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

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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.

Astonished by Tesco Finest

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Two days ago, I was in Tesco, doing a spot of reshelving. Well: moving the NOT gluten free Warburton wraps away from the gluten free section, leaving the new seeded gluten free wraps in place (have you tried these yet? Our coeliac likes the white ones and is now enjoying the seeded ones too).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who mutters about people leaving inappropriate foods on the gluten free shelves. Shoppers probably see empty shelves, and decide to jettison things they’ve changed their minds about there. I hope it’s not deliberate! I know that some people see deliberate rearrangement of supermarket goods as an art form, but I think it is highly risky – it’s too easy for consumers to be confused – as you’ll see.

Anyway, I was in Tesco again yesterday—oh the exciting life I lead—and was just about to set off on another reshelving adventure when I looked more closely at the packaging. Have you spotted the new feature?

  • Tesco Finest Stem Ginger and Belgian Dark Chocolate Cookies
  • Tesco Finest Belgian White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
  • Tesco Finest Quadruple Nut Cookies

And they are all both wheat free and gluten free!

I’ve not seen these on the shelves before. It’s about time that gluten free foods were included in the Finest range. Yay for Tesco!

I guess my only quibble is the potential for confusion, since the packaging is so similar to the ‘normal’ kind. But we all read the labels carefully anyway, don’t we?

Now I can’t wait for coeliac daughter to come home from her own, rather more exciting, adventures, so we can taste them.

Gluten Free Cake Mixes: Hill Cottage Bakery

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Did you know that the National Trust has over 3.7 million members?

Some of those are lucky enough to be able to visit Tyntesfield, and after exploring the property, stop at the cafe and eat wheat- and gluten-free cake made by Hill Cottage Bakery.

Tyntesfield is too far for us (we’re more Little Moreton Hall way) but Amanda Armstrong, who bakes the Hill Cottage cakes, kindly sent us some of her new venture, cake mixes, for us to try.

Her cakes have been on offer for some years at Tyntesfield, and have been extremely popular. If they are anything like the mixes, I can understand why.

We’ve made up both, and they are just fabulous, with a genuinely home-made quality taste. The ingredients list includes only those things that might be in your own cupboard (assuming you bake with xantham gum)—certainly in mine—and the mixes are extremely easy to make up. Just add eggs and oil (and carrot, for the carrot cake) and bake. Amanda has even included a piece of greaseproof paper in each mix pack!

Amanda sent us two samples:

  • White chocolate brownie mix.

    We all love brownies here, and this one came up gorgeously fudgy, just how we like it. My husband gallantly said ‘but your homemade ones are a bit better, obviously’ – but I really don’t think he meant it. The brownies didn’t last long enough to be served with ice-cream, but I can see that this would work well.

  • Carrot cake mix.

    This is both dairy and gluten free. I think carrot cake is my favourite of all cakes, and this mix came up light, soft and moist, tasting really fresh and carroty. Most carrot cake has a cream cheese topping, but this doesn’t need it at all. Just lovely.

Amanda has four different mixes, all of which are gluten and wheat free, and three of them are also dairy free. All contain 100% natural ingredients, which are also organic where possible, and no artificial preservatives, colourings or flavourings.

She says:

“The recipe for the carrot cake took a short time to produce as it is a variation of my existing carrot cake at Tyntesfield which I know is very popular and therefore I did not want to alter too much. However the brownie mixes were much harder to produce as a mix and have taken many months. I had to find a way of creating a rich, fudgy brownie but without butter. And I wanted to use the very best dark chocolate from Belgium in the mix rather than just cocoa as is used by cheaper brownie mix brands. Using real chocolate that has been finely grated into the mix brings a richness and depth to the end result that using cocoa alone could never reproduce.”

I’d say she was successful. They are not cheap, but since the ingredients are all natural, and the results so good, I’d be happy to buy the mixes. You can buy them online at: www.hillcottagebakery.co.uk.

Do I recommend these? Yes I do!

I’d also suggest to the National Trust that they make the mixes available across the country, so that all their visitors can buy them from the National Trust shops. Or that their staff make up the mixes to sell in the cafes…

A Tale of 3 Universities

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It’s that time: trawling around universities so that coeliac daughter can choose which she’d like to apply to. This is important: she needs to know which feel right, and they all offer slightly different courses. But naturally, the gluten free thing matters too.

Here is a quick summary of her experiences at 3 of the universities she’s visited over the last year (I’m not going to name them!).

  1. Just in time—not

    She stayed at University 1, and we’d gone through the usual rigmarole of advance notification and being assured that it would be fine, and then introducing herself to the staff, so that they knew she was the coeliac that evening.

    On being presented with a bowl of soup, she asked if it was GF, and was assured it was. However—after she’d started eating it—another member of staff came rushing over and replaced it with a bowlful of a different soup, saying ‘Are you the special needs? Phew, just in time’.

    Of course, it wasn’t, and coeliac daughter was unwell. (Special needs?)

  2. Peas and chips

    She stayed at University 2, and again, we’d done the advance notification thing, and were told she should introduce herself to chef. So much, so typical. But when she asked to be introduced to chef, he came out to meet her, and when she explained, chef said ‘oh, is that all?’ and went back into the kitchen.

    She ate peas and chips that night, because that is all that was safe to eat.

  3. Coeliacs on staff

    And she ate at University 3 (no overnight at this university – though she’s going back, this time to stay, so we’ll see…). They also had a separate tour for parents, so I asked the question. Everything was labelled; and when I asked about catering for gluten free diets, the woman leading the tour said “we have coeliacs among the staff and the student body, so we’re experienced at dealing with these things”.

She liked all three universities for the courses they’re offering, and for the ‘feel’ of the place, and will probably apply to all of them.

But which of the three do you think I feel most comfortable about? We’ll be investigating self-catered accommodation, wherever she decides to apply.