Enjoying the Ride into the Long Weekend

Sometimes the hardest things in life to do is to branch out of the norm and try something new.  However, the only way to grow, to experience, and to become…is to step outside of your comfort zone.  I certainly did that a couple of times this week…and it’s not easy…it’s quite scary…but it’s helping me more than I can even see at the moment.

As the holiday weekend is shifting into gear, and I have an extra day off from work, I’m trying not to focus on everything I’ll have to attempt to do to stay caught up at work the four days I’ll be there, and instead focusing on a few things that I get to enjoy while not working on Monday.

YAY!

So…with that sort of attitude in mind…here are a few things that have made this week amazing.

1.  Clipping Into A Road Bike

Me on my 2nd attempt at riding - 5 miles - before I took my first (of many) falls.

Me on my 2nd attempt at riding – 5 miles – before I took my first (of many) falls.

I made huge progress this week with riding my road bike.  BB-8 has been sitting against the wall of my room in the apartment…but I wasn’t able to ride him until I had him properly fitted.  And I had that done last week…and was eager to get on the bike and ride.  It’s scary, using clipless pedals on a bike outside.  But, my first attempt was twice around the parking lot without any issues.  I was feeling confident on Friday night.  And then on Saturday afternoon, I headed back out…deciding I’d still keep to the parking lot, but aim for mileage.  So I did 5 miles.  In my last mile…I was making a turn, and a car came out…and I panicked.  I attempted to brake and forgot that I was clipped in, so I tried to put my foot down, was stuck, tried to unclip, but was now off-balance and BOOM…down I went.  Totally crashed down on my right hip and side.  The right hip is the injured hip, but, I thankfully have some nice padding there and just came out of it with a bit of road rash on my elbow and lower arm, a scraped up right knee, and a bit of a bruised ankle.  I was fine…more embarassed than anything.  The driver, a young 20-something, stopped and hopped out of his car, asking me if I needed help, but I was already unclipped and pulling myself back up.  I told him I was fine and I took a few deep breaths, clipped back in, and finished my ride.  After that, I had enough for the night.

2.  Finishing up the Disney Animated Movies In Order Movie Marathon
disneyanimatedmovies
It took two (2) years, but last night, Cathy and I finished up our attempt to watch every single Disney Animated Movie (available on DVD or Blu-Ray, or for purchase to view on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon) in order from their theater release date.  We started with Snow White over two years ago and last night wrapped it up with The Good Dinosaur.  Zootopia comes out in a couple of weeks, and we will watch that after I purchase it, but as of last night…we completed our bucket list goal of watching every single Disney (and later Pixar) animated feature, including a few hybrids like Mary PoppinsTron, and Tron: Legacy.  It was a lot of fun revisiting some films…and realizing they were either better than I remembered (Oliver & Company)…or worse than I remembered (The Sword & The Stone)…and some I hadn’t seen yet and was surprised I liked (Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue).  Next up, after we view a few movies we have been meaning to watch, but had Disney taking over our lives…Spielberg movies.  YAY!

3.  Strawberries…Strawberries For Days…

13316930_10100110186174921_1856675590051574492_o

Jars of my homemade strawberry jam…processed and ready for giving away!

On Sunday morning, I ran in the Run For The Berries 5K up in Starlight, Indiana.  I love this race, and hadn’t run it since 2013 due to other commitments (2014 Buffalo Marathon) and injury (all of 2015).  One of my favorite things about this race is the big bowl of strawberries I purchase after running.  This year, I turned in an amazing time (not a PR), clocked a new fastest mile (6:48) and conquered some hills.  I came in first in my age division as well…which was exciting.  But one of my favorite things to do after the 5K and scoping out the festival is to drive over to Huber’s Family Farm and buy a LOT of strawberries.  I got enough to use with my yogurt bowls, my PB&J Breakfast Bowls, and to make some homemade strawberry jam.  YUMMY!!  I do love my berries!!

4.  The Most Perfect Soft Pretzel Wednesday

Annie May's Sweet Cafe Allergen Free Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzel

Annie May’s Sweet Cafe Allergen Free Cinnamon Sugar Soft Pretzel

When you are a Celiac, simple pleasures like soft pretzels don’t happen every day.  In fact, they happen very infrequently.  Unless, you live near my local allergen-free bakery here in Louisville, Kentucky.  Every Wednesday, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, on Frankfort Avenue, host Soft Pretzel Wednesday, offering three varieties of pretzels each week: Salt, Cinnamon-Sugar, and Everything.  And, every week they are amazing.  But there was something so delicious about this past week’s pretzels.  They were the perfect size.  They had that perfect crust on the outside and chewy center in each bite.  Serious pretzel perfection.  I was one happy lady!

5.  The Monkees
themonkees
So, it’s Memorial Day.  And after my morning run and a little bit of final grocery shopping for stuff I realized I needed but forgot to put on the list, didn’t realize needed to be on the list, or just didn’t buy enough of something.  So, while working in the kitchen and around the apartment, Cathy and I threw on the DVDs of The Monkees.  I can still recite the episodes from memory…that’s how much I watched these.  HAHA!!  Seriously, you don’t get nicknamed Monkeegirl in school without having The Monkees to thank for it.  It’s been amusing to revisit these episodes and just…relax and enjoy the holiday off of work.  Their latest album was released on Friday…I haven’t gotten out to FYE to purchase it.

6.  Outlets & Lunch with Amanda, Richie, and Cathy

Taziki's Gluten Free Dolmades Plate (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Taziki’s Gluten Free Dolmades Plate (Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves)

On Sunday morning, Cathy & I met up with Amanda & Richie (that’s Cathy’s sister and brother-in-law) at the Outlets of the Bluegrass in Simpsonville, Kentucky for some shopping and hanging out and just escaping real life for a moment.  Amanda said she needed help finding shoes for her maxi dress and I found her a cute, strappy pair.  I finally replaced the Sketchers that I use as my airport shoes/spin class shoes (they slip on and off), I purchased a new sports bra, Amanda found some shorts, Richie got some shoes and shirts…it was a successful day.  And then…we went to one of my favorite places to eat…Tazikis Mediterranean Grill in Louisville, on Shelbyville Road.  LOVE their food.  And they do a good job with food allergies…when they remember to prepare the dish properly.  The past two times, they have had to remake my dish…but it gets fixed.  They are normally much better than that.  If you haven’t eaten there yet…you need to.  Check to see if there is one in your area!  Healthy, amazing food.  I love their Dolmades Plate (the vegetarian stuffed grape leaves done gluten-free) and Cathy, Amanda and Richie got their favorites…the Lamb Gyro.  I love good times and good eats with good friends!

7.  Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck & Steel City Pops

Gluten Free The Eccentric Crepe from Sweet 'N Savory and a Strawberry Lemonade Popsicle & Pineapple Popsicle from Steel City Pops

Gluten Free The Eccentric Crepe from Sweet ‘N Savory and a Strawberry Lemonade Popsicle & Pineapple Popsicle from Steel City Pops

On Saturday, after the Strawberry Festival and before heading to Annie May’s for treats for that evening and the following morning, Cathy and I stopped by the Fleur de Flea at Waterfront Park.  The main reason…Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck.  It’s under new ownership, but the crepes are still being done 100% gluten-free.  And they are using all of Richard & Ashley’s recipes.  The new owner, Brandon, knows the importance of keeping things gluten free as his wife is a Celiac.  So the truck and recipes are in good hands.  Brandon was on his own when we arrived, only one of his crepe stones functioning, and his help not having shown up yet.  Service was slow, but as always, worth the wait.  He was doing the best he could with what he had, for sure.  I got one of my favorites…The Eccentric.  OM NOM NOM!!  And afterwards, while we normally would get the gelato, I had heard so much about Steel City Pops, we decided to try them out.  Cathy got the Strawberry Lemonade popsicle and I went with the Pineapple.  OMG…I’m stopping by the store on Bardstown Road and buying a bunch of flavors…these were phenomenal.  All natural…gluten-free…vegan…and amazing.  LOVE helping out local businesses!

I hope everyone has been enjoying their long weekend, spending time with people that mean the world to them, and eating amazing things!!  And I hope everyone took some time to remember those who fought and died for this country that we live in and the freedoms we enjoy!

Weekly Wrap-Up

I know, I have been horrible about these weekly posts about good, shiny things with rainbows and sprinkles and all that lot.

But the truth is…

…I’ve been busy.

Like…very busy.  On the road, racing, cooking, baking, seeing friends, living life…

That sort of busy.  The kind of busy when I get home on Sunday from finishing up any and/or all grocery shopping and errands that were ignored Friday night and Saturday due to time constraints or whatnot…and I really don’t want to do anything except sit and veg, foam roll, and watch Game of Thrones.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But…I do like my little roundups of what has been going on…so here’s one for this week.  I’ll try to be a bit more consistent…

So, what have I been doing?  Well…where to start?

1. Back-To-Back Weekend Half Marathons


Okay…I know, when coming back from a year off of injury, the last thing I should be doing is racing back-to-back long distances, right?!  Well…technically…not in my case.  My PT and I have discussed the importance of mileage as I attempt to build myself back up to a marathon distances.  I already transferred my bib for the spring one that I signed up for, and have made someone a very happy racer to have that bib and chance to be part of a marathon I have been dying to turn.  That being said, my training continues and last weekend, I was scheduled for a 16 miler…and this past weekend 13 miles.  It just so happened that last weekend was the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon race.  I signed up because my friend, Deana, encouraged me to do so.  With 16 miles on the docket, I got up and ran 3 ahead of the race and then completed the last 13.1 miles in the rain…with lots of people and a medal at the end.  A couple of months ago, I signed up for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon up in Indianapolis. I ran this one back in 2012, and this year, Meb Keflezighi was not only sending off every wave of the race, but he was running from the back of the pack to the front.  HOW COOL!!  So, I signed up and went up to Indy this past Friday night to race on Saturday morning in the humidity. That being said, I had my first completely pain-free race and came within 1:06 of matching my PR time for a half.  I never did get to meet Meb though.  He started just after I finished…and I beat his time.  Something tells me that he wasn’t here to all-out run this one, though, LOL!  So, I’d say my return to running has been smart, slow, and steady.  It’s been fun having races on the schedule again.  I am not running any races this year for time or for PRs…just for fun.  And that’s making a big difference in how I approach going into them.  But it is nice to see that my fitness and strength haven’t gone to hell in the forced year off.

2. Captain America: Civil War
captain-america-civil-war-teamcap-v-teamironman_637869
I am totally #TeamIronMan.  My roommate is totally #TeamCap.  So, we have our own little Civil War as it is.  That being said, today we went to the movie theater and saw Captain America: Civil War and it was everything I expected and more.  I hate seeing a divided Avengers…but I love where they took this movie.  I loved how everything played out and how they are setting up for future films on the way.  If you haven’t seen it yet…GO.  Do not hesitate.  Do not pass GO or collect $200. (Monopoly reference there, LOL!)  Buy a movie ticket (I know they are expensive…but OMG…WORTH IT) and sit your butt down in a movie theater seat with popcorn and a drink and just…ENJOY IT!

#TeamStark forever!

3. The AlterG Treadmill
20160505_092841
Welcome to the spaceship!!  That’s what AlterG tweeted back to me after I blogged about my experience running on an AlterG Treadmill.  First of all, this is forever happening.  Seriously, I am going to pay for package minutes to run on this thing because it is going to mean I can train like I need to and take all the pounding off my body and come out of it faster, stronger, and injury free.  It’s totally worth it.  After getting to take a spin, as it were, and test it out…I can see why so many elite runners make use of the AlterG when recovering from hard races and/or from injury.  This machine has forever changed my way of training and recovering.  I am very fortunate that my physical therapist office has one to use.  Seriously…life changing.  Regular treadmills tear me up.  This one…I could fly…so fast…and when I was finished…nothing even twinged at me.  LIFE CHANGING!

4. NuttZo
20160508_192835
I posted week or so ago about the Spring Sale going on with NuttZo.  I’m a #NuttZoAmbassador and decided I would take advantage of said sale.  If you missed out, I even offered my ambassador code for a 20% discount.  Stay tuned, as I am certain more sales will be headed this way.  That being said…I purchased the big jar of the Chocolate Power Fuel and then one of each of their available varieties: Original Peanut (Smooth), Original Peanut (Crunchy), Chocolate Original Peanut (Smooth), Chocolate Original Peanut (Crunchy), Power Fuel (Smooth), and (my personal favorite) Power Fuel (Crunchy).  If you are unfamiliar with NuttZo…you’re missing out.  Nuttzo is a medley of seven organic nuts and seeds…all combined to make a healthy, omega-rich, organic nut butter.  I love being a product ambassador for this amazing nut butter.  It’s pricey…but it’s worth it.  Take a chance and try it out!  You can find it in local stores or find buy it in their online store. #NuttZoFanatic #NuttZoLove #EatNuttZo

5.  Re-reading the Harry Potter Books
harrypotter
I blame the upcoming release of a movie, the new book coming out, and the fact that the best time I had in Universal Studios a few weeks back was at both Harry Potter Worlds.  All of that has spawned me to revisit the entire book series.  In fact, I just wrapped up the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and will be starting Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this week.  SO looking forward to it.  This re-read was a long time coming.  Been meaning to do this for awhile.

6. The new Goo Goo Dolls album, “Boxes”
boxesgoogo
I have been a fan of the Goo Goo Dolls since…well…forever.  No joke. I was with them in their punk music days, and then stuck with them when they went mainstream rock.  I love their music.  And, somehow, they sneaked an album out on me. Seriously.  But after my race on Saturday, I went and picked it up.  This album is AMAZING.  I have listened to it all the way through at least 4 times this weekend.  If you haven’t heard it yet…listen to it…purchase it…enjoy it.  Nice to have some new material from them.

7. Repaying an Act of Kindness


So, just before the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon…like…Thursday morning (the race was Saturday), my Garmin 620…died.  It refused to charge, hold a charge, or turn on.  I was not a happy runner.  I posted about it on Facebook and had a lot of beautiful souls offer to let me borrow their watches for the race.  But, one of the race ambassadors, and a lady I came to know and count as a friend during the whole Norton Training Program for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & Mini Marathon, Melissa, offered just to give me one.  It was a no-frills watch. In fact, it was the original Garmin I had before I got the 620, so I even knew how to work it.  She didn’t ask for me to pay for it, she just said she’d give it to me.  So, in order to repay her, I do what I do best…I made her Lemon Blossoms, picked up a soft pretzel from Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, and delivered them to her that Wednesday around lunch.  It was nice to talk for a moment about our upcoming plans, and she and I are going to take a run together soon.  I love having someone join me on my morning runs.  We’ll have a good time.  This woman has a big heart and a beautiful soul.  I am so happy I got to know her.

8. The Return of Sweet ‘N Savory Food Truck
sweetnsavory
So…a month or so ago, I went online to find out when Sweet ‘N Savory would be returning to Louisville to serve up their amazing gluten-free crepes.  I know they had mentioned they had their first event planned for April, so I wanted to be in on it.  But, what I found instead was a message that the owners were pursuing their first love…training horses, and would not be returning.  I was happy for them, that they were making a good living and doing what they love…but selfishly, I was sad because their crepes and their gelato were like none other.  Well, this weekend while I was on the road, I saw messages about them being in Louisville and serving.  Turns out, they are under new ownership.  The new owner is Brandon Lutsch, who is very familiar with the importance of gluten-free foods as his wife is a Celiac.  I am going to go and introduce myself once they have their May calendar up.  I hope to become as good friends with them as I was with the original owners, Richard and Ashley!  I can’t wait to get my hands on a crepe!!  I’ve been crazing!!

And that’s a wrap for these past few weeks.  Logging off for some decaf coffee and some Game of Thrones.

Have you eaten anything fun, new, and exciting?  Do you have a favorite food truck?  Have you ever done or been a recipient of a random act of kindness?

Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagels

001

Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagels

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagels – $7.25

It was just over a year ago when I was in NYC, not able to run the New York City Half Marathon, and hurting pretty much with every step I took.  I was bummed, but I was going to enjoy my trip regardless.  And that meant hitting up all the gluten-free bakeries I could manage in the weekend.

Believe it or not, one of the first places I made it to was Jennifer’s Way Bakery, which is owned and operated by Jennifer Esposito.  She makes bagels there.  And the morning that my roommate and I wandered in, we were hoping there would be bagels.  None were currently out, but they had just opened.  And when we inquired…we were told they were in the oven and if we didn’t mind waiting 10 minutes, she’d have them out to us (not Esposito, but the nice lady working the counter, LOL!).

Of course I was willing to wait for a fresh bagel.  They had a few options as far as flavors went.  My roommate got the Garlic Bagel and I went with the Salt.  Because I wasn’t feeling plain or anything else that day.  We waited and they were brought out to us.  Not your standard fat and fluffy, dense bagels…but more like the way mine turn out when I make them from hand.  A little flat and really impossible to cut in half.  Regardless…the Gluten Free Salt Bagel was amazing and delicious.  And I don’t think I blogged on it…because I can’t seem to find it anywhere…

Anyway…it was my first ever Salt Bagel…and I loved it.  I’m usually more of a sweet person (hence why Cinnamon Raisin is often my favorite thing when it comes to bagels) but this was a nice change of pace.

SO…you can only imagine my glee when Sweet Note Bakery announced that they were releasing four (4) new flavors.  I ordered all of them right away.  And I’ve already given my thoughts on the Garlic & Herb and the Tomato Basil varieties.  Well, my friends…we have come to the Salt variety now!

Do you remember what an amazing soft pretzel tastes like.  All dense and chewy and salty and amazing, yes?  Well…that’s pretty much what a Salt Bagel is.  And Sweet Note is doing it absolutely perfectly.

002

Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagel with a Schmear of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese (and coffee).

Prepping one of Sweet Note Bakery’s amazing New York-style bagels is super easy.  Always keep this precious cargo frozen.  Do not thaw it to room temperature.  They advise against it.  I advise against it.  Just simply pull from freezer, place in microwave for 1 minute (I go 3o seconds on one side, and then flip it over for 30 seconds on the other side), and then cut in half.  A true New Yorker would stop there…because real New Yorkers don’t eat bagels toasted.  I am a real New Yorker, but I prefer to toast my bagel, thank you very much!  As you know by now, I do not own a toaster anymore.  I toast everything in my oven.  So I preheated the oven to 350°F and popped the bagels in this morning.  I had just gotten in from my first (of 2) spin classes for the day, so I went and hopped in the shower while the bagels lightly toasted.  When I returned to the kitchen, they were ready for a schmear of…something.  Today, I opted for the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese that was hanging out on the shelf of my fridge.

I served one to my roomie…and I took care of the other one.  And by take care, I mean I settled in, bagel in one hand, coffee in the other, morning news on TV, and began to take my first bite.

YES!  Nailed it!!  The outside of the bagel, when toasted, gets slightly crispy, but that center remains all doughy and dense and chewy and…awesome.  But with the Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagel…you also get the added bonus of a hit of salt.  Or, as their Web site says, an “a-salt on your taste buds.”  Puns are funny.  Bagels are delicious.  There you have it.  If you love a little kick of salt with each bite, or if you are a fan of soft pretzels…then this bagel variety is for you.  100% guarantee that you will be hooked from the first bite.  My roommate wasn’t too sure about these, wanting to go right to the Garlic (which she has been eager to try)…but I had my heart set on Salt.  And I’m glad we went that way.  It’s the best of the breakfast and snack worlds…combined into one sweet, or in this case, salty bite.  A good schmear of anything, really…be it nut butter or chocolate, or butter, or jelly, or frosting…or even cream cheese (vegan or not)…works with this sort of a flavor.  You want salty and sweet…Nutella or Smudge or some chocolate nut spread.  Oh yeah…now we’re talking.  Or, keep it real and simple with cream cheese.  With the Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagel…you have an open canvas and plenty of options.

But trust me…you’ll hoover this down like it’s going out of style.

So, let’s talk about what ingredients the crazy bagelers at Sweet Note put into their Gluten Free Salt Bagels, shall we?  These bagels are made with love (yep…that’s a listed ingredient!), water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, sorghum flour, brown sugar, cane syrup, olive oil, molasses, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, yeast, and salt.  The Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Pretzels are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free.  LOVE IT!!  Vegan & Gluten Free bagels are now ready to be delivered right to your doorstep!  And when it comes to the Salt variety of the Sweet Note bagels…you can only get them online.

As far as nutritional information goes, you’ll want to eat these up.  A serving size of the Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagels is one (1) bagel (4.5 ounces (128 grams)), and there are four (4) bagels per pack.  This serving will provide you with 300 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 530 mg sodium, 62 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 7 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  With the high fiber and protein, you’ll feel full and satisfied long after your bagel is gone.

Real ingredients, amazing nutritional facts, amazing bagels.  Happiness is round and salty and gluten-free.  Trust me, you’ll love to love Sweet Note Gluten Free Salt Bagels.

But, as I mentioned, these are on online exclusive, so if you want to try them out yourself, head over to their online store and place an order!

You won’t regret it.  Order one of everything while you’re at it.  You’ll thank me later!

Product Review: Snack Factory Gluten Free Original & Salted Caramel Pretzel Crisp Minis

Snack Factory Gluten Free Original Mini Pretzel Thins

Snack Factory Gluten Free Original Mini Pretzel Thins

Product: Snack Factory Gluten Free Original & Salted Caramel Pretzel Crisp Minis – $2.99/each+

Ah, my dear Kroger store.  You don’t carry much that I get excited about.  So, trust me, when you have a product that I didn’t even know existed and I spot it on a shelf or end cap, it’s more than likely making the journey home to by pantry.

And, yes, that is exactly what happened a couple of months (yes, months) ago when my roommate and I spotted these little packages of pretzels on a display at our local Kroger store.  I love pretzels…and not only were these thin…they were mini and came in two different flavors: salted caramel (HELLO!) and original.

The company responsible for this treat…is none other than Snack Factory, who you might recognize from their regular (and glutenous) Pretzel Crisp snacks.  Well, this fantastic company took it upon themselves to create gluten-free versions.  But why stop with just the original flavor?  Do a bit more.  And they did well, opting for Salted Caramel as well.  AND…I have discovered that since then, they have also introduced Gluten Free Vanilla Yogurt Pretzel Crisp Minis and Gluten Free Dark Chocolate Pretzel Crisp Minis.  Which…the dark chocolate version needs to be found stat and get in my belly, for real!

That being said, the fact that they offered a Salted Caramel version was more than enough to catch my attention.  And, while these were purchased awhile back, I had other things going on and just now got to them.  But, the delay was worth it, because I am beyond over-the-moon enamored with these things.  Seriously!!

Snack Factory was started by Sara and Warren Wilson, who met while selling funnel cakes at the amusement park.  After creating smash snack hits with New York Style Pita and Bagel Chips, then turning it over to RJR Nabisco, they decided on another venture that would make people “rethink your pretzel.”  And, in 2004, a new brand was born…and all the snackers in the world rejoice.  The Wilsons brought a modern twist to an old favorite – the pretzel.  They combine the best part of the pretzel…all the flavor and crunch…but in a lighter, crispier and more versatile package – a thin pretzel, as it were.  It’s the world’s first pretzel-shaped cracker that is thin, crunchy, and made with high quality ingredients, in both sweet and savory flavors.  And this past year, they introduced 4 new flavors to their Pretzel Crisp Minis line…all of them gluten-free!

I picked up the Original and Salted Caramel gluten-free varieties, because that’s all my Kroger store carries.  But…I am so totally going to find the coated ones.  I am now on a mission, because I now just found out about them! HA!  Anyway, these past two weeks have meant pretzels for dessert.  A salty treat has replaced the sweet..and what a change.

The Snack Factory Gluten Free Original Mini Pretzel Crisps is where I’ll start (because you should always start with the original).  These little pretzel thins pack a lot of crunch, a lot of flavor, and a lot of everything I want in a snack.  Seriously.  The flavor is amazing.  Salty, with the actual taste of a pretzel.  None of that buttery flavor that covers up the fact that something is gluten-free.  This, for real, tastes like an actual pretzel.  What a treat.  I loved popping this wholesome treat as a follow-up to my meal.  Simple ingredients, and a delicious snack on top of it.  It was hard not to just devour the entire bag in one sitting.  A serving was plenty, of course, but these are just so freakin’ good!

Snack Factory Gluten Free Salted Caramel Mini Pretzel Crisps

Snack Factory Gluten Free Salted Caramel Mini Pretzel Crisps

The same can be said about the Snack Factory Gluten Free Salted Caramel Mini Pretzel Crisps.  OH…MY…GOD.  If you are a salty/sweet lover, than this is the snack for you.  Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe how good these are.  Salty and sweet is the perfect combination (hence why I was addicted to chocolate covered pretzels…and still am…just now the gluten-free versions), and this gives it all.  The caramel flavor is the sweetness, without overwhelming the rest of the miniature pretzels.  And the salty pretzel itself gives it that full balance.  I loved the rich caramel flavor, making this definitely feel more like a dessert than the originals.  But both are beyond amazing.

Let’s talk ingredients!  Starting with the Snack Factory Gluten Free Original Mini Pretzel Crisps!  This treat is made from corn starch, potato starch, long grain white rice flour, corn fiber, palm oil, sugar, salt, cellulose gum, sunflower lecithin, yeast extract, baking soda, sodium acid, pyrophophate, citric acid, and chicory root extract.  These pretzel thins are gluten-free and contain less fat than potato chips and tortilla chips, as well as other popular snacks.

The Snack Factory Gluten Free Salted Caramel Mini Pretzel Crisps are made from corn starch, potato starch, long grain white rice flour, seasonings (fructose, sucrose, salt, butter (cream, annatto), non-fat dry milk, natural flavor), corn fiber, palm oil, non GMO canola oil, sugar, salt, cellulose gum, sunflower lecithin, yeast extract, baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid, and chicory root extract.  It is gluten-free, cholesterol free…and super amazing.

Now…for nutrition.  A serving of Snack Factory Gluten Free Original Mini Pretzel Crisps is about 35 of the pretzel thins (or 28 grams, if you weigh things like I do) and there are 5-6 servings per package.  This serving will provide you with 110 calories, 3 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, and 0 grams protein.  Not filling, but oh…so good!

A serving of the Snack Factory Gluten Free Salted Caramel Mini Pretzel Crisps is about 30 pieces (or 28 grams, if you weigh things like I do) and there are 5-6 servings per package.  A serving will give you 120 calories, 4 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams sugars, and 0 grams protein.  So, it is sweet without sugar overkill.  Seriously, they are like candy…without the guilt!

I am so happy for having discovered Snack Factory’s line of new Gluten Free Mini Pretzel Crisps.  They are totally amazing.  I was blown away.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it.  What a great surprise when a product (or two) surpasses all expectations.  This was the best surprise I’ve had in a long time.  Now…to track down the yogurt and dark chocolate covered versions to test them out.  I bet they’re amazing.

 

Product Review: Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites

Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites

Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites

Product: Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites – $2.99

When it comes to gluten-free bites, very few do it as deliciously well (or as affordable) as Gratify Gluten Free.  I first became familiar with this brand when out shopping at Meijer, seeing shelf-after-shelf of their pretzel varieties…including both yogurt and milk chocolate covered varieties.  During the holidays last year, a dark chocolate peppermint version was introduced to the market.  You better believe I devoured that bag.  By myself.  In an airport.  And I didn’t feel any shame.  Not one bit.

That’s the thing about Gratify though…it’s the little brand with the big promise of fitting tasty snacks into your lifestyle.  And when a company that focuses on gluten-free snacks states that they are “obsessed with great taste,” you expect them to deliver all the high notes of flavors and textures.  You want to be able to break these out at a cocktail party and not have anyone glance at them sideways and give you the “that must taste like cardboard” eyebrow and then ignore the snacks entirely.

Whether gluten-free or not, Gratify definitely knows how to deliver on their promises.  With simple and basic products, these are as “reliable and comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans.”  Flavors are big and bold, and textures are so amazing that no one would guess these were gluten-free…unless they read the box.  Be proud of your gluten-free snacking tendencies.  Don’t hide the box…because this brand knows how to keep you and your guests…”Gratified.”

See what they did there?  HA!

With all that being said, I had never seen a box of the new Gratify Gluten Free Baked Bites Crackers.  In fact, I had no idea they even existed until I was at Raisin Rack in Columbus, Ohio and found them on the clearance shelf.  Seriously.  For $1.99 on sale.  HELLO!  Into my big basket of gluten-free goodness it went, and with a gluten-free and vegan chickpea noodle soup on tap for dinner tonight, I figured there was no better time to bust out these crackers than now.

Because soup and crackers…are BFFs.

The boxes that were available at Raisin Rack for the Gratify Gluten Free Baked Bites were the Tuscan Herbs flavor, although these bite-size crackers (they look like mini saltines, no joke!) also come in Original, Everything, and Cinnamon flavors.  I broke out the kitchen scale and measured out a serving of these adorable crackers to serve alongside a big, satisfying bowl of the homemade soup.  And, guess what…

They were perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  Texture-wise…just as light and airy as a regular saltine, with that crumble you get when you bite down.  It was fantastic to pop these into my mouth on their own or after being dipped into my soup and picking up some of the chunky vegetables that I cooked into it.  Packed with great seasoning and flavor, each bite was amazing and satisfying (or gratifying).  I found myself eating the crackers more on their own than in or with the soup.  That, my friends, is a huge deal since I’m a bit of a dipper when it comes to things I eat with soup (sammies and crackers!).  I loved these from the first to the last bite.  In fact, I even have dished up servings to take to work to have with the leftover soup for lunch.  Can’t go without these.  Now, I just hope Meijer or some other local store that carries the Gratify brand has these in stock.  I never want my pantry to be un-Gratified.  HA!

So, let’s talk about what goes into the Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites, shall we?  These adorable bite-size crackers are made from corn starch, palm fruit oil (RSPO certified), rice flour, sugar, inulin, sea salt, corn grits, maltodextrin, dehydrated vegetables (garlic, onion), leavenings (ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, disodium diphosphate), spices, cellulose gum, emulsifier (soy lecithin), dried yeast, dextrose, rice starch, cottonseed oil and/or canola oil, and natural flavors.  These crackers are wheat free, dairy free, egg free, and contain non-GMO ingredients.  They are certified gluten-free.

As for nutritional information, a serving of Gratify Gluten Free Tuscan Herbs Baked Bites is 30 grams (which is A LOT of little crackers) and there are 4 servings per box.  A serving will provide you with 120 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram sugars, and less than 1 gram protein.

I loved these crackers at first bite.  Gratify Gluten Free does manage to do something that most gluten-free crackers don’t do…and that’s taste like and feel like a real cracker.  The mouthfeel, the crispy texture, the flavor…it’s all there and it’s all perfection.  And that’s what really astonished me and blew me away.  These crackers are perfect for every crowd…and I hope to be able to find more in my area.  Otherwise, next time I’m in Columbus, I’m stocking up!

Trust me…these are worth a spot in the pantry.

Product Review: Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters

Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters

Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters

Product: Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters – $4.99+

One thing that most everyone who knows me knows about me is that I have this huge crush on anything salted caramel.  If it’s salted caramel, I want it in my belly.  Seriously…there is no better flavor combination that something that is rich and sweet and salty and yummy and…

I’m making myself hungry again…

So when my Spring (April 2015) Cuisine Cube hit my doorstep this past month, I was really excited about pulling out a little 3 ounce pouch of probably the most perfect snack food in history.  But, before I go into that, a quick recap on what Cuisine Cube is all about.  You see, Cuisine Cube is a gluten-free subscription box that specializes in pantry/meal items.  The best part being, you get full-size products, not just sample sizes.  Each month, you get 5-6 items (a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert, and sometimes a bonus!) inside your little box of wonder from smaller artisan companies that specialize in some gluten-free goodness.  Subscriptions start as low as $29.99.  So, if you haven’t yet…hop on over to their site and check them out.

Anyway, what I was getting to just before that was that in my Spring cube, the most perfect dessert option arrived.  Sure, it was only 3 ounces of goodness, but everything about this treat screamed for me to just EAT IT ALL RIGHT THERE AND RIGHT THEN.  I didn’t.  I resisted…because I’m a blogger and I need to take pictures…but I now had a new product in my clutches!

The product – Salted Caramel Clusters from Pretzel Perfection.  First thing that won me over…the words SALTED CARAMEL.  The next thing…the delightful photo of these chocolaty covered pretzel things on the front of the pouch.  Chocolate covered pretzels have always been (and will always be) one of my favorite snacks/treats/desserts in the world.  I mean, the salty and sweet with rich and crunchy all rolled into one…HELLO!!  That’s perfection right there.  As the founders of this company must know given the name “Pretzel Perfection.”

Pretzel Perfection was created by Amy Holyk and actually began as a one-person operation in a converted garage.  Since then, Pretzel Perfection has grown into an expanding and thriving business, with focus on treats that are made of real food.  This company creates products that consumers can trust in and are committed to providing products that are of a higher quality, all-natural, and gluten-free.  They take great pride in the fact that they do not use any artificial flavors, colorings, or preservatives.

So…yeah…they had me with pretzels…dark chocolate…salted caramel.  They were already winning without me even tasting them yet.  But…this was the night.  These little bundles of pretzel goodness were my dessert tonight.  So, after a healthy dinner…it was time to indulge a little.

The Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters are in their line of gourmet pretzel treats.  These treats are gluten-free pretzel clusters wrapped with caramel, coated in dark chocolate, and then sprinkled with sea salt and dark chocolate chips.  What’s not to love about that, right?  EXACTLY!!  They look like something I’d make to take into the office…which I love.  And I dove right in.  First of all, the dark chocolate is a nice bittersweet note to blend with the saltiness of the pretzel and the sea salt that adorns the top of the cluster itself.  The dark chocolate chips make for a nice compliment and an added burst of sweetness.  The pretzels are crunchy…I mean…dark chocolate coated to perfection.  The little square of caramel holes it all together and is the magic in the middle of this cluster.  Honestly…if heaven exists…it is inside this bag.  I am doing all I can not to raid it and eat the remnants.  Seriously.

My roommate and I devoured these in record speed.  I had a feeling I was going to like these…even love these…but I LOVE these.  Caps lock love.  That’s real love right there.

Let’s talk about ingredients, shall we?  The Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters are made from dark chocolate, caramel, gluten-free pretzels, dark chocolate chips, and sea salt.  Yep.  that’s it.  They are gluten-free and kosher.

As far as nutrition goes…dark chocolate pretzels aren’t going to be good for you in the long run, but…these really are worth a bit of a splurge.  A serving size is 1 ounce (about 2 pieces), and the pouch holds 3 servings.  One serving will give you 130 calories, 7 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 11 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.  Delicious…and…compared to some desserts…a healthy and delicious option.  Or, as they say on their Web site: ” Life is simply too short to not have fun with your food.”  Amen.

Seriously…everything about Pretzel Perfection Salted Caramel Clusters is…perfection.  The taste, the texture, the ccare and love that goes into the products they make.  Oh yeah…I’m a fan.  I have seen that these might be sold at Target.  You best believe I’ll be on the lookout for them and the other flavors that Pretzel Perfection makes.

Hop on over to Pretzel Perfection‘s web site and check out the products they offer and…if you’re feeling a little crazy…ORDER SOME!!  Seriously.  All my love and praise to Cuisine Cube for doing dessert oh, so right this month!

Product Review: Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites

Tonya's Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites

Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites

Product: Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites – $9.99+

There was a time in my life, when I worked retail at the mall, that at least one of my meals consisted of a soft pretzel from Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.  Because, really, there is nothing quite like feasting on a soft pretzel with that delicious buttery and salty flavor.  Mmmm…

Don’t make me crave…

Or, actually…go ahead.

Because, with a little help from The Raisin Rack in Columbus, Ohio, I was introduced to the most amazing and fantastic convenience gluten-free soft pretzels ever.  Now, they aren’t my local bakery’s soft pretzels (which they offer only in July and September…on Wednesdays only), which are freakin’ fantastic.  But for something that I can dig out of my freezer and feast on whenever I want…well…these are where it is at, my friends!  Just…trust me!

On one of my many trips to Columbus, Ohio, and one of my many stops at The Raisin Rack, I have snatched up some items that I can’t find anywhere else around where I live (and I shop at 5-6 different stores each week).  I often crave soft pretzels (especially when Annie May’s Sweet Café in Louisville, KY, isn’t doing Soft Pretzel Wednesday), as is bound to happen each time I go to a shopping mall and have to walk by Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.  Because…they flood the mall with their delicious smelling pretzels…and I can’t have them.  Not one.  Not even a sample.  It’s sheer torture.  TORTURE!

But…now I know…there can be pretzels whenever I want.  When those weird cravings hit.

Because of Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen!

Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen was created when Tonya and her daughter were diagnosed with celiac disease.  Tonya began searching for gluten-free bakery foods that tasted up to par with their gluten equivalents.  After many disappointments and a lot of frustration, she set out to create her own recipes.  She started simply by baking in her home kitchen for friends and family and even fellow Celiacs in Central Pennsylvania.  Soon, they expanded to selling to local grocery and health food stores.  Then they outgrew the home kitchen in 2010 and opened up a gluten-free bakery in Newmanstown, Pennsylvania.  Tonya and her company believe that quality and taste do not need to be sacrificed in order to make something gluten-free.  They take great care, using a dedicated gluten-free facility to make their products, to ensure that everything they churn out is of the highest standards.

I can get on board with that.

So, after a day of grocery shopping and walking around the farmer’s market and shopping malls, I wasn’t really feeling standing around in the kitchen and cooking something for dinner.  So, I opened up the freezer and decided that what this day called for was…soft pretzels.  And, yes, I happened to have a box of Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites in my freezer.  I opened up the package and laid out the bites on a baking sheet to cook up.  I patted each bite down with water and gave them a light sprinkle of the enclosed pretzel salt.  Then, they were placed in a  pre-heated oven to allow to cook.  These can be done in the microwave, but to get crustier pretzels, the oven is the way to go.  And I like that initial crispy outside with the doughy and soft middle.  As my oven never heats right, the normal 5-7 minutes these would cook was actually 9-10 minutes for me.  I left them in for 9 minutes.  And when I removed them from the oven…they looked like pretzel perfection…and smelled like the buttery good aroma that comes from Auntie Anne’s.

My mouth was watering.

I split the entire box with my roommate (this was dinner…not a snack) and served them with some vegan cream cheese for dipping.  Because, seriously, soft pretzels and cream cheese are a match made in heaven.  Delicious heaven.

I served up my roommate’s plate first.  And as I was just getting back to the kitchen, she had already taken a bite and said, “OH MY GOD!”  I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing, so I had to ask.  She told me to take a bite and look at the center.  I did just as she said.

OH MY GOD!

Seriously…OH MY GOD!

The Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites are JUST like the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels I ate almost every day I worked in retail.  Holy goodness.  The pretzels themselves are rich and buttery on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  The inner part of the pretzel are a thick white middle…nothing that looks dense or heavy or packed with bubbles of air.  They were perfection.  Soft…gorgeous centers surrounded by the golden crust with the dash of salt on the top.  Yeah…these were fantastic.  These were light and buttery and amazing.  AMAZING!!  These made me happy on so many different levels.

So, let’s talk ingredients.  At Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen, they believe in using all-natural ingredients.  And these amazing Original Soft Pretzel Bites are made from rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, potato flour, baking soda, xanthan gum, yeast, and salt.  They are all-natural, gluten-free and wheat-free.

As far as nutrition goes…well…they aren’t bad.  Not at all.  A serving of Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Original Soft Pretzel Bites is 5 of the little pretzel nubs.  Now…I ate half the box and I feel no shame.  HA!  A serving contains 220 calories and 8 grams of fat.  One serving would also provide 35 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, and 7 grams of sugar.  Also, you will be consuming 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein.

The Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen Soft Pretzel Bites are something that I intend to keep in my kitchen freezer forever.  For LIFE.  They are that good.  They are so worth keeping on hand for those nights where you just want something that doesn’t resemble the food you eat all week.  Maybe you want snack food for dinner.  Maybe you’re having a party and need some finger food.  These are the perfect treat and the perfect item to keep on hand.  Even gluten eaters couldn’t tell these were gluten-free.  SO GOOD!

Soft pretzels…whenever I want them…that taste great…that are just as good as the “real” thing?

Tonya’s Gluten Free Kitchen delivers with these Original Soft Pretzel Bites.  Oh yes…it doesn’t get better than this!

Recipe: Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding

It’s no secret…to anyone…that I love pumpkin.  And as we head out of summer and into fall, we have reached the “pumpkin flavored everything” time of year.  YAY!  But, I have to say, I never let pumpkin season go away in my house.  Not at all.  In fact, I stock up on pumpkin because I will use it in so many things.  As it was, I got a little overzealous this past year with my purchasing of Libby’s Pure Pumpkin…so, my pantry has cans of it.  I figured it was time to come up with ways to use it up.  Last weekend, I made my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Waffles.  This morning…yes…during the work week…I baked up a Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding.  I love bread puddings…and this one was no exception.  Even better…it is so easy to make.

I spotted the original recipe when Schär Gluten Free posted a link to a blog that had utilized their Gluten Free Classic White Rolls in a bread pudding.  Made with pumpkin.

They had my full and undivided attention.

So…this morning…I decided to bake up the recipe that Mama Me Gluten Free originally posted and Schär linked to on their social media site.  I made a few changes in the preparation for convenience sake…but in the end…it was just as amazing as the recipe promised.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding


Servings: 8
Time: Prep 10 minutes; Bake 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 15 ounces pureed pumpkin (fresh or canned)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup organic pure cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Few small dashes of ground ginger
  • Few small dashes of ground cloves
  • Couple of small dashes of ground nutmeg
  • Package of Schar Classic White Rolls (or any gluten-free bread that is similar in consistency), cubed into 1 to 1-1/2- inch pieces (I let mine sit out overnight to dry out)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top (optional…but delicious)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease a 2-quart baking dish.

Place bread in a large bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, mix together pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugars, salt, vanilla paste or extract, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

Pour over bread and gently stir until all is covered.  Let this sit for about 15 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the baking dish and spread it out with the back of a spoon or a spatula so that it is evenly spread throughout the dish.

Sprinkle pecans over the top, and shake cinnamon and sugar lightly over it all if desired.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

ENJOY!

~*~*~

A slice of Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple Syrup

A slice of Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Maple Syrup

Oh…oh yes!!  This bread pudding is one of the best (and easiest) I have made to date.  I served up a wedge of the Pumpkin Bread Pudding with a delicious drizzle of warm maple syrup.  If heaven was on a breakfast plate…that would be it.  The flavors are amazing.  There is the right hint of spice and sweetness to really elevate the savory aspect of the pumpkin.  It’s rich.  It’s decadent.  And the pecans sprinkled with the cinnamon and sugar on top truly lend a great hit of sweetness as well as texture.  I am totally going to make this again!  But lucky for me, I still have 3 more days worth for eating it.

If you are a pumpkin freak like me…believe me…you’ll want to bake this one up!

Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest – Indianapolis, Indiana – August 23, 2014

GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!

GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!

This past Saturday, I had the honor of being able to attend the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest up in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I love going to gluten-free expos and events and Indianapolis seems to always have one at some point during any calendar year.  This year was no exception, and I was thrilled to read about the new location for this year’s event – the Indian State Fairgrounds.  With all the vendors and exhibitors I saw listed, I knew this year’s event was going to be HUGE! I was not let down at all.One of the magazines I currently subscribe to, Gluten Free & More (formerly Living Without), was putting on the Living Without Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in various cities this year as a way to show those with food allergies and/or sensitivities that we can live life without deprivation and missing out on delicious food.  It was a coming together of the magazine, as well as over a hundred of their favorite exhibitors to celebrate living well.  And it was open to anyone who wanted to stop in.

Tickets went on sale and, as a subscriber, I received a free entry, and then received a discount code for another ticket…so I had Cathy taken care of as well.  So, on Saturday morning, we ate a light breakfast before climbing into the car and hauling up to Indianapolis.  We timed it perfectly because we burned through our breakfast just as we got up there, about 30 minutes after it officially opened.

And…there was already a line waiting to get in.

Oh…that made me happy, indeed.

It was a hot summer day already and standing outside in the blazing sun didn’t sound like too much fun…but it wasn’t going to be a long wait.  Just about 5 minutes, at the most.  And while standing in line, I got to listen to people who have done expos like this before (like me) describe the events and how things work to the first timers.  I even got to geek out over favorite products and the like for a few moments.  I love making gluten-free friends!

Before we knew it, we were inside the doors, in the air conditioning, and getting the tickets scanned.  We were given blue wristbands to wear (for re-entry purposes and to show we paid!).  Cathy and I put them on and headed into the expo proper.  We were greeted at the door by people passing out reusable shopping bags from Glutino (a personal favorite!).  Perfect for all the samples and products you are bound to pick up and buy.

Trust me, you don’t walk out of these events empty-handed.

Cathy and I decided that we were going to be systematic about our approach to each table/vendor/aisle.  We’d start on one side and then work our way up, then come back down the other side.  This was a good plan in theory, and we decided to start in the middle aisle to avoid the congestion of the end aisles.  We soon found out…no matter what…it was just hopping and congested.  People were surrounding tables, getting free samples, trying products, trying local baked goods, and the like.  So, we ditched our original systematic plan for the…let’s just see what there is and wriggle into open areas when we can.

We’re pros.  HA!

That being said, we began our Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest at the Glutino/Udi’s/Earth Balance booth, which was giving out samples of Udi’s Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Cashew Cookies as well as Glutino’s Gluten-Free Multigrain English Muffins, schmeared with Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread.  It was all crazy, crazy delicious.  I actually have the Glutino English Muffins in my freezer, I just haven’t tried them yet. Now…I know buying them wasn’t a mistake at all.  They were delicious.  And that Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread…out-of-this-world good!

And from there…it only got better.  We made a point to stop by each vendor’s table and talk to them about their products, if we had tried them.  If we hadn’t…we would ask all about them.  I made a point of raving to the Pamela’s Product people about the Figgies & Jammies.  Because they are awesome and worthy of praise.  I talked to the Hodgson Mills representative and when I mentioned being a food blogger he said to reach out to the Hodgson Mills team anytime.  I was told the same thing by various other vendors as well.  And one local vendor who was selling the most amazing bar-b-que sauce and seasoning (which we purchased) said to tag her on Facebook when I use their products so they can read my blog.  I was having a great time.

I think, though, the best moment had to come at the Freedom Foods table.  Because, as many of you are aware, Freedom Foods only makes my favorite gluten-free cereal, Tropic-O’s.  NOM NOM!  I can’t find this cereal here anymore, since my Whole Foods stopped carrying it, so my parents ship it to me from Birmingham, Alabama.  We have a system down.  But, recently, they put out a gluten-free, dairy-free, and not-free version of Nutella…which I fell in love with.  My local Kroger is the only place that had it…and I bought the last jar of it a few weeks ago.  It has never been restocked.  So…I stocked up on some Quinoa Pancake Mix, lots of “Smudge” (that’s the Nutella stuff!), and a few other products to try, all the time raving about how much I love their products and how they honestly care about what ingredients go into all of their stuff.  It didn’t hurt that the guy at the table had a New Zealand/Australian accent.  HELLO!  I actually ended up going back to the table before leaving that day and buying 4 more jars of Smudge.  I hadn’t opened the one I had at home for fear I would never find it again.  Now…it’s on!

I was able to sample some of the best gluten-free Snickerdoodles I have ever eaten.  And this pasta that was made from lentils that tasted exactly like regular pasta…but I couldn’t afford the hefty price tag on it.  Unfortunately.  It was nice to sample it, however.  At the very back of the building, for those over 21, was the gluten-free cider/beer tasting area.  There was so much food and samples…so I was glad we ate light.  And Cathy and I have a system down…where we split a sample so we aren’t filling up on our own.  It always works at these events.

However, I have to say the greatest moment ever was when I finally got to meet GF Jules in person. GF Jules (formerly Jules Gluten Free) was one of the first Celiac/Gluten-Free bloggers/recipe makers/amazing people I started to follow on social media after my diagnosis.  While I have been to events where she has been present, I have never been able to actually meet her.  That changed.  We discovered that we were food allergy soul sisters, both of us being vegetarian Celiacs who also can’t handle dairy.  Go figure.  She was so nice and just so easy to talk with.  I picked up one of her cookbooks, which she signed, and she was kind enough to take a picture with me.  I might have geeked out a little bit.  Or a lot.  You know how it goes…

And soon, after a couple hours of tasting, testing, buying, talking, and exploring, our time at the expo drew to a close.  We were going to meet our friend, Greg, for lunch that day, so we bid adieu to the fantastic event and made our way out to the car.

This event was probably the best one I have attended so far.  Great people, great vendors, great information all around.  And I came home with samples and products to try in the very near future.  Can’t argue with that, right?  Right!

I hope they return next year.  I’m already making plans to attend.  If one of these events happens near you…I definitely encourage you to go!

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