Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 Chicago Gluten and Allergen Free Expo

Delicious foods in an environment full of "yes"? Don't mind if I do!

I spent Saturday at the 2011 Gluten and Allergen Free Expo (in Lisle, a Chicago suburb). This was obviously my first gluten free expo (I am now about 10.5 months gluten free) so was excited by the classes offered in addition to the vendor fair. I chose the Essentials track and was ready for learning opportunities and taste testing to supplement all my book and blog reading about how to live a full life full of rich foods on a gluten free diet.

My morning started with a breakfast buffet and I was thrilled to try Udi's gluten free bagels for the first time! My first bagel in over a year! They were delicious - even untoasted! (I was too nervous to use the toaster that was available.) Then I went into a room full of other gluten free people and started the day.

Jasmine from my local chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group in Chicago (meetings are the first Thursday of the month at the South Loop Whole Foods at 7:00pm) MC'd the morning's events. We started with an extremely educational and exciting presentation by physician Dr. Stephen Wangen, author of Healthier Without Wheat. I was excited to learn that he is gluten intolerant (non-Celiac)! There's more of us out there! In fact, a larger percentage of people are gluten intolerant non Celiac than are Celiac! When I first found out I was ncgi, I thought I was in the minority! Hearing Dr. Wangen speak was the missing piece from speaking to any of my doctors about being gluten intolerant. Without even having the chance to read his book, I know I am going to be highly recommending it! I can't wait to read it myself!

Perhaps my favorite part of the day was when Silvana Nardone, author of (my personal favorite cookbook) Cooking for Isiah and blogger at dishtoweldiaries spoke and baked. She made JalapeƱo Popper Waffles and Chocolate-Dipped Chocolate Doughnuts. Needless to say, these were my first gf doughnuts and (non-frozen) waffles. And they were delicious! Her recipes are easy to follow and have me itching to break in my waffle iron and start experimenting. The best recipes are ones that inspire you to create more and bring the recipe to new heights with different flavor combinations! Slivana said that the recipes she creates need to be these three things: fast, easy, delicious. She reminded all of us that we shouldn't stop at the first failures - there will be a lot of failures - and that we should be persistent! Where's my apron? I've got to get to work!

Next up was Anne Byrn, the Cake Doctor, who recently wrote The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free. She enhances box mixes and can even turn a small gf mix into a two layer cake! Quite the feat with the small boxes that are available! Anne even said that many of her recipes in this book include dairy free options as well and all the frostings can be made dairy free! She mentioned that gluten free cakes do not refrigerate well, so it is best to freeze them then when they are needed, thaw and frost. She made a Honey Bun Cake, Gluten-Free Lemon Bars and a Fresh Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting for us - all were very delicious!

Marlisa Brown, a chef, registered dietitian, and author of Gluten-Free Hassel-Free talked about the importance of whole grains in your diet. Grains and flours in plastic bags were passed around the room so we could feel and smell the different options available. She made Sun Butter Oatmeal Granola Bars and Falafel with Tahini Sauce. Both were very good and filling. After going home, I bought ingredients so I can make both of these dishes myself. I'm at my "scary skinny" point so am hoping that by adding things like bars into my diet, I can gain some weight and look healthy again. Marlisa raised a very good point - most people select the same foods over and over - just in different combinations. I'm itching to spice up my food repertoire with more whole grains now!

We then had about a two hour break for lunch and the vendor fair. Lunch was served buffet style - everything was gluten and dairy free. There were salads with plenty of toppings for personalization, chicken breasts, breaded chicken tenders, beef, and bread. The lunch was okay - the real treat was the dessert. Cheesecake and cookies! (As if I didn't already have enough sugar that morning!) The cheesecake was heavenly. I can't compare it to a traditional dairy-filled cheesecake because I never had one before! But the gfdf option was amazing!

The vendor fair was amazing! I was fortunate enough to go to a mini-version of the vendor fair with the University of Chicago Celiac Screening last fall. Otherwise I would have been so over-whelmed! There were nearly seventy vendors represented, offering tastings of their food, free sample packages, and coupons! There was information galore! Writers and bloggers had their books available for purchase! I took a picture of everything I ate and looking through the photos, it was an insane amount of food! The vendors were great and were able to quickly point me towards the options that were also dairy free. I had Magner's Irish Cider that was really tasty (I was never a beer drinker, so am excited to add a cider into my drinking varieties), Zema's Madhouse breads full of a wide variety of grains, San-J sauces and crackers, an insane amount of cookies from Kinnikinnick foods, the newest products from Enjoy Life Foods and much, much more!

After eating more than a normal week's worth of sugar in a matter of hours, it was time to head back into the conference room for even more treats! Lee Tobin, the chef and baker at the Whole Foods Bakehouse, taught us how to make Chocolate Eclairs (with Chocolate Ganache and Pastry Cream) - completely dairy free as well!!! - and gluten free fig bars. His demonstration was filled with pointers along the way, from making sure to add the eggs one at a time to emulsify fat to how to properly fill a pastry bag. I really loved that these were not traditional drop cookies - I learned techniques that would otherwise be scary to me (like piping an eclair or folding a fig bar) and made them completely accessible.

Our last presenter of the day was Beth Hillson, founder of the Gluten-Free Pantry and president of the American Celiac Disease Alliance. She reminded us that attitude is three-quarters of the battle. With substituions - anything is possible! Beth gave us loads of ideas of how to use wraps, enhance cupcakes and muffins and more! She even gave us the secret to help prevent wraps from breaking - warm them up (she used a pan) and then flip it and then (off the pan) add a moisture barrier, like cream cheese, hummus or mayo.

I had a great time at the expo and highly recommending going! It was a lot of fun and I left with a lot of resources, a full stomach, and a few new friends in the gluten free community who shared some great advice!

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