I recently had the chance to attend the Gluten-Free Living Conference held in Orlando, Florida on April 4-6, 2014. Florida is lucky to have some great GF events throughout the year, including the Gluten Free For Life Expo in St. Petersburg and the Gluten Free Expo in West Palm Beach, but having an event in Orlando was a welcome addition to the mix.
One of the unique features of this event was the Blogger U, which was a blogger focused event held on April 4th, the day before the 2 day expo/conference. It was a really unique experience and gave me a chance to catch up with GF friends and meet new ones too.
I loved that my friend Alexis from Gluten Free in Orlando was in attendance as were so many other local folks. One of the first people that I met during Blogger U was Amanda from Eating Out Without. This young lady blows me away with all that she is doing for our community at the age of 18. Equally amazing is Taylor from Gluten Away, another local teen who is such an amazing advocate for our community. I am in awe of what these two are both doing!
- Jennifer from Gluten Free Go To Guide
- Jules from Jules Gluten Free
- Sarah from Celiac in the City
- Chrissy from Glam Without Gluten
- Kathleen from Celiac Baby
- Michael from Gluten Free Philly
and so many more! I also got to see many local blog readers, so it was really neat to catch up with so many folks.
Lunch was also provided that day and you better believe they had some GF/DF offerings. So nice to attend an event and actually have something to eat.
That evening, they also hosted a cocktail reception and more gluten free & dairy free dining was available. Loved the to order tacos (featuring Udi’s flour tortillas), rice bowls (featuring San-J GF sauces), and pasta bar.
After a very busy day at Blogger U (rewarded with a delicious dinner at Sanaa), the next day was filled with the expo & conference sessions. First up, I made sure to browse the expo floor. There were over 50 vendors and lots to see and more importantly…taste!
The title sponsor of the event was Tito’s Handmake Vodka which is U.S. produced gluten free vodka. And yes, samples were being given out of their alcoholic beverage. While I can’t say I’m one to start drinking at 11 a.m., I did sample their vodka during the day (remember what happens at the GF expo, stays at the GF expo!)
Not to be missed was the Udi’s, Glutino, and Earth Balance – Boulder Brands booth area. As a brand ambassador I’m often working these events; however, this event was in the trusty hands of my friend Austin!
I also visited Nostalgic Cookies which is based in Florida and features gorgeous gluten free and dairy free cookies (they are also Kosher, corn free, and non-GMO). They remind me a lot of the European style cookies that my Swedish relatives make. I love that the cookies are individually wrapped (yes, I can easily pop them into my lunch box or in my purse when I go to Disney). My absolute favorite flavors were the Apricot Linzer Cookies, Raspberry Linzer Cookies and the Amaretto Limoncello cookies. I may have a new favorite cookie for snacking and for entertaining!
The folks at Juice Plus+ shared tips on their whole based nutrition in the form of their juice powders. They also shared a neat product called Tower Garden which reminded me a whole lot of the Epcot Land pavilion hydroponic gardens. Turns out, I had a good reason for coming up with that connection; Tower Garden’s vertical growing system was created by Tim Blank, the greenhouse manager in Epcot (until 2005). How cool is that?
Now a trip to a GF Florida expo is not complete without a visit to Piping Gourmets for their fabulous whoopie pies! I may or may not have a chocolate mint whoopie pie addiction.
Another Florida local company that I checked out was Chunkie Dunkies. They offer gluten free, dairy free and raw products. I have to say that their chocolate mint cookies knocked my socks off. You know I have an obsession with all things chocolate and mint, and these did not disappoint. I took a pack of the chocolate mint cookies home with me, and they did not last more than a couple of days!
I also couldn’t miss visiting Schar Gluten Free’s booth either. I adore their Honeygram cookies and yes, I may have stockpiled them when I visited the team. I also got to meet the amazing Dr. Anne Lee – the Director of Nutritional Services at Schar. She was so welcoming and such an amazing source of information about gluten free & celiac education.
I wish I could go into all the amazing booths that I visited. There were just so many! Here are a few additional vendor highlights:
- Red Apple Lipstick – honey badger lipbalm was amazing!
- Rudi’s Gluten Free Bakery – loved the new breakfast bars & I’m obsessed with their stuffing mix!
- Breads from Anna – delightful allergen free baking mixes!
- Delight Gluten Free Magazine – awesome to finally meet the team in person!
- Enjoy Life Foods (sponsor for past GFDF at WDW events and the title sponsor for the Food Allergy & Celiac Convention at Disney World!) – dark chocolate morsels & plentils! Enough said!
- Kinnikinnick – new bagels were tasty & of course, I never turn a sample of their donuts.
- Liz Lovely – peanut butter cookie was delicious!
- Rhapsodic Bakery – great local Orlando bakery that has gluten free offerings that are vegan
I also got a chance to check out the presentation by Jessy & Jilly Lagasse whose gluten free book rocks (and yes, they have that “Bam! Kick it up a notch!” philosophy that their famous dad does). I can’t wait to check out their next book which includes a lot more GF/DF options.
Overall, I have to say the weekend was an absolute blast! I was busy from start to finish, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was a true pleasure to meet up with so many old and new friends and to meet great GF vendors.
Thank you to Gluten-Free Living Magazine for hosting this great event!