Utterly Unscientific (But Fun) Gluten-Free Taste Testing ~ Cookies

We coeliacs have to look far and wide for our fun (although I concede that eating gluten-free [GF] foods  is much easier than it was even 10 years ago).

So I decided to invite a few coeliacs around to Bee HQ to sample some GF cookies. Just an excuse to forego a proper breakfast and move straight to the carb/sugar rush? Perhaps, but also simply a bit of fun and a good opportunity to meet some new people.

Where did I recruit these lovely cookie-eating-helpers? The town I live in has a group FaceBook page specifically for parents –  people on it are helpful, polite and friendly so I decided that was a good place to start. I was hoping for a group of 5-6, but conducted the taste testing on a weekday morning when I was not teaching; the majority of people were of course at work, and others had child-minding issues. Oh well, all the more cookies for us  – but thank you to those who were enthusiastic but couldn’t come along.

I will say upfront that this was in no way a scientific experiment. To be clear, A) there were only 3 of us doing the tasting. B) The cookies and biscuits were all slightly different, though themed around CHOCOLATE (hooray!) In a proper taste testing, you would have 6 plain digestives, for example, and conclude which is the best. Unfortunately the range of GF foods does not allow this when it comes to cookies, though I intend to do a bread tasting, which would better meet that criteria. The other thing to mention is that all the biscuits/cookies were from a GF section of the shop. There are some perfectly lovely GF options (the Mrs Crimble’s range for example) of macaroons etc, but these are aimed at what I believe prisoners call the “Gen Pop” (general population) and what some coeliac wags call “Muggles”!

I should also be clear that all cookies were bought by me, and I have nothing to gain from the results, other than hopefully giving you some useful information here on this page. gluten free cookie/biscuit tasting

So, with hearty thanks to my two new coeliac buddies, Jackie and Sarah, I give you the low-down on which cookies left us cold and which could have passed for ‘normal’.

The five I chose to test were as follows, as they were all available on the same day from my High Street, here in the ‘burbs:

  1. TESCO FINEST – FREE FROM   All Butter Chocolate Millionaire.  5 biscuits, 185g, £1.35Tesco gluten free biscuits
  2. DOVES FARM  – ORGANIC AND FREE FROM Double Chocolate Cookies.  7 cookies, 180g, £2.25, bought from my High St, independent health food shopDoves Farm gf cookies
  3. MARKS AND SPENCER  – MADE WITHOUT WHEAT RANGE Triple Chocolate Cookies 10 cookies, 170g, £2.50Marks and Spencer gluten free cookies
  4. PREWETT’S – GLORIOUSLY GLUTEN FREE Rich Triple Chocolate Cookies  8 cookies, 150g, £2.29 bought in my local Waitrose, which didn’t have any own-brand GF choc biscuits or cookies for us to test.Prewett's gluten free chocolate cookies
  5. PREWETT’S Milk Chocolate Digestives 14 biscuits, 155g, £1.50 bought in Sainsbury’s which also didn’t have any own- brand for the taste-testing on the day I shopped.

Prewett's gluten free chocolate digestives

So what was the result? Our least favourites were described as “dry, bland, powdery, hard, greasy, oily, insubstantial, pale”. The ones we much preferred solicited descriptions such as, “crisp, chocolatey but not too sweet, melt in the mouth, nice balance of bite and crumble”.

The make which all 3 of us least liked was the Doves Farm (“powdery, gritty, not much flavour, dry, brittle, bland”) and the best (also unanimously) were the Prewett’s Triple Chocolate Cookies (“appetising, chunky, chocolate-coated, delicious”).

Prewett's winning cookies

I very rarely buy biscuits (unless we have coeliac visitors) because, once opened, I lack the will-power to not plough on through the entire packet before the kettle has even boiled. I had never even come across the Prewett’s make before this week, so that was an interesting find for me. So who are they? Now based in Bristol, they do a large range of healthy and free-from foods, and you can order from their website here as well as finding their products in supermarkets and health food shops nationwide. Interestingly, their Chocolate Digestives also came out well, despite looking rather less interesting.

So, my new pals and I discussed good GF recipes, and made various recommendations to each other, including this book, “The GF Cook-book for Kids”; the No G websiteA Basing Cakes;  an entirely GF cafe/restaurant (how often do you hear that?!!) near me here in Hertfordshire called The Saddlery Cafe which I cannot wait to visit and Atkins and Potts who apparently do exquisite GF sauces.

So a good morning’s work. Unscientific for sure, but a lot of fun, and we all agreed that the trials and tribulations of having Coeliac Disease are diminished when shared between friends over a cup of tea or coffee. And cookies.

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #5 ~ A Revolving Writer’s Hut

If you read (and hopefully enjoyed) my recent blogpost on The Rise Of The She Shed, you will know what a fan I am of interesting small workspaces.

I am fortunate to live fairly near Shaw’s Corner, the National Trust’s country home of Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. He lived in the Edwardian villa for over 40 years from 1906; he was hugely prolific, writing nearly 60 plays, over 250,000 letters and untold numbers of articles and pamphlets. Today the property is open to the public and is well-tended by staff and volunteers.

His writing hut at Shaw’s Corner (as the local villagers called the Rectory) in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, was, and is today (after restoration) a remarkable spot indeed. The strange thing about his hut is that it spins. Mounted on a revolving mechanism, when finding himself writing in the shade, he simply put his shoulder into it and shifted it to chase the sun.

Shaw is known to have written many of his major works in his home-built revolving hut located at the bottom of his garden. So how did it work? The tiny structure was built on a central steel-pole frame with a circular track so that it could be rotated on its axis to follow the arc of the sun’s light during the day. Shaw dubbed the hut “London”, so that unwanted visitors could be told he was away “visiting the capital”. Ingenious. Today the garden is rather more heavily planted than when he was using it to top up on Vitamin D, but it is an enchanting spot nonetheless. He had a phone, desk, electricity and (I LOVE this bit) a bed!.

I took these photos today and hope they give an idea of the charm of both the hut and the house and gardens. Sadly the house was closed for what turns out to be some major electrical renovations, but, while the grounds are small, they are most appealing. Information on visiting can be found here.

Some further research on the hut and Shaw turned up some other photos and an article from 1929 detailing the health benefits of his revolving hut – plenty of Vitamin D. Funnily enough there was a recent report in the news here in the UK about the variable amount of Vitamin D us Brits can obtain from our often dodgy weather. Public Health England says more than one in five people have low levels of vitamin D. Shaw, who by the way lived well into his 90s, was clearly well ahead of his time.

I love this picture of him with his surf board in South Africa when he was 75:

George Bernard Shaw surfing at the Muizenberg beach at the age of 75

Other notable writer’s huts are plentiful: perhaps the most famous in the UK are Roald Dahl’s:

Roald Dahl's hut

Roald Dahl’s writing hut, Buckinghamshire

……… and Dylan Thomas’s hut in Laugharne, Camarthenshire.

Inside Dylan Thomas's hut

Inside Dylan Thomas’s hut

Dylan Thomas's hut, Laugharne

Dylan Thomas’s hut, Laugharne

There are more inspiring photos of sheds and writer’s huts: here.

If you are lucky enough to have a hut where you work, I would love to hear about it.

Well, the sun is out (we have had a dismal summer in my view) so I am off out to top up on some vitamin D myself.

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #4 ~ The New River

I can’t honestly remember what prompted me to look into this subject further, but I have had great fun recently learning about what is called the New River.

New River collage

Strangely, it is neither a river, nor is it new; it is in fact a man-made construction which has supplied London with fresh drinking water for nigh on 400 years.

When Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was on the throne, London’s population reached about 180,000. Although watered by the Thames, the city had, since medieval times, been troubled by the amount of pollution which was ending up in the river and the consequent health problems. In 1388, the first statute relating to public health in England was passed by Parliament:

……. So much dung and filth of the garbage and entrails as well as of beasts killed, as of other corruptions, be cast and put in ditches, rivers and other waters…… that the air there is greatly corrupt and infest and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen…..

Various plans were made to provide the city with clean water, but it wasn’t until 1606 that a Parliamentary Act granted the Corporation of London the power to make a “New River for bringing water to London from Chadwell and Amwell in Hertfordshire”.

Although the distance from Hertford to Islington (in North London) is only 24 miles, the actual course of the New River was nearly 40 miles when it was built. Over its course, there was a gentle gradient to promote the flow of water – which averaged 5.5 inches (8cm/km) per mile. The impressive feat of engineering was completed in 1613 when a formal ceremony took place at the Round Pond in Islington; this is sited near the present New River Head, just below Sadler’s Wells Theatre.This was the original termination point but it currently ends somewhere in Stoke Newington.

The New River remains an essential part of London’s water supply, carrying up to 220 megalitres (48 million gallons) daily for treatment; this represents some 8 per cent of London’s daily water consumption.

Importantly, it comes with a path and I intend to walk the length of it this coming autumn/winter. Hopefully with Mr Bee to keep me company.

Since 1992, Thames Water has worked with local people and partners to create a 45 km [28 mile] long-distance footpath that follows the course of the New River, linking the inner city to the open countryside. The route follows, wherever possible, the historic water channel, as well as some straightened and piped sections between the New River`s starting point near Hertford to its original end in Islington. The route is waymarked throughout its length and all signs display the Path logo ~ Thames Water

There is a good book called “Exploring the New River” by Michael Essex-Lopresti ( buy the book from Amazon ) and also a very helpful leaflet issued by Thames Water which has detailed maps and suggested walks (Thames Water leaflet ). Wikipedia has an entry on it too: wiki info.

Funnily enough we used to live in Highbury and spent many an afternoon walking a very small section of the walk in Canonbury, making sure the baby Bees didn’t fall in! At that time I had no idea this artificial waterway existed. Now I live in Hertfordshire, so there is no excuse not to have a go at walking its length. I have no doubt there are some very pretty pubs along the way which will make the task that bit easier.

New River Walk Canonbury

I will let you know how I get on.

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #4 ~ The Listening Stick

I live in a small town in Hertfordshire, England. Thankfully it is known for a fairly low crime rate (I still think I am one of only a handful of people ever to have been mugged on the High Street), great state schools, friendly neighbours and beautiful, green open spaces. Many would say nothing much happens here. Many (me included) would say, ‘that is just fine thank you’. If residents ever feel the need for more interesting things to do, see and take part in, we are a mere 25 minutes on the train from London. The Bees and I moved here 15 years ago and the first time I went back into London for a quick reminder of what goes on in the Big Smoke, I ended up 100 yards away from an armed robbery on Bond Street. I hightailed it out of there faster than you can say, ‘give me suburbia any day’.

So by far the most exciting thing to happen on my street in the last 6 months has been a water leak which is seemingly very difficult to locate. This has resulted in a steady stream of workmen, vans and pneumatic drills; they have been digging up the pavements and the road, and the men have been standing about looking very perplexed. What has been fascinating is how they try to detect the leak. You’d have thought they would use some kind of computerised, fibre-optic something-or-other, with a microphone and amplifier which then sends data back to HQ via the cloud, recording it in all its leaky glory. Not a bit of it.

They have ben using what can only be described as an ‘old school’ instrument and so I decided to go and ask them about it. I learnt that, in a no-nonsense way you have to admire, it is called a ‘listening stick’. Clearly it does what it says on the box; while the men were slightly taken aback at being asked about it, they were most happy for me to have a go.

listening stick

Essentially it is a metal stick with a solid cone-shaped piece of wood on the end, to which you put your ear. I can’t say I could hear anything other than a watery rumbling but then I am no water engineer.

leak detection

Some things don’t improve with age and high-tech isn’t always better than the old-fashioned approach. Mind you, they are still out there trying to find the leak……

Annie Bee x

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