2017 Free From Food Awards

I was delighted to be included in the judging panel for yesterday’s session of the 2017 Free From Food Awards (FFFA).

The FFFAs – now in their 10th year – celebrate the UK’s best free from products from small, (sometimes just starting out in the home kitchen) start ups to large supermarkets. The Awards are run by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson and her seemingly indefatigable team. All judging is performed blind. The judges are not told until after their comments have been recorded and scoring has been completed whose products have been tasted. All products are cooked or prepared exactly to the package’s instructions.

It’s been a pleasure to see the development of the free from food sector through the last 6 years in which I’ve been honoured to be included on the judging panel. Not just the growth in number of products now available in this sector, but the bringing to market of more innovative products and an increasing number of products catering to the wider allergy community, more than just gluten free. For me the judging, and especially the presentation of awards party, is a chance to catch up with friends within the free from community who I wouldn’t ordinarily get to see otherwise. It’s also a million miles from my ‘day job’ which is another reason why I thoroughly enjoy being involved!

As I also have a nut allergy, I have to be mindful of the categories I can judge in. For this reason, cake and biscuit containing categories are out for me as so many contain nuts, and particularly almonds which is one of the nuts I’m allergic to.

This year I judged in the Innovation and Veggie Ready Meals category.

The shortlist for the FFFA 2017 will be published on 8th February and the presentation of awards will be made on Tuesday 28 March 2017.

Until the shortlist is published, I can give you a sneak peek of the judging process and my top picks from the judging yesterday:

In the Innovation category, I enjoyed the following:

Oomi noodles.

High protein & 75% less carbs than regular chilled egg noodles, these are not marketed as gluten free fish noodles but that’s what they are. Made from a combination of Alaskan pollock, Pacific whiting and/or hoki, I really liked the firm texture of these noodles. We tried them plain and I could taste the fish but they looked just like regular noodles. They can be stir fried in 1 minute and with sauce this might be a good way to get some fish into kids. You can even eat these directly from the packet.

Oomi gluten free noodle

If you were presented with this, what would you think it is? I asked on Instagram and the suggestions ranged from a brownie containing beetroot, dates or figs or even insects to something made with flour from dinosaurs (well it is the Innovation award!).

gluten free high protein bar

Perhaps you’ll be as surprised as me to discover this is in fact a Piri Piri chicken bar made by Fori. This product is made with 60% free range chicken.

It had an interesting flavour; I’ll be honest and say I loved it and was challenged by it in equal measure. But if you’re into high protein, gluten free and nut free snacks, this product could be for you! I think this product would be good as a back up while travelling in case your special meal is not loaded on to your flight. Similarly, if you were out on a long hike, this product could provide a filling but light item to carry snack on.

As the tasting is done blind at the FFFA, we do not see the packaging at the time of product tasting. This protein bar is sold in this packaging and I think you’d eat it directly from the packet, meaning you’re unlikely to ponder whether this is a cholcolate

Piri Piri chicken high protein bar

Also in the Innovation category were these gluten free sweet potato wraps by bFree. On my recent trip to Australia, bFree wraps were easy to find everywhere, including these sweet potato wraps. I liked that they were very pliable and I imagine they would stand up well to being in a lunchbox. We tried them both as a wrap with hummus filling and also separately to taste the flavour alone. A product I will definitely be buying.

bFree sweet potato wraps

As well as the Innovation category, I also participated in the judging for the vegetarian ready meals.

My top pick in this category were these gluten free Devonshire soysages made by Dragonfly Foods. I would buy these over meat sausages and really enjoyed the rosemary flavour in them as well as the way the outside had crisped up. The texture and taste didn’t make them too dissimilar in my view to meat sausages. I suspect that they would BBQ quite well, unlike some of the gluten free vegetarian sausages on the market today.

gluten free soysages

I think that vegetarian ready meals is an area in which food manufacturers could make improvements in. There is definitely room in this area to increase the number and range of products on offer to vegetarians with dietary restrictions looking for convenience products.

Many thanks to Michelle for inviting me to participate in the judging again this year and to the whole team behind the scenes for their skills in preparing all the products to try.

You can follow news from the Free From Food Awards here. The shortlist will be published on Wednesday 8th February 2017.

Have you tried any of these products? Would you consider buying them?

Half Way Around the World (And Back) In Gluten Free Airline Meals

On our recent trip to Australia, we flew with British Airways using several codeshare flights within our routing. This gave me an excellent opportunity to compare the gluten free meals experienced on three different airlines; British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

These flights were taken all in Business Class.

London to Hong Kong – British Airways

Meal served after take off, starter.

gluten free breakfast British Airways Club World

Main course: BOILED FISH of course!

gluten free dinner British Airways Club World

Breakfast: Fruit (yawn) with BFree roll

gluten free breakfast British Airways Club World

The warm part of breakfast: This was quite nice…

gluten free British Airways Club World

Overall flight experience: This flight was pretty uneventful. Mini D1 – whose antics had caused me to have the worst flight ever on our flight to Tokyo (yes, even worse than taking an 8 hour domestic Aeroflot flight in 1990s Russia)- slept for 8 hours of this flight. This meant I got some sleep too.
Lesson learned: Kids can, and DO sleep on planes (see below)….

Hong Kong to Brisbane – Cathay Pacific

Fresh, tasty and well presented starter.

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

Yes, it’s FISH again for main course!

gluten dinner bread Cathay Pacific Business Class

I liked the Cathay Pacific gluten free bread….

gluten free bread Cathay Pacific Business Class

Mmmm cheese….

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

Breakfast

What’s in the little package?

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

Inside was this. One of these was GF and the other wasn’t…but they look the same to me. I’m still not entirely sure what was in it. The one on the right seemed to have a face, but maybe I was hallucinating by that point….

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

Our flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane stopped for an hour or so in Cairns airport during which time we had to get off the plane and there was a crew change over. After take off from Cairns airport I was served this, another breakfast. I think this was breakfast (from the yoghurt), but by this point in our journey to Australia I wasn’t really sure what time it was…Cathay Pacific make a top cup of tea, as you can see!

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

And then this…I was pretty much fit to burst with all this food. Although this tasted fresh. I was particularly glad it wasn’t fish. Again.

gluten free Cathay Pacific Business Class

Overall flight experience: We’d had a problem pre-flight with my daughter being seated alone which was partly resolved by CP customer services but which had caused some stress before the flight.

However, I thought the gluten free meals on these flights were excellent, apart from the odd sort of pasty thing.

I’ve flown Cathay Pacific a few times before and the service is always excellent. I couldn’t fault the amazing crew and in-flight service on the Cathay flights. Special mention to the crew who boarded on the Cairns to Brisbane leg who were great and particularly our cabin steward utterly charmed my daughter.

Lesson learned: In Hong Kong international airport, the Cathay Pacific Pier lounge near gate 65 had gluten free options, including gluten free pasta. If your plane is departing from a gate nearby, head here. The lounge was also much less crowded than the Wing lounge where we had spent most of our transit in Hong Kong airport.

Brisbane to Singapore – Qantas

No gluten free meal was loaded for me on this flight.

Instead the cabin crew got the meal and ingredient lists and we agreed the following would be OK for the meal after takeoff.

Qantas Business Class gluten free meal

Followed by this starter of Vietnamese prawn salad with rice noodles, green mango and lemongass.

Qantas Business Class gluten free meal

For main I had roast lamb rump with ratatouille.

There were no suitable desserts so it was cheese again. Shame! And don’t Qantas make a great cuppa!

Qantas Business Class gluten free meal

For the meal served prior to landing, there were no suitable gluten free options from the main menu. So I had this fruit plate with a great gluten free biscuit which randomly they did have on board!

Qantas Business Class gluten free meal

 

Overall flight experience: The Qantas business class seat was great. Loads of space to store things and I loved the Kate Spade amenity kits.

Lesson learned: Sometimes you can manage to create no gluten containing meals from the regular in flight menu. But it’s a gamble and one I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to take as it’s too risky. on this particular flight there were suitable options for one of the meals served but not the other.

I learned after taking this flight from other passengers who’ve travelled recently on Qantas that special meals need to be specifically and directly requested with Qantas. Therefore, make sure a gluten free meal is requested on all legs of each Qantas flight.

I don’t fully understand the logic behind this, however, as my kids’ children’s meals (special meal code: CHML) had been requested/loaded but the GFML had not.

Singapore to London – British Airways

Meal served just after departure – starter

gluten free in flight meal British Airways Club World

Followed by…

gluten free in flight meal British Airways Club World

Yep, it’s MORE boiled FISH under the tomato. And no, I don’t know what the dark purple ball is on the bottom left.

For dessert, I forewent the gluten free fruit desert (as on every flight I took) and went for cheese instead.  Although they have snuck some grapes in there so I guess I didn’t escape fruit entirely…

gluten free in flight meal British Airways Club World

Meal served before landing – cold breakfast (nope, I wasn’t keen on more fruit)

gluten free in flight meal British Airways Club World

And the warm option

gluten free in flight meal British Airways Club World

When this was delivered to me, the crew member asked me whether, since my gluten free meal looked “a bit sad” (it was a kind of egg white omelette), would I like something extra from the kosher meal which was gluten free? Yes, was the answer to that! There had been no meal served between take off and the one before landing so a gap of around 10-12 hours without being served food meant I was hungry.

Overall flight experience: By far my least favourite of all the flights we took. A night flight lasting 14.5 hours is too long for me to be sat on a plane, let alone two 3 year olds. The flight departed Singapore just before midnight and the kids were utterly exhausted by the time we finally boarded (having spent 6 hours on a stopover in Changi Airport). As we boarded the people sat behind us actually rolled their eyes at me as they saw us approaching and they made their displeasure at being sat near a family in Business Class very clear through the flight. I have sympathy for this (I’ve flown in Business Class with screaming kids enough times before I had my own) but this is essentially public transport (whatever the cost) and you take your chances with whomever you’re seated near be they loud snorers, disruptive adult passengers or children.

Lesson learned: First of all, ensure the kids eat a proper meal in Changi airport before getting on the flight. They’d eaten a small meal in the BA lounge but in retrospect it would’ve been better to take them somewhere to eat a proper meal as they were asleep before take off and consequently slept through the meal service. This meant when they woke up (6 hours into a 14.5 hour flight), there was no meal for them (and the crew had not kept back their children’s meals when the post-take off meal was served). They then had to wait about 7 or 8 hours from waking up for the next meal (breakfast) to be served an hour or so before landing. I think my son managed to eat at least 3 packets of the spicy chilli Kettle Chips to keep him going (not great!) as this – along with chocolate bars – was all there was on offer. There weren’t even any bananas or yoghurt he could eat between meals.

More generally, I would not take this length of night flight again unless absolutely essential, there’s too long a gap between meal service for small kids to last without any food. Further, this flight was taken on an A380. I’d been excited to fly on this plane but once on board the quietness of the plane (we sat on the upper deck) meant that you could hear much more sound from other passengers / cabin crew than on other types of aircraft. Again, if you’re bothered by noise or suspect you might cause some noise on the plane, I’d avoid the A380 upper deck.

Conclusions:

  • Unlike your fellow passengers who are flying without dietary restrictions, you will not be given a menu and told what you’re having. On balancce this is probably lucky
  • You can take a large bet you’ll be served boiled fish
  • Ditto fruit (unless you appeal to the cabin crew to have some cheese instead)
  • Always check and double check your gluten free (or other special meal) has been requested
  • Be particularly cautious if flying with Qantas, and call them directly to check / request your special meal
  • I like red wine. And cheese. I really like cheese.

What is your experience of gluten free meals while flying? Could you recommend any particular airline for gluten free in-flight catering? Do you see things improving over time? Please do leave a comment below.

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Gluten Free Airline Meals flying in Business Class

My 2017 Travel Wish List

Writing a travel wish list is turning into a regular occurrence for this blog, even if generally the posts to this blog are sporadic!

In 2015 I wrote this one. And in 2016, this one which was constantly edited through the year until I finally gave up as we added more trips. 2016 was a big year of travel for us as I detailed in this epic post (I needed a lie down after writing this…).

Just as 2016 turned into the year of travel which was unexpected at the start of the year, who knows where 2017 will take us. We have two weekend breaks booked so far for this year but after that…..I don’t know!

January – the bracing winter break
Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city has been on my travel wish list for a while and finally we’re making the trip later this month! I think the Swedish fika was made for me, just my kind of activity. If I can tear myself away from enjoying a coffee and (gluten free) cinnamon bun in a cosy cafe, I’m looking forward to exploring Gothenburg’s historic area, Haga. I’ll try and sneak in a visit to the Stora Saluhallen to check out what gluten free finds they have. There seem to be plenty of activities for the kids with Museum of Gothenburg – housing Sweden’s only exhibited Viking ship, along with an interactive children’s museum – and Martiman maritime museum as ideas on the list, time and weather permitting. (image credit)

February – the we-need-some-warmer-weather-and-sunshine winter break
Valencia, Spain. Another city on my travel wish list some time, I’m looking forward to checking out the futuristic building’s at the city’s Centre for Art and Sciences. The kids will also enjoy exploring the park which has been built on the riverbed of a diverted river and which winds its way through the centre of Valencia. My initial research indicates plenty of gluten free options such as CeliacRuz. I doubt I’ll go hungry! (image credit)

Have you been to Gothenburg or Valencia? Could you recommend any gluten free places to eat? Or any kid friendly activities? If so, please do leave a comment below.

The weekend break – the new destination
Pula, Croatia. A new destination on the British Airways route map is Pula in Croatia. I’m keen to visit this city with its well preserved Roman amphitheatre. I’m also intrigued by the ‘Lighting Giants’ where cranes within a working shipyard in this port city are illuminated at night. (image credit)

The weekend break – the early summer get away
Porto, Portugal. It’s been on the list for a while and hopefully this is the year we’ll visit. (image credit)

The Summer Holiday
Tricky one. For the last 2 years we’ve had great holidays driving down to the Dordogne and hiring a villa. But I’d like to go somewhere different this year. I find driving holidays really easy (but then I don’t actually drive!) as you can chuck everything in the car and there’s no need to worry about airports, hire cars and the quality of rental company children’s car seats at your destination. The kids have – so far – been great on long car journeys and when we’ve stopped en route it’s given us the opportunity to see other destinations as part of the trip. So, perhaps hiring a villa in Italy with stops in Switzerland or south eastern France could be a possibility.

On the other hand, road tripping around Vancouver and the Pacific North West are still high on my travel wish list.

But top of Mr D’s travel wish list is a trip to Greenland, transiting one way via Iceland and the other via Canada. (image credit)

The Autumn Half Term
Cape Town, South Africa. Mr D needs some persuading on this one but I’ve never been to South Africa and a trip to Cape Town would be do-able for a week as the small time difference means no jet lag to contend with. (image credit)

The weekend break – the it’s-nearly-winter warmer
Seville, Spain. Although I’ve been a few times before to Seville, it’s been a long time. I’d like to revisit for some November sunshine as London becomes a wet, dark and dismal place. Seville always seems to be warm even when the rest of Europe is shivering from the cold. (image credit)

The work trip
Paris again, this time for a week is on the cards. I will try to refrain from charging around Paris like a crazy person in search of the increasing number of gluten free finds the city has on offer. However, no trip to Paris would be complete without a stop at Helmut Newcake.

Where would you recommend I travel to with 3 year old twins in 2017? Any suggestions gratefully received!

2016: A Year Of Gluten Free Travel (with twins)

2016 was really the year of travel for us. It saw me take;

  • 18 flights
  • 2 Eurotunnel returns
  • 1 Eurostar return
  • 1 ferry trip
  • and visit 7 countries

Not since before I was pregnant with with our twins (now 3 and a half) have I taken so many trips. Although exploring with small kids and food allergies (me, not them) is something I feel lucky to be able to do, in all honesty there are times when I wonder why we don’t just stay at home and have an easier life. However, just as I didn’t stop travelling where I wanted to when I was diagnosed with food allergies / intolerances, having two small children hasn’t stopped me from travelling either!

With the impending start of full time school for the twingos in September (when my summer born babies will only just have turned 4 *weeps*) I wanted to document a year of travel that is unlikely to recur for quite some time.

New Year / early January – Stavanger, Norway
Mr D and I have a deal in which we go away somewhere every year for New Year. In addition, I absolutely love a random city break and Stavanger was the only destination available for a BA Air Miles redemption the day before we wanted to travel. Stavanger it was.

http://www.glutenfreemrsd.com/2016/03/kids-stavanger/

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this city. You can read some of the things we enjoyed doing in this post. Since then, there is not a week (often a day….) in which one of the twins doesn’t ask to go back to Norway. Which also led to the next trip…

Late January / early February – Bergen, Norway
Bergen has been on my travel wish list for quite some time. Although perhaps not an obvious choice for a city break in winter (it was cold, dark and snowy) nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The kids had their first McDonald’s Happy Meal and I had a gluten free Big Mac.
gluten free big mac www.glutenfreemrsd.com

February – Isle of Wight, England
A weekend over on the Isle of Wight. I never get bored of taking the ferry over from Portsmouth; I always feel like I’m off on adventure.

www.glutenfreemrsd.com

On the gluten free front, there are increasing number of places catering to those with a gluten intolerance on the island. It’s great to be able to go for a pub lunch and find gluten free options. I thoroughly enjoyed this gluten free sticky toffee pudding with custard.

Late February – Innsbruck, Austria

An early flight meant that the kids were zonked by the time we arrived into Innsbruck. They slept in the buggy while I enjoyed a deliciously warming bowl of goulash and this epic slice of gluten free chocolate heaven.

gluten free cake innsbruck

The return flight showed me that adults cause every bit as much (in fact more) trouble on flights when a well known person sitting in front of me put on a full “don’t you know who I am?!” diva spectacle.

March – Calais, France
A day trip to France to restock the wine cellar and take the car out for the first time in over a month (we’re lucky where we live we don’t need the car very often). I got to check out the gluten free items in the French supermarket. Definitely making steps forward!

April – Tokyo, Japan
Two weeks in Japan to visit my sister who lives and works in Tokyo.

gluten free japan www.glutenfreemrsd.com

We stayed in an Airbnb (our first experience) close to Yoyogi station. The location was perfect for getting around and local amenities.

gluten free japan www.glutenfreemrsd.com

I loved sleeping on traditional tatami mats (there were beds!) but at times the layout of the Airbnb house didn’t really work for us.

In terms of gluten free eating, Japan posed an enormous challenge. There were options but it wasn’t easy, My gluten free trip report blog post is still languishing in ‘draft’…

Late April / May – Dorset, England
We stayed in a beautiful stone cottage with not just one, but two AGAs. Low beams and an inglenook fireplace, quality furnishings and a very well stocked kitchen – with wine fridge – made this the archetypal ‘down from London’ cottage. I finally got to visit Chesil Beach, found unexpectedly good gluten free options at Abbotsbury sub-tropical gardens and even enjoyed gluten free fish and chips in Weymouth.

gluten free fish and chips

May – Verona, Italy
While Verona itself is an attractive city, it’s also perfectly located for us to take day trips to Venice and spend the day at Lake Garda. On the gluten free front, I enjoyed several really great gluten free pizzas on this trip, including on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda and in a pizzeria directly opposite the Roman amphitheatre in Verona.

gluten free pizza italy http://www.glutenfreemrsd.com/2016/08/gluten-free-guide-to-italy-tips-and-resources/

Watching an opera here in the open air is definitely on my travel wish list for another trip.

June – Turin, Italy
Another trip to Italy and more gluten free pizza.

http://www.glutenfreemrsd.com/2016/08/gluten-free-guide-to-italy-tips-and-resources/

As ever I enjoyed checking out the huge variety of gluten free products in the local Italian supermarkets, including finding gluten free Peroni in the tiny supermarket next to our hotel. You can read my complete guide to gluten free travel to Italy here.

gluten free beer italy http://www.glutenfreemrsd.com/2016/08/gluten-free-guide-to-italy-tips-and-resources/

Late August / September – Dordogne, France
Our drive down the Dordogne in south west France was broken up with an overnight stop in Saumur, in the beautiful Loire Valley and in Fontainebleau outside Paris on the return.

In the Dordogne we rented a house which had everything I could hope for. Located in a small village but with a full size supermarket, the house was well equipped for travel with small children. The large swimming was fully fenced and completely secure. Also in the garden, the kids were thrilled to find a trampoline, slide, swings, Wendy house, ride on tractors, bikes scooters and on and on. In fact the house had more toys and equipment than we have at home.

Mr D was happy to find a high quality BBQ. Me? All of the above meant I had moments to relax for more than 5 minutes, a first for a holiday since the twins were born. On our last night, the village held their fête du canard to which all the town was invited. A band played, food & wine were on offer and it was a super atmosphere for us to be included in, a real highlight of 2016.

gluten free france

October – Paris, France
I spent a few days in Paris for work. I promised myself I wouldn’t race all over Paris in search of gluten free finds, as I have on previous trips. I did manage a dinner with old friends who live in Paris and a stop at Helmut Newcake to pick up a salted caramel eclair for the train home. Plus ça change…..

You can read my gluten free guide to France here. And many posts on gluten free Paris here.

November – Oxford, England
A wedding in Oxford for an old university friend gave Mr D and I the chance to have our first ever night away from the twins at the same time, while all 3 grandparents babysat back in London. We stayed in a Premier Inn as it was convenient for the wedding location. I’ve never stayed in a Premier Inn before but was impressed with the size of the room, comfy bed and breakfast in the onsite Beefeater was well signed for gluten free options.

gluten free Premier Inn

December – Barcelona, Spain
A brief stop in Barcelona. We enjoyed a walk around Las Ramblas, accidentally found ourselves walking along Barcelona’s equivalent of New York’s High Line, but somehow managed to miss the more obvious sights in Barcelona.

December – Brisbane, Sunshine Coast & Sydney, Australia
Our longest trip to date with the twins; to Australia for Christmas and New Year. Australia is a great place to be gluten free. But conversely I’ve had a couple of run ins in which I’ve been told something is gluten free, only later to find out it’s not.

But generally I found an excellent variety of savoury items labelled as gluten free in the supermarkets. It was interesting to see *much* less sugary gluten free items in Australia (cakes, biscuits etc) than in the UK. And in surprising news for readers in the UK, I only spotted one gluten free brownie on our trip! I will blog about my gluten free finds in Australia in a few weeks.

Phew, what a year of travel 2016 was! I hope this post has shown you that being a mum of young children and/or having food allergies / intolerances doesn’t need to hold you back from travelling.

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2016: A Year Of Gluten Free Travel With Twins

Trip Planning: Australia

This week we’re very lucky to be escaping gloomy London in all it’s pre-Christmas twinkly glory and heading to Australia.

Our time in Australia will be split between (Brisbane where we have family), Noosa and Sydney.

Although I’ve been to Australia many times before – I met Mr D in Sydney and we had our first date at the Sydney Opera House, later the location of Mr D proposing – it’s been a few years since my last visit.

Do you have any good gluten free restaurant or bakery recommendations in Australia and the cities we’re visiting? We’re mainly self catering so any recommendations for supermarkets with excellent gluten free ranges would be good.

And also, if you have any great kid friendly recommendations (apart from the zoos, aquariums) please do let me know in the comments below. Any tips on entertaining jet lagged 3 year old twins also highly appreciated…!

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