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I tend to get a bit–perhaps more than a bit–depressed around the holidays. I know it has been fifteen years since I lost my brother, but he loved Christmas so much that he wore a Santa hat to pass out gifts on Christmas mornings. Now, The Beloved wears an elf hat to do the same thing, and I love him all the more for it, but it isn’t the same. It can never be. But it is what is, and we have fun.
This year was especially tough since this is the first year that we are without our Pinehurst Relatives. While Auntie Ev left us in 2010, both Auntie ‘Leenie and Uncle Ray died this year, just a couple of months apart. The holidays have always meant being with those folks. From the time I was born, holidays were at least in part defined by whether we would be spending them with Ev, Ray and Eileen.
Over the years that The Beloved and I lived in Florida, we always made sure to stop in to see those guys on our way to Charlotte for the holidays. Of course, either they would join us on Christmas Day or we would join them, but our “pre-visits” were a special time when we could just visit with them. It was our time that we didn’t share with mom and dad, and it was a part of our holiday tradition.
Once we moved back to North Carolina and were only an hour and a half away, we visited on many Saturdays. Sometimes mom and dad would drive up as well, and other times it would just be us. We’d visit at the house and then either go out to lunch or have a light meal there.
Often Mom, Dad and I would plan to meet in Pinehurst to see “the folks” and also to see each other. Rather than having to drive three hours to see each other, my drive was under an hour and a half and Mom and Dad’s was right under two, so we’d meet in Pinehurst.
First, those visits were at the house. Then they became meeting at the house, going to see Auntie Ev at the nursing home and then eating out somewhere. Later, we’d go see Auntie ‘Leenie in her assisted living center and then go see Uncle Ray in his.
After two funerals in as many months, we no longer go to Pinehurst. We will probably make one last trip when Ev and Ray’s son Ken can be there so we can bring home special mementos. Mom will get Auntie Ev’s decades old KitchenAid that made more pound cakes over the years than even I hope ever to make. I will retrieve Auntie Ev’s meat grinder. She never used it to grind meat but to grind up the fruits and peels to make her famous plum pudding. The Beloved and I will also bring home a tea cart that my grandfather–whom I never got to meet–built for Ev and Ray back in the fifties.
We are not blood related, but chosen family is the dearest, and I miss them all.
So, I’ve been eating. Not just nibbling, but eating. All the time. Whatever I can find. Or make. I freely admit that I am using food as a drug, as something that can bring physical pleasure even though my heart is sad. Perhaps not the most logical course of action, but when it’s the holidays, it seems that there is so much to do that we only have time for a quick self-triage to slap a sticker on ourselves that says “Will take better care after the holidays” and then just power through, being held together by things like cake batter, fudge and toffee.
I read a quote from Robin Roberts yesterday. She said that if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future, but if you’re living in the present, you’re at peace. I don’t know that I necessarily buy that philosophy, but it sounds good. Right now in my present, I am at peace–sort of–when I am shoveling food into my face. What I crave is warmth and comfort. The feeling that you get when you’re around people you have known and loved your whole life. When you’re around people who have loved you your whole life.
That feeling, made edible.
Yesterday, I found warmth and comfort in a huge vat of macaroni and cheese. I shared it with friends and passed on some warmth and comfort to them. And I hope to pass some along to you all as well.
After the holidays are over, I will remove my triage sticker and act upon its prescription. I owe that to myself and to the people I love and who love me. But in the present, I will wrap myself in a big warm blanket of macaroni and cheese.
If you are unsure of timing to get the pasta and the sauce finished at the same time, make the sauce before cooking the pasta
- 4-6 strips of bacon , fried crisp and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium sweet onion , medium dice
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste. Do use enough salt here. It makes all the difference in bringing out all the flavor of the cheese.
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour (4 Tablespoons--see? The scaling is easy)
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (you can change this ratio if you want or leave out the stock entirely)
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 6 oz mild chevre , crumbled and at room temperature (I used an herbed goat cheese)
- 8 oz Fontina cheese. shredded and at room temperature
- one pound short pasta designed to hold cheesy goodness. I used cavatappi (corkscrews), cooked in salted water to just shy of al dente.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and add the olive oil.
Toss in the chopped onion along with a healthy dose of kosher salt (probably about 1 teaspoon) and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
Cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and maybe just beginning to turn golden.
Add the flour and stir well. Things will become pretty dry and stodgy. If you think it looks a bit too dry, add another drizzle of olive oil.
Stir and cook the oniony roux for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the milk and stock and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
Once it comes to a boil and thickens, turn the heat down and let simmer for just a few minutes to reduce a bit and become even more silky.
Turn the heat off or remove the sauce from the burner and add in the cheeses, a bit at a time, stirring well until one addition is melted before adding more. If the sauce cools too much, briefly return it to the heat just to melt the cheese. You don't want the sauce to come back to a boil at this point because the sauce could break, so be gentle.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings.
Drain the pasta, but it's okay if there is a small amount of water still clinging to the corkscrews.
Dump the hot pasta into the sauce, or vice versa. It will look like there is too much sauce for the pasta, but things will turn out just fine.
Stir over medium heat, letting the sauce reduce a bit and finish cooking the noodles.
Taste again. You will probably have to add a bit more salt. I did.
Once it tastes perfect, stir in the crumbled bacon and serve.
You can reheat this pasta, but it really is at its creamy best when freshly made, so eat up and enjoy.
Thank you for taking some time to read here today. I hope your holidays were special this year.
If you were at all sad or depressed, this macaroni and cheese will help.
Take care, enjoy the macaroni and cheese, and have a lovely day.