How close are you to your food?

Yesterday, I was feeling creative and decided to vegetize homemade macaroni. I bought pasta shells, 2 different varieties of “Italian blend” shredded cheese, a bag of shredded parmesan cheese, red and yellow peppers, fresh zucchini, and soy milk.

I went home, sauteed the vegetables in olive oil and ground pepper, boiled the noodles, added the milk and the cheese (and a little butter) to the noodles, and found that the cheese was clumpy and sticking to the spoon, and just not mixing well at all. I was used to the powdered kind, or the creamy “sauce packet” kind that came in the box.

Then is hit me: I had never, before only embarrassingly recently, considered cheese as a possibility for a pasta topping. Tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, beef sauce, sure. Cheese? Huh? That didn’t even occur to me.

Even though I’ve been eating macaroni and cheese for my entire life.

My mom even made homemade macaroni and cheese. She used Velveeta, though, because it melted easily. It wasn’t real cheese, and the easy meltability wasn’t indicative of a “cheesiness,” but rather a feature of the food product.

It only just now occurred to me that I can put cheese on pasta and that cheesy pasta isn’t just some weird invention. And I’ve been eating macaroni and cheese my entire life. What does that say about our relationship with food today? (All right, I’m only talking about my relationship with food today, but I hardly think my experience is unique.) Macaroni and cheese didn’t come from a blue and yellow box. It came from PASTA AND CHEESE. Kraft simply made a product out of the combination, and we allowed Kraft to redefine macaroni and cheese for us, to the point that cheese and pasta without the blue and yellow box stopped making sense.

Oh, if you’re curious, the macaroni that I made was amazing:

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11 Responses to How close are you to your food?

  1. Ben says:

    Hey, April,

    Just wanted to let you know that your mother’s Velveeta Mac and Cheese recipe is the way your grandmother made it. I remember a huge pot (remember there were 7 of us plus the parents) on the stove full of macaroni and a box of Velveeta sliced and dropped into the pot at various points so it would melt throughout entire mixture. As a child I loved it, as a 57 year old man, not so much, even as comfort food.

    • April says:

      I loved that kind of macaroni, too. It was so melty. I’m not even really criticizing that kind of macaroni, or cheese, but just pointing out that I really had “real” macaroni as a kid, so it’s not like we always ate the boxed stuff, so it’s weird that I would really only consider boxed stuff to be “real” macaroni.

  2. Ben says:

    Velveeta does have a way of melting that can coat the entire pot of macaroni. We would often have that mac with hamburgers. Starch, protein and kind of fake cheese, what a meal.

    I just looked at the Velveeta Web site. They now make Velveeta mashed potatoes!

    http://brands.kraftfoods.com/Velveeta/Product

    • April says:

      What’s especially funny about that is that they’re marketing it as a low-fat option. Can’t give up processed cheese? Eat it in your potato flakes so you don’t have those pesky pasta carbs!

      One comfort food that I still managed to take with me into adulthood that I know you probably remember is spaghetti with V8 and mashed potatoes. What a weird, starchy meal… but still so good 🙂

  3. Ben says:

    P.S. your shells do look very good.

  4. David K says:

    I don’t think you can buy Kraft ready made macaroni cheese in the UK :-s

    I always make Macaroni cheese the way my father taught me, which is to:
    1.melt butter in a pan
    2.add flour to butter for thickness
    3.stir the flour & butter together
    4.pour on enough milk and mix into butter/flour
    5.grated cheese into milk mixture
    6.stir, add pepper, stir
    7.pour over boiled macaroni
    8.grated extra cheese on top, in the oven to melt.
    making up the cheese in a separate sauce solves the melt-ability problem.

    I think everyone loves the processed food of their youth – I still like Heinz Beans and Sausages in a tin over two slices of white toast.

    • Ben says:

      There are two great British shops here in Manhattan (both in the Village). They are run by ex-pats and you can fulfill lots of Anglophile desires or if you’re an ex-pat you can go back to England. We get some of our festive season goodies at Tea and Sympathy Takeaway and tea at the small sit down place is a treat.

      You can get Scotch Eggs and canned Heinz goods and ginger beer and authentic Cadbury candy at Myers of Keswick.

      Both places are a real treat to visit. April, if you ever come to New York we can go to the stores.

      http://myersofkeswick.computerperfect.com/Products/Products.html

      http://www.teaandsympathynewyork.com/home.php

      And yes, I do remember spaghetti with V8 and mashed potatoes and ground hamburger.

    • April says:

      Those stores sound awesome. And I still have yet to visit you there, or see NYC. What are you doing this summer? 🙂

    • April says:

      That sounds amazing. I think I’ll try this sometime soon… thanks for posting it 🙂

  5. Danny says:

    Mac and Cheese is a treat that I only take part in a few times a year. And when only eating it a few times a year Velveeta just doesn’t cut it for me. When we make it we use a recipe similar to the one David mentions (except no flour which comes at the penalty that once it gets cold you can slice it instead of scooping it) but use local hoop cheese. Hoop cheese you ask? Sharp cheddar that is oily, sold by the wheel (stores get the wheel and customers buy chunks of the wheel) and is sharp enough to make your all your lips and your ass pucker.

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