On agtf, nobody gets a name. They always get some sort of nickname that describes who and what they are. Most of them, you have met at one time or another. Mrs. alphageek, anti-alphageek, retired lawman and others quickly come to mind.

Today, is about someone who needs no nickname, Mom. The alphageek's Mom passed away recently, and they alphageek is going to tell you a little about her. Some memories will be food, and some will be other influences, but this is my column, and I get to write what I want. I hope if you know Mom, you will take a minute to reflect about her.

Truly, there would be no agtf without Mom. At an early age, Mom taught the alphageek how to appreciate food. Before the alphageek had gone all the way to being the great geek he is, there was this little pile of putty, waiting to be formed into something or other. Mom was always trying to teach the alphageek to try new foods. She did what would work with a geek and tried patience. She got the alphageek to try crepes.

Mom-Do you want to try crepes?

Pre-alphageek-Craps? What are craps? Sounds awful. (Try to imagine a whiny 6 or 7 year old, not a whiny middle aged man here.)

Mom, CREPES, and they are just like pancakes, and you can have them for dinner. Crepes even have whipped cream on them.

Pre-alphageek-Pancakes for dinner? Count me in!

Sometimes, the examples were a little more out there, but those are the lessons that stick to this day. Mom always cooked dinner, but at some point, got a little tired of the usual dinner routine. The pre-alphageek liked the dinner routine. After all, geeks like their order of things. She started, shall we say tweaking(?) her recipes for beloved dishes like lasagna. The pre-alphageek had no taste for things like spinach in lasagna. While the alphageek to this day does not really like to many variations on lasagna, there was another benefit. Yes, the pre-alphageek was allowed to eat something else, as long as pre-alphageek cooked it. While heating up a can of soup or Chef Boy r Dee might not seem like much, when I got to college, I was not afraid of cooking, and I owe my love of cooking to experimental lasagna. Hey, it was only soup, but you should have seen my roommate who ate the same thing every day, to avoid cooking.

I suppose every Mom makes a favorite dish, and mine would be no exception. She had this recipe for Tamale Pie that I loved. It was basically cornbread on top of some quick chili and was prepared in a frying pan, and the cornbread then baked in the oven. If I were asked to serve you something reminds me of Mom, and inspires me to cook, it would be this simple dish.

In another break with the rules here on agtf, we are going to have a recipe. You can find this recipe right here at , or you can just read below. I guess that is another rule broken.

Tamale Filling
2 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1 Medium onion , minced
2 tablespoons Chili powder
2 Medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 pound Ground sirloin (lean)
1 (15.5-ounce) can Black beans , drained and rinsed
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes , drained
3 ounces Cheddar cheese , shredded (1 cup)
2 tablespoons Minced fresh cilantro leaves
Ground black pepper
Cornbread Topping
3/4 cup Unbleached all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup Yellow cornmeal (3 3/4 ounces)
3 tablespoons Sugar
3/4 teaspoon Baking powder
3/4 teaspoon Baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Salt
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter , melted and cooled

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. For the tamale filling: Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the ground sirloin, beans, and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Stir the cheddar and cilantro into the filling and season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. For the cornbread topping: Meanwhile, whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk and egg together. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until uniform. Stir in the butter until just combined.

5. Dollop the cornbread batter evenly over the filling and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cornbread is cooked through in the center, 10 to 15 minutes.


If you are just here for the food, you can probably just stop reading right now. Like I said, this is my forum, and I get to say what I want. I have some other happy memories that I want to share.

The alphageek is clearly, through and through, a Hokie. Mom knew this before I did.  The alphageek headquarters that this great writing comes to you from has an Orange and Maroon theme. While diplomas and pictures line the walls, there is something that is now in a shadow box, in a place of honor. When I was about 9 years old, Mom gave me a sports pennant. I was wondering why she did not get me one that was for my favorite NFL team, the Redskins, so I asked. She told me that I had been questioning my NFL allegiance lately (I was going through a Steelers phase), but she knew that I would always be a Virginia Tech guy. Little did I know how right she was. When the time to apply to college came, there was only one place I have ever applied: Virginia Tech. That simple banner has been with me every place I have ever lived, and is adorned with three simple letters: VPI. Some folks at Virginia Tech did not understand the pennant, but even then, that pennant was something I wanted to show off.  Today, it hangs over the door to the headquarters, and I can look up at it from the desk where I work and draw inspiration from the moment the pennant was given to me.

So the alphageek is at college, and decides to join the Marching Virginians. Little did the members of the band know that the alphageek had already been to practice, long before the other members. When he was a youngster, Mom used to take him and his sister to watch the Marching Virginians practice. Little did he know what an influence watching practice would be.

Mom liked music. I guess her influence was pretty strong. My sister, anti-alphageek, is now embroiled in the field of music, and actually makes a living in music, which is not something every music lover/performer can say. The music influence was a little more subtle with the alphageek, but he chose to be an electrical engineer, so that he could understand how an amplifier worked. I guess there are worse ways to pick a career! Years later, the satisfaction of being able to listen to an interview with Tomlinson Holman or Bob Heil and follow their discussions of music technology would not have happened without first going to those band practices all those years ago. It was a great way to combine art and engineering.

Well, of course this column could go on and on. When I originally drafted the idea, there were many more lines to work in. However, what I shared today just feels right, and that is the final lesson for this column. While one can become the alphageek, learn many great geek things, such as what THX is and how MP3s really work, sometimes one just has to trust their feelings because there will be situations that geek things just can't answer.

Usually, this column ends with some begging to follow us on facebook or twitter, or perhaps to leave a comment. Today, we just ask that you go do something nice for someone, because Mom would want that.