Cookies, Christmas, and a Protein Allergy


Photo credit to my roommate, who is freshly obsessed with Instagram.

Today I had a few “firsts.” First time watching A Charlie Brown Christmas (apparently I missed out on childhood), first time working a 9-to-5 shift in a cubicle, and my first time making Jacques Torres’ Infamous Chocolate Chip Cookies, made possible by a New York Times recipe I stumbled upon – literally,, thank you for being the most efficient way to waste time.

Naturally, I spent an extra 30 5 minutes at the gym today to accomodate the cookies I would be feasting on tonight. But then I read my worst nightmare: “Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.” Binge cookie-eating plans went from 60 to 0 in about 2 seconds.

But, while still in my baker’s high, I decided to make some holiday nibbles for one of my best friends. But wait – he is allergic to protein! Which brings me to my “science” blog topic today: PHENYLKETONURIA.

Phenylketonuria is an autosomal recessive metabolic genetic disorder (there is a mouthful for ya!) resulting in a non-functioning phenylalanine hydroxylase enzyme. Without this enzyme, those with the condition are unable to break down an amino acid – phenylalanine – found in all naturally occurring protein sources; hence, the allergy to “protein.” No meat, beans, tofu, wheat, eggs, cheese, chewing gum, diet sodas, everything…and I thought a vegan diet was strict! His protein is supplemented by two protein shakes, one tasting like thick, salty chicken soup and the other tasting like an orange 50/50 bar. Both are pretty awful, and this is coming from the least picky eater ever.

So, what happens when protein is consumed? Well, phenylalanine easily saturates the transport channels into the brain, blocking other essential amino acids from getting in, and causing an imbalance of chemicals in this vital region. At worst, this results in mental retardation and brain damage. But, from what my friend tells me, small amounts of protein – which is truly unavoidable during the holidays – won’t do harm. It causes him to be a little loopy and easily forgetful; think Dory from Finding Nemo. People actually threaten to sneak protein in his food to dumb him down during finals – the kid got an A in Biochemistry after studying for maybe an hour before our final…really?!

Anyways, ignoring the fact that he beat me in my own discipline, no one should be denied the basic human right to dessert. And let me tell you, making good cookies without eggs, flour, and chocolate is no easy feat. Attempt #1 tasted like grainy cardboard and attempt #2 cleaned out my Costco-sized pack of butter (I’m sorry, arteries). Attempt #3 will commence tomorrow, along with my Jacques Torres (AKA Mr. Chocolate, AKA the Willy Wonka of New York) cookies. I hope my friend isn’t reading this otherwise I’m sure I’ll get a call tomorrow morning wondering why the cookies haven’t arrived by overnight mail to his doorstep.

I’m ending my night with a glass of wine, good company, and grateful for the freezing (by southern California standards) Santa Barbara night that has really put me into the holiday spirit.


One response to “Cookies, Christmas, and a Protein Allergy

  1. Phenylalanine is necessary for the neurotransmitter production in our brain. It also helps with anxiety and depression by synthesizing serotonin which calms the mind and makes us feel good. .;,;:

    Till next time

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