Posted in Expos, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Product Recommendations

For the First Time in Forever

No, I promise I’m not just another Frozen-obsessed enthusiast (though really that is partially true) but rather those are the words I heard uttered by a young visitor to the Gluten & Allergen-Free Expo last weekend. She was surveying tables filled with samples from “Enjoy Life” and she exclaimed “I can eat anything I want here and I don’t have to ask if it’s safe first….for, like the first time in forever!” I couldn’t agree more with that young girl’s enthusiastic assessment of last weekend’s Expo. For those of you have been reading my blog for awhile now, you remember that last year I described my weekend at the Allergen Expo as a fairy tale. Well, if I thought that was a fairy tale, I had no idea what the future had in store for me. I keep saying to my friends (only semi-jokingly) that I’m living my own Baltimore fairy tale at the moment…

I mean, my office is in a castle. I teach in a carriage house. I spend my days teaching teenage girls about God’s grace at work in their lives…and get paid to do it! I just spent a weekend with the service group leaders from my school having amazing conversations with inspirational young women who I have no doubt will set the world on fire in their own unique ways. I get to plan retreats and service experiences to bring a little light into the darker corners of Baltimore and expose my students to the idea that a world so vastly different from their own exists just a short 15-minute drive away. I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of moving into my own apartment…and NOT having to move again for the first time in several years. And then last weekend, I got to walk around the Expo I described as a fairy tale a year ago as an official blogger. Seriously, I think I’ve uttered the phrase, “My life is so surreal right now” more in the past month than in all my 28 years combined.

This is where I work.
My office window is in the turret on the right…not the window that’s lit up in this one, but the one below it.
That sentence doesn’t even seem real…
(Photo courtesy of Chris Ferenzi Photography)
This is the view from my classroom door.
This is what happens when you teach in a Carriage House…

No, there simply aren’t words to explain the joy which filled that Convention Center last weekend and to do it justice. However, it’s my job to try and do just that…so I’ll see what I can do.

Now, many of you know that I deemed 2014 the Year of Love, and thus have been offering a variety of Love Shout-Outs since January. In an effort to keep with this theme, but not confuse anyone who may be counting, I decided to offer some “Sprinkles of Love” to some of the events, people, and products I found at last weekend’s Expo. I will write longer about some in the future…but for now, here is my attempt to share the joy of Secaucus with the masses.

Sprinkles of Love to:

1) The GFAF Expo team: Registration could not have been more seamless this year. Everything was prompt and everyone greeted you with a smile. I know it’s not easy to put on a production like this every few weeks…but team, you certainly made it look like a walk in the park!

2) DF Mavens Ice Cream: I could not be more sincere when I say this was the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Dairy-filled or not. They had clearly labeled soy-based, almond-based, and coconut-based options. Though I couldn’t try the soy-based option, I sampled all the others…and let me tell you, it was simply divine. So much so that I sent the photo below of my first cup to the Philanthropic Physicist with the message “I think I might actually be in heaven…” They’re based in New York City but have a great website to search for their products in local stores AND they even have A SHIP DIRECT TO YOUR HOME OPTION!!! (*cough, cough* My birthday is coming up in less than 4 months :-), and to top it all off, a portion of all their profits go to a non-profit organization called Mercy for Animals. Yes, I could not be more impressed with DFMavens. So, love sprinkles to you!

My little piece of heaven…

3) Mo’Pweeze Bakery: The name seems odd, right? Well, the reasoning behind it is downright adorable. This family-based bakery was inspired by a mom’s desire to provide delicious treats for her allergy-ridden family, especially her son who now has 19 different food allergies! The name comes from his small-child attempt to say “More, please!” after tasting his first allergy-free treat. Insert heart melt here. Aside from the precious story behind this company, their treats could not be more delicious! I tasted both the banana walnut cupcake and chocolate raspberry before purchasing some to take home…and coercing my mom and sister into joining me in the Buy 3, Get 1 Free deal they had that weekend. Last but not least, these men and women could not have been more pleasant, upbeat, and enthusiastic about what they do! Plus, they seemed almost as excited as me to be part of the Expo. Almost ๐Ÿ™‚ And the best news for you?? They deliver nationwide. Take my word for it: Check out Mo’Pweeze Bakery!

4) PASCHA Chocolate: I honestly can’t even type this without getting absurdly excited. I turned the corner at the fair to see a display of chocolate bars. Assuming this would be something I couldn’t enjoy, I kept walking…until I saw the sign that read “free from peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, eggs, wheat & gluten”. I stopped. I read it again. I tried to prepare myself for the disappointment I was sure would be inevitable when I asked about corn. The only ingredients? Cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, and corn-free vanilla. Be still my chocolate-loving heart. You better believe I sampled every variety…at least once. AND to top it all off, there was a coffee-flavored bar. That’s right. Someone thought to put coffee grinds in a Katie-safe chocolate bar. I still don’t have words. Other than to say I purchased several bars before I left that weekend…including the very last coffee one they had with them. Oh, and I should also mention they deliver. And it’s all certified fair trade. I still don’t believe it either but I know where I’m buying chocolate from now on:

5) Namaste Foods: This is a brand I was already very familiar with. My mom makes pancakes for me with this mix when I go home to the Poconos, my sister made cookies using their mix for our family BBQ in August, and I have their muffin mix in my cabinet as we speak (well, as I type and you read I suppose). They were sampling their Blondie Mix at the fair…and it was as amazing as I expected. Look for their products…you won’t be sorry! 

6) Gluten Free Gloriously Bakery: If you are having any kind of special event in the greater New Jersey area and need a gluten-free cake, these are your people. I couldn’t sample most of the items because of the egg and dairy ingredients but everyone I saw walked away with a smile on their face. And I stood in awe at their gorgeous cake display for a good 10 minutes. I also learned that it’s all the rage these days for brides to have a fake fancy cake on display at their wedding and then serve a cheaper one in the kitchen. I just don’t get what has happened to weddings in our society…but that’s another thought for another time.

7) Wink Frozen Desserts: Cake batter, cinnamon roll, cafe latte; these were just a few of the flavors I sampled at Wink Frozen desserts display. Need I say more?? Well, I should add it’s made from pea protein and was initially planned to be a low-calorie frozen dessert (100 calories for a whole pint…good-bye tear-filled life chats over Ben and Jerry’s, ladies!) but has the amazing side benefit of being vegan and gluten-free! They aren’t in many stores yet but they’re coming to the Whole Foods New Jersey market this fall. Keep an eye out for them!

8) Some amazing authors: I won’t say much about these lovely ladies yet because I will be writing reviews of their new books later, but let me just say how inspiring they are to everyone at the fair. I just wanted to come home and bake up a storm. Also, Elena and her amazing illustrator, Eileen, are coming out with an allergy coloring book soon and it is AMAZING!!! I can’t wait for it to be published…I only wish I had thought of it myself! ๐Ÿ™‚
I had a great time getting to know these lovely ladies!
I’ve only read a few pages of Amy’s book and I’m already inspired!

9) Gluten-Free Love: It was a week before the expo when I got an email. As if I wasn’t excited enough already, there was more.  A man named George had decided to propose to his gluten free girlfriend at one of her favorite events: you guessed it, the Gluten Free, Allergen-free Expo!!! We as bloggers were asked to help out by attending the demonstration where the big event would go down, and take all kinds of pictures and videos. In preparation, we had a picture of the happy couple so we’d know who to look for.  Well, all I have to say is that I’ve never been so nervous for someone I didn’t know in all my life. (To any potential spouses of my close friends, I’ve learned from this whole experience that I don’t want to know when you’re planning to propose…not because I’m afraid I’ll tell her, but moreso because it’s just too much for my sappy, romantic heart to handle. I actually prayed for this girl every night that week leading up to the Expo, and I hadn’t even met her yet!) I spent the whole demonstration watching this poor guy and then looking away so I wasn’t the creeper staring at a couple I didn’t even know.  And of course I did manage to learn quite a few tips from the awesome presenter, Amy. The proposal went off without a hitch, Martina said yes, a gluten-free cupcake appeared, and there were more tears than you can possibly imagine for perfect strangers (not my own…I may be a hopeless romantic, but I’m still not much of a crier). In a word: precious.

I think I watched these 2 during the presentation more than the cooking tips…
So much joy! And a gluten-free cupcake!
(She has Celiac…he does not; Love can conquer all!)

All in all, the Gluten And Allergen-Free Expo was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. I highly recommend the weekend to anyone who has food allergies, or even if you don’t! They have fairs all over the country so check out their website…and if you want to start planning ahead, I’m sure I’ll be back in Secaucus next September. So save the date now to share in the fairy tale ๐Ÿ™‚

My loot from the weekend!
Family Fun at the Expo! You know you want to join us next year!!

Posted in Expos, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life

Meet Me in Secaucus, Meet Me at the Fair!

There’s something most of you probably don’t know about me/may find hard to believe but it’s true: once upon a time I was an actress. I know, I know, seems crazy right? I mean this is the self-proclaimed painfully shy child whose first role (as an angel in the church Christmas play) ended with my 4-year-old self tearfully running off the altar before the Wise Men even arrived. This is the girl who nearly got sick the morning of high school graduation because the thought of standing up to address an auditorium full of people was near-paralyzing. Yes, I think my family was just as shocked when my 7th grade self came home from school proclaiming that I would be auditioning for the school play. Yet I did and I loved it and for the next 6 years, without fail, I was up on that stage performing in every school production we had. I think something about leaving Katie behind and taking on a new persona for a few hours was what brought me profound joy/enabled me to overcome my otherwise crippling stage fright. (Which by the way has since dissipated, mostly due to the Public Speaking course I took sophomore year at Villanova…thank you, Professor McCloskey)

My favorite stage experience to date remains our production of Meet Me in St. Louis from my Junior year of high school. If you’ve never seen it, please do yourself a favor: rent it. It’s the kind of simplistic, joyful, family-centered musical where the worst tragedy is the thought of having to leave St. Louis before the 1904 World’s Fair arrives/the boy next door notices you’re alive and yet everything is all wrapped up in a joyful family hug by the time the 2 hour show is over. Plus, Judy Garland is the star. What more do you need?? I played the role of Anna Smith, the mom of the family, who spent the whole show trying to guide her 4 daughters and 1 son through adventures in love, college, and of course some mischief while also keeping the peace when Mr. Smith insists on moving the family to New York City which means leaving before the arrival of the World’s Fair. I won’t ruin the ending but let’s just say, this production took place almost 100 years after the real World’s Fair and I can only imagine the thrill and joy of the real thing if we found that much excitement simply pretending to be there.

The Smith Family: sometimes we’re sad…
…and then we go to the Fair and all is right with the world again ๐Ÿ™‚

So what does all this have to do with food allergies/intolerances?? Well, nothing and everything. It may not be the 1904 World’s Fair BUT if you have food allergies, this might just be the next best thing: The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo! You can imagine the wonders which await you at this fantastic event…but I can promise you that reality will far surpass even your wildest expectations. Just as the fair attendees personified by the Smith family had no idea what they were excited for, you cannot appreciate the true joy of the Gluten/Allergen Free Expo until you experience it for yourself. However, since I’ve been there and lived it, here is my attempt at giving you just a glimpse:

What made the World’s Fair so Spectacular??
  • Ice cream cones, Dr. Pepper, iced tea, and cotton candy were introduced on the world’s stage. (Note, apparently all these things existed prior to their debut in St. Louis…but not many people knew about them; remember no social media back then!)
  • The iconic ferris wheel which has become synonymous with the event…even though it was destroyed over a century ago
  • A similarly iconic song was popularized which expresses the excitement of the fairgoers even a century later (I would highly recommend listening to this song as you continue reading…11 years after the fact, I still remember every word: it’s that catchy ๐Ÿ™‚
  • John Philip Sousa led the band/parade which entertained the crowd for miles.
So what makes the GFAF Expo so Spectacular??
  • You will discover “you-safe” foods that you thought were off the table forever. Gluten-free ice cream cones, dairy-free/soy-free ice cream, even soft pretzels were all things I could eat there!! SOFT PRETZELS?!?! I’m getting excited already!
  • There are “you-safe” samples EVERYWHERE. And because everyone there is well-versed in allergies, there are clearly visible signs at every display indicating which allergens are contained in a certain product. That’s right, a full day of living like the rest of you non-food-allergenic friends. That is actually priceless.
  • You will make connections you never dreamed possible. Imagine this scene: a jolly man in a chef hat approaches you with a hot steak sandwich. ON BREAD. He tells you it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and corn-free bread and it just came out of the oven they brought with them. You hesitantly take a bite: it is AMAZING. And then you realize he is from Texas and thus your dreams of delicious bread in your life again are dashed. Not so fast! He hands you a business card, he tells you he’ll ship anywhere in the continental US, and then you hug him (after asking permission first of course) because your frown has been turned upside down. And yes, that is a true story.
  • Coupons. Need I say more? You will leave with so many coupons. Tickets to the Expo are $20 but I guarantee you will more than break even with the amount of coupons you’ll take with you. And that doesn’t even factor in the absurd amount of samples you’ll have consumed before you walk out the door. Not to mention the intangible asset of feeling like you were “normal” again for a day. Priceless.
  • Informational presentations, meet-the-author tables, cookbooks, I could go on and on and on. And trust me, I will if you ask me about it.
Let’s just say words cannot adequately convey the wonders which await you at the GFAF Expo. Plus, if you come to the one in Secaucus…you get to meet me!!! (Or just hang out with me if you already know me.) I mean, I’m no John Philip Sousa, but I’ll see what I can do to match his caliber of entertainment ๐Ÿ™‚
So what do you need to do to make sure you don’t miss out on this landmark opportunity?? A few things:
  1. Watch this video. Then let the excitement start to build ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. Go to this website: Check out the various dates and locations. Some of them have already happened this year…but that just means you can start planning for 2015!
  3. If you find an expo you can attend, buy your tickets now. (But if you’re going to Secaucus, skip to #4 first) I mean that, last year when I arrived there were people who had to wait outside because the number of tickets for a given timeslot were already gone. Everyone did get in eventually…but trust me, this is the highlight of someone’s year and they will be waiting in line an hour before it opens to get a good spot/first dibs on all the samples.
  4. If you decide to come to Secaucus, send me an email at Include your name, email address, and one thing you’d love for me to write about (food-related or otherwise) and you will be entered to win 1 of 4 free tickets to the Expo!! (Hint: non-food-allergen friends, this would make a great gift! Or you can come experience the joy too…you don’t need food allergies to love this event!)
  5. Even if you don’t win a free ticket, just for being a loyal reader, here is a discount code to save you 20% off your ticket price!  EXPONJ20
  6. Last but not least, get yourself to the Expo and have an AMAZING day/weekend!! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
And now for me the one month countdown begins!! 
Meet me in Secaucus, 
Meet me at the (Gluten/Allergen-Free) Fair!!