Product Review: Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie

Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie
Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie

Product: Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie – (part of Cuisine Cube and no price online)

Are any of you familiar with Cuisine Cube?  I wasn’t either.  Not until a special offer came across my Groupon-like gluten-free saver sort of mailing that I belong to.  I showed the e-mail to my roomie and said I wanted to try it.  She said to go for it.  Want to make me happy?  Tell me I can get Cuisine Cube.

So, for those of you who don’t know what Cuisine Cube is…let me explain.  Cuisine Cube is a subscription-based, monthly delivered box of gluten-free foodie goodness.  The concept was crafted by a team of enthusiastic eaters, food professionals, and allergy sufferers from New York City who were on the hunt for great gluten-free food.  They became aware that gluten intolerance is more prevalent today.  And, while gluten-free brands are more readily available in supermarkets all over the country…sometimes the bigger the brand the more preservatives and additives they contain.  Gluten-free foods are a lot of processed foods.  And, they…much like me…want to cut out as much processed food as possible.  And…at the same time…keep the food we do eat tasty.  We all know, even the biggest brands in gluten-free foods don’t always taste the best.  So, the creators of Cuisine Cube sought out lesser known brands made by small artisan producers, which they found often tasted better and were better for you.  Not to mention, it meant supporting small businesses.  But sometimes finding these smaller and lesser-known brands can be hard.  Thankfully, Cuisine Cube does the leg work for you.  They select different foods in each meal category and the box is delivered to my door.  All of it is gluten-free…and affordable.  Seriously.

I received my first Cuisine Cube in May.  And, with the exception of one product inside, I hadn’t ever heard of any of the other brands inside.  Gotta love it.

So…tonight…it was time to give one of these products a try.

And I made the most obvious choice…

Dessert.

The dessert category in May’s Cuisine Cube was by Gone Pie Vegan Bakery.  And the item…the Gluten-Free and Vegan Coconut Brownie.

I had never heard of Gone Pie Vegan Bakery before.  And for good reason.  Gone Pie is a Brooklyn based brownie maker who went from shop owner to wholesale producer.  Listening to the customer’s needs, all items that Gone Pie produces and sells are gluten-free as well as vegan.

This…is my happy face.

So after eating my fantastic gluten-free pizza for dinner…dessert was the next logical step.  Time for some Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie!  I opened up the plastic wrapper and removed this very moist and chocolatey brownie.  It looked so rich and smelled amazing.  On top, you could see toasted coconut flakes.  I couldn’t wait to take a bite.  But…first I needed pictures for the blog and to split it in half so the roomie could indulge too.

She took the first bite…so I had to know what she thought.  She said it was pretty good…and it tasted…familiar.  That didn’t tell me much and since she’s congested, I decided just to go off my own thoughts on this one.  I settled in…and took a bite.

Soft.  Moist.  Amazing.  You could really taste the toasted coconut that is baked inside and toasted on top.  I loved the richness of this brownie, and how it was kept soft and decadent with the inclusion of dates.  But the dates don’t overpower or take away from that brownie feel, so don’t worry about that at all.  The chocolate is the star…and it is prevalent in each bite…without being too sweet.  So fantastic.  I wish I had more of these.  Seriously!

While these have no nutritional information, I can give you a run-down of the ingredients!  The Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie is made from vegan fairtrade sugar, gluten free flour blend (sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth, garfava, tapioca, potato, brown rice), dates, brown rice syrup, coconut milk, gluten-free vegan fairtrade semi-sweet chocolate, gluten-free vegan fairtrade chocolate liquor, non-GMO canola oil, vegan fairtrade unsweetened cocoa powder, aluminum-free baking powder, and spices

Thanks to Cuisine Cube, I am being introduced to some fantastic and unique products I never would have even known existed.  I never would have even known about Gone Pie Vegan Bakery or their amazing products if not for Cuisine Cube.  In fact…I have since visited Gone Pie Vegan Bakery’s Web site.  Their variety of gluten-free goodies sound so good.  And now, I will make a point to order something else and give it a try.

Yes…this brownie impressed that much.

Thank you Cuisine Cube and thank you Gone Pie Vegan Bakery!

Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie
Gone Pie Vegan Bakery Coconut Brownie

Product Review: Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream

Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream
Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream

Product: Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream – $5.49+

Cookies might be one of my favorite desserts in the world…but sometimes…you just can’t beat the sweet, savory, melty goodness of ice cream.  I love ice cream.  I love ice cream so much that I take a lactase supplement so I can eat it, as my lactose intolerance otherwise doesn’t handle the dairy well.  And, where I can, I keep it dairy-free…sometimes you just want to try something new in that freezer section at the grocery store.

For a while now, I had been eying the Halo Top Creamery All Natural Light Ice Cream at my local natural food store.  What really caught my attention, above everything else in that freezer, was that the pints declared that a serving contained 7 grams of protein and only 70 calories.  I’m sorry…70 calories!!!!!  Be still my ice cream loving heart!

Our local natural food store was having a great sale on this brand a couple weeks back, so Cathy and I gave a little bit of leeway to our budget and purchased two pints.  One flavor…the lemon cake.  The other…vanilla bean.

I’ve been wanting to dive into these since we bought them, but we had some cookies (ooooh…cookies!) to use up first.  And then I made a Vegan and Gluten-Free Grasshopper Pie.  But…to celebrate another marathon…we picked up a brownie from Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky, with the original thought to take it to our local ice cream shop (Comfy Cow) and have them use it in a brownie sundae.  But…with our budget tight due to some traveling for the marathon…I said we could make the sundaes at home.  She agreed that saving money was a good idea…but…the sundae had to wait until…tonight.  Three days after we purchased the brownie…we finally had a break in our dessert schedule to open up one of the ice cream pints.

The most logical choice, of course, was the Halo Top Creamy Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream.

I love vanilla.  Vanilla is the ultimate test of how good any ice cream is.  Because if you can’t make a good vanilla…you can’t make good ice cream.  Whenever I try a new ice cream brand, I usually opt for vanilla first.  This is how I judge them.  Seriously.  I am an ice cream lover from my childhood.  I know good ice cream.  Halo Top Creamy spares no expense when it comes to making their Vanilla Bean flavor.  They use pure Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Vanilla, which is the top of the line vanilla that money can buy.  Honestly.

A 1/2 cup serving of Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream
A 1/2 cup serving of Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream

So…this is how I utilized the Vanilla Bean ice cream from Halo Top Creamery.  I started off by warming up the Gluten-Free Double Fudge Brownie from Annie May’s Sweet Café.  I sliced it in half and put one half in each ice cream bowl.  Then, I warmed up some hot fudge in the microwave.  While that was warming, I scooped up a 1/2 cup serving of the Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream and gently placed it on top of the brownie slice.  Once the hot fudge was ready, I drizzled it over the top, added some chopped pecans (or walnuts on Cathy’s sundae…as she prefers walnuts and I prefer pecans).  And…it was time to dig in.

I was actually surprised with how rich and smooth this flavor was.  The ice cream, much like the ice creams made from coconut milk or soy milk, definitely aren’t as soft and pliable when scooped, but the flavor was amazing.  It crumbles a little, but that’s the nature of ice cream with very little fat in it.  And very little sugar.  In fact, one of my favorite aspects of this ice cream is that it has almost twice the protein as sugar.  How’s that for epic?  The ice cream might be a bit crumbly, but the flavor is outstanding.  You want to get good vanilla ice cream, grab a spoon and dig into this guilt-free pleasure.  The vanilla is really the star and you can tell that they pulled out all the stops when it came to creating this flavor.  I was in love at first bite.  And each one that followed, weather it was on its own or covered in fudge and accompanied by some warm brownie.

Are you drooling yet?

So, let’s look at what the Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream is made from.  The ingredients are milk and cream, cultured nonfat milk, cage-free eggs, whey, erythritol, organic cane sugar, chicory root, casein protein, organic vanilla extract, organic vanilla beans, acacia gum, sea salt, organic carob gum, organic guar gum, carrageenan, and organic stevia.  So…it has that damn carrageenan in it…but it’s not so bad otherwise.  And the FAQ on the Web site does say that their ice cream is gluten-free and vegetarian!  Some ice creams use gelatine.  Not Halo Top Creamery!

As for the nutrition information…you’ll love this.  A serving size is 1/2 cup.  In this big scoop of ice cream, you will be provided with only 70 calories and 3 grams of fat.  You will be taking in 43 mg of cholesterol, 89 mg sodium, and only 4 grams of sugar.  In addition, you will be taking in 4 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.  That’s incredible!

So, yeah…I was excited…and a bit nervous when it came to actually trying Halo Top Creamery’s All Natural Light Ice Cream.  I was afraid it would be like…the nastiness that is Arctic Zero.  GROSS!  But it turns out that, the Vanilla Bean flavor, at least, is fantastic.  It’s light and tasty and just…good.  While the texture isn’t as creamy as you’d expect, it still works and it still tastes good.  It’s one fine vanilla ice cream.  And you won’t feel guilty piling it on top of a brownie and coating it with some hot fudge.  Well, you shouldn’t at least.  Honestly…I was actually pleasantly surprised when it came to the taste, texture, and all around flavor of Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream.

Find it.  Try it.  Indulge.  Hitting the freezer has never been so guilt-free and simply delicious.

A Gluten-Free Brownie Sundae made with Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream (on a gluten-free double chocolate brownie, covered with hot fudge and chopped pecans)
A Gluten-Free Brownie Sundae made with Halo Top Creamery Vanilla Bean All Natural Light Ice Cream (on a gluten-free double chocolate brownie, covered with hot fudge and chopped pecans)

Restaurant Review: Merge, Buffalo, New York

Merge, Buffalo, New York
Merge, Buffalo, New York

Restaurant: Merge, Buffalo, New York

It had been a long day.  By the time I rolled into Buffalo, I had already gotten up early to do a shakeout run while still in Ohio, stretched, did my ab routine, pack, get the car loaded up, and make the seemingly endless drive from Columbus, Ohio all the way up to Buffalo, New York…with one stop in Erie, Pennsylvania for lunch.  Getting into Buffalo, I got checked into my hotel, hit up the race expo (I was there for a race, naturally), went back to my room, did more stretching, did some foam rolling, got things ready ahead of time so the evening wouldn’t be as hectic, and watched Food Network.

Because…that’s what I do.

HA!

But, before I knew it…it was time to head out to dinner.  I was meeting up with my good friend, Kat, and her boyfriend, Adam, for dinner that night.  It was the night before a race, so we wanted to have plenty of options for everyone.   Kat requires brown rice pasta…so we narrowed it down to three places, but in the end…chose a place called…

Merge.

Kat was very high on this place when we were trying to make the decision.  She said not only can they do a lot of their foods vegan/vegetarian, but a lot can be done gluten-free as well.  AWESOME!  Sounded perfect.  And…the menu was a little different from anything I have down this way, so that was a bonus too.  We were to meet for dinner at 5:00 p.m.  So, at around 4:15, we set out to walk from our hotel up to Merge.  It didn’t take us as long as we expected…so…we stood outside in the slightly chilly air.  Right around 5, Kat and Adam showed up…and we stepped inside.

I already liked the place.  Dimly lit…with a stage off to the right as you walk in.  We were greeted and Kat gave the reservation.  We were shown to our table and seated.  As it was pre-race, I stuck with just water to drink.  I hadn’t been too good about hydrating that day while on the road, so I wanted to make up for that a bit now.  The waiter went to retrieve drinks and we sat and perused the menu.

Now, I had looked at the menu numerous times, trying to figure out what I wanted for dinner.  Normally, pre-race means a gluten-free pizza.  And that was completely available.  HOWEVER…there were so many other delicious sounding items on the menu, that I thought, perhaps, to screw with tradition again…and do something completely different, but enough that would fuel up my muscles and top off those glycogen stores for the next morning.  I was flip-flopping.  On one hand, the gluten-free and dairy-free pizza was one with Daiya cheese, red onion, asparagus…it sounded awesome.  But…again…I can get good gluten-free pizza in Louisville.  So, it was down to trying the Gluten-Free and Vegan Mac & Cheese that Kat had told me so much about…or the special of the night…the Gluten-Free Eggplant Caponata…or the Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta.

So…while I was trying to decide, the rest of the table ordered.  Kat went with the an appetizer of the Dairy-Free Stuffed Potato Skins ($10.00) which comes with a fresh corn salad with turkey bacon, Daiya Cheese, and a Chipotle Cream and then for an entree went with the Gluten-Free Eggplant Caponata ($18.00).  Adam went with the Daily Pizza ($10.00).  Jenn chose the Sweet Basil Gnocchi (which included roasted red peppers, red onion, spinach, roasted garlic and a white wine sauce) for her meal ($15.00).  Cathy went with the Coconut Lemongrass Stir-fry ($15.00), which is a mix of organic tofu, snap peas, red onion, carrot, and rice vermicelli, served with toasted cashews, bean sprouts, and fresh lime.

And I was still stumped!

I went over my choices with the waiter to get his opinion and to maybe help me make a decision, because I was seriously waffling.  Pizza…or something different…pizza…or something different…tradition…or not….AH!  The waiter said he highly recommended the Arugula Pesto Pasta.  Kat made sure that the pesto didn’t have Parmesan in it (as someone with a dairy allergy…she knows all about the importance of asking about things like that because so many pesto recipes include Parmesan…and being lactose intolerant…I avoid all things dairy before a race).  He said that it was vegan…and so…I went with it.  Why not?!

There it was…tradition once again bucked…

I went with the Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta ($15.00), which was brown rice pasta with local tomato, red onion, spinach, and tossed with toasted walnuts.  Oooh…I’d get some nice vitamins from that spinach and some Omega from those walnuts.  Nice choice.  Glad I had some help in making it!

So, we all sat around and talked about various topics, not just running.  In fact, running didn’t really come up all that much that night.  We were just having a good time and relaxing.  Because that is important before a race.  Trust me.  The atmosphere of Merge is very conducive to that too.  It was really, really nice.  The appetizer was brought to the table and Kat let me try one of the potato skins.  I didn’t put the corn and bacon topping on it since it was real meat, but the Daiya cheese and the chipotle cream were put on the potato skin…and it was phenomenal.  Quite tasty.  I want to recreate this at home…and just might this week!  It was a great way to start off the dining experience.

But, before long our meals were being served up and we were all happily about to feast on our food of choice.

Merge's Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta
Merge’s Gluten-Free Arugula Pesto Pasta

I actually was quite happy when I took my first bite of the Arugula Pesto Pasta.  It was smooth and delicious.  I love pesto as it is…but this was really seasoned well.  It paired well with the brown rice pasta.  And the fresh vegetables that were sauteed and added to the mix just made for a nice break in the texture and a lot of added flavor as well.  LOVE.  The toasted walnuts were the perfect way to add a bit of crunch to something that would otherwise be very soft.  I told Cathy to give it a try and she loved it as well.  It’s not every day I get a plate of green pasta (ah, pesto…you’re so much fun on food!) that had so much going on and so much nutritionally sound ingredients added to it.  It was just what I think I needed that evening.  You could tell everything was fresh.  Because this pasta was perfection.  So, I broke tradition again…it was worth it for this meal.  Trust me.

Everyone else seemed to like their meals as well.  Kat’s only complaint was there was too little pasta (she’s carbing up!) in her dish…and Jenn ate around all the vegetables in hers.  The rest of us devoured everything in front of us.

The big question of dessert came up.  And…we felt it was necessary.  They had so many gluten-free and vegan options on their dessert menu…how could I pass up the opportunity?

In the end, Kat went with the Apple Cranberry Cobbler with Salty Caramel Sauce and Homemade Vanilla Soy Ice Cream ($7.00) for her dessert.  Jenn and Adam both got the Vegan Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Cream Cheese Frosting ($6.00).  And Cathy and I decided to split the Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote ($6.00).  I kind of wanted to split the Vegan and Gluten-Free Brownie Sundae…but Cathy is apparently anti-brownie these days.  So…that was a no-go.

With our orders in, we eagerly anticipated our sweet reward and end of the night treat.  After a short wait, the desserts were brought to the table.  They all looked fantastic.  Especially the carrot cake.  If only that had been gluten-free.  Then again, Cathy is anti-carrot cake as well…so it wouldn’t have done any good.  GRRRR!  Anyway…it all looked delicious and we spared no time digging in.

The Vegan Chocolate Mousse with the Spiced Berry Compote was…different.  This wasn’t your usual mousse.  It was probably made with cashew cream…which would be the reason for the grittiness to it.  In fact, it also wasn’t very fluffy or light.  More like a heavy pudding than a mousse to be sure.  That being said…the spiced berry compote was beyond delicious.  Ultimately, it was my favorite part of the dessert.  Cathy agreed.  When I think of mousse, I expect something whipped and airy and light…and this just wasn’t a mousse.

Jenn absolutely loved the carrot cake (damn it for not being gluten-free!).  Cat and Adam split each of their desserts and both seemed quite happy with their choices.  So, that was good.

We finished up dessert and wound up getting caught up in conversations again.  And soon, because they are a hot-spot in town, we were asked to leave so other people could have the table.  I needed to get back to the hotel anyway and get ready for sleep to be rested up for the morning ahead of me.

All-in-all…a great restaurant in Buffalo, New York.  I would happily eat here again without any qualms.  Everything I had was good, and sometimes even great.  My pasta was the star, for sure.  And even if the dessert didn’t wow me…it was still fantastic.  Cathy stole a bite of Jenn’s carrot cake and raved about it.  The atmosphere was amazing.  The food was delicious.  And the staff was quite accommodating.  I couldn’t have asked for a better pre-race meal.

Merge, when I come back to Buffalo, New York sometime…I hope to come back.

Merge's Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote
Merge’s Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote

Product Review: Annie May’s Sweet Café Easter Basket 2014

Annie May's Sweet Café, Louisville, Kentucky
Annie May’s Sweet Café, Louisville, Kentucky

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Café Easter Holiday Menu 2014

I am a little late on posting this blog because…life has been crazy-busy as of late.  But…I didn’t want anything to fall by the wayside, especially when it is my favorite allergen-free bakery.  Lucky me…it’s in my own hometown.  And every year, around Easter time, Annie May’s Sweet Café offers people the chance to have their own individually wrapped items for an Easter basket.  This year’s Easter Holiday Menu was enticing.  And…I told my roomie to order for me…and surprise me with what she chose for us to try.

This year brought a change to the standards normally seen on the menu.  Due to a chocolate shortage at the wholesale level, Annie May’s Sweet Café announced they would NOT be making the chocolate bunnies or chocolate candy this year.  Bummer…because that sunbutter bunny I ate last year was beyond amazing.  But…with the rising cost and lack of availability, I can’t blame them.

So…the weekend before Easter, Cathy placed an order at the bakery…and I didn’t listen in or anything.  I was so excited about being surprised with what I would find inside.  The only thing I was aware of was the 1 Dozen Gluten-Free Lemon Bars that Cathy and I had discussed purchasing, because I had been eying these on the menu every time…but they were never in the case.  And Lemon Bars are one of Cathy’s favorite thing in life.

Mine too, honestly.

So…

The Saturday before Easter, we stepped into Annie May’s Sweet Café for breakfast.  After we ate, Cathy went to get all the goodies for the Easter Basket she ordered.  We got a large pink box containing the one dozen Gluten-Free Lemon Bars.  But it was the surprises that I was ready to discover.

Turns out, Cathy put in an order for one of everything…save the Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Brownie as that item is always in the case at the bakery.  Always.  Trust me…our friend Greg always orders at least two of them.

So…here’s a review of everything inside my Gluten-Free Easter Basket of Awesome!

Gluten-Free Lemon Bars – $38.50

Annie May's Sweet Café Gluten-Free Lemon Bars
Annie May’s Sweet Café Gluten-Free Lemon Bars


One big pink box is what we brought home and immediately stuck in the refrigerator.  Because lingering inside was 12 bars of lemony goodness.  For real.  And these weren’t small bars either.  This dozen lemon bars could easily have been split in half and been enjoyed for much longer.  But where is the fun in that?  Needless to say…Cathy and I didn’t do that.  Not at all.

These bars had this delicious shortbread-like crust.  Then…the lemon curd in the center.  And a delicious sugary crust on top.  It was heaven.  Heaven with each bite.  The lemon was fantastic and refreshing.  The curd inside was soft and lemony, without being overwhelming.  That sugary crust on top added a bit of texture.  And…I think I have declared these the best gluten-free lemon bars I have tasted.

And yes…I have had a few…some from Cherbourg Bakery in Columbus, Ohio…and some from Sinfully Gluten Free in Dayton, Ohio.  But these…these from Annie May’s were the best ever.  I hope she starts putting them in the case for Saturdays…because I will literally buy them all.  Yes…they are that delicious.  Trust me…I can’t make this up.  I looked forward to dessert for six days straight!  Lemony goodness indeed!

Annie May's Sweet Café Allergen-Free Mini Oatmeal Cream Pie
Annie May’s Sweet Café Allergen-Free Mini Oatmeal Cream Pie

Allergen-Free Mini Oatmeal Cream Pie – $3.50

Annie May’s Sweet Café is known for their Oatmeal Cream Pies.  The thing is…these things are so huge at the bakery…that they can be quite daunting to eat.  This is often the treat my guests choose to eat…and then they end up taking more than half of it with them.  Oh…they are good.  Just…sometimes a bit much.

So, for Easter, Annie May’s Sweet Café downsized them.  And this…was absolutely perfect.  You know those oatmeal cream pies you’d buy at the grocery store and devour as a child.  These are sort of like that…but better.  Two soft mini oatmeal cookies surround a thick layer of frosting.  It’s sweet…with a hint of that savory oatmeal cookie appeal.  I love texture of the cookies and the way they pair well with the filling.

It might just remind you how sweet some of life’s simplest pleasures really are.  Like…cookies and icing.  Simple…but oh…so good.  And since this is one of their signature items…it’s totally worth the purchase!

Allergen-Free Mix & Match Petit Four Pack – $4.00

Annie May's Sweet Café Petit Fours
Annie May’s Sweet Café Mix & Match Petit Fours

Mmmm…little bite-size cakes of goodness.  I love petit fours.  Before I had to go gluten-free, I was often sent little petit fours at Christmas time from Swiss Colony.  So, I totally missed these little one-bite goodies.  But…not anymore.  Not at Easter.  Thanks to Cathy!

Annie May’s Sweet Café did up a four-pack of Petit Fours, two chocolate with a chocolate ganache topping, and two vanilla with a vanilla icing.  And…boy, were these ever moist.  I actually found that the vanilla was my favorite.  Not a surprise.  While I am a choc-o-holic, I also find that I prefer vanilla in some cases.  Especially when it comes to cakes.  I don’t know why…I just do.

I loved how the icing complimented the moist and sweet cake beneath.  I enjoyed having a dessert I could just pop into my mouth and not feel guilty about the little indulgence.  Not that I ever feel guilty about enjoying a dessert…but you get what I mean.  These little cakes made me so happy.  They didn’t last long if that tells you anything.

Annie May's Sweet Café Gluten-Free Decorated Sugar Cookie
Annie May’s Sweet Café Gluten-Free Decorated Sugar Cookie

Gluten-Free Decorated Sugar Cookie – $5.00

Mmmm…sugar cookies.  I never make sugar cookies.  Ever.  Well, I tried a couple of times.  It never ends well.  Ever.

So…when I see gluten-free sugar cookies in the wild…you better believe I want one.  It doesn’t get much better than a sweet, sometimes a bit gritty (mmmm…sugar!), soft cookie.  It is one of the simplest…but most amazing cookies ever made.  Almost always, sugar cookies have some sort of decorative flair to them.  Last year, Kenna (co-owner of Annie May’s Sweet Café) hand painted Peter Rabbit on the cookies.  This year, the cookie was shaped like an egg and decorated with white icing and various designs to make it look like an Easter egg.

I almost hated to cut it in half and devour it with Cathy’s assistance.  But, my sweet tooth wins out over the artistic beauty of the cookie in the end.  This sugar cookie was soft and sweet, without it being too sweet.  Even with the icing, it found a nice balance.  And it really was a beautifully decorated cookie.  Hands down one of the best, and softest, gluten-free sugar cookies I have had to date.

Gluten-Free Six-Pack Caramels – $4.50

Annie May's Sweet Café Gluten-Free Caramels
Annie May’s Sweet Café Gluten-Free Caramels


Two words.

Homemade Caramels.

I actually saved these for last.  Honestly.  I had to.  I wanted them to be last because caramel is one of my favorite things in the world.  Especially if it’s salted.  This wasn’t…but that’s okay.  Seriously.  Because caramel is the thing that delicious dreams are made of.

Always.

The caramels that Annie May’s Sweet Café put together for Easter were chewy and soft…and sweet.  I loved how stretchy it was.  But it didn’t attach itself indefinitely to your teeth either.  I could taste the sugar, and how it caramelized down into the soft candy.  These were so amazing.  They practically melted in your mouth when you took a bite.

These were love.  Soft, chewy, caramel-y love.

I’m addicted.  And the three days I had these in my life were some of my best.  More, please!

~*~*~

So…there it is…

Another Easter has come and gone…and for the second year in a row, Annie May’s Sweet Café provided me with a safe and epically sweet and delicious Easter basket.  Their Easter menu was out of this world this year.  I didn’t even miss the chocolate candies and chocolate bunny.

And seriously…if they ever start putting the lemon bars in that case…I’ll buy them all.

I’m already craving them again.

Maybe I can see about getting these for my birthday this year…

Maybe.

Thank you, Annie May’s Sweet Café, for another fantastic holiday treat.  I seriously had some of the best desserts of my life in the comfort of my own home…without having to turn on my oven once.

Now that…is one delicious treat indeed.

Restaurant Review: The Gluten Escape, Denver, Colorado

The Gluten Escape, Denver, Colorado
The Gluten Escape, Denver, Colorado

Restaurant: The Gluten Escape, Denver, Colorado

I have my friend, Pecos, to thank for turning me on to the newest gluten-free bakery near the Denver Tech Center in Denver, Colorado.  I make a yearly sojourn out to Denver for Starfest, an annual sci-fi/fantasy convention, and am always looking for places that can safely feed me.  A couple of months before I headed that way, Pecos mentioned this place on Facebook.  Sure enough, it wasn’t far from my hotel at the convention at all.  Insert a happy traveler right here!

As it turned out, we’d be hitting Denver at the right time to stop into said bakery for lunch.  And I couldn’t be happier.  Cathy and I budgeted some money (and then she added on after we settled in to eat and after purchasing a few things for later…but I’m getting ahead of myself) for this stop to be our official lunch and snack stop on Friday afternoon.  It was perfect.  And…after getting a little lost trying to find the place, we finally located it (under a storage awning, of all things).

The Gluten Escape.  Their slogan…”Where gluten is a 4-letter word…gone!”

Love it.

The bakery itself is quite small and cozy.  You see the counter with all the baked goods in the case and on top of the case the moment you walk in.  To the left is a fridge, a toaster, a microwave, and coffee/tea stuff.  To the right, a small dining area for those who are dining in.  The back and far walls had little shelves with some of the items they had for sale…as well as cakes.  Cathy scoped those out while I was preparing lunch…but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

We were greeted by a very nice gentleman behind the counter when we entered the bakery.  We told him that we were from the Louisville, Kentucky area and had been told about this bakery by a good friend of ours in the area…and we were starving travelers.  I was eying the brownies and bars in the case at the front when Cathy tapped me on the shoulder and said…”Bagels!”

The Gluten Escape's Gluten-Free Onion Bagel and Gluten-Free Cinnamon Roll
The Gluten Escape’s Gluten-Free Onion Bagel and Gluten-Free Cinnamon Roll

SOLD!!  They were out of the Everything Bagel, which would have been my first choice.  The other two options were Onion and Cinnamon Raisin.  I jumped at Cinnamon Raisin, but Cathy said…”Really?  You want that one?”  Which means…she didn’t.  So, I gave in for the Gluten-Free Onion Bagel ($3.00).  And let me tell you…this bagel looked AWESOME!!  Even better than Udi’s Gluten-Free Bagels.  All of them.  So, we got the Gluten-Free Onion Bagel with the Daiya Cream Cheese (yay for vegan cream cheese!) to split as we also purchased one of the Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls ($2.25) to split as well.

We also picked up other goodies…but I’ll get into that in a moment.

Let’s focus on lunch.  We were handed the bagel, which he sliced for us and told that the toaster was right behind us.  Awesome.  I got to work toasting it while he grabbed the dairy-free cream cheese and then the cinnamon roll.  He handed that to Cathy and told her she might want to give it a 20 second warm-up in the microwave.  Which…she did.  The toasting on the bagel was taking a bit of time and I was hoping I wasn’t going to burn it.  Because…FRESH MADE GLUTEN-FREE BAGEL!!  HELLO!!  Do you realize how uncommon that is to find??!!  Trust me…you don’t see it very often.  I don’t see it at all, honestly.  The bagel popped and I plated it and carried it to the table.  Photos happened and then I spread the bagel with the cream cheese and we each took a bite.

Holy gluten-free bagel, Batman.  This was fantastic.  It was light, not heavy.  The flavor was amazing.  You really got the onion flavor without it being overpowering.  It had that nice crust on the outside, but was still chewy and bread-y in the middle.  It was heaven.  I cried.  Seriously.  Tears of joy.  Because, save for the Udi’s processed gluten-free bagels…I hadn’t had an actual bagel since I had to go gluten-free.  This…was life changing for me.  Life affirming even.  I might survive after all.  I set the bagel down so I could try the cinnamon roll.

This was not what I was expecting when I cut the cinnamon roll in half.  Honestly.  It looked more like a muffin than the traditional cinnamon roll.  It was way different from the gluten-free cinnamon rolls that I purchase from Sinfully Gluten Free in Dayton, Ohio and Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, Kentucky.  Like I said…it looked more like a muffin.  But…we all know that cinnamon rolls are one of my favorite indulgences…and I was looking forward to splitting this with Cathy.  I sliced it in half…a pocket of cinnamon flavoring nestled right in the center.  I lifted it and took a bite.  It reminded me of…apple pie, oddly enough.  I think it was the spices that went into the dough and the cinnamon center.  I loved that it wasn’t coated in icing, but lightly drizzled.  I am not a fan of icing or frosting…so the less the better in my book.  And this definitely gave it a nice level of sweetness.  It wasn’t my favorite gluten-free cinnamon roll, but it was delicious.  And we ended up buying another one!

This brings me to our side purchases…

For breakfast the following morning, Cathy and I picked up two of the Mini Chocolate Donuts ($1.59), the Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bar, and the Lemon Raspberry Bar as well.  I would have bought one of everything if I could have afforded it.  So, after I went for a run that morning, I returned to the hotel room and got our breakfast prepped.  I sliced the bars in half and delivered those to Cathy, along with her donut.  As I was getting the rest of my breakfast ready for me to settle in and enjoy…I hear the happiest noise in the world.

The Gluten Escape's Gluten-Free Lemon Raspberry Bar, Gluten-Free Chocolate Donut, and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bar
The Gluten Escape’s Gluten-Free Lemon Raspberry Bar, Gluten-Free Chocolate Donut, and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bar

“You HAVE TO try the donut RIGHT NOW!” I was told.

So, I took a bite.

OMG…best gluten-free donut I have had yet.  From anywhere.  And, trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of gluten-free donuts…in gluten-free bakeries and the store-bought kind.  Seriously…reminded me of a Dunkin Doughnuts Chocolate Munchkin.  I was once again in tears.  It was a cake doughnut, but without the denseness and heaviness that I often find with gluten-free donuts.  These were light and airy, and amazing.  The chocolate chips inside were a very nice treat as well.  I was starting off breakfast with a bang.  YUMMY!!

The next thing I sampled was the Gluten-Free Lemon Raspberry Bar ($3.75).  This had this delicious crust and was topped with a sweet and tart lemon filling and then capped with something akin to raspberry jam or compote.  Whatever it was…the flavor combination was awesome.  The crust gave it a little bit of texture as well as dulled the sweetness of the berries and the tartness of the lemon.  I liked this bar a lot, but found myself wishing that it was just the lemon on there.  I love raspberries and all…but LEMON…is the ultimate bar.  Forever.

The Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bar ($3.75) snagged my attention away from the brownies that were in the case.  Those were tempting too.  But…pretzel!  HELLO!  This was a lot like a blondie…but with gluten-free pretzels baked into it and scattered across the top.  I’m thinking…sweet with salty.  I was right.  This bar was fantastic.  The pretzels were slightly on the stale side, but that’s because I had bought them the day before and they were sitting on top of one of the tables in the hotel room all night.  It didn’t take away from the deliciousness though.  I loved the play and sweet and salty, which is my favorite flavor combination  These were amazing.  For real.

The Gluten Escape's Gluten-Free Snickerdoodle Cookie
The Gluten Escape’s Gluten-Free Snickerdoodle Cookie

Later on that day, Cathy and I decided to have a snack.  We indulged in some fruit we had picked up at the grocery store.  And with it, we split the Gluten-Free Snickerdoodle Cookie ($2.50) that we also purchased while there.  This was my first time ever encountering a crispy snickerdoodle cookie.  But…the flavors were spot on.  The sweetness from the sugar, the heat from the cinnamon.  Snickerdoodles, as we all know, are my absolute favorite cookie and these were different from what I’m used to, but I loved it all the same.  So, it wasn’t the chewy cookie I associate snickerdoodles with.  Didn’t matter.  It tasted like a snickerdoodle.  That’s what counts, yes?  RIGHT!

I won’t lie…the buying didn’t stop there.  Nope.  Not at all.  Before we left the bakery on Friday afternoon, Cathy pointed out the Gluten-Free Biscotti and the Gluten-Free Puppy Chow on one of the shelves.  I also found a Pumpkin Spice Granola Bar that was definitely intriguing, since pumpkin flavored everything rules!  I ended up buying the Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Granola Bar ($2.25), the Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Biscotti ($1.95), the Grain Free Mocha Almond Biscotti ($3.25), and a container of the Gluten-Free Puppy Chow ($3.99-ish?).

The Gluten Escape's Gluten-Free Puppy Chow
The Gluten Escape’s Gluten-Free Puppy Chow

I tried the Puppy Chow on Monday morning on my way to the airport.  Cathy and I needed to swing by Voodoo Donut to pick up some dounuts for a co-worker of ours.  So, while there, Cathy ordered a donut for herself.  As for me…it was Puppy Chow time.  The Gluten Escape’s Puppy Chow is a mix of Chex cereal, puffed rice, pretzels, and corn flakes.  They are dusted in powdered sugar.  And it was really, really good.  I loved the different textures and flavors with each bite.  You got the salty from the pretzels, the sweet from the cereal, and each cereal was different, making it crunchy or softer or just snack-able by the handful.  I loved it.  I ate half of it before hitting the airport and brought the other half to the office with me the following day.

The Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Granola Bar was…lacking sweetness, in my opinion.  It was good.  And they definitely had the right pumpkin spice flavor down.  It wasn’t overpowering.  But…the bar just seemed flat.  It was very crunchy, which is fine…granola bars can go either way.  But I kept waiting on something that would sweeten the deal.  Like chocolate chips or something.  I just think it needed a touch of sugar (not too much…just something to elevate it).  Regardless, it was good and I downed that entire thing at the office.

As for the two biscotti that I chose…WOW!!  Just…WOW!!  They complimented my morning coffee beautifully for one thing.  The first one that Cathy and I tried (we split them) was the Grain Free Mocha Almond Biscotti.  OH MY GOD!!  So delicious.  I enjoyed dunking it in my coffee and just having that flavor mingle and mix.  Oh…it was divine.  And totally made my morning, if you couldn’t tell.  The Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Biscotti was the same way.  I loved the crispness that would soften when dunked in the coffee and the chocolate chips were a nice lingering sweet touch.  I was in total coffee heaven those mornings.  Seriously.  I will probably buy whatever biscotti they have next time I am in town.  For real.  That…was love at first bite for sure!

I know that Colorado is a hotbed for gluten-free companies and businesses…and I love visiting there for that reason.  But, if you happen to be near the Denver Tech Center (DTC)…I strongly encourage you to take the trip up the road to The Gluten Escape and indulge in some of their daily specials and their baked goods.  Everything looked fantastic.  I really would have purchased one of everything had the budget and my belly allowed.  But, that’s why there is always a next time.  And there will be a next time.

Beyond impressed!

The Gluten-Escape's Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Granola Bar, Grain-Free Mocha Almond Biscotti, and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Biscotti
The Gluten-Escape’s Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Granola Bar, Grain-Free Mocha Almond Biscotti, and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Annie May’s Sweet Café gives Louisville amazing Maple Caramel Blondies

Annie May's Sweet Café Maple Caramel Blondie
Annie May’s Sweet Café Maple Caramel Blondie

Product: Annie May’s Sweet Café Maple Caramel Blondies – $3.00

I have to give another huge shout-out to my favorite place in Louisville.  Whenever I am out of town, I miss arriving on Saturday morning to get a delicious vegan/allergen-free breakfast sandwich.  I miss talking to the owners and employees behind the counter.  I miss hearing my roommate talk about how many miles I just finished running and how now it was time to indulge in some allergen-free doughnuts and breakfast!

Annie May’s Sweet Café is my happy place.  I make a habit to frequent their little spot on Frankfort Avenue whenever I am in town.  I have never had anything there that I didn’t care for.  In fact, my eyes have been opened to the amazing gluten-free baked goods that continue to churn out.  And, every now and again, they introduce something new and spectacular…and if I happen to be around for it…you better believe I am going to purchase it to try.

This past weekend, Annie May’s Sweet Café rolled out Maple Caramel Blondies.  I saw them post about them on their Facebook page.  I had been out of town the two weekends prior, so now that I was back, I was hitting up the café for breakfast after an 18 mile run…then going out to a Gluten-Free Fair and Fundraiser later that afternoon.  While they had the Maple Caramel Blondies at the café that morning…I saved that purchase for the fair.

After feasting on an amazing gluten-free crepe from Sweet ‘N’ Savory food truck, I bounced over to say “HI” to Annie May and Kenna, who were manning the table at the Gluten-Free Fair and Fundraiser.  While there, I made a purchase of one of their gluten-free Maple Caramel Blondies ($3.00).  They chose me to find one with lots of maple swirled in there…and I was more than happy to oblige.  YUM YUM!

But…the weekend was a busy one…and I had a gluten-free sponge cake to polish off.  Then my roomie had her last wisdom tooth removed…so the Maple Caramel Blondie sat on my kitchen counter until Wednesday.  But…that didn’t affect it one bit.

Over the entire weekend and into half the week, this blondie was still very light and moist.  I sliced it in half…eager to get a sample of this bar.  Trust me…I think I started drooling when they posted about them.  And I had been thinking about it all weekend…and up until dessert on Wednesday.  The moment of truth was here.

I handed Cathy her half…then settled in with mine.

FLAVOR TOWN!!  I mean…wow.  First of all…this is exactly how I like my brownies/blondies.  It had more of a cake-like texture.  I totally prefer a cake-like brownie to a fudge-like brownie any day.  They are lighter, fluffier, and not as dense or heavy.  The blondie itself was really good.  Not overly sweet, which is good, because swirled throughout it was this fantastic caramel and maple flavor.  I mean…WOW!!  You can see it blended into the baked blondie.  Yes…this was simply awesome.  Cathy thought so too, because she eating another one tonight, but stupid shoppers that we are…we had only bought the one.

So…here is hoping that Annie May’s keeps these in the bake case for awhile.  TOTALLY yummy!

No one would ever guess they were allergen-free…unless you told them.

So…thank you once again, Annie May’s…for making gluten-free look and taste so, so damn good!

Annie May's Sweet Café Maple Caramel Blondie (unwrapped)
Annie May’s Sweet Café Maple Caramel Blondie (unwrapped)

Two decadent bites of dark chocolate brownie bliss from Udi’s Gluten-Free

Udi's Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites
Udi’s Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites

Product: Udi’s Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites – $5.99+

Nothing is quite as indulgent, quite as sinful, quite as delicious as dark chocolate.  It is, by far, my favorite type of chocolate.  And a little can go a long way.  Maybe that’s what I love about dark chocolate.  It’s rich and decadent and bittersweet…so overindulging doesn’t really come into the equation.

A long time ago…no joke…I spotted Udi’s Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites in my grocer’s gluten-free freezer section.  Being the chocoholic that I am…I had to have them.  And, my roommate was feeling generous that day and offered to purchase them for me as a treat.  I had just baked something for dessert that would last a week or so, so these went back into the freezer upon our return home that day.  And there they sat.  When I bought them, they were relatively new to the market and one of Udi’s new products.  These…these are probably old news to much of the gluten-free world these days.  But, seeing as I finally dug them out of the freezer yesterday…well…it’s my turn to taste and tell.

Udi’s Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites are beyond amazing.  Each brownie is baked inside a mini cupcake wrapper and is about 2-bites per brownie.  And these are rich and totally satisfying.  I want to take smaller bites just to make them last longer, honestly.  The dark chocolate brownie base is like a moist, soft cake.  I loved it.  And each brownie is infused with fudgy bits of dark chocolate, perfect to melt on your tongue as you savor each sweet bite.  Do you realize how difficult it was for me to resist going back for more?  If it weren’t for the fact that I know how many servings are in that plastic container, I’d probably be swiping some…constantly…because I love that delicious chocolate flavor.  It’s just enough, in each bite, to wake up the palate and keep things interesting.  Those dark chocolate chips that are baked into each one…are heaven when you find them.  I was in brownie heaven last night.  It’s not often I say nice things about pre-packaged brownies…but these were so incredibly moist, soft, decadent, and delicious.  They needed to be raved about.

Honestly, I’ve come up with dessert ideas that revolve around these little bite-size brownies of awesomesauce!

We are talking a snack and sweet treat here, so nutritionally speaking…keep that in mind.  A serving size is two of these little two-bite brownies.  That will set you back 180 calories and 8 grams of fat.  A serving also provides you with 100 mg sodium, 16 grams of sugar (it’s dessert…it’s dessert…it’s dessert), 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein.

Treat these brownie bites as they are intended…as a bite-size treat.  The entire container doesn’t need to be consumed all in one or two sittings.  It’s best to savor…or…expand on it with little touches of your own.  A mini scoop of ice cream, some nuts, whatever your heart desires.  Just know that when that chocolate craving hits…whether you are gluten-free or not…these are the little treats you should be consuming…because they are just that awesome.  I wouldn’t lie.  In fact, I can’t wait to get to dessert tonight.  Four bites of heaven.  I can’t wait.

Gluten-Free in Disney World a walk in the park

Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World
Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World

For the first time in my life…I was excited to be heading to Disney.  Yes…I’m in my thirties.  No…I’ve never been to a Disney park.  No Disneyland.  No Disney World.  My family could never afford to go when I was growing up…so that was one thing many of my friends had done that I hadn’t yet achieved.  It was certainly on my bucket list, and from what I had been told…I’d enjoy it more now that I was older anyway.

That being the case…the perfect opportunity to go there arose with the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  Originally, I was going to run this one in 2012, but I didn’t have the money for it.  So, the moment registration opened for the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, you better believe I was registered and ready to run.  The way I figured it…if I went ahead and registered, I couldn’t talk myself out of it due to financial reasons.  No looking back.  I signed up the minute registration was opened…and I was locked in.

Disney World.

Trust me…I do not travel without doing some research as to what I might be able to eat.  Thankfully, Disney World is pretty much the #1 go-to vacation spot if you have food allergies…especially Celiac or gluten intolerance.  Trust me.  I was expecting to have to eat many a Go Picnic meal while on vacation, but I only had to break into one of the little packs I brought…and that was at the Atlanta airport on the way home.  That definitely speaks very highly of the park and of Disney.

So…here I go with yet another combination blog about my amazing dining experiences while at Disney World.  I wanted to be particularly safe in my food choices being that I was there to run a half marathon and being glutenized while on vacation sucks enough…but being glutenized before running 13.1 miles sucks even more.

Safety was key…and I never felt as if I were in any danger of becoming sick at any dining establishment where my roommate and I chose to dine.

I suppose the best place to start…is at the beginning of the trip…

Sanaa - Animal Kingdom Lodge
Sanaa – Animal Kingdom Lodge

Restaurant: Sanaa – The Animal Kingdom Lodge

What better way to experience Animal Kingdom, our first park of choice, than by eating at the Animal Kingdom Lodge that night for dinner.  What really added to the ambiance of this particular dining attraction was that you could literally gaze out of the window and see exotic animals roaming around the Sunset Savanna as you eat.  The cuisine is African-inspired with Indian flavored.  Mmmm…I totally dig Indian food.

My roommate and I arrived about 15 minutes ahead of our reservation.  As we checked in, the hostess said that she saw that there was one person in the party with a gluten allergy.  I nodded and said that it was me.  She handed us our little pager thingy and we took a seat to wait for our table.  Despite arriving early, we were taken back as soon as something opened up…which was just before our reservation time anyway.

I loved the dimly lit quarters in which diners were seated.  All around were decorations from Africa, really adding to the

Hazelnut Rooibos Tea
Hazelnut Rooibos Tea

amazing feel of the restaurant itself.  And, once seated, our waiter came over to the table to get our drink order and talk about some specials.  I went ahead and ordered a hot tea to go with my dinner, settling on the Hazelnut Rooibos tea ($6.29) with some water.

As he was going over some of the favorites on the menu, he noted that I had the gluten-free menu in front of me and said that a chef would be out to talk to me specifically about the menu, but that if anything on the regular menu looked like it had gluten in it…it was not on mine.  Just as he was starting to go over the gluten-free bread option should I want to do the Indian-style bread service, which means I get poppadoms instead of the traditional bread, the chef, Jake, came out to speak to me about the menu.

Chef Jake really did a lot to put my mind to ease.  Not only did he promise to watch my ticket carefully as it was prepared, he also went over the poppadoms that I could use for the Indian-style bread service, should I choose to do that.  He went over which sauces/chutneys would be okay with that (they were listed on the menu) and said that I could put my mind to ease…as they would take good care of me.  I thanked him for his time and he returned to the kitchen, leaving us once again in the capable hands of our server, Chris.

With a little bit of time to decide on what we wanted, my roommate and I placed our orders.  Cathy decided on the Chicken Tandoori Pilaf ($17.99).  As for me…the Sanaa Vegetarian Sampler ($14.99) sounded awesome.  I was able to choose two of the five vegetarian dishes and have them served with basmati rice.  I was able to choose between Paneer Tikka; Stewed Lentils; Spicy Peas, Chickpeas, and Potatoes; Mixed Seasonal Greens and Tomatoes; Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  I knew for certain I wanted the Vindaloo-style Vegetables, so the difficult part was deciding what the other choice would be.  After a little back and forth, I chose the Stewed Lentils as my second option.

Chris went to put in the order and I left my fate in the hands of Chef Jake and his knowledgeable kitchen staff.

Sanaa's Vegetarian Sampler - Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables
Sanaa’s Vegetarian Sampler – Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables

Food arrived at our table and I couldn’t wait to try it out.  It looked fantastic.  Three bowls were placed before me.  The middle one held the basmati rice, the one on the left had my tewed lentils, and the one on the right had the vindaloo-style vegetables.  It smelled fantastic and I couldn’t wait to dig in.

The basmati rice was perfect with each of these dishes…for one thing.  And the rice was cooked to perfection and lightly flavored, so as not to take away from the dishes that accompanied it.  I started with the Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  This dish included a blend of okra, tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower and onion.  It wasn’t packed with flavor…as I was expecting a bit of a spice to accompany it.  But, that being said, it wasn’t lacking either.  I thought this was going to be the highlight of my sampler…but it was slightly too mild for me and definitely not as full of flavor as I anticipated.  That being said, it did taste good.  I just was familiar with my last vegetarian vindaloo experience where I had a lot of heat in each bite.  This wasn’t at all bad…it just wasn’t as fantastic as I had built it up in my mind.

The stewed lentils, however, are another story.  These golden lentils were not only packed with protein (me and my protein!), but also seasoned to perfection.  They were creamy and had a hint of spice to them that I enjoyed.  I dished some rice into them and it was a perfect combination when mixed together.  I loved the texture and taste of these lentils.  Nothing grainy…nothing too bland.  Perfection.  These thrilled me.

Despite being full, Chris talked my roommate and I into dessert.  As we were both rather full, we decided to split something.  And the dessert menu at Sanaa was not lacking as far as gluten-free options went.  As we were splitting, Cathy and I chose to try our waiter’s suggestion, the Banana Kulfi Sundae ($5.49), which he described as a banana split without the banana.  Well, I was totally sold!

Sanaa's Banana Kulfi Sundae
Sanaa’s Banana Kulfi Sundae

The dessert was brilliant.  A cube of banana flavored kulfi (which is sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk that is flavored) is served with a wedge of dried pineapple, warm chocolate sauce, strawberries, a dollop of whipped cream, and spiced cashews.  Kulfi is a bit denser than ice cream and actually takes longer to melt.  Pretty awesome.  And the dessert…was fantastic.  Amazingly tasty.  I especially loved the strawberries that came on the side.  I tried to mix as many of the components together for a bite and it was magical.  I suggest to anyone dining at Sanaa they save room for dessert and give the Banana Kulfi Sundae a try.  Trust me…it was worth the extra money and indulgence.

Sanaa was certainly a good way to kick off my week at Disney World.  I was put to total ease from the moment I checked in and never felt like I needed to second guess any of the food placed in front of me.  Total win.

Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant - Downtown Disney
Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Well, by now, you know how it is when a pub is in the vicinity with my roommate and I.  We definitely love our pub grub.  She definitely always has more of a selection because being gluten-free at a pub is definitely not easy and being a vegetarian on top of it…even more difficult.  But, I still love the atmosphere of Irish pubs and we chose this one specifically because of how it was rated with gluten-free fare.  Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant is located in the bustling, busy, crowded Downtown Disney.

Let me preface this by saying that of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one was my least favorite.  There were options on the menu for me…many dishes being labeled as having a gluten-free version of it (and yes…this included the fish and chips).  So, that was very calming for me as far as menu choices went.  The thing was…beyond a salad, there wasn’t too much for a vegetarian to have…aside from the Raglan Risotto…which I almost settled on.  The server said I could also enjoy the Portobello Beauty Sandwich without the bread.  But…with all that being said…I decided to stick with something I could pretty much guarantee wouldn’t make me sick.

Let it be known, Cathy cannot enter a pub without getting the Fish and Chips ($19.00) which she always gets with a drink, and since they had Magners ($7.00 – and it’s gluten-free) on tap…she was definitely one happy girl.

I decided to stick with water for my beverage and finally settled on one of the salads on the menu that was vegetarian and gluten-free.  My choice…the Vroom Salad ($12.00) with a helping of some gluten-free carbs…a side of their fries (or chips as they say in Ireland) ($5.00), which would be prepared gluten-free for me.

Dinner arrived at our table.  My roommate loved how her fish and chips were served traditionally…wrapped in paper and poured out onto her plate.  She loved the tartar sauce that came with it.  She did enjoy the fish, but the chips lacked.

As for me…the Vroom Salad intrigued me right away.  The Vroom Salad is made up of gluten-free quinoa grains with cider vinegar marinated

Raglan Road's Vroom Salad with a side of Chips
Raglan Road’s Vroom Salad with a side of Chips

beans, sweet and sour carrots, watercress, and served with a honey mustard dressing.  It was presented in the center of a plate in a pile, which I totally destroyed with my fork to scatter things about the plate and mix with the dressing.

As far as a salad goes…this one was actually one of the better offerings I have had at a pub.  The addition of the quinoa was a fantastic protein-packed addition to the usual greens and vegetables that I get stuck with at such establishments.  The flavors from the beans and carrots only heightened the flavor of the salad.  I felt they were a little heavy-handed with the watercress, but it added a nice green throughout the salad, once I mixed it up.  The watercress was the most unwieldy part of this salad.  It was the best part of this meal.

That being said…my roommate and I were more than disappointed with the chips.  These fries were mostly soggy and lacking that firm crunch I love on the outside of fries.  I don’t get to eat fries out much, so I was looking forward to these.  And they were a huge disappointment in the end.  I ate more of them than I intended, but as I was paying for them…it seemed like I had to put some effort into it.

Would I go back to Raglan Road on a follow-up visit?  Not likely.  Which is too bad…because I do love pubs.

No dessert…instead my roommate and I hit up Downtown Disney Babycakes NYC bakery for a gluten-free cookie sandwich.  My favorite thing I ate all night.  But I’ll get to Downtown Disney’s brach of Babcakes NYC soon enough…

Sunshine Seasons - Epcot
Sunshine Seasons – Epcot

Restaurant: Sunset Seasons – Epcot

With all the food options available at Epcot…there was very little around the park that I could actually eat.  Today was the day before the race and I needed to be very sure about the food I consumed.  One bit of cross contamination could be disastrous for me and my race that I paid so much to run and trained hard for in the cold weather of Indiana.

My roommate already knew what she was going to consume at the park – Lamb Schwarma Platter ($12.99) from Tangierine Cafe in Morocco.  That plate of food came complete with her protein of choice (lamb) as well as a side of hummus, tabouleh and a Tangierine couscous salad with fresh Moroccan bread.  We had met up with our friend Indy, who was also running in the race, and she ventured over to Japan for some sushi.  This only left me to find food.  And while I hoped for some gluten-free vegetarian sushi, I was informed that only the Tariyaki Salmon was gluten-free in Japan.  No good.  I left feeling down.  Looked like it was back to the original plan for me that day…grabbing something at Sunshine Seasons in the food court at Epcot.

I was told they were famous for their soups…but it was hot outside and I wasn’t feeling soup.  I checked out some of the grab-and-go options…including the sushi…but not gluten-free.  Of course.  *sigh*  With no other options, it looked like I was having yet another salad.  We spoke to the person at the salad bar to find out if the Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad ($7.89) was gluten-free.  She wasn’t certain, so she went to check with the chef.  He said that as long as there was no cracker served with it…it would be okay for me.

I wasn’t feeling it…but I was hungry.  So…that’s what I ordered.

Sunshine Season's Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad
Sunshine Season’s Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad

The salad was rather small, comparatively speaking.  It was basically roasted red and yellow beets, served over lightly dressed spring greens.  Generous heaps of goat cheese were served with it.  And, on top, cinnamon-roasted pecans to add a bit of texture and flavor.  The entire salad was dressed with a mild honey-sherry dressing.

It was…okay.  I liked the nuts and goat cheese the best.  The beets were, actually, a good choice for the day before the race.  But there was nothing really great about this meal.  Grab-and-go is not my favorite thing as it is…and food courts are…not always the best option as a go-to for me.  But…I had to eat.  While all the flavors worked together…this just wasn’t what I really wanted that day, so it paled in comparison to anything else I could have sought out.  The problem was…this was all there was.  So, while the salad was good…it wasn’t amazing.  And I probably wouldn’t order it again even if it were the only option once again.

Meh.

Damn you Epcot and your lack of gluten-free, vegetarian ethnic food throughout your showcases.

Riverside Mill Food Court
Riverside Mill Food Court

Restaurant: Riverside Mill Food Court – Port Orleans Riverside

This…was not a planned food stop on this trip.  Not at all.  But…here’s the thing.  I am an athlete through and through and I have my traditions and my superstitious.  And here is the thing…before every big or long race I run…I love to have gluten-free pizza.  And if pizza is not available, gluten-free pasta will do in a pinch.  But it’s that gluten-free pizza that seems to power me through the following morning.  And after spending the day at Epcot and only consuming a small salad…I needed something that would give me some energy for the early morning race (the race kicks off at 5:30 a.m.).

Panic mode.  None of the restaurants that have gluten-free pizza were in range of the resort.  My roomie and I were staying at Port Orleans Riverside.  And we had made it back over that way when I said I needed to have my gluten-free pizza/pasta tradition.  Honestly…this isn’t something I take lightly.  But with nothing close…I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this.

My roommate went to speak to the concierge on duty.  His name was Will and he was fantastic.  He said he knew how difficult it was to be a Celiac and said he would see what he could do to help.  He picked up the phone and called down to the food court in the resort to see if there was something they could help me with.  He was told to send us down and have us ask to see as chef.  We thanked him for his help and meandered that way.

Chef Will (from Columbus, Ohio) came out to see us and we explained that I was running in the half marathon the next morning and have a tradition of either gluten-free pizza or pasta prior to the race.  He said he could prepare either one of them for me.  So, my roommate and I each decided to get one of the gluten-free pizzas.  She could have actually gotten anything from the food court, but I think she was just trying to keep it simple.  Chef Will went to go prepare two gluten-free cheese pizzas for us (individual size) and I was forever grateful and already feeling better about the run in the morning.  He went over to the kitchen at Boatwright’s Dining Hall to actually cook the pizzas.  Then, after they were ready, he walked them out himself.

Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza
Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza

Pre-race, individual size, gluten-free cheese pizza ($8.99) made specifically because I had a dietary need…from the Riverside Mill Food Court.  I was impressed.

The pizza was…not one of the better ones I’ve had.  The usual rice cracker crust with pasta sauce and some cheese…warmed through and put onto plates.  Nothing special.  Nothing fantastic.  Nothing that made it stand out from some of the other places I have dined on gluten-free pizza.  But at the moment…nothing could have tasted better.  I appreciate the effort that Port Orleans Riverside put forth for me, specifically the help that both Will and Chef Wes gave to me to help me get the food I needed the night before my reason for being in town.

Huge sigh of relief.  Mediocre pizza…but man…that night…it tasted oh, so good!

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano - Hollywood Studios
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Restaurant: Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one, ironically, was my favorite.  Really.  I say ironically because it is, after all, an Italian restaurant and for the most part…Italian food is a no-go for the gluten-free diet.

Unless places can accommodate patrons.

And this place was rated high on how they can deal with food allergies…specifically gluten-free dining.

We arrived a little early for our reservation, but they didn’t mind.  A short wait and we were still seated ahead of our reservation time.  Loved that.  Our server, Elizabeth S., came to the table and noted the tag marked “ALLERGY.”  She inquired as to what the allergy was and I told her gluten.  She said the chef would be out to speak to me about my options.

A few moments later, Chef Michael was coming to the table to talk about the menu.  He said that the pastas could be made gluten-free…and he

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

also had gluten-free flatbreads and dinner rolls.  And, should there be room for dessert…a gluten-free flourless cake.  He asked if I knew what I wanted and I explained that since I was a vegetarian as well, I was really looking at the Spaghetti Marinara ($14.99).  He said that he could even throw in some vegetables for me if I would like.  I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like…so I told him I was totally game for that and he could have some fun with it.  He asked if I was interested in the gluten-free dinner rolls, and I had run 13.1 miles that day…so of course I was.

That being decided he returned to the kitchen and Elizabeth returned to the table.  Cathy opted for the Spaghetti with Meatballs and a Four Cheese Sauce ($18.99), which came with complimentary bread.

This would also be a great time to mention that my gluten-free dinner rolls…were also complimentary.  No charge.  Not at all.  And I was given 3 in my basket when they came out to the table…warm and ready to eat.  I broke one open and took a bite.  Delicious.  It tasted like what I remember a honey wheat bread to taste like.  But…it was completely gluten-free…warm…amazing…soft…and just plain YUMMY!

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael's Vegetable Selection
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael’s Vegetable Selection

Entrees arrived at the table and I was taken aback by just how much food was in that bowl.  Lots of pasta.  Lots and lots of pasta.  And my favorite part was the plethora of vegetables that Chef Michael added to my dish.  I found carrots, broccoli, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms.  It was so much fun seeking out those little morsels and mixing them with the rice noodles and the delicious marinara.  I fell in love with this meal.  So much.  And, sadly, there was a lot of it.  I couldn’t finish it.  But I at least did the chef justice by eating every last vegetable I could find in that bowl.  It was a treasure hunt and I enjoyed every single bite of it.

As I had two dinner rolls remaining, I chose to take those with me to have as lunch while out and about in the parks the following day.  We were heading back to Epcot and I knew there was little for me to eat there…so now I had something that could quell any hunger pains before dinner that night.

Now…if you will recall…I mentioned that this was my favorite place I dined while in Disney World.  And, for me, that meant…I wanted more.  I was so intrigued by this gluten-free flatbread that I asked if, perhaps, on our last day there…if we could go back for dinner.  We had a big breakfast planned that morning but nothing else, and I figured we’d want something to eat before heading back to the resort to finish packing and turn in for the night.

The problem was…there was no reservations available for us.  We checked with the concierge at Port Orleans Riverside the night before…but nothing.  We checked again the following morning…still nothing.  So, it seemed we were out of luck.  On a whim, however, we decided to at least hop down to Hollywood Studios that evening to see if they might be taking walk ins.  That…was a negative.  However, the hostess did tell us to check back around 6:30 p.m. if we wanted to wait that long (it was just over an hour wait), because some people never turn up for their reservation, opting to go to the Fantasmic! show instead.

I was starving by this point, mind you, and the thought of waiting that long was daunting.  However, hopping the bus back to Port Orleans Riverside to dine on Go Picnic meals on our last night in Disney World was less than exciting.  Our other option was Sanaa, but online reservations would have us at 6:50.  Might as well wait until 6:30 here at Mama Melrose’s and see if something opened up.  If not…we’d figure something out…

Luck was with us that night.  We turned back up at 6:30 p.m. as instructed.  The hostess radioed back to see if they could take a party of two…and they could.  It meant a 20 minute wait, but I had already come this far to eat here again, I wasn’t going to stop now.  I think our wait was actually less than 20 minutes…but well worth it.  We were seated, and the allergy tag was stuck on the table once again.  Our waitress tonight was Rose.  She said that we might have to wait a little on the chef tonight, as a party of 14 was seated near us and they had kids with multiple food allergies.

The wait was well worth it.  Chef Michael came to our table and welcomed us back, already setting a basket of gluten-free dinner rolls down.  He remembered us!!  Two nights ago he made me a fantastic Spaghetti Marinara.  And we told him that we had returned tonight, since he intrigued us by gluten-free flatbread and flourless chocolate cake.

Cathy and I chose to split the Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($12.99).  He said he would get right to work on that and would keep in mind the

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread

flourless chocolate cake.  YAY!  Rose came over to record the order to put it into the system and let us sit and enjoy our hot dinner rolls.  Chef Michael returned with some olive oil and spices to dip our rolls in, as well as some fresh butter to spread over it should we choose.  We did both.  And both were delicious choices.  We actually devoured all of the rolls before the flatbread came to the table.

The Wild Mushroom Flatbread is sort of like a pizza.  This one is a gluten-free flatbread crust that is topped with roasted cremini and button mushrooms, a garlic-shallot spread, and then finished off with the most amazing balsamic reduction.  This was complete love at first bite.  The balsamic reduction was the best touch for this, but all of the components worked together.  And the gluten-free flatbread was beyond fantastic.  Finally…a “pizza” I could really enjoy on this trip.  Amazing.  We had no trouble splitting this and polishing it off.

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode

As for that flourless chocolate cake though…the chef searched high and low…and couldn’t find one.  But here is where the magic of Disney happens.  Because he had promised it…he instead sent out a gluten-free brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce…free of charge.  The brownie was crisp on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  And the cold ice cream sitting on top of it only enhanced the already amazing chocolate flavor of the brownie.  Right here is proof enough that gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless or hard or dense.  This brownie was hot, rich, and packed with fudgy chocolate flavor.  It was a truly decadent and sinful treat.  But it was our last night there…and I was ready to indulge.

A very nice tip was left for our waitress and lots of praise and thanks were shared with the hostess to pass on to Chef Michael.

And I would dine here over and over again…and next time I’m at Disney…I will do just that.

La Hacienda de San Angel - Epcot
La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Restaurant: La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Epcot…oh, Epcot.  Returning to the land of very little food for me.  But this was different.  This was dinner.  And the one place that my roomie researched when it came to gluten-free options was this beautiful Mexican restaurant in the World Showcase of Epcot.  The restaurant – La Hacienda de San Angel.

Now…I love authentic Mexican food.  I don’t eat much of it anymore because there are just too many factors that go into the food that could lead to cross contamination.  But the reviews about this place were a huge help and brought a sense of comfort with the service and the food that would be served.

In fact, it was stated online that La Hacienda de San Angel makes their own gluten-free corn tortillas in house!  This was exciting news.  My roommate took the time to print off the vegetarian menu from the Internet prior to leaving, so I had an idea of what I was going to get from that.  The Enchaladas de Vegetales actually sounded very appetizing to me as that day I was suffering a little from the banana split I had for dessert the night before (too much dairy!).  So, with an off stomach…Mexican food was sounding very daunting…but I wanted to give this a go.

We showed up early to the restaurant.  Actually, we thought we were right on time, given that there was a huge line that we went to stand in just to reach the hostess outside of the restaurant.  But, after a few minutes of standing there, the entire line cleared up.  So we were now a good 40 minutes early for our reservation.  The hostess looked up our reservation and sent us through the doors to the restaurant to have a seat and wait.  I actually anticipated waiting the entire time, but we were actually shown to our seats soon after that.

Our waiter let us slide into our booth and then he settled a napkin on each of our laps.  Ooooh….fancy.  I suddenly felt under-dressed now.  This happens every time I get a napkin placed on my lap.  But, you know…they didn’t seem to care about my jeans and t-shirt at all.  So, that fleeting moment of fashionista critic passed in a blink.  We were handed menus and asked what we would like to drink.  I once again stuck to water.

And here…was where a wave of panic settled in.  I started to peruse the menu…and save for the Ensalada de la Hacienda…there wasn’t much for me to eat.  Upon the return of our server, we were asked if we knew what we wanted to eat.  I explained that I was a gluten-free vegetarian and he said that they could easily whip up their Tacos de Vegetales (Vegetable Tacos) for me on corn tortillas.  I decided that would be much preferable to yet another salad and gave a nod of approval and said that sounded fantastic.

While we waited on our food, our server brought out the house made (and gluten-free) corn tortilla chips with two different types of salsa.  One red.  One green.  The red one was robust in tomato flavor and had a nice kick to it.  But, surprisingly, it was the salsa verde that I fell in love with.  I normally go for that heat kick, but the sweet salsa verde blended so well with the corn tortilla chips.  I couldn’t stop dipping into it.  But I knew I had tacos on the way, so I kept my pre-meal chip snack to a bare minimum.

Cathy ordered the Tacos de Camarones ($23.95).  These were basically flour tortilla tacos that were filled with fried shrimp, cabbage, lime, salsa verde, and a chipotle-lime aioli.  It was the chipotle-lime aioli that caught her eye.  In fact…she said that the description reminded her a lot of the shrimp tempura tacos that she gets at our local eatery, Dragon King’s Daughter (locations in New Albany, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky).  And when they arrived, they actually sort of resembled that too, save for the addition of the cabbage.

My Tacos de Vegetales ($19.95) were a similar story.  I was so impressed with these…and that was at first glance when they set them down in

La Hacienda de San Angel's Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)
La Hacienda de San Angel’s Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)

front of me.  These corn tortillas were stuffed full of grilled vegetables, cabbage, roasted corn, black beans, and topped with a little queso fresco.  My tacos were also topped off with a bit of the chipotle-lime aioli as well and…yeah…it was magic.  A Mexican fiesta in my mouth for sure.  The depth of flavor in these simple tacos was astounding.  The black beans were awesome and added a nice protein aspect as well as a richness that the tacos really needed.  The cabbage gave it some crunch.  And the roasted corn and grilled veggies were delicious.  The corn was the star of the tacos though.  Roasted to perfection and full of flavor.  I devoured all three of the tacos on my plate.

La Hacienda de San Angel's sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans
La Hacienda de San Angel’s sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans

Our meals were served with sides of refried black beans and Mexican rice.  The rice was fantastically seasoned and spiced.  It had a bit of a kick to it, which I enjoyed and appreciated.  But the star of the sides that came with our food was definitely the refried black beans.  They were rich and full of this depth of flavor that was astounding.  I wanted to eat the entire bowl, but the tacos were very filling, so I had a couple of spoonfuls of both the rice and beans and left it at that.

Dessert was offered, but we chose not to indulge tonight as our meal was quite filling on its own.  We left completely full and quite happy with the value of the meal and the quality of the food we experienced.  I loved how the staff didn’t even bat an eyelash when I said I was a gluten-free vegetarian, immediately having a dish that they could offer me.  I enjoyed how they assured me everything was gluten-free and safe for me to eat.  And I enjoyed every…filling…bite.

I would have gone back to this restaurant in a heartbeat as well…but they were booked solid the night we were there and not accepting walk-ins at all…so I bid it adios and was thankful for the dining experience.

1900 Park Fare - Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Restaurant: 1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Let it be said that you should never travel to Disney World and not attend one of the character breakfasts.  For real.  My roommate did all the planning on this one, deciding on a breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, located inside the Grand Floridian Resort.  Now, this resort is rather grand on its own…outside and inside.

But the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast was our character breakfast of choice.  This is basically a festive, all-you-care-to-eat breakfast buffet, with Disney character guests that make appearances while you eat.  We actually arrived earlier than anticipated because our Disney bus driver dropped us off at the resort instead of having us get off at one of the parks to catch a bus to the resort.  Awesome.  We appreciated that, but it left us with a bunch of extra time.

So, after wandering around the lobby we noticed a line forming at 1900 Park Fare and decided that we could at least check in with the hostess and maybe get seated earlier instead of with the 8:30 a.m. wave.  They were happy to accommodate and noticed that there was a food allergy listed on the reservation.  They handed me two tickets for the breakfast, both marked “ALLERGY.”  When they opened the doors to seat us, we handed over these tickets and were shown to our table.  I was informed by the woman who seated us that a chef would come over to talk to me.  While Cathy could have gone and loaded up her plate with breakfast goodies, she opted to wait for me to see the chef.

The chef did arrive a little bit later and asked me to walk with him.  What he did was take me through the buffet line, pointing out what foods I could safely eat.  They were good about keeping things were there would be no cross-contamination.  The fruit was okay, the scrambled eggs were safe, the potatoes were safe…etc.  And then he said the words that made me the happiest gluten-free girl in Disney that morning.  That he could make me gluten-free waffles.  Gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  Just.  For.  Me.

THRILLED!  I said that waffles sounded amazing and he said he would get to work on them and bring them to my table…but to go ahead and get anything else from the buffet that he pointed out to me.  So, with that said, I joined Cathy at the table and said he was making me some waffles, but we could hit up the buffet now.

From 1900 Park Fare's Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)
From 1900 Park Fare’s Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)

In the line of the buffet, I went ahead and got a bunch of different fruits…honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, grapes…yummy.  In addition, I ladled a little of the strawberry soup into a bowl to try.  I decided to give the hash brown potatoes and some of the scrambled eggs a try as they were deemed safe for my consumption.  And I was hungry.

As I settled back into my seat and started eating some of the sweet fruit, the chef appeared at my side with a plate of four gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  I thanked him and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I moved one over to my plate, sliced off an ear, and gave it a dip in the real maple syrup he brought out with it.

1900 Park Fare's Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles
1900 Park Fare’s Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles

Waffles never tasted so good.  They were sweet and light and fluffy and SHAPED LIKE MICKEY MOUSE!  I mean…come on!!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  And honestly, I’ve eaten quite a few gluten-free waffles at places, as well as made my own, and had the frozen kinds…and none come close to equaling these.  Perfection.  The fact that they weren’t heavy made it a synch to eat all four of them.  And I still went back for more fruit, more eggs, and a few more hash browns.  WORTH IT.

And, to top it off…our Disney character guests arrived and made their way around the dining room to greet the guests.  At the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, we had the honor of meeting Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and The Mad Hatter.  And all of them were so much fun to talk to, get pictures with, and interact with.  I don’t care if I’m in my thirties…I loved every moment of this breakfast and meeting the characters.  You’re never too old for Disney characters.  Mary Poppins sure was charming and I had been wanting to meet her all weekend.  So this was AWESOME!

The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast is $21.95 per person and includes the buffet and a non-alcoholic beverage.  The food was really delicious.  The company was awesome.  And the care was above and beyond expectations.  I am already wanting to go back and do another character breakfast!

Babycakes NYC - Downtown Disney
Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

The one place that I was anticipating indulging in as often as possible was Babycakes NYC in Downtown Disney.  The most difficult part, at least the first night we were there seeking it out…was locating the place.  For the record, it is located in the same building as Pollo Campero and Bodie’s…right next to LEGO Land.  So…now you won’t have to log onto the Web site and look it up.  You’re welcome.

Cathy and I were seeking this out at night to have breakfast ready in the room, that way we could get an early start and not have to wait for 9 a.m. to roll around to get breakfast…and then eat…and then head out for the day.  This way…we were set and could head out after a quick bite in our room.  This was a fantastic arrangement, by the way.  And the baked goods were just as good the following morning.

I own a Babycakes NYC cookbook and the vegan & gluten-free foods sounded fantastic.  I haven’t made it up to New York City yet…but the fact that they have a branch at Disney World was enough for me to tell Cathy that we were eating there every single morning that it was feasible.  And, with the exception of two days…we did exactly that.

Being that we were seeking out breakfast…we stuck to the case with the doughnuts and loaves.  We each would pick a doughnut and a loaf to enjoy the following morning.  And there was quite a selection to choose from too.  All of these were both vegan and gluten-free…meaning I had nothing to worry about when it came to my breakfasts.  The most difficult part was choosing what I wanted to eat.

So…it went like this:

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)

Trip #1: Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut ($3.49) and a Blueberry Toastie (Loaf) ($3.49)
Trip #2: Vanilla Glazed Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Chip Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #3: Chocolate Dipped Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #4: Jam Twist Doughnut ($3.49) and Banana Loaf ($3.49)

And that was just breakfast.  In addition…Cathy had a few other options as well that I didn’t get for me, but we sampled each other’s choices.  Cathy fell in love with the Lemon Poppyseed Loaf ($3.49), the Chocolate Cookie Crunch Doughnut ($3.49), and her favorite…the Cornbread Loaf ($3.49).

Okay…my most favorite of the doughnuts was the Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut…but cinnamon sugar has always been one of my favorite doughnuts to eat (blueberry being my favorite!).  But here was the thing…they were so moist, so light and so very delicious.  No one would be able to tell that these were vegan and gluten-free just by eating them.  I was in sugar-rush heaven.  I’m not big on glazed or dipped doughnuts, but these weren’t too bad.  I find glazes and dips to be heavy…and these were…but the doughnuts were light and fluffy and flavorful…and when all is said and done…they worked well together.  Everything just worked.

And the loafs…OH. MY. GOD.  My favorite had to be the Pumpkin Chip Loaf…but they were all very good.  They were sweet enough to satisfy that food craving and filling without being too much…even with the doughnuts.  I found each one full of flavor.  And my roommate will forever rave about that corn bread loaf.  It was her favorite thing…and she only was able to get it one night…so thankfully she took a chance on that when she did.  I also really liked the Blueberry Toastie…which had tons of fruity flavor and sweetness with the glaze and all.  And of course, pumpkin and banana bread…you can’t go wrong with either of them.  So moist.  Bite-for-bite…even after sitting overnight in a box on the table in the hotel room…these were still moist and tasted like they were fresh from the bakery.  Yeah…beyond impressed.

But we also sampled some other choices from Babycakes NYC as well.  For dessert one night, we split one of their Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches ($3.49), which was fantastic.  The chocolate chip cookies are thin, and crunchy, and sweet.  Honestly…gluten-free cookie perfection.  Normally I’m a chewy cookie kind of girl…but these were wafer-thin and had that perfect crumbly, sweet texture that works with chocolate chip cookies.  And the frosting was vegan and made with cane sugar.  It was moist and very sweet…so I was glad Cathy and I were splitting the cookie sandwich.  I actually forgot to take a picture of that…but it was delicious.

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie

So, on our last night there…we picked up our breakfast doughnuts and loaves…and they had a special on their gluten-free chocolate chip cookies ($1.00).  So, we got two of them…one for each of us…because they were each discounted by $0.50…and when you’re on vacation and stocking up on sweets…that’s a good deal.  We saved these for our last walk around our resort, and happily chewed away at the crunchy, buttery-flavored, amazing cookies.  Yeah…heaven in cookie form.  It was the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot.  It was the best way to wrap up our stay at Disney World…enjoying a vegan and gluten-free treat from the place we visited the most – Babycakes NYC.

~*~*~

And there it is…my dining experiences at Disney World.  Nothing catastrophic happened.  I had my favorite food moments and my favorite food places…and I had meals that amazed me…meals that made me want to go back…meals that made me happy…and only a couple of disappointments.  Not bad for this gluten-free vegetarian traveler.  I am so thankful that Disney World is trained, prepared, and helpful to people with dietary restrictions.  It took a load off my mind…and helped me focus on enjoying myself…and of course…preparing for the half marathon I was there to run.

Which…went so well, despite being high humidity (yes…at 5:30 a.m.)…leading to me shaving 2 minutes off my personal record and setting a new record for myself.  I enjoyed the race…I enjoyed Disney World…and I enjoyed eating there and feeling confident in the fact that they truly were looking out for me in those kitchens.

Talk about taking a load off.

Gluten-Free brownies that are fudgy and cake-like perfection by Better Better Fudge Brownie Mix

Better Batter Gluten-Free Fudge Brownie Mix
Better Batter Gluten-Free Fudge Brownie Mix

Product: Better Batter Gluten-Free Fudge Brownie Mix – $7.99+

Better Batter.

Why?  Why did it take me so long to actually try you out?

You blew me away…like…totally blew me away the first time I used your Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour.  I never stopped raving about you.  I never bought you…because you are expensive.  But, now I understand that you are completely worth the cost.  Every.  Single.  Dollar.

Because not only did you manage to wow me with your Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (which I received as a complimentary box at a gluten-free expo I attended in Birmingham, Alabama), but you have blown me away with the taste, texture, and all around chocolatey goodness of your both fudgy AND cake-like brownies.  And there is something so magical and fantastic about finding that perfect level of balance when it comes to brownie perfection.  Even more…the difficulty that comes with having to be gluten-free.

But somehow, my dearest, beloved Better Batter…you did it.

After having amazing results making cookies using your Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, the other box that my roommate and I got for free at the expo was…the Gluten-Free Fudge Brownie Mix.

Now, I love brownies.  I am not big on cake…but offer me brownies and I am your friend for life.  Thus…brownies were the obvious choice for me.

However, I had a lot of gluten-free brownie mixes to go through.  And while some have been…good…others…great…yours, Better Batter…yours were AMAZING!!  Yours are the ones that I will rave about until the day I go to my gluten-free grave.

And here’s why…

Better Batter Gluten-Free Fudge Brownies (baked)
Better Batter Gluten-Free Fudge Brownies (baked)

While I am not a fan of cake, I prefer the cake-like brownies over the heavier fudge versions.  So, I did the version with three eggs, not two.  I mixed together the water, oil, eggs, and the mix as directed by the box, then poured them into my pan and baked…all the while, that rich chocolate scent was filling my apartment.  I couldn’t wait to pull these out of the oven and let them cool.  And when they were cooked through, I let them sit while I ran a few errands and returned home…ready to treat myself to them for dessert.

These brownies are packed with chocolate flavor.  I mean, packed.  So if you are a chocoholic like me…you will love this.  Every bite is rich, decadent, moist and…just awesome.  Yep…awesome.  There is no strange aftertaste from the gluten-free mix.  It’s all about flavor.  Good, amazing flavor.  My roommate doesn’t even have to eat gluten-free…but she devoured these as fast as me.  Seriously…these are the top-of-the-line when it comes to brownies.  I know I raved about my Bob’s Red Mill…and they are my second place…but these…these are reigning supreme!

If heaven were encapsulated in brownie form…it would look and taste like these.  Despite being cake-like brownies, these have that rich fudgy flavor of the fudge brownies…without the heaviness.  That’s the best part.  They are so light…so it’s always tempting to go back for more.  And being a chocoholic…this is not easy to stop myself from doing.  So far, however, I have managed.

So far.

Nutrition-wise, these are…brownies.  So moderation is key.  You get 20 servings out of one box…so make sure you cut it up in the proper portions.  The mix itself has 110 calories in it…then add the oil and eggs to it and it bumps it up a little more…but still in the 160 calorie range.  Remember…this is a treat and you should always treat it as one.  Even if you do want to go and eat the entire pan…as I often do.  Restraint and moderation.

Better Batter…I love you.  I can’t even put into words how much I love you.  You entranced me with your basic All-Purpose Flour…and you won me over with the fantastic taste and texture and flavor of your Gluten-Free Fudge Brownies.  I am one happy gluten-free girl.

And now…yes…I will shell out the money for your mixes.  I can’t wait to try what other products I can create from your plethora of mixes and tasty treats.

Back to the grocery store I go for more of your gluten-free goodness in a box.

Can’t wait!

A serving of Better Batter Gluten-Free Cake-Like Fudge Brownies (I was out of plates...dont judge!)
A serving of Better Batter Gluten-Free Cake-Like Fudge Brownies (I was out of plates…dont judge!)

Recipe: Gluten-Free Lemony Lemon Brownies

When your CSA bin hands you a bunch of lemons…

…make lemon brownies?

Okay…it sounds a bit esoteric…perhaps a little strange.  Maybe even weird.  However, don’t judge a recipe by its cover.  No…these are not chocolate brownies (although when I first mentioned making them to my roommate, she thought they were with lemon in them.  All I can say is…EW!).  These are brownies that are made with an all-purpose flour…and instead of cocoa…you add lemon juice and lemon zest…creating this mellow lemon base which then gets topped off with two layers of lemon glaze…which makes this entire recipe SING!

Trust me.

I discovered this recipe (shock!) on Pinterest and it originally comes from Becky Charms.  So glad I ran across it because I never would have imagined making lemon “brownies” before this.

If you love lemon…make some lemon brownies tonight.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Lemony Lemon Brownies

Gluten-Free Lemony Lemon Brownies
Gluten-Free Lemony Lemon Brownies

Servings: 16
Time: Prep 20 minutes; Bake 25 minutes

Ingredients for “brownie” batter:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used Better Batter Gluten-Free All Purpose)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Ingredients for tart lemon glaze:

  • 1 rounded cup powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 8 teaspoons lemon zest

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease/Spray an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with butter/cooking spray and set aside.

Zest and juice two small/large lemons; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, salt, and softened butter until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined.  Pour into the flour mixture and beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.

Pour into baking dish and bake for 23-25 minutes, or until just starting to turn golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before glazing.  Do not overbake, or the bars will be dry (even with the yummy glaze).

When brownies are cooled completely, make the glaze.

Sift the powdered sugar, add lemon zest and juice, and whisk together all three ingredients.

Spread 1/2 the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula.  Let glaze set.  Spread the remaining glaze over the bars, and let it set.  This glaze does not harden like most.  Cut into bars, and serve!

~*~*~

Lemony, lemony goodness.  These are definitely not the brownies you’re used to having.  Nothing brown about these.  But what they are are lemony-fresh, delightful on the palate, and just really, really damn tasty.  They are very easy to make and all the effort pays off in the end…because it was love at first bite with these.  I am a lemon fiend and these totally filled my lemon-lover craving.

I made mine gluten-free…but you can certainly use any all-purpose flour instead.  I will totally make these again.  In a heartbeat.