Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tears In My Muffins

I walked into the kitchen this morning and noticed that my bananas were as brown as they were yellow and decided that I needed to do something with them. I pulled out an old favorite recipe and began mixing, mashing, and stirring. I suddenly remembered the last time I used this recipe and was brought up short. It was a day as beautiful a today 3 1/2 years ago. October 10, 2012, the day my mother died. As we sat beside her, watching her fight to hold on to life, I grew restless and went into the kitchen in search of something to do. My cousin Beth joined me, sitting at the bar, drinking a Coke and talking to me while I worked. And as I remembered the day, waves of grief and sorrow washed over me, leaving me gasping for breath, holding onto the kitchen counter for dear life.

I managed to finish the batter and get the muffins in the oven between bouts of tears. I had not experienced this depth of emotion in a long time. I was once again serving banana muffins to the friends and family sitting there with us--Dad, my sister, her husband, their daughter, Mom's pastor, Beth, and the hospice nurse. I felt much like the Biblical Martha, doing the practical, playing the hostess. It was my comfort zone.

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The smell from the oven, so marvelously warm and wonderful, made me sad. I remembered the fact that Beth is no longer with us and wept again. I remembered that Mom's dear sister, my Aunt Rachel, had come to visit Mom the week before and the joy on Mom's face was beatific. Now, Aunt Rachel is also gone and, once again, swells of melancholy rocked me.

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I took the muffins from the oven; it took me a long time to try one, but when I did, it was delicious. Slowly, the pain inside me eased and I started to smile, remembered the happy times with Mom, including the first time that she made these muffins. Mom loved to cook, loved to try new recipes. She loved to laugh. And like me, she had a Martha mentality. She would never be your shoulder to cry on, but she would bake you a cake or clean your house in times of need. I loved that woman!

If it is true that the emotions of the cook are in the food, these muffins will taste of love and loss and grief and joy.

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Banana Muffins

1/2 cup room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
3 bananas
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour and baking soda.
Cream butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and mix well; stir in mashed bananas. Add flour mixture and stir until moist--do not over-mix.
Fill muffin pans 3/4 full. Bake approx 25 minutes.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Never, Ever From A Box

If you had asked me as a child or young adult if I liked macaroni and cheese, I would have said no. My mother, like so many working mothers, used that blue box.

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I am a cheese freak, and I never felt that the box stuff was cheesy enough.

When I was in my twenties, I discovered Velveeta Shells and Cheese. It was cheesy enough and pretty good. Anyone who turns up their nose at Velveeta is a poser. It has a place in American food history, if for nothing more than queso dip. It is wonderfully delicious chemical concoction that makes parties special.

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I experienced a total revelation the first time I had homemade mac and cheese. It had a custard base made with evaporated milk and bread crumbs on top. It was wonderful, but lacked the smooth cheesiness I craved. The cheese was not evenly distributed throughout the dish.

One day I stumbled upon a recipe from Southern Living that began with a bechamel and became a luscious cheese sauce poured over elbow macaroni before being topped with more cheese and baked.

Classic Baked Mac and Cheese

1 (8oz) box elbow macaroni
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour (all purpose)
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1 (8oz) block SHARP cheddar cheese divided.

Prepare the pasta and keep warm.

Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium low heat: whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes until thick. *Gradually whisk in the milk and cook whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and peppers then add one cup of shredded cheese and stir or whisk until melted. It becomes thick (slightly) and creamy. Add to the cooked pasta and mix together.

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Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2 quart baking dish and top with remaining cheese.

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Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until bubbly (I think mine was bubbly after 15 minutes then I turned off the oven and let it sit for another 5). Let it stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*Raise the temperature to medium/medium high.

A little more food porn?

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This has become my go-to recipe. While making it today, I had a bit of inspiration, so don't be surprised if a variation of this recipe shows up some time in the future.