Mac and Cheese

There are times when I want to be one of those crunchy hippie moms who only makes my children eat carob and raw foods and things I masticated for them myself. But I’m not.

Okay, I do abhor the high fructose corn syrup and soft drinks and most pre-packaged baked goods (when I’m not flipping out for some reason and just need to inhale an entire package of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies to get through the day) and frozen foods. Most of the time because it all really doesn’t taste that great, even aside from the health benefits of avoiding that stuff as much as possible. I mean, before I learned to cook, I thought Hot Pockets were amazeballs. Remember the little crisper sleeve? I remember the crisper sleeve, and picking the melted cheese off of it that had exploded out of said Hot Pockets during its spin in the microwave. (Oh, I also don’t cook anything in the microwave. I also would really like to just get rid of our microwave and be done with it. Because I lack counter space, yo.)

But once I started learning how to cook, and figuring out how things like herbs and spices worked and what on earth marjoram was, stuff like Hot Pockets and Hamburger Helper started tasting kinda… bleh. Just like cheese and grease and powdery things from a packet and not much else. So if I’d never learned to cook, I’d probably still be subsisting off all those lovely boxed things with glee. But I did, so I’m not.

Of course, now I have kids. So I want to cook everything they’re set to ingest from scratch. But they’re also kids, so they have a tendency to sap time away like nobody’s business. So for every bean with bacon soup that simmers in the crock pot for eight hours, there’s a can of ravioli being dumped into a bowl for them. (I tell myself this is how I make sure they have a balanced diet: A diet balanced with good stuff and also a bit of not-so-good stuff.)

And then I find myself compromising. If I’m going to buy them the boxed stuff, then I’ll buy them the HEALTHY boxed stuff. (I’m not sure Healthy Boxed Stuff actually exists, but usually if the package is colored in shades of brown or has a panda on it, it probably means the company is making some claims towards nutrition.) Which, of course, is more expensive. And when you spend five bucks on a box of granola bars that has been opened and consumed before you’ve pulled out of the grocery store parking lot, that’s when you realize some are going to have to change.

Obviously, this is a step-by-step process. I could go cold turkey and expel everything pre-packaged or non-organic/non-raw from my pantry, but that’s not going to happen. I’m human. I like Magnum ice cream bars a little too much for that.

So my first change? Dropping the boxed mac and cheese from the family’s menu. I’d already dumped the Kraft stuff and subbed in Annie’s some time ago, but it’s still yellow powder out of an envelope, and it still only tastes… okay, most of the time, unless I add a bunch of my own cheese and heavy cream and… Well, if I’m going to do that, I might as well make it all from scratch.

Which brings us to my recipe for mac and cheese that I’ve started making for my kids (and myself, obviously, because it’s cheese and pasta and who doesn’t love that?)

Okay, ingredient list. Here we go:

1 1/2 tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

About 1 – 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 – 1/3 cup cubed sharp cheddar cheese

Black pepper to taste

12 oz box of pasta of your choice (I often go for the tri-color rotini, but good ol’ elbow macaroni will be fine, too.)

(Note: I’m very much an “about” or “around” person when it comes to ingredient amounts while cooking. So a lot of this can be fudged a bit while cooking without making your kitchen explode. Hopefully.)

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until it becomes a paste. Slowly whisk in heavy cream. Almost bring it to a boil, keep stirring and let it thicken a bit. Add in the Parmesan, whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Do the same for the cheddar. Add pepper to taste.

Now, while doing that, cook up your pasta according to the directions on the package. Mix with the cheese sauce, and serve.

Mine comes out looking like this:

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Those are steamed carrots on the side. Also, I apologize for the non-photo-studio quality of the picture. I have a camera that takes great outdoor pics, but inside, it’s terrible. Something that’s not helped along by the fact that the condo in which we live is two steps above a cave when it comes to finding natural light.

But I digress. The mac and cheese. My kids love it. I love it. It’s easy to make, fairly inexpensive, and tastes amazing. Ta-frickin’-da.

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Take a Walk

Yesterday, it topped 40 degrees. This is kind of a Big Deal, since it’s been frigid and icy and all around miserable this winter. So after being sick all last week, Freja and I bundled up and went for a walk down to the Susquehanna. I took my busted up Nikon Coolpix (complete with purple rubber band to prevent the batteries from tumbling out), and away we went.

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Completely frozen over. I had to draw a line in the snow and tell Freja to keep behind it so she wouldn’t accidentally move to close to the river’s edge.

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Random dead plants. Because I was feeling artsy.

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Freja tends to skip and sway when she walks. As one does.

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The bridge in the background is the Rockville Bridge. It’s supposedly the longest stone arch bridge in the world. It makes for lovely pictures, I will say that much.

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And then some interpretive dance moves showed up, as they do.

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And on our way home. It was time for soup and cookies anyway.

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Still Alive, I Think

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The above picture has nothing to do with this post. Except that Lego!Bilbo’s face is a pretty accurate depiction of how I felt all week.

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One of the things that’s terrible about having kids is how susceptible to illness you suddenly become. Every cold, every bug and stomach flu and snotty nose finds its way into the household and contaminates every surface. So no matter how many times you wash your hands, no matter how many vitamins or probiotics or naked dances you do under the light of the gibbous moon to help prevent yourself from getting sick, you get sick anyway. And a thousand times worse than the little carrier monkeys who gave it to you in the first place.

Last week, we all got sick (well, all except my husband, who has one of those irritating immune systems that actually works) with a gross stomach bug. Ola started throwing up on Saturday. Freja and Will bit the dust on Monday. But they’re kids, so after completely emptying their stomachs of everything they’d had to eat or drink that day, they sat and watched cartoons for a few hours and then they were fine. Like they’d never been sick. Because that’s how kids are.

But I got the bug, too. And I wasn’t better in a few hours. The first day I was sick (Monday) was traumatic. I couldn’t leave the bathroom. I had chills. I cried. Everything hurt. I couldn’t sleep for fear that I’d wake up expelling some horrible body fluid all over the bed or the couch or the floor or on whatever place I was currently writhing.

While my kids bopped around the house in their pajamas, all better after only a few hours – A FEW HOURS – of being ill, I continued to nibble on crackers and imbibe Gatorade through cracked, bleeding lips. The mere thought of food made my stomach recoil and my intestines knot. I couldn’t lay on my side because it made me feel like I would throw up. I couldn’t read or watch television or have anyone touch me or talk to me or acknowledge my existence.

But through all of it, my kids still wanted me to be Mommy and it was the worst feeling in the world to want nothing more than to push them away and crawl inside the mattress with my sippy cup of water and handful of stale crackers.

But, hey! I obviously survived. By Wednesday, I could walk around without being dizzy, and by Friday I could eat full meals again. So we’re good, now that my stomach isn’t trying to murder me.

IN OTHER NEWS…

I won’t comment on the snow, because I feel like everyone is commenting on the snow and the cold and the ARCTIC TRANS SIBERIAN POLAR EXPRESS VORTEX (which I imagine as a train that tours the world playing bad keyboard covers of Yes and Christmas favorites while creepy looking CGI children throw snowballs at my face) currently pummeling the country. But it snowed yesterday. Again. As it does round and about this time of year.

And in other, other news…

Well, I don’t think there is much else to report. We were sick. It is cold. Ta-da.

Now I’m off to bake some cookies and enjoy the amazing weather we’re having today, all forty degrees of it.

It’s Still Monday

I’ve had a bit of a headache all day. I woke up with it and thought it would go away once I wandered around the house a bit and let all the weird sinus pressure drain from my head, but it didn’t, and so I kept squinting and everything and shying away from light like someone with vampiric tendencies.

It also snowed last night, so there was a bit of a—well, not a kerfuffle, but a period of time during which I didn’t know if I would be working or not. And then I wasn’t working. And then my mother called me because her car had broken down and she needed me to take her to work. And then I came home and realized it was already evening and OH MY GOSH NO WONDER EVERYONE HATES MONDAYS SO MUCH.

There was some writing and stuff happening, but only a little bit, because headache, you know. But another chapter is done, though I haven’t a clue as to what happens in the next chapter. This is what happens when I fling myself through a story, rather than doing something sensical like plotting things out before I begin.

Also, speaking of writing, The Half Killed should be coming out soon. There is one last run of proofreading being done, and then that’s it? Wait, yes. That will actually be it. Which is frightening, of course. That means other people will be reading this story (well, other people aside from beta readers and editors and proofreaders and people more focused on the technical bits and pieces rather than just sitting back and enjoying the story).

Other than that, not really much to speak of. It’s cold. It snowed. The groundhog declared another six weeks of winter. I want to crawl into a hole lined with pillows and fleece and drink hot chocolate until April.