Things I Did This Week (So You Don’t Have To)

I want to say it was a busy week. That’s always the default response when someone asks about my day/week/month/life/etc., but it really wasn’t. The kids missed dance lessons on Monday because of the Nagging Cold From Hell, but they were still well enough to do school work and just… be kids.

Because of the impending snow storm barreling down on us, and all of the panic-inducing news reports to flash across the television screen (DID YOU BUY YOUR MILK AND BREAD AND EGGS YET???? DON’T YOU KNOW A BLIZZARD WILL KILL YOU UNLESS YOU CAN DEFEAT IT WITH FRENCH TOAST?????) they created their own newscast.

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Probably more accurate than the paid weather forecasters.

I was also interviewed on Carolyn Astfalk’s blog. She asked some great questions, and I was reminded (by myself) that I probably need a new author photo.

I wrote, some, but not a lot. A couple handwritten pages here and there, and not much more than that. I hope to finish the first draft of this chapter over the weekend, while my husband fixes the dryer and my kids recover from playing outside with some cups of Swiss Miss and those tiny little marshmallows.

Dinners were nothing amazing. Lots of potatoes and carrots were involved, so it was potato pancakes, potato waffles, steamed carrots, mashed carrots, and so on. Which is what happens when I go to the store and all the huge bags of root vegetables are buy one get one free.

I did make a new brownie recipe, these “Sweet Heat” Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies from The Cozy Apron. With cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and instant coffee, they are absolutely delicious, and I love their texture.

And then, because of the snow and the inability or desire to go anywhere (beyond the confines of our patio and yard), there will be reading this weekend. Oh, so much reading.

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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.