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.

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Katherine Dalton
Katherine Dalton has worked as a magazine editor, freelance feature writer and book editor.  She started in journalism in college, working at The Yale Literary Magazine during most of its controversial few years as a national magazine of opinion based at Yale.  She then worked briefly at Harper's magazine in New York, and more extensively at Chronicles magazine in Illinois, where she was a contributing editor for many years.  She has has written for various publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the University Bookman, and was a contributor to Wendell Berry: Life and Work and Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto.  She lives in her native Kentucky.


  1. Well said. While I very much enjoy good/artisinal food, I, too sometimes just get hungry. Although my weakness is ramen noodles, I can relate to the “box-o-somethin'” meal approach.

  2. Kate, I’m glad you wrote this plea for sanity, and I bet there’s more joy at your table with Annie than there is at Chez Hoity. I often wonder if foodies have children, and if so, whether the kids rebel in the form of Twinkies and day trading in the cafeteria. Food idolatry, like gay marriage, is a luxury of a culture awash in cash and technology. But it also strikes me as not an improvement on but a repudiation of family kitchen traditions.

    Overly impressed by my own baking skills, I decided to make authentic Neapolitan pizza last Saturday night. After hours of kneading and rising I built a nuclear fire on the Weber grill and started crisping them. The crust looked and tasted exactly as I’d hoped, but my children were not impressed, wondering aloud if I would go back to making normal pizzas next time. Could be because none of us has a drop of Italian blood, but I suspect they were just disappointed that I’d broken with our own tradition.

  3. Good on ya, Katherine. We’re mostly organic and largely local in our house, yet the box of ramen or Annie’s is quickly available at the front of the pantry. I love your “We are thankful …” line; in our house, quick meals, when required or just simply preferred tonight, are often accompanied by the truly heart-felt prayer:

    Thank you, Lord, for this, thy toxic bounty.

  4. Oh, honey.

    This is how the global corporate system hooks us, with ease and convenience, just as it hooks previously uncontacted tribes in the rain forests of South America with the ease and convenience of metal tools, so that in a generation or two they forget how to chip flint and shape clay from the riverbank into cooking pots. It doesn’t help that what was once a movement to make food choices that better sustained us, both individually and as a society, has been contaminated with the gourmandizing impulse, with social status pretenses and a sensuality approaching that of a Roman patrician of the time of Nero. I understand about time famine, another creation of the global corporate system, which then gets to sell us solutions to the problems it created for us. I understand about the ubiquitousness of the stuff, which our tax dollars have already subsidized to the point where the raw ingredients are about 40% cheaper than they cost to grow, so we feel like we’ve partly paid for it already, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to pay the rest of the price and actually eat it. But it still saddens me.

  5. Joan,

    You call to mind a line from the classic 80s movie, “Stripes”

    “Lighten up, Francis!”

  6. Reading this post simply made me happy. Imagine, eating a meal (boxed , canned, delivered or some other less than ‘perfect’ way) with only thoughts of actually eating it. No pretense, guilt or shame. If we can’t make a habit of it, at least let us enjoy the indulgence! Thanks for a thoughtful post about boxed mac ‘n’ cheese!

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