ONE OF my greatest moments of independence took place tonight: making pasta sauce from scratch on Christmas Eve. That’s right, pasta sauce, the kind from tomatoes. It felt more significant than buying my first apartment, backpacking across Tibet or reporting on a fatal hurricane.
It has been months since I broke up with my boyfriend of two years, most of which we lived together. He was basically a carbotarian, with a diet made up of five substances: bread, pasta, cheese, tofu and desserts. Now to clarify. He ate those in combination, so cheese and bread was pizza. Macaroni and cheese was okay. He ate white-coloured foods and chocolate. White bread, no brown bread. White rice, not brown rice. The only foods with colours that came from the rainbow he allowed himself to eat were essentially pesto and tomato sauce.
People would suggest that I tried to change him, as though the habits of a man in his late 30s could suddenly be amended by sheer force of a woman’s will. I always responded that I thought it was hardwired into him: he had spat meat out even when he was a baby. He went off to camp when he was a kid and his parents told his counsellors not to humour his pickiness. A few weeks later he returned, weighing 30 per cent less. His parents gave up after that.
I never tried to change him. I just bent my culinary life around his. When we were dating, a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal informed us there were others like him. There was even a social network for them. He was offended that his reported condition, if it could be called that, was being considered for DSM-V, the official catalogue of mental disorders.
Within this narrow category of foods however, he was an extreme foodie. He could discern the difference between variations of boxed pastas. De Cecco, I was taught, was the best. My taste buds were nowhere near as refined. In my world there was the good, home-made pasta in restaurants and bad spaghetti in elementary-school cafeterias. Everything else was in a big grey in-between. But because I had written a popular book about Chinese food in America people thought I was a foodie, an assumption that agitated him no end. Clearly he thought he deserved the moniker more than I did.
A consequence of his peculiar diet was that he had learned to cook for himself from an early age. Italian food fit neatly into his dietary constraints, a by-product of which was his magnificent recipe for tomato sauce.
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