Meander through the grocery store and the term "gluten free" jumps out in every aisle. In the past few years, we've seen an explosion in the number of products made without gluten (wheat, rye, oats, barley) like waffles and crackers and frozen pizzas.
On a recent Saturday morning when the grocery store was alive with food samplings, I was offered gluten-free deli ham. No duh! As if the manufacturer removed gluten from the ham (which naturally doesn't contain gluten) and made it healthier. For whatever reason, people have begun to associate "gluten-free" with "better for you."
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But I digress.
Eating foods free of gluten is a way of life for an estimated 1 out of 133 people who have celiac disease, a condition which makes them sick (to varying degrees) if they ingest gluten. If you are in that group, or if you know or cook for one of these afflicted people, make plans to attend the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo, April 14 and 15 in Lombard.
The expo, started in 2007 by local mom Jen Cafferty, brings together some of the nation's leading chefs, best-selling cookbook authors and nutrition and health experts to help people learn how to prepare healthy, tasty meals and baked goods without gluten and some of the most common allergens.
The event features cooking sessions for novice and experienced cooks as well as a vendor fair where attendees can sample products from more than 100 companies. All of the vendors are 100 percent gluten free; many also will showcase products free of milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and soy. The Expo will include a dedicated area for nut-free products.
The Gluten & Allergen Free Expo Vendor Fair runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 14 and 15 at The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, 70 Yorktown Center, Lombard. Tickets to the vendor fair cost $20 for adults, $5 for children 3-12 and include admission to an allergen-free arts and crafts area, as well as presentations on gluten-free living. Head to gfaexpo.com for a list of vendors and presenters.
For an additional $90, you can attend one of a number of allergy-free cooking classes; preregistration is required for classes.
Mad about meatballs: IKEA Schaumburg celebrates National Meatball Day Friday, March 9, with a weekend full of free meatballs, kids activities and a meatball recipe contest.
Create a recipe that features IKEA frozen meatballs and you could win a $500 IKEA gift card. Recipes must be submitted online at firstname.lastname@example.org, handed in at the store, 1800 E. McConnor Parkway or mailed to that address by March 7. Recipes will be judged on creativity and overall use of the meatball. Details at bit.ly/IKEAmeatball.
The winner will be announced March 10 and the recipe will be featured in the IKEA restaurant March 10 and 11.
Other meatball festivities planned for the weekend include free meatball samples, free meatball memorabilia and a make-your-own-meatball plate kids activity from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 9 to 11.
Mad about meatballs, Part 2: The Swedish American Children's Choir holds a meatball dinner fundraiser 4:30 to 7 p.m. March 10 at Bethany Lutheran Church, 8 S. Lincoln St., Batavia.
The dinner will feature Swedish meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots, lingonberries, Swedish rye bread and dessert. Swedish and American baked goods will be for sale and the evening will include live Swedish music, including a brief performance by the Swedish American Children's Choir. Proceeds will help the choir finance its summer tour.
Reservations are required at (630) 414-9700, and carryout orders are available. Dinner costs $12 for adults; $6 for children 3-10 years old. Kids younger than 3 eat free.
Lunch and learn: I'm darn sure Ranch-rubbed Flat Iron Steak and grilled potatoes haven't shown up on the menu at my sons' school, but they are on the menu at Stonebridge Country Club where chef Troy Tornabeni hosts lunch to raise money to promote proper nutrition in schools.
Tornabeni's Lunch Break for Schools is part of a national event organized by the makers of Hidden Valley Salad Dressings and the American Culinary Federation to support the federation's Chef & Child Foundation and its chefs' involvement in the Chefs Move to Schools program. The Chefs Move to Schools program is part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity.
Tornabeni's prix fixe lunch (dine in or to go) will be available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, March 2. Reservations required. (630) 827-8887. Stonebridge Country Club is at 2705 Stonebridge Blvd., Aurora.
For a complete list of participating restaurants, go to acfchefs.org.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at email@example.com or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend on Facebook.com/debpankey.dailyherald or follow her on Twitter @PankeysPlate.