Friday, March 17, 2017

It’s no secret…in 2016 our attendance was an incredible 1,200 guests!  WOW!  With an additional 110 children under 12 who joined in the fun.  Along with another 78 wonderful Volunteers.  Please join us for our sixth annual Expo – March 25, 2017 as we do it again!

Because of you, our Fund Raising efforts were impressive - Food pantry $257.00, Raffle $817.00, Teens Tables $650.00, and $360.00 from T-Shirt sales.  Along with our Ticket Sales that means that you brought in enough to donate $2,500.00 to Sponsor children at Camp Weekaneatit.  And your contributions allowed the Gluten-Free Food Pantry to leave with a generous supply of Gluten-Free food for needy families in the area.  We’ll also be donating an additional $1,000.00 in Gift Cards from Publix Groceries to help the pantry keep the shelves stocked through the lean months this summer when kids are out of school.  Along with $800.00 in funding to the Gluten-Free in Florida Support Group.

Our Expo is unique in that it’s run by the Celiac, Gluten-Free Community, for the Community. And we do this through a 501(c)3 non-profit. Our Venue, the St Pete Coliseum, is a beautiful Historic Treasure. We keep our Vendor costs low, so that local small businesses can take advantage.  We have no paid employees, everything is done by Volunteers.  And our Volunteers work tirelessly to make the Expo a reality, so we work hard to treat them well and reward them for their efforts. Our ticket prices are reasonable, and every effort is made to insure none are turned away.  It’s not unusual for some of our Guests to pay it forward and purchase an extra ticket or two for someone else to enjoy.  All profits remaining after expenses go right back into the Gluten-Free Community as donations to the Tampa Gluten-Free Food Pantry, Camp Weekaneatit in Georgia, and the Gluten-Free in Florida Support Group.

Just in case you were wondering what you get for your $10.00 ticket donation:
     3 incredible, well known Speakers, who offer 45-minute presentations and then remain on the Vendors Floor throughout the day so you can speak to them personally.
     3 wonderful, local Teachers who offer smaller classroom sized 15-minute talk sessions every hour offering tips, tricks, and information on staying Gluten-Free for Life.
     50-60 fantastic, local, national and international Vendors who will be offering free tasting samples, and selling some of the newest products available at discount prices.
     All together in one of the most beautiful Venues here in Florida.

And if you were wondering if it's worth the drive, worth spending the weekend, worth the time and effort of spending a Saturday afternoon...ask yourself this: How would you like to spend time with up to 800 other people, (Mom's, Dad's, Friends, Family, Children, Teens) who all walk in the same shoes you do every day?? These people get it! They understand.

A slideshow of our day, plus many of our Vendors and incredible Speakers will be uploaded on the Website if you’d like to take a look. Our Vendors will remain listed on the site until October when we begin to get ready for next year. We appreciate all of you, and thank you for helping us work for our Celiac & Gluten Free Community!

Carolanne LeBlanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
               101 Imperial Palm Drive

               Largo, Florida  33771

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Gluten-Free Events, Survival Tips

Speakers, and Freebies, and Samples!  Oh My!

Looks like 2017 is right around the corner!  And that means a whole new batch of Gluten-Free Events that we can go to.  Have you ever wondered if it’s worth it to travel to one of these events?
Expo, 2017
**Would you like to hear about the latest discoveries from professionals in the Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance fields?
**Would you like to spend just one day being able to eat and enjoy food without worry?
**Would you like to know what new services and products are available to you.
**Would you like to exchange tips and stories with people who walk in your shoes every day?
**Would you like to see, smell, and taste brand new products that haven’t even been offered to the public yet?
**Would you like to purchase products that are factory fresh and available for discounted prices?

Dress Comfortably, Especially Your Shoes:  You’ll be doing a lot of walking, maneuvering, weaving in and out and even some just plain waiting.  You’ll probably be dealing with some pretty crowded halls.  Concrete parking lots and cement floors do not make for happy feet unless you’re wearing comfortable shoes.  Pockets are a wonderful thing for stashing some cash or card, and if you have to carry a purse go with one that you can wear over your shoulder.

Bring Friends & Family:  Heck, bring everyone!  Whether they’re Gluten-Free or not, if they come with you they’ll see that you’re not alone in your struggle to be healthy.  Attendance does vary, but there will be between 500-5,000 people at any of these Events.  Having friends and family along with you to sample comes in handy too when you’re looking to find something that everyone can enjoy.

Bring The Kids:  These events are generally family oriented and very kid friendly.  You’ll often find small areas set up just for the kids to play.  You can bring the strollers in, but remember there will be crowds of people.  Children simply love to sample, but Vendors will not hand out treats willy-nilly without a responsible adult nearby to give a nod of approval.

Bring a Bit of Cash:  If you plan to shop bring some extra cash along with your credit/debit card.  A few Vendors don’t have those handy little card swipes.  Not only will you find some of the best prices and bargains around but also the freshest product available.  Trust me, you’re gonna want to shop!

Bring an Extra Shopping Bag:  Yep, you’re gonna wanna shop! At most of these Events everyone gets a Goodie Bag simply for walking through the door.  And some of these are already stuffed half full with take home goodies.  If you bring friends and family with you, often they can all get a Goodie Bag for walking through the door.  But it never hurts to have an extra, empty, bag tucked away for any overflow of freebies or purchases.

Handicapped or Handi-capable, be prepared:  Bring what you need to enjoy your day.  Generally, Volunteers are everywhere so don’t be afraid to ask for help…even if it’s simply to locate a chair to sit for a bit.  If you can’t find a Volunteer, ask a Vendor…it’s just as important to them that you enjoy your visit to the Event.

Please Be Respectful:  Yes, there is a ton of free stuff to be had…but don’t forget you’re in a hall full of other human beings trying to enjoy their day too.  I’ll never forget the idiot who stepped OVER the baby in her baby carriage so that he could get to a free cupcake!  Seriously? It was a 1oz piece of cake with a dot of frosting for heaven’s sake!

Taste as You Wander:  Now, you have to admit, Samples are the main reason most people attend these Events.  And you’ll find bite-sized samples of just about everything from old favorites, to hard to find gotta-haves, to brand new not-even-on-the-market-yet items. But please pace yourself…nibble here, nibble there and the next thing you know you’re sick on overload.  Pay attention to all those little bites so that you don’t regret it later on.

Bring your ‘Take Away’ Kit:  Granted the Samples are only tiny little 1oz portions, but that doesn't mean you can’t take some home for later.  Pack a couple of those small snap top containers along with a few snack sized zip bags and you won’t be so inclined to overdue the nibbles and you’ll have samples to try out later on when you get back to your hotel room or home.

Check the Ingredients:  Yes, everything is Gluten-Free…but if you have multiple sensitivities it pays to read the label even at one of these Events.  Every Vendor should know what’s in their product, if not they will have a listing of ingredients available.  

Talk to People:  This is not the time to be shy.  Vendors, Volunteers, other Attendees, they ALL understand.  It can actually be a little overwhelming at first. But don’t be afraid to talk to people.  Start a conversation; you’ll be amazed at the Community you may not have even known was there for you.

Talk to the Vendors:  Nosh and nibble to your heart’s content…but don’t rush on to the next table so quickly.  If it’s not too crowded and you can find a spot to get out of the traffic flow, stop and speak to the Vendors for a moment.  Tell them how much you enjoy their product, what changes would you like to see, your feedback is priceless to them.  Be pleasant and polite and you just might find them tucking an extra full-sized product into your shopping bag as a thank you!

If it’s FREE, it Must be for Me:  Well, not always…this goes back to that ‘Please be Respectful’ reminder. Simply because you see un-attended tables DOES NOT mean you can simply swipe everything into your bag and walk away.  Trust me, I've had Vendors tell me this has happened if they even leave the table for a minute to get a drink or use the bathroom.  It’s rude and very unfair to the many others who want to visit that table to receive their samples.

How far is too far:  That depends on you.  I know a few people who won't travel more than 30 minutes to go to an Event designed specifically for them.  Myself?  I'll drive four fact I do that at least once a year to attend an event. I like to plan a weekend get-away.  Find a nice hotel for two nights, enjoy my day at the event and then take my time driving home again.

                                   Carolanne LeBlanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
               101 Imperial Palm Drive
               Largo, Florida  33771

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thanksgiving Dinner, completely Gluten-Free

Make a Traditional Thanksgiving Menu ... Completely Gluten-Free

Every year, around this time, people begin to panic. Everyone wants to know how on earth can they make their traditional Thanksgiving Dinner totally Gluten-Free?  Trust me, it’s not that difficult.  Thanksgiving Dinner is primarily Gluten-Free to begin with…and super easy to create your old recipes safely.  The trick to serving a 100% GF Thanksgiving to a mixed crowd is to not tell anyone it’s Gluten-Free.  Aside from a discreet mention to those who need to know…no-one else need know.

THE TURKEY:  You can't go wrong with a fresh Turkey. Fresh Turkeys are always Gluten-Free, just watch for any basting juices added. Otherwise, there are many brands out there that are safe…some even provide safe GF Gravy.  Just to name a few…Butterball, Honeysuckle, Jennie-O, Perdue, Shady Brook…all have GF Turkeys.  Keep in mind, stuffing a Gluten-Free turkey with gluten stuffing contaminates the entire turkey. Don't open any Gravy packet that's included with a Turkey unless it specifically states Gluten-Free.

STUFFING:  It's extremely easy to make Gluten-Free stuffing. Simply replace the bread in your favorite recipe and it's likely to taste almost exactly the way you remember it. If you don’t have a traditional recipe to work with, or you simply prefer not to make your own, there are plenty of GF packaged stuffing mixes on the market now.  Ian’s, Rudi’s, Whole Foods, Gillian’s, Glutino, Trader Joe’s, all have Gluten-Free Stuffing mixes that are easy to prepare.

CRANBERRY SAUCE:  There's no reason for cranberry sauce to contain gluten.  Read the label just to be certain and then check this one off your list. Or you can make your own. Empty a 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen Cranberries into a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup Sugar, 1/2 cup Honey, some Orange or Lemon zest and 1/2 cup Orange Juice to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the Sugar dissolves and the Cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the Cranberries burst, about 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low for another minute or two and mash the Cranberries a bit. Add Salt and Pepper to taste and cool to room temperature before serving. 

MASHED POTATOES:  This is another no-brainer…Mashed Potatoes should be naturally Gluten-Free.  Whether you like your Potatoes mashed, smashed, au gratin, baked or broiled…even Dairy Free…it’s just a matter of choosing alternative ingredients to match your recipes.  There are even some brands of instant mashed potatoes that are Gluten-Free as well, just make certain to check the label first.

SWEET POTATOES:  If you’re working with real ingredients you’ll have no trouble recreating your favorite Sweet Potato dish. If you need Marshmallows for your recipe, several different brands of marshmallows, including Kraft, Campfire, Jet, and even store brands are safely Gluten-Free. I actually prefer a simple roasted Sweet Potato...cubed Sweet Potatoes, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper, even touch of Honey and Cinnamon if you like...then roasted to perfection.

GRAVY:  I remember Mom making the Thanksgiving Gravy using the Turkey pan drippings, plus Corn Starch…there was no need for flour there. Or you can use a GF Gravy mix, there are even some great jarred Gravies that are safe. McCormick's has a packaged mix that’s clearly marked Gluten-Free. And don’t forget, some Turkeys even come with a GF Gravy ready to heat and enjoy…just check to be certain it’s Gluten-Free. 

DINNER ROLLS:  Now this one can trip you up if you let it. We all know how difficult it can be to find a decent GF Bread for sandwiches…Rolls are no exception.  So I’ll share my favorite Secret Ingredient Biscuits, from Cook’s Country.  Try them, your guests won’t be disappointed.

2 cups Gluten-Free all-purpose flour mix
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk (not non-fat)
3/4 cup mayonnaise (not “fat free”)

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking
powder, baking soda and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk together milk and mayonnaise until smooth. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Dough will be sticky. Lightly grease a 1/4-cup measure or an ice cream scoop and scoop of dough onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until biscuits are golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving, but these do taste best while still soft and warm from the oven. Makes 12.

Also, instead of rolls, you might consider deviating a little from the traditional menu and trying a Gluten-Free Cornbread recipe.

DESSERT:  The trick to making a decent Gluten-Free pie is placing the emphasis on the filling, not on the crust.  For years I’ve made my pies without the crust.  It doesn’t’ serve up the same…but hey, it’s all about the filling right?  And a scoop of my favorite pie in a bowl leaves plenty of room for Whipped Cream, or Ice Cream.  And if you’re really desperate for a crust you can occasionally find them in the freezer section of a local store.

Carolanne Le Blanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
               101 Imperial Palm Drive
               Largo, Florida  33771

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Gluten-Free Meal Delivery Systems...

Gluten-Free Meal Delivery Systems

I've been looking into some of these Meal Delivery systems lately...and found this helpful guide for some of the safest for Gluten-Free meals. I'm currently using Home Chef and ordering only their Gluten-Free options.  I love it!  Once a week I have meals & recipes delivered right to my door.  Everything is portioned and prepped to make my cooking so simple. And I'm free to alter the final meal according to my own tastes. I find it's a bit more expensive than I would normally spend shopping but then I'm not throwing away food anymore either. If you decide to try HomeChef you can try this link. It should give you a $30.00 credit off your first order.

Now, my next challenge is to see if I can get these delivered to my vacation rental next time I travel! I can certainly see it as a possibility. And the more I've looked I've discovered that most states have personal chef's meals available for delivery too.  Next year I'm heading for Georgia!  Time to start my research.

Gluten isn’t the only ingredient missing from Freshly’s meals. The Tempe, Arizona, company, which launched in February, favors high-quality proteins, healthy fats and low-glycemic carbohydrates over processed ingredients, sugars and artificial sweeteners.

On the menu: Freshly offers 27 menu items, with options for all three meals. Dishes range from a Garden Omelet to the Paleo Quinoa Porridge, Chimichurri Salmon, Cod Romesco, and Baked Penne Marinara.

What it costs: Freshly’s meals start at $10.75. Total weekly cost ranges from $69 to $229, depending on the number of meals and deliveries. Shipping is free.

How it works: Freshly currently delivers to 22 states. Customers order online or by phone. Food is cooked and shipped on the same day and arrives in a refrigerated box via overnight or two-day shipping.

Gluten-free specifics: Freshly’s entire menu is gluten free, and all meals are cooked in a 100 percent gluten-free facility. The company is pursuing gluten-free certifications.

Los Angeles-based Fresh n’ Lean, which has delivered gluten-free meals since 2010, uses organic, plant-based ingredients to create meals that are low in fat, salt, sugar and calories.

On the menu: Fresh n’ Lean’s menu changes weekly and includes options for all three meals. Recent offerings include Mixed Berry Chia Pudding, Summer Squash Forbidden Rice and Cauliflower Spinach Stew.

What it costs: Meals, which start at $9.33, are available a la carte or as part of a plan, with daily rates that range from $14.99 for one meal to $27.99 for three. Shipping is free, and meals for additional people in a customer’s household are offered at a discounted rate.

How it works: Weekly delivery is available nationwide. Customers place their orders online, and meals are shipped fresh in specially designed coolers.

Gluten-free specifics: All Fresh n’ Lean meals are 100 percent gluten free, and are prepared in a gluten-free facility.

The Largo, Florida based Paleo on the Go emphasizes meats, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. Paleo on the Go offers chef-prepared frozen meals that are gluten, grain and dairy free.

On the menu: Options for all three meals include Breakfast Egg Muffin with Bacon, Herb Roasted Chicken, Butternut Squash Lasagna with Beef and Hearty Beef Stew.

What it costs: Meal plans, which include 14 complete meals, one soup, two bone broths, two paleo desserts and two bonus items, start at $245. Quantity discounts and a la carte items are available. Individual entrees start at about $10. Shipping starts at $19.99 and is free for orders of $333 or more in the contiguous United States only.

How it works: Delivery is available nationwide. Customers order online or by phone. Vacuum-sealed frozen meals are shipped with dry ice in thick coolers with an outer box.

Gluten-free specifics: All food is chef prepared at our dedicated gluten-free kitchen.

22 Days Nutrition delivers 100 percent plant-based, organic meals that are also free of gluten, dairy, soy and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “Expect a variety of beans, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and delectable herbs and spices,” the company says on its website,

On the menu: 22 Days offers a rotating menu. Daily options might include Hearty Granola for breakfast, and Shiitake Mushroom Yellow Curry and Lebanese Lentils with Spiced Cabbage for lunch or dinner.

What it costs: Prices start at $9.50 to $12.50 per meal, depending on the plan selected. Weekly shipping costs $20, but if you sign up for a 22-day plan, you only pay for the first two deliveries and the third is free.

How it works: Delivery is available anywhere in the continental United States. Customers order online or by phone. Meals are shipped overnight and delivered fresh in an insulated cooler on Fridays.

Gluten-free specifics: All meals are 100 percent gluten-free. They prepare and deliver 100% plant-based meals with clean, wholesome ingredients…100% Organic, Non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free ingredients that nourish the body, mind and soul.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Celiac Service Dogs & Gluten-Free Emotional Support Animals

And the difference between the two… 

One thing I’ve learned on a recent trip…is that there’s a HUGE difference between genuine Service Dogs and what’s known as Emotional Support Animals, sometimes referred to as Comfort Animals.  Emotional Support Animals or ESA’s, are a wonderful comfort and support for those who need them.

But an Emotional Support Animal is a pet not a Service Dog; in fact they don’t even need to be dogs at all. They can be any domesticated animal capable of being trained not to be a pest in public areas. To be designated as an Emotional Support Animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed Medical Professional for a person who needs the therapeutic support that an ESA can provide.

And then there’s the family pet…not a Service Dog, not an Emotional Support Animal…but a very much loved family pet.  There are tons of SCAMS going around on the internet encouraging people to pay from $50.00-$200.00 so they can register their family pet as an Emotional Service Animal. They then receive bogus paperwork and a vest that the animal can wear while ‘working’.  They’re also told that their family pet now has all the same legal rights as a true Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal. Sadly, it’s all lies :-( And millions of people are being taken advantage of…buy these sham animal registries…and by those who knowingly register their family pet as a fake Service Dog or ESA.

Celiac is a tough disease…don’t let anyone fool you. It takes a determined person to choose to be healthy. Being different is tough…you take a lot of abuse because you go against the norm. It takes a strong person to fight the temptations, to stand up for yourself or your loved ones, to realize you’re important. For many Celiac’s the day to day struggles can be overwhelming. Being excluded or alienated, even challenged by friends and family by a Disease they never asked for can be devastating. For many an Emotional Support Animal is exactly what’s needed to help their humans through the rough spots in life. All domesticated animals may qualify as an ESA (cats, dog, mice, rabbits, birds, snakes, hedgehogs, rats, mini pigs, ferrets, etc.) and they can be any age…even young puppies and kittens, too!  You DO NOT need to register your ESA, simply keep a copy (updated annually) of the letter from your Doctor handy in case you’re asked for it.

It’s important to remember that an ESA has no more rights than a pet. The only legal protections an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) has are:
(1) Fly with its human in the cabin of an aircraft without being charged a pet fee.
(2) Qualify for no-pet housing without being charged a pet fee.

No other public or private entity (motels, restaurants, stores, trains, taxis, busses, theatres, parks, beaches, libraries, zoos, etc.) is required to allow an ESA to accompany their human. That means they aren't protected by law in any public place that does not allow pets. It doesn't mean these places won't let them in, it just means that they’re not required to, by law.

Did I mention that Celiac is a tough Disease?  Well, unfortunately it can be a deadly one too. For the vast majority of us with Celiac Disease we know all too well what can happen to us if we slip up, or fall off the wagon temporarily, or get sidetracked by life on occasion. But for a very few who may have a much more complicated version of Celiac those slip-ups can be deadly.  Just the slightest risk of Cross Contact and it can mean an emergency trip to the ER and weeks, if not months, of recovery. For them, having a fully trained Celiac Service Dog can be a life-saving necessity. Stated very simply, Service Dogs spend the first two years of their lives learning how to work in harmony with humans while being trained to do something very un-doglike.  It’s the reason genuine Service Dogs are NOT cheap.  All that hard work and training can cost from $10,000.-$20,000.00 per dog and to their final human partner they’re worth every penny! A Celiac Service Dog is trained to sniff out even the tiniest bit of Wheat, Barley, or Rye across the entire spectrum of all the dangers their Celiac human may encounter. During the final testing process for certification the dog will be evaluated on food items, medicine, and hygiene products such as lotion, toothpaste, and makeup.

There are many types of Service Dogs that include Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Seizure Dogs, Diabetic Alert Dogs, Gluten Detection Dogs, Mobility Dogs just to name a few.  There are even Psychological Support Service Dogs (Autism & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These are all highly trained working dogs that receive up to 18 months of training and go through many medical exams and temperament testing before being matched up with their human partner.

Service Animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These are the ONLY animals approved to serve as “service” animals. And these are the ONLY animals allowed to go wherever, whenever their human partners go. When it's not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. 
Staff may ask two questions: 
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

A Gluten Detection Service Dog is a serious commitment, but one that can be extremely rewarding in the right circumstances.  The entire process takes quite a bit of money (often between $10,000 and $20,000) and up to 18 months initial training time. At the end, you’ll have a dog that’s ready, willing and able to protect you from gluten – but also a living, breathing creature that needs to be taken care of and treated with love and respect in order to do its job.  And don’t forget this dog will be around you all the time (and will be responsible for your well-being) for the next 7-10 years and you will be responsible for keeping up the continuous training for the rest of the dog’s life. In effect you must continuously calibrate the dog's nose to the entire ever-changing array of all the dangers their Celiac human might encounter.

Canine Specialty Training  was originally founded in 1989 and was the very first company to bring Gluten Detection Dogs into the United States.  Susan Bass is the company’s owner and Training Director. She has over 30 years of canine instruction and training experience in diverse canine training disciplines. Erica Gates completed the Dog Obedience Training program at CST and specialized in detection.  Erica has Celiac and now trains the Gluten Detection Service Dogs

Willow Celiac & Allergen Service Dogs  is owned by Dawn Scheu, who is a Professional Dog Trainer with over 10 Years’ experience training Search and Rescue Dogs and has switched to service dogs and continues her education. Dawn also suffers from Refractory Celiac Disease and is partnered with Willow, her Gluten Detection/Mobility Assistance Dog.

Creating New Tails  is located in Hollywood, FL and is owned by Professional Dog Trainer, Jillian Skalky.  Jillian has more than 5 years’ experience training Service Dogs and continues her education. She also suffers from autoimmune diseases herself and has her own Service Dog Rosy.

Nosey Dog Detection Partners  specializes in scent detection training such as nuts, gluten, diabetes, dairy and other allergies. The company’s owner, Kathy Watters, is a Certified Master Dog trainer with specialization in scent detection training. She has over 20 years of experience training and in 2004 received her Master Certification. Kathy knew nothing about gluten when she was asked to take a chance and train the first gluten service dog in the USA.

                  Carolanne LeBlanc
Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
                  Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
                  101 Imperial Palm Drive
                  Largo, Florida  33771

Friday, September 2, 2016

My Adventures in Portugal, Gluten-Free

My Adventures in Portugal, Gluten-Free

This is the lovely Country House that we rented in North Portugal, situated in a quiet area between GuimarĂ£es and Braga.  My friends and I have been using these Vacation Rental Homes around the world for the past 20 years…and this house is a real gem! It’s now one of our favorites. The house is beautifully decorated and spotlessly clean. Our hostess, Rosario was there to greet us when we arrived, to show us around and make us feel truly welcomed. She had even prepared a light lunch buffet just for us with local
cheese, presunto, fresh bread and fruits.  There were even some homemade wine & cakes…what a wonderful surprise!! Of course I couldn’t enjoy it all…but my travel mates loved the extra hospitality.

My favorite spot was the Lilly Garden, in beautiful bloom, just outside the kitchen balcony.  I spent a lot of time just sitting out on the balcony, enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside and watching my Granddaughters playing
outdoors.  The children’s favorite were the two Splash Pools they discovered were only about 2-feet deep and perfect for some fun and splashing around.

The house provided us with some of the basic items needed for our stay…trash bags, soaps, paper goods, some non-perishable cooking supplies…those were a big help.  Not all rental houses provide things like that.  Many are stripped clean after each renter and it’s up to the renter to scramble
for supplies that first day. Honestly, houses that are stripped like that are a huge disappointment.  But Rosario even took us to the local grocer so that we didn’t get lost. So our first stop was a store called Bolama’s in GuimarĂ£es.

I'm afraid that Portugal was the least Celiac friendly place I've visited. The Portuguese people are some of the friendliest
on earth, so the people were wonderful; they honestly tried to be helpful. But for the most part they had no clue, or real interest.  On the positive side...REAL ingredients abounded!! In restaurants and grocery stores...they used REAL food :-) So I did quite well...and I lost a bit of weight, no complaints. 

As we normally do, we asked the locals for their favorite
places to eat.  One place was so good…and did so well with my requests…that we went back two or three times to enjoy ourselves.  The first time we went, my daughter used a translator app on her phone to communicate with the owner.  When we went back the 2nd time HE had the app on his phone!  Now that’s customer service :-)

When you walk into any restaurant, aside from giving you a
heart-warming welcome, they immediately begin putting food on the table! We all looked at each other in amazement as the table began to fill with small plates of bread, butter, olives, cheese, Pasteis de Carne, Bolinhos de Bacalhau, Presunto you name it! Every time we sat down the offerings were always local, always different choices, and we enjoyed every bite.  But we never ordered any of it.  Menus came next, and we always ordered dishes to share…or some places actually served the entire table family style which was fun.  It wasn’t until the
check came after that first meal that we realized we were being billed for all those little bites we enjoyed before our meal! Lol If we ate 6 olives, we were billed for 6 olives, or 3 pats of butter, or two wedges of cheese…it was an interesting process. We didn’t complain though because the prices were reasonable, and the food so tasty, and we had planned on ordering hors d'oeuvres anyway.  It was simply a wonderful way to explore all the different foods and flavors that Portugal had to offer.  And a surprise every meal!

Carolanne Le Blanc

Meeting:  4th Saturday of every month except December
               Imperial Palms, East Clubhouse
               101 Imperial Palm Drive
               Largo, Florida  33771