Saturday, May 6, 2017

Surviving a Family Reunion Gluten-Free

This is the house that we rented in Gatlinburg TN.  It’s called the Gatlinburg Mansion and boasts 14 bedrooms! We rented it for our 'once in a lifetime' Family Reunion. There were 27 of us staying here and with that many people, and that many cooks in the kitchen; I had resigned myself that I was going to get sick. As it turns out, I didn’t get sick, and I wasn’t alone either. There were about 5 of us with different degrees of Gluten-Freeness. I was the only one at 100% but that was OK since I was also the one in charge of the menu and the shopping list.

I had never coordinated such a huge project before…but I had often done it for much smaller groups, so I was a logical choice. I was given a $5,000.00 budget, and I had my girls to help me. They totally understand my needs and how to cook for me. We kept the menu easy, and naturally GF with only the occasional tweaks to insure my safety. And since it was a Family Reunion we pulled out all the old family recipes. Like Shepherd’s Pie (easy GF) and Thanksgiving Dinner, (separate stuffing), Spaghetti night (separate pasta), Boston Baked Beans & Hot Dogs (easy GF), BBQ Ribs & Burgers (easy GF). Rice, potatoes, veggies…those were all super easy GF too.  

Shopping was a bit of a challenge because when I shop for a mixed group like this I ALWAYS brand shop. So I had to do my research online to find out what brands were available in Tennessee and which ones were Gluten-Free. Doesn’t matter what we’re buying, we always try to get the GF version :-) The kids wanted cereal and cookies and they did get straight away Gluten-Free options only because kids have been known to be extremely messy! I’ve watched one lonely kid gluten an entire house with one chocolate chip cookie in only 15 minutes! S0 yes, the kids did not get any glutenous options.

Snacks, spices, chips, sauces, condiments, you name it; we found a GF brand name item that satisfied everyone. We did buy normal, everyday bread & rolls along with flour for baking. Everyone was asked to use the flour for baking only…and use corn starch for thickening. And I tacked a couple of cautionary signs up in the kitchen…just in case.  Since there was quite a bit of baking planned we also got some Gluten-Free cake & brownie mixes. So those of us who needed Gluten-Free could have dessert options too. Funny thing was…it ALL disappeared! Lol

We had two big nights planned.  On Tuesday it was a Cocktails and Hors d'Oeuvres party in honor of our Dad’s birthday. Everyone chipped in a bottle of something and we enjoyed an amazing night playing cards and games.  Our Mixologist pulled out all the olds recipes from the 30’s-50’s for the grown-ups and we had non-alcoholic mixed drinks for the kids.  Along with some amazing Hors d’Oeuvres, we used post-it notes to indicate which items were safely Gluten-Free.  On Thursday we had a fancy Tea Party in honor of our Mom & Dad’s Wedding Anniversary. The kitchen was a blur of activity all day as everyone prepared their favorite sandwiches, cookies, fudge, and cupcakes. Those post-it notes really came in handy! 

In the entire week I would say that nearly 75% of every meal was Gluten-Free and enjoyed by everyone. And all of our Kitchen Helpers were incredibly careful about managing any cross contact and keeping everything clean.  It ended up our shopping only used up $3,000.00 of our budget, so we really planned things out well.  If you’re curious about what we bought to feed 27 hungry people for an entire week, here’s our Shopping List...

Aluminum Foil
Bacon (Black Lable – 6 packages)
Baking Powder 
Baking Soda (1 Large)
Beans, Canned (Black/Red/Pink – 6 Cans each)
Beans, Dry (Navy – 5 Lbs)
Beef, Ground (10 lbs)
Bread Crumbs (Progresso GLUTEN-FREE)
Bread GLUTEN-FREE (Against the Grain  2 Loaves)
Bread (Sandwich, English, Hot-Dog/Hamburger)
Broth (Better than Bullion – Vegetable & Chicken)
Brownie Mix GLUTEN-FREE (King Arthur)
Cake Mix GLUTEN-FREE (King Arthur)
Catsup (Heinz – 1 Large)
Celery (1 Bunch)
Cereal, Chex (4 Boxes, Variety)
Cheese (Cabot, Variety – 5 Pkgs)
Cheese (Goat, Romano, Parmesan)
Cherries, Fresh 
Chicken (10 lbs)
Chips (Lays, Variety – 5 bags)
Chocolate Chips (Tollhouse – 4 Bags)
Clams (3 Cans)
Cocoa, Baking
Coffee (Folgers, 3 Regular, 2 Decaf)
Coffee Mate (Variety – 5 Large)
Corn Bread Mix GLUTEN-FREE (King Arthur)
Corn, Creamed (3 cans)
Corn, Frozen
Corn Starch
Crackers (GLUTEN-FREE, Regular)
Cupcake Papers
Dried Fruit (Craisins, Raisins, Apricots)
Eggs (9 dozen)
Fish (Tilapia, Cod, Flounder)
Garlic, Fresh
Ginger, Fresh
Green Beans, Fresh/Frozen
Half & Half (6 Large)
Hot-Dogs (Nathan's – 3 packages)
Ice Cream (1 Each – Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry)
Italian Seasoning (McCormick’s – 1 bottle)
Jelly, Jam (Smuckers, Variety – 5 Jars)
Juice, Orange, Apple, Grape (2 each)
Ketchup (Heinz – 1 large)
Maple Syrup (Maple Grove, Variety – 5 Bottles)
Mayonnaise (Kraft, Olive Oil)
Milk, Low-Fat
Molasses (1 bottle)
Mushrooms, Fresh
Mustard, Dijon (Heinz – 1 Large)
Napkins (2 large family packs)
Nuts, Walnuts, Pecans, Almonds
Oatmeal, (Mc Cann's Quick Cook) 
Oil (1 each – Olive, Coconut)
Olives, Kalamata, Green, Black
Pancake Mix (Maple Grove)
Pancake Mix GLUTEN-FREE (Maple Grove)
Paper Towels (6 rolls)
Parchment Paper
Pasta (Elbows, Bowties - Barilla GF & Regular)
Peanut Butter (Simply Jiff – 1 large jar)
Pears, Fresh
Peas, Frozen
Pepper, White
Peppers (Red/Green/Yellow – 6 of each)
Pickles (Sweet, Dill – 1 large each)
Pork, Ground (10 lbs)
Potatoes (Sweet 10 Lbs, White 5 Lbs)
Relish (1 Large)
Rice (Jasmine, Brown)
Salad Dressing (Maple Grove, Variety – 5 Bottles)
Salmon (10 lbs)
Salsa (Pace – 1 large bottle)
Salt, Sea/Pink
Saran Wrap
Sausage (Breakfast, Italian)
Scallions, Fresh
Shortening (Crisco, Sticks – 3 Pkgs)
Shrimp (Peeled/Deveined – 5 lbs)
Soap (Liquid – Dish, Hand, Laundry)
Soda (Pepsi/Mountain Dew – 3 large bottles each)
Sour Cream
Soy Sauce (San-J – 1 bottle)
Sriracha (Texas Pete – 1 bottle)
Storage Containers (Glad, Variety – 5 Pkgs)
Strawberries, Fresh
Sugar (White 10 lbs, Brown 5 lbs)
Sugar (Confectioners – 5 large)
Tea, Green
Toilet Paper (Scott – 24 rolls)
Tomato Paste
Tomatoes (Cherry, Roma, Beefsteak)
Tortillas (Mission, soft/crunchy)
Vanilla Extract (Clear – 1 Bottle)
Vinegar (Apple Cider)
Water (4 cases)
Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins)
Yogurt, Greek (Cabot – 1 large)
Ziploc Bags, Freezer (3 Boxes, Variety)
Zucchini, Fresh

Carolanne LeBlanc

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mesquita Bread, Gluten-Free Artisan Bread/Rolls from Portugal this isn't actually about Gluten-Free Travel.  But this is about a really great Gluten-Free bread or roll recipe from Portugal.  So that counts as travel right?
2  Cps Gluten Free Baking Flour Blend (extra for dusting)
½  Cp Potato Starch
½  Cp Tapioca Flour
1/3  Cp Cornstarch
½  Tbl Xanthan Gum
1 ½  Tsp Salt
3  Tbls Granulated Sugar
1  Tbl Active Dry Yeast

2 Large Eggs
4 Egg Whites
4 Tbls Oil
1 Tsp Cider Vinegar
1 ¼ Cps Water

1. In a med sized bowl, measure all of the dry ingredients, except the Yeast.
2. Stir or whisk dry ingredients well.
3. Combine liquids in a separate bowl and mix or whisk well.
4 Warm liquids to about 120 Degrees, (20 to 30 seconds in Microwave)

BEFORE mixing the dry and wet ingredients together:
5. Lightly grease cookie sheet, use a Paper towel. Wipe off any excess.  If making bread then lightly oil loaf pan.
6. Coat a large cutting board or smooth surface with some additional Gluten-Free Baking Flour. Be generous, the dough is sticky to touch.  Skip this step when making the loaf of bread.
7. Sprinkle yeast over the top of the dry ingredients and pour liquid mixture over the top and mix with a wire whisk till it thickens, and then use a rubber spatula to finish folding it in 2-3 minutes until it is smooth. It will be soft and sticky to the touch.
8. With the spatula form the dough into a ball in the bowl you mixed it in using the spatula to slide the dough onto the floured smooth surface.
9. Sprinkle a generous amount of Gluten-Free Baking Flour on top of the dough ball.
10. Use some of the flour on your hands and push down, and smooth out the dough ball to about ½ to ¾ of an inch thick.  This does not need to be perfect and you do not want to handle the dough too much at this stage
11. Choose a glass or a plastic cup that has an opening about the size of the roll you want.
12. Use the glass or cup like a cookie cutter and press it into the dough, then place the cut outs on your oiled cookie sheet. Lightly cover the cookie sheet with Saran Wrap to prevent any drafts on the dough. Place cookie sheet in a warm area. Let rise until double in size,
13. Preheat oven to 375, remove plastic wrap from cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Rolls should be light brown on top surface and crusty when you tap on it.
14. Remove from oven and place rolls on a wire rack to cool.  Makes about a dozen depending on the size you choose.  Maybe only 11 if you can't resist a nice freshly baked roll with butter
1. Lightly oil a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan.
2. Scrape Dough ball into loaf pan, lightly cover with plastic wrap, and let rise to double in size. This takes about an hour. You do not need to coat the dough ball in flour for this method.
3. Pre heat oven to 375
4. Bake 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned and it should sound a little hollow when tapped on. If it is browning too fast then lightly place a piece of aluminum on the top.

5. Cool on a wire rack before slicing. Or at least cool enough that you do not burn yourself when eating it off the rack :-)  

Carolanne LeBlanc

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

               Largo, Florida  33771

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Starting your own Celiac or Gluten Intolerance 
Support Group - Part II

Free is for me:
So I’m pretty certain by now you've realized my major theme :-) If it’s free…it’s for me.  I don’t mind spending my time…but I don’t have the extra pocket change to spend my own money.  So now you've got your location and schedule pinned down…here are some Freebie (and Cheapo) hints for expanding your Support Group.  Don't forget to check out Part I.

With that free G-mail address…you also get a free blog.  Here's mine for our Gluten-Free in Florida Support Group.  Super simple :-)  Go ahead and get a bit inventive…work up a front page just for your meetings.  Tell people a little bit about what you plan on doing.  Post your location and your schedule for at least the next 12 months.  Make certain you post your contact G-mail address.  Then use that HTTP address as your webpage address.  Once you have that front page in place you won’t need to do any more blogging.  You can make corrections or updates as you need to.

DO NOT put your personal phone # out there…I still don’t feel that’s a safe thing to do.  BUT another freebie you can get with that same G-mail address is a Google Phone # that you CAN publish.  What it does is give you a phone # that you can publish that will link directly to your own phone.  You can make your own recorded message.  People call the Google phone # and get your recorded message, they then leave a message of their own…and you get notified by text or email that you have a message waiting.  You can then go into your G-mail account and listen to the message and return the call on your own phone. Be careful to set it up for messaging only and use it for incoming calls…you do get charged for any outgoing calls.

Business Cards:
Vista Print…that’s all I have to say.  Use that same G-mail address and get yourself some business cards.  These do cost about $15.00 but that’s pretty darn cheap and very good quality for about 250 cards.  I did put my Cell Phone on the cards.  And I don’t hand them out by the dozen.  I hand them out one at a time to people who ask me for some contact information...yes, I am cheap.

Press Release:
Go ahead and write up a Press Release.  Just one or two short paragraphs with all the important information – Who, What, When, Where and Why.  VERY IMPORTANT – include that G-mail address, your Blogger web address and your new Google Phone #. Then read it…several times.  Read it to yourself, read it out loud, read it in front of a mirror, read it to your dog/cat and then let someone else read it.  Make corrections, additions, check for spelling errors, grammatical errors…fix it until it doesn't need to be fixed any more.  The last thing you want to do is look like an idiot when you start putting things into print…with your name attached to it. Then store it in several places because it’s going to become important.

Free Advertising:
Stop by your biggest neighborhood health food store.  You know those free papers they always have in the bins at the front of the store??  Grab one of each and take them home.  Some place in the first few pages of the papers you will find email addresses for contact. Start emailing that Press Release you worked so hard on.  Send it out about once every six months.  Look around on Google for any online new papers, or places that accept Press Releases.  You may hear from one or two wanting to sell you space…just be polite and say ‘no thank you’.  Because what you truly want are those places that will accept your Press Release as part of their Community Resources and give you a little free advertising.  Over the years I’ve managed to get free advertising in just about every media available – Online, Newspapers, Magazines, Radio, TV, Community Bulletins – you name it, with a little bit of research and a great Press Release you can get just about anything.


Never be afraid to ask for donations…and I don’t mean money.  I mean Gluten-Free products.  My little Support Group just loves getting samples to try out at our Meetings. There are tons of manufacturers out there just waiting to get samples of product into your hands.  Put your hands out and ask!!  Do some searching on Google and work up a list of different GF manufacturers.  Stick to Companies that specialize in Gluten-Free items…it’s safer for you that way.  Remember that Press Release??  Now it’s time to change it up a bit and ask for donations of product for your group to sample. Invite them to send brochures or flyers along with ordering forms for people to place future orders. Simply send out two or three requests per month to different manufacturers.   DON’T GET GREEDY…keep your requests to a minimum.  The idea is to begin building a relationship with these companies…not force them to dump you into their Spam Box.  A good rule of thumb is to request from each manufacturer only once per year.  Some companies will insist that you use their forms on their websites…don’t be afraid to do just that.  Many will ignore you, but many will email you back for dates and shipping information.  I try to make arrangements for stuff to arrive a few days just prior to the next meeting.  And I have it delivered to my home address.  That way all I have to do is bring it with me the day of the meeting.  And who doesn't love free stuff??

Carolanne Le Blanc


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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Starting your own Celiac or Gluten Intolerance
Support Group - Part I

Find your passion
So you think you want to start a Support Group. Well you’ll need to find your passion for the task first. If you can’t do something like this with love and determination then you might as well give up now and allow someone else to take over. Better still hunt around a bit and drive the distance to join another group or locate one online. Starting a Support Group is no easy task…it will take hours of effort on your part just to get things started. Once you’ve got it started it will take on a life of its own and you can sit back and relax a bit. But you’ve got to be passionate about what you want to accomplish - then just jump in with both feet and get things moving.

Find a location
Location, location, location…yes, it is that important. More important is it has to be free. So you want a spot that’s easy to get to, has plenty of parking, and allows for handicapped access…and it has to be free. It’s my understanding that in the US at least most Community Facilities are obligated to give back to the Communities that support them; which often translates into free space…and sometimes into free coffee/tea too. Don’t be ashamed to ask for more…you might just be surprised at what you receive. Our Support Group has been getting free space, free coffee/tea/juice AND free GF lunch for over 3 years now.

Be consistent
Before you start making all those phone calls, or sending out all those emails…think about when you want your meetings. Since it’s only you right now, just go ahead and be selfish and pick a few days and times that work best for you. But you must be consistent. People tend to look for the patterns in their life…they like things they can count on to be there when they expect them. So choose a date and time that works for you this month, every month, ad-infinitum. Now once you start making those phone calls and sending those emails you may need to be a bit flexible…but you get the idea and you at least have a starting point. First Tuesday of every month at 7:pm or the second Saturday of every month at 10:am pick a few that work for you and keep those in mind when negotiating for your space. And don’t forget that most meetings run about an hour and a half to two hours long.

Getting started
So now it’s time to get started and find that location. Don’t go racing around like a spider in the rain...use the phone…use the computer. Set up a Gmail account specifically for your Support Group. Start contacting Hospitals, Community Centers, Libraries, you name it. Any Facility that might have meeting rooms and is supported by the Community is eligible. Even large Attorney’s offices, Doctors’ offices, Medical buildings, Senior Housing complexes or Hotels are places to call. Ask right up front if they have any free space available for your monthly Support Group Meeting. Don’t be disappointed by the No’s…respond politely and move on to the next one. Ask the No’s if they can recommend a place that would have some free meeting space. When they ask tell them you need free space for a Support Group for people living and coping with Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance. Don’t be shy…get the word started…you never know who you’re talking to and who might be looking for your Support Group in the future.

The space
What you’ll want is a meeting room that can handle at least 25 people…perhaps more. Our group is very small…about 12-24 people…but there’s a group just north of us that has 40-50 people every month, and one further south that can number in the hundreds. You’ll want a room that provides chairs…tables are nice…but chairs are important! Some may want you to setup and cleanup yourself for each meeting. That means you’re on your own for the first few meetings. Don’t be afraid to put people to work when they start showing up for your meetings. People love to be needed…and you’ll be needing them to help setup and cleanup or you’ll be stuck doing it all by yourself and it won’t be long before you resent that. Ask if the facility can provide coffee/tea or if they have vending machines that your members have access to. Ask about bathrooms. If they keep their bathrooms under lock and key it may not be the ideal place for your meeting. Ask if it’s ok to bring food in…you may want to do the occasional pot luck or bring in samples for people to try out. If you can do it…go and visit the space before you commit to it. It’s not going to do you any good if it’s in the middle of a construction zone, or near an area that’s loud and busy, or even hidden deep down in the bowels of an ancient building. Once you’ve found what you want…give them your dates for at least 6 months – preferably 12 months – and ask them to make certain your group is placed on their calendar.

Tell the world
So now you’ve got your free space and you’re on the calendar…it’s time to get the word out. Hopefully, while you’ve been getting all the work done…you’ve been telling anyone who would listen what you’re planning to do. And I mean everyone! Anyone who would stand still for five minutes and listen…your Doctor, your friends, your family, the mailman, the taxi driver…you never know who will need you in the future. Remember that Gmail address you set up…that’s going to be your main form of contact for a while. Be cautious about passing out your personal phone number. Use the email address as often as possible. I actually have two emails…the first is my spam filter…it gets used on EVERYTHING…even my business cards (I’ll get into that later). I check that email daily and anything that comes through that I want to read or answer I forward it over to my second address and then handle it from there. Set up a Facebook account with your Gmail address. Post your meeting location and dates everywhere. Do a search for others in your area that might be looking for Support Groups. Poke around on Google for any online groups or calendars that might be willing to carry your meeting information. There are tons of ways to advertise your Support Group for free…hunt them down and use them well.

Now that you have the first building blocks in place it's time for the most important up for your first meeting!!  Be there at least 30 minutes early...bring a friend along just in case no-one else shows up...and stay for the meeting.  First month, every month for at least three months.  If you're getting the word out...they will begin showing up.  If you build it...they will come.  Don't get discouraged.  Keep trying.  If after three months you're still sitting in the meeting room alone...well, then you may want to consider it wasn't the right time to do it.  You can consider trying a bit harder to get the word out...or release your reservation on the hall and go home.  But I really don't think you'll be doing that.  I honestly think that in three months you'll be needing to read Starting your own Celiac or Gluten IntoleranceSupport Group Part II...good luck!!

Carolanne Le Blanc


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

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