Little fingers lined up on the edge of the counter, pushing just a little to raise my upturned button nose above them. Blue eyes watched the rain of grated cheese sprinkling down onto softened macaroni noodles, and the wrinkled fingers above dancing from bowl to casserole dish again and again. I leaned into the aproned hip next to me, enjoying the closeness I felt with my grandmother as she created my most favorite dish of all, her macaroni and cheese. I thought it was so special the way the noodles were just right, not mushy; the cheese was browned and a little crisp on top, but oozed in long strings from the fork as it was cut; the sparkles on top hinted to the sugar that had melted within; and the little specks of black pepper scattered throughout just waited to warm the tip of my tongue.
What really made the dish special, though, was that my grandmother made it especially for family occasions. I could count on her long macaroni noodles to warm get-togethers ranging from reunions to Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve dinner, and know that she put her love into the work of her hands. I still miss my grandmother, as we lost her over 15 years ago this month. I wish she had had the chance to meet her great-grandchildren, to see her grandchildren grow into the adults she would have been so proud of. Even though she's gone, the memories she imparted remain. Whenever a black and blue butterfly floats past on the breeze, I remember how she loved them and told me that butterflies share the love of those we have lost with us. When Halloween comes around, I remember how she loved to greet children at the door with bowls of candy, oohing and aahing over the many different costumes. And whenever I bake this macaroni and cheese, so different from my mother's recipe, I'm reminded of the different love that danced with the cheese through my grandmother's hands.
Nanny's Baked Macaroni and Cheese
*This recipe is one done largely from memory and "feel," so amounts are guess-timates and may not be what is actually used.*
1 box (16 oz) standard or large macaroni noodles
1 lb grated mild cheddar cheese
sugar to taste
dash (< 1 C) of milk
black pepper to taste
[sprinkle of onion powder, optional addition]
1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Boil macaroni noodles until just softened.
2. In a large casserole or baking dish, either spray non-stick cooking spray or spread butter/shortening over bottom of pan, as desired.
3. Layer macaroni noodles lightly over the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle a layer of cheese, followed by a light dusting of sugar and black pepper. Add sprinkle of onion powder if desired.
4. Continue to layer noodles and other ingredients until noodles are used up, being sure to leave enough cheese to cover final layer of noodles.
5. Add dash (approximately 1/4-1/2 C) of milk, being sure to pour over all noodles and cheese, but not filling pan beyond 1/4 of height.
6. Place baking dish in heated oven for approximately 30 minutes, allowing more time for deeper dishes. If cheese on top is browned before cheese has thoroughly melted and milk has been absorbed, cover with aluminum foil and continue to cook until done.
Although the recipe is simple, it is the love with which it is made that adds the defining ingredient. Make it in good health!