Category Archives: Musings

Gluten Free Trial: The Verdict

I came, I cried, I was conquered – by gluten.

It turned out, gluten-free was not for me.  Besides feeling hungry and empty all the time, I had about 7 migraines within my first 2 weeks of trying the gluten-free diet.  This was clearly not the culprit of my migraines.  So at week 3, after telling several friends and family members that it wasn’t working but I was still toughing it, the chorus of “why?!” finally convinced me to just eat some bread already.  I did and I felt better almost instantly.  So I don’t think gluten-free works for me.

However, it does work for A LOT of people.  Doing this trial so publicly, I had great conversations with people (mostly who suffered from IBS) that have had great success with going gluten-free.  These people are passionate and eager to share their recipes and their tips and tricks.  So I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going gluten-free if they think it will make them feel better.

What I learned during the Gluten Free Trial was that eating gluten-free at home really just takes some adjustment.  If you’re eating a lot of baked goods and sandwiches, it will be more so.  But my plan all along was to eat more vegetables and there are a lot of exciting recipes out there that encourage you to eat less bread products. (Look out for my recipe for “cauliflower rice” next post.  It will change your life.) You have to really commit and dedicate yourself to creativity – and, fortunately, the internet is ready to help you.

But I think giving up on bread products and baked goods is key.  That was really hard for me, especially trying the trial in such a busy period in my year.  Only 3 days in, I came down with a seriously nasty stomach virus.  Although I was queasy for days afterward, I was also hungry and you know what most Americans with an upset stomach turn to – bread!  Although I wasn’t planning on trying any gluten-substitute products during the trial, that became necessary as my sick belly was yearning for bread and crackers.  James dutifully went to the store and found me gluten-free bread and crackers, mostly made of rice.  This stuff is a very sad indeed.  The texture is all off, there’s really no taste.  It was depressing.  There is no straight replacement for gluten.  You have to give up those products completely.

Being a busy American on the go does not make that easy.  Breakfast gets things off to a bad start.  Americans love gluten in the morning – toast, pastries, egg sandwiches are all the norm.  And since I’ve been trying to be very cognizant of the sugar I intake, I try to avoid sugary yogurts but they were a necessity for protein.  I felt like I was constantly making sacrifices for other healthy ways I have trained myself to eat in order to accommodate the gluten.  Needless to say, my digestive system was a bit of wreck.  I will say that oatmeal at Starbucks has been my go-to healthy breakfast of choice for a while (and I enjoy Starbucks coffee quite a bit.)  You can control how much sugar you add, and they provide a decent array of dried fruit and nuts, adding fiber to an already fiber-heavy dish.  But the Starbucks at the hotel where I was staying was closed, so the only access to oatmeal I had was instant – some of which had a total of 29 grams of sugar in a serving.  No.  Thank you.

Lunch was a lot easier and, as evidenced by my instagram account, San Diego helped me out by providing corn tortillas for tacos at every turn.  So. Many. Delicious. Tacos!  The movement towards hearty salads and bean salads were incredibly helpful as well.  Lunches I often left satisfied, although my tummy still missed the gluten.

Dinners were very hit or miss for me, especially since event planners typically eat last once we’re sure there was enough food for our attendees.  One night I ate nothing but meat.  Another I settled for eating french fries off someone’s plate.  Like I said – the sacrifices I made to avoid gluten didn’t seem worth it.

But going gluten-free did open my creative brain to all of the wonders we enjoy that don’t include gluten and ones that I’ll be adopting for their fiber and their delicious flavor.

Some of the products I discovered that were gluten-free and delighted me:
Terra Chips: root vegetable chips, filled with fiber, and incredibly tasty
-Wolfgang Puck makes a number of gluten-free soups that were very nuanced for a canned soup and went out their way to label the fact that they were gluten-free.  Impressive.
Danielle’s Pineapple Chips: These things defy logic – incredibly crunchy, tangy, sweet.  I found them in the San Diego airport and went back and bought a second bag to bring home after I housed the first bag.  A thing of beauty!
-I’m sure Kind bars aren’t new to anyone at this point, but their low sugar and gluten-free properties make them a big winner for me. Plus they’ve got really creative flavors that satisfy cravings as well!

In summary: a gluten-free diet improves a lot of lives (just unfortunately not mine) but if you’re a busy person on-the-go, it can be a real challenge.  If you’re dedicated to it, make sure you pack gluten-free goodies that will truly satisfy you to get through the day and keep you feeling happy.

However, my return to gluten was quite glorious (I did not know how I could live without farro.)  There’s something about it that makes me feel more balanced.  Perhaps it’s possible that I actually need gluten?  Yeah, let’s uh… let’s go with that.  Pass the biscuits.

Advertisements

Gluten Free Trial

In the past year I’ve had two surgeries, the second of which laid me up for two months with absolutely no exercise allowed.  These two months happened to oh-so-conveniently coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas, the marathon eating season for this particular food enthusiast.  I ate pretty much whatever I wanted with abandon and, even now 3.5 months later, I am paying for it to the tune of 15-20 pounds of excess weight.

Needless to say, I’m trying to lose weight, but I’m also on a constant journey to change to a healthier lifestyle without giving up delicious food that delights me.  This doesn’t mean that I’m trying to live life eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints every night and deluding myself that I can still lose weight. This means that I’m trying to find new foods that actually satisfy my taste buds but aren’t going to ruin my waistline, my heart, my pancreas and my brain.  I’m trying to have it all, essentially.  Yeah, you guessed it – I’m a millennial.  But an OLD and GRUMPY one who does not like being compared to the characters on Girls.  Just a warning.

Frankly, I am not generally a “well” person , especially for a 30-year-old.  I never feel good.  If I’m not suffering from embarrassing gas attacks due to gallstones, it’s a migraine, a sore shoulder, heart palpitations, acid reflux, general fatigue.  It’s sort of pathetic.  But I’ve been aggressively seeking medical attention to figure this out, and currently I’m tackling my migraines, which I’ve been suffering from for 12 years!

After undergoing lots of treatment including physical therapy and a sleep study, my doctor is able to conclude two things: my migraines occur when I’m stressed, when I tend to clench my right shoulder which is pinching my occipital nerve, and that I am mildly narcoleptic.  You read that right – narcoleptic.  My headache specialist kindly termed it as “a sleepy brain.”  It is oddly satisfying to know my love of sleeping late is not due to laziness, but the term narcolepsy definitely wasn’t what I was expecting…

We talked about a lot of different pills I could try to reduce stress or stimulate my brain, but I told her I’d really like to try to reduce stress manually instead and she was in full support of that.  So she suggested I try 3 things in the meantime: a magnesium lotion, more exercise, and a gluten-free diet.  Sigh.  Thank god I’ve had my gallbladder removed so I can still eat cheese.

And that is the beginning of a journey I have vowed to embark upon: going gluten-free for a solid month.  I know there’s a lot of debate about this in the news and in medical communities and I don’t necessarily believe in it.  But see the paragraph above – I never feel good.  If this could help me join the land of adult humans who function correctly then, what the hell, I’ll try it.  Geez, I’m so mature at 30!

My goal is to do this for a month and record how I am feeling.  Then introduce gluten-type foods into my diet when I am occasionally indulging (there’s no way I’m giving up cookies for good, people!) and see how that affects me.  And the increase in exercise.  Like WHOA increasing my exercise.  But that’s a year-long goal I’ve been doing pretty good with – my goal is to be able to keep up, speed-wise, with my boyfriend who has been running 5 miles a day for the past 5 years by December 31, 2015.  We’ll see. 😉

Anyways, this month is also a very stressful one for me, so I think it’s a great time to test if removing gluten from my diet has a positive effect on me – I predict a lot of right shoulder clenching.  I’m an event planner and I am on the core team planning a 1,200-person conference at the beginning of May, followed by an 800-person conference in the beginning of June.  It will be hard to fit my exercise in, though I’ll be doing my darndest, and I’ll be travelling, likely lacking optimal sleep, and working a lot of long days where food can often be an afterthought – grabbing a roll off the buffet before they close it down and running off to the next thing.  Well, rolls aren’t exactly an option for me, are they?  I hope this will present lots of opportunities to talk about my successes and failures in gluten-free eating when in these kinds of situations.

Because of the busy month, I won’t be updating this blog every day, but I will try to post on social media every day with any interesting tidbits I may have.  You can follow me on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and Google+.

My very first substitution attempt: replacing the breadcrumbs in this favorite Alton Brown roasted broccoli recipe with slivered almonds.  Dare I say – I think it actually tastes better.  I also added some smoked paprika, which makes everything awesome.  This won’t be so hard… right?

Let’s see what all the fuss is about, shall we?

 

Purple Stride

Please visit my family’s team page, Run MacD, and donate or share.

October 23rd is my mother’s birthday.  Today, she would be 65-years-old.  When I knew that my mother was going to die before she turned 65, I became incredibly angry.  And not for the reason you might think – not because I would lose my mother before I turned 30 or because she would never know my angel of a nephew, Jude.  I was angry because my Mom had a very simple, delightful, adorably “Reenie” plan for her 65th birthday.  She was going to ride SEPTA, the public transportation sytem in Philadelphia, all the way to the end of the line and back.  Because when you turn 65, you can ride SEPTA, anytime, anywhere, for $1.

My mother wasn’t afraid of getting old, which is why it makes me so angry that she didn’t have the pleasure of becoming an old lady.  My mother died at 63, just a month before her 64th birthday, from pancreatic cancer.

Just a little over a year ago, through a strange turn of events, I became my Dad’s second-in-command caretaker for my mother.  I don’t have a speck of medical experience, in fact I need to lay down when I have the slightest bit of blood drawn or I’ll faint, but 4 days a week I would stay with my parents and act as my Mom’s nurse, doing my best to acclimate to her ever-changing needs and keep her as comfortable as possible.  Not because she was needy or demanding – not at all.  But because her decline was so quick, and she changed day-by-day.  She had already stopped her chemotherapy at this point.  We all knew she was going to die.  We were just biding the time, helping her through the last difficult months of her life.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I would come back to my apartment in Virginia so emotionally exhausted that I hardly ever actually made it to the office.  The stress made any physical pain I was feeling, like migraines or menstrual cramps, ten times worse.  Months later, after my Mom passed away, I would be diagnosed with PTSD.

But believe it or not, I wouldn’t trade the honor of being by my mother’s side in those final months for a second.  Not for anything. Because if my Mom was going to go through this pain, I was going to be with her, no matter how badly it has scarred me.  What I went through was nothing to what she went through.

Pancreatic cancer is a beast.  Before my Mom was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what my pancreas did or where it was.  But pancreatic cancer creeps up on you like an ambush, undetected until it’s already at Stage 4.  After that, it’s a swift killer.  We were actually lucky that we had Mom with us for a year, even an extremely tough year.  12 months survival after diagnosis is rare.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Mom’s Stage 4 diagnosis in October of 2012 was essentially a death sentence.

But death is only part of what makes cancer so horrible – the suffering at the end of life is the other part.  When I talk to medical professionals about the fact that my Mom had pancreatic cancer, they have a consistent reaction: a sharp intake of breath, avoiding eye contact and shaking their head.  That’s because pancreatic cancer is also one of the most painful diseases out there and it is a terrible way to spend the last months of your life.

I’ve thought a lot about how to illustrate how much a pancreatic cancer patient suffers without sharing too much of my mom’s personal struggle.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to insult her memory by sharing things she wouldn’t want shared on the internet.  So I asked a doctor to help me describe it.  He told me that, as far as doctors can tell, the pain of pancreatic cancer is so intense that it’s comparable to breaking your back but never healing.  At the height of pain in the journey of a pancreatic cancer patient, the only relief you can give the patient is to dose the painkillers until the patient is in a comatose state.  And still the pain can break through.  I know.  I saw it happen.

But it doesn’t need to be that way – there are amazing medical breakthroughs being discovered every day!  Penn has tested, with success, a revolutionary new treatment that literally reprograms your T-cells with HIV to attack cancer cells and it’s now being tested on solid tumors like ovarian and pancreatic cancer.  A young man named Jack Andraka has created a blood test that is faster and cheaper than any other test currently used, which could help me or my siblings detect pancreatic cancer before it becomes inoperable.  But these tests and treatments take years of research and testing before they can be offered to the public.  And in order to give these incredible scientists the resources they need to forge ahead, we need awareness of this disease and more funds to sustain them.

On November 1st, my family is going to participate in Philadelphia’s Purple Stride 5k for the 3rd year in a row.  James and I are disappointed that we can’t join them, since I’m undergoing my second surgery for the year next week.   However, check out our page, Run MacD, and donate if you can – every little bit helps, and you’ll see that some team members are close to their fundraising goals.  You could help bump them over the edge!

But if you can’t make a monetary donation, there’s still something incredibly valuable that you can do.  Please share this post on the social media of your choosing.  It may show another person caring for an ailing parent that they’re not alone.  It might encourage someone with disposable income to throw a little our way.  And it may, hopefully, raise awareness that this disease is out there and it ain’t going anywhere unless we stand up to it, together.

Thanks so much for reading.  Even just your eyes on this page, in this moment, mean so much to me.

Long live the memory of Big Reen the Machine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Butler’s Orchard Pumpkin Festival

October 9th is James’ birthday and we’re in the midst of the annual multi-celebrations for this special day.  That’s what happens when you’re as beloved as this gentleman.

In addition to having friends over for dinner, James and I had decided to go on a food adventure – apple-picking, which neither of us have done.  Unfortunately, the orchard we had decided to visit had already harvested all their apples by this weekend but was hosting a “Pumpkin Festival” throughout October, where both pumpkins and red raspberries could still be picked.  Knowing that there would probably be a lot of families there, we decided to go anyways.   We’re both children at heart and often find ourselves at family-friendly places like museums and zoos because a) they’re mostly free here in D.C. (thank you, Smithsonian!) and b) we love to learn.  We also find ourselves having many philosophical conversations about parenting.  Since we have 3 new babies in our families combined, we talk about babies and families and parenting a lot.  I guess not the worst thing in the world for two young adults considering having our own family someday.  (James is turning 29 and I’m about to be 30.  Are we young adults anymore?  …Please do not answer this rhetorical question….)

When we arrived, and paid our $11 per person, we found that while this festival was probably a highlight of the Fall for most children, there was not much we could do.20141004_143434

We did enjoy some delightful Fair food: James had a hot dog with BBQ beef on top and a lemonade big enough to swim in.  I’m experiencing some pretty intense acid reflux from my gallbladder removal, so I enjoyed some delectable butternut squash and apple soup.  It was most likely made with chicken broth, which imparted a delectable savory-saltiness to counterbalance the sweetness.  I loved it!  There were tons of delicious treats to be had: apple cider donuts, caramel apples, soft serve ice cream, but alas, another sad fact of getting older is that we knew better than to spoil our appetites when we had pulled pork, mac and cheese and peanut butter layer cake waiting at home for us. 20141004_143152

We visited the petting zoo and enjoyed that quite a bit (we’re a little bit obsessed with the idea of having a pig as a pet.)20141004_145540After watching delighted children enjoy games and hayrides for a while, we exited the festival in search of the raspberry picking.

This was definitely our favorite part of the Butler’s Orchard experience.  James could remember a time when he went blueberry picking as a young child in the dead-heat of summer, but I had never done anything of the kind.  We boarded a wagon pulled by a tractor and went through a silly little “haunted” forest where there were some pretty hilarious displays of gravestones, ghosts and goblins.  The forest opened up to the raspberry fields.

You may have noted from other posts in this blog that I am trying to get more berries into my diet.  They’re low-calorie and their bright color suggests that they’re full of disease-fighting antioxidants.  Also they taste amazing!  So I try to eat them in my yogurt every morning.  A great way to start my day with fruit, too.

Raspberries are incredibly expensive, even in season, so I don’t eat as much as I’d like.  They also spoil very quickly at home, so they’re not very convenient, and therefore I hardly ever buy them.  However, they’re my favorite fruit, hands-down, and James said we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

20141004_153818
All raspberry bushes!

It was a fantastic experience!  I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were a little bit rushed because we were having company for dinner.  First of all, we were given absolutely no instruction on how to pick the raspberries.  You get on the wagon, they drop you off in the field and that’s it.  We noticed that some berries had turned black and shriveled, while others looked plump but were white.  We assumed that we should stay away from these.  We concentrated on the bright red ones like you’d find in the store.  When you pull the raspberry from the bush, it pops off without a problem, and there’s a small, snow-white core that stays on the bush.

I know now why these berries are so expensive.  You can see from the pictures that the raspberry bushes are huge (practically as tall as me), and very green, meaning there aren’t many raspberries on each bush.  We are picking at the end of the season but you really need to look for the berries – some bushes only had one or two ripe berries left.  James and I picked for about 15 minutes and had about 3/4 of a pound of raspberries to show for it.  The harvest must be incredibly time-consuming for big distributors like Driscolls, explaining why raspberries can sell for $4.50/8 oz.  I paid about $3.75 for my 3/4 lb., which was practically a steal!20141004_154022

It was a short-lived adventure, but one we’d love to try again.  Learning where your food comes from is an eye-opening experience that makes me appreciate the journey of my sustenance.  If you can, I suggest going out to discover one of your local farms and what activities they might offer.

 

Protein, fiber, fruit!!

I’m not getting enough fruits and vegetables every day.  This is just a fact.  So I’m attempting to get a serving of fruit or veggies in with my breakfast, which is usually just carbs – cereal, or toast with peanut butter. Protein, yes.  Fruits, no.

I started mixing Fage yogurt (discovered in Greece, now obsessed) with blueberries & honey but realized I was missing out on fiber.  Blueberries have a lot of fiber for their size and texture, but I wanted a bigger punch in the morning.  Gotta get in 25 grams a day, so I gotta start strong!

I checked out the breakfast section of Trader Joe’s and found roasted flax seeds – I bought an enormous bag of flax seeds for under $4 and put two tablespoons in my yogurt this morning.  4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, plus Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are apparently really important for the body and our body cannot make them – so we must eat them!  I first discovered flax seeds in a multi-grain corn chip and they are really delicious – nutty, sort of like sesame seeds but… heartier, I want to say.  (I’m gonna get better at describing flavors, I promise.)  I’m very glad they are now living in my refrigerator.

As an addition to my yogurt, I consider them a BIG win.  I would actually say they brightened my yogurt, which isn’t usually a word I would use for seeds.  But where yogurt and blueberries can have very flat flavors, flax seed’s roasty flavor and crunch raised the game.  Healthy and delicious – now we’re talking, people.

I would have thought Flax Seeds would be very expensive, but not at my dear Trader Joe’s.  Seriously, have you not tried TJ’s yet?  What are you waiting for?  Unbelievable prices, interesting products, and they treat their employees so well that everyone who works there is going to make you smile.  You know you want that.

 

Gallstone woes

A few years ago, I got a salad from Le Pain Quotidien near my work.  It was a new restaurant near our theatre with remarkably different food, and although the prices were a little high for my non-profit paycheck, I would occasionally indulge in their rustic french fare.  I would lean towards the vegetarian dishes, which were usually a few bucks cheaper.

I can't believe I actually found a picture of this salad!
I can’t believe I actually found a picture of this salad!

On this particular day, which has been burned into my memory for the horror it brought this foodie, I bought an arugula salad with goat cheese medallions.  It was the kind of goat cheese that was a little gooey, with a sharp, salty bite just on the cusp of being overbearing and unpleasant but mellowed out by the rich dairy.  I had eaten healthfully up until this point that day, dug in and almost immediately my body reacted: a hot flash, a feeling of weakness and faint, and embarrassingly painful gassy cramps.  I looked down at my beautifully constructed salad, at the arugula, the tomatoes, the lemon vinaigrette and those gorgeous cheese medallions and I knew then and there: it was the cheese.

I’d always been a slow eater (I tell my friends that I prefer to dine rather than eat) and had been subject to these kinds of attacks since senior year of high school.  I can remember how I would invariably get sick after eating in a restaurant.  But at those times, it never occurred to me that the problem could be cheese.

And that’s because, that doesn’t actually make sense.  I’m not lactose intolerant, I still enjoy low-fat dairy products: it wasn’t the dairy, it was the fat.  High fat foods give me this reaction.

For a while, I didn’t think of looking into it with a doctor.  Although I love cheese, I figured this was a good thing: I didn’t NEED to eat high-fat foods, it was really better that I have a tangible excuse to avoid them, right?  Ah, if only it had been that simple.

After a virus I contracted in Greece last month, I tried three different antibiotics on my inevitable ear infection before I could find one that wouldn’t reek havoc on my digestive system and after that I was never really the same.  I had terrible heartburn and would have this hot flash/nausea reaction pretty much anytime I ate.  So I had to bite the bullet and see the doctor.

The doctor told me that I probably had gallstones and ordered an ultrasound.  Just as my ultrasound results came back, I started to experience stabbing pains in my upper right abdomen and it was determined that I did, indeed, have gallstones.  Since I was beginning to experience pain, my gallbladder would have to come out soon.  Fortunately, the surgery can be done laparoscopically with a very short recovery period.  And there are high hopes that without the gallbladder, I will be able to eat all the foods I love again.  If that’s true, I’m really hoping that the habits I’ve formed over the past few years hold so I can reintroduce cheese and other high-fat goodies into my diet in moderation.  Although I have told James that he can probably expect to find me at home some night with a wheel of cheese on my chest, gnawing away….

This is all my way of saying I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write for a bit.  I have been living on Utz Sourdough Pretzels and Outshine Raspberry Popsicles, although even those are starting to become difficult to stomach.  My surgery is scheduled for Wednesday and I am looking forward to being able to eat real food again maybe even by the weekend (but my diet must stay low-fat for a few weeks).

I can, however, hope to give you much more varied recipes and exploits in the kitchen if this surgery does everything it’s promising.  James and I are already fantasizing about which of my cheese recipes I’ll highlight first once I can get back to cooking.

I can also tell you all the things I’ve been fantasizing about dipping these pretzels in…

  • Chocolate
  • Ranch dip
  • Homemade Buttermilk ranch dressing
  • Peanut Butter
  • Nutella
  • Chocolate and Peanut Butter melted together
  • Onion Dip
  • Spinach Dip
  • Cream cheese
  • Sweetened cream cheese with cinnamon
  • Cream cheese seasoned with herbs
  • Really the possibilities are endless…

Thanks for reading.  Hope to have a good update soon!

A Surprising Reminder

I’ve been trying to write about my glorious brush with Alton Brown greatness for days now.  I had the most terrific time!  It should be noted that we were not, in fact, in the front row but the fourth row.  This was for the best because we could see better and were still very close to the stage… and therefore very close to Alton.  ::blush::

A Surprising Reminder

The stage which was decked out with Good Eats paraphernalia like the T-rex spray bottle, the K’nex molecule model, and Bessie the cow!  Yeast puppets made several cameos via a large screen at the back of the stage.  The crew was made up of Good Eats production team members (now you can tell how nerdy I truly am because I actually recognized some of these guys.)  Itchy of “Itchy and Twitchy” was a frequent player, Alton’s meddling lawyer who never lets him have any fun (or blow stuff up.)

 

 

There were tons of in-jokes for huge nerds like myself, lots of talk about food, lots of ranting from Alton, lots of crazy, large contraptions.  Everything that I was expecting.  But what I wasn’t expecting were all the wonderful personal stories that Alton would tell about his early career and about his family.  I wasn’t expecting him to sing, play the guitar and play the saxophone with incredible dexterity.  And I wasn’t expecting Alton to control the crowd the way he did.  Alton’s career was mostly in TV and I thought that maybe the transition to the stage, especially in front of a 3,000-person crowd, would be a little more awkward for him.

Not at all.  While he seemed genuinely flattered and perhaps even humbled by the enthusiasm of the crowd when he first appeared, he thrived off the energy like a seasoned theatre actor.  And the crowd deserves some of the credit as well – these were really my people.  One of my favorite moments came right at the beginning of the show when Alton introduced his camera man who would be providing close-ups of any cooking or other experiments.  He said to the crowd “Everyone, say hello to Trevor” and without missing a beat the entire audience replied in unison “HI TREVOR!”  “See, they’re very nice here!” Alton assured Trevor.  It must be really cool to make a cooking show for 13 years and then get to tour like a rock star.

It is fulfilling to admire someone so much, to allow them not only into  your living room but your kitchen, and get a pay-off like this when you finally see them in person.  Alton was hilarious, kind and charismatic.  His inventions were insane.  I learned more about food, especially his thoughts on organic food (“I wouldn’t pay an extra dollar for organic food if you put a gun to my head, because I don’t know what organic means anymore!”), and learned that we completely agree about salt.  And I watched him completely melt when a 3-year-old girl in the front asked him if she could have some pizza.  He climbed down to the end of the stage, picked her up onto his lap and fed her the pizza himself.  There’s nothing I like better than a celebrity who’s nice.  It was an amazing night and I won’t forget it.  I thank James a million times over for keeping an eye on these tickets and getting them for us so quickly so we could be that close to the front.

And then another surprising thing happened.  After the show, I found myself especially missing my Mom.  I told many people who love me about Alton the next day and they politely listened, some even seemed interested.  They were certainly glad that I had a good time.  But my Mom would have been so excited to hear everything about it.  I can imagine her in the kitchen as I came to the door, as she so often was, seeing me wearing my “Alton Brown Live” shirt and saying “Oh, look at her, she’s even wearing his shirt, she’s such a dork!” and grabbing me for a big hug. She would have asked me how it was and listened raptly to every dumb detail.  She would be so interested, I would be encouraged to keep telling her stuff that she really didn’t care about at all.

Because my Mom didn’t like to cook; unlike so many other food enthusiasts, mine is not because of a bond with my mother.  Even though she fed her four children and husband a home-made meal every weeknight (and most weekend nights), she really couldn’t have cared less about cooking.  It was something she did to feed her family.  Frankly, she rarely threw a new recipe into the mix and some of them weren’t even that great.  So she certainly wouldn’t be interested in Alton Brown, someone who dissects cooking and food with such fervor even I think he goes overboard occasionally.

But my Mom was there when I saw my very first Good Eats episode (it was about strawberries.)  I was watching Food Network in her living room, as I often did, and she was sitting on the loveseat reading her paper.  I was exclaiming things like “Oh, that’s interesting!” and “Oh, I never knew that!” and she would look up over her paper and her glasses, see Alton dressed as a farmer and say “That guy’s weird.”  And she’d laugh at me for how excited I was getting and tell me that I was weird, too.

Then she’d go on to buy me almost every one of Alton’s books.  She’d sit in the living room that very same way, reading the paper on the loveseat, as I watched Alton and she would listen to me repeat all of the facts I was learning back to her.  She would sit in the kitchen with me just to keep me company as I was attempting some of his ridiculously hard recipes.  She’s make sure his specials were DVRed for me and clear the living room so I could enjoy them in nerdy peace.

So when I finally got to see Alton Brown live, something I wanted to do for years, I never would have predicted that the show would have stirred up these feelings of loss inside me so acutely.  She hardly ever seemed to really care about the cooking facts I would tell her: she even made fun of me for it.  But if I was excited about something, she would listen to me with matched enthusiasm.  Not because of what I was telling her, but simply because I was happy.  She loved other people, loved me, so much that my happiness made her happy.  And I think this was one of the first times since she passed away that I was this giddy about something.

(In the past 5 months, I’ve sailed across the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, hiked up Diamond Head, and seen the most incredible feats of acrobatics in Le Reve in Las Vegas, yet Alton Brown was what made me the most giddy.  I’m truly a lost cause.)

Since my Mom died, a lot of people have told me how, after their parents died, they would still pick up the phone and try to call them, so natural was the impulse to want to talk to their parent.  That hasn’t happened to me. But I realized after I saw the show that I was feeling this emptiness the next day and I couldn’t figure out why.  Was it because I didn’t get to go up onstage and meet him?  Was it because I had such a good time and now it was over?  No – it was because I didn’t get to do the play-by-play with Mom.

I know I never told her how much I appreciated her enthusiasm.  I really wish I did, but Reenie wasn’t affectionate like that.  She wouldn’t have liked it if I said it outright.  She would have said “Oh, you are so nice” and then looked at me slightly suspiciously.  But I hope that she knew somehow that she was everyone’s favorite person to talk to.  I hope she knew by the sheer amount of times I came specifically to her to tell her things she actually didn’t care about.  There’s no one who makes you feel important like Reenie did.