If you’d met me a few months into starting testosterone, you’d have found me with a faraway look in my eyes. A look of profound longing, like I might cry at any second. The look of a person who was urgently passionate about their singular desire.
Food. Huge nasty piles of it. Full fat everything. Comfort food.
Surging hormones can make for ravenous hunger, as anyone who has had a growth spurt or a reproductive system can tell you. For trans people on estrogen or testosterone, one of the signature stunts our bodies pull in the first few months and years is a wild hunger and highly specific cravings the likes of which no mere single serving can satisfy.
I started HRT (hormone replacement therapy) in adulthood, after I’d finished growing. I am not going to share the finer details of that decision, at least not on this here internet, for three important reasons. One: I am a bad role model and started biomedical transition in a way that some have accurately called “dangerous” and “illegal”. Two: The internal process of deciding to do this is hyper specific to the individual, so my tale won’t help questioning people unless they are my time traveling clone. Two and a half: The external process varies a lot by material circumstances. Three: What it would do is package an intimate experience into Ye Olde Suffering Freak Narrative, the only form dominant culture can recognize, which will cause people to reach through their computer screens and touch me weirdly on the arm and say “wow, you’re so brave.”
I love both myself and you, fellow member of the gender fandom, too much to work another day at the confession and disclosure factory in the hopes of earning sympathy, visibility, and credibility. It’s a scam! They’re paying us in company scrip!
So. Putting aside all the shenanigans like gate-keeping and people who want to make me feel like I’m ruining a hypothetical cis person’s body by existing, everything in second puberty is as weird as the first go round but with a grown-up’s capacity for understanding their own mortality.
There’s pimples in your wrinkles. Parts and perceptions get hyper-sensitive or ache or heighten in waves and phases. Some cis people think you’re bathing your brain in radical mind-altering chemicals that force totally different values and behaviors to emerge, but it’s more like one chilly day in the kitchen you notice a slight shift in your experience of smells and temperature. The texture of your skin and the arc of your orgasms change. And it can be difficult to tell what’s the transition and what’s this other thing I have heard of, called “getting older.”
Even in the darkest long nights of the soul, food sees me through. It’s a euphoric realm, a place of happiness for my body. I cook with my feelings, and then I promptly eat those feelings to their resolution. And contrary to the script of an angsty early-stage trans narrative, most of my feelings for a good while were unbridled meat lust.
I originally created this series as notes in my diary because I was doing a lot of emotional cooking and eating, as you might imagine, in the months leading up to the first of two major plastic surgeries. I thought it would be a nice perk or thank you to friends who donated money to help cover my surgical costs if I made a food zine in the spirit of community cookbooks. I have no idea if schools, churches, and other organizations still do these spiral bound card-stock collections of local fare for fundraisers, but I grew up in a small town with a lot of active micro-communities and they were all over the house. Even the company my grandfather worked for had one with recipes from all the employees.
I posted on my fundraiser website about this “second puberty cookbook” and got an email from my mom the next day.
“Cookbooks used to be great fund raisers but I think the online sites have made them obsolete,” she said. “Recipes.com, The Food Network, and many others are much broader and you can find anything anytime based on ingredients alone.” Those pesky online sites! Making causes and community irrelevant in the dot com age. My mom sort of has a point (she’s completely correct), but I also think that the motivation to share and collect recipes is only partially the transmission of knowledge about how to make a particular dish. After all, recipe websites have discussion sections, and The Food Network sells entertaining visions of taste, culture, prestige, and lifestyle (the Kids Baking Championship is their best show).
In the age of the personal brand, most individual recipe blogs are even less about cooking instructions, instead pushing ideologies nested within memoirs wrapped in high definition photography of expensive kitchens perpetually flooded with full, yet artfully diffused, sunlight. Or in the wise words of JuanPa:
you really gotta scroll through someone’s whole life story to get a recipe these days like sorry about the divorce Pamela how many eggs?
— JuanPa (@jpbrammer) November 6, 2017
I wanted in on this scheme, so here we are. I cannot promise any of my recipes will empower, cleanse, purify, or enlighten you, but they will feed you. If you’re opposed to or allergic to any of the ingredients, switch them out. Make it personal and make it your own, though when I say “you”, I mean all fellow hungry transsexuals (including some abstraction of my younger self, duh), regardless of what or how or where under that term you fall. Biomedical transition and its attendant trials, tribulations, and joys will feature prominently, not because medical, legal, and economic needs are what make a transition real, but because medical, legal, and economic needs simply are real. Real as meatballs and red sauce (give me a writing award for how smooth that segue is).
Mingya Valley Meatballs and Red Sauce
So, a bit of context for this recipe: “Mingya” is a vulgar bit of Italian-American slang which works as well for exclaiming delight as displeasure. “Mingya Valley” is a saucy (wink) nickname for a region of Massachusetts surrounding the city of Lawrence, where my mother, and therefore, this recipe is from. That my exceedingly Irish half of the family has a kind of strange signature red sauce makes perfect sense when you consider that Lawrence has been occupied by various waves of immigrants who live, work, and eat together for its entire two century history (it is also the poorest city in the state, with all the problems of poor cities, but I maintain that the cannoli there beats anything from Boston’s North End any day).
Here’s what you get at the store:
- 1/2 pound of ground beef, 93% lean unless you want a really greasy experience, which you might (no rules).
- 1/2 pound Italian pork sausage.
- Olive oil.
- A whole head of garlic (or jar of minced garlic in oil, or dry garlic powder).
- Salt and pepper.
- Breadcrumbs or some day-old crumbly bread.
- Fresh fennel (trust me on this).
- Fresh or dry parsley, and/or basil (if you get drug store generic “Italian seasoning” it is fine and usually what I do unless someone else has offered to pay for the food).
- Bay leaves.
- 1 large yellow onion.
- 1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes.
- 2 14 ounce cans of tomato sauce.
- 1 12 ounce can of tomato paste.
- White sugar.
- Worcestershire sauce.
To make the red sauce:
- Coat the bottom of a large, deep pan with olive oil.
- Chop the onion and garlic and saute them in the oil until soft.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, both cans of tomato sauce, and the can of tomato paste.
- Fill the empty paste can with water once, and add it in.
- Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar but taste after each one, it is easy to add too much and there’s actually no coming back from that mistake.
- Add “a tablespoon” of the Worcestershire sauce, probably more if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m into that sort of thing, and recommend a hearty dollop of the stuff).
- Add a bay leaf or two, season to taste, stir.
- Bring to a bubbling heat and then turn down to a simmer for about an hour, or until the meatballs are cooked through the middle (see next section).
Now satiate your ravenous meat lust with these delicious balls:
- Wash your hands with hot, soapy water and get ready to touch some meat.
- Put all of the ground beef in a big bowl.
- Cut or squeeze the pork sausage out of its casing and in with the beef.
- Coat with spices, for example: minced or dry garlic, more Italian seasoning, and the fresh fennel as fine as you can get it. Fennel is a weird flavor, but trust me when I say this is the one spice that if incorporated right into the meatballs will enhance the savory, aromatic aspect of their taste.
- Mash it all together with your hands.
- Coat again with bread crumbs (non-wheat flours and crumbs seem to work just fine, too).
- Crack two large eggs or three to four smaller eggs in.
- Mash it all together again with your hands, until everything is evenly mixed.
- Form balls with those very same hands and plop ‘em gently into the simmering sauce (for me to think of them as “real” meatballs, they have to each be about the size of a baseball, but smaller ones will cook faster if you have less than an entire day to devote to this).
Serve in a sub roll, on spaghetti, on their own, whatever! They are so good that I eat them for breakfast with some scrambled eggs and soft cheese like a generous interpretation of eggs à la Grecque. I also find that the sauce is so thick and almost creamy and stew-like that it works really well for pizza, especially lazy day bagel pizza. Everything freezes well, too, if you feel like you made way too much, but probably if you’ve reached “faraway haze of profound longing” levels of hunger, they will do the trick for a dinner or two.
Cover illustration by Rory Frances.
The Care and Feeding of Your Sex Change is a guide to eating your way through hormone replacement therapy, plastic surgery, standing in line at state offices, lying to gatekeepers, fielding invasive questions from strangers, concealing panic attacks, and managing eating disorders, all disguised as a recipe column. Cis people can read it too, but are encouraged not to take terminology cues from irreverent intra-community internet essays. Big moods and big foods, taken with a grain of salt.