I fell in love with my husband because he made me mac & cheesePosted: September 7, 2011
I left a very nice life in Austin, Texas – friends, sun, big blue sky, soothing music drifting out of every cafe, bar and taco joint. I sold most of my things and relocated to Belgium.
There was the exciting prospect of living in Europe, and the romantic idea of moving to be with the Englishman I’d met at a bus stop in New Zealand just over a year before.
A few months after moving, I landed a job and was settling in well. That’s when I got a hankering for my number one comfort food: macaroni and cheese.
I’m not talking about the fancy Kraft Deluxe or Velveeta Shells and Cheese kind, which cost a few dollars and contain a can of so-called ‘cheese sauce’. My comfort came from the food of my university days: in a little box, with a white packet of shockingly orange powder. I would boil the tiny little macaronis, then mix in the powder with twice the butter the instructions called for, and milk or, if I was feeling saucy, a bit of sour cream. I’d eat it with a side of tomatoes from a can (I don’t know why – something about the acid-y red tomatoes and orange-y mac and cheese just seemed right).
I could get a box of mac and cheese in Brussels somewhere, but it was expensive, and part of the beauty of my favorite comfort food was that it cost less than a dollar a box. Thrift has a flavour all its own.
I wallowed in mac-and-cheese nostalgia for a few days, sharing my woes with my Englishman, who was very patient. His memorable meals from university were of the pot noodle variety – a bit like ramen noodles, which were even cheaper than a box of mac and cheese and probably packed with just as much sodium-filled goodness, but with the added health benefits of MSG. (His other fond food memory from uni was Greasy Joe’s grease burgers. I surmised that these were cooked up by an entrepreneurial heart surgeon, just biding his time before the class of 1988 needed their first bypass operations.)
My man said, “Why don’t we just make mac and cheese?” I guffawed, gave him a ‘yeah right’, and an ‘as if!’. “You can’t just MAKE mac and cheese with ordinary household ingredients. There’s a magic to what’s in that little box. You shouldn’t tinker with magic!”
Of course, I knew it was possible to make macaroni and cheese from scratch. (Unlike pancakes which, when we started university, my good friend D and I were certain could only be made with Bisquick baking mix. Fortunately, we both learned a lot at university.). But I think I was kind of enjoying my melancholy a bit and romanticizing the things I’d left behind in the States, including mac and cheese. So I was resistant.
This was when I discovered some of my man’s most wonderful qualities: his mix of practicality and possibility, combined with endless creativity. He can look in a dumpster (in the UK, known as a skip) and see the makings of a nice shelving unit in which to store our cookbooks (when I came home last week from a day in London, he was hammering this very thing together, which now sits snugly next to our fridge). And he can look at a bag of pasta and some milk and cheese and envision my ultimate comfort food. He explained that, at university, the mother of one of his friends insisted on teaching them to make a white sauce, which she claimed would be a most useful culinary tool for the boys as they made their way through life. She didn’t mention that it could also be the way to a girl’s heart.
In less than 30 minutes he’d whipped up a beautiful dish of pasta and cheese, topped with bread crumbs baked to a golden brown. I was enchanted. It was nothing like the mac and cheese I loved from the States. For one, it wasn’t fluorescent orange. But it was very tasty. And though I was deep in my melancholy over the things I’d left behind, this dish was really good and supremely comforting.
Eight years have passed and homemade mac and cheese is now a staple in our weekly menu, usually embellished with a seasonal vegetable from our veg bag. In honour of my man and the love that was forged from semolina and a basic white sauce, I’d like to share with you our recipe for Leeky Mac & Cheese.