I know it’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted much of anything around here. I’ ve still been cooking (I recently made my own homemade labneh for the first time and it was rather yum), I just haven’t been doing much of the writing. Hoping that changes soon but in the meantime, here’s a little story I wrote for submission to a writing contest called Writer’s Week that I thought y’all might enjoy!
Macaroni and cheese doesn’t taste the way it used to taste. Well, to clarify, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese doesn’t taste the way it used to taste. See, when I was young, my mother would make my brother and me macaroni and cheese as a treat; a break from all the Arabic food she cooked that we resisted with little kid vigor. A 10-year-old can only stomach so much of the lamb-with-rice-in-various-but-unappetizing-to-a-child–combinations before said kid revolts and demands a hamburger.
My brother and I were chubbier than most of our elementary school pals. The fact remained that sugar clung to our rotund frames with the same level of enthusiasm that we had for eating pretty much anything within reach that we deemed “yummy”. Our mother didn’t listen to our culinary demands often but when she did, our favorite surrender were the times she agreed to make macaroni and cheese.
There was something so comforting about watching her gently rip open the top of that familiar blue box. The uncooked macaroni rattling around inside its cardboard walls making that click-clacking sound uncooked pasta makes when the pieces collide. The way she pulled out that small white packet of powdered “cheese” and placed it on the side of the stove always sparked a serious dance party in my belly. That crinkly envelope filled with Tang-colored powder meant deliciousness was imminent.
I’d run to the refrigerator and grab the other ingredients she needed. I always hoped my contributions would help speed things along, but my mother didn’t like us to hover in the kitchen while she cooked. I think maybe it made her self-conscious. Or maybe it was just really annoying to have two noisy kiddos foaming at the mouth for a snack.
After what felt like for-ev-er, the noodles would finally be done and we’d watch, bug-eyed, as she drained the pasta; the plump elbows swooshing out towards the safety of our worn-out colander. There was always a singular whoosh of steam that wafted upwards as the last piece escaped unharmed. She would give the sieve a few shake shakes to ensure maximum drainage and then back into the waiting pot they went!
My mother never followed the instructions on the side of that empty Kraft box. She just knew the exact right combination of powdery cheese to milk to butter. She’d stir the contents of our comfort with an aged wooden spoon until all the ingredients mixed together creating this glorious melody. There was the whip of the wooden spoon against the side of the pot followed immediately by a noise that most closely resembled the repetitive smacking of one’s lips after devouring something delightful. It was these sounds that most often triggered toothy grins and drooling pants of joy in our home.
The final step in this process included the way in which this long-awaited gastronomic masterpiece was served. No ordinary plate or bowl would do. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese must be ladled into plastic Tupperware bowls or nothing at all! Each bowl came in either pastel pink, blue, green or yellow – usually pink for me. The bowl fit perfectly into my eager hands. I was the stout, girly version of Oliver Twist begging for more. And boy did I beg.
I know it’s just a bowl of macaroni and cheese, but back then the ritual of my mother preparing this meal meant so much more than her feeding us. It meant she loved us. It meant she was listening when we would say we’d had a rough day. Sometimes, we didn’t even have to say it. She just knew we needed comfort and nourishment. She knew in the way that a mother knows her children.
So, when she died and other people tried to replicate her efforts in the macaroni and cheese department, I knew I’d never again taste this particular food in the way I most loved to savor it – with her around. I knew that every time I’d open a box of Kraft’s and attempt to recreate the past, I’d always fall short.
Macaroni and cheese doesn’t taste the way it used to taste, but memories of how it used to be will last me a lifetime.