The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on May 9, 2012.
I get a kick out of trying new recipes. Sometimes my experiments are rather wild. One time I served my family fried lemons and parsley wrapped in tortillas. Another time there was a cold cucumber soup that we all agreed was perfectly horrid (though I didn’t tell them my opinion until after we had eaten it, much to their dismay). And my husband still likes to tease me about the time I served him collard greens on top of oatmeal. The cooking flops don’t faze me much. New flavors are thrilling, and more often than not, the dishes are perfectly edible, though somewhat odd.
My children, however, don’t always appreciate my creative efforts. They are quick to grow weary of the steady stream of new ingredients and flavors. No doubt they would be happy as clams if I only ever made their favorite foods.
I do try to be sensitive. Some days they need comfort food, and whether or not I find the dish exciting to cook is not important. The other week, we had one of those days.
On that particular day, the children were grief stricken.
Five days before, they had rescued some baby field mice that were being attacked by our dog. My husband and I had warned the children that the mice probably wouldn’t live, but that didn’t stop the children from doing their best to keep the babies alive. My older daughter, especially, poured her heart and soul into caring for them. She made them a straw nest, heated up a rice-stuffed sock to keep them warm, bathed and cuddled them, and spent hours feeding them drops of milk from a syringe. On Monday morning when she discovered that one of the mice, a girl named Henry, was dead, my daughter was crushed.
One by one, the other mice died, and the three younger children spent the morning crying.
I tried to stick to our normal routine in spite of the sobbing, but it was hopeless. By mid afternoon I was exhausted. Our rest time—a fixed part of our day in which the kids go to their rooms and I sink onto the sofa to drink coffee and write—was ruined because the youngest child couldn’t stop crying. His focus had shifted from the baby mice to his frustration that I had yet to sign up to be his Sunday school teacher.
Finally I threw up my hands in frustration and set a pot of water on to boil for some pasta. I grated a block of cheese and whisked flour into melted butter for a white sauce. Supper would be baked macaroni and cheese, one of the kids’ favorites. Our day had been rough, but our supper would go down easy.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Sometimes I spice up the white sauce by stirring in a bit of grainy mustard, hot sauce, pesto, or chopped ham. Though I then run the risk of turning a comforting dish into something new and stressful. More often than not, I keep it safely simple.
1 pound macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour, rounded
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 cups milk
8-12 ounces grated melting cheese such as Colby, cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Gruyere
Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook briefly, stirring constantly. Whisk steadily, add the milk and bring to gentle boil. Stir in the salt and half of the cheese. Taste to correct seasonings.
Combine the cheese sauce with the macaroni and pour into a buttered 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.