GOOD OL’ MAC ‘N CHEESE

375I found this ornate Victorian brass letter holder at an estate sale.  It sits in service on my desk, holding papers, bills, coupons, and other important ephemera.  It makes me want to sit down with a cup of tea and a big plumed pen and correspond.

I used to love to get mail, didn’t you?  Every once in a while a check still shows up in the mail, or an increasingly rare thank you note, but other than that, it’s all just junk these days. How exciting it would be to receive a letter, a party invitation, or a birth announcement in the mail.  Electronic communications have made lots of things easier and more efficient, but they’ll never match the excitement of something delivered by the mailman and the anticipation of tearing the envelope open to see what’s inside.  And I miss being able to post invitations and such on the refrigerator or wall so that everyone can see how immensely popular and important I am.

Touring colleges recently with my daughter, we ran across a bank of mailboxes in a dorm lobby that looked like this:

ELLC Dorm Pictures 038

When I was in college, I used to run to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter from home (especially one with a check in it) or one of my friends.  When I did get one, I used to wait until a quiet time to read it, when I could savor every word.  I treasured every letter I received.  Seeing the dorm mailboxes made me wonder if anyone writes to college kids any more, or if they just check in with a text or email every once in a while. I made a promise to myself right then and there that when my daughter leaves for college next fall, I’m going to try to send her a letter — even if it’s just a note to say hi — at least once a week.

Visiting college campuses has brought back a flood of memories, and causes me to marvel at how much the world has changed since then.  Like phones, for example.  We had one corded telephone that was mounted on the wall, shared by six girls in my dorm room suite.  Phoning home was a momentous occasion, and we’d try to wait until the off hours, when the rates were lower.  Just before making the call, we’d announce “I’m dialing the 9,”  which meant we were going to make a long-distance call and didn’t want to be disturbed.  When the phone rang, there was no way of telling who was on the other end — you just took your chances and answered it.  One Sunday morning my roommate’s mother called around 8:00 a.m.  Eileen, however, had spent the night at her boyfriend’s. Thinking fast, I told her mother she was at a study group, and her mother replied, “Oh, is that what they call it now?”  I was reminded of that this summer on our visit to the University of Texas.  We stayed at a hotel on campus, and I burst out laughing when I saw the privacy hangtag:

hangtagSo, to answer my roommate’s mother’s question, yes, that is what we called it then, and apparently still call it today.  🙂

On a visit to Texas A & M, we stopped for lunch at Koppe Bridge Bar & Grill, and this sign on the counter brought back a lot of fun memories from my days at nursing school in upstate NY:

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Macaroni and cheese played prominently in our college diet back then.  It was served for lunch almost every Friday, and it was among the more popular dining hall meals.  Moreover, a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese only cost about 25 cents in those days, and you could prepare it in a hotpot in your dorm room, which in the pre-microwave era, was a pretty big deal.  (You could also iron yourself a grilled cheese, but let’s not go there.)

I still love macaroni and cheese, but nowadays it is something of a treat, not a mainstay in our diet.  My favorite recipe is one from Food & Wine’s Grace Parisi–it’s simple, creamy, and cheesy.   There’s no foie gras, truffles, or vegetables hiding in it–just plain ol’ macaroni and cheese.  I like to make it for gatherings where there will be children–who always welcome it–and watch the adults sneak a scoop or two.  I’ve sent it numerous times as part of a compassion meal, and it’s always appreciated.  It’s perfect comfort food.

GOOD OL' MAC 'N CHEESE
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Recipe type: Main Course, Side Dish, Pasta
Author:
Ingredients
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-1/2 cups half and half or whole milk (can substitute low-fat milk for half of the milk)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • ½ pound Colby cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup plain dry bread crumbs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add half of the Cheddar and Colby cheeses, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Stir in mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well, and return pasta to pot. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and the remaining cheese, and stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.
  5. In a small non-metal bowl, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Add the bread crumbs and stir until evenly moistened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta, and bake for 45 minutes, until golden and bubbling on top. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

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 I want the corner!

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