The Wrong Way to Make Mac and Cheese —by Jinny Batterson
Why is our town/county/state/nation/planet (choose all that apply) in such an uproar at the moment? Isn’t there anything we can agree on any more?
Some days, I wonder how we ever got to this point. Then I remember an incident that happened when I was maybe 12. Our family had recently moved from a smallish cottage into a brand-new large brick house in a nearby neighborhood of the same Maryland town. My parents, assisted by their parents, had scrimped and saved for over a decade to be able to afford our expanded quarters, which my dad’s small construction company helped build.
For me, the biggest contrast with our old digs was not the spacious bedroom that I no longer had to share with a younger sister and two younger brothers, but the abundance of playmates my age in the neighborhood, most of them girls. Not too long after we moved, one of the girls I didn’t know all that well invited me over to her house for dinner and a sleepover. What a treat! I hadn’t been to stay at a playmate’s house in forever. I checked with my mom for permission, then packed a small suitcase for the Friday evening adventure at Mary’s house.
Most of the houses in our new neighborhood had been built on spacious grounds a couple of generations earlier as summer homes for Baltimore lawyers and their families, fleeing the heat and diseases of urban Augusts. Mary’s house was one of the more modest ones. By the time I walked the short distance to her place, it was starting to get dark. Mary’s artist mother had an appointment somewhere and had left supper in the oven for us, promising Mary she’d be home in an hour or two. This was a departure from the routine I was used to—my parents had not yet allowed us to spend evening time without their supervision or that of a babysitter.
After Mary gave me a quick tour of the house’s hallways and somewhat drafty rooms, we returned to the large kitchen. Mary’s mom had set a small table with placemats, plates and silverware, and had put down a thick potholder in the table’s center. Following her mom’s instructions, Mary picked up two more potholders, carefully took an unlidded casserole out of the oven, and put it in the center of the table. We started in on supper. Humph! It was macaroni and cheese, but not at all what I was used to. I’m not sure whether my 12-year-old self had the tact to avoid criticizing the food to Mary, but I remember describing it to my mom in lurid detail once I got home the next day. The noodles on the top of the casserole had dried out in the oven, and even toward the bottom, this mac and cheese was not the soft, gooey mass I was used to eating at home. My mom was a basic cook. She’d managed to get nourishing, if somewhat bland, food on the table for us each evening promptly at 6, using a minimum of burners and pans. Who ever heard of cooking macaroni and cheese in an oven?
Mom was wiser than to contradict an obstinate, pubescent daughter directly. Instead, she asked, “How did it taste?”
After a little thought, I said, “Not bad, really. The noodles were kind of crunchy, but the cheese was tangier than the Velveeta we use at our house. I guess I could eat some again.”
Since then, I’ve been lucky to have had chances to sample many different kinds of pasta and cheese, and of other, more exotic combinations of carbohydrates and proteins. Not all of them have been to my liking, but I have at least learned that there are many valid ways of producing macaroni and cheese. Is it possible there are many valid ways to do other things as well?