Gather the ingredients. Lots to do. Little time. Priority…get young son his favorite mac n’ cheese to be delivered by his sister who will be leaving tonight for a conference in Burlington where young son now resides.
It starts quickly and I am sure there is a trip to the market in store, but glory be in the highest I am relieved that all ingredients are home! I quickly melt the butter, doubling the batch as I always do because, it seems there is just never enough. I am not a great cook, but the one thing everyone requests of my limited culinary skills is my mac n cheese. A recipe passed down from a friend, altered and revised to be my very own secret.
As I stare into the melting butter bubbles, I remember the most important ingredient of all. Love. Yes, laugh if you will, but as I stand and stir the rue with fresh thyme and bay leaves it starts to come together in a scented silky smooth white that I could bathe in; I think love. I think love is comfort and the ultimate in that category is Mac n’ cheese. Slowly as I stir, the hurries leave my body and I settle into the now. I take a deep breath into the sweet smell of thyme and stir and stir and stir.
Every October 20th I made this for my Dad’s birthday per his request with hot dogs on the side and ice cream, always ice cream for dessert. Tradition. I think about how I have made it every year on his birthday since he passed 6 years ago, but this year I did not. I am late in the making of this creamy, sinful goodness. The kind of food my Mom always kept from my Dad and his type 2 diabetes to keep him alive. The food nazi we called her. Poor man was doled out 5 crackers, 3 nuts at a time and sweets were forever a “no no”.
Alarmed, saddened, guilty I think of my Dad, now gone 6 years and that sadness inside suddenly stirs and I am standing at the stovetop sobbing. Stirring…stirring… stirring… Missing Dad. Missing Zach. Missing all that has changed in this past year that is all completely out of my hands.
With tears streaming down my face, Dixie Chics howling in the background I let it come. I cry for my Dad. I cry for my kids. I cry for our country. I cry for this world. I just cry a big ugly fabulous cleansing cry.
Through my tears as I add the mac to the cheese I begin to see layers of bubbles and cream and holes…the complexity of which I had not ever noticed and as I look I see places in those elbow noodles where grief hides, where joy gathers, where people come together in these dark days of New England in search of solace and good company and yes, comfort food.
What I would do for one more birthday dinner around the table with my Dad as the star, loving every moment where he gets everything he wants in one simple meal? For those days when the family was more whole and times were just a bit easier? I wipe away the tears as I put it in the oven and take a deep breath.
Check that off the list as I rush off to get ready for work and the house fills with the sweetness of the mornings efforts. I take the masterpiece out of the oven and smile, knowing it will fill my boy for the next week, knowing I don’t have to think about dinner again today. And as I fill the individual containers it is imperative I have a taste and for sure it seems to be one of the better batches I have made in a long time. It’s the love. I am sure of it.
Mac n cheese anyone?