Christmas is coming…

christmas-is-comingFeeling Christmassy yet?

I am—at last—it’s the end of term, and I caught myself singing carols in the car. It’s coming soon!

Sainsbury’s kindly sent us some Christmas goodies to taste-test, and I thought I’d share our findings:

  • mince pies

    Coeliac daughter tried the Sainsbury’s gluten free mince pies, and some gluten free mince pies from Udi’s; I tried both these but also—because I am not gluten free—Mr Kipling’s and Tesco Finest.

    And guess what: I preferred the gluten free versions.

    Daughter preferred the Udi’s gluten free mince pies, while I preferred the Sainsbury’s version:

    • I like my mince pies deep-filled; she prefers more pastry
    • I found the Sainsbury’s pastry to be ‘just right’: the Udi’s pastry was too soft for my taste, and the gluten-full pastry too hard. But she likes pastry to be softer.

    It just shows there’s a mince pie for everybody!

  • dairy free chocolate

    I am quite a chocolate fan (dark chocolate, salted chocolate, chocolate with butterscotch, ginger, honeycomb…). I’ve even been known to raid the fridge for milk chocolate when needs must.

    We were pleasantly surprised by the dairy-free chocolate. None of us need to be dairy-free, so we approached it with some caution, having had some deeply unpleasant dairy-free versions in the past. But we didn’t need to worry; Sainsbury’s dairy-free chocolate is—while obviously not true chocolate—a very reasonable facsimile of a milk chocolate. And they’re offering not only dairy-free chocolate bars for Christmas, but traditional chocolate coins – and a chocolate advent calendar.

    No comparison-tasting here: we know what chocolate tastes like!

  • and the gingerbread man

    I’ve missed the gluten free gingerbread man; and he’s back! There used to be gluten free gingerbread men sold with free from chocolate buttons, and with icing pens, and they were great party material… all my children have outgrown cake-decoration as a party activity, but I do recommend it. Just take these gingerbread men, add icing and sweeties to decorate, and wait for the mess.

    These gingerbread men are quite crunchy—like gingernuts—so tiny children might just eat the decorations – but I liked them. And it would be nice to see a gingerbread woman too; there’s more space on a skirt for decorations!

Roll on Christmas – are you ready yet?

Living Gluten Free: Courtesy and Waste

chocolate-logs
Do you ever eat something to be polite? Or to avoid waste?

I had an interesting conversation recently when Sainsbury’s sent us a box of their new Christmas range to try out and report on (thank you, Sainsbury’s!).

The box was wrapped in festive paper—the other children had assumed it was a present and discreetly ignored it—and coeliac daughter was thrilled to open it and see what Sainsbury’s are offering this year. She fell on the pack of 5 mini chocolate logs with delight: “oh, I like these!”: we had bought a pack a week or so ago, as soon as we spotted them on the shelves.

I asked her to articulate what she liked. I asked her again the next day after the second one, and again after the third mini-log…

Clearly struggling with trying to describe them, eventually she said:

“they make me want to eat more”

When I pushed her a bit, she explained that most of her packets of biscuits, cakes etc were an effort for her to finish, and that she often felt that she had to finish the packet before they went off – even if she wasn’t that keen on them.

“It’s hard, sometimes, being the only one”… (there are five of us, and only one coeliac identified – so far).

We have agreed in the past that if people make the effort to find her something gluten free to eat—maybe biscuits—she will be polite, accept one, and do her best to eat it. After all, they’ve made extra effort to be hospitable and to cater for her.

And we do dislike waste.

But maybe I haven’t made it clear that she doesn’t have to eat everything!

It is a lot easier to find good gluten free products now, and it is much less common that people offer her one of the old-style gluten-free-cardboard biscuits, so it’s less of an issue. But still, it is rare to find something that she actively wants to eat again… and Sainsbury’s have clearly nailed it with these gluten free mini chocolate logs this year.

But what do you think? Would you eat something to be polite? Do you feel you have to finish the pack of something you don’t actually want to eat, to avoid wasting it? Or have you found gluten free products that you actively look forward to eating?

(I’ll tell you more about the Sainsbury’s Christmas range another day…and I’ve already bought more of the mini chocolate logs)

Question: Birthday Cake without Wheat, Eggs or Milk

One of the things I enjoy about writing this blog is that I get a lot of questions in my inbox about living gluten free.

I do try to reply to all of these—and it occurred to me that if one person is asking, probably there are others out there who’d also like to know.

So I thought I’d start occasionally putting some of the answers up here, for you all to see. Obviously I’ll keep personal details confidential, but I hope this will be useful.

Question: Birthday Cake

birthday-girl-cakeMy four year old daughter is allergic to wheat, eggs and milk and I am having a difficult time trying to find a suitable birthday cake for her, and I don’t have time to bake one.

She has never eaten any type of cake but is desperate to eat cake on her birthday, ideally a princess or mermaid cake. It breaks my heart to see her looking at the birthday cake she can’t eat…

Answer

This question pulled at my heartstrings too: I remember those birthday parties! So I was keen to find as many options for this little girl as possible.

As well as looking for wheat free, egg free, dairy free cake, I decided to look for gluten free vegan cakes (which would also be free from eggs and milk). Do bear in mind that not all vegan cakes will be gluten free.

The princess/mermaid thing was a little more difficult…

I replied:

I do have some suggestions, but I haven’t tried any of these egg-free cakes, so I can’t tell you what they are like. But here’s what I’ve found from around the UK…

  • Rebecca’s Cakes (see her Facebook page for pictures)
  • The Cake Crusader (Not decorated other than plain icing, but I’m sure you could find some suitable decorations – perhaps a couple of tiny princesses/mermaids/sea creatures to go on top. But my 4 year olds wouldn’t have liked fruit cake, so I don’t know if this is right for you)
  • Lyncroft Cakes – Moji can offer gluten / wheat / dairy / egg free cakes, as well as cakes for diabetics (egg, sugar and fat free)
  • 1066 Cakestand – all their cakes are egg and dairy free, and they can do gluten free too.
  • Lucy’s Cakes – beautiful cakes, and Lucy runs a cake decorating school
  • Licks – gluten / wheat / egg and dairy free cakes are an option (plus vegetarian / vegan)
  • Mummy’s Yummys and here on Facebook – commended in the FreeFromFoods Awards (and they run cake-decorating parties, which must be fun)

If you fancy any of these (and Rebecca’s Cakes look good) the best plan is probably to contact the baker and see what they can do to help.

Over to you: do you know of any others you’d recommend?

Gluten Free at the YHA

st-briavels-castleWe regularly spend Christmas self-catering at a youth hostel – there are just too many of us to fit in anyone’s house any more. Did you know you could hire an entire youth hostel?

Not all of them, and not all year, but there are some magnificent places to stay—we loved Eskdale—and if you’re a big group, it’s a reasonably cheap way to get together, as long as you’re not expecting 5* accommodation.

Plus the self-catering aspect makes it much easier to manage a combination of diets.

Of course, you can stay at a youth hostel as an individual, and self-catering is certainly an option. But if you were thinking about going catered, how well does a hostel cope with special diets?

Over the summer, coeliac daughter spent a week volunteering in a youth hostel, where she worked in a team of people she didn’t know (to start with) painting a mural for the walls – a timeline of St Briavel’s Castle.

It’s a lovely hostel, based in one of King John’s hunting lodges, and they coped magnificently with her special diet, providing her with delicious evening meals (including, apparently, a medieval banquet one evening), good breakfasts, and even a packed lunch each day including a gluten free sandwich in a box, made with the filling of her choice each day (you know how much we love sandwiches in a box) and a wrapped gluten free cake.

Her first text home at the end of the first day says:

“they have good gf here, sandwich, crisps, brownie, victoria cake for lunch, pasta and garlic bread for tea!”

Pasta and garlic bread… just like everybody else. That’s exactly what I want for her: to be able to eat something alongside others and for it not to be a big deal.

Yay for the staff at YHA St Briavels!

(image of St Briavels Castle is ©Bob Tinley and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons)

Pick of the Day: Allergy and Free From Show 2013

allergy-free-from

We’ve been back from the Allergy and Free From Show in London for a while now, and have had time to mull over the various things we learnt, new things we tasted, and food we liked enough to bring home.

Sometimes, it’s a little like coming back from holiday with some kind of local gourmet treat, and finding that it just isn’t as good out of context… In other cases, you know that you’ve found a real treat, and will go out to hunt down more.

Whereas last year, I’d say the theme was cupcakes, this year it was definitely back to basics, but with a twist: pasta (especially fresh), and wraps. My poor coeliac tried so much of both that we didn’t need to find lunch.

The pasta that we really liked came from:

  • Dell’Ugo. Not so much the fresh chickpea pasta—they’d sent me some of this to try in advance, and if you’re missing wholewheat-style pasta, this is the one for you—but the fresh penne and tagliatelle. We thought these were very good, and although they are fresh, they’ll last for 35 days in the fridge, apparently. We will be buying this.
  • Asda’s fresh gluten free pasta deserves a mention too; again, we’d been sent some to try in advance, and it was also good. Sadly, we don’t have an Asda near us, but if you do, you should try it. (Asda are launching 95 new gluten free lines this summer. 95! Go check them out…)
  • Then I must mention Feel Free’s ravioli. We’ve been wanting a decent ravioli for ages, and here it was! This is a frozen meal, with meat and ricotta inside the ravioli, and will be available in Budgens and Londis. We bought some to bring home…
  • and Celi Good’s pasta pronto range (this would be useful for camping/expeditions etc – we bought some of this too)

There were a range of different wraps/flatbreads available. It’s as though manufacturers have suddenly worked out how to do it, so they’re all giving it a try… We liked (and bought) the chapatti from Free From Authentic Foods. BFree were cooking breakfast wraps, which our coeliac enjoyed (these will be in Asda and Ocado, and are probably there now).

Other products that we liked enough to carry home from London:

  • Delidivine’s sausage rolls
  • Sin chocolate brownie
  • Conscious dairy and gluten free raw chocolate (mint)
  • Sensa Glutine pizza bases sold by Bruschetta (a gluten free restaurant in Kingston)
  • ilumi’s ready meals in pouches – ideal for trips away, expeditions etc.

There were lots of new products being launched. I’ve mentioned Asda; Warburton‘s told us they would have new products out by the end of June (we’ve already found brown and seeded wraps!); Sainsbury’s will have new products on the shelves in September, including a chocolate log and gingerbread men.

So which products would we buy again?

Actually, all of the ones we brought home. We picked well!

If you didn’t get to London, do go to Liverpool (get your free tickets here). It’s well worth it. An extraordinary event, packed with great products – and, well, just packed. 21,000 visitors in London over the three days! It just shows how much people want good quality free from products.