Friday, May 11, 2012

Baked Mac and Cheese -- A Mother's Day Tribute

My favorite meal of hers growing up--baked mac and cheese

"I always thought you'd be taller," my mom often says to me, looking down at my 5'4" stature from hers at 5'9". It's true, I can probably count on one hand the number of times people have told us we look "just like mother and daughter" and for a time in my childhood I was convinced my twin-like aunt was my actual mother, and that there was a family conspiracy protecting this crazy family secret. Not sure how I explained the photo albums of my first few days on Earth as an infant, but eventually I accepted that I was my mother's daughter, I had just inherited exclusively recessive genes or something--which also didn't quite make sense, considering my father was blonde haired and blue eyed and I am neither. I suppose I'm just a perfect blend of them both, mixed in such a way that I resemble neither. As I got older I was able to find other ways that my mother and I were alike--our slim figures, the shape of our feet, our large hands with tiny wrists.

College graduation, May 2010

However, though my mis-matched blue/green eyes are the opposite of her deep brown, and I've always longed for her straight hair and oval face as I fight to accentuate my missing cheekbones with rouge and flat iron my curls--I've gotten far more valuable things from my mother than coloring and height. My mother is an unbelievably strong woman. Her heart is as big as they get and she will fight to the bitter end for those she loves. She's overcome many obstacles in life and is a successful woman today despite it all. Even when things weren't perfect, she was determined to give my brother and me a happy childhood. And she did, tenfold.

After a play this past winter (no worries, my makeup isn't ALWAYS
so clownish), with my Nana on the right

I've inherited her spirit, her bravery, and her determination to do the right thing no matter what. When we butt heads, when we argue, it always leaves me bitter for a while, until I realize the reason why we do this is because we are both such strong-willed women and as stubborn and tenacious as they come. We disagree, but in the end our love for each other overcomes and we end up closer than ever.

Family camping trip, probably before my little brother was born.
Note the stuffed animal, I lost that at age 6. I still miss her.

I lost my Dad after only 19 short years with him, which opened my eyes to how little time we all have together in the end. It has made me hold tighter to my relationship with my mother, trying to make every year, every day, every minute count, even when our busy lives give us only moments.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
(the first recipe of my Mom's I ever re-created by myself)

  • 1 package macaroni elbows
  • 7 tbs butter
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 3 cups milk (percentage of your choice!)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • large dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs dijon mustard
  • 2 blocks cheese, cut into blocks -- this is up to you, but I like sharp cheddars
  • 1.5 sleeves Ritz crackers, crushed

-Prepare a box of macaroni according to the package

-Melt 4 tbs butter in a sauce pan and slowly add the flour, whisking constantly. Slowly add the milk, again whisking constantly.

-Add the garlic, cayenne, and mustard and stir to combine. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and temper into the sauce. Let the mixture simmer until thick, it should coat the back of a spoon.

-Once the sauce is thick, add most of the cheese, reserving a small amount for topping later. Stir until melted. Combine the cheese sauce with the prepared macaroni and pour into a greased baking dish.

-To make the topping: melt the remaining butter and toss with the crushed ritz. Pour crumbs over the top of the mac and cheese and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Mom and me at the Tower of London in fall 2007 when she visited me during my study abroad
*EDIT* Though I traditionally keep my online activity from family members, I let my mom read this post and she was very touched. Also, she pointed out to me that the stuffed animal in the camping picture was NOT Baby Kitty Pink (my absolute favorite stuffed animal as a child), like I originally thought, it is actually Baby Kitty Blue, her brother. Baby Kitty Blue I lost even earlier in his short life, when I was 4, after I left him on a ferry in Canada. Baby Kitty Pink I lost at age 6, when we were on vacation in Cape Cod and I left her in a hotel room drawer. Good eye, Mom!


  1. What a sweet story! This mac n cheese looks perfectly comforting too, just like a mama's love :)

    1. Thanks! I should have mentioned my "updates" to her recipe--the garlic, cayenne, and mustard. The base recipe is still uniquely hers, but the additions are mine :)

  2. Okay first of all you know my heart goes out to you about your dad.

    Secondly I'm so happy you are so close to your mom. It does my heart good to see people who appreciate their moms.

    Thirdly your mom is awesome.

    And lastly this dish is fabulous.

    1. Aw, thank you :) My parents had been separated for years when my Dad died, but they remained friends--his passing was very hard for her as well. I have a wonderful stepfather who my Dad also really liked, so that helps sometimes. And yes, my mom is awesome :)

  3. what a sweet post! I love that camping picture!

  4. A touching tribute to your mother. Happy Mother's Day to her and all the mothers out there!

  5. Aww your mother sounds like the sweetest and this is such an adorable post! Plus it's stuffed full of mac and cheese. Swoon.

    1. Yours was as well! I am now conceiving ways to turn wine into cupcakes for my mom, as inspired by your awesome Merlot cupcakes. My mom mentioned last night there's a bottle of WHITE Merlot (did you even know that exists??) that is about to pass so I might experiment in the next few days.

  6. I love the way you begin the post by pointing your physical similarities to your mom and end it with your shared personality traits like bravery and determination. Beautifully done.

    1. Thanks! Occasionally I try to mesh personal essay with recipe posts, just to keep my creative writing muscles strong. I always thought you had to have one kind of blog--personal OR food-based--but after seeing and how beautifully she combines personal story with recipe stuff, I decided I could do it too!

  7. What a sweet tribute to your mom! Hope you both had a great Mother's Day, hopefully together.

  8. great mac and cheese and sweet post look forward to seeing your biscotti

  9. What a lovely tribute to your mom - and delicious looking mac n' cheese!

  10. I love the way you wrote about your mum. This is so sweet! Your mum must be so proud of you.

    Love your mum's version of Mac n Cheese. It's always a cosy family food.

  11. What a touching tribute to your mom. This mac n' cheese sounds amazing--love baked mac & cheese!

  12. What a nice post - so touching! You and your mom are both lucky to have each other!

  13. How did I miss this post? I love mac and cheese. And a well written love letter to your mom, too.