Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Food" for Thought

My day starts and ends with food. I guess that's not so unusual... people wake up, they eat. They have a snack before bed. I get it. But, ironically, my relationship with food is more consuming than the triviality of eating.

I often wake up thinking about what I need to prepare for the evening's meal. I run a grocery list through my mind like an electronic message board running arrivals and departures at the airport. I peruse cookbooks instead of the morning paper. Food is such an integral part of my career as a full-time mom-wife, that I actually feel guilty if I can't fulfill my kitchen duties. Ahh, but guilt is a whole different chapter, now isn't it?

I think that perhaps my obsession with making the perfect dinner for the play date, or the scrumptious pie for the baby shower, has something to do with my childhood. I think that my dad, as a single father of two small children, felt like it was his duty to learn to cook and do it well as a mark of being a dual parent figure. He suddenly had to fill the mom-role on a daily basis, and to him that meant to cook, bake, clean, and launder. Of course, this is a gender-bias, but I'm just callin' it like I see it.

If there were delicious home-made pies on the Sunday dinner table, a pot-roast in the oven, and fancy hor d'ovres at the annual Doan family Christmas Party, there was absolutely nothing out-of-sorts about our family. Delicious smells wafting from the dining room table gave the impression of mom in the kitchen. But it was indeed, dad in the kitchen. He struggled for the first few months, through burnt frozen pizzas and sausage and sour kraut soup (uck), to reach his homestyle culinary perfection. He still prides himself on his delicious mandarin orange and pineapple cake, re-creates the same ham and twice-baked potatoes Christmas Eve dinner each year, and we share recipes practically every time we talk on the phone.

My mother, also, is an excellent cook. And I always felt like I was dining out on vacation at her house. Her fair was more upscale restaurant and cafe style. Sandwiches on kaiser rolls dripping with tomatoes and deli meats, and steaks with the juices running into the baked potato, fresh salads with lettuces that looked like leaves, cheesecakes and wine for the adults with dinner. These were fancy things that I loved to eat when I was staying with my mom as a pre-pubescent girl on summer vacation. It added to the admiration I felt for my mom. She was classy in a way that I wanted to be, the adult version of the popular girl. It seemed to come naturally for her, but was something that I couldn't seem to manufacture for myself.

At my mom's house mealtime was grand, but I don't remember cooking as being an integral part of the family's life. It wasn't essential to the core essence of family. Not like in the yellow house that I grew up in on Arbor Street, in a cozy little town that epitomized apple-pie America. In my home now, the kitchen is where mom works, where mom talks, where she gathers with friends, where she panics and tires and laughs, the kitchen is where mom glows.

Today, as I awoke and made my mental grocery list, I decided that home-made mac and cheese would be the fare for our five-kid sleepover tonight. Every kid (and adult) loves it for it's creaminess beyond what Kraft ever boxed. I love it for it's simplicity and protein-packed tummy-filling properties. I think it's the perfect play date food!

Melinda's Mac N' Cheese:

1 16 oz box or bag of your favorite pasta (anyting twisty or with a hole in the middle)

1 16 oz container of small curd cottage cheese

1 8 oz bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or block, hand shreddded)

a splash of milk

1/2 stick of butter

a shake of flour (about two tablespoons)

Boil your pasta according to package directions. While pasta is boiling, in a LARGE skillet or pot, melt the butter over low heat. When it is runny, add the flour and whisk it into the butter completely. Quickly add some milk and stir until it's a "sauce" texture. Add the cottage cheese and whisk continuously until the curds are melted. You can raise the heat up to medium for this. Add the shredded cheese and whisk until melted in to the milk mixture. Pour over drained pasta, or pour pasta into the sauce and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste. Viola, perfection!

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