This past weekend, instead of cowering under layers of fleece and counting down the minutes until the next episode of Game of Thrones, I had the chance to attend one of the most awesome gluten-free events of the year, the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo. I had been looking forward to this year's expo since last year, and I knew I'd be attending come hell or high water (and there was some high water around these parts. Spring, you're drunk, go home). Getting to go to the event as an official blogger was just icing on the gluten-free cake (and yes, there was loads of cake).
With more than 180 vendors in attendance, there was something for just about everyone. In the two days that I was there, I probably sampled just about everything that I could sample, and then some. There were some hits, some misses, and some W-T-Fs (I still can't figure out the window salesguys). I'll just hit the highlights for you guys.
Teese Vegan Nacho Cheese
Seriously, I never thought I'd be going back for seconds on a vegan cheese product, but this spicy nacho Teese melted delightfully. I visited them both days, just to be sure.
Must-buy product: The Glutenfreeda chipotle chicken pocket
This product is so new, it's not even on their Web site yet. Imagine Hot Pockets if Hot Pockets didn't taste like death. The chicken was my favorite, but they also have a ham and cheese and breakfast option. Perfect for last-minute lunches.
Baking mix I hope I don't screw up: Crave Bake Shop
Well, Kyra from Crave Bake Shop won me over immediately with her chocolate cupcakes, and I bought three boxes of her mixes to bring home. I'm glad I nabbed them on the first day - she sold out early!
Killer cereal: Vans and Freedom Foods
There were two awesome cereal products I got to try - Van's new Honey Nut Crunch, which reminded me of Honey Nut Cheerios, and Freedom Foods Tropico's. You guys, these fruity rings taste like another round, "frooty" product that is now off limits. I bought a couple of boxes to bring home, and I really hope they find their way to Whole Foods soon.
Local favorites: Sweet Ali's, Kiki's, Pinstripes and Gusteau's
While I always love me some Sweet Ali's, there is room in my heart for Kiki's, as well. This Chicago-based company is selling their spinach pies to restaurants, but not to the general public yet, which is sooooo sad, because it was one of the greatest things I tried all weekend. I don't know how they did it, but they managed to make an incredibly flaky crust that was to die for. I was also happy to see the folks from Pinstripes, and thanked them for the awesome time (and great pizza) we had for Luke's birthday last month (and I grabbed some free wine bracelets, so I guess I'll have to go back). I had the chance to visit a potential favorite in Gusteau's Gluten Free Shoppe, which is set to open in May in Lemont. It's a short drive from my house, so I can't wait for this totally gluten-free takeout place to open it's doors.
Pizza, pizza: Smart Flour
I ate a lot of pizza and pizza-like products, and while most were pretty good, the best by far was Smart Flour. It was crispy and yummy, and I can't wait until June when they will be available in Whole Foods.
Best beer before 11 a.m.: New Planet
You know it's going to be a good day when you've sampled five beers before noon. I've been a big fan of New Planet's Raspberry Ale since I first tried it, but after taking their beer tour, I found a new love in their Belgian brew. I know what's going in my garage beer fridge for the summer.
Friendliest company: Schar
Can I just say that I love Schar? We use their pasta and rolls pretty religiously at my house, and if that wasn't enough, they also threw a dinner for bloggers and vendors Friday night before the expo. Schar gluten-free guru Anne Roland Lee is so smart and helpful (check out her series of videos with the Celiac Diva for some great info about the GF lifestyle). Their new product, a chocolate-covered hazelnut bar, is pretty dang close to a KitKat. You know, if you miss that sort of thing.
Best in show: Red Apple Lipstick
I was so, so happy to get to visit with my friends from Red Apple Lipstick this weekend. Andrea, Jay and Stephanie took such good care of me, and I brought home a load of new product. I had fun hanging out at their booth and helping pick colors for new buyers. If you haven't tried them already, I seriously suggest checking them out. I use their Rallye Balm for everything from dry lips to sunburn, and you can feel confident you are getting a gluten-free, paraben-free, awesome product every time. End gush.
Brace yourselves, because it's about to get a little fangirly up in here. I've said it before and I'll say it again, and again - a large part of what pushes me to keep blogging is the community. We GF-ers, we sort of rock. So when you gather us together for a weekend? Things get real. I absolutely loved getting to meet, in real life, people I'd only known by blog names or Twitter handles. I got to spend most of the weekend hanging with the glorious Betsy, who is a kindred spirit/celiac sister/Chicagoland girl. We laughed, we cried, we sat in weird wooden boxes. I got to hang out with Erica from Celiac and the Beast. I've been looking forward to meeting her since I started reading her blog many moons ago. I knew we'd hit it off, and we sure did. I also got to meet up with the absolutely adorable G-Free Laura, who was there repping Taste Guru (you'll be hearing about them in another post). And Kyra from Crave Bakeshop is just about the sweetest person ever, and she fed me chocolate cupcakes all weekend, so I'm pretty sure that means we're best friends now (at least, on my end). Plus, I got to meet up with the hilarious and geekily GF Mel (and her super-hero alter-ego), the rockin' Andrea, Pretty Little Celiac Rebecca, Pam from I'm A Celiac, and even had dinner with Healthy Family's Caryn.
Thanks to the GFAF Expo team for such a great event, and for inviting bloggers to attend and share. I can't wait for next year!