Gluten-free Heroes Part 3: The Bell and Jorrocks, Frittenden

It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I’ve included a pub among my gluten-free heroes. ¬†I think this is called getting your retaliation in first ūüėČ

The Bell and Jorrocks is not just any pub, however, but a place dear to my heart that I enjoy visiting when I’m with my family in Kent. ¬†I’ve probably been going there on and off since I was about 15, even working behind the bar once upon a time, and it’s one of two focal points in the village community, the other being the church.

Over and above all the many other good reasons I might have had for going there – good beer (when I was still drinking it), delicious cider (now I’m off the beer), great company, friendly welcome, etc – there is now another one to add to the list, in the form of the pub’s chef, Steve, who is a fellow coeliac and therefore understands completely what I can and can’t eat, and delivers something safe and extremely tasty every time. ¬†And, what’s more, he can offer a choice of dishes, not just the one token jacket spud and cheese like some places I could mention.

The Bell and Jorrocks is proof that you can offer good, coeliac-friendly food at a sensible price, on a regular basis, without the backing of a chain like Wetherspoons. ¬†Thanks, Sean and Rosie, landlords extraordinaires, and thanks Steve ūüôā

Gluten-free Heroes Part 2: Dove’s Farm

My second gluten-free hero this week is Dove’s Farm. ¬†It’s fair to say that, without them, my diet would be a lot less varied and baking would take a lot longer. ¬†This is because I would have to blend flours myself in order to get the right characteristics and, frankly, I simply don’t have the time or the energy to be doing that most of the time, especially given how much I bake. ¬†So I probably wouldn’t bother. ¬†Yes, I know, other GF flour blends are available, but since so many of the prescribables contain either lactose or soya, they’re not going to work for me, and those that don’t contain any nasties somehow don’t result in the lovely texture I get with the Dove’s Farm flours.

They don’t just do flours, either: they have a range of breakfast cereals that appeals to my 5 year old, even thought he doesn’t have to follow a gluten-free diet, which is praise indeed, and must be a godsend for parents of coeliac children. ¬†Their chocolate stars really do taste very good, as well as being appealingly packaged. ¬†And don’t get me started on the biscuits… once the packet’s opened, that’s it!

I’m less keen on their pasta, which you’ll find used by restaurant chains like Zizzi, but then I’m not all that gone on corn pasta in general.

Anyway, if you’ve ever tasted one of my cakes and not been able to tell the difference between that and a cake made with wheat flour, it’s at least in part because of these guys. Thank you ūüôā

Gluten-free heroes part 1: Look What We Found

I first came across the Look What We Found range by accident – I was looking for arborio rice in Sainsbury’s one day, and in its place found packets of LWWF meatballs. ¬†Since it said gluten-free on the front, I had a closer look and lobbed one in the trolley to try at a later date.

Since then, I’ve tried many of their range, omitting only those that contain lactose (I’m lactose intolerant as well as coeliac, so daren’t risk the cream in some of the recipes) and they have all been delicious.

Beyond the flavour, though, there are other reasons why I think LWWF is so good. ¬†Part of it is the focus on finding smaller local suppliers for their ingredients and promoting them and their produce, but the other major factor is that they’ve gone the route of ambient, long-life presentation of the meals, which means you can take them more or less anywhere. ¬†This is a real bonus when you have to go somewhere and are unsure what provision (if any) there may be for your diet – makes day trips across the Channel a lot easier – but don’t want the faff of dragging a cool bag with you. ¬†I’ve taken these all over the place in my handbag, along with a pouch of Tilda microwaveable basmati rice: decent, tasty, safe food, all in about 5 minutes flat.

Particular favourites are the Tees Valley Beef Chilli and the Beef and Pork Meatballs, but I’ve yet to come across a single duff one in the range. ¬†Definitely worth keeping a couple of these in the cupboard as a backstop either to take with you, or for those evenings when cooking from scratch just feels like far too much effort.

So here’s a big thank you to the team at Look What We Found, for making it so much easier to go anywhere, gluten-free.

The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show, London Olympia 2

I hate exhibitions. ¬†No, really, I do. ¬†Loathe them. ¬†While I have friends who relish the opportunity to go and sample products, enter prize draws at different stands – one has an impressive record for winning such things, too – and come away with bagfuls of free samples, I generally steer well clear. ¬†After all, it’s not my idea of fun to wander round a crowded exhibition hall along with hundreds of other people all crammed into the same space trying generally to see the same things at something approximating the same time.

So I’ll admit that since dragging my long-suffering husband to the Baby Show back in 2005, when I was pregnant with Harvey, I haven’t been to any others.

There was, however, one other show I went to in 2005, and that was what was – at the time – just called The Allergy Show. ¬†I went with a friend who was a member of Coeliac UK and had free tickets, and we wandered around tasting gluten-free foods and trying out some of the cosmetics – this was before any dietary diagnoses for me, so I was far more concerned at the time with my reaction to cosmetics. ¬†Overall, we hadn’t been impressed, and the highlight of the day proved to be sitting in a bar opposite Olympia 2 after we’d exhausted the show, enjoying an ice-cold drink and sharing a nice bowl of chips.

Still, things do move on and, as I’d not been since having to drop gluten, lactose and soy from my diet, it seemed as good a time as ever to go back, see what was new and hope to see something that made it worth the trip.

The biggest clue to how things have developed is in the name – The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show. ¬†Where my previous visit seemed to show more of a balance of stands, with perhaps a predominance of products for asthma sufferers (although that may be the size of the stands, of necessity bigger when you’re thinking of bedding etc), food¬†intolerances¬†and allergies seem to be the bulk of the exhibition these days. ¬†And while there are some big high street players in there – Sainsbury’s and Asda both have demo stands, M&S had a stand sampling cakes and some rolls – as well as some of the larger brands from the ‘free from’ universe – Juvela, Dietary Specials, Orgran, Amisa, Dove’s Farm and Lactofree to name but a few – it was refreshing to see that there are also some smaller companies booking stands. ¬†Which is perhaps testament to the power of the internet to transform the way we buy things. ¬†Either way, you won’t find me complaining to see the likes of Sweet Cheeks, WAG Free Caf√© or Cake Crusader exhibiting at the show, because they all started from a similar position of being sick of the status quo and are doing their bit to change it.

Of course, the exhibition hall was crowded. ¬†Of course, there wasn’t enough room to allow people to walk freely between the stands, especially once you factored in the buggies and bags and everything else, which meant I probably didn’t see everything I might have wanted, purely out of frustration trying to get from one place to another.

Of course it was hot and stuffy and noisy in there, which saps your patience and make you far less likely to persist in your quest to find all the stalls you’d earmarked in advance. ¬†And of course it turned into a scrum when M&S decided to just dump their boxed products on the counter and let people take them home for free – one minute I was innocently holding a box of lemon cake to check the ingredients, the next someone was trying to grab it out of my hands – but I’m not going to blame that one on the organisers.

Overall, however, it was a positive experience. ¬†I’ve tasted some delicious things today, and some passable ones. ¬†Mostly, I’ve met people who were passionate about what they were doing, wanting to make their product the best they can, and that can only be good for those of us who suffer with food intolerances and allergies, whether we like exhibitions or not. ¬†I’d give the event 8/10 for content, but 6.5/10 for realisation.

Will I be going back next year? ¬†On the strength of this year’s exhibitors, probably. ¬†But it would be nice for the exhibition’s organisers to look into taking on more space so that people can move freely, sit down and rest from time to time and generally enjoy the show, rather than endure it.

ETA: If you were wondering why I’ve not described any stalls and their offerings in particular detail, it’s because I found a few that I really liked, with some truly fabby things on them, and wanted to do them justice separately, rather than them getting lost in my views on the Allergy Show. ¬†I’ll be posting them up in the next few days ūüôā