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Using a highly technical procedure (ie the names in a big mixing bowl), the winner of the free hamper of gluten-free goodies is….

…. Lizzie Ellis. Please send me your address to grace @allergyfreecook.com and I’ll get the hamper sent to you. Congratulations!

Many thanks to everyone for entering – and for the recipe suggestions. I loved them all – yum!

My blog has been voted one of the 100 Best Food Blogs by woman&home.com! Huge thanks, woman&home. I’m honoured to be chosen, alongside culinary greats like Matthew Fort and Fiona Beckett and bloggers like James Ramsden, Leemei Tan and Edd Kimber. They say –

“Meet the blogger: Grace writes home recipes for gluten and dairy-free families.
Why we love it: With everything from fish and chips to plum crumbles, Grace demonstrates that gluten and dairy-free diets can be both easy and delicious.”

Yay!

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley.

We’re just back from staying with friends in Thollon in France. Set up high in the mountains that rise steeply from Lake Geneva, we looked out onto a vista of water every day, and watery things seemed to become the focus of our days as the week went by. We took the kids to the beach where they splashed about in the warm, calm lake (and we trailed after them). We went to visit a castle built on the lake, Château de Chillon. Surrounded by water, the castle was built mainly for strategic reasons as it gave the House of Savoy control over the passageways to the Alps and between Northern and Southern Europe. The site has been occupied since the Bronze Age but this beautiful castle apparently dates back to either the 11th or the 12th century.

Chillon came to fame when Byron, in 1816, wrote his famous poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, having visited the castle (and inscribed his name on a wall in the room where prisoners were held). The castle is stunning – an ancient building that creates a dramatic silhouette against the water and the mountains in the background. It’s easy to see why it’s Switzerland’s most visited historic monument!

We also made a trip to the town of Evian-les-Bains. This town is gorgeous. Like many spa towns, it has hosted royals and celebrities over the last two centuries. Back in 1807 a scientist analyzed the Evian springs and discovered amazing curative qualities. The waters began to be used for medicinal purposes and then, in 1823, the first Evian mineral water company was formed. One new ownership later, and the mineral water began to be sold in 1859. To this day, the water is still sourced from the main spring, the Cachat spring, as well as other nearby springs. We went to the Cachat spring fountain, where you can collect water – so Zoe’s Hello Kitty bottle got the treatment….

My friend, Liz and I managed to duck out of picnic-making, suncream-smearing and ferrying around duties one day and we escaped to the ValVital Spa in Thonon-les-Bains. It’s a serious hydrotherapy treatment centre, where they treat people with many ailments, including arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, digestive problems, diabetes, as well as all things related to stress. The minerals within the waters also help detoxing, and Liz and I whiled away the hours standing under various jets of the local mineral water that pummel and massage you, then heating and cooling ourselves in the sauna/steam room and then plunge pool, and even lying in water, listening to music in the Musical Grotto. Bliss!

I’ve returned with a sense of how calming, liberating and nurturing water can be. In the chaos of hectic family life, I generally take a quick shower in the morning before I head off to work and don’t have time to lie in the bath, reflecting, recharging and re-energizing any longer. I have a new plan, now, to try and include more water time in my life, though. And one of the things I’m planning to do is to have regular hydrotherapy baths. You can do these yourself, at home, and they’re super cheap, yet effective. If you lie in a hot bath (not too hot, but hotter than warm) for 15 minutes, then blast under a cold shower for a couple of minutes, this can have an overall relaxing and energizing effect. And it can also boost circulation, tone your skin and help detoxify.

The other thing you can do very simply is to create a Seaweed Soak. If you buy a seaweed mixture, add it to a warm bath, and soak in it for 15–20 minutes, it will detoxify, whilst adding vitamins and minerals into your body through your skin. You can add seaweed masks into the mix, either for your face or your whole body. Alternatively you could use Dead Sea salts, instead. Either way, relax, listen to calming music, sip on a cup of herbal tea and enjoy. And make sure you ban the rest of the family from your oasis!

Just back from a heavenly week in Tuscany. Ahhhhhhh. I’ve never been (other than a weekend in Florence for Peter’s 40th) and have longed to go for years and years – and we finally made it. We stayed in an agriturismo appartment on the side of a beautifully-restored old farmhouse and spent the week travelling around, seeing the stunning countryside and persuading Zoe to look round Pisa and Sienna with us… Every morning I would get up and go for a swim in the salt-water pool pictured above. Truly, life doesn’t get much better than those early morning swims as the sunlight bounced on the water and the scent of the lavender bushes filled the air. (We’re now back in grey, chilly London and I’m dreaming of those swims!)

The farmer grows olives and makes the most delicious olive oil – smooth and clean yet full of depths of flavours.

We swam and swam and swam some more – in the pool, at the beach and even in this river where there were hot springs. The smell of sulphur was strong but somehow not unpleasant and we lay in the water, and then covered ourselves with the mud and sat in the water, letting the water do its magic. The waters are mainly detoxifying, drawing out toxins and impurities, but they also act as a relaxant and stress-reliever (so you come out feeling very sleepy!) and are also great for various allergic/intolerant conditions, especially eczema, psoriasis, asthma and sinusitis.

We went to Sienna which was stunning. The medieval buildings, famous Piazza and Duomo were awe-inspiring. According to Roman legend, Sienna was founded by Senius, who was the son of Remus. (Remus, and his brother Romulus, were the legendary founders of Rome. They were the sons of Mars who were abandoned as babies but saved by a she-wolf who suckled them and a woodpecker who fed them, and then rescued by a shepherd.)

Sienna is full of statues and artwork showing the she-wolf suckling the young babies. And the duomo is bursting with beautiful paintings, statues and glass windows.

And I was wowed by the Siennese style of paintings (you can see a rather bad photo of one of them below) which are full of bright, bold colour blocks and a modern-feeling graphic styling (despite the medieval style of painting.)

We went to Pisa, too, and took Zoe round the Duomo there. The audio equipment was brilliant as it meant Zoe was intrigued by the handsets and chatted into those while we gazed at the paintings! The Italians are generally lovely about kids and let them play and run around. We kept it to a minimum in the Cathedral (!) but even when Zoe was ordering rice and chocolate cake down the audio handset, they didn’t bat an eyelid.

And on the subject of food – yes it was amazing! The fruit was sweet and juicy and the vegetables full of the flavours of sunshine; the selection of prosciutto and hams in the delis were joyous; and the fresh fish and seafood were all gorgeous. But generally gluten-free or dairy-free in restaurants or cafés weren’t an option. We were in deepest, rural Tuscany – where they would serve just a few dishes with home-made gluten pasta and rich cheeses. But I happened on a selection of gluten-free breads in the small supermarket in the local town and, from then on, happily munched my way through the gluten-free breadsticks, buns and bread…

And I made a wonderful, wonderful bruschetta with toasted gluten-free buns, rich, plump tomatoes, pungent garlic and sweet, earthy basil leaves.

This recipe (inspired by her home-grown tomatoes) came from Renée Elliott’s website and it’s utterly delicious.

gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter    Preparation time 20 minutes     Cooking time 15 minutes

  • 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • freshly-ground black pepper
  • 4 thick slices of gluten-free bread, or 4 gluten-free rolls, halved
  • 4 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 10g/¼oz basil leaves, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 220˚C/440˚F/gas 7.  Pour the oil into a medium bowl, add the salt and pepper and mix well.  Dip each side of the bread in the oil until lightly coated with oil and put the bread in a shallow baking tray.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until crisp.
  2. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, basil and garlic to the oil and mix well.  Transfer the toasted bread to a serving plate, top generously with the tomato mixture and serve.

We’re just back from a fantastic trip to Sydney to spend Christmas with Peter’s family. Many of them hadn’t met Zoe so it was wonderful to introduce her to her aunts, uncles and cousins and for her to see her grandmother again. Peter’s mother lives in the Northern Beaches (great for surfing), on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sea. The views of the sea are awesome and you go to sleep listening to the sound of the waves. Zoe and I played on the beach and swam in the rock pools, and Peter got some good surfs in. Heavenly!

We travelled via Seoul where we stayed for 2 days on the way out. We loved Seoul – an intriguing mixture of vibrant yet gentle; with modern skyscrapers, rammed markets and street stalls, mixed with centuries-old palaces and alleyways.

We stayed in Insadong, the art/craft centre of the capital. Full of teashops, restaurant, art galleries, boutiques and shops, it was enticing and very friendly. Here Zoe used chopsticks for the first time, and I tried various types of the fiery side dish, Kimchi and a couple of versions of the iconic dish, Bibimbap. I was amazed by just how different these could be. Traditionally this is made with rice, vegetables, beef and an egg on top (usually in a claypot dish) but I had one version that had raw vegetables, no egg and some prawns. I prefer the traditional version, with the slightly crunchy rice and the beef and egg mixed in but it was interesting to try different versions.

Then onto Sydney where we went to parties, met up with friends, spent time with the family and generally just relaxed and had a great time! We ate wonderful Sydney food – including delicious seafood, gorgeously ripe mangoes, fantastic barbecues, amazing sushi and Thai take-aways and great gluten-free goodies such as cakes and muffins, The highlights were a trip to Bondi to sample the funky bars that are opening up everywhere, due to a change in licensing laws; breakfast on Bronte beach; New Year’s Eve spent on a boat on the harbour watching the fireworks; Christmas on Freshwater beach and my birthday on Palm beach. Hahhhh….

We’re back now, battling with jet lag and the cold, windy weather that has blown part of our garden fence down. And back to work – with great memories of a wonderful Christmas 2011 and beginning of 2012. Happy New Year – I hope 2012 brings you everything you hope for!

Huge thanks to Channel4.com for voting me one of the best gluten-free & allergy-friendly blogs! I’m up there with The Intolerant Gourmet, The Gluttonous Vegan, Pig in the Kitchen, The Gluten-Free Student Cookbook, A Girl’s Guide to Gluten-Free Baking, Free From, Food is Good, Eating Like a Horse and The Gluten-Free Blog. I love that mainstream media is taking the subject seriously – and, of course, that I’m featured!!

This year I went to Olympia, London, to take part in the judging for the Great Taste Awards. Organised by The Guild of Fine Food, these awards are now in their tenth year and the food industry seems to have truly embraced them. This year the Guild received a record number of entries this year – showing definitely that fine foods and drink are holding their own in the marketplace.

I had a great day judging (and chatting!) And tasted some truly great food. Throughout the day, we awarded 10 Gold One Stars and 3 Gold Two Stars. One of the products that received a Gold One Star was a gluten-free breakfast cereal, made with quinoa and buckwheat flakes. I realise now that this was the Perfekt Organic Quinoa Granola (although, of course, I didn’t know this at the time.) This really was very good – and nutritionally excellent. The sunflower seeds, pecans, almonds, brazil nuts and golden linseeds gave the muesli a delicious balance of tastes and textures, and the quinoa and buckwheat flakes were lovely. The quinoa, in particular, was very well produced – it had been toasted and remained crunchy even after it had been immersed in milk for a while.

During the day, a couple of Gold Three Stars were awarded. Unfortunately neither of them came by my table, so I didn’t taste them. But one was a Polenta Cake which apparently was utterly wonderful. Polenta is a great gluten-free ingredient for making cakes – giving them a slightly-crunchy texture and deliciously sweet taste. And the other product was a roasted nori seaweed. Huge congratulations to those producers.

Once again I was hugely impressed with the judges I met. Most of them are involved in producing, selling or marketing high-quality, often artisan, food, and they’re all utterly passionate about great food. Each entry is blind tasted and points are given or deducted in a thorough, comprehensive way. If a product is thought to be worth a gold, it goes to a total of 16 people, who must all agree with the award. This year, I got to taste a very wide range of foods, ranging from biscuits, breads and cakes; to ice creams, chocolates and truffles; and sauces, pickles and chutneys. Some weren’t good – but the majority were – and those that stood out and received awards were truly excellent.

Jo and Patrick, huge thanks for an awesome holiday! Peter, Zoe and I just come back from a week in Spain. We stayed with our friends who live in a village called Canoves, just by the Parc Natural del Montseny, about 40 minutes outside Barcelona. We went into Barcelona a few times, walking through as much of it as we could, through the Old Town, Gothic Quarter, Montjuic and Eixample; going to see galleries and museums, such as the Museu Picasso and Palau de la Musica Catalana and, of course, the Gaudi greats, such as Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Milo. We were blown away by the beauty, diversity and cultural richness of the city. And the food was wonderful…

inside Sagrada Familia (above)

(above) inside the dome of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

(Above) an installation in the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona that I loved. Called A Chain of Events it was by an artist called Pep Duran. It was brilliant the way it was placed against the old stonework of what used to be a chapel and is now used to showcase new artworks – the ceramic modules gleaming, almost shimmering.

Zoe in the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona looking at (I hope I’ve got this right – I had to use one of Zoe’s crayons to write this down as I didn’t have a pen on me!) Moonstrips Empire News avec General Dinamic F.U.N.

Zoe fast asleep on the terrace of Fundacio Joan Miro (this is a Miro sculpture.)

Barcelona has the most extensive and complete subterranean Roman ruins in the world. It’s amazing – you can see entire streets and squares of old Barcino, complete with drainage systems, laundries, dye works, baths and mosaic flooring, and kitchen areas such as this one (above) where fish was salted.

We spent time in Canoves, too. We went to watch the procession of the replica of the village Saint along the streets and onto the Honey Fair, where it was installed in the marquee for the day (below).

Some of the villagers dressed up in traditional dress and they carried the Catalan flag, sang the anthem, made speeches – all great. If you were to ask Zoe her highlight of the morning, though, I’ll bet she will tell you it was riding on Mickey Mouse in the funfair!

We spent time on beaches, too. We went to the palm-fringed beach at Port Olimpic, part of the most dramatic rebuilding of the city for the Barcelona Olympics, and Barceloneta, the old fishing village area. And we went to a gorgeous town on the coast called Tossa (below).

We had lunch here in Tossa and Zoe had her first proper paella, loving the mussels and prawns.

Whenever I go to Spain, I’m always blown away by how wonderful the produce is, especially the fruit, veggies, fish and seafood and, of course, the charcuterie. We ate Escalivada, a mix of grilled peppers, onions and aubergine, Patatas (fried potatoes) with a wonderfully spicy Romesco sauce and garlicky Allioli, fantastic olives and many different types of jamon, chorizo and salami. I’ve also come back inspired by Paamb Tomaquet, where you rub halved cloves of garlic onto toast (I’ve been making this with my gluten-free bread), then squeeze halved very-ripe tomatoes slightly over the top and rub them in.

We went to the market, Mercat de San Josep, bursting with gorgeous food as you can see below. (You’ll even see white asparagus – ahh!) We came home very happy!

On Friday my supermarket delivery order didn’t arrive because of the snow. I had planned to make a gluten-free & dairy-free Christmas Pudding and also I had people coming to stay for the weekend and I needed food for Zoe’s tea, too. I dashed to the local shops, trying to find supplies. I live in Dulwich in London, in a very residential part with very few food shops, so I had very little choice (especially as the shelves were fairly empty because of the weather.) And it made me realise how much I have come to depend on food being delivered to me so that I can get organic food. I get a regular delivery from an online supermarket and also a delivery from the brilliant Devon farm, Riverford. My local butcher doesn’t stock organic meat – at all – and neither does the charming-looking vegetable stall or the newly-opened, very smart, local bakery. I would love to support these businesses, rather than order online from a supermarket but, for me, it’s more important to feed my family organic food. I don’t want us to be ingesting pesticides, herbicides and fungicides; or antibiotics and growth hormones. I want us to enjoy healthy plants and healthy animals that have grown or been reared on healthy soil – and reap the benefits the higher levels of nutrients, especially antioxidants and omega-3. So I’ve postponed plans to make the Christmas pudding until the new delivery (complete with organic sultanas, raisins, currants, dried mangoes and almonds) arrives…

Do you like the new taste of Alpro’s Plain Soya Yogurt? www.alprosoya.co.uk I realised that they’d changed the recipe recently – changing it to a sweetened yogurt with tastes of vanilla, despite the fact that it’s still called plain and they already make Alpro Vanilla Soya Yogurt. I often use soya yogurt in savoury dishes – risottos, pastas and curries, for example, and Alpro’s new flavour just doesn’t work in these. So I emailed the company to ask whether they had changed the recipe – and whether they would reconsider. Here was their answer –

Dear Ms Cheetham
Thank you for your comments and feedback regarding the change of recipe to our Plain yogurt alternative and I am sorry that you have not enjoyed this product. We believe that there were improvements to be made to our Alpro soya plain yogurt alternative in order to improve the texture of the product and to eliminate water that could on occasions form on top of the product. We wanted to offer a product which tastes good, especially on its own with fresh fruit or with cereals, we do appreciate that it will no longer have the sour taste associated with some plain yogurts. We do appreciate that this product may not be suitable for savoury cooking. You may like to try our Provamel Organic range of products which are available in health food stores such as Holland and Barrett and independent health stores and does include our Organic plain yogurt which maybe more to your taste.

So I’ve tried to get hold of the Provamel Organic Natural Yofu but it’s hard to get hold of. The beauty of the Alpro yogurts is that you can get them in pretty much any large supermarket and in every health food shop, making it possible to buy them almost whenever you want. But I couldn’t find it in any supermarket or in my local Holland & Barrett. So I trekked to Wholefoods (which I do love, though!) and managed to find it there. And yes, it does taste just like the Alpro Plain Soya Yogurt used to – with a lovely tanginess. And I also bought the Sojade Bio Organic Natural + Bifidus yogurt which was good, but a little watery. But I’ll have to make a special effort to buy this now. I honestly don’t care that you needed to stir or whizz the original Alpro yogurt in order to get a smooth, creamy texture. But I mind hugely that it’s now difficult to get hold of a savoury soya yogurt.

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