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!
On May 21st, I had the chance to wander the GFAF Expo in Chicago. I’m going to admit to my newbie blogger mistake and state that I did not get a lot of pictures of the food. I’m a people person and love people in pictures, so I am going to give you a LOT of those. And promise that I will try to remember to take product photos in the future!
Since I am not much of a morning person, ESPECIALLY on the weekends, it a minor miracle that I got to the Expo by 9:30am. My first mission was to say “Hey Girl” to Kyra Bussanich of Crave Bakeshop. I met Kyra last year when she was giving a baking class while I was the head expediter, and it is always a joy to catch up with this two-time CUPCAKE WARS champion. This year Kyra was promoting her new line of cupcake mixes and I snagged the last box of Snickerdoodle mix while picking up my own Crave Bakeshop tee:
Gotta admit, I love that the only part of my Star Wars tee you can see is the “Ta” as the Crave tee is VERY ta-ta friendly!
To the left of Kyra’s booth were the fabulous people from Rudi’s Bakery. During the morning they were grilling up pieces of their cinnamon raisin bread (yum) and in the afternoon they were dishing up grilled cheese. I am so mad I did not get the name of the ladies representing the company, as they were fabulous and I am so excited to try the wraps they gave me to sample. Review on those coming later!
On the other side of Crave Bakeshop were the wonderful people from Taste Guru. This is something that I am going to try soon because for $25-ish dollars, you get a box of GF goodies sent to your house every month. And y’all know that $25 does not get you a box of goodies in a store. Plus, it is a great way to try out new things! Hi to Laura and Heather who were rocking the booth! (and Andrew?? This is when I stink with names)
One product I am excited to try out is the GF Harvest (aka Canyon Oats) instant oatmeal. The cups totally remind me of the Quaker instant oatmeal cups my co-worker has for lunch every day that smell SOOO GOOD! I have a feeling that the GF Harvest cups are going to be delicious. This family has 3 generations of Celiacs, so they know the importance of avoiding cross-contamination and clean oats. Forrest Smith started this company while he was in high school(!), and he is someone who fits right into this geeks sphere, as we had a long talk on Star Wars and the Avengers.
I did have a mission this expo: GET MORE RED APPLE LIPSTICK!!! Last year I had a quick moment to talk with Jay and Andrea about how hard it is to find a good red, they helped me find the perfect shade (ironically enough named: Red!) and I got a cool shimmery lipgloss. This year I was on a mission to get more lip color and pick up some eye shadows out of their new (in the past year) eye shadow line. The goal was to get there early, before they got swamped because all day Saturday their booth looked a bit like this, if not worse:
I ended up making my largest purchase of the expo here: 2 lipsticks, a Rallye Balm, one new gloss, 2 eyeshadows, and an eyeshadow case. Added bonus: the bags they put everything in are super cute and will help with makeup and/or jewelry storage!
After this, the expo started to look a bit like this:
Needless to say, I started to be a bit choosy with where I visited, which means I missed some great products, but here are some of my “Best of.”
Kiki’s Simply Awesome Greek SpinichFeta Pocket. One word — YUM! I kept coming back for more samples of these because I could not get over how light and flaky the crust is. Sadly, my sweet tooth was burnt out, so I did not try the dessert she had, but my love affair was with that pocket. Right now these can be found in a couple of resturaunts in the greater Chicago Area, but I hope she expands into retail soon.
Something I almost passed by because I have been burned by pizza too many times was the Smart Flour booth. In fact, I probably walked past it a half dozen times before finally stopping to talk to them. I am so glad I did because if I had not I would have missed out on a delicious gluten-free freezer pizza hitting market in June. In talking with one of the gentlemen at the booth, I found out that these pizzas had actually been made about 6 months out and were sitting in a freezer in an attempt to give the consumer a similar experience to what they would have when they hit the market. To avoid some of the “cracker-like” crispness so many frozen (and non) pizzas have, they removed the rice flour. Good crust, great taste, the slices of pizza did not last long on the expo floor, and I do not think they will last long on shelves either.
Another love was Outrageous Baking out of Boulder. I have a long standing love affair with banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, pretty much any sweet bread out there. I am just a lousy (sometimes lazy) cook who does not want to whip up a big loaf that I would devour. But that did not stop me from purchasing a loaf of their gluten, dairy, and soy free pumpkin loaf and cinnamon spice bread from these ladies. The lemon poppyseed and chocolate zucchini are also pretty tasty, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere, right?
One of the things that EVERYONE told me I needed to try were the Glutenfreeda “Hot Pockets.” I have been in love with their cranberry cinnamon oatmeal for about a year now, so seeing that they were also coming out with an “instant bowl” made me happy, but I was very distracted by the hot pockets. While the crust was a bit, well, grey, the flavor of it all was pretty amazing. I made it a point to try them all, but forgot to take note on the different flavors. All I know is that when these hit stores, I will be there to purchase for the occasional lunch treat.
So, you know how I mentioned forgetting to take pictures every once in a while? Well, one of my biggest lapses came about with my favorite free of the top 8 allergen cookies on the market: Cybele’s Free to Eat. I will admit that I only tried the Chocolate Chip because it was so tasty and reminded me of an extra crispy Toll House.
Another item I failed to get pictures of are the Enjoy Life Decadent Bars. I tried all 4 flavors (S’mores, Cinnamon Bun, Chocolate Sunbutter, and Cherry Cobbler) and they are all pretty amazing, but the Cherry is my favorite. So good. And the ladies at the booth were super awesome and knowledgable.
If you got their early enough (ie before 1pm) you could take the New Planet Beer tour. Peter and Sarah would talk you through each of the 5 flavors available while giving you a pour to try. I am not much of a beer person, but when I have the beer craving I will reach for the New Planet Raspberry or Blonde.
Holy crow, this is getting long! A couple more finds to wrap things up:
Ian’s has a new French Bread pizza that is pretty tasty.
Keeki Pure & Simple is a line of Gluten Free nail polishes, chap sticks, body washes and sunscreens. I ended up purchasing 2 nail polishes and a root beer float scented chap stick. I promise I will publish a review!
Schar, oh Schar. How I love thee. On top of the new Ciabatta rolls that are delicious, they have 2 new wafer cookies that rock my socks. The first is a chocolate covered hazelnut that reminds me a bit of a giant Kit Kat bar. The second is a Lemon wafer that has so much lemon flavor it ought to be illegal. DELICOUS!
Enzymedica has an enzyme supplement that helps when you accidentally ingest gluten. I am now carrying in my purse to have at the ready when I have an accidental glutening!
Freedom Foods is an Australian cereal (at least here in the States) company. I purchased a box of their Maple Crunch and will review it later.
Van’s, maker of the toaster waffles everyone seems to love, has a new breakfast cereal on the market. I am excited to try it, especially since I discovered my beloved Cinnamon Chex contain GMO ingredients. The people at Van’s gave me a box of their Cinnamon Heaven to try out and I will report back on that as well.
I think those are the bulk of my highlights. I am sure someone or something got missed in here and I will probably just do a photo blog of some more of the photos I took at the Expo.
Until next time!
This past weekend was the Chicago Gluten Free Allergy Free Expo. This was my first time attending as anything other than a volunteer. In the week (!) leading up to the Expo, I was asked if I would be willing to dress up as a superhero to promote a T-Shirt company. Considering I used to dress up for work (and still do for theatre), having the opportunity to create my own character was something I jumped at! I have to send big thanks to the staff at both Ragstock and Beatnix Clothing for helping me figure out the pieces.
Since I am a geek, I even started putting together a back story for her. The only reason I am not sharing it, is because I am playing with ideas to grow with it and maybe turn it into a comic. How cool is that?? Just need to talk to some people, but I had it in my mind.
I took to my Facebook page and to Twitter to try to come up with a name. I knew the shirt had a big “GF” on it, so I thought the name should have that as well. Laura, who writes tweets for Taste Guru and is a fantastic blogger in her own right, gave me a bunch of suggestions based on the article she was editing including “Sorghum Siren.” I love alliteration and creativity that comes when you are working on something new.
Anyway, Saturday morning came and I got suited up and headed to the booth.
To say I did not know what to expect would be an understatement. My thinking was that no one was going to want to meet a character they did not know. And considering I could not even remember the name I came up with (Glutonazon), my thought was that it was going to be a LOOOONG 7 hours!
I was wrong. It started out a little slow, because the booth was near the center back of the expo hall and there was not a lot of business, but then I started wandering. My favorite moment of the day actually occurred during that first pass through the hall. There was a boy of about 4 there with his parents, who were manning a booth. He saw me and immediately told his father he wanted a shirt like mine. I took him by the hand and we headed to the booth where he immediately started wearing his shirt before his dad even PAID for it! It made me smile and made my heart happy. The next day his mom told me he put it on again as soon as he got up. **Happy Moment**
The rest of the day was taking pictures with people, including 4 ladies from the Notre Dame GIG group, coming up with a motto (“Fighting Hidden Gluten One Crumb at a Time”), taking more pictures, walking, trying a couple of products (more later), enjoying conversations with vendors and guests, and being pulled into booths for pictures. I learned a lesson that will be valuable moving forward. This character is a brand. She is someone I love with a message I am passionate about. Moving forward, before I take a picture in any booth, with any merchandise, or with any logo, I will be 100% sure that I love and support the brand. It was very flattering but I know there is at least one picture out there with me in the booth of a product I do not like/enjoy/support. Lesson. Learned.
I’m going to fix a couple of things and I hope that She-Liac appears at more GF events in the future.