April 26, 2012

Gluten and Allergy Free Expo 2012 Recap

For the past five years I've been attending the Gluten and Allergy Free Expo in Chicago's suburbs.  Every year I find new gluten free products, see what's new with my favorite gluten free companies, and pretty much eat my face off with all of the samples and goodies everyone is handing out.

Last year, I volunteered at the Udi's booth with the infamous gluten free marketing extraordinaire, Heather Collins.

Don't we look cute? Thanks to Sarah from Celiac in the City for snappin' this one last year!
This year, I volunteered with Heather again at the thinkThin booth. They just came out with a new line of fruit and nut bars, thinkThin Crunch Fruit & Nut. We passed out the Blueberry & Mixed Nut flavor, which seemed to be a big hit with the crowd. They also have Cherry & Mixed Nut and Cranberry Apple & Mixed Nut.  I dug the blueberry bar, and can't wait to hunt down the cherry and cranberry apple bars. Yum!

thinkThin necklaces!
Later I walked around and checked out the other booths. There were a bunch of new vendors this year.  Here are some highlights of the new products and companies I came across:

Red Apple Lipstick. This company was recommended by The Celiac Diva. Samples were also in the Nourished goodie bag. Since I love all things lip gloss, I stopped by to check them out and instantly loved them. They are filled with all things awesome - gluten free, paraben free, allergen free, vegan, cruelty free, and made in the USA. Plus their gloss was smooth, shiny, and minty. I left with a new tube of lip gloss and have been wearing it everyday since.

The awesome guys at The Gluten Free Bar were also at the Expo. I've written about them before, but I was excited to see that they are whipping up some new flavors. I can't divulge any secrets, but I will say that I was able to have a sneak peek taste test of two potential new flavors and I hope they decide to go with them. The peanut butter GFB, chocolate GFB, and their newest GFB, the cranberry toasted almond are all available and delicious!

New corn chips I discovered were Simply Sprouted Way Better Snacks. Their six flavors are Simply Sunny Multi-Grain, Simply Sweeet Potato, Simply Beyond Black Bean, Simply Unbeatable Blues, No Salt Naked Blues, and Simply So Sweet Chili. They were simply delicious. Unfortunately the people working the table weren't too open to chatting. After trying to ask questions about their products without luck, I moved along to the next booth. The chips were mighty tasty though!

Yumbutter is my new obsession. One taste of the Asian Jazz potion and I was hooked. I can only describe it as the smooth, nutty flavor of peanut butter with a surprisingly little kick that all of a sudden hits you. I cannot wait to spice up a stir-fry with that Asian Jazz! (Spoiler alert for an upcoming post?)

Last stop before heading out was to visit the Crave Bake Shop table to see Kyra and Jamie. I met them at dinner the night before and they were too much fun. Kyra is a Cupcake Wars Champion, so naturally I had to chat her up about baking. Her story sounded like mine, but hers turned out better.  She had a desk job she was unhappy with so she quit and enrolled in culinary school. While her school didn't make any exceptions to accommodate her either, she stuck with it. She amped up her other senses to figure out the right texture, consistency, and made her recipes work. And look where it got her! Cupcake Wars Champ! Don't forget to tune in May 20th to see her again on Cupcake Champions!

Tomorrow I'm off to the Celiac Disease Foundation's Annual Conference in California. In addition to the conference program, there is also a vendor fair. Perhaps I'll have more great finds to share with you? I hope so!

April 19, 2012

Gluten Free Awesomeness at Nourished - A Food Blogger Conference

If you read my last post, you knew that the Nourished Food Blogger Conference was this past weekend. And that I was super excited to be attending. I had been to only one blogger conference, Healthy Living Summit, a few years back and had a vague idea of what to expect, but having sessions especially tailored to gluten and allergy free blogs was especially beneficial.

As the mission stated, I left well fed (got to eat EVERYTHING there, nothing off limits!), supported, encouraged, and very inspired. I met several new bloggers who were just starting out and some who were there getting ideas on how to start a food blog. I was able to meet bloggers whose blogs I read, but never had the opportunity to meet in person. Perhaps best of all, I was able to visit with old blogging friends again.

Here are some of the presenters and their sessions I attended:

Mary Fran Wiley of FrannyCakes
Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery

Ricki Heller of Diets, Desserts and Dogs and Carolyn Ketchum of All Day I Dream About Food
Silvana Nardone of Silvana's Kitchen and Cybele Pascal - The Allergy Friendly Cook
Dianne Jacob of Will Write For Food
Cybele Pascal presenting the closing keynote session with samples of her new line of cookies!

The day wouldn't be complete without a delicious gluten free meal. A beautiful lunch catered by a handful of Chicagoland restaurants with gluten free offerings was served.  Here's my plate:

Going clockwise from the little grilled cheese sandwich from Mon Ami Gabi, was a chicken vesuvio skewer and a sausage & pepper skewer from Harry Caray's, Naan with a mango chutney from OMango, a mini cheese popover from Reel Club, a dairy free lemon cupcake and a white chocolate raspberry cupcake from Sweet Ali's Gluten Free Bakery, and a turkey grinder from Augustino's Rock and Roll Deli. That wasn't even all of the caterers. The up and coming Senza was there along with a few others.

As the day wrapped up, I was able to spend some time at the happy hour sampling a few more products and then dinner at Harry Caray's catching up with friends.

It's Sarah from Celiac in the City enjoying a yummy Swirlz cupcake.

Jasmine from Healthy Jasmine and Jennifer Harris, Atlanta's Gluten Free Food Examiner.
The cutest little thing ever, Miachel, of Spiced Curiosity and moi.
Yours truly with Lauren-Lucille, THE Celiac Diva.
After a long day, Kyra from Crave Gluten Free Bake Shop (oh, and just a winner of Cupcake Wars!!!) had incredible beer brownies for everyone who was left at the end of the night. I headed on home shortly later to rest up for the next day's Gluten and Allergen Free Expo, which again was filled with fun and lots of gluten free goodies. I'll recap that event for you tomorrow...stay tuned!

April 12, 2012

Gluten Free Bloggers Conference and Expo and Benefit, Oh My!

Spring is an awesome time for gluten free people in Chicago. Not only is there already a ton of great gluten free events in the area, but this month marks the return of the Gluten Free Allergy Free Expo in the 'burbs AND The Celiac Center at the University of Chicago's Annual Spring Flours Benefit. As an added bonus, this year introduces the first ever Gluten Free Blogger Conference, Nourished.

Nourished kicks off all the fun tomorrow in Lombard. You could say it's part of the GFAF Expo since it's at the same hotel and many of the bloggers will be speaking, teaching, or attending the expo in the days that follow. At last year's expo, many gluten and allergy free bloggers showed up for the classes and fair and everyone had such a great time. It was fun to finally meet each other in person since we follow each others' blogs.

Gluten Free Bloggers 2011. Recognize anyone?
I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again, as well as getting up to speed on different blogging topics. If you couldn't tell by my lack of posts, I need more inspiration and motivation to get back on the blog bandwagon!

This weekend is also the Gluten and Allergy Free Expo at the Weston Hotel in Lombard. Being in its 5th year, I've watched this event get bigger and bigger. Like in the previous years, specialized cooking classes will be offered for those who register beforehand. The vendor fair is open to the public for a $20 entrance fee ($5 for kids) and attendees can sample tons of gluten free foods and products, listen to the presentations at the public stage, shop the Expo store and more. I recommend arriving early on an empty stomach, bringing a water bottle (there is so much to eat!) and having an extra bag to carry all the handouts and goodies home. 

If any of you attended last year, you might have seen me at the Udi's Gluten Free table sampling out buns and muffins. This year I'll be showing my love for the Rudi's Gluten Free team. I won't be working at their booth, but if you see me around, be sure to say hello!

If all of this excitement wasn't enough, next Friday, April 20th, The Celiac Center at the University of Chicago will be hosting their Annual Spring Flours Benefit to fund celiac disease research to one day find a cure. I have been lucky enough to attend the past couple of years (and last year thanks to Enjoy Life Foods), and have been beyond impressed by the amount of detail that goes into this event.

Close to 30 Chicago restaurants with gluten free menus are there sampling their gluten free cuisine. A presentation on the current status of the Center's research is given. Live and silent auctions are held on an array of wonderful products, services and experiences. There is even a raffle with more fabulous gifts to take home.  Best of all, attendees get a giant goodie bag filled with Enjoy Life products and other goodies. If you can afford it, GO!