Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Gluten Free on the Penny Lane Boat, Bath

This is a review of extremes. Extremely good and extremely not good.
Firstly, I need to apologise for the lack of food photos. I was out with work and I didn't want to be too anti-social. I wasn't even going to write a review because I wasn't expecting anything to happen of note. But here it is, a review of two halves.


The Penny Lane river boat hosts corporate events, parties and even weddings. It sets sail from central Bath and then travels up the river where it stops for an hour or so before sailing back to Bath again. We had booked a work event which included a BBQ. It tipped it down on the day and only a few of us braved the top deck. We needed to duck while the boat went under the bridges as the river had swelled so much. It was great to see Bath from the river and despite the weather, we were enjoying the surroundings and novelty.


They called us in for the 'BBQ'. We didn't see any cooking taking place, the food appeared from the kitchen but it was a good selection of salads and meat. I approached the table and said 'I'm the gluten free one' and I was told that I could have everything on the table and that they would bring me some GF bread. I enquired about the sausages and was assured by the chef himself that they were all gluten free. With a lamb chop, sausages, a burger, new potatoes, salad and 2 slices of bread I had plenty to eat!

They then brought out desserts and I was told that I had my own special one. I held my breath while they got it for me. Being GF, my dessert is normally very eggy - pavlova or polenta cake for example, and I normally end up eating it and being egg poisoned afterwards. However, I was served a really delicious mixed berry jelly which I was told was also suitable for vegans and vegetarians. It was really delicious and I was feeling very looked after.

Afterwards I went to the bar to get a pint of cider. The cider came out very frothy and the barmaid said it was because they'd just changed the barrel. As I was drinking my cider, I kept thinking that it tasted odd. I thought maybe the cider was a bit off or maybe it was because I'd just eaten. After a while, I got a colleague to try my pint and they said that it tasted a bit like lager. I took it back to the bar and the staff checked all the taps and confirmed that they had accidentally put a lager barrel on the cider line. A few people since have been surprised that I didn't spot the mistake straight away but in all my 13 years GF, I've never had this happen before. Later on, when I went back to the bar, I was told the issue had been sorted and they poured me another pint that looked perfect. But as I was drinking it I could still taste lager. Disaster. For the rest of the night I resorted to an extremely sweet and sickly bottled fruit cider.

This was on a Friday and by the Sunday afternoon I was in agony. Intense stomach spasms like labour pains, that made me dizzy each time I doubled up. I was out with family and had to be taken home. I was crippled with constipation and trapped wind for at least a week afterwards. I've told many people this story and not many people can understand how serious this was and could have been. I was on a boat, out on the river and I had been glutened. Imagine if this had happened to someone with a gluten allergy. (Or to someone I know who suffers with immediate vomiting and diarrhoea.) I've been told that I shouldn't have taken the risk. OK, the second try was a mistake - but as I said, in 13 years, I've never been glutened by a pint of cider. I've decided not to let this experience change anything but maybe this post should be a warning to those in the hospitality industry. 

Has anyone reading been glutened with alcohol whilst out and about? Let me know in the comments.

www.thepennylane.co.uk

Monday, 17 August 2015

Guest Post - The UK Milk Price Row

I've read a lot about the dairy crisis in the last week, but it was one of my good friends who really blew me away with her well argued points on Facebook. As I don't buy milk, I was interested to find out what the situation means to milk drinkers. Are we prepared to pay more or will we buy less milk or switch to milk substitutes? This may seem absurd as milk substitutes are more expensive, but has the milk row focused our attention on the welfare of cows used for the production of dairy products? I asked my friend to write a guest post for me which you can read below. She also writes a smashing blog about step parenting which you can find at http://beavercharrington.blogspot.co.uk/ (I love the name!)

A Cow, Two Trout, And An Argument About The Meaning Of Value


Tangible value is a rarefied thing found only where competition lacks. Value is determined by the irreplaceability of an object or product combined with its utility. It is so rare, in fact, an example eludes me. A mother’s milk, perhaps? Particularly in the days before formula milk could so well replicate its benefits, and in an era where wet nursing is out of fashion.

The other type of value, the type we make up as we go along; the value we socially construct, that’s the concept at the heart of the dairy crisis.

The value of the beautiful painting of two dead trout hanging in my study is high. It would be very difficult to rationalise why to a hypothetical alien visitor to earth. The value of gold fluctuates wildly. Human perception, complex market dynamics, supply and demand, and manipulation are the causes to this effect, with tangible value having no role at all.

Despite its utility remaining consistent, milk apparently has reduced in value to us in the UK this year, by 25%. We place less importance on our morning cereal, make 25% less appreciative noises as we swallow our after dinner Comte with relish and crackers, and find only three quarters of the contentment we used to when taking that first slurp of hot, milky tea.

Supermarkets have faced heavy criticism over the value they afford to milk illustrated by the price per litre they are willing to pay to dairy farmers. To produce more for less is easier to do in large-scale, non-organic set-ups. So if we value milk less, we must also place less value on the work done by the farmer, and the welfare of the cows he milks.

Yields per cow are on the increase(i), and one contributing factor to this is the availability and use of drugs such as Posilac. The side effects include increased chances of mastitis and infertility, alongside an array of other general health problems(ii). At least these are short-lived, with dairy cows usually being slaughtered due to ill-health after three lactations at around the age of five, compared to their natural lifespan of twenty years of age(iii).


The remnants of milk production are calves. Calves of dairy cows are removed rapidly from the mother to optimise yield, which is critical in such competitive times. This causes great distress to the mother and the calf. Some calves are killed immediately, others sold for veal, and the females reared for dairy.

This article isn’t about animal cruelty and so the sob stories stop here. One point only needs to be made: ultimately the economic value we place on produce will reflect proportionally the value we place on the lives involved in its creation.

Asda and Lidl have just promised to raise the price they will pay to farmers to 28 pence per litre, and Morrisons to 26 pence per litre. It costs 30 pence per litre to produce so we still have a problem and our farmers must continue to drive efficiencies to compete with large-scale corporations(iv).

We have a duty of care to facilitate the highest possible chances of wellbeing in our fellow humans and the animals that we own, utilise and profit from. This can only come from placing a high enough value on all involved to optimise conditions for all, and this means the economic cost of production and the end products must rise.

An over-simplification to rile the fact-centred reader: I bet the less something costs, the worse the conditions for the workers and animals involved. Improve conditions, pay workers and farmers more, charge more, and in a rather wonderful cycle, it turns out that we can pay more for produce, as we are paid more for working.


Many regions of the UK have banned the selling of Foie Gras, because force-feeding Geese is considered cruel. Comparably both qualitatively and quantitatively the production of Foie Gras causes less harm that the production of milk. Sheer scale and the vast health problems experienced in the latter lead to this speculative conclusion. However, we only condemn the cruelty that is shown to us, and we double condemn it if doing so is unlikely to inconvenience our breakfast routines.

The supermarkets will not pay enough for milk unless we shift the dynamics operating within its supply and demand. In theory this could be done through a union stance to set a minimum price per litre, but then the supermarkets will go directly to the international conglomerates who through scale can keep prices lower, ultimately driving small farmers out of viable business.

In ten years the number of dairy farmers has fallen by a third – from around 15,000, to just over 9,000(v), and it will continue to do so.

And this is why we have an argument about subsidies, one that has been ongoing since 1962 when the Common Agricultural Policy was introduced(vi). Subsidies keeps small farming alive, but on a life-support machine, and that’s no way to live.

In essence, subsidising small farming is tacit condonation of the supermarkets’ power to drive their own profits through large-scale production reliant on poor conditions for both humans and animals. It artificially prolongs the existence of an industry that cannot survive in a climate in which life is valued so low.

Do we have the power to really transform the subjective value of life to such a degree that the pressure on supermarkets will force them to adhere to the shared ethical standards of a society that values cows as well as farmers? I don’t know, but I would at least like to change the debate to one on the value of life, rather than the value of taxes and subsidies.



1. http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/milk-yield/average-milk-yield/#.Vc9OZ_lViko

2. http://www.drugs.com/vet/posilac.html

3. http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/cows/dairy-cows/welfare-issues/

4. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/14/milk-row-aldi-morrisons-asda-raise-price

5. http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/promar-milkminder-dairy-costings/promar-milkminder-dairy-costings-national/#.Vc9OrflViko

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Agricultural_Policy

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Review - Gluten Free at Bearritos, Bristol

People dressed as pandas and bamboo outside Bearritos...so Bristol.

Taco Face - Take 1

Taco Face - Take 2

Taco Face - Take 3. Pre 'real-life' taco face!

My 3 gluten free tacos

Gratuitous Close-Up


The Menu

Tacos from a double decker bus in the middle of a roundabout - how Bristol?!

Bearritos serve fresh burritos, tacos (gluten free), desayunos and tortas from the side of their refurbished double decker bus. There is seating in front or on the top deck. It's definitely a unique dining experience but Bearritos don't just rely on gimmicks or passing trade. The food is good quality, freshly prepared and the fillings are well thought out so that any combination you go for is fantastic. I also love that the fillings and sauces are a bit different to the Mexican food you can find elsewhere. 

My gluten free tacos were filled with a fresh coriander salad, grilled halloumi and a scotch bonnet sauce. They were soft, crunchy, spicy, creamy and completely moreish. Even though I was happily full, I still wanted a few more so I could try some of the other fillings. They often serve specials of the day too, and many of the 'snacks' are also gluten free such as the cheesy quesadillas. You can very easily go vegan too. Just ask the staff, they are very happy to help.

Bearritos is an amazing addition to the newly improved Bear Pit (the site is receiving a £1 million makeover). And it rightfully takes pride of place in what is becoming a new culinary mecca for Bristol. The Bear Pit Social (cafe) serves toasties and ciabattas to hungry workers, as well as exciting and unique salad boxes which can be made gluten free and vegan. The adjoining covered area known as Haymarket Walk is already home to Matilda's (GF chilli con carne), long standing Mayflower (authentic Cantonese) and in July, a small plates vegetarian restaurant called Flow

The Bear Pit is quickly becoming the most exciting thoroughfare in the UK! 

Bearritos
St James Barton Roundabout, Bristol BS1 3LY

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Restaurant Review - Everyday Thai, Fishponds, Bristol







After reading a promising review on Bristol Eating Adventures and reading that the staff are very lovely and accommodating on Trip Advisor, I thought I'd give Everyday Thai a call and see if they could cater for my particular dietary restrictions. I know that gluten and egg free is asking a lot, especially as eggs add flavour and texture to a lot of Thai dishes.

The lady I spoke to on the phone was easily the sweetest person I've ever conversed with and after I explained about my food intolerances, she was very sympathetic and actually said "aww love you!"  I am really not used to that as a reaction! It's funny how you get used to feeling like an inconvenience for trying to eat most of a meal in someones restaurant!

I suggested that we pre-ordered a set menu and she agreed that that would make it easier for them to prepare and make sure I got to try more things. I went for Set Meal 1, which is a mixed starter platter, Thai red curry, chicken with garlic and black pepper, prawn pad Thai, mixed veg with oyster sauce and jasmine rice. (£19.95 per person)

Once at the restaurant we were given an extra table to fit everything on. There was definitely plenty to go around. There is no alcohol served at Everyday Thai (and no BYOB permitted), so we quaffed a bottle of non alcoholic red wine while we tackled the mountains of food before us. I can only apologise for the quality of the photos! I felt oddly self-conscious taking photos which I think was due to the restaurant being quite small and the staff being quite attentive to check all was OK.

The decor in Everyday Thai is pretty random. I recommend a seat that looks into the restaurant which will allow you to take it all in. I'm not sure what hockey sticks and African wood carvings have to do with Thai food but it is definitely something to look at!

At the end (once we'd admitted defeat) a waiter apologised to us as he felt that the food wasn't very tasty because it had no egg or gluten. I had to disagree - I felt that every dish was fantastic. I like things hot, so I asked for chilli sauce or some fresh chillis and I was given a bowl of  nam pla prik (thai chillis in fish sauce) which really set things off! The only thing I found lacking was the starter platter, which was just mini spring rolls and satay skewers - obviously most of the normal options are battered or covered in pastry, but it would have been great to get a GF alternative to one of these (I don't ask for much do I?)

We were offered a doggy bag and even to hang onto it for us while we went to the pub - a very sweet touch. One disappointment was the very long wait for the table to be cleared after we had finished eating. I don't think you notice or mind so much when the wine is flowing but we were very sober and keen to continue with our evening! It's a pet hate of mine but did not take away from an otherwise brilliant meal.


Everyday Thai
11 Station Road, Fishponds, Bristol BS16 3RP
01179 657 007
www.everydaythai.co.uk

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Gluten Free at Bristol Vegfest

I just love Vegfest. We went a couple of years ago and then went to Grillstock not long afterwards in the same location and for me, Vegfest was by far the best event. Vegfest has a really great vibe and is full of people passionate about what they do and helping others to live a cruelty free life. For those of us with food intolerances, it's a great place to discover new brands and products. I love the idea that there is a whole event in which no meat is cooked or consumed. Grillstock in comparison seemed haunted by the ghosts of hundreds of pigs, lambs and cows. I stopped enjoying the smell of cooked meat that day.

Vegfest Crowds

Vegfest was packed this year, the event itself didn't feel a lot bigger but there were much bigger crowds and it was harder to see the stalls. We went right through the site and took everything in and then I tried to decide on something for lunch. I actually felt that the gluten free takeaway food options were limited this time around. The buzz word this year is clearly vegan and there was little to eat that was properly gluten free. I was told about a pizza place, but I failed to find it, so I settled for a thali. This platter came from The Yellow Turban Thali and it was really delicious. I loved that each element was distinctly flavoured, something that I would struggle with at home.

Gluten Free Vegetarian Thali

For dessert, I went for an ice cream and I have to say, it was the best dairy free ice cream I've tried so far. I loved that it was made from coconut and other natural and sustainable ingredients. It also doesn't taste heavily of coconut - whilst I like the taste of coconuts, it can get a little boring if you use it for everything dairy free. Check out www.naturallycoconuts.com

CocoNuts 'Ice Cream'

We had another little wander around and I found gluten free, dairy free and egg free wagon wheels - totally amazing. It has been a long 13 years without wagon wheels and it was worth the wait. Actually I'm pretty sure these were better than the real thing. Not sickly or sweet, really great texture and a nice, healthy portion size with a big gloop of jam in the middle. I'll be buying these again.
They are produced by www.anandafoods.co.uk

Vegan Gluten Free Wagon Wheel

It was also great to see local businesses such as Rawsome and The Spotless Leopard (unbelievably popular - their gluten free, vegan Macaroni Cheese sells out in moments!) and we loved the bamboo products from Bristolians Mabboo.

Finally, you can't forget the message that everyone hopes to promote through events like this. We are making a huge impact on the planet through the food that we eat. It's important to be clued up about where our food comes from and it's amazing what you find out about the food industry when you start to scratch the surface.

Viva! Flyers
#savethechicks

www.bristol.vegfest.co.uk

www.viva.org.uk/30dayvegan

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Gluten Free Layered Dessert With Dairy Free, Soya Free Caramel




I was left with quite a bit of avocado frosting when I made my avocado chocolate cake (previous post) so I put it in the freezer while I waited for inspiration to strike.

My mother in law visited last weekend and I needed to come up with a dessert for 4 that wouldn't take all day and would be egg, dairy and gluten free.

I made up my mind to make a layered trifle type thing as they seem to be the least time consuming. I decided to layer biscuit, fruit and the frosting with some sort of caramel. This bit, I completely made up on the spot. Playing with red hot sugar on a Saturday afternoon is how I get my thrills these days, apparently!

I used around 600g of sugar (I used the last of brown sugar and the rest was white sugar), a can of coconut milk instead of cream and some coconut oil instead of marge.

In a blender, spoon in the creamy top part of the coconut milk and add around 10 pitted medjool dates. In a pan, heat the sugar, then slowly added the water part of the coconut milk. Stirring constantly, wait for the mixture to be fully mixed and for the sugar to change colour. After around 15 minutes, add the coconut cream/date mixture. Add a pinch of salt. Stir constantly for another 10 minutes until the mixture has gone brown. Increase the heat briefly and add a tablespoon of cornflour dissolved in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water. Keep stirring until the mixture goes goopy and thick.

At this stage, it will look a lot like gravy (see 1st picture!). Don't worry, it changes colour when it cools.

Layer it up in a nice glass or dish - Bashed up biscuit at the bottom (I used some basic GF digestives), the chocolate frosting, sliced strawberries and then caramel and repeat.

This makes a very delicious, and surprisingly not that sweet, dessert - suitable for vegans and awkward eaters.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Gluten Free Vegan Avocado Chocolate Cake


This is the first time I've ever made a double layer cake and it's a gluten free, dairy free and egg free recipe - I don't do things by halves! .

I can't take any credit for this one, I followed this recipe for Chocolate Avocado Cake from the BBC Good Food website almost to the letter. My only changes were: I made it soya free by subbing the soya milk for Alpro Original Almond Milk, and at stage 3 I whisked all the ingredients together apart from the milk, microwaved the milk for 1 minute and then added it gradually to the mixture. This saved me a bit of time (I was working on this cake until 10.30pm last night, I was allowed to cheat a bit!) I also didn't use sprinkles at the end, I just grated some chocolate over it. The recipe itself is pretty straightforward but the whole thing is quite time-consuming. (Especially when you only have one cake tin and have to cook the cake one half at a time!)

It's the last day in my current job today so I wanted to bring in something special. It was a risk - anyone who has tried baking free from gluten and eggs will attest to this! - but thankfully it paid off. For a gluten free cake, the texture is brilliant, no dryness that catches in the back of your throat, just soft, decadent sponge with even more decadent and delicious frosting. (There was loads left so I'll be using it up on the weekend somehow. Such a hardship!)

The avocado just adds moisture and a creaminess to everything. It's pretty flavourless anyway, but you definitely wouldn't detect it in this cake. And for me, this seems like a much nicer way of making cake i.e. with no animal products whatsoever - save the chicks!

 
 
I'm sitting here trying to work my way through a slice - It's very rich so you don't need much! I reckon that if you're missing proper cake, it's worth giving this recipe a go. It's a bit time consuming but you won't regret it - and your friends and family will definitely thank you for it!