Louisville, Kentucky. Oh, I love a farmers’ market and artisanal bacon as much as the next person. I have a weedy but earnest vegetable garden, too.
But you would not call me a Foodie. I lack the time, or I lack the dedication, or perhaps I lack the necessary fastidiousness. True Foodiness requires a commitment I refuse to make, and a certain willingness to be occasionally ridiculous, the way all purists are. (Twenty-odd years ago, before everyone and his brother was a chef, I knew a food writer in New York who used to talk with great relish about the omelettes he and his wife would make with a dozen quails’ eggs. He treated me to a dinner at Le Cirque I will always remember, and I am grateful to him, wherever he may be, but if I were eating quails’ eggs regularly I would keep that fact to myself.)
And with all sincere affection for home-grown strawberries and April’s arugula and July’s tomatoes and last summer’s home-canned green beans served in January, sometimes a person simply has to eat. One can’t always be Dining. Not with meals coming around like clockwork three times a day, not to mention snacks (and I won’t—for snacks you’re on your own, kids).
One of my colleagues at this site has told his tales of carbonara and expertly-brined grilled pork. Peace to his household and nice of him to do some of the cooking. But each sinner has his own walk in this world, and mine is another tale. The tale of mac ‘n’ cheese.
Please note the correct spelling (marred slightly by this program’s refusal to turn the first apostrophe the right direction). Standards are falling, but not here.
Tonight it’s Annie’s PC organic instant macaroni, because I bought this box when I was feeling expansive and it was on sale. When it’s my husband who has gone through the check-out line we find ourselves gnawing for months through his purchase of institutional-sized and hence slightly-discounted cases of Kraft Original. Ours is a mixed marriage.
I pull out the pan. Not the expensive All-Clad my husband bought us for making candy, and I must say the pan is worth the money when you are making cream pull, which we do once a year and sometimes even twice, but my own ancient, hoary Paul Revere pan with the copper-dipped bottom and a metal (not glass! I’d just break it) lid that I’ve owned since I learned to feed myself affordably during my four years of poverty in New York. I don’t need a thick-bottomed pan that will perfectly distribute the heat. For crying out loud I’m boiling water.
Enter the water with no salt—we’ll get plenty of salt as it is.
I watch the pot, and it boils. So much for truisms.
Every recipe has its trick. For this meal the trick is to rip off the boxtop without sending the macaroni skidding around the kitchen, and as is true with all cooking, years of experience tell. I do it twice and with aplomb, though I say it who shouldn’t, for ours is a household of the predominantly female and carbs are queen around here.
In goes the mac. It cooks. It swells. Colander? Check. Rinsing? Why bother? Think of the starch you lose doing that.
Back into the hot pan goes a little milk, a little butter (always less than directed, because I am nothing if not part Scot) and the orange dust. Stir. If I can get all the lumps out, fine. If not, tough. Add pasta, toss, holler, ladle onto plates, carry your own and your sister’s please, yes you have to eat your carrots, no there is no dessert, but voilà: lunch. Or dinner. Or during the occasional Week of Great Harriedness, lunch and dinner.
Do I hear a sigh? If I won’t take any guff from my children about the vegetables, dear reader, I’m not going to take any guff from you. I boiled the pot and scraped the carrots with my own hands. We lack my husband today, or believe me mac ‘n’ cheese alone wouldn’t cut it, but the rest of us are sitting down together at the table, with no phones or television–nothing but our own talents for conversation and grimace-making as entertainment.
We are using real plates and cloth napkins (in my house, the monogrammed paper napkins I am given every Christmas are reserved for company). We are thankful for what we are about to receive, such as it is.
I have no illusions that anyone older than my children would consider this a good meal. But some days it is good enough.
In any case, those who know me for real and not just virtually know that my tombstone is bound to quote Chesterton’s charitable motto that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
He also said that if there is one thing the road to hell is NOT paved with, it is good intentions. He said he was sure.
And so another meal is served. Now, dear reader, I have other things to do.
Photo courtesy and copyright Cavale. Apologies to the BJ.