Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kosher Fest: The Highs, The Lows

See all that Black and White? 
Kosher Fest, Kosher Fest ... you will forever be known affectionately as "The Big Kiddush." (Hat tip to @elierosenfeld on that one.) The reason? Kosher Fest comes with everything kiddush does: fish, booze, little old ladies and large Hasids elbowing you for nosh ... oh, and Tam Tams. Yes, Kosher Fest had literally everything the kosher consumer could dream of. Squeazable hummus, chorizo-style sausage, soy cheese for your favorite burger, and everything in between. I'm pretty sure my eyes have melted from the shock of so much at once. At least, it feels that way. My knees ache, my back hurts (I schlepped around a lot of stuf), and I'm exhausted. The noise, the shoving, the nudging, the meeting of new old friends. But I survived. I did, indeed, live to tell the tale.

I was eager to go to Kosher Fest for one reason: I love food. (Okay, I was also really excited to be in the presence of literary giants Sue Fishkoff, Susie Fishbein, Jamie Geller, Paula Shoyer, and Joan Nathan.) Food, the enemy, is one of my favorite things. The search for delicious gluten-free kosher food is a difficult one, but one I'm willing to rock for the sake of  other kosher-keepers who seek tasty, healthy, gluten-free eats. The problem? These things don't really exist out of vegetables and fruits -- the basics of a gluten-free diet. But sometimes, you want bread and cookies and crackers and to eat a sandwich like a normal person. Matzo ball soup and cake, pasta and chicken fingers. Just as much as kosher consumers want to eat that treyf-like food (imitation crab and soy cheese for burgers), so do gluten-free consumers want to eat like the rest of the world and even more so like their kosher brethren. To be able to say motzi and bensch at the end of a meal. To enjoy a cookout and go out to eat.

So let's forge forth. I'll be reviewing individual products that I took home with me over on over the coming week. Items that I tried on-site will get appropriate comments. I was really shocked at how few of the vendors offered products for me to review when I said "I'm a blogger." The power of the blogger is mighty, right? I had to ask, and in a few cases ask multiple times, to take something with me to review.

My adventure began at the booth. I'm already sold on, from which I purchase Heaven Mills gluten-free challah rolls (oat based for motzi fun!) and other goodies like gluten-free gefilte fish. Jamie Geller (of Quick & Kosher fame) tells me that the King Arthur mixes that sells are worth my time, so I'll be giving those a go and if you do, too, please let me know what you think. I trekked on, stopping by the folks behind Naked Juice drinks. They didn't seem to have a clue what I was talking about when I mentioned "gluten free," but when I said I was a blogger they were keen on showing me good customer service (a blogger's tirade can ruin you). From there I spotted the illustrious Susie Fishbein, with whom I nabbed a picture and shared my disappointment in the cookbook's layout. To be honest, she didn't seem super interested in my comments, but, after all, she was bombarded with people and probably stressed out ... so I guess I won't read too much into that ...

I intended on maintaining fleishig status throughout the day (I was sporting some coffee im chalav), so I ended up eating a lot of interesting parve and cheesy things. I surpassed the Mikee marinades, which come in a variety of gluten-free options (although, I did go back later and have some, and it was outstanding). I nabbed an awesome bag from the folks at Kind Healthy Snacks, which produces a variety of fruit and nut bars, including one that is packed with fiber. My recommendation is to get some and throw them in your bag to stav off hunger. The bag they gave me saved my life, btw. So much to schlep! So little time ...

I hit up a variety of booths with random goodies throughout, and I finally met my connections over at Katz Gluten Free and picked up a container of their new sugar-free cookies. I have to give props to them for going the extra length to add a little healthfulness to their products, but I'm still not sure I'll be eating them regularly. Same goes for Shabtai products, which are so delicious in that they taste like normal cakes, but ... sigh. Calories. Sugar. Fat. Weight Watchers is watching. And I'm trying to avoid processed stuff in order to fill up on things packed with veggies, protein, and fiber. One product I'm super stoked about is the Garden Lites line of gluten-free eats. I've had their souffles before, but tasted the Zucchini Marinara today and it blew my mind. With 110 calories, 5 grams fat, and 3 grams fiber, it's a seriously healthy treat that, yes, you guessed it, tasted like spaghetti marinara. I've decided I'm going to just eat this every day for lunch. Why? It tasted good and it was healthy and that's what I've been looking for in kosher foods.

Oh, and I love the redesign of gluten-free soup nuts. Rings? Awesome. And fun. And soup-a-licious! Also, there was a French (or was it Israeli?) company there trying to get U.S. distribution that represents French cheese and a whole line of St. Dalfour jellies that are all natural. By this I mean it's fruit and juice. ZERO sugar. And wow, so delicious. I picked up a jar of the Orange Ginger, and I'll be reviewing it in short. And meat? I had probably the most delicious sausages I've ever had -- surpassing even those of Smokey Joe's in Teaneck! The "Delicious and Kosher" eats of Jack's Gourmet. They had a chorizo-like sausage, a spicy Italian (it wasn't that spicy) and probably six others. They're gluten-free and oh-so nommy.

I'll cap off my product placement and musings with the booze. Yes, the booze. The liqueur was flowing through the aisles. There was a mountain of kosher wines (I seriously had no idea there were so many), and there were varied versions of whiskey and scotch and bourbon. My favorites? Walders Vodka & Vanilla, which won Kosher Fest Best in Show and didn't taste a bit like alcohol (which I love) and the Heering Coffee Liqueur? Holy Moses. I could drink this stuff for breakfast. I didn't try any of the wine, but from the looks on people's faces, they were happy. 

The view from the Tweetup. I felt so powerful ... reigning supreme over the masses!

Kosher Fest loves Canada! 
In the end, Kosher Fest has a LONG way to go in becoming Social Media friendly. There was wi-fi, but it was nonexistent outside of the press room (where there was no room to sit, for anyone) and it was impossible to blog on-site. Phone service, too, was slight in most instances. It was impossible to be technologically connected and live from the location, and the organizers appear to not have been set up for welcoming or even encouraging a social media presence at the event. Color me disappointed and let down by Kosher Fest. 

That is: the experience, that is, not the food. The food? It was 60 percent outstanding and 40 percent irritatingly unhealthy and gluten-filled. Stay tuned for detailed reviews and anything I might have forgotten here, as well as more info about upcoming gluten-free products from Kedem (there will be a "matzo-like" product, as a teaser), Manischewitz's plans for gluten-free eats, and some safe and fashionable Shmira Wear. Yes, you read that last thing right. Hopefully I can get Tuvia to do a fashion show for me!

Oh! And, before we part ways, check out this awesome video of someone making a havdalah candle. I got to take the gem home with me, and I can't wait to use it. These guys were totally shtetled out, too! (PS: It's sideways, but you'll get the drift.)