2016 Free From Food Awards

I’ve been really honoured to participate for the last 4 or 5 years as a judge in the Free From Food Awards, the UK’s awards celebrating the best of free from products. You can read my write up from last year’s awards here.
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Each year I discovered new-to-me products. What I like about this are that these new products are not just from the large retailers, but also from the small producers who are passionate about supplying fantastic quality (free from) products to this rapidly expanding food sector. It also gives me the opportunity to catch up with a growing group of friends I’ve met over the years as part of the free from community. This night is always a real highlight of my year and something I look forward to enormously.
For a full list of winners and runner’s up in each category, please click here.
A couple of photos from the awards party buffet featuring the winner’s products (aka the free from buffet of dreams) with my top picks from the winners in 2016.

Tesco garlic baguette – Hard to tell this was gluten free, the baguette was so crusty. Even harder to think of this without thinking of the Peter Kay sketch. (Gluten and Dairy free) Garlic? Bread? It’s the future.
(Gluten and dairy free) Garlic? Bread? It's the future
 – Oast to Host Quongo (quiche on the go) utterly delicious quiche from this small Kent producer.
gluten free pie
Hotch Potch pies – Loved this pie from another smaller producer based in Dorset. I’m off to Dorset very soon so will try and track one down.
Hotch Potch Gluten Free Pie
 – White Rabbit Pizza – the one that keeps getting away. Not only had this pizza run out by the time I got to the winner’s buffet, each time I’m in Planet Organic (stockists of this pizza) there’s always some reason why I can’t buy it. Being the pizza fiend I am, I need to rectify this pronto.
Gluten Free Pizza
– Nutribix – this breakfast cereal which is the gluten free version of Weetabix was the big winner of the night. Nutribix is made from 96% sourghum, an ancient grain. I haven’t tried this but I will be soon. I’m not keen on eating cereal with milk (lucky, really, in the scheme of things!) so will be trying this with natural yoghurt. On the evening so many people raved about just how great this is, I really need to try.
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Image thanks to Nutribix website 

– Borough 22 Doughnuts  – Special mention to Ryan who managed to keep smiling despite his doughnuts being pipped to the top spot in not just one, but two categories. although highly commended is still a fantastic achievement in these awards.
And, finally, a selfie. This has become something of a tradition for this gang of free from bloggers. It’s blurry, yes, but look at those happy faces. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the great gluten free beers in the bar on the night….
gluten free selfie
Are there new to you products in this list? What do you think of the winners? Any surprises? 

Tokyo Trip Planning

Gluten Free Tirp Planning to Tokyo

Finally, ten and a half months after booking the flights we’re on our way to Japan!

My preparation for this trip has been extensive. Not just on the gluten free front, but also the amount of preparation needed to take 2 year old twins on a 12 hour flight to a holiday in Tokyo. Fortunately, there’s nothing I like more than a challenge, particularly when it’s travel related!

This blog is gluten free focused, rather than about travel with kids. However the lines are becoming increasingly blurred since most of our dining and accommodation choices are now based around places suitable for both children and with gluten free options.

During our stay in Japan we’ve rented a house in Tokyo via Airbnb. This makes more sense for us than having two inter connecting hotel rooms since it a) gives everyone more space and b) cooking facilities for all of us. There is a limit to the number of times I can face eating the “safe” meal of steak and green salad ordered on room service. There aren’t many green spaces in Tokyo (compared with London) but we’ll be staying near Yoyogi Park / Shinjuku which will mean plenty of opportunity to view the cherry blossom.

Our plan for this trip is to base ourselves in Tokyo to really explore the city, taking take day trips out of Tokyo from there. The sakura is just starting to blossom (did you know in Japan a cherry blossom forecast is published?) and i’m looking forward to hanami. I’ve found a great looking railway museum (for the inner train geek in me, not just the kids), a very random noodle museum and there may be trip to Tokyo Disney. Not somewhere I’ve ever been before, or probably would go to the US/Eurodisney for but the Japanese Disney could be fun!

I’ve been to Japan before and, beautiful as Kyoto is, I don’t feel I need to return. I’d also like to explore some of the off the beaten track places in the Tokyo area which tourists don’t normally visit when they plan a trip to Japan. I’m looking forward to not racing around the country trying to tick off the major cities stopping for only a couple of days in Tokyo / Kyoto / Osaka / Hiroshima etc (….by the way, I was that person last trip).

If you want to follow my travels in and around Tokyo (and can handle a sakura overload…), I’ll be posting photos on my Instagram account. I’ll still be posting some on Twitter, but will try and keep those to the gluten free finds I will (hopefully!) find.

Things To Do With Kids in Stavanger (in Winter)

Perhaps I’m just an optimist when it comes to visiting new places, but I always believe we’ll find something fun or interesting to see and do wherever we go. Even when the trip is booked less than 36 hours before the flight departs and you’re taking 2 year old twins to Stavanger, Norway. In the middle of winter. Here are the things we enjoyed doing while dodging the biting mid winter wind in Stavanger.

Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Has possibly the coolest kids play zone I’ve ever seen. A mini oil rig complete with helicopter accessible via ladder to which your little ones can climb up and start the blades rotating. Once they’re done with that, there’s a slide and a host of Lego style bricks to hook up and move from a crane. Also provided on a separate table are crayons and paper. Frankly it was hard to coax them away from this and into the museum. But they were in for a treat when they did. A retired control tower awaited them with endless buttons to push and dials to look at. The whole museum is really set up well for kids and adults to enjoy. My son particularly enjoyed the large models of rigs and tankers. Once you’ve paid your entrance fee, you’re able to go back into the museum as much as you like during the rest of that day. Perfect for warming up cold bodies in winter.

Verdict: Easy to spend several hours here (they have a restaurant too) or pop back later in the day.

GeoPark

Located next to the Petroleum museum. This scaled model of the enormous Troll oil field contains all kinds of recycled and reclaimed oil rig equipment. This was originally intended to be a temporary installation but it’s hoped it will remain permanently. Wrap your kids up in snow suits and let them explore.

Verdict: Great for the kids to play in real stuff, just don’t look too closely at the graffiti (thankfully mine were too young to read some of the words)…

Norwegian Canning Factory

I’ve never been to a canning museum before (of any variety, let alone sardines) so this seemed like the perfect place to visit one. The exhibits cover the history of canning and the sardine industry. Long tables are set up on the ground floor where kids (of all ages!) can practice putting plastic sardines into their cans. A surprisingly satisfying activity. Mini D1 attempted to eat most of the plastic fish (niiice) but I couldn’t help wondering how many other museums in the world have put in an order for plastic sardines, sized to fit into sardine cans? Upstairs was a table with plenty of crayons and labels where you were encouraged to make your own sardine can label.

Warning: at the entrance to the museum a large wall of sardine cans (real ones) are stacked, Lego style. My duo couldn’t resist picking them up and moving the flavours around.

Verdict: We arrived 45 minutes before they closed so were time limited on our visit. However this is a fairly compact museum so I’d say it probably wouldn’t hold attention for longer than an hour

Bjergsted Park

We stumbled across this park which hosts many cultural events as well as having a great playground. Probably suited for kids a bit older than my duo (no toddler swings/slide was quite big for 2 year olds) but it’s set in a lovely park and they can run around away from traffic.

General kid related info for Stavanger

– the airport bus into town has (at least) two toddler booster seats

– larger taxis also carry booster seats (our hotel called to order this type of taxi for us)

– I found high chairs everywhere

– It was easy to find (Pampers) nappies, wipes and other baby kit, although a bit pricier than at home meaning you can buy when you arrive rather than lugging with you

– Check on portion sizes when ordering a kids meal, they seemed to be huge and enough to feed two children

– SAFETY whilst Stavanger felt incredibly safe, one thing to note if you have unpredictable walkers bolters like me, is that there is no barrier between the pavement and water in the harbour other than a low railway type sleeper. It was much safer (and more kind on my heart rate) to strap ours into the buggy when walking around near the harbour.

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Gluten Free Stavanger, Norway

Booking our trip to Stavanger less than 36 hours before the plane departed didn’t really give me a great deal of time to research gluten options there. However, having visited Norway as a gluten free traveller before, I was confident I’d be relatively OK. In fact, it turned out much better than OK…

McDonalds

The Golden Arches offer gluten free buns in Norway (and all over Scandinavia). Whilst this is clearly not a gourmet option, it offers a safe choice for the gluten free diner. One of the blogs I’d managed to read before setting off was this by itsgottobeglutenfree. On approaching the counter and asking if they had gluten free buns I received the same response, as if to say “durr, of course we do, you fool” In fact this was repeated everywhere else we went, eating gluten free in Norway just seems so ordinary.

Gluten free Mcdonalds

Norway is not cheap to eat out in so this provided both a quick and inexpensive lunch option and the kids tried their first Happy Meal. (Hoping that is a memory they don’t keep reminding me of!).

Egon

We ate at this Norwegian chain several times, mainly due to it being the only place in town being open on New Year’s Eve (odd). The decor was a bit TGI Fridays-esque but it had plenty of gluten free options including this pizza.

Egon Gluten Free Pizza

And importantly when a glass of average quality wine costs well over a tenner, gluten free beer!

After too much McD’s and pizza, I could only face a Cobb salad. Complete with gluten free bread, simply switched from regular bread and not attracting an additional charge. That’s a gluten free beer to the left too.

Cobb Salad

Dolly Dimple’s

Dolly Dimple’s are a chain of pizza restaurants found all over Norway. They offer regular and gluten free pizzas. One interesting service from Dolly’s is that they can deliver to your hotel, instead of room service. In our case, they came right to our hotel door complete with card reader for the payment.

The menu online was in Norwegian but did have pictures and quick use of a translation app I figured out what the toppings were.

Dolly Dimples

I choose ham and mushroom with extra tomato slices. (That’s another gluten free beer on the table).

GF pizza

I enjoyed this pizza but the base is not like a regular Italian pizza base. The texture is more springy and thicker. If you’ve ever tried a McDonald’s gluten free burger bun in Scandinavia, it’s a bit like that. Not unpleasant, just different. I don’t have a problem with codex wheat starch but I know some Coeliacs do. Many of the Scandinavian gluten free goods (e.g., Fria) contain it, so if this is an issue for you, then you might want to check.

Bolgen & Moi, Norwegian Petroleum museum, Stavanger

Enjoyed lunch here of this salmon salaad with a great view of Stavanger’s harbour from the pier of the oil museum. Normally offers gluten free bread but the bakery was closed over New Year so none available on my visit.

Salad Petroleum Museum

Where Will 2016 Take Me? V2

EDIT 19 MARCH 2016 

Since writing this post at the beginning of the year, our travel plans for 2016 have expanded. Having loved Norway so much when we visited Stavanger at New Year, we then booked a (another) short notice trip to Bergen. Now Italy and, very excitingly, Australia are on our 2016 travel list…more below….

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It’s that time of the year when I look back at the year that was and make new resolutions for the year to come. Maybe it’s because my birthday is in January but I always feel like I’m turning a new page as the new year begins.
I wrote last year about the places on my 2015 travel wish list. But inevitably life didn’t go to plan. My highlights of last year’s travel were a week in Snowdonia in March when it didn’t rain (shocker!), a few days in Paris when I ran around the city between work meetings in search of gluten free patisserie. In August we enjoyed a staycation with family around the UK and I loved visiting the newly reopened Dreamland in Margate (aka Bem Bom Brothers of my youth). We also spent a couple of weeks in the Dordogne where we rented a villa. We drove down to south-west France and I was so happy with how well the twins coped on days with long drives. Turns out small kids can be more adaptable than they’re given credit for…

So where am I going in 2016?

The literal answer:

We returned yesterday from a New Year’s trip to Stavanger, Norway.

Mr D and I have both had a very long standing resolution to be away somewhere for New Year’s Eve. Warm NYE destinations have included watching the fireworks in Sydney, Copacabana beach in Rio and drinking lovely wine in Margaret River, Australia. However, like this year, most previous destinations have been chilly ones including Moscow, Berlin, New York, Yllas, Stockholm, Oslo as we’ve then taken longer Southern Hemisphere holidays in January/February outside the peak travel season. This year we had a minor freak out at the possibility of breaking the tradition so on the evening of 29th December we managed to find both an air miles redemption (x 4) for New Year and a hotel with two interconnecting rooms (which always requires calling the hotel directly). I love exploring a random European city. And who could resist one with both a petroleum museum and a sardine canning museum?!

EDIT: We enjoyed our trip to Stavanger so much we’ve booked another long weekend trip to Norway, this time to Bergen, at the end of January. I love a funicular and Bergen’s looks particularly impressive.

In February thanks to a BA Business Class sale we’re going to Innsbruck. This was a great deal at £150 return. They may be 2 years old but we have to pay almost full fare for the twins. 4 x plane seats in any class of travel do not come cheap.

In late March we’re off to Japan for 2 weeks. I’ve been to Japan before but I’m literally bursting with excitement. My sister now lives in Tokyo and I can’t wait to see where she hangs out and enjoy a snap shot of her life.

If you have any child friendly tips for Tokyo / Japan please do leave a comment below. Alternatively, do let me know what your favourite karaoke song is. But if it’s the karaoke female duet classic “I know Him So Well”, you’re out of luck as she’s yet to find a karaoke place with that on the play list. Keep looking, R…

EDIT March 2016 – Last year was unusual as it was the first year in many, many years that I didn’t go to Italy. I got married in Italy and in one year we calculated I’d visited 9 times in a year. These were all for pleasure, not work trips. So in May we’re off to Verona for a long weekend. Verona is one of the few places in Italy I’ve never been and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’ve already found a gluten free bakery in the city I will definitely be trying, but if you have any other gluten free tips, please do let me know.

In the summer we’re trying to redeem a heap of Virgin Flying Club Miles before they cut any further routes (still dreaming of the trip to Vancouver/Seattle from last year’s list). We’ve been looking into flights to the US but the VA miles don’t appear to offer as good value as our BA miles. More investigation is required on the best ways of optimising the benefit of these VA miles.

EDIT March 2016 – Not content with one long haul trip this year, we’re adding another, Australia. I’ve been many times before (I met Mr D there). We now finally feel up to taking the twins to see their Australian relatives and the 24 hour flight. We’re going for 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year. There are so many gluten free options available in Australia that it will really be the opposite of our Japan trip, food wise. We’ll most likely be in Brisbane / Noosa for most of the trip with a plan to spend New year in Sydney. Again, if you have any gluten free tips for these cities, please do let me know. I’m slowly building up Pinterest boards of places as I come across them.

The figurative answer:

Whilst I’d love to post here regularly, my resolution is not to over commit on anything. I love writing this blog and all the opportunities it has given me. But the truth is, there’s just so little time between a full on job, studying for a professional qualification (what was I thinking?!) looking after energetic toddler twins and all the other hum drum things one has to do to keep life going.

Plus blogging has new challenges these days. I was reminded of this over Christmas whilst enjoying lunch out. A lovely lamb shank, nestling on potato mash, just as I like it not too buttery with some butternut squash. They’d even made me some gluten free gravy. Delicious. I’ll just take a quick snap and Instagram this, I thought.

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And then immediately this happened.

little hands

A small hand reached out in search of more mash, having scoffed all of her own.

There’s no time these days to get the ‘perfect’ shot, it’s an achievement just to get a photo! I’m also not too keen on putting photos of the twins on here. I really mean no offence to anyone who does post photos of their kids, by the way. It’s just I’ve mostly avoided posting photos of myself on here (although there are a couple), so it doesn’t seem quite right to start posting photos of my kids apart from random hand / back of head shots.

I also need to think where I’m going with this blog. I first started writing it nearly 6 years ago when I travelled at least once a month and was regularly searching for safe gluten free places to eat while I was abroad. Since then so much has changed. I’ve been diagnosed with a nut allergy and of course I now travel with two little travel monkeys. I know I don’t want this to become a mummy blog but clearly travelling with kids/twins is now a huge part of my travel/travel planning in the same way sharing my gluten free finds was when I first started writing this blog.

However, even if I’m not posting on here that regularly (who knows, I might be) then you can find me actively on social media:

Twitter ID: GlutenFreeMrsD

Instagram ID: GlutenFreeMrsD

I can also be found on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Bloglovin

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and adventure filled 2016 wherever in the world life takes you!

Out with the old, in with the new…

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll notice it’s had a refresh, something I’ve been meaning to do for some time.

I’ve been using a Headway theme which I’d bought when I first started the blog. It has been great and super easy to customise. However, around the time the twins were born Headway did a major update. By the time I emerged from my sleep deprived state to even consider looking at the blog I’d ended up too many versions behind and it needed some serious attention under the hood as there was no automated pathway to upgrade to the current version.

Every time I’ve looked at the blog in recent months I’ve just sighed at the need to update it. Then swiftly closed the laptop down and moved on to something less taxing. But in the end, updating the blog turned out to be a task which took less than the twins’ nap time – the new indicator for me of a straightforward task.

Lesson learned: Keep the blog theme simple and stick to WordPress.

In making the updates, I’ve properly linked my social media accounts to the blog. I discovered last year I’d set up an Instagram account back in 2012 but had forgotten all about it – preferring the interaction on Twitter instead – but I’m now very much enjoying IG. I’m keen to discover interesting new Instagram accounts to follow so please do share with me any you enjoy.

If you don’t already follow me on social media, feel free to connect via the following links:

Twitter ID: GlutenFreeMrsD

Instagram ID: GlutenFreeMrsD

I can also be found occasionally on Facebook, Google+, somewhat fleetingly on Pinterest and my blog is on Bloglovin.

And if you have any feedback on the blog refresh, please do leave a comment below…