Sunday, 22 May 2011

Caffe Culture and the Great Taste Awards

It can be embarrassing when you’re at a celebration for someone’s birthday when you have to refuse a slice of cake because you have a wheat or dairy intolerance. That happened to me twice this week. Luckily I met Sarah Jones who runs Especially Delicious a gluten free bakery and was able to make me a wheat and dairy free cake for my last birthday. Sarah asks you what special interests you have and incorporates them on the cake. Thus I had a fountain pen made of icing (to depict the writing), ‘la, la la’ to represent the choir I sing with and a silhouette of a woman doing Pilates exercises! All very clever – but what was wonderful is that Ray and I could eat the cake! And we’ve frozen what was left, which we serve to friends as and when. Visited Caffe Culture this week and it was good to see Pourtoi Artisan Chocolatier, winner of the Sweet Biscuits Category of this year’s Free From Awards for its Raisin Double Choc Chip Cookie, which is gluten free, dairy free, wheat free and lactose free. What’s more, the company received three Gold Awards from the Guild of Fine Food’s Great Taste Awards last year for two other varieties of cookie. I tasted their new gluten and dairy free muffins – banana double choc chunk and orange double choc chunk, all beautifully moist with a strong chocolate flavour. Claire Rose started up a chocolate company with her husband Ian. A family member was a coeliac and so they decided to explore gluten free options. “The market has grown,” says Claire. “The focus of our company is to create products which are treated as a mainstream product, suitable for everyone.” Miraculously, at the show, I found a wheat-free sandwich at the Crussh Juice Bar at London’s Olympia exhibition centre. Normally at these events I go hungry or take my own, but not this time! It was made from wheat free bread, avocado, spinach, crunchy peppers, beansprouts, hummus, sun-dried tomatoes. Delicious! On Thursday I met Sally-Jayne and Corinne for lunch at Lola Rojo Spanish restaurant and deli, 78 Northcote Road, Clapham Junction We had the lunch special – three tapas $8.50. There was plenty of choice for wheat free options – my favourite was crispy aubergine with blossom honey. Other choices included Serrano ham, cod gratin and Spanish omelette. Don’t know how Ray would have fared here.Meanwhile, Ray had lunch at Pizza Express in Kennington (316 Kennington Road, SE11 4LD) “They were very helpful,” he said. “They assured me there was no milk in the dough. I ordered a Venezia pizza with very little tomato, no mozzarella and extra anchovies.” On the web site if you click on “allergies” there is a chart giving details on each menu item as to whether it contains gluten, dairy, nuts and so on and whether it would be suitable for a coeliac or vegan. If only more restaurants did this you could go to the restaurant knowing which dishes you can order. And so to Friday and the judging of the Great Taste Awards – what fun! The Great Taste Awards, organised by the Guild of Fine Food This year there were 7,432 products entered with a panel of 300 judges. Our job is to advise how the product could be improved, to be positive at the outset and be encouraging. It was an illuminating morning. We blindtasted everything from salami, lamb, dark chocolate, jams, marinades and ice cream. You’ll have to wait until the results are announced in July to see who won.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Ipswich eating out with food allergies

In stark contrast to New York, we found ourselves in Ipswich in East Anglia. We arrived by train at lunchtime and explored the town for somewhere to eat. Everywhere seemed to be full of paninis, sandwiches or pizzas or else, rich food covered in creamy sauces - no good for gluten free or dairy free. When I asked a couple of locals for some ideas, they agreed that there were few lunchtime places in Ipswich that didn't just serve sandwiches and bread-based fare!

We spent an hour trailing the streets until the only outlet we could find was Just Spuds in the Buttermarket shopping complex. I had tuna mayonnaise baked potato and Ray had plain tuna - after we reiterated we didn't want any butter on the potatoes.

Are there any restaurants serving gluten free and dairy free dishes at lunchtime, we wonder?

After lunch, we wandered round the market where there was a huge stall selling bread and cakes. Ray asked whether the apple strudel had any dairy in it and the man showed him the cardboard box listing all the ingredients and amazingly there was no dairy! When I asked whether there were any gluten free products, he said no and added "It doesn't taste nice". So Ray lucked out and enjoyed his apple strudel while I had a banana.

That evening we attended a friend's special party at the Christchurch Mansion, Christchurch Park, a spectacular venue for a party with lots of dancing! Fortunately we had no problems with the food as there was plenty of sushi and salads. We had to pass on the birthday cake.

We were staying at The Salthouse Harbour Hotel a swish modern boutique hotel with fab views of the harbour. The harbour was so picturesque, it felt we were somewhere like Nice, France, rather than Ipswich. Everything was idyllic except at 2am when someone had set off the fire alarm. So we ran down six flights of stairs (me in my nightie and raincoat) and stood about for 20 minutes while a member of staff tried to turn it off - he eventually managed this with the aid of a screwdriver!

At breakfast, I asked whether they had any soya milk and was told no, but that if I had contacted them in advance, they would have arranged this.

Ray wanted the Suffolk Grill, but asked whether the mushrooms were sauteed in butter and whether there was any dairy in the sausage which she checked and fortunately there wasn't any. The Suffolk Grill comprises Denham Estate rare breed sausage and bacon, fried bread, grilled tomato, mushroom and fried egg.

I had local cooked ham with poached egg and sauteed potatoes, as well as fruit salad.

Ray asked them to check whether the bread had milk in it and was told they couldn't guarantee it as it comes from a baker who supplies it cling wrapped but they didn't think so. Ray decided to risk it - but all was ok.

On the rail journey back, all we had was a packet of crisps and an Eat Natural bar (which we'd brought with us) as everything in the National Express buffet bar was bread-based. C'est la vie!

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Allergy and Gluten Free Show May 11

As a gluten free person, when was the last time you bought a sandwich to go for lunch? For me it was years ago so what a delightful surprise to be able to buy one today at the Allergy and Gluten Free Show at London's Olympia. The gluten, wheat and dairy free "hoomoongooes crunch" comprised coriander, houmous, red pepper, celery and cucumber in gluten free bread, courtesy of - more please!

Being at the show was like "nirvana" because, as a wheat, gluten and dairy free person, there was so much I could sample and eat!

Hurrah! I've found the UK equivalent to Babycakesnyc in New York - it's Sweetcheeks with its tantalising display of gluten, wheat and dairy free cupcakes at the show with funky and glittery icing - one cupcake even had a giant red button on it (see picture)! Business owner Catherine Rose says she wants to diversify from cupcakes and had already sold 36 doughnuts when I caught up with her. "Cupcakes are beautiful and they sell but I want to offer hearty British food like banana bread, pies and crumbles and carrot and onion muffins. I'm currently looking for premises so I can open a tea room." All I can say is Catherine - bring it on! She describes herself as 'a self diagnosed coeliac' and found it a shock switching to a gluten free diet. "I missed sweets so when I visited Babycakesnyc I was inspired by their creations and thought I could introduce something like that here." After developing her recipes, she set up on her own in September 2009. "Some companies make gluten free cakes by just substituting wheat four with gluten free flour, but we don't do that. Our cakes mostly use on saturated fats and use agave nectar."

Catherine sells her wares at Brick Lane on Sundays and Marylebone High Street on Saturdays. She will also be at the forthcoming Hampton Court Foodies Fair

Another great find was the Golden Bread Mix from WAGfree Bakery in Brixton Village Market, London. This comprises brown rice, tapioca, almond flour and flaxseed. Just add live yogurt, egg, sunflower oil and water to make gluten free bread. Dairy free alternatives to yoghurt are given -for example soya yogurt. WAGfree Bakery was started by David Scrace who was diagnosed as a coeliac four years ago. "I looked around at what was available and it was unpalatable," he said. He joined forces with Edward Barrow, a chef and developed a range of products and opened the cafe in November 2010. "Anyone can make gluten free cakes," he said," but pastry is very difficult and that's what we excel at. We also make fresh filled pasta and pies. I'd like to see a WAGfree on every street corner." You can buy the mix from the web site - or better still, visit the Bakery at 26 Brixton Village, London SW9 8PR.

Dairy chocolate is usually very difficult to find, but at the Show there were several options. Celtic Chocolates was showcasing its range of dairy free chocolate including the delicious Caramel flavoured chocolates under the 'Choices' brand - truly scrumptious. No wonder they were highly commended in the Free From Awards The Awards had its own stand where I caught up with Michelle and Cressida, took part in a survey and sampled a Clearspring tamari and black sesame rice cake - yummy!

First time exhibitor Moo Free sampled its chocolate, made with rice milk, which was very creamy. Started up by Andrea and Mike Jessup, they have introduced a range of child-friendly chocolates including a forthcoming advent calendar and chocolate Santa for Christmas.

On the Genius Foods stand it was great to hear that the new Genius range of gluten and dairy free seeded rolls and teacakes will be in Tesco as from 16 May. A new range comprising gluten free sausage rolls, shortcrust pastry, peppered steak slices, Cornish slices and steak and ale pies is on the horizon. These are all gluten free, but not dairy free. Newcomer Fria was making an impact with its delicious gluten free cinnamon buns, mini baguettes and dark loaf with linseeds. Fria is the biggest Swedish gluten free company and wants to establish itself in the UK. Monika Agorelius, who is a coeliac, said "It's common in other countries to sell gluten free bread frozen, but not here, but it makes sense to buy it frozen as you can use it as you go along and not waste any of it." Fria products can be purchased from and from Scandinavian Kitchen as well as John Lewis food halls in Oxford Street and Bluewater.

It was good to see Sainsbury's giving 'free from' demonstrations of recipes such as Asian Fishcakes and chewy flapjacks. To my astonishment, Marks & Spencer had a stand - I found the bread dry, a bit like blotting paper and the cake unfortunately has dairy in it, so no good for my husband. It's good to see they are trying to participate in the 'free from' arena.

The Allergy and Gluten Free Show is on over the weekend - a visit is well recommended!

Monday, 2 May 2011

New York eating out with food allergies

Travelling when you have a food allergy or intolerance, whether you are gluten free, wheat free or dairy free, is always a lottery situation.
Ray and I always travel with two 100ml plastic bottles of soya milk (bottles obtainable from Muji ), Eat Natural bars, rice cakes and Hob Nob biscuits (plain not milk chocolate) – just in case there are problems finding food we can eat.
We lucked out on the flight to Virgin Atlantic as we had pre-booked our meals. My gluten free option comprised vegetables in a tomato sauce, white and wild rice and roasted vegetables. There was even a gluten free bread from, as well as salad and fresh fruit. It tasted scrumptious. The only down side was that there was no soya milk available on the plane for our tea.
On arrival at a new destination, there is always the challenge of finding a supermarket or grocery store that sells soya milk. I had been told that it’s generally easy to eat out in New York if you’re gluten free or dairy free, but we didn’t find it so.
Our first meal in New York was a total disaster. We were badly jet lagged and the waiter looked at us as if we were from another planet when we said that Ray was allergic to dairy. In the end we ordered mediocre salads………..
At my cousin’s apartment, we enjoyed a Chinese take out so no problems there and Ray found soya milk (called soy milk in New York) at her local supermarket in the Upper East Side – small 50ml sizes which are easy to carry around. Alpro, please take note!
Breakfast was definitely a problem. Our hotel the Flatotel only served cakes, croissants and bread – or fruit. I felt like something more substantial than just fruit, so called into the local Lindy’s on 7th Avenue. When we began explaining our problems to the waitress, she didn’t want to listen; she simply asked us what we wanted. I ended up with a dried up egg and some bacon. Is it the New York way to serve bacon so brittle and crispy so it has no flavour? Ray fared better with the bagel. What always amuses me in these situations is that after explaining that we are dairy free, they serve a jug of milk with the tea! It cost us U$18 (around £10) in all.
Later in the day, at Starbucks we enjoyed a cup of tea with soya milk. I asked whether they sold the gluten free sandwich, which is available in the UK, but apparently there is so little demand, it wouldn’t be cost-effective, they said.
For lunch, we met my cousin and her family at the New York Athletic Club, an impressive building with gold ceilings. She had kindly alerted them in advance about our allergies, so they were prepared. We both enjoyed Smoked Atlantic Salmon to start with, followed by Half Cornish Game Hen with spring vegetables and for Ray, Rack of Lamb. Delicious and a wonderful way of celebrating Easter Sunday – with a live violinist who went round the tables serenading everyone!
That evening, my cousin cooked a mouth-watering lamb stew. I was at hand in the kitchen to read all the ingredients on the packets and jars of stock, spices and so on to check they were gluten and dairy free. As Ray is intolerant to many vegetables including courgettes, peppers and tomatoes, it was quite a challenge, although we got there in the end. She served us Tofutti milk free ice cream which was delicious and again, from the local supermarket. Thank you Janine.
After our Lindy’s experience, we chose to have breakfast in our hotel. I opted for the fruit, while Ray checked with staff whether the bread and pastries had dairy in them. Lo and behold, they all did so Chef Ismail at the Flatotel rustled up some bacon and fried potatoes for us – the bacon, though crispy, tasted much better than the previous day. Thank you Chef Ismail – he also said to ask for him the next day and he would prepare something different.
We took the Metro to 14th Street – Union Square – and discovered a farmers market
– not only that, there was a stand selling gluten free and dairy free cakes! Counter is an organic vegetarian bistro 105 First Avenue (6th and 7th St) with a gluten free and vegan menu. We didn’t have time to visit but their cakes were wonderful.
If you’re looking for free from foods in New York, Wholefoods is the place to go. This is the only store we found which had a separate ‘gluten free’ section which was extensive including raisin and pecan bagels, fudge brownies and non dairy chocolate cakes. In most stores, we found you had to hunt for any ‘free from’ items. What’s more, Wholefoods has published a “Guide to Gluten Free Shopping” to help shoppers identify items with hidden gluten.
At the wonderful Strand Book Shop,
which is similar to what was Borders in the UK, I chanced upon the “Babycakes Covers The Classics” recipe book, created by Erin McKenna, founder of Babycakes NYC, which sells dairy, gluten, egg, soy and refined sugar free cakes and desserts. The very same bakery that Glutenfree Mrs D had told me about.

After buying the book, we decided then and there that the bakery was worth a visit. Anyway I needed to get the book signed.

Playing it safe for lunch, we opted for Pret A Manger at Union Square where Ray chose a tuna mayonnaise sandwich with lettuce, but crucially no butter, while I enjoyed a chicken, avocado salad with dried cranberries and tomatoes. All up this cost U$16.40. What we like about Pret is that they list all the ingredients so you can see at a glance whether you can eat a particular item.
We got chatting to a New Yorker (as you do) who explained how to travel to Babycakes
on the Lower East Side by bus and this was a fabulous adventure taking us through parts of New York you don’t normally see. Visiting Babycakes was like heaven as when you step inside, you know you can eat everything on the menu! Not only are they dairy, gluten, egg and soy free, but also refined sugar free. Most desserts are sweetened with agave nectar, a low-glycemic syrup. So it’s very difficult to make a choice. We opted for the chocolate mint cupcake and the banana cupcake, both of which were delicious. Normally I don’t like icing, but this icing, which they call frosting, tasted divine. Interestingly, they said that many people, who don’t have any food intolerances, eat their cakes because they love the taste. We also bought a gluten free doughnut and a slice of banana cake to go – needless to say they were delicious too. I asked for Erin as I wanted the book signed, but she wasn’t there – probably in LA where they have two branches. It has to be said this was one of the highlights of our trip. I will enjoy experimenting with the recipes in the cookbook.
Meanwhile I had purchased The Vegan Guide to New York by Ryan Berry and Chris Abreu-Suzuki
and we chose to visit Lilli and Loos, Lexington Avenue, at 61 and 62 Streets,, an Asian restaurant, which offers a special gluten free menu. To start with, we had satay chicken (US$8.95) and oriental pork dumplings (US$8.50) (a treat as I normally can’t eat the dumplings). For the main course, I enjoyed Pad Thai noodles (US$12.95) while Ray had Singapore chicken noodles (US$12.95). Excellent service and delicious food.

Chef Ismail wasn’t there, but the Flatotel served us sausages split down the middle, fried potatoes and peppers – is this breakfast? Still you’ve got to feel grateful that they have offered us an alternative. I just ate the potatoes. We then accessed the Internet at the hotel’s business centre downstairs, but can’t book our airline seats as yet. This is the best kept secret in the hotel – free Internet access and you can even print off material!
We ask where the nearest supermarket is and are told it’s Ernst and Stein, 7th Avenue between 55 and 56 streets. By this time, the temperature had soared and although it’s only April, the heat is unbearable and it’s only 10.30am. The forecast says 27 degrees and yet we were told 18 degrees with rain! We buy water and bananas; they is no ambient soya milk. As it is so hot, we decide taxi is the only way to travel and go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and view a guitar exhibition with iPod multimedia accompaniment accessing us to commentary and music played by various guitarists. Paul Simon’s guitar was even on display!
For lunch, we go to the cafeteria, a real “free for all” reminiscent of a school meals approach. You have to get your tray, cutlery and napkins before you select the food. We opted for the safe choice – the salad bar although labelling was minimal so it was a case of recognising what the food was, but at least there were items we could eat. We couldn’t see any signs or anything geared up for people with food allergies. They weigh the salad and then tell you the cost. Our bill was US$23.83, plus US$3 for chips.
As we left the museum, the hot sun pulsated down as if it was a desert so we hailed a cab and took refuge in Barnes & Noble which has moved to 82nd and Broadway. It is air conditioned!
At Le Pain de Quotidien at Broadway and 91st Street, we met Penny Hammond, who runs the site all about food issues.
I’d always dismissed the UK branches of this eatery thinking they only served breads and pastries, but was delightfully surprised when I was told they served gluten free and dairy free coconut macaroons and almond meringue, so we ordered one of each – the meringue was enormous so we took half away in a goodie bag. The menu has symbols indicating vegan choices. For example, Quinoa and Orugula with chick peas, artichoke and basil pesto. Soy milk was available for our tea.
Our friend Robin had gone to great trouble that evening to serve a meal we could eat – it was delicious - baked cod with mushrooms and artichokes. We discovered how to cook and eat artichokes. Thank you Robin.
Chef Ismail at the Flatotel excelled himself today and gave us ham, fried potatoes, courgettes (or zucchinis as they called in America) and green beans in olive oil – delicious – thank you again, Chef.
We headed back to Soho and Greenwich Village, our favourite neighbourhoods for more browsing and shopping. Down Bleecker Street, there were plenty of bakeries but none serving gluten or dairy free items. In fact when I asked Amy’s Bakery whether they served gluten or dairy free, the shop assistant looked aghast as if I’d spoken a foreign language. We passed the famous Magnolia Bakery, but it was so crowded, moved on quickly.
We chanced upon Hummus Place, which is listed in The Vegan Guide to New York, on 7th Avenue south between Barrow and Bleecker Streets This restaurant, as you’ve probably guessed, is devoted to hummus, which is one of our favourite foods – as it’s both gluten and dairy free.You can order two difference styles of hummus – one made from fava beans and chickpeas and one from whole chickpeas. We opted for the Lunch Special at US$7.95 which included a dish of hummus and one appetizer. So for appetizers, we ordered falafel and tahini and for the mains, hummus masabacha with whole chickpeas, olive oil and spices and Ray had hummus with mushrooms. I explained I was gluten free, so instead of pitta bread (which doesn’t have milk in it so Ray was ok), I was given crudités of carrot and cucumber. The hummus is served on a medium-sized plate with the mushrooms or chick peas inside a circle of hummus. We found it filling so were unable to sample the vegan desserts such as vegan almond raspberry chocolate brownies.

If you’re homesick for Old Blighty, there’s Myers of Keswick on the corner of Horatio Street and Hudson Street selling British items like PG tips, Hob Nob biscuits and Crunchy Nut cornflakes. They’d sold out of Wills and Kate Royal Wedding postcards!

That evening, my cousin had booked a table at Candle 79 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue
A well known vegan eatery, again listed in The Vegan Guide to New York. The guide says that Seitan Piccata (US$23) with steamed spinach, savory potato cake and lemon caper sauce is Sir Paul McCartney’s favourite dish. So what is seitan? It’s gluten which has been boiled in a gingertamari broth. Being gluten free, I gave this one a miss, but my cousin and husband ordered it and said it tasted great. It has to be said our waiter, John, was extremely helpful and patient, taking time to explain the various dishes.
They have a special gluten free menu. For starters, I chose vegetable quinoa nori rolls – pickled ginger, avocado wasabi, chipotle aioli and tamari ginger sauce (US$14) which was similar in presentation to sushi, although tasted more spicy. Ray ordered smoked hummus (US$13) – he can’t eat enough! For mains, we both enjoyed Herb Baked Tofu with roasted fingerling potatoes, garlic sugar snap peas, mint fava bean sauce and pickled carrot salad (US$22). Normally I find tofu bland tasting like blotting paper, but this was flavoursome and tasty. Dessert was a treat – dairy free ice cream for Ray and I chose the Key Lime Parfait (US$13) a nut granula lime cashew cream cococnut ice cream. Bliss – it’s so rare that we can have dessert in a restaurant!

And so our trip came to an end. We were so pleased to have discovered so many ‘free from’ establishments in New York, but they aren’t easy to find. Wake up New York supermarkets – we need you to introduce ‘free from’ sections as in UK supermarkets.

Starbucks – serve soya milk, but nothing to eat here
Wholefoods – sell ‘free from’ foods
Pret A Manger at Union Square – list ingredients so you can see at a glance what you can eat
Babycakes – nirvana - dairy, gluten, egg and soy free, but also refined sugar free cakes, cupcakes, desserts, doughnuts. Get the recipe book.
Lilli and Loos, Lexington Avenue, at 61 and 62 Streets, – special gluten free menu
Hummus Place – several restaurants devoted to hummus and vegan desserts
Candle 79 154 East 79th Street at Lexington Avenue vegan restaurant with gluten free menu