, away from the barrier. The session only lasted 45 minutes, but that was more than enough for all of us and M and I even left the ice a few minutes early due to the uncomfortable hire skates we were wearing. All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled family winter-themed weekend and it felt like a fitting end to what has been a long school term.

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?!)

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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