Sunday, September 21, 2014

Expo East 2014: Sweets and Such

This is part one of my four part series covering the 2014 Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD. Each post will be divided into four categories: sweets, snacks, miscellaneous, and my top five. To check out the other parts in this series, click here (link will be activated once second installment is posted).

When it comes to sweet treats, there was no shortage of options when it came to cookies, candies, baked goods, chocolate, and many more iterations of dessert on the show floor. Indulging in way to much sugar for the sake of "scientific" testing, I took in desserts of all shapes and sizes and took note of which ones rose to the top and impressed me. Through sampling, I discovered new brands, learned more about ones that I'm less familiar with, and reunited with ones that I've already fallen in love with. This assortment of sweets is broken down into three subcategories: chocolate, cookies, and fruit- nature's dessert. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cheezy's Pizza Review

If you look around my favorite dining hall on campus, it's easy to spot the "danger zones" that are a gluten-avoider's nightmare. The pasta station, the pizza station, the sandwich station, and the "fried" station (fried chicken, french fries, grilled cheese, etc.). I've quickly discovered that the most popular item on people's plates any time of day is pizza. While I am finally among a population that loves pizza as much as I do, my opportunities for pizza are slim to none as I haven't really worked out an accommodation that is both gluten and dairy free in that area. Nevertheless, I've made due by stocking my micro-fridge with pizza crusts, my food supply with pizza sauce and getting pizza toppings off of the salad bar. When I have the time and energy to cook, I can have self-made pizza night using the stove in my residence hall. 

As great as this is, there come times when I'm simply too hungry and tired to brave navigating the dining hall or dorm cooking. Enter delivery pizza: the tried and true solution to many a hunger craving for college kids. While delivery pizza is a rare find, some quick research rendered a couple options that could deliver on-campus. I selected Cheezy's pizza after reading of their gluten-free safeguards and placed my order online via a food delivery service. Eagerly awaiting my foray into delivery dining, I waited with baited breath.

Preview: Expo East

Although I can hardly believe it, I'm almost a quarter of the way through my first semester in college. If I thought time was flying this summer, I've come to realize that it's flying at supersonic speed now! Juggling classes, the dining hall, and learning how to balance all of my commitments is the name of the game and I know I'll be working hard to make sure I keep my head above water and stress levels low. 

Part of working hard and keeping my stress levels low has limited my blogging time and availability. While I am not as active as I hoped to be, I am still committed to writing and posting quality restaurant and product reviews and share my experiences navigating the allergy-free dining scene in college which has proven to be a mixed bag of ease and frustration. 

This week has a big event in store that I've been looking forward to for a while that will allow me to return to full-on "blogger mode": The Natural Products Expo East. Billed as "the leading trade show on the East Coast in the natural, organic, and healthy products industry," this gathering of 25,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors is a meeting of the minds of sorts where the state of the industry is assessed. I cannot wait to discover and share new gluten and dairy free products and companies that spark my interest and maybe even get firsthand look at what's coming down the pipeline in the future. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shiny Spoons Buckwheat Pudding Review

September means back-to-school and for kids young and old. For those who are dealing with food sensitivities and allergies, the return to classroom often means forgoing the cafeteria fare for a home-packed lunch. As a kid, one of my favorite surprise treats that my mom would periodically slip into my lunchbox was chocolate or vanilla pudding. Now that I'm older and can no longer enjoy the conventional dairy-laden form this schoolkid treat, I figured that my pudding eating days were all but over. 

When stocking up my dorm food supply at Whole Foods Market Harbor East in Baltimore, I came across Shiny Spoons, a local company that makes gluten-free buckwheat pudding in four tempting flavors: dark, dark chocolate, vanilla bean cashew, salted caramel mocha, and organic blueberry jasmine. Ever the traditionalist when it comes to pudding, I loaded up with the chocolate and vanilla varieties and eagerly awaited my first taste. All of Shiny Spoons' flavors are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free vegan and paleo which means that they can be enjoyed by diners with a wide variety of dietary needs. In addition, these impressive puddings are free from GMOs, artificial ingredients, and preservatives. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Thai One On Review

A couple weeks into the semester now, I've finally got my routine down with studying, dining, and having fun. While I relish the wide-openness of weekends, I must admit that the campus empties out a bit and is a shadow of its weekday self. On one such weekend after being cooped up in my room all day, I knew I just had to fly the coop and break away for a study break and venture off campus. For this excursion, I selected Thai One On, a restaurant located in pedestrian-friendly downtown Towson. Located literally next door to previously reviewed Havana Road Cuban Cafe, I had no problem locating it using public transit.

Having only recently developed my taste for Thai cuisine after visiting Orchid Thai in Winter Park, I have quickly grown to love green curry as my go-to dish at any Thai restaurant. Quickly becoming one of my favorite foods (besides) pizza, I wondered how Thai One On's version would compare to the others I've tried.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Side Trip: Fuel Pizza (Washington, DC)

After departing ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen on my Labor Day D.C. adventure, I took another quick trip on the metro from Dupont Circle to the Farragut Square stop which is mere blocks away from the White House and start of the national mall. Given my limited time in the city, I had to prioritize what I wanted to see as well as consider how far away from the National Zoo I was willing to travel. The White House fit the bill perfectly as it was easily accessible, near public transit stops, and close to another restaurant I wanted to try out: Fuel Pizza.

I was first introduced to Fuel's delicious pizza while in residence at summer camp at Davidson College in North Carolina. Although I was gluten and dairy eating back then, the pizza left an impression and I remember it fondly as the centerpiece of our final day at camp in which the dorm transformed into one big party until midnight. In the back of my mind, I always thought I'd like to go back, but thought my window of opportunity had all but shut when pizza's prime ingredients got put on my "no-can-do" list. Luckily enough, I rediscovered this North Carolina based chain while researching gluten-free eats near the White House and was excited to see the gluten-free and vegan options noted on their menu. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Side Trip: ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (Washington D.C.)

If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that ShopHouse Asian Kitchen was custom-designed for my quirky tastes and favorite flavors. After all, this restaurant, which is the brainchild of Chipotle founder Steve Ells, merges the brilliance of Chipotle's commitment to accessible "food with integrity" with the rich culinary heritage of Asia all while serving up a menu that is 100% free from gluten and dairy. That's right. There is no gluten or dairy in ShopHouse's kitchen. The reason why I haven't talked about ShopHouse before now? The inconvenient truth is that they only have locations currently in California, Maryland and D.C. (but they are growing!). While there are no convenient locations where I am in Baltimore, I knew that sooner or later that I'd have to sneak down to D.C. for some sightseeing- both food-based and landmark-based. My window of opportunity presented itself this past weekend as my university offered a D.C. bus trip in honor of the Labor Day holidays. Once hitting the city and getting dropped off at the Smithsonian National Zoo, I made a beeline to ShopHouse's Dupont Circle location which was a short metro stop away on the red line. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Miss Shirley's Cafe Review

Getting to eat breakfast at a restaurant is a real treat for me. After all, breakfast is often the most limiting meal of the day for me in restaurants given the reliance on gluten and dairy full staples offered by most breakfast places. Coupled with the fact that I'm an early riser and eat breakfast before my family most days, breakfast earns the honor of the most underrepresented meal on my blog. 

In doing research in and around Baltimore in the weeks leading up to my big move, I stumbled across Miss Shirley's Cafe which has three area locations and serves up gluten free pancakes. Though my freezer is laden with Trader Joe's English muffins and french rolls for breakfast, my mom and I decided to splurge on breakfast out on our final day together before my true independence began. We opted for the Roland Park location near Johns Hopkins' campus to avoid the potential crowds at their Inner Harbor location which proved to be the perfect breakfast spot given the cute village-like location and quite suburb atmosphere.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ledo Pizza Review

As a get-to-know you icebreaker in one of my classes this week, I had to interview one of my fellow classmates and then share their answers with the class. When asked about my favorite food it barely took a second for me to share that pizza is my cuisine of choice. After all, I indulge in my guilty pleasure at least once a week as evidenced by my seeking out of familiar and unfamiliar pizza places wherever I go. After crossing off gluten free crab cakes from my "new resident to-do list," the next order of business was to find a reliably good and safe gluten free pizza option when the dining hall and dorm cooking just won't cut it. On one of my mom's final nights in the area before heading back to Central Florida, we ventured north of the city to Cokeysville to check out Ledo's pizza which was recommended to me by one of my Twitter followers who informed me they are a hometown favorite. After a day jam-packed with orientation events and convocation, I couldn't wait to give Ledo a try after watching my peers chow down on gluten and dairy laden pies for lunch that day. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Phillips Seafood Review

Now a part-time citizen of Maryland, I figured the only way to break into the local culture is to seek out Baltimore's famous crab cakes as my first meal in my new home. In researching, trial and error proved to be the name of the game as I discovered that some restaurants I found right off the bat were disqualified due to hidden dairy in their preparations. Finally, I found a gluten and dairy free option at Phillips Seafood, a time-tested favorite located at the bustling inner harbor at the heart of the city. Though I've been by the inner harbor before, I couldn't wait to check it out with fresh eyes and relish the wonderful weather which was a welcome break from the blazing heat of an Orlando summer.