When I was little (read: the graveyard phrase of these such articles), heaven was a tangible, cheesy thing that for me was real, every single day, when at 4 p.m. I would be served a sumptuous Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner. Granted, the 30 minutes between arriving home from school and dinner were torturous, awkward stretches during which the normal social decorum between my mother and me simply did not endure—but in the end, as always, it was worth it. And, in the end, I thank my mother even more deeply for what the pasta gave me, beyond sustenance, vitality, 10 percent Vitamin A, and a noodle-like complexion: namely, a convenient last-minute framework for a self-indulgent, partially-nostalgic Crimson article.
The reasons that macaroni and cheese works as such a framework, though, could not have been portended from my youthful realm of bliss. Macaroni and cheese, for example, helped get me my girlfriend here. For our first date early this winter, I employed the classic ‘mack and cheese’ strategy: mack on the girl hard and then—trick play!—follow up with a cheesy date. The mack part never having really transpired, I instead dove right away into preparing a scrumptious pâtes au fromage, which you too can make at home:
1 box Annie’s Yummy Bunnies Macaroni & Cheese
1 box Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar
Parmesan cheese flakes
Shallots (or onions)
Mixed mushrooms assortment
1. Prepare both mac & cheeses, mixed together, using olive oil and honey mustard instead of milk and butter; simultaneously, finely dice shallots and mushrooms and grill with olive oil in pan.
2. Put everything together, drizzle with bread crumbs and parmesan chips.
After having finished cooking and doffing my apron, we went down to the river and had a picnic. Just last night, in fact, she was still ruminating on what a wonderful time it was, saying, “Yeah, we should definitely have a picnic soon! I haven’t had any picnics this year at school.” But that, after all, is the beauty of macaroni and cheese: it’s soft, mushy, it gives way to the hard spoon of posterity—and yet in the ephemeral moment in which it lingers on this earth, it brings happiness, warmth, goodness (and is also, apparently, a quite amenable accomplice to self-delusion).
But also, it just tastes really good. And also, it’s a sort of masochistic but wonderful thing to write an article about when you’re starving and unable to go to lunch yet because of an article.
But though delayed gratification may be a part of writing articles, it finds no place in the bursting cheesiness of macaroni and cheese. Our sophomore year, my roommates and I lived in DeWolfe, and life was exactly as it should always be, once again: we had a kitchen, and we cooked large pots of macaroni and cheese nearly every night. It was our study break, our salve to inebriation, our pet project, our shared baby. And yet, despite the constant attention, it somehow never got old. One time near the end of that year, I was sitting on the third floor of Lamont at 3 a.m., still trying to choose a topic for a paper due the next morning. I was in a bit of a down slump to boot: because of a girl, because of the minor ego blow of not getting a certain finals club letter slipped under my door, because of two Red Bulls that had immediately dissipated into lifeless jitters. And then my roommate showed up with a Tupperware dish of .... Well, it was too personal a moment to share the details in print, so I’ll leave the contents a mystery.
But even when times are relatively unmarred by the Lamont-level tragedies of our placid lives, macaroni and cheese can still emerge heroic. At my high school (a boarding school) we used to have “feeds,” Saturday night post-curfew affairs in which the housemaster’s wife would bring down a huge pot of macaroni and cheese, causing the whole house to empty into the common room and crowd about it. And now too, I’ve found, in college, macaroni and cheese still has that same power: carry it into a room, and roommates will emerge from their rat holes, friends will suddenly knock—people who are normally so busy will convene, straight and simple. So that’s what I think of macaroni and cheese as, first of all: a social butterfly who was more popular than me in high school and is still sort of more popular than me. But second of all: as people-convener, a unifier, a gooey firmament that brings friends and family closer together, wherever in life one is.
— Alex J. Ratner ’11, a physics concentrator in Quincy House, is a former Magazine associate editor. His girlfriend wishes they were eating macaroni and cheese right now.