Friday, January 13, 2012

Macaroni & Cheese Comfort

As I was packing up to leave my office Wednesday I got a message from my kids’ bus driver, Mr. Gary.  This was unusual. He was calling to let me know that Asher was visibly upset on the bus that afternoon. They had announced in the last hour of the day that Ms. Barbara, one of office assistants, had died that morning.  This came as a great shock to the children and many kids were upset.  Lainey said she cried all through P.E. when they told them.  Asher, I found out, was “just so emotional that everyone was so emotional”. He had helped his classmate pack her backpack at the end of the day because she was too upset to do so.  When he got on the bus, he then began to cry. 

I stood in my office so overcome.  Overwhelmed at the terrible news that the lovely, young Ms. Barbara, who had been the sunshine in the office and the bright spot in the cafeteria everyday for my kids and for the entire school, was gone. In a moment, gone.  I was touched that our public school bus driver would be so attentive to “his kids” (as he lovingly calls all of his riders), that he would get my number and call me.  I was sad for my kids at their loss and glad that they had had a lady like Ms. Barbara in their school.  I was moved by my children's depth of feeling and compassion.  I told my co-workers what happened and all the questions unanswered at that point.  

I grabbed my things and pulled my door closed. The sky was gray. The dark was coming. I said goodbye.  My dear co-worker, Debbie, who is insightful in these moments asked, “So what's comfort food at your house?” “Hmm.” I said, “I guess Pizza… or homemade Macaroni and Cheese”.  She said, “maybe tonight is a Macaroni and Cheese night”.  “Maybe so,” I replied.

When I got home, things were hectic.  We had a guy coming to give us an estimate about a fence we are planning to have built and a porch that we dream of getting to have built.  I was digging around in the kitchen to see if I had everything to make Mac & Cheese or what ingredients we had for dinner.  Dave needed me outside and I was trying to fix dinner and keep our newly adopted dog, Scout (who joined our family 2 days ago), from following me outside. 

meet our sweet Scout
It was chaos.  I found a bag of Orzo and thought, it might end up more like risotto, but there’s nothing more comforting than that! I found ½ a bag of frozen peas and starting making a simple but hopefully comforting dinner.  

With bowls of Cheesy Orzo in colorful bowls and lots of petting Scout, I believe the needed comfort was found for my family.
This Mac & Cheese isn’t fancy, it isn’t layered with 3 types of cheeses, breadcrumbs or tomato slices like some (which I love, by the way) but just to warn you: this is like a homemade version of Kraft Shells and Cheese.

I got this recipe when I was in elementary school.  I was at my school friend’s house and her mom was working as a sales lady at a microwave store and this was a “microwave recipe”.  Yes, you read it right, a microwave STORE.  This was when microwaves were first starting to enter people’s home kitchens. They were not yet being sold at Target or department stores. [If you are old enough, you might remember the large boxy appliances with the large dial on front.]  And with this new appliance came the need for microwave recipes, to instruct people as to how to use it as an oven, because it was so very different than a stovetop.  I remember being at her house and having this macaroni and it was so good that I asked the mom for the recipe.  I brought it home and we started making it, and have ever since.  I love it.  I have tried different cheeses in the recipe to take it up a notch from the processed cheese spread that Velveeta is.  (Which bothers me to some degree).  But the Velveeta really does melt the smoothest.  I like to use Velveeta and Cheddar (or Co-Jack).
Amy D., my former student who is completing a Master's of Social Work program in Colorado asked for some comfort food recipes.  Amy… this one’s for you.

Macaroni & Cheese
6 Tbsp butter
6 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk (I use 1 % because that's what
    we have, but any kind is fine)
16 oz. cheese (Velveeta melts most 
    smoothly, but I usually use part 
    Velveeta, part Cheddar or Co-Jack)
1 lb. pasta (shells or macaroni – or any 
    pasta, really)
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Cook pasta as directed on the package.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large microwave safe bowl. 
Stir in flour. Stir in milk.
Cook in microwave until thickened.
Cut cheese into cubes and add to the sauce.  Stir until melted. You might need to return bowl to microwave to completely melt cheese.
Pour over cooked pasta noodles.
Season with salt and paper to taste.
(If you are a purist and don't want to use the
microwave, feel free to make this sauce in a pot on the stove.  Just be watchful that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.)

**I have included the photos of the process of the traditional Mac & Cheese as well as this week’s Cheesy Orzo.  
Depending on the pasta used, you might
have extra sauce. If so, it can be used
for cheese sauce on ANYTHING!

a big bowl of cheesy comfort

Cheesy Orzo

topped with green peas


  1. I'm sorry to hear about the woman at your kids' school. When my son was in the 4th grade, his music teacher died during the school year and it was a sad time for the students. I'm glad that you were able to create a comfort environment at your house that night, even in the midst of some chaos!

  2. Thank you for recognizing Barbara in your post. It was shocking and sad to learn that she was gone. Your intention and thoughtfulness continue to inspire me.

  3. Your timing, as always, is perfect. When I asked for comfort food, this is EXACTLY what i was talking about, and as I've been in need of a little extra comfort this week (and honestly just yesterday I was trying to hunt down a good mac and cheese recipe) I am thrilled to have this little nugget of goodness for my recipe book.
    Also, I'm so glad that in times like this your kids have the ever-sensitive, ever-mindful, ever-remarkable Julie Hunt as their mom. You always know just what to do in sad times. Plus, the new dog (side note: SO HAPPY YOU FINALLY GOT A DOG) can't hurt.
    Thanks for this post. All my love.

  4. I really find this recipe easy and comforting. Sorry about the reason why your kids upset. Its a good thing you can manage things to smoother even with the chaos of task.
    P.S. Scout is adorable.
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  5. Sweet post and can't wait to try your recipe! Such caring hearts in your little ones

  6. Best. Macaroni. Ever. Sweet post.

  7. Just after one visit I had of your house and family, (at Alyson's shower) I fell in love with you. I have not followed you as closely lately but I never see oatmeal in any form that I am not reminded of you and your friendship to Alyson. I love reading about your family and learning new recipes. Sorry to hear about this death. Death of a loved one just reminds us of how precious life can be. Take care of yourself.... and I could have used some of this comfort food this week. But just seeing the pics and reading the post... I can actually smell and taste the cheese.