An Ode to the Box
You know what I f!@#ing hate? I hate food headlines that say things like “Never make such and such (insert that thing you crave when you are sad or tired) from a box again!” I hate them because it implies that if you use the box you’ve failed. And there are enough pressures out there, enough rocky roads and ego bruises that some smug perfectly manicured website doesn’t need to shame you if you don’t always make whatever from scratch. Never is a mighty long time. I don’t go the boxed route often but there are days when I thank the gods of commerce and industrialism that that aisle exists.
I still remember my first time. Kindergarten: young by some standards but it would be years before it happened again. We did not eat boxed food. We owned goats and chickens, my mother made tofu (not fried it up in a pan but made it made it from soybeans and whatever else goes into tofu), ground the wheat to bake the bread, we were scrappy DIY before DIY was cool. All I wanted was a Barbie doll, but I digress. Kindergarten. After school I would sometimes go to a schoolmate’s house until my Mom got out of work. They had a split-level ranch and that mom was a stay at home mom, there were floral patterns on curtains and on the paper towels. It was a different world. One magical day for lunch the mom made macaroni and cheese. Not homemade from scratch but magically quick and unbelievably orange boxed macaroni and cheese. And on top she put some fresh tomatoes and I was like “Wow, tomatoes?!” And my friend leaned in and said that sometime she would shake some black pepper on it too. When I was six, black pepper was really spicy and exotic and so that blew my mind a bit. Not only did they get to eat boxed macaroni and cheese on a regular basis but they ate it dolled up, fancy. And to this day when tomatoes are in season I find the urge for the box goes up a notch, and you know what? It’s still delicious, it still makes me happy, it still feels specia and like comfort, and fresh cut tomatoes on top still make it fancy.
Yes, that’s right. Pull out your whipping sticks. I still eat boxed macaroni and cheese. These days I buy the organic one (when it’s on sale) but I don’t like the shells, they don’t taste right. It has to be macaroni. If I want a different shape or a different flavor I’ll make that from scratch. But when I’m exhausted or teary from scratch can’t get to the itch fast enough. And it’s a revelation when camping. Show me the bitch that makes béchamel over a campfire and I’ll raise a glass to her while I sit in my camp chair and eat my done in five minutes, one pot, boxed Mac and cheese.
To admit this is to admit that my life extends beyond Instagram, that there are moments of riotous laughter and moments of quiet tears that are part of living not blogging, moments captured in our hearts but not on camera.
Ahh but this is a blog, you care not for my angst (nor should you)
So instead I give you…
Four Ways to Fancify Boxed Mac & Cheese, one for every season
- Winter—layer comfort on your comfort with crispy bacon or ham. Not a pork person then just add more cheese! Dust the orange stuff with some fine aged white cheddar, just a sprinkle, we don’t want anyone getting jealous.
- Spring- fresh herbs (chives from the garden, Italian parsley), black pepper, and parmesan.
- Summer- now is the time for those garden fresh tomatoes and perhaps a little basil if you’re felling extra fancy
- Fall- If you’ve ever lived in the southwest, or visited during the chili harvest you know that nothing quite says autumn like the heady scent of green chilies being blackened over an open flame.