Classic White Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese

Sweat dripped down my back as I trotted behind my husband, Sean, down one of the hundreds of moving walkways at the Bangkok International Airport. After two weeks spent backpacking through Southeast Asia together, we were both tan, our matching strawberry blond hair lightened by sunshine. I wasn’t wearing makeup, enjoying the anonymity and relaxation that comes with wandering the world with no agenda.

But in that moment, I wasn’t feeling very relaxed: It was 10 pm and we’d skipped dinner, assuming that we could grab something easily at the Bangkok airport. I needed food, and we only had 45 minutes before we had to board our second flight in the series of three that would eventually deliver us back to snowy Boston. But finding food was proving to be impossible.

Sean walked faster and I hurried to follow him, almost tripping. I was starting to get hangry, desperation at the forefront of my thoughts, my stomach past growling. Oddly, there was no food on the main floor of the Bangkok airport’s international terminal, something we learned after 15 minutes of speed walking back and forth. We stopped to study a map again, then trotted down the entirety of the international terminal to the escalator which would apparently take us up to a 4th floor food court. The line to get up the escalator was an hour long, so we turned back.

We looked at the map again. I was now beyond hangry. Sean refused to admit that he was hangry, but I knew he was, which somehow annoyed me even more.

“Eat this granola bar!” I said, tossing him one. He glared at me, then crammed it into his mouth.

We made a last-ditch effort to find a different route up to the 4th floor, one which required us to go through security again. Gloriously and surprisingly, it worked. Sean took off his belt and his shoes as we sped through the metal detectors. Then, while attempting to put his belt back on, Sean tripped, falling up the next escalator, jamming his hand into a metal rung and yelping loudly.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“Don’t talk to me! It’s condescending!” he yelled, sprinting onward.

What an annoying person to be married to, I thought. But I was too hungry to actually get into it, so I followed him up the escalator. We eventually found a small shop with overpriced pizza and Sean threw our remaining baht on the counter. We carried two pizzas down to the plane, boarding almost exactly on time. And as we threw ourselves into our seats, I caught his eyes. We glared at each other for a moment… and then we were snort laughing and jamming crappy pizza into our mouths at record speed.

This, for me, is marriage. Marriage is conquering hanger, running through airports, living through situations where even crappy food tastes like heaven. Marriage is comfort, and misery, and compromise. It’s knowing that even when you drive each other nuts, you still wouldn’t choose anyone else to run through the airport with at 10 pm.

In honor of my marriage, I’m sharing a recipe for classic mac ‘n cheese today. It might seem like an odd choice, but this dish makes me feel cared for and cozy. It’s simple but decadent. I don’t remember when I learned to make it, but I’ve been making a version of the pasta biweekly since I was in graduate school. It’s Sean’s favorite meal, and it’s the one thing we both crave after a long day of travel or a big fight. This mac n’ cheese is a gift, a piece of my heart, a warm blanket and a hot bubble bath with a candle by your side. I hope you find it as full of love as I do.


Classic White Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese

Servings: 3-4, depending on how hungry you are // Time: 20 minutes
  • 4 cups macaroni or bow tie noodles
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1.5 T flour
  • 2.5-3 cups white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2-2.5 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional: 1/2 cup diced and sauted onions, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 t fresh or dried basil, 1 t fresh or dried parsley, 1/2 t dried thyme, 1/4 cup diced and sauted bell peppers, 1 cup cooked and diced chicken

Drop the noodles into boiling water. While the noodles cook, make the roux (this thickens your cheese sauce) by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted and begins to bubble, sprinkle the flour over the top and whisk. The mixture will become foamy. Whisk for about a minute, then slowly add 2 cups of milk into the roux while whisking continually. Turn the heat to low and stir occasionally, watching the mixture thicken.

Once the milk mixture coats your spoon, add the cheddar cheese and stir until  it’s melted. If your sauce is too thick, add more milk, 2 T at a time. If your sauce is too thin, add more cheese.

Drain the pasta, then add to the cheese sauce and stir. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg, to taste. If you’ve decided to add in any of the other optional ingredients, you can add them now as well.

Serve warm, topped with parmesan cheese. This reheats well for a few days, if you have leftovers… but you probably won’t.

 

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