Stovetop mac and cheese

Well. That was interesting.

Thanskgiving, I mean. And the days surrounding it. Over the past week and a half, I:

  • found out my grandmother passed away, after several years of painful decline
  • masterminded and cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal for the first time
  • served said meal to family and friends
  • came down with about a two-minute cold
  • drove down to San Diego with my family for my grandmother’s funeral
  • drove back from San Diego
  • found out my bike was stolen while I was gone
  • strained my back somehow in the car, and am just now recovering

In this season of blessing-counting, it feels strange to be so scattered. I’ve spent the past few days marinating in a bath of gratitude and grief and low-level physical pain. None of it is particularly heavy or dark, but it’s all there, and occasionally some part of it bubbles up to the surface and bursts.

I feel so lucky for what I have. And so fortunate to have the luxury of nursing myself back to normal on my own time. I’ve been dosing myself liberally with homemade macaroni and cheese, made on the stovetop in about 20 minutes. I love this stuff, as simple and almost-healthy as it is: no butter, no cream, no breadcrumbs, no oven. No parboiling the noodles, even. Just whole-wheat pasta cooked slowly in milk until its own starch thickens the liquid into a sauce, and then a pile of cheese stirred in at the end. The familiar squish, sqush, squidge of the cheese and noodles against the spoon is almost therapy in itself.

I wish I could write more. But I’m still marinating. In the meantime, I have a bowl of comfort food and a lot to be thankful for.

Stovetop Mac and Cheese (serves 1)

Adapted from White on Rice Couple

Note: There are SO many ways to tweak this recipe. Season the milk any way you please. Saute a little onion or garlic in the pan before adding the milk, or render a strip of bacon and crumble it over the top. Mix in leftover cooked vegetables or meat. Use any kind of cheese you like, or a combination of cheeses. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs or extra cheese on top and run the whole thing under the broiler for a minute. Never make your mac and cheese the same way twice. I certainly don’t.

1/2 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni or other short pasta

1/2 cup milk, plus more as needed

Dijon mustard or hot sauce to taste

Pinch of ground or grated nutmeg

Salt to taste

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (depending on how cheesy you like your mac and cheese)

In a small saucepan, combine milk, mustard or hot sauce, nutmeg, and salt. Place on your smallest burner over medium heat and bring the milk to a simmer, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Add the pasta, then turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-20 minutes, or until the pasta is tender and the milk has reduced to a thick sauce. If the pan starts to get dry before the pasta is done to your liking, add more milk, a tablespoon or two at a time.

Once the pasta is done, remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, 1/4 cup at a time. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then spoon into a bowl and devour.

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