I don’t know about you, but I have been having one of those weeks. You know, the ones that for some reason start off rough and just continue along that path. Not as bad as what some are experiencing, but still bad enough to take you off your game and make you feel blah. If I had a better word to describe the feeling, I would use that.
When I am feeling in a manner that can only be described as “blue,” I have 3 treats that I turn to that help lift my spirits.
The first is PB&J on a cracker. I can almost hear y’all asking, “But Mel, why don’t you just put it on a piece of bread?” Maybe it is the playful and portable nature of the cracker, or that it reminds me of my childhood, or maybe it is the crunch. Whatever it is, I love to smear creamy peanut butter on a Ener-G cracker with a dollop of jam. For this treat, I always use the Ener-G brand crackers because they are firmer and will hold up to the pressure of the peanut butter being spread. A couple of these crackers, and I tend to have the hole in my belly filled and get the start of a smile.
When my tummy hurts, the one comfort food I crave is not a food at all. It is a beverage created in Detroit, is very much a Midwest thing, and sometimes I feel like it is primarily a Michigan thing. When my stomach hurts or I want a taste of home, I look for the green Vernors label. Vernors is a ginger ale that is aged in barrels giving it a different taste profile than other ginger ales on the market. I wish I could describe the flavor accurately, but since I have known the flavor all of my life it is pretty impossible to do. All I know is that no other ginger ale feels like a warm hug from a loved one. Which is the ultimate purpose behind comfort foods, right?
I was fortunate enough to know one set of my Great-Grandparents. And not just know them in a vague sense, know them in we would road trip a couple of times each year to see them, they were alive throughout most of my high school life, and my Great-Grandmother passed after I graduated from HS. So I have very specific memories of visiting them. The TV remote on a wire, my Great-Grandfather in his chair, the fully decorated fake Christmas tree residing in their basement inside a garbage bag. But most of all, I remember the treats my Great-Grandmother Mynette would have for us. The trip never felt complete if I did not have at least 1 graham cracker frosting sandwich. It is what it sounds like: 2 graham crackers with a dollop of homemade frosting between them. When I was first diagnosed, these were the things that I mourned the most. Granted, I never made homemade frosting but grabbed a can of Betty Crocker when I had a craving or need of home, but still. It was the lost that hurt the deepest. Then my mom found the Schar Honey Grahams and I could have that taste of memory again. The Schar grahams are almost perfect, as they do not break too easily, and they have that graham cracker taste that I love. When I am having a rough week like this one, I am glad that the grocery store is not far away and that I stashed a box of Schar Honey Grahams in the back of my cupboard as an emergency pick me up.
The only downside about comfort foods is that they do not seem to be too good for you, or your waist line. But that is the thing about comfort, it is supposed to make you feel better, pounds be damned!
What about you? What is your favorite comfort food?
Saturday, May 18th found me in the region I grew up to explore the 7th Annual Gluten Free Food Fair at the Deltaplex. Only in Grand Rapids would one section of the Expo space be a Gluten Free Expo and the other be a Magic: The Gathering event! =)
One of the things that makes this event so unique is that, it is sponsored and run by a church (Anchor Baptist Church) as an outreach they developed after discovering several members of their small (60 people) congregation have Celiac. Since I wanted to learn a bit more about the event, I took a couple of minutes and spoke with Rachel Coin, the wife of the pastor and a super organizer. The first couple years of the event it was held at Kuyper College and was free for vendors and guests. In the last couple of years they started to charge vendors to attend, which then brought in more of the bigger names in the GF community. This year was the largest event yet, with 62 vendors and over 2,000 attendees. What is truly humbling, and one of those rare examples of a group doing something out of the goodness of their hearts to give back when they saw a need, Anchor Baptist Church makes sure that the parking is free and there is no fee for people to attend. The vendors are charged enough to cover the expo hall and associated fees, any left over money is set aside for next years event. Many church members arrived at 7am to set-up, during the event they staffed or assisted at several booths, then helped with tear down. Other volunteers were from the local Celiac Support Group. So many volunteers from these two organizations, and they were the backbone of this entire event. BRAVO!
This event saw the return of She-Liac! One of the best things about her appearing is that it opens up conversations with people I might not get to talk to. The costume is slowly being redesigned so that it is not so “Superman”-esque, but today she was rocking a fabulous tee by Celiac and the Beast.
2 things really impressed and surprised me about this event.
- The very visible presence of two major Grocery Store Chains: Meijer and Spartan Stores. The Meijers booth had their Black Bean and Salsa Tortilla chips, while the Spartan row had a small number of samples from many GF companies along with pasta and a couple items from their Full Circle brand. I had a fun conversation with the rep from Meijers corporate office about some products/brands that would be great for the stores to have. She had a list with suggestions from others, and it was great they were taking an interest in what the consumer was interested in seeing in store.
- A number of national chain restaurants had a presence at the expo: Red Robin was handing out coupons and had a raffle for $20 gift certificates, Qdoba had the makings for a chicken bowl (rice, black beans, chicken, salsa, jalapeno, guacamole, sour cream, cheese) and had their allergen information and a coupon on a dinner, Zoup has soup, Outback Steak House had their chocolate thunder from down under (and a coupon for a free one! Hello chocolate!), and The Melting Pot was there with chocolate fondue and fruit. Not to mention local restaurants Brann’s (yummy ribs and they had greens!) and the Gilmore Collection having a strong presence at the event.
After some thought, and consideration knowing my experiences in the area, I decided to attend as She-Liac. I am still working on what to do with this character, but I wanted to see if she would be a success in Grand Rapids like she was in Chicago. To change things up a little bit, I decided to wear one of the fabulous designs by Celiac and the Beast. The shirt was a hit, and I think I talked some of the bakers to purchase her cupcake tee. =) It was a slow start to the day, and I got several funny looks, but as the day went on, vendors were taking my pictures, I started having conversations with kids (the highlight of my day), and I was actually asked to attend an event later in the year!
Ok, now on to what I KNOW you have all been looking forward to — My Expo Favorites!
I can now say that I have tasted award-winning pizza, and I want MORE! Willy Olund, of Willy O’s Pizza and Grille won 1st prize in the United States and 2nd prize in the World in the non-traditional category at the 2010 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. On top of that, at the 2 Mari in Lecce, Italy his gluten-free pizza was #1 in America! His booth always had a line, and after tasting the pizza it was easy to see why! Tasty, with a nice crunch, it left me wanting to make a stop in South Haven on my next trip through West Michigan. Plus, Willy is a character, so you KNOW we hit it off in a big way! Seriously, if you find yourself travelling along Lake Michigan in Michigan, make it a point to stop in and get one of these pies! If you don’t think you will make it to Michigan, give them a call as they will ship their pies for you to bake.
My next favorite thing goes to the West Michigan Whitecaps and 5/3 Ballpark. Not only do they have a pretty extensive GF menu (but no buns), next to each item on the menu board there is a green “GF” sticker indicating which items are available Gluten Free. More parks can learn from them!
In the GF bakery category, 3 bakeries got my attention. The Sugar Bowl Bakery from Muskegon had these fantastic eclairs that made me think of my Grandma, who was wishing something like that was closer to her. When they told me they only brought 50 packages with me, I should have jumped on it, instead of waiting to buy them when they were out. D’oh! The Flour Uprising in Mount Pleasant (Fire Up Chips!) does both GF and non-GF options. In a long conversation with one of the owners, Annette, she informed me that all of their GF baking is done first thing in the morning and all of their GF baking supplies, pans and dishes included, are stored separately from everything else. For $4(!) I purchased a tasty Peanut Butter Chocolate bar and a Chocolate Ginger scone. My last winner in the bakery round is Ethel’s Edibles om St Clair Shores. I really did not want to purchase any muffins or anything, but then I tried their Humming Bird muffin. Oh. My. Goodness!! And then a big SQUEE! Then maybe one other sound of joy as this touches your taste buds. Imagine if you will a muffin containing the following: pumpkin spice, pineapple, coconut and raisins, then cover it with an orange cream drizzle. It is a surprise and wonder that I have not hoovered the four I purchased.
The last merchant is one that I met in Chicago, Keeki Pure and Simple. I bite my nails and I am forever on a search for nail polish I can put on and then chip off. It’s weird, I know. I liked the 2 colors I purchased in Chicago along with the yummy tasting chapstick, so I wanted to pick up more. This time I got a base coat, another nail color, and some of the Cherry Body Lotion. A full review of what I tried is in the works, but it was fun to meet Keeki, the inspiration for the brand. One of the silly asides from the event is, after purchasing my items, I left them on the Keeki table. Of course, I did not realize it until I was back to my parents and went through everything. Natalie, the CEO and Keeki’s mom, had her cell phone on her business card and met me at a local mall to give me what I had purchased — and she remembered the name of the nail polish even! Thanks for the fantastic customer service, Natalie and Keeki!
One of the BEST things about the Expo was getting to meet up with a couple of friends. At the Chicago Expo, I had the chance to meet Keeley McGuire. Being a West Michigan girl, she came to the Expo with her mom and Little Miss. It was such a joy to see her again and meet everyone. I also got to catch up with Cece Otto, who was working for Schar while on a break from her American Songline journey along the Lincoln Highway. If you can picture Kermit the Frog doing his crazy arm flailing, that was how I felt inside seeing these wonderful ladies.
There were 2 downsides to the expo. One is that one of my favorite brands had next to no presence at the event, and what they had was so ridiculous it was depressing. The other is that this event emptied out around 2pm after being super busy. I had honestly never seen anything like that!
Bravo to Anchor Baptist Church for putting together another successful event and here is to many more!
I have about 3 blog posts in the works, but lately I have been in such a funk that I cannot focus on the content they are about.
There is a confession to make here. I am a former Disney Cast Member. Being one was a badge of honor, performing the roles I had the opportunity to was a gift I cannot even begin to explain, and the joy I had on a daily basis almost outweighed the pain that my body was developing.
When I left, it was because I had limits and expectations on what my life should be that were completely based on what other people thought and what I thought it should be. Not because leaving would make me happy, but because I needed to “grow up.”
There were blessings in leaving: being close to the members of my family who were already diagnosed with Celiac when my diagnosis happened, being able to spend 8 hours with my Grandmother the day before she passed, getting to perform in a variety of productions in the Chicago area while meeting some incredible people, and only being 3 hours from my family. There have been some bad things as well, but that is another tale.
Except, I never really let it go. Every year like clockwork, from 2007-2012, I flew back to work for a week as a seasonal cast member, to recharge my batteries with the love and happiness that I had doing the job I did there, to see friends, to make new ones, and to soak it all in.
April 14, 2012 was my last day as a cast member. I donned my blacks for the last time, took my voyage, and then said “goodbye.” Not because I wanted to, but because the rules on being seasonal had changed, and there was no way I could make it work while living in Chicago.
I miss it. People tell me I need to do what makes me happy and what I am good at, but to be honest with you, I am not sure what that is. I know the things that I enjoy doing, but I know my happiest time was when I was going into work every day and performing. I could be in the grumpiest mood, not feeing well, swear that I was living in a sauna, but as soon as the music started and I stepped onto whatever stage it was, it was like my world receded and for however long I was on stage, there was only that.
If this does not make sense, I apologize. Tonite was a night where I just needed to put thoughts down and get them out. If you want to read about my adventures eating GF as a guest as WDW try this.
And I am going to leave you with the last thing I do on every trip to my happy place:
I went to see Iron Man 3 on Saturday (enjoyed it, liked a lot, not sure if I loved. May need to see again). There is one thing in the movie that jumped out and made me happy/irate.
Here is the dialogue:
Tony Stark: “I don’t even know what I had for breakfast this morning.”
Jarvis: “Gluten Free waffles, sir.”
To be honest, a part of me jumped up and down inside to hear a Gluten Free shout out in a major Hollywood blockbuster. But another, larger, part of me sank like a rock.
The reasons are simple:
1) There has been no sign in any movies that Tony Stark has any sort of gluten intolerance whatsoever. See: Shawarma eating at the end of The Avengers.
2) If there is no gluten intolerance, then he is eating it because eating GF is the “hip, trendy” thing to do. Based on evidence in all films Tony Stark has appeared in, he wants to do whatever is current and hip.
And that is the rub. There are products out on the market that claim to be gluten free, but when you look at them closer, you discover that they really are not safe at all for anyone with gluten intolerance to ingest. We are fighting a poorly informed media spreading false information, people who are eating it “just because” and giving those of us who need to be militant a bad name/making it so servers and chefs do not take precautions.
Yes, a lot of good Gluten Free products are out on the marketplace. Yes, the rise in people being diagnosed has helped with that.
So, while it sounds great to have Tony Stark have Gluten Free waffles for breakfast, I just have one message to Hollywood:
I am not a fad. Neither is my health.
Last month I attended the P!nk concert at the United Center after forgetting to eat all day. I figured it would be no big deal, since they have a Gluten Free “stand” (ok, actually it is a table) on the main concourse. Except it was closed. Because I am, well, me, I sent a couple of tweets calling out Levy Restaurants and the United Center, plus I sent a couple of emails to Levy Restaurants. Eventually I received a response from Milan Stojakovic, the Director of Operations at Levy Restaurants. Sadly, I don’t know if he is the DoO for the UC, or all their venues, but he did answer all my questions regarding Gluten Free food and beverage options at the UC.
First off, I mentioned that with the addition of floor seating, even with sections blocked off it looked like concerts had a higher capacity then sporting events. Milan admitted that the capacity for a concert was around 22,000 people versus 10-15,000 for sporting events. Other special events like the circus/ice show are closer to sporting event numbers. However, more people does not equal more concession revenue. Ok, I admit that I can see that. Isn’t the point of going to a concert to watch the idiots around you get hammered?? No? Guess that is just one of the perks I enjoy…. =)
Apparently, you can ask the staff during concerts where the GF options are, but when I was there all the staff seemed kind of clueless. And I wasn’t going to ask a security guard where the GF food was, ya know? They have enough drunken eedjits to deal with. So here is the skinny, since the main concourse stand is closed during non-sporting events and the website is shit. Each stand is supposed to have GF options available, but they are not clearly marked and the staff is not well-trained. That being said, Milan told me that sections 316 and 333 always have GF options available.
Here is my biggest beef — the website is no help and if you are in the arena you have no way of knowing if you can eat/buy a beer. You could ring Levy Catering in advance at (312) 455-7412 to find and arrange accommodation. I also left the suggestion that the UC/Levy put a sign on the cart saying: “This location is currently closed. Gluten Free offerings are available in Sections 316 and 333.” Then no security guards would be distracted from their girl watching/guessing who is going to be the drunkest. And us GF’ers can enjoy a beer and a hot dog at a concert/circus/ice show/monster truck rally/whatever.