As a homeless teen, I foraged for wild food to survive. The lessons still shape my cooking

Sabra Boyd

THE WASHINGTON POST – Etta James sings about a Sunday kind of love as I pour a tiny mountain of flour onto the kitchen table. I push a crater into the centre and crack an egg. One should be enough. I can always add more if the texture crumbles. Desperate times call for comfort food. And whenever I have time, making fresh pasta helps me embrace being home.

If I have dry pasta on hand, I toss that into a boiling pot. But rolling out fettuccine noodles is the only kind of meditation I have patience for these days. I press my hands firmly into the dough, feeling grateful to have a kitchen. I coat the rolling pin in extra flour and think about how, as a homeless teenager 20 years ago, I cooked using only a backpacking stove. Surviving teen homelessness prepared me for a pandemic in ways I never could have imagined.

My mother first kicked me out when I was 14. We had recently moved to Port Angeles, Washington, the land of Twilight and Raymond Carver, to help care for my grandfather after his stroke. I didn’t know anyone to crash with, so I trudged uphill to the dark high school because I could not think of anywhere better to go other than the place I needed to be in the morning. I climbed the roof of the auditorium and took a clumsy parkour leap from the eave of my English classroom’s window. Tracing constellations with my finger, I pulled my hoodie tight against the cold. The glare of a neon crucifix, perched on a hill above the school, flooded the football field with light. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep.

The following night, I sneaked into my mom’s house through a window and packed my camping gear. I set up my new home in a cave above the Elwha River. Sometimes I slept in an abandoned house in Eden Valley. When it grew too cold, I stayed at a hippie commune, in the goat stable, but I left when the commune became too dangerous.

With the pasta dough rolled out, I carefully cut long, uniform lines. I toss the pasta with a handful of flour and think about the foods I used to prepare in the cave. I kept my favourite nonperishables in a bear canister: instant noodles, dehydrated miso soup, granola bars and halvah. In the spring, I sauteed fiddleheads and horsetails in olive oil with my compact camp stove. In summer, I gorged on blackberries, delicately picked bright red thimbleberries and, when their pink blossoms fell, hunted for the electric hue of salmonberries. In the fall I gathered apples from wild orchards and scanned the sepia leaves on the forest floor, training my eye for a pop of yellow chanterelle.

Douglas Fir Fettuccine Alfredo. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST


25 minutes

Four servings

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four days.


Kosher salt

One pound fettuccine pasta

Eight tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces

One cup (about three ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

One teaspoon minced Douglas fir needles, divided (may substitute fresh rosemary)

Freshly cracked black pepper, for garnish (optional)


In a large pot of salted boiling water over medium-high heat, cook the pasta according to package instructions, until al dente.

Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water.

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the cheese and whisk until the cheese has melted.

Add 3/4 cup of the hot pasta water to the butter-cheese slurry, raise the heat to medium and whisk until the mixture is slightly reduced and uniform, about five minutes. If the sauce is too thick, whisk in additional starchy water one tablespoon at a time. Taste, and adjust the salt as needed. Add 1/2 teaspoon Douglas fir or rosemary and stir to combine.

Add the drained fettuccine to the saucepan; gently toss to combine.

To serve, divide among the plates and garnish with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Douglas fir or rosemary.

Top with a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper, if desired.


Calories: 399; Total Fat: 29g; Saturated Fat: 18g; Cholesterol: 103mg; Sodium: 404mg; Carbohydrates: 21g; Dietary Fibre: 1g; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 13g.