For the past three years, my family hasn’t dreamed of missing the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo. We travel six hours every year from Mississippi to Atlanta, GA which is the closest GFAF Expo to our home. It is an amazing event that we just don’t skip.
Sadly, I won’t be able to make it to Atlanta this year due to a scheduling conflict. The whole family, even my daughter and husband who aren’t gluten free, was disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to make it to Atlanta. Then, I remembered the date for GFAF Expo-Chicagoland was quickly approaching so we had to quickly decide if we would make the nine-hour trek from Mississippi to Chicago (Schaumburg, IL) for the event. Hmmm...To go to GFAF Expo-Chicagoland, or not to go; that is the question.
Obviously, we had to consider the extra drive time, but there were other things that we had to consider as well. We decided to make a list of pros and cons…
1. GFAF Expo-Chicagoland is the largest gluten free event in the entire United States! I had the opportunity to interview GFAF Expo Founder Jen Cafferty last year in Atlanta. She told me the Chicagoland event was much larger. Based on the enormous amount of goodies we brought home from Atlanta, I can’t even imagine a larger event! Want to see how awesome GFAF Expo-Atlanta was last year? Click on the GFree Genius video below to check it out!
2. We’ll get to try lots of amazing gluten free food. Nathan has already made a list of his favorite brands and I’m excited to introduce him to new brands that he hasn’t tried yet. I don’t have to worry about feeding him lunch because he will have plenty to eat at the GFAF Expo!
3. We can try before we buy. There are hundreds of products to demo and we can try them all! I have spent WAY too much money on bad gluten free foods that went straight into the trash. I love that Nathan can sample donuts, pizza, cookies, bread and pasta before I spend my hard-earned grocery dollars on something he spits out. Many exhibitors also offer special buys for expo attendees that make it worth the trip. Last year we stocked up on pancake mix, bread, spices and even new pillows for the kids!
4. FREE PRODUCTS and COUPONS! Every attendee gets a tote bag upon entry that is already half full of gluten free goodies, coupons and resources. Last year we brought home so much that we could barely fit the kids in the car. We didn’t have to worry about what to put in Nathan’s lunch box for the rest of the school year!
5. It’s not only about food! I love learning from the free classes that are offered. I have learned so much from industry experts and look forward to taking a seat, giving my feet some rest and learning about resources to help me better manage my family’s health. There are also many exhibitors present that share information about their services and tons of resources.
6. I get to see my gluten free friends and make new ones! This is my tribe, friends. I love to get to know other bloggers, authors, exhibitors, speakers and other gluten free people just like me!
7. As an official blogger for GFAF Expo-Chicagoland, I have been authorized to give away FREE TICKETS!!! Keep reading for more information on how to win!
All of that sounds great, right? Well, there are some Cons, too.
So, after weighing the pros and cons, we have decided to take a road trip from Mississippi to Chicago so we don’t miss the fun…or the donuts! We hope to see you there! Keep reading for more information.
Here’s the important stuff:
Location: Schaumburg Convention Center, Schaumburg, IL
Date: April 7-8, 2018
Time: 10am-4pm both days
Promo code to save 20 % off tickets: ADVANCE
To enter to win a free ticket to GFAF Expo-Chicagoland, just comment on this blog post with what you're most looking forward to sampling at the event. 18+. U.S. only, Please enter only if you are certain you will be able to attend. Ticket is for admission only and does not include travel. Contest ends 3/25/18 at 7pm CST. Winners will be notified by email on 3/26/18.
If you would like to purchase advanced tickets to avoid a line at the door AND save 20 percent, click here and use the promo code ADVANCE.
This discount will expire on April 6, 2018
Last night, my non-gluten free daughter, Lauren, called her grandfather to ask if he would make her some pumpkin bread. His answer was yes, of course! She is the only granddaughter and is rarely told no.
My dad’s pumpkin bread is delicious! That is one of the things I’ve really missed since I had to start eating gluten free. I thought it was great that he was making a batch just for Lauren, but I didn’t get super excited since I knew my son, Nathan, and I couldn’t eat it—until I received a phone call from my mother this afternoon asking questions about gluten-free flour. My dad wasn’t leaving his only grandson out! He decided to make gluten free pumpkin bread, too! It would be his first experience with gluten free baking which is a bit different, so I suggested he try making pumpkin muffins instead of a large loaf of pumpkin bread which is what he decided to do. He used the recipe he’s used for decades only substituting gluten free flour for all-purpose wheat flour.
Dad stopped by this evening to deliver the muffins with strict instructions: “If you don’t like these, bring them back. Your mother loves them.” That’s great news because she hasn’t always been thrilled about baking or eating gluten free baked goods.
I don’t think Nathan was expecting the muffins to be very good. He was hesitant to eat them in front of his grandfather in case he didn’t like them, but after the first bite, he said, “These are delicious! Are you sure they are gluten free?” Since my parents’ kitchen is not gluten free, I used my Nima Sensor to test the muffins and was happy to see that no gluten was detected!
Nathan was so excited about his treat that he ate two muffins and was unable to eat his dinner. I had one for dessert and it was so good! It tasted just like the pumpkin bread I remember! The texture was a little different with gluten free flour, but they held together nicely and were quite good! Nathan said the muffins were “a little crunchy on the outside to hold them together and light and fluffy on the inside.”
I’m so glad that my dad made the effort to make gluten free pumpkin bread so everyone could enjoy it. What a nice treat on National Gluten Free Day!
Happy New Year! I apologize for not having updates in months. I've been dealing with personal health issues for the past year and had to take a break. It's great to be back and I hope you'll join me on my gluten-free journey in 2018! I have some exciting things in the works and I look forward to sharing them with you!
Do you, GFree Genius, take Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro to be your favorite gluten-free bakery in Alabama? Do you promise to eat here every time you travel to Huntsville or Birmingham, AL as long as you both shall live?
I do. Gluten-free biscuits, y’all! You’d say “I do” too!
While I was enjoying my lunch during my visit in July, I met Ellen and Chase Boyles of Nashville, TN who had literally just said “I do” at their wedding that afternoon. The first stop as husband and wife? Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro! Ellen cannot eat gluten, dairy or fish, so she searched online to find a safe place to eat during their honeymoon. That search led her to the quaint, dedicated gluten-free eatery that offers breakfast, lunch, amazing cupcakes and a grab & go freezer with a variety of baked goods and paleo meals. Oh, and flourless chocolate cake—my kids wouldn’t forgive me if I left that out!
Dr. Ashley and Taylor Ramirez, owners of Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro, started their business and built their customer base by selling gluten-free goodies at local farmers markets. Just a few months later, they opened a storefront bakery in Huntsville, AL and in just two years, they expanded to include the bistro which now offers breakfast, lunch, paleo-go meals and catering. They will open their second location in Birmingham later this month. I need to pull out the calendar and plan a gluten-free road trip to enjoy the new brunch menu that will be featured at the Birmingham location.
I loved that I was able to maintain my paleo diet at Mason Dixon and that they could accommodate my additional food intollerances. In fact, I was even able to enjoy dessert for a change and indulged in “The Stacey,” a chocolate and vanilla marbled paleo cupcake with decadent chocolate icing which was divine. “The Stacey” came highly recommended from nine-year-old Paulo, a Mason Dixon regular who was seated at a nearby table on the back porch. That kid knows his cupcakes and his current favorite is “The Stacey.” Another guest told my husband that a visit isn’t complete without the Fat Elvis cupcake. My dietary restrictions wouldn’t allow me to order that, but my husband enjoyed every bite of the rich brownie cupcake stuffed with a gluten free “Oreo” and peanut butter, topped with a whipped peanut butter frosting. He said it was worth every delicious calorie. We ordered cupcakes to take home to our kids who enjoyed them very much. My non-gluten free daughter was upset that I didn’t buy more. She is on board to make a road trip to Huntsville (or Birmingham) to restock.
While I wasn’t able to meet Taylor and Ashley on the day of my visit (they were busy serving up sweet treats at a Birmingham farmers market), they did me the honor of answering a few questions that I thought you’d be interesting in reading their answers. Check out my GFree Genius Q & A with Taylor Ramirez.
Q: How was the name of the business selected?
A: Mason Dixon is a line that signifies the convergence of the North and the South. This fusion is an underlying driver for our business. The North is best known for its progressiveness in culture and food while the South is best known for charm and traditions. We try to blend these ideals to form forward thinking foods and service that we believe is reflective of our service, menu, and diversity. Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro, where progression meets comfort.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of owning Mason Dixon?
A: The most rewarding part is knowing the impact we have on our customers’ lives. Every day we have new customers who just realized they have food sensitivities. The smiles on their faces from young children to elderly when they realize they can have anything from the restaurant without concerns of being sick. We have had mothers who cry on their first visit because their 10 year old has never eaten out or enjoyed a decorated birthday cake. The daily joy we get for being there for those under-served customers—that joy makes everything worth it.
Q: What is the most challenging part of owning Mason Dixon?
A: The most challenging is definitely the management of all of the constantly evolving parts of owning a restaurant and bakery. Most restaurants aren’t true scratch bakeries and vice versa. We bake hundreds of items from scratch with our own proprietary flour blends and constantly maintaining quality with those items can be challenging. On the other side, we have the restaurant and catering business which functions off the bakery, using only house-made baked goods. Everything we sell we make in-house to ensure quality and ingredient control. Managing so many different people with varying backgrounds can make the business challenging, as well. Any time you have a tangible product you have to keep a tight control from production to deliver to the customer, because customers are very responsive to food.
Q: What percentage of Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro's client base is NOT gluten free (they eat there because the love the food, not necessarily because they have to eat gluten free)?
A: Actually, the majority of our customer base are not celiac. They love our food because they enjoy the quality of our products. They love that we purchase grass fed/finished beef and pastured pork and chicken. We consistently source local meats and produce. They trust our belief in knowing exactly what you are putting into your body. Food is a fuel, and you are only as good as the fuel you consume.
Q: What would you like GFree Genius readers to know about your new location in Birmingham?
A: Our new location will be offering Sunday Brunch! This location is our first expansion store, with more to come. The hours will be earlier with a greater focus on breakfast and coffee.
Q: What else would you like GFree Genius readers to know about Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro?
A: We have been named one of the top gluten free bakeries in the U.S. We also have an online ordering site and we ship across the country. We only use ingredients that you can hunt and grow for everything we make. We are also much more than gluten free. We also have a large vegan, paleo and dairy-free menu in both the bakery and the bistro. We believe in providing for all those with dietary restrictions.
By the power vested in GFree Genius, I now pronounce that Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro offers amazing celiac-safe and allergy-friendly meals, baked goods, special occasion cakes, or paleo/vegan options, so just say 'I do' to Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro if you'll be anywhere near the Huntsville or Birmingham areas. For more information, visit www.masondixonbakery.com.
You’ve got mail!!
That is an exciting phrase for an 11 year old to hear. It’s even more exciting to open a box filled with gluten-free treats. Great news! The special child in your life could receive an awesome box filled with gluten-free goodies every month!
American Gluten Free launched its Kids Club Box this summer and Nathan was thrilled to receive the first two boxes. Each box includes eight snacks along with a baking mix or pantry item (pasta, cereal, etc.). These kid-friendly boxes are certified gluten free and celiac safe. All products are also free of dairy and peanuts.
The July box included the following items:
King Authur-GF Brownie Mix
Pop Chips-Sea Salt Crisps
JJ’s Sweets-Original Cocomels
Aleia’s-Almond Horn Cookies
Freeyumm-Double Chocolate Chip Cookie
Made Good-Chocolate Chip Granola Minis
RW Garcia-Hummus & Red Bell Pepper Tortilla Chips
Barnana-Apple Cinnamon Bites
Nathan received the July box the day before we left for gluten-free camp in Michigan, so he decided to pack the box in his carry-on bag to ensure safe snacks on the plane and at airports. I’m so glad he had it because gluten-free snacks were really hard to find at MEM, MDW and GRR airports.
The Pop Chips, Made Good Granola Minis and Schar Honeygrams were perfect airplane snacks. He wasn’t upset at all when I declined the airline’s pretzels and peanuts (yes, the peanuts contain wheat) from the flight attendant because he had his own new snacks.
He was especially excited about the King Authur Gluten Free Brownie Mix, but I just didn’t have time to bake before the trip. We left that at home and baked brownies when we returned. He loved the brownies! I would definitely purchase that mix again.
Nathan’s dad may or may not have eaten most of the JJ’s Sweets Original Cocomels—even though the box said “for kids only…PARENTS KEEP OUT!” I think Nathan was too distracted by the aroma of the fresh-baked brownies to notice that something was missing from his box.
The American Gluten Free Kids Club Box changes each month and is filled with new products to try. Be sure to check out the website to see what will be in next month’s box. It is great to have a selection of new snacks to try each month. It encourages Nathan to try new things and lets me know which ones he really likes or doesn’t like so I know what to purchase.
Since Nathan had already received one Kids Club Box, he gasped with excitement when the second box was delivered to the front door. He wanted to open it all by himself, but as the child of a blogger, he knew he couldn’t eat anything until I took a picture!
The August box was filled with more great products:
Kinnikinnick - K-Kritters Chocolate Animal Cookies
Angie's - Sweet & Salty Popcorn
Jessica's Natural Foods - Chocolate Cake Mix
The YES Bar - Strawberry Coconut Bar
The Greater Knead - Cinnamon Raisin Bagel Chips
Nutty Goodness - Nana Rama Fruit & Nut Bites
Pure Organic - Fruit & Veggie Strips
Brother's - Dried Apple Slices
Rise Buddy - BBQ Rice Crackers
My chocoholic son quickly removed the chocolate cake mix and chocolate animal cookies from the box and hugged them. I haven’t had time to bake the cake yet, but his sister’s birthday is this week and I plan to use the Jessica’s Natural Foods mix for her birthday cake. The other items will be great treats to include in his lunchbox. I may have already opened his Angie’s Sweet & Salty Popcorn and it may have been delicious! Maybe he won’t question why it is in a sandwich bag in his lunchbox instead of the sealed bag it arrived in.
The September box ships on August 18, so visit www.americanglutenfree.com for pricing and ordering information. You can buy a one-time box or a subscription that automatically renews. You can always skip a box or cancel at any time. In addition to the Kids Club Box, American Gluten Free also offers box options for adults. The Foodie Box, Snack Box and Vegan Snack Box each include a variety of gluten and dairy free items. Click here to check out my Snack Box review from last year.
American Gluten Free subscription boxes are great for gifts. Who wouldn’t love receiving a box filled with gluten-free goodies each month? Make the phrase “You’ve got mail” exciting again by ordering a subscription from American Gluten Free.
Disclaimer: My son received complimentary American Gluten Free Kids Club Boxes to sample and review, but we did not receive financial compensation for this post. This review reflects the opinion of my family. If you have additional food allergies, please check with American Gluten Free, as some of the products they include in the Kids Club Cox may contain nuts (coconut), egg, and other allergens.
When Fawn Freis was diagnosed with celiac disease and Hashimoto’s, she knew that it was nearly impossible to dine out, so she turned the obstacle into an opportunity. She and her husband, Adam, both had a decade of restaurant experience and had been kicking around the idea of opening their own restaurant.
“I knew I wanted the restaurant to be completely gluten free, so we started thinking of menu items that would be naturally free of gluten,” Freis said.
Her family had lived in Mississippi which is known for catfish, and believe it or not, hot tamales. Both items are made with cornmeal which is naturally free of gluten, so the menu started to take shape. The Freis family toured the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail (seriously, it’s a real thing. Click here for the map of the Hot Tamale Trail) and sampled a variety of tamales in the small Mississippi delta towns of Indianola, Clarksdale, Greenville and everywhere in between to find the perfect flavor. After eating dozens of hot tamales and spending countless hours in the kitchen, Freis created her own tamale recipe.
Freis had also resided in Louisiana for several years where she was introduced to Cajun food like crawfish etouffee, red beans & rice and alligator sauce piquante. She enjoyed these dishes that could easily be adapted with a gluten-free roux.
With their new recipes, the couple opened the doors of Delta Blues Hot Tamales in December 2015 offering flavors of the Deep South without the gluten in their hometown of Birmingham, AL. The restaurant’s front entrance has a gated courtyard that has a New Orleans feel and diners are greeted with the soulful sounds of Delta blues music.
“We didn’t tell anyone it was gluten free in the beginning,” Freis confessed after explaining there is sometimes a stigma that goes along with the words ‘gluten free.’ “We wanted this to be a place for everyone to enjoy great food that just so happens to be gluten free.” They do have a sign at the entrance stating the whole menu is gluten free. She also advertises on gluten free apps so customers can find them.
In addition to being completely gluten free, the restaurant is soy free (with the exception of one dessert that is not made in house), but they also accommodate peanut, tree nut, sesame, egg and dairy-free customers. Fries said they are very aware of food allergies and they work hard to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions. All allergy orders receive special attention. Kitchen staff changes gloves and uses a separate prep area. They also have a vegan-dedicated fryer and offer vegan options including black bean tamales.
We planned our stop at Delta Blues Hot Tamales during the lunch hour so we could enjoy a safe meal on our way to Atlanta. We enjoyed it so much that we drove an hour out of the way the next week on the way to Florida to eat there again and we all ordered the exact same dishes.
I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, so my doctor has recommended that I eat no gluten, dairy, soy or sugar. Even with those restrictions, I didn’t have any problems eating at Delta Blues Hot Tamales. I ordered Mississippi catfish with sweet potato mash. The catfish is breaded with blue cornmeal that is milled just a few miles down the road in Wilsonville, AL. The blue cornmeal made the dish look different than what I’ve ever seen, but tasted just right. Freis told me that they chose blue corn meal to go along with their blues theme. Plus, it is non-GMO and is locally produced.
My husband enjoyed the hot tamales and actually put an extra order in the cooler to enjoy for dinner. He said they were spicy as the name implies, but they weren’t just hot for the sake of being hot. He devoured the homemade blackberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert.
My kids both ordered chicken tenders (no surprise there) with fruit and ice cream for dessert. While I would love for them to try new things, they rarely get to dine in a restaurant, so I let them order whatever they wanted. They are both picky eaters, so they were excited to have “normal” food on the kids’ menu. My son said the sweet tea was perfect. He’s from Mississippi, so he knows how sweet tea is supposed to taste and he will be happy to let you know if it isn’t right.
If you live in the Birmingham, AL area or will be passing through, Delta Blues Hot Tamales is dedicated gluten free and is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner. I vote that Delta Blues Hot Tamales should be added to the Hot Tamale Trail map! Until then, it’s a great detour!
Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo Recap
We were like kids in a candy store at the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo-Atlanta--except it wasn't just candy! There were cookies, cupcakes, bread, donuts, pizza, pasta, and even cosmetics--just to name a few! My family had a blast sampling new products and we left the expo with both our bellies and our GFAF Expo tote bags full! This was the third year that we have attended this event and we can't wait to go back next year!
As an official blogger, I received free admission to the two-day event, as well as an awesome swag bag from BFree Foods, the official blogger sponsor of the expo, filled with their amazing wraps and pita bread—some of which are not yet available in stores. I loved the sweet potato wraps and cannot wait for those to appear at my local grocery store. BFree Foods provided a nice breakfast for the official blogger team before the doors opened to the public where we had an opportunity to learn more about the brand, enjoy some great bagels and get to meet fellow bloggers in person.
One of the things I love most about the GFAF Expo is that it is a safe place where my son is not excluded and he feels comfortable sampling products from any table without reading labels or asking my permission. The excited look on his face was more than worth the price of admission.
We each received a red tote bag at the door that was already half-filled with gluten-free products, so we started making our way down the first row of vendors. The first booth was Enjoy Life Land, a new consumer event experience by Enjoy Life Foods which takes visitors through Cookie Canyon, Chocolate River and the Free-From Forrest with stops along the way to pick up samples of their amazing Top-8 allergen free products. My kids especially enjoyed the Plentils and chocolate chip cookies!
I’m currently on the autoimmune protocol (no gluten, dairy, soy or refined sugar) so I didn’t sample many products at the event, but my kids sampled everything—some things more than once. One of their favorite booths was the Smart Flour booth. They offered samples of their new Snack Bites (think pizza rolls) which were a huge hit with my son. He said they were really good and he ate enough Snack Bites to call it lunch.
My kids are big fans of good gluten-free pizza. They enjoyed sampling several varieties of Sonoma Flatbreads including the new dairy-free pizza. They were also big fans of the pizza at the Against the Grain booth. We have purchased so many pizzas over the years that they did not like, so it is really nice for them to try them all at the expo and know which ones they really enjoy so I know what to buy at my local grocery store. We also were able to get some money-saving coupons to use at our local grocery store.
The kids enjoyed tasty treats from Glutino, Udi’s, Namaste, Aleia’s, Marilyn’s Gluten Free Gourmet, Kinnikinnick, Sugar & Spice Market, and Brazi Bites. They also loved visiting the Ronzoni booth where they could take pictures with props and leave with a full size box of pasta of their choice. The Mahatma and Success booths were other fun stops for the kids. They were able to spin a wheel to get free full-size boxes or bags of rice.
I was really impressed with Create Your Cupcake, a cupcake bakery in the Atlanta area with a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, which offers custom cupcakes. The customer selects the flavor of the hollow, hexagon-shaped cake, mousse-like Cremache® filling, frosting and toppings. These can be ordered and shipped almost anywhere east of the Mississippi and in some parts of Texas. It was such a unique and fun idea and my husband and son said the cupcake was delicious. They really liked the Cremache® filling.
There were so many free product sample giveaways, but there were items for purchase, too. Many vendors had special discounts just for expo attendees. I bought a new set of gluten free, organic spices from Just a Little Spice that I have enjoyed very much since returning home! My husband, an ultra-marathon runner, really enjoyed the Honey Stingers samples, so he purchased a couple of boxes at a discounted price. We also bought allergy tests from Affordable Allergy Testing to see if we can pinpoint allergies and sensitivities through hair analysis. We are anxiously awaiting results to see which of the 600 food and non-food substances may be causing some of our symptoms.
The expo provided more than just gluten free products. There were several educational sessions taught by healthcare experts, cookbook authors and chefs. I attended a few of these classes this year and learned so much. I was reminded of the gut-skin-brain connection and broadened my knowledge about what I should and shouldn’t be putting in or on my body.
One of the best things about this show was the amazing people I met. The book authors and guest speakers were so generous with their time and they were there to truly help people. I had the opportunity to spend time with several of them and they answered many questions and offered some great tips and ideas to improve my health—and my cooking! Amy Fothergill, author of The Warm Kitchen and Nadine Grzeskowiak, author of Dough Nation: A Nurse’s Memoir of Celiac Disease from Missed Diagnosis to Food and Health Activism, were very kind and I enjoyed getting to know them and look forward to sharing more about their books in the near future.
This well-attended event proved that there is a need and demand for gluten free products. I am thankful for the companies who "get it" and offer products for the GF community. The GFAF Expo-Atlanta is such a wonderful event that I travel six hours to attend each year. Who wouldn’t love gluten free product samples, discounts, coupons, educational sessions, new friendships and a fun weekend with family. If there is a Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo in a city near you (or close enough for a weekend road trip), I highly recommend attending.
Have you attended a GFAF Expo? Tell me what you loved most about it!
Road trips can be the most fun ever, but without careful planning they can quickly turn into disasters. Remember the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Vacation-1983)? Even though Clark W. Griswold planned every detail of the entire trip down to the minute, things got complicated. No matter how well-planned the trip, things can still go terribly wrong. Sound familiar? I recall a road trip to Branson, MO where a chicken truck flipped over and we were stuck in middle-of-nowhere-Arkansas for hours waiting for the highway to reopen! Luckily, I had lots of safe snacks and a travel-sized Connect Four game, so were fine, but I’ve also been on road trips and vacations where I was not prepared and my dream trips became nightmares.
Packing for my first gluten-free road trip was a chore and I learned a lesson. I wasn’t prepared for a lengthy traffic snarl and didn’t think to pre-plan meals on the road. I tried eating what I thought was safe at a fast food restaurant and paid the price with many unexpected potty breaks. That’s something I never want to do again. Gluten cross contamination is even worse than Aunt Edna’s dog urinating on the Griswold's sandwiches!
So what does a gluten free family do to ensure a successful road trip? Plan carefully. Check out these GFree Genius road trip hacks to help you plan your next epic adventure!
Plan pit stops
If you’re traveling with children, I recommend planning a pit stop every couple of hours. I look for rest areas or parks with clean restrooms to allow everyone a chance to stretch their legs and burn some energy. We’ve even been known to stop at grocery stores if we need snacks or supplies and park in the back of the parking lot where we have space to run and play. We always take a ball or Frisbee for my husband and kids to throw while I get snacks out of the cooler. I recommend skipping convenience stores (except for stopping for fuel) because drinks and snacks are expensive—and it is highly likely that gluten-free snacks will not be available.
The easiest option is to check out the Find Me Gluten Free app and do some research to see if there are any dedicated gluten-free restaurants along your route. I always try to visit those places, but they are few and far between in the South. When I know there are no safe options or that my schedule won’t allow us to dine at a dedicated gf eatery, I take meals to eat on the go. For example, I pre-cooked taco meat and put it in the cooler and reheated it in my HotLogic Mini Oven while we were driving and assembled tacos with pre-cut lettuce, tomatoes and cheese from our cooler when we stopped. I also took pre-cooked hamburgers and ordered takeaway from the dedicated gluten free restaurant when we stopped for lunch to keep in the cooler for meals down the road.
I received a HotLogic Mini Oven as a Christmas gift and it has quickly proven to be our most valuable travel asset! This lunch box-sized personal portable oven can be plugged into the power inverter that the kids use to charge their electronics. It takes approximately an hour to reheat food, so plan accordingly to make sure your meal is hot when you’re ready for it.
Pack everything including the (collapsible) kitchen sink!
My last trip using the HotLogic Mini with precooked meals in the cooler replaced a lot of the items I usually pack, but to feed multiple people or if you don’t have a HotLogic Mini, there are several things I recommend packing. My travel kitchen includes a utility tote with kitchen essentials (camp stove with fuel, pan, spatula, flatware, paper plates/bowls, salt and pepper, dish soap, pot holder, paper towels and knife). I also take a fully-stocked cooler and water to use for cooking and cleanup.
Gluten-free travel isn’t always easy, but preparation will help ensure safe meals and snacks are always available. I savor the moments when we have a safe restaurant, but when none are available, this is the best and safest way I’ve found for our family to travel—especially since my 11-year-old gluten-free son has discovered his appetite.
What tips do you have to make gluten-free travel easier? Comment below to share!
This IS NOT a sponsored post. I have not received compensation from any of the above-mentioned companies and opinions are my own.
Could your mystery health problems be caused by celiac disease?
May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month and I want to raise awareness to help people who are going through what I have already experienced. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease affecting 1 in 133 people in the U.S., is the root cause of nearly 300 different symptoms ranging from digestive problems, headaches, skin rashes, anxiety and depression just to name a few. It actually took 15 years of treating symptoms before I found the underlying cause of my misery. Migraines, chronic diarrhea, premature osteoporosis, miscarriage and very difficult pregnancies with preterm labor were the main symptoms that doctors kept treating with pills. I think I developed every side effect of every drug ever prescribed and my symptoms only got worse until I learned about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. It was truly life changing.
It was also lifestyle changing. No longer could I run through a fast food drive-thru to pick up dinner on the way home from work or grab a snack cake out of the pantry for a quick snack. I actually had to learn what was safe to eat and what wasn’t. I had to have a plan. This change also affected my family in a big way.
Gluten, a tiny protein found in wheat, barley and rye, was making me deathly ill and I was willing to do anything to learn where it was hiding and completely eliminate it from my diet. After a lot of research and help from the celiac community (and a few mistakes along the way), I got the hang of it pretty quickly and I was able to convert many of my family’s favorite recipes to make them safe for me to eat. I declared my kitchen to be dedicated gluten free and made every effort to get rid of gluten. New cutting boards, strainers and stone bakeware were a few of the first steps I took to rid my kitchen of this protein that is my kryptonite. In just a couple of weeks, my symptoms started disappearing. No more migraines, aches and pains, or diarrhea made the effort totally worth it.
My husband was (and still is) very supportive and chose to eat what I ate, but the kids were not so willing. My pro-gluten daughter actually refused to eat anything that didn’t contain gluten. I’m glad that phase didn’t last long. Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for her), I’m the one who pays and shops for groceries, so she didn’t have the much choice in what she ate at home. She still had the option of eating whatever she wanted at school and when she visited grandparents, but at home, she had to eat what I bought and prepared—and she actually prefers it now and can tell that she feels bad when she consumes gluten.
My son, on the other hand, was suffering from his own growing list of symptoms and we figured out that gluten was his enemy, too. He was born at 35 weeks and was ALWAYS sick. At three weeks of age, he was hospitalized with a respiratory illness that doctors never diagnosed. My newborn was on IV antibiotics and had severe constipation. He started having migraines, behavioral issues, chronic ear infections and speech delays. Doctors only wanted to treat him with prescription medication and I knew that wasn’t the answer. It turns out that I was right. Just two weeks after changing his diet, his symptoms subsided. His teacher even texted to tell me whatever I had changed with my son was working and to not stop. His behavior chart quickly changed from red to green, his ear infection went away and he started meeting his speech therapy goals. By the end of that semester, he was released from speech therapy and never had another ear infection. The headaches also subsided.
Know the Symptoms
There are approximately 3oo symptoms associated with celiac disease. Click here to see if you have symptoms. Also, if you have a family member that has been diagnosed, it is recommended that you also be tested. Some people actually have celiac disease and have no symptoms. It is a hereditary condition, so if someone in your family has celiac disease, there’s a good chance that you could also have it.
If you have symptoms or a diagnosed family member, ask your doctor to screen you for celiac disease. The doctor will order a simple blood test. If the results are positive, the doctor will order an endoscope to get a small intestine biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. It is essential that you be consuming gluten for the test to be accurate. If you have already stopped eating gluten, your doctor will ask you to start eating it again for several weeks or months before testing can be done. If you are not willing to eat gluten again, there is a genetic test that can be done to see if you carry the gene for celiac disease, but this test is expensive and is usually not covered by insurance.
Positive test results. What next?
If your doctor diagnoses you with celiac disease, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is in a lot of food, but there’s still plenty you can eat! Trust me—gluten free is not the end of the world! There are lots of foods that are naturally gluten free (fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish and poultry to name a few) that we should be eating for optimal health. I’m a self-proclaimed chocoholic and love a good brownie or cake. There are lots of really bad gluten free products on the market and I have spent an obscene amount of money buying gluten free bread, crackers and snacks that ultimately ended up in the trash. I learned so much from doing my own research, seeking out gluten-free bloggers, and attending amazing events like the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo. These events offer product samples from more than 100 companies, money saving coupons, discounted products, educational sessions taught by healthcare professionals, chefs and cookbook authors, and the opportunity to meet people who “get it.” GFAF Expo holds several events across the country, so check out their website for details and schedule.
Click here to read more about my family’s experience at GFAF Expo.
I have been selected to serve as an official blogger at the GFAF Expo-Atlanta and would encourage everyone who lives within driving distance (I’m driving six hours) to attend. Tickets are available by clicking HERE and you can save 20 percent off each ticket by using the promo code: ADVANCE. Beat the crowd and skip the line by purchasing your tickets in advance. The best part about this event is watching my son eat anything he wants. He feels like a regular kid at GFAF Expo.
Celiac disease is not a death sentence. While I do have frustrations with the fear of cross contact at restaurants and watching other people eat things that I used to love, gluten free feels so good. I don’t even consider cheating. I don’t want to damage my body with gluten.
Follow GFree Genius on Instagram and Facebook for meal and snack ideas and learn about products my family loves. I also post giveaways on social media, so you don’t want to miss out!
Have you ever dreamed of going to a place where everything is gluten free? Just imagine table after table of pizza, cookies, chocolates, cereals, pastries, bread, donuts, pasta, waffles and more--and every bite is safe to eat! This dream is a reality at the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo-Atlanta (GFAF Expo) scheduled for May 20-21, 2017 at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, GA.
This will be the third year that my family will travel nearly six hours to attend the GFAF Expo-Atlanta! Last year we had a blast sampling new products and we left the expo with both our bellies and our tote bags full! This year I have been selected as an Official GFAF Blogger, so be sure to follow me on Instagram/GFreeGenius as I share more information leading up to the event, as well as an opportunity to win FREE TICKETS!!!
My whole family, including the non-gluten free members, looks forward to this annual event. I know it may seem like six hours is a long way to drive for some gluten-free samples, but this event is so much more than that to us. It is an amazing feeling to be surrounded by people that have the same struggles with food and "get it." I've exchanged meal ideas with people I meet in line and have made some great gluten-free friends.
My 11-year-old son thinks this is the best place in the world because he knows he can eat anything he wants and he doesn't have to read labels or ask my permission. I love that he can try gluten-free products from more than 100 vendors and let me know his favorites so I know what to buy. I have wasted more money than I care to admit on really bad gluten-free foods over the past few years, so getting to try before we buy is fantastic. There are also vendors selling gluten-free cosmetics, essential oils and other products and services that promote a healthy lifestyle. Many vendors offer special pricing on products available for purchase so we try to stock up on our favorites that we can't find in Mississippi. I also love all of the gluten-free product coupons that vendors give away at this event! Coupons for gluten-free products are coveted by families who know how expensive some of these products are!
In addition to all of the great product samples, sales and coupons, GFAF Expo also offers educational sessions. In past years, there have been classes taught by chefs, gluten-free authors, medical professionals and cooking instructors. Ticket holders can attend as many or as few classes as they'd like at no additional charge.
I am thankful for GFAF Expo's mission of meeting the needs of the celiac community, as well as those with gluten and food sensitivities, auto-immune/inflammatory disease and autism. I hope to see you at the GFAF Expo-Atlanta on May 20-21.
Continue reading to see discount codes and purchase tickets!
Click here to purchase GFAF Expo tickets
Be sure to use discount code EARLYBIRD through 4/19/17 to save 30 percent off tickets.
Use discount code ADVANCE to save 20 percent off tickets through 5/19/17.
Have you ever attended a GFAF Expo? What was your favorite part of the event? We'd love to know!
Penne pomodoro with turkey meatballs, coffee+cumin rubbed pork tenderloin, sweet chile chicken tacos and BBQ chicken flatbread--just a few of the gluten-free options on the menu at the newly renovated LYFE Kitchen+Chisca Bar in Downtown Memphis.
I LOVE LYFE Kitchen! My family rarely dines out due to risk of gluten cross contact, but we've had really good luck at LYFE Kitchen. Every employee I have encountered has been well trained on food allergies and the restaurant has a dedicated area to prepare gluten-free and allergen-free orders. There are two locations in Memphis which isn't too far from my Mississippi home and I was really excited to find a great place that the kids also enjoyed--until the downtown location closed for "tranformation" according to the sign in the window. I was heartbroken. Just a couple of weeks after my video review and NIMA demonstration (click here to see video), the restaurant closed. Memphis is pretty much a gluten-free food desert, so when my favorite eatery closed, I was deeply saddened. We didn't dine out for more than three months.
My heart nearly skipped a beat when I saw on social media that the 272 S. Main location was reopening! My family was lucky enough to be treated as VIPs at their pre-opening training lunch where we had the opportunity to sample appetizers, entrees and desserts from the new menu which boasts many delicious gluten-free options! The new LYFE Kitchen+Chisca Bar is now a full-service restaurant that takes patrons back in time with decor from the historic Hotel Chisca. Beautiful chandeliers and a hotel registration desk greets guests when they enter. The menu still has many of the classic LYFE Kitchen dishes that my family loves, but some welcome new additions as well. Our server did a great job making sure our order was carefully prepared and that our glasses stayed full! The menu prices were reasonable with entrees ranging from $8 to $16--and half are labeled gluten free! Kids' meals are only $5.
I ordered the sweet chile chicken tacos served on three organic corn tortillas with avocado smash, chayote slaw, black beans, cilantro and chipotle aioli. This spicy dish was messy, but delicious. I would order it again, but it was a bit too spicy for the kids to enjoy. My mom ordered the penne pomodoro with turkey meatballs and really enjoyed it. It was a huge portion and she took half of it home with her. I tasted her dish and it was so good that I will probably order that next time I visit! I really liked the turkey meatballs and the zucchini slices that were mixed in with the pasta. It was surprising to see the only pasta dish on the menu was gluten free! My mom ordered it because it looked good to her, not because it is gluten free. She said she couldn't tell the difference between the gluten free pasta and what she normally eats. I was excited to hear that! My kiddos always order the margherita flat bread without the tomatoes (essentially a cheese pizza) with baked sweet potato fries. We didn't order dessert, but since it was a staff training day, the server brought out a couple of desserts for us to sample and made sure to bring gluten free desserts. Unfortunately, we didn't love the desserts. They were pretty, but just didn't taste good. We were so full from the meal that we weren't really interested in dessert anyway.
Here's some other things I noticed when dining at the new LYFE Kitchen+Chisca Bar:
VOLUME LEVEL: The music was VERY loud, so sit close to your dining partner if you want to have a conversation. I know bars are typically loud, but this is now also a full-service restaurant. I was expecting it to be a little quieter. This location has amazing patio seating! I'm not sure if it is quieter outside.
PARKING: Parking downtown is not always easy. There is a parking lot near the Orpheum about a block north of the restaurant. Fortunately, we were able to park on the street beside the restaurant. Parking meters are only enforced on weekdays. There is a trolley stop outside LYFE Kitchen, so you could always take the trolley!
NO SMOKING: This is a smoke-free environment. The entire Chisca on Main building, including the restaurant's outdoor patio, is smoke free.
If you're looking for a great full-service restaurant with gluten-free options in Downtown Memphis, look no further than the transformed LYFE Kitchen+Chisca Bar. I look forward to many date nights downtown with my handsome husband. There are so many fun things to do and now we can also plan to eat a safe, gluten-free dinner while we're out.
Have you been to LYFE Kitchen? Tell us what you love about it?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. While I did receive a complimentary meal; as part of the pre-opening testing event, I did not receive financial compensation for this post.