This past holiday was a strange one, on many different levels.
As noted in previous posts, I continue to see people struggling with mixed emotions and difficult feelings this year. I spent the holiday away from my child, which was the first time ever and proved to be more challenging than I thought it would be.
Fortunately, there was Khristian and his family.
I have hesitated, cursor blinking, at the period of that last sentence for ten minutes, unsure how to write the next one.
Khristian and I have some very eerie connections that have unfolded over this past year, but this holiday brought one that was deeper than others.
We have each lived in the same place, although at different times.
We both have moms with male nicknames – Khristian’s mom is Hank, and my mom is Mike (only my dad and my parents’ close friend Ben called her that).
But perhaps the strangest connection of all is between our fathers, both deceased, and both of cancer.
When I was little, my dad was minorly obsessed with crows. I remember very clearly chirping black crow babies in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, rescued by my dad (and I think nursed back to health, but this could just be the blurring of childhood memories).
One of my fondest memories from childhood involved my dad and a moonlit field full of crows. It’s a very long story, but suffice it to say that he and I walked home from a basketball game on a winter night when I was in sixth grade, five or so miles; the end of our journey took us across a harvested field of corn, severed stalks frozen and brittle beneath our feet. The sky was clear and cold and the moon was high, almost like daylight, and as we walked a murder of crows took flight, just a small one, strays, really, their voices echoing across the utterly silent field.
Thirty years later, I walked into Khristian’s mom’s house over Christmas and ran smack into a painting of crows that I had seen first in 2012 at my friend Mandy’s house in Marietta, Georgia.
Mandy’s painting struck me from the moment I saw it, so much so that I took a picture of the crow, thinking I would get a tattoo.
Turns out, Khristian’s dad painted that painting and all of the ones that I saw this past Christmas (under the name “Abigail Christmas,” of all things).
With his left hand (as a right-handed person).
And was utterly obsessed by crows.
I believe Khristian’s dad and I would have gotten along swimmingly, and I am sorry that I didn’t get to meet him before he died (well before me, but still).
But the connection is undeniable and surreal (the word of the year, also on many different levels); in many ways, and tragically in the end, it seems as if Khristian and I have travelled across our own frozen, moonlit fields towards each other.
Although our connection seems to have been written before we met, the same cannot necessarily be said of our respective children. It’s difficult to be a step-parent (of a type) when you never thought you’d be one.
Nevermind that our kids are both great and have (for the most part) been very welcoming and warm. They never expected to be step-children either, and Khristian and I are both very aware (overly aware?) of the impact on them.
As my child is overseas, way very so far away, I spent 20 hours of my holiday driving to and from Georgia with Khristian and his child, D. Roadtrips are a true litmus test of any relationship, and this holds for those new relationships forged with children, too.
Sparing you the details, I will say it was largely successful with the exception of one shitty nap where someone (me) woke up grumpy, and a dearth of true roadtrip snacks. As this was Khristian’s family and thus his roadtrip, I left the organizing to him. This means that our roadtrip snacks consisted of a couple bananas, an apple, and a snack bag of leftover macaroni and cheese. This last was problematic because utensils were not to be found in the rental car; out of desperation, boredom, and hunger, D ended up squeezing the mac and cheese out of a tiny hole in the plastic bag.
Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to have mac and cheese on the road?
Fried Macaroni And Cheese
Note: The velvety base of this macaroni and cheese is one of the French mother sauces: béchamel. Béchamel is a mild white sauce often used as a base for other flavors; here I have added cheese, making a rich, creamy, and deliciously, deeply flavored sauce. Pop in your macaroni, and you are done!
These are portable as hell and totally awful for you. Perfect for a roadtrip.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour (or regular)
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1 cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups gluten-free macaroni, cooked (or regular macaroni)
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley, and a pinch of cayenne
Oil for cooking
Prepare macaroni noodles according to package directions; rinse with cold water and set aside.
Make the béchamel: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter until it is bubbly but not brown. Add your flour and cook until it begins to smell slightly nutty and to faintly color (not too dark – it’s a white sauce). Using a whisk, add warmed milk and whisk until there are no lumps.
Continue to cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to boil. Turn heat down slightly and cook for two minutes more.
Remove from heat and add cheese. Stir until completely melted, then taste before adding salt and pepper (cheese varies in saltiness, so don’t salt until the very end).
Add cheese sauce to cooked pasta and stir.
Place in ‘fridge until completely cooled.
Season breadcrumbs and place them in a shallow dish (a pie pan works here).
Remove macaroni from the ‘fridge. Using an ice cream scoop (or your bare hands, you beast!), form mac-n-cheese into 12 balls. Roll each ball in breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs firmly into the pasta. Place in the ‘fridge while your oil heats.
Pour about two inches of oil in a large pot. Bring oil to 350 degrees. Carefully drop macaroni balls into the hot oil and cook for about two minutes until the outside is brown and crispy.
Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve warm. Prepare not to do much for about an hour after you eat them.
- I used Colby-jack cheese for its creamy texture, but cheddar, fontina, and gouda are all good options.
- The gluten-free pasta I prefer is Tinkyada brown rice pasta. No soy, no corn; it acts very much like gluten-y pasta. I cooked it slightly less than the package directions to account for the bit of cooking that occurs when it is fried.
- Don’t buy expensive gluten-free breadcrumbs: make your own. For 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, I toasted four slices of gluten-free bread in the oven and then let dry completely before placing them in a sealed Ziploc and bashing them with a rolling pin and seasoning them. #Boom
- If I am being honest, which I always try to be, this is a completely decadent, totally unrealistic regular meal. This recipe is why Americans have high rates of cardiovascular disease. But the mac and cheese itself is delicious; when not travelling, I favor a big plate of this and some peas.