When I think about things that I have failed at, cooking is always high up on the list. My children grew up nutritiously, and I have been known to put together what my husband has called “a helluvasupper,” but certain things have always eluded me. I have written about these things. But I have a new confession: I would probably be executed for my Macaroni attempts.
Macaroni. Or as most others call it, “Macaroni and Cheese.” My family always felt the “and cheese” part was understood and therefore redundant. But it is with the “and cheese” that I have always struggled. To my mother, Macaroni was a dish one tossed together out of various rinds and shavings of multiple cheese leftovers in the fridge. It didn’t really matter if it was cheddar, Swiss, parmesan, or gruyere (although I would be willing to bet that my Mom’s 1950’s Whirlpool did not contain any gruyere). She would make a load of cream sauce, throw in the cheese, boil the noodles, toss them together, and maybe strew some crumbs of some kind over it, and shove it in the oven. That night, we would have creamy, bubbly, delicious Macaroni. With some peas and a green salad. I loved it. It always tasted the same.
Camera pans to today, in my kitchen. I have a Cuisinart that grinds cheese to perfection. I learned to make passable cream sauce in Home Ec. class at age 14. So I do what my Mom did. I even butter the crumbs before I scatter them over the top of the casserole. And, voila! My Macaroni is stringy, dry, pretty darn tasteless, and kind of chewy. I could make a gallon of cheese sauce and dump it over the macaroni, and somehow, during the baking process, it would disappear.
I hear you out there, saying, “Did you ask your Mom for her recipe?” Of course. “Do you think your Mom somehow always wanted to sabotage your macaroni efforts?” I wouldn’t put it past her. “Have you told your therapist about this?” Actually, no. We discuss other, more pressing things, like my ongoing quest for perfect thighs, and why this is still so important to me at my age.
I have also watched with baited breath as Paula Deen and Ina Garten make Macaroni. They are both chubby, and their husbands seem deliriously happy with their Macaroni. But despite all the butter (Paula) and the organic whole milk from Hamptons’ cows (Ina), when I make their recipes, the noodles are still crispy.
There must be a secret Macaroni ingredient that was revealed to my mom and the chefs of the world in a vision, probably involving some kind of burning bush (sage or rosemary). This miraculous ingredient is apparently passed down among the cooking greats and not revealed to mere mortals like me, with their greasy aprons and desperate, haunted eyes. I have given up. I have actually gotten to like the Macaroni in the box with the orange powder. But most of all, I love the kind from Stouffers, because it stays juicy…even on day two.
I wonder if the home economist at Stouffers sold her soul to the devil.