BSG Conference: The Patient Symposium

Last week I went to part of a gastroenterology conference: the symposium for patients.

This was organised by the British Society of Gastroenterology. I’ve never been to one before, and this was a particularly interesting experience. There were – literally – hundreds of medics around the conference centre, and about 60 people attending the patients seminar. Not all these were coeliacs, though Coeliac UK were there: some were Crohn’s sufferers, and others had IBS. Some (like me) weren’t patients at all, but were there out of interest, or representing a patient. I sat next to a dietician who was there as part of her professional development, which I was delighted to see. She told me that she’d been astonished to learn how variable the dietician service-offering was across the country. Where she’d worked, they had offered three-monthly checkups initially, until people got the hang of the gluten free diet, but in some places – as we know – people are offered much less than that.

I took copious notes, which I’ll try and decipher for you over the next few days, on each of these four topics:

  • Food intolerance in daily life: what’s it due to and what can you do about it?
    • Speaker was: Prof D S Sanders from Sheffield
  • Food and mood: how what you eat can change the way you feel
    • Speaker was: Prof N Read from London
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic challenges: coeliac disease as a cause of IBS symptoms and new approaches to treatment

    • Speaker was: Prof R Anderson from Melbourne, Australia
  • Psychosocial aspects of coeliac disease: can coeliac disease affect quality of life?

    • Speaker was: Dr R Howard from Birmingham

There was also a lively Q&A session at the end – and here my notes got very rough, but I’ll see what I can do!

I know I haven’t told you what I learnt yet, but I can tell you this: if you get the chance to go to one of these, take it. There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and the spearkers were clear, entertaining and informative.

Yum! Yum! Cupcakes and a Scrum in Waitrose

Did you happen to be in the Poynton Waitrose on Saturday afternoon? If so, you’ll have been astonished at the number of people crowding round the single bay of Free From food. I’m sure the staff were surprised at the run on gluten free products! There were three members of staff just trying to guide people to find it…

We were all there because the local branch of Coeliac UK (Cheshire) had a meeting next door, and once the Sainsbury Try Team had demonstrated how to create a few gluten free dishes, and we’d all had a cup of tea and a chat, a lot of people ‘just popped over’ to see what Waitrose had in store – especially those of us who don’t have a Waitrose near us.

The answer is that there was nothing new or unusual to be found, though this was a small store, so there might be more in a larger one. Some of the products were Antoinette Savill’s range, which we know we like. The Waitrose own range of gluten free products looks good; we bought some chocolate muffins. And I was pleased to see that they had a free brochure about living gluten free available – and information available online too.

But I really want to tell you about the Yum! Yum! cupcakes that we bought at the meeting.

We bought a presentation pack of six: double chocolate, vanilla icecream and strawberry flavours. They were just beautiful (check out the pictures) and my daughter was thrilled with them.

Not cheap, though, despite the discount price offered at the meeting, but if you had a special event, or wanted to surprise a gluten free friend with a pretty gift, these would be great.

Photos taken with a mobile phone before the feasting began…

My suggestion to Yum! Yum! would be to sell these in presentation packs of 2 or 4, as well as 6.

Gluten Free Christmas Dinner at Sainsburys

Bizarre as it sounds, given that this is still early October, I helped Sainsbury’s cook a Christmas dinner last night.

Well, in theory. In practice I spent too much time chatting to the other guests to do much cooking, so the fact that we had a delicious meal is no credit to me.

Among many others, I chatted to Dena from Beautiful, Active, Nourished, a nutrition and health business based in South Manchester, where she runs clinics and also has a gluten free bakery/patisserie; and Kate, from Postcards from a Gluten Free Life. Kate recommended Bake A Boo in West Hampstead for afternoon tea; if I ever take my coeliac daughter to London (after a must-do trip to Sainsbury’s in Pimlico, which apparently has the biggest gluten free range in the country), that’s where we should go.

I also met Kirsty from Worthenshaws, whose new Freedom desserts won approval in the Dragons Den – they’re now available across the country. Like many others, her son has a nut allergy and dairy intolerance; unlike almost all others, she decided to set up a business to create foods he could eat and enjoy.

I talked search engine optimisation with Darren from PHD, and social media with Hayley from Dare. And it was good to meet the Sainsbury’s team, some of whom I met in February.

I wish I’d had more time to talk to the other gluten free bloggers – such an interesting mix of people. Do go and check out http://www.glutenfreemrsd.blogspot.com, for instance,and http://www.theparticularkitchen.com/.

Apart from all the talking, we produced between us (though the Sainsbury’s Try Team did the bulk of the work) an excellent meal, suitable for many and various allergies and intolerances, as well as lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism. I definitely want the Sainsbury’s recipe for almond nut roast, as it was wonderfully moist – and gluten free. (Though I forgot, again, to collect the recipe for gluten free profiteroles, despite working on that station. I wonder how they turned out? I had to catch the last train north…)

It’s clear from the guest list that Sainsbury’s work closely with other organisations such as Coeliac UK, and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, though they also have an internal team dedicated to the development and production of free from foods.

Sainsbury’s re-emphasized that they want to be seen as the #1 provider of free from foods, and that they welcome feedback from customers. That’s you and me. And do you know what? I believe them.

So if you’d like them to change something in their free from range, or if you think there’s something missing from the range altogether, let them know!

Most interesting snippet from the evening: they’re working on an app for your smartphone, so that you can assess the suitability of food instore by swiping the barcode. How cool is that?

Free for Tea? Free From Gluten: Happy Birthday Genius

invitation to afternoon tea at Claridges from GeniusHow hard would you find it to have afternoon tea at Claridges in the company of other gluten free bloggers, journalists and companies supporting coeliacs?

(For any of you not from the UK: Claridges is an extremely upmarket smart hotel in Mayfair).

I’m guessing: not hard at all! I certainly wasn’t going to decline the invitation (see right) from Genius to meet them there for afternoon tea – I was only too pleased to be invited, so I set off from the frozen north yesterday to join them in London.

And what a glamorous event it was… This was partly a first birthday party for Genius, so we were greeted with a glass of champagne and set loose to discuss matters gluten free.

Time to chat…

Naturally, I met Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, whose brainchild Genius is; like me, and others there, she has children with allergies; but we aren’t all professionally trained chefs impelled to make a difference by devising a ground-breaking new bread. Yay, Lucinda!

Coeliac UK were well represented by Anne Maloney (Corporate Partnerships Officer) and Norma McGough (Head of Diet and Health), and with them I discussed CD and teenagers attitudes to food and risk; the cost differential of gluten free products over normal products, and the difficulty this adds if you’re a low-income family on benefits; and the influence of family medical history (other coeliacs in the family, diabetes, psoriasis etc) over environmental impact (breastfeeding, for example, is recommended). If you’re newly diagnosed – or even if you’re not! – Coeliac UK are an excellent resource.

I met Liz and John from Coeliac London, who identify and review restaurants in London that cater well for those eating gluten free. They’d both brought iPads, to the envy of the rest of us Brits there, to show us their website and Facebook pages (do search for them on Facebook) – and they’re working on an application for finding suitable restaurants. We discussed the difficulties of quality control over restaurant reviews, and the success they’re having with their Facebook pages.

Liz had a quick look at this blog on her iPad and instantly recognised FlorisFoods goodies from yesterday’s post. FlorisFoods catered for her birthday party recently, together with Sweet Cheeks (new to me, but I’m so checking it out based on Liz’ pictures). Gluten free is a small world!

I was delighted to sit next to Caz, the Gluten Free Foodie during afternoon tea. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember I mentioned her blog a while back; she writes about fine dining gluten free in London – do check her blog out. She told us how she’d urged her local pub to get in some gluten free beers, and how astonished the publican was by the response: people flocked to the pub from miles around, and drank the gluten free beers dry in 3 days.

Caz is clearly quite a campaigner, as she’d also tried to persuade Pizza Express that it wouldn’t be too difficult to keep some frozen gluten free pizza bases in stock, with a dedicated pan to cook them in (to avoid contamination) – no luck yet, but I’d be happy to join with her in a campaign…

There were many more fascinating people with great stories to tell, from journalists, corporates, agencies and bloggers. But it has to be said that the highlight of the afternoon was the food.

Afternoon tea: a very English tradition

Genius bread was used to make the daintiest of English sandwiches (yes, including cucumber and excluding crusts), and there were also elegantly presented gluten free scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserve, made by Genius. These were excellent. Our table agreed that we all loved a decent scone, and these were fabulous.

We urged Lucinda to put them into production, but this isn’t nearly as easy as you’d think, if – like me – you don’t have experience in the large-scale production of food. And there are the issues of delivering the food fresh; scones, of course, being best within hours of baking. So: no promises from Genius on the scones yet, but I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Or – here’s a thought – sell the flour mix with a recipe, so we can make our own…

Genius, in case you haven’t come across it yet, is a gluten free fresh bread available in all 5 major supermarkets across England, in white and brown. And it is very good indeed. We were lucky enough to taste an early version of Genius rolls, which are very good – and very large! Sadly, the bread isn’t on the prescribables list yet, but if you can find it in your local supermarket, do try it.

This, of course, is Coeliac Awareness week here in the UK, and the message this week is Free For Tea?

Afternoon tea at Claridges: what a way both to celebrate the first birthday of a new product, and to raise awareness of coeliac disease.

Happy Birthday, Genius!

Gluten Free Fun at Sainsbury’s HQ

So much fun at Sainsbury’s last night…

Unusually, Sainsbury’s has product development kitchens at headquarters. So a team of bloggers with an interest in cooking allergy-free turned up at the very smart Sainsbury HQ in the middle of London. As I arrived, most people were leaving the offices for the evening, but the front desk were still warm and welcoming – always a great start, when the reception team confirms the brand of the company.

free-fromAfter champagne and canapés (I told you it was fun) we were rapidly pressed into service, cooking our own dinner using recipes crafted by the Sainsbury’s Try Team to suit the range of different allergies and intolerances we represented. Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, nut free, egg free, and soya free at least – did I miss something?

Two teams, one sweet and one savoury …I volunteered to prep the treacle tarts, while others made cupcakes, and dairy-free icecream. In the other kitchen, people made Asian fish cakes, a stir fry, Thai beef salad, prawn Pad Thai and some spiced sweet potato wedges.

Naturally, we were togged up in hairnets and white coats, flapping around as you do in a strange kitchen. Where do they keep their knives? Who’s got the scissors? It was a little like those cookery programmes, where frantic members of the public cook for experts, while simultaneously chatting to the presenters and someone in the back is calling out ‘5 minutes left’… Except that they don’t have nearly so much fun as we had. I met a lot of very interesting people, learned a great deal about how Sainsbury’s develops and markets its free from products, and still managed to produce the treacle tarts.

And it has to be said that the food was excellent – the Sainsbury experts are clearly very good at innovating to solve the ‘missing ingredients’ problems, and are obviously lateral thinkers. You know how difficult it is to create a gluten free pastry lattice, because the pastry strips won’t ‘lift’ easily? The Sainsbury solution is to create a reverse-lattice, and create pastry diamonds instead, so that the lattice isn’t the pastry but is the pie filling… now why didn’t I think of that?


  • Sainsbury are launching more new freefrom products this week, making over 220 in total. Did you know that? No, me either. Will they all be available in your local store? Well, probably not. If you want something in particular in your local store, better ask your local store manager.
  • One of those products is gluten free oats. Yes! Yes! I think they were a little taken aback by the excitement generated by these gluten free oats… but we were genuinely thrilled
  • The manufacturers of their free from range aren’t big companies, but tend to be little ‘mom and pop’ organisations, which often produce only one item for Sainsbury’s free from range (their best). This is very unusual in food retail.
  • And there are now regularly updated allergy lists available on the retail website. Some are designed for multiple allergies, but if you’ve a particularly complex set of allergies/intolerances, you can call customer services and they’ll create a personalised list for you.

It was absolutely fascinating to have a little glimpse into the world of food retail. I was deeply impressed by the genuine commitment of the team members to providing good quality gluten free food – it’s always inspiring to meet someone with real enthusiasm for their work.

And those treacle tarts? Fab.

Sainsbury’s Try Team Recipe: Gluten Free Treacle Tart

200g Doves Farm gluten free plain flour
160g Sainsbury’s FreeFrom sunflower spread
1 unwaxed washed lemon
2 slices (about 50g) Sainsbury’s FreeFrom white sliced bread
240g golden syrup
2 x 5ml spoonsful cornflour

Grate the lemon zest and combine the zest with the flour. Rub in the sunflower spread. (Note: no water needed). Press the dough together with your fingertips.

Cut a piece of baking parchment (not greaseproof paper) to fit a 22cm enamel plate. Put the pastry on the parchment, shape it into a round, put a piece of cling film on top and roll it out to fit the plate. Put on the plate, parchment side down, and peel off the cling film.

Crumble the bread into crumbs. Squeeze the lemon and combine the juice with the cornflour and add to the breadcrumbs.

(Note: one of the attendees couldn’t eat the bread, so we used 50g oats for one treacle tart instead. That’s the way I would make a treacle tart, being a Northern lass).

Add the syrup to the crumb or oat mixture, and beat well. Spread the mixture onto the pastry case.

Use any trimmings to make decorations for the top of the tart.

Bake at 200C, 400F, GasMark 6 for about 30 minutes. Enjoy!