Product Review: Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar

 

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Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar

Product: Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar – $4.99+

It was at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana this past October that I was introduced to one of Freedom Foods newest products. Now, I’m already a huge supporter of the amazing, healthy, gluten-free products from Freedom Foods, but what I didn’t know up until that point was that they have moved beyond just cereals and (the best thing ever) Smudge (a dairy-free and nut-free version of Nutella).

I made a purchase of the Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks at the expo, and for my purchase (of umpteen million boxes), they threw in a free box of one of their new (at the time) products…their Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar.

NICE!!  As I have been a huge fan of everything I have tried from Freedom Foods, this was a nice treat and a huge added bonus for me.  I’m really cautious when it comes to buying protein bars and granola bars, as so often they are just laden with processed sugars, preservatives, chemicals and all that stuff that does the body no good.

But not so when it comes to Freedom Foods.  Their food should always find a spot in your pantry, bag, shopping cart…because their products are all free from gluten, low in salt, a great source of fiber, are non-GMO project verified, have NFCA Certification, are vegan, are kosher, and contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.  Basically…what you see is what you get.  And I absolutely LOVE that.

In fact, Freedom Foods offers a variety of products, although only a few items are available in the United States at the moment…and most of these include cereals, which, for the record, are made in a dedicated and specially built allergen-free facility in the Riverina region of New South Wales, in Australia.  As Freedom Foods was specifically developed to make allergen-free foods, they test every batch made in their facilities, to the most stringent levels possible, leaving no doubt that the Freedom Foods products you pick up will be free of the allergens that are necessary to avoid.

LOVE THAT TOO!

Because we live in a world where it’s not enough to just be health conscious.  Now we have to be allergen conscious too.  With the growing number of food allergies and intolerances, it is nice to find a company that really proves that it is dedicated to creating products that are safe to consume.  Freedom Foods has been around for over 20 years, making great-tasting and nutritious allergen-free food.  I can attest to this, as I am a huge fan of the products I have had from them thus far.  All of their products adhere to the strict guidelines laid out by Australia’s food industry, meaning all their products are non-GMO.  They even test for GMOs just to make sure.

So, here I am…4 months after the GFFAF and just now tearing into the box of free goodies from a company that I adore and trust.  What is wrong with me?  Well, just been working my way through the pantry and trying to do so systematically.  But this was to be paired with my container of Chocolate Chia Superfood Pudding after my gym sessions this week.  And, I admit, I was a small bit concerned that I wouldn’t like it, even packing a backup bar…just in case.

Back up bar wasn’t necessary though.

The Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bar was…simply put…fantastic.  It’s the perfect snack as it’s small and easy to pack into a purse or pocket…ideal for an on-the-go breakfast or when that snack attack happens mid-afternoon, yes?  Hey…it happens.  Pretty much every day for me.  And having something healthy to reach for, rather than candy or sweets, is good for me.  Because, we all know I have quite the sweet tooth.

Well, not only does the Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars fulfill any sweet craving, I don’t feel guilty noshing on it either.  Not only are they low in salt, with no added artificial colors or flavors, but they are also free of gluten, wheat, almonds, hazelnut, walnuts, dairy, soy, and eggs…and instead contain a whole heap of wholegrain oats, tasty apples, raisins, and sweet cinnamon.  They prove to be a great source of filling fiber.  And…guess what?  They taste amazing.  No backup bar required.

I loved these bars at first bite.  They are sweet, without being sugary.  They are crumbly and chewy, and not dry.  They are packed with fruit flavors and have amazing texture with the coconut, oats, apples and raisins.  Seriously…love.  LOVE.  And, like I said, I can be pretty picky about my bars.  But these are a dream.   A serious granola bar lovers dream.  I devoured them the past two gym days if that tells you anything.

So, now that I’ve raved over the Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars from Freedom Foods, let’s talk about their ingredients!  These bars are made from whole grain rolled oats, glucose syrup, rice cereal (rice flour, yellow corn flower, psyllium husk, whole grain sorghum flour, sugar, canola oil, salt, sunflower lecithin, sultana raisins, glycerin, erythritol, dried apple (contains sulfites), canola oil, resistant dextrin inverted sugar, coconut (contains sulfites), maltodextrin, natural flavor, sunflower lecithin, and sodium bicarbonate.

And as far as that coveted nutritional information goes…Freedom Foods Chewy Oats, Apple & Cinnamon Granola Bars have amazing stats.  Seriously.  A serving size is one (1) bar, and there are 6 bars in each box.  This one bar will provide you and your body with 130 calories, 3 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium, 21 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 6 grams sugars, and 2 grams of protein.  Filling…but filled with good stuff, that’s for sure.

I love how Freedom Foods continues to hold itself to the highest of standards when it comes to their products.  Their focus on a better and healthier diet, through the food they produce, is evident in the products that they put out on the shelves.  I have yet to be let down.  Totally amazing.  Totally delicious.  And yes…filling.

I’m sold…for life.

 

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Product Review: Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar

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Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar

Product: Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar – $2.49+

I am not going to lie.  I’m never without a protein bar of some sort.  When you have food allergies, it is always best to be prepared.  And, sometimes I get a little daring and try new things.  New brands can be a scary thing.  Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

On a recent trip up to Columbus, Ohio, I was (shockingly) shopping at Raisin Rack and raiding all the gluten free stuff.  Seriously.  This is what I do.  Upon reaching the checkout, I spotted, in their line up of protein bars (there are few candy bars at their checkouts…mostly energy bars/protein bars)…something marked gluten-free…and the words…PUMPKIN SPICE printed on it.

So, I picked it up…flipped it over…looked it over…and put it back.  Cathy (the roomie) spotted this and reached over, snagged it, and put it up on the belt for checkout.  Guess I was going to get to try it after all.  The bar was Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar.

It came home with me, and due to a lack of preparation, I had nothing to nosh on after my swim this morning at the gym, so I tossed the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar into my bag, went for my swim, and then came into work.

Good! Greens has a goal, which is to help everyone be their best good.  What is good?  Good is a mindset that drives everything we do and make.  For Good! Greens, it’s all about good ingredients, good practices and good community.  Good is what we eat, how we care for ourselves, and how we care for others.  And Good! Greens uses a formula in all of their bars that uses 100% fruits and vegetables, providing an excellent source of vitamins, antioxidants, and a clinically proven probiotic for digestive and immune health.  It’s a power bar that gives you everything your body needs…without all the filler.

I had a few doubts, to be honest.  Upon opening the wrapper, I pulled out this little bar that was coated in this white confectionery coating.  I broke it in half, noting the Lärabar-like middle.  I took a taste…and was actually impressed.  The texture was a bit chewy and hard, but I think some of that was from sitting in the cold car while I was swimming at the gym.  But the flavor was great.  The pumpkin flavor was just enough…not overpowering.  And that coating…amazing.  It really made it feel more like a dessert than a protein bar.  It even filled me up.  I ended up being surprised by this bar.  Not my favorite…but not bad.  It was a nice surprise and one that makes me even more curious about their other flavors of bars.

Let’s talk about the ingredients that go into the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar!  This bar is made from fruitrim (natural fruit juices and grain dextrin), sunflower seed butter (sunflower kernels, sunflower oil, soybean oil, molasses, salt), dairy free confectionery coating (evaporated cane juice, palm kernel oil, soymilk powder, soy lecithin [emulsifier], vanilla), brown rice protein, good greens superfood powder, agave syrup, gluten free oats, soy protein crisps, chicory root fiber, natural pumpkin flavor, peanut paste (peanuts, salt).  This bar is vegan, gluten free, contains probiotics, and is made from real fruits and vegetables.

As for nutritional information, this actually stacks up really nice for a protein bar.  A serving of the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar is the entire bar.  This bar will deliver 189 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 14 grams sugar, and 10 grams of protein.  It is a nutritional powerhouse, for sure!

These days, I’m searching for better foods with less processed ingredients that are more real than fake.  Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar definitely fit that demand.  I was quite happy with this bar.  It was a nice change from my usual suspects.

 

Product Review: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

 Product: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar – $2.50+

Ever see one of those products that intrigues you…but you just can’t get up the nerve to purchase one to actually try it?  That is the relationship I have had for a few years with Bobo’s Oat Bars.  I spotted these first at my natural foods store, Rainbow Blossom, on an endcap.  Not all flavors are gluten-free, but there was quite a variety.  I really wanted to try one, and, for a gluten-free bar…the price isn’t so bad.  I just never could actually talk myself into it.

Lo and behold, my May (Is For Mom) 2015 Cuisine Cube brought Bobo’s Oat Bars to me, instead.  It was like a “if you build it, they will come,” moment, save more of a, “if you covet it, someone will send it to you.”  HA!

So, first let me recap for you what Cuisine Cube is all about, shall I?  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers 5-6 gluten-free, full-size products to your door for as little as $34.99/month. Inside the cube, you will discover full-size products (not sample sizes) that are made by local and smaller, artisan companies, rather than those that you can find at the average grocery store.  It has introduced me to so many new and delightful products.  Each box contains a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert product…and then, sometimes, an extra bonus item.  Who doesn’t love a little something extra, right?   Keep in mind, however, that Cuisine Cube has gone through some changes as of May.  No longer do they strictly only offer gluten-free cubes.  In addition to their gluten-free option, they now also offer Artisan and Vegan cubes as well.  The Artisan cube means that you have no food allergies and foods that contain common food allergens will be included.  The Vegan cubes contain products that are dairy and animal free.  And, they still have the Gluten Free cubes, which will have products that contain no gluten or wheat.  So, if you’re really interested in being introduced to the smaller, lesser-known, artisan companies, give Cuisine Cube a try!  It’s like…Christmas…or your birthday…every month!  Who doesn’t love that?!

In the May 2015 box, there were quite a few snacks/candies/sweets packed in.  It was the Mother’s Day cube, that’s how it should be.  And for the Breakfast/Snack option, the people at Cuisine Cube sent me a much coveted, highly anticipated, Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bar.  The flavor – peach.

Now, peach for me can be hit or miss, honestly.  You either get it right, or you get it wrong.  As a huge fan and connoisseur of peaches (fresh, tinned, frozen…you name it!), peach is one of those flavors that either wins me over or loses me.  So, peach was the risky flavor of bar to send from the gluten-free line, I think.  It’s not a common favorite, but, honestly, it is one of the most refreshing and summer-inducing flavors around.

Bobo’s Oat Bars was founded by Beryl Strafford in 2005.  This Boulder, Colorado, based business is still headquarted there today.  These bars are named after Strafford’s eldest daughter, who she has affectionately called “Bobo.”  These bars were developed out of a simple mother-daughter baking tradition, and soon grew to become a sought-after snack bar that are enjoyed by families, athletes, and healthy minded people everywhere.  Strafford wanted these bars to embody two of her highest values in life: being a mom, and living an active and healthy lifestyle.  Bobo’s Oat Bars are baked from scratch using only the finest organic ingredients, with no additives or artificial sweeteners.  These bars are not only convenient, but a wholesome snack choice that are convenient for the busy kids, students, athletes, and adults in life.  Not all of Bobo’s Oat Bars are gluten-free, but they have a core selection of flavors that are, including: peach, maple pecan, lemon poppyseed, chocolate almond, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly.

Cuisine Cube shared probably the flavor I would have picked up last, due to my love-hate relationship with peach flavored items.  I am either going to love it or hate it.  And after 2 months of not quite getting around to trying the much-coveted Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar, my roommate and I split it tonight as our dessert.

First of all, I loved the texture of this bar.  It was substantial, yes, but it was soft and chewy…like an elite granola bar of sorts.  The oats were stunning and each bite was chewy and wholesome.  I love that these are made with natural ingredients.  I love that very little sugar is in these bars.  I loved how 1/2 of this bar (which is the serving size) was filling enough to double as a meal.  Yes…I loved all of that.  What fell a little short for me, however, was the flavor.  When something declares that it is peach flavored, by the taste gods, bring me that bold, sweet, amazing peach flavor.  At the very edges of this bar, I found it to be very bland.  The center part, still bland, but had more of that peach flavor that I was hoping for.  At least the flavor didn’t taste fake…there just wasn’t enough of it there.  The Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar was filling, for sure, but not all that flavorful.  A little bit of a let-down, but not enough to make me not want to try the other gluten-free flavors out there.

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars!  These bars are made from organic gluten free rolled oats, brown rice syrup (brown rice, filtered water), Earth Balance [natural oil blend (palm fruit, canola and olive oils), filtered water, pure salt, natural flavor (derived from corn, no MSG, no alcohol, no gluten), sunflower lecithin, lactic acid (non-dairy, derived from sugar beets) and colored with annatto extract], organic sucant (non-refined cane sugar), dried peaches, natural peach extract, and xanthan gum.  These bars are gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and now certified kosher!

As for the nutrition facts of Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars, these stats are pretty fantastic.  Do keep in mind, however, that each bar is 2 servings, so cut that baby in half and save the rest for another day.  One serving, or half of a bar, will provide you with 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  Is it any wonder with that low sugar, and the higher protein and fiber that this bar feats more like a meal than a snack?!  Fantastic.

So, the jury is still out for me.  While I wasn’t completely blown away by Bobo’s Gluten-Free Peach Oat Bars, I didn’t dislike them either.  In fact, the texture, chewy, yet substantial, was amazing.  I loved that.  I just wish it was more peachy, given theat it is the peach bar.  However, I’m not counting them out yet.  Next time I’m at my natural food store, I’m going to snag a different flavor and see if it smacks my taste buds around a little more.

For what it is worth, Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar is a great, healthy snack or meal for the busy and on-the-go type of person.  It will leave you feeling full, and with it being made from natural ingredients, keep you feeling full.  Your body won’t burn right through this bar, as it would many protein, granola and/or snack bars out on the market.  The lower the sugar, the happier I am.

If not for Cuisine Cube, I don’t know if I ever would have convinced myself to purchase one of Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bars.  That being said, I’m glad that this was shipped to me so I could get a taste of what is out on the market, and what I love and might not love as much about new bars.  I’m a marathoner, I’m always looking for new fuel and recovery items.  This…is off to a good start.

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Product Review: The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

Product: The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar – $3.00+

The holiday season is over, and the New Years resolutions have kicked in, right?  And so many people place eating better, working out, and losing weight at the top of their list.  I am not one of those people.  In fact, I don’t ever make New Years resolutions…and I’ll tell you why…I hate not accomplishing a goal I set for myself.  I usually just make it a point to live that year to the best of my abilities.  That being said, I am doing a little bit of cleaning up when it comes to my diet.  And that does mean I am paying attention to ingredients that are in products that I purchase.  While I prefer to eat natural and whole foods, there is no escaping the ease and convenience of processed and packaged goods at times.

And thanks to Cuisine Cube‘s Holiday cube (December), my New Year is off to a grand start.  Let’s discuss, once again, the benefits and advantages I feel a service like Cuisine Cube offers.  Because, if you’ve been reading this, you should be familiar with the service, but perhaps have been wavering on actually signing up.  Hesitate no more.  Just…DO IT!  Cuisine Cube is a mail delivery service that happens monthly, delivering delicious, lesser-known, local, and less-processed gluten-free products right to your door.  It’s fantastic.  And each month is like Christmas, opening up the box and discovering what goodies are inside.  It’s available at different price ranges, depending on how long you wish to order it for…be it month-to-month or a whole year.  If you haven’t gone to the site to check it out…do it now.  You will not regret it.

Available in each cube is a food that can be used for either a breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, a snack, and a dessert…and sometimes…a bonus.  This month…an extra dessert.  My sweet tooth stands up and salutes the Cuisine Cube gods and goddesses!  But, the product that I tried out this morning was actually the breakfast item that was included.

We all know that I am a huge advocate for breakfast.  It is my favorite meal of the day.  Honestly.  I could eat breakfast for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never get tired of that kind of food.  Never.

This morning was one of those mornings where I would rather stay curled up in bed, hibernating under all my blankets.  With a hard freeze warning in affect for my area, my 7 mile speed work run was not happening outdoors today.  Nope.  So, I had to set my alarm to get up early and go to the gym to run…7 miles…on a treadmill…at varying speeds.  UGH!  But, when training for the Boston Marathon, you do what needs to be done.  You just suck it up, cupcake.

After my run, I returned home for breakfast.  With my coffee brewing, I needed something easy and fast.  I remembered that I still had some products from my December Cuisine Cube…which included a breakfast bar of sorts.

It is called The YES Bar.  Yes…The YES Bar.  It was created over three years ago in a home kitchen in Laurel Canyon, California.  Creator, Abigail, was faced with some food sensitivities and health challenges when it came to her son.  And she found herself constantly having to tell him “no” to the foods he wanted to eat.  So, she set to work, collecting all the healthy, delicious, and yummy foods that she could find in her kitchen that were naturally free of gluten, dairy, soy and corn.  She started with nuts and seeds…added in honey and maple syrup…then vanilla bean powder…cinnamon…dried fruits…and coconut butter.  In went hemp and chia for added nutrition.  And then…chocolate.  Because chocolate should be in everything.  And “chocolate is awesome”…she says on the Web site.  It took months to get the recipe down and find the right consistency to make these little portable treats of breakfast goodness.  From the first taste, even before they were perfected, Abigail’s son loved them.  Her other son loved them.  Her friends loved them.  Her husband loved them.  In fact, her husband started using them for his 50 mile bike rides…and then his cycling buddies wanted them.  From there it was parties…then people wanting to buy them…then into local stores…and so on.

The YES Bar is a grain free bar, so if you follow a paleo diet, they work for you.  I do not follow a paleo diet, nor am I a fan of said diet.  But…every single ingredient that goes into these bars is real foodAnd that is a sticking piont with me these days.  The less processed the better.  No weird preservatives or binders or fillers.  This is not a glorified candy bar.  It is a delicious and 100% healthy bar that you can eat for breakfast, after a run, on-the-go, for dessert, or as fuel for your workout.  In fact…The YES Bar makes the following promise on their site: “If it’s in our bar, it’s good for you. And when you eat it, it will be yummy. Like, really yummy.”

So, does it live up to all the Web site hype by the creators?

OMG…does it ever!!  This is like a Lärabar on crack.  The good kind of crack!  HA!  The package said to try it chilled, so last night I popped it into the fridge so I could enjoy it this morning as a breakfast treat after my treadmill run.  It was fantastic.  Sweet and savory and salty and just all around amazing and delicious.  I loved the crunchy and chewy texture combination.  And it was actually quite filling for a bar…and it should be because it is all real and natural ingredients.  There is some sugar, but it is part of the dried fruits and the honey and syrup that is added.  It’s not granulated sugar of any kind.  Gotta love that.  And the flavor…amazing.  You do feel like you’re cheating on breakfast with this bad.  The chocolate gives it that rich sweetness…the dried fruits add to the texture and sweetness, but the nuts give it a salty and savory feel at the same time.  It’s like eating candy for breakfast…but candy that is actually good for you!

Since we’re on the subject of ingredients, let me give you a run down of what all goes into The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar.  This bar is made from macadamia nuts, maple syrup, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut butter, pecans, honey, dark chocolate, raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dried tart cherries, shelled hemp seeds, sesame paste, flax seeds, chia seeds, celtic sea salt, cinnamon, and vanilla bean powder.   It is certified paleo friendly, certified gluten-free, and does not contain soy, dairy, gluten, or corn.  It is also non-GMO!  You gotta love all of that, yes?

As for nutrition, a serving size is one of The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bars.  In this one bar, you will be served up a filling 200 calories and 15 grams of fat.  Do not freak out over the fat…because it is the healthy fat that comes from the nuts and seeds that are inside this bar.  This bar provides you with 105 mg sodium, 160 grams of potassium, and 9 grams of sugar.  That may seem a little high for one bar, but it’s mostly coming from the maple syrup, the honey, and the dried fruits.  So, it’s not the bad kind of sugar.  To top it off, you will be taking in 3 grams of filling fiber and 4 grams of protein.  It makes a perfect on-the-go snack and a great post-workout breakfast.  Or…eat it while on your long run for fuel.  Nothing should be offensive to the stomach.  I might have to give that a try next time as I train up for my upcoming marathons!

I am beyond thrilled with The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar.  And I never would have even known of its existence without my subscription to Cuisine Cube.  They really do search for the best quality items to go in each cube.  And they definitely hit the mark with this California based snack bar company.  Loved this bar from first bite.  It was great chilled, but I bet it would be just as good straight out of the package.  Another win!

If you can’t find The YES Bar near you…be sure to check out their Web site!  Trust me…you do NOT want to miss out on these!

Restaurant Review: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

Via Napoli - Italy Pavilion - Epcot

Via Napoli – Epcot – Disney World

Restaurant: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

It was Epcot Day!  YAY!  I love Epcot Day.  I don’t know why…because so much of it features the World Showcase…which during the Food & Wine Festival…features foods from all over the world.  Even the regular pavilions that are standard in the showcase don’t offer much for a gluten-free vegetarian.  But I still love Epcot Day.

Since we were in Epcot, on our final night, we wanted to go somewhere in the park for dinner.  It took a little bit of back and forth, but we finally decided on Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.  It had gluten-free pasta on the menu, so we were good.  Something I could eat.  Which, definitely was important on Epcot Day…as our morning actually started at the Magic Kingdom…where we at Dole Whip for breakfast.  Pictures were taken for proof.  I am not ashamed.

But…let’s fast forward.

The entire day was spent doing a few rides and exploring the World Showcase.  My friend, Jenn, was having a difficult time on the last day.  Her feet…her poor feet…had blisters in places I didn’t know one could get blisters.  It was a slower moving day, but I was fine with that.  Take in the showcase.  Stop and watch the new Lumberjack Show.  I miss Off Kilter though…I’m not going to lie.  Cathy snagged a lunch in Morocco (she had to have her lamb shawarma!), while Jenn and I toddled over to Brazil for the (naturally gluten-free) Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread).  I later had one of my protein bars and half of a clementine (Jenn had the other half) because dinner reservations weren’t until 7:45 p.m.  Late.

But, we made use of our time…checking out different things along the way, resting when Jenn needed to get off her feet, exploring the different countries, and shopping.  Of course.  We got in line for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros at the Mexican Pavilion…and that sort of ate up (see what I did there?) the rest of the evening down time before food.  It was a bit of a stroll back to Italy in Epcot…but Jenn was a trooper…and she got there.

I went up to the hostess desk in the very crowded lobby and let her know we were there for our reservation.  She asked me some questions, it was hard to hear her over the din of the lobby.  But we got it worked out.  And, of course, my food allergy thing.  So, there was a short wait…but after about 5 or so minutes, the lobby was emptying and we were up next.  The really nice hostess took us all the way to the back for a table with a bench and two chairs.  Cathy and I sidled up on the bench.  Jenn took the chair this time.

We. Were. Starving.

I perused the menu and noted that, yes, gluten-free pasta was the only option for me.  The downside…none of the listed pasta dishes on the menu were vegetarian.  Yikes.  As I was just starting to look at the menu, the customer liaison came over to speak to me about my food allergy.  He noted the gluten-free and pointed out that they do not have gluten-free pizza but any of the pasta can be done gluten-free.  And then he was off.

Which left our poor waiter to be the one who would have to seriously help me out.  Not that he minded.  And as I am the tricky one…I ordered first.  And my first statement was…

“Well, I am a gluten-free vegetarian…so…”

He came over to my side of the table to look at the pasta dishes.  “Gluten-free…it’s easy,” he said.  “The vegetarian…”  He looked at all the pasta options again and finally said, “I tell you what…we will have the chef prepare some mushrooms and vegetables with our marinara sauce.”

Works for me.  Order in.

Jenn opted for the Lasagne Verde, which is a white lasagna that is stuffed with spinach, parmesan, ricotta, and a besciamella sauce ($22.00).  Cathy went for her go-to when we first go to an Italian restaurant…the Spaghetti e Polpettine, which contained hand-crafted veal meatballs in a tomato sauce ($21.00).  I have to say, I usually giggle a little when Jenn orders something with cooked spinach or vegetables in it…because most of those veggies get tossed to the side of the plate.  But…she is Italian…and she knows her Italian food.

We waited for a bit…no gluten-free rolls or any bread at all at the table.  We watched a woman at the table next to us devour an entire pizza on her own, while her dining companions watched her.  And as she was taking her last few bites, their food arrived.  It was weird.  We couldn’t figure out if they were just there to watch her eat (like some crazy Disney World food challenge or something)…but…who knows.  She then got to watch all of them eat so…turn around is fair play…or something?

But, soon our attention turned to our own food as our dishes arrived and were delivered before us.

Pasta with Veggies and Marinara

Pasta with Veggies in Red Sauce

I have to say, my bowl of pasta was beautiful.  A good helping of marinara sauce (which would have been awesome with a gluten-free bread product of some type!) with a variety of vegetables cooked in.  I spotted zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms immediately.  And the gluten-free pasta was fusilli…so twisty and perfect for capturing delicious sauce.  I will call this dish…”Pasta for the strange gluten-free vegetarian at the table in the back.”  Or…more simply…Pasta and Veggies in Red Sauce ($22.00).

Now, this is the second Italian restaurant I have visited at Disney World.  Normally we just head over to Hollywood Studios and enjoy our food (complete with gluten-free dinner rolls and gluten-free dessert!) at Mama Melrose’s.  But since were were in Epcot…we figured it would be easier to eat there than park hop.

I sort of wish we park hopped…

It’s not that Via Napoli was bad.  It wasn’t.  The food was actually quite good.  It was just…average though.  The pasta in my dish was actually cooked to perfection.  A lot of gluten-free pastas, especially when crafted from rice flours, tend to get gummy and fall apart.  These were a perfect al dente and held up to the marinara and the vegetables.  But…there was a lot of pasta in that dish and I ended up picking out the veggies at the end and leaving the noodles alone.  I ate about 3/4 of the dish…and that was it.  I was done.  The marinara had a lot of flavor to it.  And the vegetables were a nice touch and I appreciate the chef at Via Napoli for doing that to accommodate my dietary needs.  I just…had better.  Elsewhere.

Jenn enjoyed her lasagna…after she picked out most of the spinach.  And Cathy made sure to eat all of her meatballs.  They were much smaller than what she normally gets in a spaghetti and meatball dish, so she appreciated that too.  But she too had to soldier on and leave some of her pasta noodles behind.

No dessert here for us…we had plans.  Cathy wanted her chocolate cannoli from one of the gelato carts in the World Showcase, and I headed to France to get some Salted Caramel Gelato from an ice cream shop there.  Yummy!

So, as it stands, Via Napoli put out good food.  I can’t think of anywhere at Disney where I have had bad food.  It’s just…Mama Melrose’s had more options for me…and a bit more to offer.  So next time…I think I’ll return to Mama Melrose’s.  But, thank you, Via Napoli, for the fine cuisine.  A little taste of Italy never goes wrong with me.

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon – Orlando, FL (November 8, 2014)

Me, dressed as Venellope von Schweetz, at the staging area of the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon - Orlando, Florida

Me, dressed as Venellope von Schweetz, at the staging area of the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon – Orlando, Florida

Race: Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: November 8, 2014

Time: 1:50:09

I’m starting to think I angered the running gods somewhere along the way this year.

Seriously.

Because before I go any further, let me start with these two words for you:

BROKEN TOE!

You read that right.  My first night at Disney World this time around…and what do I do?  I BREAK A FREAKIN’ TOE!  And you know, broken toe stories never really are a good story…because they always just happen randomly and in such a stupid and simple manner.  For me…climbing into the shower at my resort.  No joke.  Jammed it on the tub.  Yeah…

So…running gods and goddesses…whatever it is…I apologize.  Please, please show me some mercy from here on out…

*COUGH*

That being said…not even a week removed from the New York City Marathon and I find myself up in Columbus, Ohio.  Yes…this journey starts in Columbus, because my roomie and I were taking our good friend, Jenn, with us to Walt Disney World this time around.  And, believe it or not, it was cheaper to drive up to Columbus and fly out of there on Friday morning than it was to do it from Louisville.  Worked out in the end.  The three of us could now travel together.  YAY!!  But…this also meant a very early morning after a night spent on the road to get there.  We didn’t get in too late, but we didn’t want to stay up too late either, as our ride would be coming in between 4:15 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. Friday morning.  Our flight out was at 6:30 a.m.  Early flight…nonstop…meant…in to Disney early.  WOOT! Jenn’s dad came and got us, drove us to the Columbus Airport, and dropped us off.  Cathy and I checked our bags…Jenn carried hers on…and we went through security.  Our first stop…Starbucks.  Caffeine was needed for sure at this hour.  And I had a tall soy salted caramel mocha calling my name.  With coffees in hand, we settled in at our gate and just started discussing the plans for that day.

And…it ran smoothly.  We boarded the plane on time and were in the air without any sort of delay.  This was a new thing for me.  And, believe it or not, our flight team got us in to Orlando a full 20 minutes early.  HELLO!  This is my happy dance.  Cathy went to get the rental car while Jenn and I waited for luggage.  The bags came through really quickly, actually, so Jenn and I headed out the way we were directed for rental cars and ended up at the Enterprise kiosk outside.  Cathy was inside.  Figures.  So, she had to come to us.  The representative took us out to the midsize cars and pointed out the Prius, as we are accustomed to Toyota vehicles as both Jenn and I own Toyotas.  We were sold.  Hello amazing as mileage!!  Car acquired, we were now setting out to make our required Publix stop, to pick up some fruit, snacks, and some water.  Jenn and I also replenished our protein bar stores.  I am glad we did this, because I ate my way through all of mine this trip.  After that, we headed to the resort and got checked in at…where else?…Port Orleans Riverside.

Yes.  Again.  Why change up the resort when we love this one so much.  I mean…it’s one of my favorite Disney Princess’ place…Tiana, of course!  And I know the layout and the rooms (or so I thought, HA!).  We got our room…which was…a maze to find.  Opposite end of the elevator, all the way around by the pool…second floor.  We just had to do some exploring to find it.  But, heh, we managed.  We settled into the room for a moment…Jenn cooling off by the air conditioner, while I got out my tiara (requirement at Disney…because they call me Princess if I wear it…and I LOVE being called Princess).  I had to get my waiver in order to pick up my race packet at the expo.  And we grabbed a snack prior to heading out for the day.

First up…the expo.  And thankfully, the resorts on Disney property run shuttles to the event.  The expo was held at the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex.  Just like it normally is.  Well, it was for the Dopey Challenge anyway.  Love this venue.  It’s really easy to navigate now…but at first it was slightly confusing.

The most amazing thing happened with this race though.  In New York City, I met running legend Kathrine Switzer.  When she ran the Boston Marathon, she was the now famous Bib 261.  Well, my bib number at the Disney Wine & Dine was…261.  Having this race bib number has been a dream of mine…Disney Magic made it happen!  I love surprises like that.  As I was one of the lower numbers, I had virtually no line to stand in.  This is usually the case with Disney races for me.  I was going to be in Corral A, which anyone with the numbers between 21-500 will be in.  They gave me my commemorative pin, which I ordered ahead of time, and then sent me across the way to the actual expo, where I would pick up my t-shirt.

I avoided the vendors upon entering and made my way over to the area in the back for my t-shirts.  Not too many people were in line for a women’s small either, so I stepped up and handed my bib over to the lady at the counter.  She looked at it as she tore the t-shirt tab off and said, “WOW!  You’re the lowest number I’ve seen…how fast can you run a half marathon?”  I told her my fastest time and she asked if I was going to try to beat it here.  I told her, in my mind, I’d love to, but I had just run a marathon on Sunday, so it wasn’t likely.  The body was still recovering.  I said I intended to have some fun and just enjoy it.  And take pictures with characters this time around.  Next time…  She laughed and handed me my shirt.  Time to shop!

I really intended not to purchase anything.  Just look.  But…heh…that didn’t work out as planned.  I didn’t get a BondiBand here either, for the record.  My mojo is off.  My usual customs aren’t happening.  ACK!  But I didn’t see a booth, honestly.  Cathy found me the race specific equivalent though in the Official Merchandise area…so we went with that.  It would do.  One thing I did do, however, was visit the Garmin booth and ended up getting a watch I could wear so I didn’t have to wear my Garmin running watch if I needed to know what time it was.  After all, I was at Disney World and I was NOT going to live on my cell phone.  Nope!  This was vacation!  With that purchase…I said I wasn’t allowed to spend any more money…so I avoided the Newton booth and tried to ignore all the cute running clothes.  I made it out of there with only that purchase and a wine glass (Disney Wine & Dine…get it!) from Official Merchandise.  I did well!

We wrapped things up and took the shuttle back to our resort to drop off our bags.  Then…with no pausing, we were back out and this time hopping the regular shuttle bus to take us to Animal Kingdom, our park of choice for our first day there.  We had things planned…like Jenn and I were going to ride Expedition Everest, the roller coaster there in Animal Kingdom.  We did.  And it was epic fun.  It was nice to have a ride buddy this time around, as Cathy refuses to do any of those rides…because she somehow became less fun at amusement parks between when we first went to Disney in February 2013…to today.  BUT…before any attractions or rides…we needed more coffee…and a snack.  So…I hit up the allergy friendly Gardens Kiosk in the park for some hummus and vegetables and Cathy and Jenn grabbed some fries at a restaurant there.  We noshed and then…went to grab the infamous COFFEE!!  You see, Animal Kingdom has this one place that serves up this fantastic iced coffee in either a French Vanilla or Mocha flavor.  I have always done, and will always do, the French Vanilla.  But it tastes like a light milkshake.  Seriously.  It is the best thing ever.  My favorite coffee at any Disney park.  And…I might be addicted to it.  With coffee now acquired and caffeine hitting the system…we had the roller coaster to do and the Kilimanjaro Safari.  LOVE dong the safari at Animal Kingdom because the guides are fun, the animals are RIGHT THERE…and it’s just a nice way to relax and see some wild animals.  LOVED it.  While there, we also did the “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” show and rode on Dinosaur.  By the time we wrapped things up, we were running just a tiny bit late to the shuttle to get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge…home of our traditional first meal at Disney World feast…Sanaa.

Sanaa is African food that sort of borrows from the flavors of India.  Can you see why I love eating here so much?  After talking with the chef, I ended up getting the Vegetarian Sampler, which is Basmati Rice and the choice of two of five of their vegetarian entrees.  I went with the Chickpea Wat and the Seasonal Greens and Tomatoes.  It was…beyond fantastic as always.  For the record, Cathy ordered the Lamb Shank and Jenn got the Slow Cooked Dinner Sampler, which was Basmati Rice with a choice of two of the five plate offerings.  She went with Butter Chicken and Goan Seafood Curry.  We ended up splitting the dessert…as usual…we ordered the Seasonal Kulfi, which was pumpkin this time.  And it was delicious.  The couple next to us made conversation with us the entire time, and he ended up getting the trio of desserts, which included the kulfi that we were raving about.  He took a bite and his wife said, “That was your sex face.”  Hilarity ensued.  Anyway, with dinner wrapped up, we had a full day and we knew the race was the following night, so we headed back to the resort to take our turn through the shower and get some much needed sleep.

Broken toe...*sigh*

Broken toe…*sigh*

And this…is where it all went down.  I was first up to shower, so I went into the bathroom and got the water going.  And as I was climbing into the bathtub…BAM…jammed my foot on the edge of the tub.  Hard.  And bad.  I doubled over for about a minute before toughing it up and finishing the shower.  After I was dressed, I hobbled out and pointed to my foot.  “I think I broke a toe!”  Cathy and Jenn looked up at me with big eyes and Cathy said, “SERIOUSLY!?”  It was confirmed the next morning…when I woke up to find it swollen and a pretty shade of black-ish purple.

*SIGH*

Being proactive, we decided to use the athletic tape that we brought with us (because my feet are delicate things and I apparently need to wrap the hell out of them these days) and Cathy taped my broken toe (the 4th one)…to the middle toe.  And that was how I managed to get through a full day at Hollywood Studios.  For real.  Being that the race started at 10 p.m., today was going to be a bit strange for me…because…I had to eat backwards.  I also was not going to be having gluten-free pizza prior to this race.  Night races…they screw everything up.  So, we were having a character breakfast at Cape May (Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Donald, FTW!).  And this was going to be our biggest meal of the day.  Honestly.  The chef came out to talk to me and she ended up making me GLUTEN FREE MICKEY WAFFLES!!  These are a requirement when I go to Disney World and Disneyland.  I have to have them at least once.  I paired that up with scrambled eggs for protein and a big heaping bowl of fruit.  Because…it was there and really delicious!  And that was breakfast.  Off to Hollywood Studios.  Cathy had somehow managed to get the times wrong for the fast passes we had for both the Aerosmith Rock ‘N Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror.  But, we begged and pleaded and after being treated like children, Jenn and I were allowed on our thrill rides that Cathy refuses to even try.  We also did Star Tours (always fun!) and Muppet Vision 3-D.  LOVE THE MUPPETS.  We had some time, so we headed over to The Magic of Disney Animation and sat in on one of the drawing classes, where we were taught how to draw Donald Duck this time.  This made me happy…I hadn’t done a Donald Duck before.  My lunch was my protein bar and a clementine, which I ate on the go.  And after we wrapped up everything…we went back to the hotel, because I had a race to get dressed for…and to get to…broken toe or not.

I actually took the tape off my toes for the race, fearing blisters.  We also had weather moving in (even though I was told on numerous occasions that Orlando didn’t have rain for months!).  So…yeah…there was that.  I was dressing up as Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck it Ralph this time around.  Why?  Because Vanellope is awesome.  HA!  A co-worker of mine even sewed the top for me and it looked fantastic.  I was pretty excited about the costume.  Not so happy with my toe.  And definitely not happy about the impending rain.  But, you just suck it up cupcake and get it done.  Right?  Right!  So, I got dressed, and went ahead and ate my cereal (treating my dinner as how I would eat on a race morning…because I was eating backwards all day!).  Cathy put all the little candy bits in my hair and I packed a set of dry clothes (but not shoes) for after the race…just in case.  The best part about Wine & Dine is the after party in Epcot.  You get to try foods and drinks from different countries.  And included in the race bag is a $10 gift card to put towards those purchases and samples.  So, dinner for Cathy and Jenn was going to be tasting around the world.  For me…probably a protein bar because there isn’t too much there for a gluten-free vegetarian.  But…I figured I would take in the experience.

So, I grabbed the banana we purchased at the grocery store when we got there on Friday and we headed out to the shuttle to take us to the start of the race, which would be near the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.  The staging area was mostly in the grass, and it started to sprinkle a bit.  The first thing we did was head to information to figure out the best way for Cathy and Jenn to get from the start to the finish.  They were told, especially since I was a Corral A runner, that they needed to leave and get a shuttle before I started the race.  So…after dancing around and helping me put a garbage bag over my head to keep my body warm as the wind picked up and the weather started to roll in…they gave me hugs…I was told that the “power of Dean compels me” and not to “pants my poop.”  TRADITION!  And they were gone.  So…I just sort of plopped myself down somewhere and tried to stay warm.  I ate my banana.  I watched people expend a lot of energy by jumping and dancing…and it was fun!!  But soon…it was time to get in those corrals.  And I made the short hike from the staging area to the corrals, moving all the way up to Corral A.

One thing I loved was seeing so many people in this corral in costume.  Disney race or not, a lot of times the higher up corrals don’t get into the Disney spirit.  I have always and will always costume for Disney races.  They are Disney races.  If you run Disney for time, you’re missing the point!  I stayed in the black garbage bag until after the wheelchair racers were sent off.  The elite runners and Corral A were then moved up to the start line.  I shed it then…and that’s when it started to rain.  Lightly at first.  So, when they sent us off with the fireworks and all…it was like a spring shower.  But soon after that first mile, where I met a fellow runner who had just done New York City in that horrible, awful, crazy wind…the rain started to pick up.  And then…it was just…a downpour.

The first three miles of this race are done on the highway…and this race also embraces the most hills of any Disney race I have run yet at Disney World.  But…after New York City…these didn’t seem too bad.  Not really.  After the 5K mark, we come into Animal Kingdom.  Running through the parks is the best part because you get to have the park employees cheer you on.  That and this is normally a key place to snap pictures with characters.  The problem was…with the downpour…many of the characters weren’t out.  BUMMER!  But, you go on.  We run around the Tree of Life just after Mile 4 and then duck outside of the park before hitting 5 Miles.

The rain was relentless and my shoes were full of water.  The good thing was, my feet were so cold and numb that I couldn’t tell if my toe was hurting or not at this point.  But, I knew it was hindering me.  There just comes a point where you just can’t do anything about it…so you just stop worrying about it.  The next few miles were back on the roads, part of the path we ran for the Disney World Marathon.  I recognized it.  I was about halfway through and running down the street parallel to those just getting started.  On the opposite side of the highway…the later corrals were just getting underway.  And we got a lot of cheers from them as we went on.

It’s around Mile 10 that we get filtered into Hollywood Studios.  Great park to run through.  It was decorated for Christmas and everything was lit up.  This has great scenes to run past and the support there is nothing but phenomenal from the cast members.  Honestly.  Despite running in the shadow of the Tower of Terror and through the various lots that they feature, my absolute favorite part of Hollywood Studios involved disco balls and the Costuming Tunnel in the Backlot.  Honestly…I loved looking through the windows, while disco balls are sending lights everywhere in this small tunnel, and seeing people pressing and prepping the costumes for the following day.  It was spectacular.  I wanted to stop and linger…because…well…it was dry in there…and…IT WAS FLIPPIN’ COOL!  But, I was nearing the end of the race and the after party and two very soggy spectators awaited my arrival at that finish line.

Onward.

Out of Hollywood Studios and onto the slick and slippery boardwalk, which runs past the Disney Yacht Club and Disney Beach Club Resorts.  Even with the hard rain and cool air, people staying there still came out to cheer.  I love the vibe I get at every Disney race.  But the electricity through these last two miles was fantastic.  Honestly.

From the Boardwalk we took a turn through Epcot, past the giant ball, and out into the parking lot.  I know this finish area well, trust me.  Around the corner and BAM…there was the finish line.  I pressed hard to that finish line, ignoring my foot and toe, just wanting to get over that mat.  And I cleared it, soaking wet and dripping with rain and pure determination and stubbornness.  Broken toe…check.  Half marathon…check.  BEAST MODE, BABY!

As I recieved my medal and my mylar blanket, I saw Cathy and Jenn waving to me from the bleachers.  They were as wet as I was.  They started down while I got the finisher’s photo, some water, and, of course, the goodie box that RunDisney hands you at the end of every race, filled with goodies like Skittles, Clif Bars, Craisins, Fruit Snacks, and Tortilla Chips with a Cheese spread.  I wasn’t ready for food.  What I was ready for was getting out of the chute and meeting up with my friends.  I sipped on some water and went to where I was directed to exit.

There they were.  Cathy came up to me and gave me a hug.  Jenn came over to do the same and said, “You can tell I love you…”  LOL!!  I really do have amazing friends.  And I give a lot of props and love to the spectators and volunteers who stood or sat out in that downpour for as long as they did.

But now…it was time to check out the after party, which meant an uncrowded spin around the World Showcase with some tasting portions of food at the different country booths and kiosks.  But first…I was freezing…and I wanted hot tea.  We got that immediately and set out to see what each country had to offer.  If something sounded good…devour.  If not…move on.  I probably should have changed clothes, but at that point, it was still raining, so I didn’t see the point.

Cathy tried foods from 7 countries: Mexico, Singapore, China, Brazil, Belgium, France, Canada.  Jenn tried food from China, Brazil, and France.  Me…I had tea.  And after stopping at France, I decided I REALLY needed to be in dry clothes.  I was shaking more than walking.  And since it was just an intermittent drizzle, I figured it was the best time to get out of my cold, wet costume and into my long pants and running jacket.

Me, in dry clothes, after walking the World Showcase and enjoying the after party at Epcot after the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Me, in dry clothes, after walking the World Showcase and enjoying the after party at Epcot after the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

BEST FEELING EVER!

I was dry and now…warm.  I also ate one of my protein bars to help with recovery.  And we finished up the World Showcase that night and called it a morning.  Because by the time we got on the shuttle and returned to the hotel, it was 2:35 a.m.  And we all still had to shower.  I went first, making it quick.  Then Jenn.  Then Cathy.  We didn’t have any reason to be up early the following morning, so we slept in until 9:30-ish.  It was Magic Kingdom day that day…which meant Dole Whip for dessert that night.  We ended up having Dole Whip for breakfast the following morning before hitting up Epcot on our last day there.

I even randomly was found by my friend Michele, who also did the half marathon.  She found me in Morocco of all places.  HA!  And we ended up talking about a lot of things for awhile, before she and her group moved on to try more foods from the showcase, and we went to continue on around the other way, killing time before dinner that night.

So, my official results for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon are that I finished with an official time of 1:50:09.  ON A BROKEN TOE! IN THE POURING RAIN!  I was 418/11,941 overall.  I was the 97/7928 woman to cross the finish line.  And I was 15/1442 in my division to finish.  Disney Magic.  Had to be.  Not my best half marathon by a long shot, but given the circumstances…just…amazing to me.

Now, really, I need to show some mercy on my poor foot and toe.  Time to heal.

Once again, Disney…you were expensive…but totally worth every bit of money I poured into you for those 4 days I was there.  Despite not having the characters out on the course for much of the race, I have every desire to come back and do this one again.  This time…without the downpour and preferably without the broken toe.

Disney…as always…you are my happy place.  Thanks for another great race (and another great reason to dress up in costume to run!).

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!