Tag Archives: London

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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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.

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.


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.