i cook because i care
Growing up, my family typically opted to order takeout for dinner rather than cook at home. Our menu drawer was a sacred part of the kitchen.
At nine years old, pasta and pizza were their own food group in my mind, and I was justifiably devastated when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. The diagnosis came first for my older brother, Josh, after weeks of painful stomach aches. My entire family had to then be tested as celiac is a genetic disorder. I, of course, was the only other one to test positive out of the rest of my family. My diagnosis came at a time before a gluten-free diet was trendy, so there weren’t many menu options that appealed to a young child’s palette. Going to dinner with friends now meant watching as they all shared delicious glutenous dishes without me.
Having my brother, Josh by my side took away any feelings of loneliness and isolation I could have ever had about being celiac. I came to appreciate food so much more now that I was limited in what I could eat. I relished the few and far between moments that a gluten-free dish of my choosing could be prepared.
With the help of our mom we began to dip our toes in cooking. First and foremost, of course, we started with finding the best gluten-free pasta. Then, we moved onto bread and pizza. Nothing we made at the time was what one would call “gourmet” by any means, but it meant everything to me to have a replacement for my previously favorite foods. I became so thankful that my mom cooked gluten-free for us, so we could still eat the things we have loved for so long.
The kitchen quickly became my happy place. With me as sous chef and my mom as the head, we work as a unit. It’s a swift dance of how easily we cook together. It became a place where I could spend quality time with my mom, but it also symbolized total food freedom for my brother and I. For so long, we focused on what we couldn’t eat. But cooking allowed us to put an emphasis on everything we could eat.
For so long, I always thought of food as something that isolated me from others; but it didn’t have to be that way. In fact, I remember how nervous I was last year to be spending ten whole weeks of my summer in Durham. But once I arrived in late May, I connected with a few girls from school that I knew and I suggested hosting a dinner party at my apartment.
I remember that lovely June Durham night vividly. The girls and I spent the entire night together, eating the food I had made, telling stories from our first year at Duke, and becoming closer. We discussed the universally-felt, unspoken hardships that came with freshman year, such as struggling to find your people and your place at school. We were completely vulnerable with each other about the best and worst experiences we’d faced in the past year, with “We’re Really Not Strangers” as our conversation guide. I felt so at peace with the people around me, and I knew already that this night would be the start of some incredible friendships.
I didn’t let anybody help me cook that night and I originally thought it was because I wanted to control the evening. But I came to realize later that I don’t just view cooking as a means to an end. Instead, I see cooking as my way of showing my love and appreciation for the important people in my life. I wanted to make the people around me happy and cooking allowed me to do just that.
I cook because it allows me to produce something that the most special people to me can enjoy. Plus, it’s more than just cooking the food itself.
Cooking is rediscovering my favorite foods. Cooking is spending the entire summer in Durham with some of the most incredibly beautiful souls I have ever met. Cooking is my brother and I. Cooking is my mom. Cooking is my dad and other older brother starting to enjoy gluten-free foods. Cooking is the amalgamation of everything and everyone I care about the most. Cooking has given me a new outlook on my allergy and on life itself, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Here are a few recipes that make me smile: