macaroni and three cheeses

2 Nov

macaroni cheese, candles

Maybe you had a bad day. Maybe you came home tired and needed to take off your shoes and your smile. Maybe your day was fine, right up until someone asked, really asked, how was your day? and instead of saying, yes, fine, you cry unapologetically for an hour. Maybe you just wept while they reassured you, feeling selfish to be sad, but without the energy to protest. Maybe because you didn’t resist, their words washed over you and into you and made you cry again, but in relief.

By this time it is probably nearly ten o’clock, and you are tired and your cheeks are tight with salt tears, the opposite of a day at the beach. But something they said stuck with you, take care of yourself first. Make your own bed, serve yourself something you would cook for two.

If you are hungry now, or at least curious for food, you boil the kettle, heat a pot with water, salt. Stare at the water blankly. Then you look through the cupboards for something to eat – rice, potatoes, bulgur wheat. Is there any pasta? Please be pasta. Tip some elbow things, macaroni, into the boiling water, enough for one, two. Serve yourself something as nicely as if it were for someone else as well. There is just a tablespoon of butter, enough for a roux with a tablespoon of flour. Cook, stirring, in a small saucepan until nutty, then whisk in a cup of milk a little at a time. Maybe you spill some of the milk, but you don’t cry again.

There are odds and ends of cheese in the fridge from different adventures: stinky Epoisses, smoked Idiazabal, Cashel blue. You spend a minute grateful for your wanderings. Crumble or grate the cheese, and toast a few walnuts in the oven. By now the pasta is cooked, the béchamel thick, speckled with nutmeg and pepper. A bit lumpy, you don’t care. It all goes into a little baking dish – macaroni, cheese, sauce, walnuts – more grated cheese on top and into the still hot oven. You may still be tired, eyelids at half-mast, but your curiosity and appetite have been piqued. You might have made something truly delicious.

There is exactly one glass of red wine left from the night before. The pasta takes seven minutes to brown on top, which is all you need. Lettuce, dressing. By ten thirty you have dinner. Eat straight out of the baking dish, candles lit. Comfort food for company, for one.

6 Responses to “macaroni and three cheeses”

  1. greennote2 November 2, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Ah, Frances, a beautiful post. Meals incorporating stray leftovers, macaroni and cheese, the odd glass of red, these are fabulous things. The toasted walnuts is an inspired touch. I hope the next few days feel better, but also take comfort in the fact that you found beauty in adversity.

  2. kirizar November 3, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    Rueful smile here. The week my father died, I was at work and someone asked me how I was. While I didn’t entirely lose it, I did spill my guts to the poor man who probably was just being polite to the woman at the front desk. “How are you?” Is a much riskier question when times are tough. I will try to remember to reply, “I could use some homemade macaroni and cheese!”

    • Frances December 30, 2015 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Kirizar!

      I realised I never replied to this properly. I am so sorry for your loss. However much time passes, it still hurts. And the social contract of “how are you? fine, fine” is a hard one to break!

      happy new year xx

      • kirizar January 3, 2016 at 12:54 am #

        Thanks. All gentle thoughts are appreciated. But yes, it doesn’t take long for rote exchanges to commence after the initial shock has passed. It is probably part of the human design that we need to have a way to react when loss happens. Scripted dialogue gives a platform to start a conversation, even as it feels pretty canned or banal. That said, “Have a Happy New Year.” Ahh, social contract satisfied.

      • Frances January 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

        That last line made me laugh! Bonne Année to you too!

  3. Sarah Muston November 4, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    Great recipe .. it is one of my favourite comfort foods and something I make often if I am eating alone … my mum used to make it and I love it !!

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