Mission Mac n’ Cheese

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. 


My Mac Men

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.

IMG_2359What 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?


24 thoughts on “Mission Mac n’ Cheese

  1. I teared up while reading this as I pictured my mom making food for me to bring home. I’m remembering a meme/cartoon I have on my phone that I share and treasure (I can share it with you upon request). The image features a young dinosaur “before visiting mom,” and it shows how he has a “sad brain,” an “empty stomach” and is “tired.” “After visiting mom” of course, the dinosaur is “full of love,” he’s carrying “leftovers” and an arrows points to his “full stomach.” I can’t quite put into words how much leftovers from mom have brought comfort to me over the years, and even better yet, fresh food prepared by mom cooked entirely for me! I remember being in graduate school and coming home for the weekend, aching for familial comforts, aching to be in my favorite arm chair in my childhood home with my parents, even if that just meant watching the news together. My mom always brings me my plate of food when it’s dinner time; I always note how spoiled I am. And each time I would return to the seacoast, my car would be twice as full as it had been when I had made the drive up Friday night. It would be filled with clean clothes, laundered by mom; it would have a double batch of cookies, a batch of her famous plant-based mac and cheese sauce made just for me, and whatever other materials and foods my mom decided I would need that week. “There,” my mom says. “Now you won’t have to worry about” x, y, or z, that week, or for a while. Both of us try not to tear up as she hugs me by the car door. “Oh, don’t start now, I’ll see you soon,” one of us says. Mom’s cooking; it’s not just food. It’s love, like you say (my mom admits to that being her secret ingredient as well). It’s the act of a mother wanting her busy, stressed, far away, child, to have to worry about one less thing for at least a few days. It makes her feel better about the fact that she can’t protect said child from everything (from much of anything, anymore, as she sometimes feels), but that she can make sure that the child has good food to eat for dinner.

  2. I loved this piece, Tomasen! I felt like I was right there with you making and then tasting that delicious mac and cheese. It brought up memories of loss for me, too. I lost my mom to early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago, and she was sick throughout my high school and college years. I, too, wish I could have one more simple meal with her. It’s funny how many of my memories of her involve food. I guess food is typically something that brings families together. She used to make tuna noodle casserole, but she would call it “tuna wiggle,” and as a kid, I used to stick my nose up at it and refuse to eat it. “You’re too picky!” she’d say. It’s funny how food can bring up so many memories you never knew were buried down deep inside of you!

    • Dear Kim. I had no idea. You are a woman of such incredible strength and I can only imagine how difficult it is each day and at every milestone to not have your Mom. How hard it is that Trevor won’t know her. Hugs to you. I always think my Dad is around. He typically shows up as a black crow and in faces I see! He used to always talk about those crows and how smart they were! Do you see your Mom in anything particular?
      I am thinking the next blog entry might be hard for you to read…so go slowly. It might also provide a structure for you to write about your Mom if that is something that tugs at you. Sometimes we don’t choose the writing…the writing chooses us.
      I love the name “tuna Wiggle”!!! It fits that casserole SO well! I too am not a big hot tuna fan!
      Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Tomasen, I love this! For me it brought up memories of my grandmother. She and my grandfather retired to Florida in the late 1970’s and every time we went to visit, without fail, she had a pot of spaghetti sauce, on the stove, at the ready. As soon as we got in the door she would say, “How about a dish of spaghetti?” Of course, we always said yes. I only saw her once or twice a year, but it was always the same. It was a ritual. One even my husband came to know, respect, and love. She lived into her 90’s, had macular degeneration, but even thought her sight was compromised, it was always the same.
    I still remember the day I asked her to share the recipe for the sauce.
    “I will show you how to make it,” was her reply.
    We started out. EVOO swirled around the pan. Add the garlic. Add the onion. The one important lesson I learned that day was that there was no measuring involved. Other than the fact that the tomatoes and the paste came in a can and were pre-measured, everything else that was added – the garlic, onion, spices, water, sugar, and love – were all at your discretion. You added as much or as little as you wanted, depending on your mood or what you had on hand. To me, it always tasted the same, the best I ever had, and maybe, just maybe, as you know, it was the love that made it that way!
    As a mom of 2 teenagers who are getting so close to leaving the nest, I can’t help but wonder, what will be my kids Mac n’ Cheese? As you say, I also say that I am not the best cook, but now I ponder, will there be anything that they request? Chocolate Chip Cookies maybe? Anything?
    You have given me a smile today, rekindled a memory, that was brought to the front of my mind while reading your story. Thank you.

    • Susan, I swear I did not read your post before posting my own!!!!!! I cannot get over how similar they are. Such wonderful memories 🙂

    • LOVE that this was her response:“I will show you how to make it,” Priceless! And somehow in my mind I think of Florida being hot and still that famous plate of spaghetti is offered! Such a passing on of a delicious memory! Perhaps starting with sharing this memory with your kids. It is hard to see them go, but at the same time…they DO return! LOL! Especially these days! Thanks for sharing this memory. I smiled all the way through it!

  4. This post made me laugh out loud. In our family food is huge too. We have many recipes that have been passed down over the years and we too, put our own spin on them. Your mention of “altering the Mac n’ cheese” reminded me of Christmas days gone by. My parents would cook holiday meals together and they would always debate what went in the sauce. My mother insisted the secret to a good sauce was a dash of Worcestershire. “Just a dash!” I can still hear my dad saying that his mother would turn over in her grave if he put that in the sauce!” Later that night our family would gather around the Christmas dinner table. We talked over platters of lasagna, meatballs, stuffed artichokes, and bread, lots of bread! As was inevitable, my father would have to ask, “What do you think of the sauce this year?” Of course, everyone would tell him it was his best batch yet. It’s a funny thing, every year it was the best. Or could it be, that even though we had the same meal, at the same table, with the same people every year, the love with which it was created always made it seem like we were tasting it for the very first time! Then again, maybe it was the Worcestershire sauce?

    • I LOVE this line: “Or could it be, that even though we had the same meal, at the same table, with the same people every year, the love with which it was created always made it seem like we were tasting it for the very first time! Then again, maybe it was the Worcestershire sauce?”
      I think I was Italian in another life! I love hearing the banter from your family here and can imagine the breaking of bread together! Food often holds so many memories…not all love and goodness, but many! Thanks for your response!

  5. This imagine you paint about bathing in melted butter is glorious! It makes me think of the scene in Patch Adams where they swim in a pool of noodles! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5RN8cYKCJ4) I can also feel the “hurries” you mention slip away while cooking. There is a mindfulness about cooking… especially when it’s not just for substance. When it’s to say: “I love you”– the action becomes so much more.

    These mindful moments can be so therapeutic for the human soul. Again… allowing yourself that time to remember the past and feel what you feel. I hope to give myself more of this time with my journal. I feel rushed in the mornings before video chatting. I find myself ripping paper to collage in my journal more than writing anything. This post is a reminder to slow down. Thank you.

    • Dear Angie. Thanks for this clip! While the movie seems familiar, I am moved to watch it or watch it again! What a fabulous scene…swimming in a pool of noodles!! Looks like a good rainy day movie indeed! I just love Robin Williams so much…and such a tragic death. Anyway…
      YES, this course is about giving yourself that time. If you are feeling rushed then let’s chat in a conference and figure out what can give! I think back to your tiny notebook from last summer on water…let the water take you, wash over you and float! Have a fabulous weekend and thanks again!

  6. Tomasen, I can relate to this on so many levels- feeding my adult kids with love, seemingly random crying jags that really arent random at all, but right now, what hit my heart most is that I miss my dad. My dad died last year and I miss him desperately in the small, day-to-day things we shared. I especially miss his funny commentary – observations on the scenes in front of him. He reported on the world in short, quippy asides, the kind that would have you giggling for days. Little things become huge when they leave you too soon. All of the perspective the decades have provided me have mostly served to show me how beautiful and tragic life is. Just like your “big, ugly, fabulous, cleansing cry,” all of the good stuff has layers. Which is why writing is such a gift. Thanks for sharing and please pass the macaroni.

    • You say: “Little things become huge when they leave you too soon.” Man, this line hit me hard. It is SO true! It is the little things indeed! I am sorry about your Dad. Mine has been gone for 6 years now, and the truth is, I still miss him every freaking day! My Dad was a man of few words, so when he did speak it was powerful. Hugs to you and beware the next blog I am sending to you is about him. Thank you for your thoughtful response!

  7. There is something about the way you write about your family, Tomasen, that makes me think about my own. There are so many similar “love” recipes in my family. My mom’s lasagna, my grandma’s meatball soup, my mom’s banana muffins, and my grandma’s Christmas cookies. All food I will never taste again. Nostalgia is such a powerful emotion, and one connected directly to the senses. Thank you so much for these nuggets of nostalgia that spark so many writing ideas for me.

    • “all food I will never taste again”. This is such a powerful line. It makes me pause and feel sad. We write what we know…we just have to find the doorways and entry points in and then the possibilities are endless!

  8. I can feel your emotions when you write about your family, Tomasen. I think it’s really beautiful to tell stories like this one that are SO filled with love. It makes me remember all the memories I have with my family and friends as well that just make me feel so loved that I could cry. It really is so cleansing to have a good cry even though it is exhausting haha.

  9. “Slowly as I stir, the hurries leave my body and I settle into the now.” This grouping of words really grabbed me. During this stressful, heart-wrenching time of pandemic, we have all been in survival mode. When I read this line, I could SEE you. I could FEEL the serenity and focus of the moment. There have been times recently, when I have “settled into the now” and have been taken away from all that is swirling around us, literally and figuratively. Laughing with students, watching my son crack up with a friend, and revisiting some artwork have helped me recently. I may have been forced to take down “my festive lights” in my room, and the world may be trying to take the light out of me, but these moments of where I can “settle into the now” help me to appreciate the love of the little things. One of my themes for the last 20 months has been “the little things ARE the big things.” This is a piece of writing which is on deck for me. I know that once I start working on it it will be a time-sucker. Hmmmmm…..perhaps I should begin that piece—it might be the proverbial “mac and cheese” which would bubble and brown and create rich goodness. Maybe it would be just the thing to slow me down and pull me into the moment. May sound cliche, but it is food for thought on this snowy day.

  10. Tomasen, “Missing all that has changed in this past year that is all completely out of my hands,” is the line that really strikes a cord with me. I feel the same way sometimes about the past in general. If I allow myself to think about it, it overwhelms me so I work extremely hard at not looking back and try to keep looking forward. Still, aromas have the power to carry me back into the past…things like Tabu perfume in the winter, wet soil on rainy days, freshly made coffee, all reminding me of my dear mother…the wafting of Middle Eastern spices through the air and the faint whiff of Persil laundry detergent in clean clothes that make me recall my time and family so far away, as well as the hovering, mystical aroma of incense that transports me back to the churches of Siberia. My sense of smell can suddenly yank me back into the past for a split second and then leave me melancholic for a bit. Just as it happens with you, they’re memories that are filled with love ❤️ Really enjoyed this piece, thank you!

  11. I love the family ties in this article. It is so moving. I am very fortunate that I have not lost either of my parents yet. How sad that day will be when it comes! I know there will come a time when I don’t have my parents here on Earth with me anymore. I want to be grateful everyday for them–that I can call them or text them. My parents have been champions for me everyday that I have been alive, even when I was a snotty, ungrateful teenager and a know-it-all young adult. So thankful our parents pour so much into us! Where would we be without them?

  12. You know when you read a piece and your mind has these flashing memories as it desperately tries to find relatable patterns? That’s totally what happened to me while reading this.

    The first memory flash I had was a camping trip I took with my dad. I’m an Eagle Scout and my dad took(more like dragged) me to climb Mount Washington for the first time when I was 9! By the time I graduated High School I had climbed most of the Presidentials. Anyway, I remember this one trip– it must have been Columbus Day weekend for it was bitterly cold and we were hiking my favorite mountain, Mt. Lafayette. I remember this trip as being the WORST. I had slipped on some ice and was soaking wet and cold. My dad tried to cheer/ warm me up by making mac and cheese. Oh I was so looking forward to it. I convinced myself the day could not get any worse. For those who teach ELA, this is called foreshadowing =-)

    My dad was just about to serve me this gigantic bowl of steaming hot mac and cheese. The cheese was just the right kind of “gooafide”. And then, my dad sprinkled on some nutmeg. I’ve never had it and I was born in Connecticut (the nutmeg state). As it turns out, I’m allergic to nutmeg!
    Here I was trying to have a moment with my dad on top of my favorite mountain, soaking wet, tired, and breaking out in hives.

    While I read on, it reminded me of the “hassell” my family now has with Christmas. My aunt insists of keeping with the tradition of having a homecooked family meal. The problem is that as we get older, we have dietary needs to that have to be considered. My dad’s diabetic, my brother is gluten free, my (step) grandmother is an orthodox Jew, my cousin a vegan, etc. Trying to come up with a menu of comfort food we can all eat is challenge. Yet, looking at the silver lining, considering everyone’s needs and going the extra mile coincides greatly with the spirit of giving. Basically, “oh Todd is allergic to wheat and Charlotte is kosher, what tasty thing can we bring that they’ll enjoy”?
    It truly is that thought that counts.

    I tie this back to how I work with my students. I can’t fix all of their problems. Maybe I don’t have the right “comfort food” for the given situation, yet it’s the thought that counts.

  13. The memories of those we lost. The love that goes into making a special dish or dessert. In my family it is my grandmother’s giggers and my mom’s whoopie pies and blueberry cake. I took time to perfect the recipe and now have passed it on to my two daughters. I remember the pride I would feel when my family would ask me to make these desserts. I never really thought about it as love, but that is what that is.

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