April 28, 2013

Chicago Gluten Free Expo Recap and a Crave Bake Shop Giveaway!

It's been a crazy week! I would have posted this GFAF Expo recap sooner, but I'm in the midst of moving (!!!!!) and have been spending all my free time packing instead of blogging. This expo couldn't go unmentioned, so I took a break to fill you in if you didn't have the chance to attend.

New Planet Beer, Blogger Booth, Sweet Ali's Salted Caramel Cupcakes, Schar Kid's Table making S'mores, with the Gluten Free Bar Sweater (and Biebs), She-Liac, Van's Natural Foods new gluten free cereal, Kyra of Crave Bake Shop, with Blogger Sponsor, Holy Crap cereal.

Last weekend started off with a fabulous pizza party hosted by Schar at D'Agostino's and ended up with me in bed at 8:30pm on Sunday night. I've been having a rough time with my fibromyalgia and was having flare-ups earlier in the week and the expo completely tuckered me out. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast meeting so many awesome bloggers, discovering new gluten free companies, eating delicious food, and reconnecting with old friends. I just wish I had more energy to enjoy it to the fullest.

Here's what was totally awesome about this year's GFAF Expo:

Alissa of Breaking Up with Captain Crunch and Mel of Geekily Gluten Free

Alissa, Mel, and myself. Charlie's Angels style.


These girls rock the house. I met Alissa via our blogs about a year ago and then in real life a few weeks ago at a Chicago Gluten Free Meetup at Tweet for some seriously amazing gluten free brunch. Then we hung out the entire weekend at the expo. First off, her blog is hilarious and a great one to be reading. Second, we get along famously. You'd never know that we just met, it feels like we've been friends forever.

Mel is another Chicago celiac friend that I met last year briefly at a group dinner at Senza. Then again briefly at the Gluten Free Calendar White Sox game. I finally got to spend some quality time with her last week since we split a hotel room. Just like Alissa, Mel rocks! She writes a blog, rocks heels while being six feet tall, and is also a gluten free superhero, She-Liac. Plus she's super sweet and fun.

New Gluten Free (and non-Gluten Free) Discoveries

Gluten free products have taken the market by storm. Years ago a new sandwich bread that was tasty and wouldn't crumble was what one could dream for. Maybe a cupcake or some cookies. Nowadays there are numerous soft and delicious breads on the market. Tons of cookies and plenty of cupcake mixes. Today we think outside of the box in writing up our gluten free wish list. Croissant? Pita bread? Phyllo dough? Gluten free companies are starting to make everything possible.

There were a couple vendors that announced that their gluten free bread was the best ever (no, it wasn't) or their cookies were amazing because all the other gluten free cookies taste like cardboard (Really? have you tried Wow Baking Company's gluten free cookies? Or a bunch others that are really good and not at all like cardboard?) Regardless of those false claims, I did find some new "Shut UP! I can't believe it's gluten free!!!" products. Which are:
  • Kiki's Gluten Free Foods - Their tag line is "Simply Awesome!" They couldn't have written truer words. I was blown away at just how awesome their Spinach and Feta pockets were. So much so that on Day 2, Alissa and I immediately walked into the expo and headed right to their booth. Their desserts were out of this world as well. Blueberry FreakCake and Malibu Madness were most definitely freak-out madness incredible. Four restaurants in Chicago carry their products, and you bet I'll be visiting them soon.

  • Teri's Gluten Free - I know Teri from way back when her business was Mixes From The Heartland. She started up a new company, Teri's Gluten Free, and I'm thrilled that her products haven't changed in taste. She's still delivering one of the most amazing gluten free desserts on the market today. I sampled her Sweet Potato Brownies and Coconut Cream Pie which I immediately bought. She has everything from soups and casserole mixes to breads and dessert mixes. She also carries Gluten Free Emergency Kits which I think is the most genius idea ever. With kits prepared for 24 hours to 1 year, this is a wonderful life-saver. Look at events such as Hurricane Sandy, which left many gluten free people struggling to find safe food to eat. Even for a quick one day getaway, a kit could have you prepared.

  • The Eating Well - Their veggies burgers were really good. Alissa and I each ordered one fully cooked and ate them for lunch on Sunday. 
Veggies Burgers from The Eating Well.
  • Red Apple Lipstick - I met Jay and Andrea of Red Apple Lipstick at the previous GFAF Expo and love their lip gloss. I couldn't wait to get my hands on more makeup, since they now have eyeshadow! I picked up a new tube of lip gloss and some eye shadow in blue and purple. Colors I wouldn't think I could rock, but apparently I do! I even got my first compliment (ever in my entire life) on my eyeshadow yesterday, so thank you, Red Apple Lipstick. This booth was constantly mobbed during the expo, but luckily Sunday morning Mel, Alissa, and I got to play with make-up and make our purchases.
Lipsticks!
  • CNB Naturally - OK, there were a lot of weird booths going on at the Expo. There was a psychic and a few window salesmen. Then there was a booth with these wooden boxes. Alissa and I were very skeptical and joked about them all Saturday. Then Sunday we bit the bullet and tried them out. Whoa. I take back every snarky comment I said the day before. They were Far Infrared Thermal Therapy (F.I.T.T. System) boxes. AKA...a sauna seat. And I want one. Badly. It was amazing. After my week of aches and pains from fibromyalgia, this was a welcome relief. I'm saving up for one.
Alissa and me in "the wooden boxes"

The Bloggers

I love meeting bloggers, especially gluten free bloggers. We obviously have something in common and I love hearing their stories of being gluten free. Picking each other brains about blogging is always interesting. I met several new bloggers at the Expo. Here are a few of them:

Giveaway Time!

Another favorite of mine, Kyra from Crave Bake Shop was at the expo. If you're not familiar with Kyra, she has celiac disease and opened an entirely gluten free bakery in Portland. She's a two time champion of Cupcake Wars.  She recently launched a line of boxed cake mixes so you can make her award winning cupcakes at home. She was selling them at the expo and they were selling out like hotcakes. I quickly snatched up three boxes of Snickerdoodle cake mix (the only variety available since the chocolate and vanilla sold out).

Kyra and her amazing Snickerdoodle Cake Mix!
As much as I love these mixes, I'm giving away a box of Snickerdoodle cake mix to one lucky Gluten Free Betsy reader. To enter, leave a comment below telling me what your favorite dessert is. Be sure to include an email address so I can contact you if you win. Winner will be announced Sunday, May 5th. I'll use Random.org to select a winner. 


This Giveaway is now closed!
Congratulations to the winner from entry #2, Jeegs!

Did you attend the Chicago Gluten Free and Allergen Free Expo? What was your favorite find?

April 20, 2013

FollowFriday - Schar Gluten Free!

Its 11:41pm, so there is still time for a FollowFriday shout-out, this week to the amazing Schar Gluten Free. Tonight the generous Ken, Anne, and Denise of Schar Gluten Free hosted a delicious gluten free pizza party at D'Agostino's Pizza and Pub in Park Ridge.

D'Agostino's recently participated in a 20 hour gluten free kitchen training program which provided their entire staff with the knowledge and skills about preparing and serving gluten free food. They have a separate prep area, oven, and deep-fryer for their gluten free menu items. They understand why a gluten free diet is necessary and not a fad thing. They truly care about serving their gluten free customers. They are awesome.

The food was amazing! D'Agostino's has a nice sized gluten free menu: Chicken fingers, Chicken Parmesan, Burgers on a gluten free bun, Chicken Parm on a gluten free bun, thin crust pizza (with any topping you'd like), and Fusilli pasta. All Schar products with the bread/pasta/breadcrumbs and all safe (checked and double checked) products as far as meats, sauces, cheeses, and salad dressings. They even offer Angry Orchard cider.




The food served at the pizza party was chicken fingers, salad with grilled chicken, chicken parmesan with fusilli pasta, and lots and lots of pizza. Your usual cheese, sausage, pepperoni, margarita, veggie (spinach, onion &a tomato), and the Dag Special (sausage, onion, green pepper & mushroom). We ate ourselves silly. Then the friendly Schar folks came around with lemon wafers, hazelnut bars and their new chocolate chip cookies for dessert. They know their way to our hearts.




I also had the opportunity to connect with some old and new gluten free friends. The bloggers behind Breaking Up with Captain Crunch, Rockin' Gluten Free, Geekily Gluten Free, Seriously - You're Taking My Bagels, Dining Out Gluten Free with Bruce, Vegetarian Mamma, Amy the Family Chef, and I'm a Celiac. A lot of non bloggers and gluten free venders were there tonight too. Overall it was an enjoyable night.
Alissa and I have business cards!
Schar Gluten Free rocks the house with their new restaurant gluten free training program. Follow them and let them know you want their help in whipping your favorite restaurant into gluten free shape!

Schar Gluten Free on the web
Schar Gluten Free on Twitter
Schar Gluten Free on Facebook
Schar Gluten Free on YouTube

April 12, 2013

FollowFriday - Real Simple Delicious Soups

Last month I had the opportunity to sample a line of gluten free and vegan soups from Cook! SF, a small natural foods company based out of San Francisco, CA. They offer meal plans for detox diets which are delivered nationwide and based on Dr. Mark Hyman's UltraMetabolism diet plan.
 
In addition to their meal plan delivery, their line of soups are carried in stores in California and online. The line currently has seven flavors:

I tried the Zucchini soup and the Thai Green Curry, which I poured over rice and served as an entree. Both tasted very fresh and flavorful, not like anything you'd find in a can. The zucchini soup had a kick to it, which came from the poblano chile, a welcome surprise from the somewhat bland and ordinary vegetable zucchini is. The Thai Green Curry served over brown rice was the perfect meal, filled with big chunks of organic tofu and fresh vegetables such as carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and onion.



Big things are happening over at Cook! SF, for starters they've been nominated for a NEXTY Award, which recognizes leaders and innovators at the 2013 Expo West. Voting closes May 3rd, and they'd love your support, so please take a moment and vote for them.


Secondly, they are transitioning to a new brand this summer! Cook! SF will become NonaLim, named after their founder, Nona Lim. They'll still be offering the same products, meal plans and service, only with a new logo and name.


What to know more about Cook! SF/NonaLim? They can be found all over the web. Follow them here:

*Disclosure: Cook! SF  provided me with samples of their product to review for my site. All opinions are entirely my own.

April 2, 2013

Mama Said, "Eat All Your Vegetables!"

 

I'm super excited to announce I've partnered up with two incredible bloggers, Deanna Verbouwens from The Unnatural Mother and Theresa Romano-Ross, RD from Next Level Nutritionist, to host a series of weekly veggie challenges on Facebook. We can be found at Mama said, "Eat All Your Vegetables!" Join us!

The idea started about four years ago when Deanna and I were having trouble eating all our veggies. Basically we were getting bored with eating the same thing over and over. Seriously, how many baby carrots and steamed broccoli can one eat?  We decided to challenge each other to eating new and exciting (!) fruits and vegetables. She would give me a list of 5-6 fruits and veggies to eat for the week and I would do the same for her. We would then report back to each other with our experience throughout the week. I tried a bunch of new-to-me fruits and veggies in that time and she did the same. I discovered that I love Brussels sprouts and she was introduced to the magnificent glory of the spaghetti squash.

Lately we found ourselves back in that same rut we were in years ago with not enough vegetables in our diets. We decided to launch the veggie challenge again, but this time get everyone else to eat healthy with us. We inspire each other tons, but we also love hearing from our blog readers and wanted to invite them to join us. Not only that, we have Theresa on board with her extensive knowledge of nutrition. One day into the challenge and I've already learned so much from her! This challenge is already shaping up nicely.

The rules are simple. Dee, Theresa, and myself alternate hosting the challenge for the week. We assign a list of vegetables to eat for that week. You can eat other fruits and vegetables too, but we are giving you a starting off point. This will allow you to try new vegetables if you've never had them before and also share your tips and recipes with the others who will also be eating the assigned vegetables for the week. Artichoke graced the list this week and I found myself searching YouTube for how to prepare and eat it. I was relieved to see that someone else was in the same boat looking for help with that one. I was equally relieved that those familiar with cooking artichoke shared their favorite ways to prepare it. See, win-win all around!

We're on Day 2 of the first week and everyone is invited to join in at anytime. Who knew eating vegetables could be this exciting?  Another plus to this challenge is that it's gotten me cooking again. If you haven't noticed, the lack of recipes on my blog has dwindled as of late. I haven't been making anything share-worthy lately, so recipes haven't been featured; BUT! Last night I marched myself right into Pete's Fresh Market with my shopping list in hand and stocked up. I purchased the required eating, but also picked up some other vegetables and whipped up a batch of these Feta and Vegetable Frittata cups for quick breakfasts.

Bagged and ready to go! Get the recipe here!

I also prepped a ginormous salad for the next day's lunch.

Salad with sweet potato topped with Earth Balance buttery spread, cinnamon and walnuts.

I have to say, it felt great to be chopping and whisking and trying my hand at something new. Not to mention that everything was delicious. I also enjoyed a nice, relaxing morning with a cup of coffee at home rather than my first cup at my desk in the office. Not running around in the morning is nice. Caffeine at 7:30am is even nicer.  I like this challenge.