My Mac-n-Cheese Game

Once in awhile I concoct a recipe worthy of recommending people put their books down for a few minutes and cook. This summer as I'm able to spend more time in the kitchen I might stick a few more recipes up here- expect some ice cream ones for sure. 

I've spent several years working on my Mac-n-Cheese Game. I've tried different cheese, different ratios of milk, different recipes for rouxs, various spices, an assortment of toppings, etc... I've used recipes from old cook books, new cook books, and blogs. And this one is what I've landed on.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
a pinch of salt
a few grinds of pepper
1 tsp onion powder
2 cups of cheese* (reserve 2 tbsp if you plan to do the topping)
2 cups of milk**
A box of pasta (a pound?? whatever they are)
2 tbsp of mild buffalo sauce (optional)

1/4 cup of green onions 
1 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (seasoned is preferable) 
2 tbsp cup of cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350. Put on water to boil pasta; I'll assume you can handle that process without instruction. Cook to al dente, or whatever you like. 

2. To create the roux turn the burner to medium and melt the butter. As the butter melts, whisk in the flour (don't wait until it's melted, add as it's melting). The mixture will get super thick- do not let it burn.

3. As your roux thickens, slowly whisk in your milk (you're making a bechamel sauce). Continue the process slowly, allowing the sauce to thicken. Once all the milk is in, continue to whisk and heat, but not boil.

4. While the bechamel is thickening, add in your spices. I like onion powder, but I've also used garlic, parsley, italian blends- whatever your preference is.

5. Once the sauce is hot and fairly thick, dump in all the cheese. Whisk. It might seem like the sauce will never come together, but after a few minute it will. If you like a thinner sauce, add some additional milk (this will also depend on the cheese you chose). After the cheese is basically melted I add some buffalo sauce for a little extra kick (and I hate wings, and I hate spicy things, but it works). If you choose, you can also add in chicken, sausage, etc...

6. Combine the drained pasta and sauce- stick the pot on low heat while you make the topping.

7. Melt the cube of butter until it's mostly melted. Mix together with cheese and bread crumbs. 

8. Put mac and cheese into an oven-safe casserole dish with lid or foil. Sprinkle topping on it and pop in the oven for twenty minutes. At the end broil for just a few minutes to get a crispy, brown finish on the topping. Sprinkle with green onions. 

*A note about cheese: I've used variations of all the big cheese, plus a few random ones. I advise against using mozzarella, personally, since it creates too think and stringy of a sauce and usually requires additional milk. If you plan on using a strong cheese, like blue, I'd use it in conjunction with something a bit more mild. My favorite tends to be colby or a super sharp cheddar. Whatever you do, do not use reduced fat, since it won't melt right. 

* A note about milk: I tend to use 1 cup of something super heavy, like whole or even whipping cream, and then 1 cup of just the regular 1% I have on hand. I've done recipes with all 1% and they work fine, they just aren't as rich and creamy. 

No, I Will Not Get Lonely

Let me paraphrase a conversation I had with a well-meaning colleague (that I don't know super well) that I had yesterday while talking about our plans for the summer:

Me: ...yeah, I'm going to take Sawyer to take care two or so mornings a week, so I can get things done and go to yoga or whatever.

Colleague: Oh... my kids never went to daycare [explained why]...

Me: My husband is gone for like eleven hours a day, so sometimes I'll need a break. Plus it's good for him to keep up with her routines and ways of doing things. And it's not like it's more money, since we have to pay to hold our spot. 

Colleague [sounding a little... hopeful?]: But maybe you'll get lonely and pick him up early...?

Me: [laughter/scoffing] I will not get lonely. 

I keep replaying this in my head and chuckling.  Lonely? No. What I will get, during approximately eight hours of alone time a week, is a cleaner house, a slightly more toned/tanned/rested body, a slightly-restored social life, books read, and a greater sense of inner peace. Selfish, right?

Not so much. Even two mornings or afternoons a week of time where I'm "off duty" will be guaranteed to make me a better mom, because I'll be happier and less frustrated about why I don't get more time to myself. This reminds me of an article on the Huffington Post site (that I can't find) some time ago about comparing your children to cake; cake is awesome, but you don't always want to eat cake all the time.  What killed me, of course, were the comments. "I love my cake..." or, "if you don't want to eat cake everyday, you shouldn't have ordered it in the first place." If you are a mom and you have never wanted just a tiny bit of time to yourself you are a mother-effing saint. Or maybe someone that doesn't have any outside interests or hobbies that require kid-free time. 

I didn't leave the work room thinking my colleague was judging me at all- she has a few kids and just genuinely seems excited to spend as much time as posible with them. That's awesome and it works well for her family. But I feel like there are people, some in my life, that will be quick to judge my decision. I work all year and leave my kid for eight hours a day with another person, so shouldn't I want to spend the entire summer with him? Shouldn't my life revolve around him for at least nine weeks of the year? Can't I just do my stuff "when he naps" (those are the non-parents asking that one)? 

Listen. I'm not a "mom's mom" and I own it, accept it, and embrace it. Motherhood comes naturally to me, but motherhood on my own terms. I'm not making homemade chicken strips with bread crumbs from scratch, planning hands-on activities for every day of the week, or teaching my kid baby-sign language (the only sign language I know is probably not appropriate...). We have fun in our own way, and I'm sure he will survive, even if I don't have a plethora of Montessori-activities planned for him this summer (I let him play with a bottle brush, though, and I put dried pasta in an old Puffs container, once... does that count?). I will always have moments where I miss having the option to be spontaneous, slightly irresponsible, or ridiculously time-efficient. I wouldn't change what I have right now for a million bucks, but I'm not the type of mom that is going to refuse to admit that she had a life pre-baby. 

So, no, I will not "get lonely." I will continue to love my child more than ever and enjoy the extra time together, but I will take him to daycare for a few hours a week and be totally at peace with it (despite the slightly defensive undertones to this post). I will be alone, but I will not be lonely. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Link up, link back, stop and chat.

1. My grading at work is at an actual manageable level. As in I have less than one assignment outstanding to grade. This hasn't happened since the end of last semester. It's an end-of-the-school-year miracle.

2. This essay from the New Yorker is really great- it's Pinterest personified. I wish I wrote it.

[source Fiona Crawford Watson via The New Yorker]

3. And now, because of number two, I think I'm going to subscribe to the magazine... again. I received six months as a gift many years ago and I got behind really quickly. But now you can do twelve weeks for twelve bucks, and you get the digital and physical copies. Done deal. I can become more cultured at one in the morning when I'm rocking the crazy baby back to sleep.

4. Something happened at work yesterday that really bothered me (not related to my students, which I find amusing, because you'd think the majority of a high school teacher's workplace strife would come from the 100+ teenagers they're with all day) and now I'm really, really, really ready for summer. 

5. I'm supposed to go to see Pitch Perfect 2 this weekend and I can't wait, no matter what the reviews say (and I don't even know what they say, since I haven't looked, but how often is a sequel that well-received?). I was so pleasantly surprised with the first one, so I'm looking forward to catching up with the girls, taking a purse out instead of a diaper bag, and being entertained. 

6. I'm sort of in love with washi tape, and I have no idea why. I just covered a notebook in it. Why? I have no idea. But it's so... cute.

[the possibilities are endless; source]

7. I ordered the The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marle Kondo, hoping it motivates me to organize the heck out of my house this summer.

8. Scott just gave me permission to watch the rest of Sons of Anarchy without him, since the last episode of the second season pissed him off. Whatever. Anyway, if I didn't have a child I'd be done with the who show in approximately one week. Because I love Jax. And motorcycle gangs. And when Jax hold his baby. 


9. We just started watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with no knowledge whatsoever about what the premise was, except that everyone says it's funny. The pilot was funny and weird, but, in typical pilot fashion, it was a tiny bit... overdone. Or corny. We'll see what the next few are like.

10. If you've seen Easy A, you'll recall the scene where Olive hates the song "Pocket Full of Sunshine," but after listening to it several times she has a change of heart. This is me and "Uptown Funk." I want to hate it, and I tried to hate it, but I can't. Plus Sawyer always busts out his baby dance moves on, which pretty great. 

Top Ten Tuesday- Free Style

[time to learn to cook! and sew! and take care of the home! source]

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so I decided to go on a slightly different path. Traditionally I turn to books to teach me how to do things- cook, take care of a newborn, train for a half marathon, etc... But some things you need some more hands-on instruction for. So today my list is ten things that I'd like to be able to do, with lessons or classes or some sort of tutoring:

1. Sewing: I have a machine and some basic knowledge, but how awesome would it be to be able to sew my own, custom-made clothes? I'm envisioning vintage McCall's patterns that lead to dresses that look like they're from Anthro of Modcloth. 

2. Decorate cakes/cupcakes: I go the actual cake part down, but my decorating skills are pretty abysmal. 

3. Change a tire: I have AAA, but they can be slow. 

4. Archery: I'm concerned with my lack of upper-body strength on this one, but I think my brother and I might take a lesson this summer at a range right up the road. 

5. The piano: I'm pretty sure this would end badly, but I've always been told I have "piano fingers" and think it would be pretty cool to play some Elton John. Because Chopsticks is too basic. 

6. Calligraphy: This is probably pretty amusing to those that know me, because I have pretty shitty writing. Fact: a student thought I wrote "bullshit" on her paper when she got it back today, when it was in fact "bashing." Oops. I think it would be nice to be forced to slow down and be a little more aware of my penmanship. 

7. Makeup: I can do the basics, but I'd love to get better at everything past that. 

8. Basic house maintenance: Toilet fixing, shelf hanging, faucet leak fixing, etc... 

9. Dog grooming: Cordie is a furry beast that is scared of the (expensive groomer). 

10. Pure Barre: We have a knock-off studio nearby that I might try this summer, and if I like it I might get some of the DVDs to add to my at-home routines.

Your turn- what have you always wanted a chance to either learn to do or improve at? 

By the Book (NY Times Book Review Q & A)

Not long ago I picked up the New York Times Book Review's By the Book, a compilation of Q & A columns that some pretty hard hitting figures of our time have answered (David Sedaris, Anne Patchett, Dave Eggers, JK Rowling, John Irving, David Mitchell, etc...). I figured, since it's sort of a slow day at the office blog I 'd choose some of my favorite questions to answer (many of them are the same but they tweak some for relevancy purposes). 

What book is on your night stand right now?
CS Lewis' The Problem With Pain and Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson. The first has been sitting there for like four years, when, during a dark time I asked my minister-uncle for a title that would help me grapple with the idea of why a God, if one exists, would be so darn cruel. Maybe God works at Amazon? As soon as they delivered the book life got better and I didn't read it. Last year when things were tough I seriously contemplated reading it, but preferred to escape when reading instead of dwelling. Yes, Chef is because 2015 is the year of my Restaurant Memoir Obsession. 

When, and where do you like to read?
On airplanes, in coffee shops, in parks, in doctor's offices, on beaches, on the couch, in bed, by the pool, in a rocking chair, or in the bathtub. Outside is always best, and preferably with an iced coffee or Diet Coke. When? Whenever I can.

What was the last truly great book you read?
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, in terms of fiction, and Sous Chef by Michael Gibney representing the nonfiction category. There was something about the tone and syntax that he used that really stuck with me. 

What was the best book you read as a student?
A toss up between House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky. I read both during junior year in high school and I remember putting in so much effort and time into the assignments that came with them. I felt like I truly understood them and connected with the content. It was probably during that time that in the back of my mind I started thinking I could be an English major if the whole "doctor thing" didn't work out. 

Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or makes you cry? 
It depends on where I am in my life. Right now? I'd prefer to laugh. I think sometimes it's harder to write smart, effective humor. A tearjerker is easy- cancer, death, divorce, family strife, abused kids. But a true, out-loud laugh? I'm admittedly a tough audience. 

What's the book you wish someone [else] would write?
I super concise, high-interest, witty, maybe slightly humorous, summary of the top twenty world religions. Really break it down. Maybe have some pictures. 

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I have a few by Mary Higgins Clark, Danielle Steel, and John Grisham, all from high school. I wouldn't read any of those now, but I'm not embarrassed of the process I've moved through as a reader. You have to read a lot of everything when you're young so you can develop a taste and learn to have a basis for your later criticism. It's like fast food- how can you appreciate fine dining if you've never eaten at McDonalds?

 What are you reading next?
After I finish Yes, Chef, I'm going to start our next book club book, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I keep bumping it for other things, but we meet in a few weeks so I'm going to have to bite the bullet.