Tag Archives: stress free travelling

Pub dinners and Picnic lunches

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

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

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

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

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

Stunning Stratford-upon-Avon

We may have had less than 48 hours to explore and enjoy all that Stratford-upon-Avon has to offer, but we certainly gave it our best effort. We had been hoping to introduce the children to their first Shakespeare play, but felt that “Anthony and Cleopatra” was perhaps not the ideal starting point, even for our theatre-loving duo. Instead, we settled for a backstage tour of both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre, a climb up the Tower for some spectacular panoramic views and a visit to their fantastic interactive exhibit, “The Play’s the Thing“. I would be hard-pressed to say which particular tour was the favourite, but I think that for G and M, the hands-on activities and the costumes and props in “The Play’s the Thing” just edged out the lessons learned about fake blood, lighting and the other backstage secrets that keep these theatres running.

Our Sunday was gloriously sunny and M in particular was desperate to spend some time on the river. After our successful Saturday night dinner at Zizzis, we had meandered our way through Stratford and along the riverbank, where the children spotted some boats that they were keen to hire the following day. Our luck was in and we spent a fun, though occasionally slightly stress-filled 40 minutes exploring some of the river itself. G and M both took their turn to row the boat and thanks to some cunningly strategic seat choices, Mike ended up soaked through, whilst I remained comparatively dry. It hadn’t been a part of our original plans, but was a lovely way to spend an hour giggling with the family.

Our Sunday had been glorious, but sadly Bank holiday Monday itself turned into a fairly wet and miserable day. We had decided to spend Monday looking around the various Shakespeare properties and started at The Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street. Situated next door to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the Centre had some great exhibits exploring not just the life and works of Shakespeare himself, but the time in which he lived. G was drawn to the lengthy list of his plays and took great pleasure in mentally ticking off those she has read, although I hasten to add she’s been enjoying abridged versions, rather than the original plays themselves. She has been studying “Much Ado about Nothing” at school and was keen to not only share her knowledge of the storyline, but also to invest in her own copy of the play to read at home. She made the sensible decision to buy a version that explained the nuances of the text alongside the word themselves and couldn’t wait to get started on reading it.

M was less entertained by all we could see, though his attention was grabbed briefly by the small group of actors performing extracts from various Shakespeare plays in the grounds of his birthplace. Having gleaned all the information we possibly could handle, the children spent some time browsing potential pocket-money purchases in the shop before we headed off for our next destination. We managed to pick up a semblance of a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed riverside, sheltering under the trees from the somewhat persistent rain and then walked on to Halls Croft, a property that none of us had ever been to before. The top floor of the house contained displays of various pieces of historical medical equipment, which both children found fascinating and they also took part in the mouse treasure hunt, albeit really for a younger age group. The gardens were glorious, but the weather just a bit too wet to really enjoy and so we beat a hasty retreat and trudged our way back to our hotel and car to start our homeward journey.

G was keen to make one last stop before we set off towards home. although M pointblank refused to leave the warm and dry environment of the car once he had settled into it. So instead, G and I made our way into Anne Hathaway’s cottage, where she listened intently to the short talks we were given about what we would be seeing and the history of the Hathaway family. Unfortunately, being the end of a grey, wet and fairly miserable day, there was not much natural light coming through the windows and the low-level internal lighting, in keeping with the age of the cottage, made it incredibly difficult to see, even for my eagle-eyed daughter. Cottage toured, we made a quick exit via the unavoidable gift shop and met up with Mike and M to start the journey home. All in all we had a great weekend in Stratford and are hoping to make a return visit in sunnier times to see all those bits we had to miss out this time round.

Wonderful dinner, shame about the price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Cloud…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sports Mad in New York

With the demands of work, home and children meaning that Mike and I are barely managing to lift our heads above the parapet for more than 5 minutes at a time right now, it’s hard to believe that 6 weeks ago we were relaxing and enjoying my #40thcelebrations in New York. One of the unquestionable highlights of our trip was the opportunity to attend what has to be one of Mike’s favourite sporting events, a NHL (National Hockey League) ice hockey game and even better could watch Mike’s home team, the Toronto Maple Leafs up against local heroes, the New York Islanders. This was undoubtedly more of a treat for Mike than for me, but I’m not ashamed to confess that I much prefer watching ice hockey live to on TV and this game was an absolute humdinger of a match to see.

What I love about ice hockey is the friendly rivalry between the opposing teams and that, no matter where you sit and what team you support, the love of the game is the most important thing. We sat in what were fantastic seats at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Mike proudly wearing his Maple Leafs jersey and with a true mix of Toronto and New York fans surrounding us. There were good-hearted jibes, enthusiastic cheers and an atmosphere that reflected just how much every single person there was enjoying the skills they were seeing on the ice. In front of us sat 2 families, one supporting New York, the other Toronto and the kids gleefully switched seats and gave high-fives to all surrounding them whenever their team of choice scored. I had forgotten just how much fun an ice hockey game is and can’t wait until we have opportunity to take G and M to see their first NHL game, no matter who’s playing.

This was an outing that had been carefully planned in advance, but we also took advantage of a free night combined with a yearning to visit Madison Square Gardens, and managed to secure tickets to watch my very first NBA (National Basketball Association) game. To say I was somewhat underwhelmed by the antics of the New York Knicks vs. the Los Angeles Clippers is, well, an understatement, but I was completely dazzled by the stellar performance of their cheerleading squad both before and during the game. Basketball is a game that I really haven’t found an affinity for, much preferring the hard-fought matches of the netball of my youth. I’m glad we went to the game and would love to take the children along for the experience at some point in the future, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be converted to a hard and fast basketball fan. In fact, I was far more excited by the number of celebrities who were there watching the game too and loved waiting to see which film or TV show clip would be played to reveal the next well-known star on-site. I’d be hard-pressed to select my favourite star, but whilst Chris Rock and John McEnroe are both are up there with the best of them, it was Mr TeenWolf himself, Michael J Fox, who took the top spot in my heart.

Our night out at the Gardens was our last night in New York, but it was definitely not the end of our Big Apple adventures. We always knew that travelling to NYC in February meant that we might be subject to winter weather, but we never expected the extremes we experienced over the length of our stay. It had started with below freezing temperatures with glorious sunshine, passed through grey, wet and miserable and gave us a penultimate day of beautiful spring weather that saw us shedding the thermals and thick winter coats that had been our faithful companions throughout the holiday. And then, just as last week’s Winter Storm Stella buried the city in around 18cms of snow, her predecessor Winter Storm Niko arrived to give us a final day of bitter cold and the snow that Mike had been longing for the whole time we were there. We spent our last morning trudging through the snow in Central Park, capturing the landscape in photos to show the unbelievable difference that a mere 24 hours can make. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours, but we spent some great time people-watching at JFK airport before boarding the flight and grabbing what sleep we could on our homeward journey. It was an absolutely amazing holiday and I can’t wait to visit again, perhaps with G and M in tow.

    

You know you’re an Allergy Mum when…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

The Best Eateries in the Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cafe Nouveau, Frome

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

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

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

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

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

Our marks: 9.5/10

Giraffe, food allergies & me

This restaurant chain has long been a favourite of ours, even before the days of M’s extreme restrictions, and was one of the very first that we ventured back to once we had successfully got 3 foods back into his diet in 2015. We’ve visited their restaurants in various locations across the UK – London, Bristol, Milton Keynes – and have unfailingly had great service and understanding about the risks surrounding food allergies. So I was disappointed recently to see a Twitter conversation where fellow allergy-sufferers had not had such a good experience and indeed where one had suffered a severe anaphylactic reaction when her request for no soy beans in her food had been ignored. tweet

Naturally, me being me, I couldn’t help but wade in with my size 8s, not just because of our previous encounters, but because of our most recent and excellent experience at the Giraffe restaurant in the Brunswick Centre. I was so impressed with the impeccable diligence taken in regards to safeguarding my children during our meal that I have been singing their praises far and wide and felt it was about time that I did the same here as well.

img_11141G, M and I had headed there for an early supper following a busy day in London. G had been at her 2nd YPF meeting at GOSH for the day, whilst M and I had walked many thousands of steps exploring the activities and displays on show to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Once our day was done, we had just enough time to sit down for our dinner before heading off to catch our train home and wandered to the Brunswick Centre because of its proximity to GOSH. The Brunswick Centre hosts a number of different restaurants, most of which we have tried at one time or another over the years, but Giraffe is the one that we most commonly head back to as both children enjoy the food and it is one of the few that prepares rice for M to accompany his meal.

downloadDecisions made about what they’d like to eat, our waitress came to the table to take our order and this was when their attention to details become really apparent. I started by telling her that both children had allergies and she immediately disappeared to grab their allergen listing to run through their menu choices with me. I mentioned that M’s allergies in particular were complex and unlikely to fit the detail given in their book, but she advised me that she had to go through it because she would be asked about it as soon as the order went to the kitchen and that her neck would be on the line if she hadn’t taken that first step of checking it all out. We started with discussing what would be safe for M to eat and she was immediately able to offer brown rice, a grilled chicken breast and cucumber slices, a meal that would more than meet his needs and then we moved on to G.

G had decided she really wanted steak and chips for dinner and whilst there was no problem with preparing a safe steak, the chips were more of a problem. Our cheerful waitress said it was possible that the chips couldn’t be cooked gluten-free as it was dependent on whether the oil in the fryer had been changed since their lunch-time service or not. She immediately headed off to the kitchen to check the situation with the chef and came back to apologise that unfortunately the chips would be cross-contaminated and so we needed to pick something else. G was insistent that she didn’t want rice and I was struggling to spot an alternative as the potato wedges are also cooked in the fryer and so wouldn’t be safe. 20150408_181702However, our waitress came to the rescue and suggested that G had the crushed potatoes as, whilst the menu stated they included dairy, she could request that they be prepared with just a little oil instead. Situation saved!

It didn’t take too long for our plates of food to arrive at the table and we were delighted with the meals that were served. Despite all the hassle with getting G’s meal ordered, the steak and crushed potatoes that arrived looked delicious and she devoured the lot in fairly short order. M munched his way through his dish too and the second chicken breast that we asked for half-way through was prepared and served before he had managed to clear his plate. I really was incredibly impressed with their approach to preparing, cooking and serving allergy-friendly food and how hard they worked to ensure that we all had a meal we could enjoy and remain safe eating. I don’t know if this system is in place across the Giraffe chain, or if it is carried out as thoroughly as it was at the Brunswick Centre, but I’m certain that this is a restaurant we would happily choose to eat at again.