Finding what feeds us

Finding what feeds us

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Finding what
feeds us

People sometimes ask me how I became so interested in food, and I usually respond that cooking became a hobby a few years ago, as a way to balance the stress of work. But it goes a little deeper than that. My fascination with food is really rooted in the experience of growing up hungry.

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November 20, 2016 | Text: David Rollins Photography: Rob Lee
Styling: Karine Blackburn

 

Finding what feeds us

People sometimes ask me how I became so interested in food, and I usually respond that cooking became a hobby a few years ago, as a healthy way to balance the stress of work. But it goes a little deeper than that. My fascination with food is really rooted in the experience of growing up hungry.

.

November 20, 2016 | Text: David Rollins Photography: Rob Lee

Let me be clear. My parents went above and beyond to do what was right for us. We can all play the piano, quote Shakespeare, swim, and change a diaper with one hand. We ate vegetables from my father’s garden in the summer, and a cold cellar in the basement was stocked with a year’s worth of food, including a hundred pounds of wheat that we ground with an electric mill. I still remember and love the smell of freshly ground wheat germ, so redolent of Saturday night bath time, and my father’s creativity.

As a family of nine, wheat was the backbone of our diet. My three youngest brothers could polish off a family-sized box of Cheerios or Mini-wheats in one sitting. And the deep freeze was full of the sliced bread we’d drive with my mother to buy fresh once a week – a dozen loaves made our daily lunch sandwiches, and it was stacked on the dinner table as well. It was one of the things we were allowed to eat as much of as we wanted.

We knew
exactly what portion
of the whole
was ours.

As kids, we kept a keen eye on the portioning of pasta, and vied for the largest piece of cake or slice of pie. We knew exactly how much of everything we were allowed to have, what portion of the whole was ours. Everything was counted, and by virtue of my mother’s thriftiness and my father’s craftiness, there was always just enough.

But somehow I was always hungry. And I was a scrawny, anemic kid. Tired. Unable to concentrate in school. Even as an adult, no amount of food seemed enough to fuel me. Then, a few years ago, I learned that gluten intolerance runs in my family. My mother, two sisters, a brother and a handful of nieces and nephews are all full-scale celiac. It was like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. In the intolerant, gluten erodes the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients. And we gorged ourselves on gluten. We had no way of knowing.

 

It’s amazing what you
have to eat when you can’t eat wheat.

 

I’ve never been tested for gluten intolerance myself. Three and a half years ago I went gluten-free to see what would happen, and after a month it was clear I’d never turn back. I’d been insomniac for years: I’d wake up every night around 3 am, restless, hot, and parched with thirst. And when I was sleeping, I snored. This all disappeared in about three weeks. I was silently sleeping through the night for the first time in years. And I stopped being hungry. It’s amazing what you have to eat when you can’t eat wheat: lots of vegetables, pulses and proteins. They’re incredibly power-packed foods in comparison to the simple carbohydrates in bread and pasta.

 

After a few months of eating a gluten-free diet, I also lost a good eight or ten pounds. It was like I deflated. My skin got somehow clearer, more translucent. But the best part was how I felt. I had more energy, a clearer mind, a bright and steady mood. So there was no need for me to get tested, and there’s never been a question of going back, or ‘cheating’ as people sometimes suggest (as though it’s diet and not a disease).

It makes me deeply happy to have solved the riddle of my hunger, to see my family thriving and achieving incredible feats of physical achievement and endurance. (My sister Jennifer, who spent twenty years being exhausted, qualified for the Boston marathon last year.) And as for the story of ‘growing up hungry’, I’ve learned to see my childhood wheat-based family dinners as a kind of living parable – let’s call it the Feast of Family. Because love nourishes us more deeply than food can. It’s not what’s on the table that truly feeds us – it’s the people gathered around it.

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Loosely adapted from Cooks Illustrated

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • 8 oz. bacon, cut into matchsticks
  • ½ c dry white wine
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c grated Parmesan
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb. gluten free spaghetti
  • salt and pepper
  1. Warm a mixing bowl. Bring 4 qts. water to a rolling boil in a large pot of generously salted water. While the water is heating, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Beat the eggs, cheese, and garlic together and set aside.
  1. When the water has come to a boil, cook the pasta, reserving ½ c pasta water. Drain and briefly rinse the pasta. Transfer the pasta to the warmed mixing bowl and add the egg and cheese mixture. Season with plenty of salt. Pour the bacon mixture over the pasta, season generously with pepper, and toss well to combine, sprinkling in the reserved pasta water as needed to make an unctuous sauce.  Top with an egg yolk an serve immediately.

4 Comments

  1. Jon 11 months ago

    I love this: the food, the narrative, the memories. Well said!

  2. Jennifer Goddard 11 months ago

    Aw geez, I love this. Thanks for writing it!

  3. mom, silly 11 months ago

    Yes, David, I love it too. It’s fun to sit on the sidelines and read a story from your life. Well written. I love to read anything you write, or cook.. We all do…xo

  4. Kathleen Laliberté 11 months ago

    Quelle belle histoire David que la tienne. Merci mon ami.

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