This weekend is a BIG weekend for Chicago Glutards. It is the sixth annual GFAF Expo. This is the first year I am not volunteering, so my experience this year will be much different for me.
But on to tonite! This evening Schar Gluten Free hosted a “Gluten Free Food, Fun, And Festivities” evening at D’Agostino’s Pizza. It was a night for locals, bloggers, and expo vendors to get together, kick back, relax, and enjoy some delicious and safe food.
I need to start with the food because I ate so much I was afraid I would need to be rolled out of the restaurant. It was SO GOOD!! There was Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Salad made with Chicken Tenders, Chicken Tenders, and 6 different types of pizza (Cheese, Pepperoni, Sausage, Vegetarian, Margherita, and the Dags Special).
The salad was your standard issue restaurant salad. What made it great were the pieces of chicken tenders on first. At first, I thought there were croutons on top of it, which made me question the Gluten Free training program, but when I looked closer, I realized it was chopped up pieces of tenders. The tenders themselves were YUM! Don’t think the overly crispy ones that I used to inhale at fast food restaurants when I was a kid. This was real pieces of chicken, properly coated, not crispy at all, but with a flavor that was just calling out to be dredged through a sauce and enjoyed in a bite or two. As you can see from the picture, they were a hit.
I need to admit that I have never had Chicken Parmesan before tonite. I really did not even know what it was. For the uninitiated like myself, it is breaded chicken that is quickly pan-fried, topped with pasta sauce and mozzarella and served on a bed of pasta or rice, in this case fusilli corn pasta. Since I am unfamiliar with the dish, you can take my opinions with a grain of salt, but I really felt like there was a TON of sauce on top of the chicken and barely any on the pasta, so it tasted a bit dry. This was not my favorite dish of the evening, but some dish had to be the least favorite, right?
Lastly was the pizza. OMGoodness, the pizza. I ate soooo much pizza. First off, I have to say that the restaurant only offers a super thin crust pizza, so if you want anything else, you need to pass. But if you don’t care about the thickness of the crust as long as it tastes good and the toppings are good, then you will like this pizza. I did not try the cheese, pepperoni or sausage pizzas, partially because I really wanted to try the other flavors. The vegetarian pizza had spinach, onions, mushrooms and tomato and made my mouth smile, which tends to be rare as I love my meat pizzas. The Dags was topped with sausage, mushroom, green pepper, and onions, I thought it was tasty and went back for seconds. But the pizza I went back for thirds was the one that I was told that I HAD to try — The Margherita. The crust is coated with olive oil and garlic, then topped with basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, and a bit of parmesan. Seriously, some delicious things going on with that pizza!
But honestly, the best part was meeting up with friends like Sarah, Mary, Denise, and Andrea; getting to meet people I follow on Twitter like GFreeLaura, RockinGFgal, and Gluten Free Betsy: bloggers whose work I enjoy including Alissa and Elyse; and finally getting to meet people who are making it happen in the GF industry like Denise, Ken, and Anne from Schar, and Jason and Darin from Find Me Gluten Free. I know there are many people I missed, but it is late, I had a margarita and some Angry Orchard, so I hope they forgive me.
I don’t know why I tend to start blogs like they are letters, but it just seems a bit more personal than my just jumping in with what I want to say. Or maybe it is just a quirk of me.
Within the past month, a friend that I had gotten to know and love lost his parents within a week of one another. I felt horrible because the first thought I had when I heard his mother had passed was, “But what about his Health Kwest.” See, Steve was the local “Khantestant” for the Genghis Grill Health Kwest, and to say that he was kicking some serious ass would be an understatement. So pairing the sadness of him losing that motivation in his weight loss goals with the fact that I could not begin to imagine what he was feeling, having lost both his parents in a week, and not being able to give him a hug (about the only thing I could do, as I did not have the right words), I couldn’t think of what I could do to show that I was there for him.
Enter a group of friends who formed the “We ❤ Steve” Surprise Party committee. These people had the same feelings I had and came together with the idea to show him our love, but also show our support in his fitness efforts. I really wanted to contribute in some way, but cooking is not a strong point, so bringing a dish to pass was out, and I am in a bit of a financial mess right now due to an argument with my insurance company, so money was not an issue. But the one thing I knew I could do was put together a video. A photo montage video. And after mentioning it to a couple of people on the committee, and explaining how it would be different from the video they had already planned, they agreed.
Thus began a 2 week period (maybe 3), of asking everyone I could who knew Steve to please mail me a photo of the two of them. And then, this past Sunday started the process of putting it all together. Then discovering I had more photos than song. Thankfully, a friend did some music editing for me creating an extended version of the song, allowing me to put in as wide a variety of photos as I received. Working an 8 hour day and then coming home and putting 2-3 more hours in editing this project and trying to make it perfect.
Now, a friend pointed out that there is a website that could have assembled all the photos into a montage for me and included some special effects. But I could not do that for 2 reasons. The first was prideful: I learned how to edit in college on a non-linear system (reel-to-reel) and wanted to play with iMovie and figure out some basic non-linear. The second had to do with love. Sure, something thrown together in a random order by an algorithmic program is quick and easy. By taking the time to look at each photo and place it to specific beats and lyrics in the music, I was putting my love into the project and making it personal, something I hoped that people would feel when watching the finished project.
Then the raves started coming in. For the OTHER video. The original video. I kept seeing comments by the organizing committee on how brilliant it was. I shared mine in the thread, but no one said anything. And my confidence went out the window. Two of my friends were life savers and confidence boosters during this time, telling me how great mine was in a different way. Finally, the night before the party, I shared my finished project with the committee, so they knew what they had to work with and determine where in the program it would go. And one of them sent me a response that meant more than he will ever know. “Magical.”
Friday, 12 April was the night of the party. There were some travel difficulties (stupid Chicago rush hour traffic) and of course I did not save the files in the proper format for the computer the projector was connected to. Thankfully, I had my handy dandy laptop with me and could export the files in the proper format. WHEW!
And when my two videos played, I still wanted to leave the room. I felt embarrassed when called out for making them. I tried to brush off any praise because it made me feel uncomfortable.
But, I gave the best gift that I knew I could give. I made it with all the love and friendship that I have. And it touched the heart of the person I wanted it to touch. Who could ask for anything more?
I know, in the post I said videos, a plural. But I only talked about one. On Wednesday night, I realized that we did not have anything relating to Steve’s Health Kwest put together. We had something with his onstage work and something to give him a visualization of his circle of friends, but nothing on his workouts. I asked a friend with more video editing experience if he knew of a way I could pull videos off of YouTube, as the websites I had tried were absolute disasters, and he helped me out. Thursday night found me editing “Edge of Glory” by Lady GaGa to just the chorus, then putting together a short video using clips Steve created for the social media challenges he had during his Health Kwest. It was about a 5 hour project, and I think it turned out pretty ok.
Hi! How is everyone doing out there?? How is life? How has your summer been? Mine has been pretty interesting and pretty low key. It’s a very interesting mix. I feel like I should pick up where I left off with the Disney/Universal trip, but that has been so long ago, that I don’t really remember where I left off except that Disney Onstage = Awesome for Glutards, Disney Backstage = Not So Much and that Universal was a blast, but a total food wash.
So, what have I been up to?? Well, near Memorial Day the studio where I was taking Burlesque classes
had a Graduation Recital and I got to perform with a group of my fellow Beginning/Intermediate students in that while the gradates prepped after their individual numbers for their finale. I only went down to a bra and my second pair of panties (the routine had us removing the outer pantie), but it was exhilarating. I felt strong, sexy, and confident, three words that I do not feel that often and rarely at the same time.
Not too long after that, actually ON I went up to Northern Wisconsin for a friends weekend. It was a fun weekend with friends and I got to see her marry the love of her life. How can that NOT make you happy??
I think not long after that, I did a 20th anniversary show for a friend’s theatre company. It was not everything that was promised when I showed up to the first meeting, but in the end, I had a lot of fun with some talented people and got to share the stage with some friends. And I hope, beyond all hope, that the next time I ever sing “Seasons of Love” is because I am in a production of RENT. Can I please call for a ban of that song in any and every musical revue show? It is honestly the entire reason I never saw RENT until about the time the movie came out.
The big highlight of July was cheering on a friend in her international beauty pagent here in the Chicago area. She rocked out, won “Most Photogenic” and was an amazing advocate for her platform, Celiac Awareness. I met her at the Gluten Free Cooking Expo that I have been volunteering at for YEARS and I love my “cupcake monsters.”
August started with a bang. Almost quite literally if you consider the gun that was fired in show. Anyway, I had been asked by a director I have auditioned for several times to take place in a musical revue that he was putting together as a fundraiser for a local theatre company. Of course I jumped at the chance to work with him. Then I saw who else he asked. EVERY other person in that cast has, at one point in their life or another, played a lead or a main supporting character with solos in a show. Some of these performers I had seen on stage and just wanted to learn as much as I could from them. And then there was me. The tall chorus girl in the back. But in this show, I wasn’t going to be a chorus girl. Every single person in the show was featured in at least 2 numbers. What did that mean for me? I was going to be singing Magenta in “The Time Warp” from ROCKY HORROR SHOW, and Mazeppa in “Gotta Get a Gimmick” from GYPSY. Plus ensemble in 4 other numbers. **GULP** Nervous. Scared. Floored. Honored. Determined. Terrified. What if I got there and I was the weakest person in the show? What if I got there and the director realized he made a mistake? Well, I got the sheet music about a month early and did everything I could to start working on my parts so that when the time came for rehearsals to start, I could be (somewhat) professional and at least know my music. I knew it would be tweaked as I worked with the director and knew what he wanted, but I could know words and pitches.
11 Rehearsals. 22 people put on a 2 hour show in 11 rehearsals. We sold out 97% of the house over the run of the show. I came into the rehearsal process determined to be friendly, but to keep my head down, work hard, learn by observing others, and not let all of my crazy energy out. And for the most part, I think I succeeded. I don’t know how my performances went. I know they felt great, and each night they felt stronger and stronger. I don’t know how well I succeeded in everything else I wanted to accomplish, or even hope to accomplish. But I know this. I came out of it with a bunch of new friends and the knowledge that I got to play with the big boys and I held my own.