I was lucky enough to go to the Secaucus, NJ GFAF Expo and my head is still swimming with all I’ve learned. Over the next few weeks I plan to shine more in-depth spotlights on some of the products/foods/classes from the Expo.
Things I Didn’t Expect:
- There was beer. In fact, I counted 5 or 6 gluten-free beer vendors! I didn’t sample any, as I’ve never been a fan of beer.
- Cleaning supplies and how they might tie in to gluten/allergen-free lifestyles never occurred to me, but there it was!
- It was exhausting. Next time, I need to come up with a better plan because getting up at the crack of dawn to drive two hours just to get there left me so that I was a zombie by 4pm.
- To find foods I’ve been dreaming of, foods I’ve missed since going gluten-free, and not only that but to find that they were yummy? Yay!
Some of my favorite finds:
GlutenFree Labels: Seriously, it’s like Martha Stewart meets food allergies. Unless you live in a bubble where you only ever interact with others who are gluten-free, you’ll find times when these labels feel like a necessity. Living in a shared kitchen household? Visit certain family a lot? These products are glorious. And cute!! The silicone hang-tags are oven-safe and dishwasher-safe, and are a great way of obviously tagging everything “Mine!Mine!Mine!Mine!” Expect to hear more from me on these.
Local Oven: Based out of Texas, they’ve got some really great products. The creator managed to create a bread that is nothing like the heavy, dense, and dry items so many of us have become accustomed to. They also make these dinner rolls that have onion bits baked on top, which caramelize and then the whole roll smells like French Onion Soup. My only wish is that they made those in full sandwich-size rolls. In the past, I’ve said “no thanks” to an onion roll, I can remember picking the onions off a sandwich bun at Arby’s. But I fell in love with the Local Oven rolls immediately. Their baguettes were great. Their croutons were flavorful and crunchy.
Glutenfreeda: Gluten-free “hot pocket” style frozen sandwiches. Without the crazy ingredients! I tried one bite of their roast beef + caramelized onion + provolone cheese, and swooned. It was better than the big name gluten-filled sandwiches. These aren’t for the dairy-free folk, but for the gluten-free crowd it’s amazing. It’s not something that I would eat daily, of course, but I would love to have these around to warm-up before I head out to visit my mom 4 hours away, wrap in foil, and be able to have a satisfying, hot sandwich on a trip. They’re supposed to be in grocery stores, so I need to start hunting!
Gillian’s: I’d already been buying their gluten-free breadcrumbs and had never even seen anything else by them. I found out that they recently launched frozen french-bread style garlic bread, and pizza. I didn’t try the pizza but the garlic bread was fabulous. It’s another thing I’ve been missing. The texture was great, the flavor was wonderful – not bland, not overwhelming. I have a few product request sheets to thrust at my local grocery stores.
Basic Batters: A Pennsylvania company, I’m hoping that their products will start to spread out to stores. I don’t want to give away any big spoilers on it all, but let me just say that their stuff is amazing and I wouldn’t have known it was gluten-free, from what I’ve tried. I have only tried two products, but I like them well enough that I feel like anything else they make would be great, too.
I was very interested by a company called “Against the Grain“, who had some great pizza for sample. A company called Sevierly Good had some truly great “Wow, that’s gluten-free??” baked goods to sample; I wish I had brought more cash with me to buy up some of their brownie mix! I spoke with a woman about all-natural Aloe products and I was surprised at what I learned from her. The products are currently a bit out of my price range, but if I could afford it right now it would definitely be a must-try. The folks at Red Apple Lipstick were friendly and welcoming, and even though I don’t wear lipstick personally, they have enough other products that I still liked. Their lip balm seemed to be great! I swiped a little on myself and was impressed. It’s a bit pricey, but it seemed worth it – great ingredients, no bad things like parabens and no gluten. Enzymedica, the makers of Gluten-Ease, were on hand to educate and I got some great tips from them. I plan to add their “Digest Gold” to my Gluten-Ease and see what that does for me, since I’m still not feeling up to par half the time. So Delicious had a great booth, as did Udi’s & Glutino. I learned that Udi’s has some cookies out that seem to be pretty good! I only tried a bit of the Salted Caramel Cashew and while it was pretty sweet, it was also a good texture and very tasty. It would be a great occasional treat. The Schar & Applegate booth was huge! They were giving out sandwiches and were paired up with Bard’s Beer, so it was a picnic in the Expo. CHEESE! Cabot Cheese was on hand. I can’t turn down a good Cheddar and the lovely ladies of Cabot obliged me a time or three. Conte’s Pasta was there, reminding me that they offer gluten-free pierogies that I’ve yet to see in my stores. JD’s Pizza was pretty good; I’d like to look into their stuff a little more and hope to find them in my grocery stores. I wasn’t as impressed with Bread Empire, but they had some very stiff competition there. Oh! Gluten-free corndogs! Who knew! Gluten-free dumplings and egg rolls! The egg rolls were fried, so I wouldn’t be to recreate that in my home kitchen but they were tasty and makes me want to try their other items (Feel-Good Foods). Full Flavor Foods had powdered mixes; I tried their Cheese Sauce which was good, and their base for Cream Soups which was wonderful. Since I’m not too great with creating these things on my own yet, their mixes will be a welcome help. They had more mixes, so look them over.
A few of the vendors were just so constantly overwhelmed with people that I couldn’t get in to talk to anybody. San-J had a throng of people lined up to grab multiples of whatever items they were handing out for free, like plastic cutting boards and silicone basting brushes. The people just wanted the free stuff, I just wanted to chat! I kept trying to chat up the Namaste Foods and Pamela’s Product people, but kept showing up at the same time as other chatty attendees. In between classes, I was often pressed for time and couldn’t wait around. Same with Hail Merry and a couple others.
Since I am such a newbie, though, I really needed the classes. I’m sure that next year I’ll feel more secure in my gluten-free lifestyle and be able to spend more time concentrating on the vendors. I sat in on nearly all of the classes on Saturday, and learned something from all of them. From Annalise Roberts, I learned that using flax & chia in place of the gums is fine, but it won’t mimic the flavor of what we remember and it won’t go over well with the gluten crowd. It has it’s place, but if your goal is to fool people? Stick with her, she’s got you covered. Her cookbook is for people like me, people who can’t bake for squat. She gave out a small bag of a flour mix she likes, something she developed with Authentic Foods, and there’s a recipe on the back for Vanilla Cupcakes. I’ve had a boxed mix, and the cupcakes of a local bakery. Her recipe will be the defining moment and if all goes well, I’ll be buying her book. She’s just the best, though, and assured us all she’d be there if we had problems.
From Rebecca Reilly I learned that I can make pasta, and I can make some awesome pasta. I learned about what I did wrong the first time my mom and I tried to make noodles. I feel confident now that I can follow her recipe for Italian egg noodle pasta, and create something wonderful. I just need those Kitchenaid attachments!!
I do hope that next year for the NJ location, a different expo venue is chosen simply because the area where the classes were held was a little less than ideal. The doors to the class area were all very squeaky and wouldn’t shut without being slammed; when the door opened for every late-comer and early-leaver, the door noise, the slamming, and cacophony of floor noises flooding in all made it a bit hard to hear the speaker and keep my attention going. If you’ve got an Attention Disorder, do yourself a favor and sit closer to the front and farther from the doors, no matter which location you’re at!
The Expo heads next to Dallas Texas, and then starts the tour all over again in the new year by going to San Fransisco and more. Check out their locations and if you need to eat gluten & allergen-free foods, do yourself a favor and go!! The bigger the city you’re near, the bigger the Expo will be, I think. I feel sad that those of you on the West Coast won’t get to try out some of the NJ-local businesses, but I know I missed out on some great Chicago and West Coast foods, too. Small companies are wonderful but I hope in a few years we see their items all across the country! Thanks so much to the team of the GFAFExpo for having me as an official blogger. This year I was just shocked and awed, so next year I hope to buckle down and focus on being a reporter moreso than a learner. It’s absolutely worth it for you to go, no matter how long you’ve been gluten-free.
I was comped with free entry in to the Expo thanks in part to Holy Crap cereal and of course the great people of the GFAF Expo itself, in exchange for social media chatter and blog posts. However, my opinions are my own and I speak from my core with truth!