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OtterSummer 8.43-macNplease

I had not planned on making mac and cheese for last night’s supper. The air conditioning technician left after six hours, the sky opened with a downpour, and oh, I’d missed lunch; but The Grand Otter noticed the package of macaroni on the counter, and asked. I could not say no.

We’re down to the final few hours of this OtterSummer, and her wish might as well be my command. My earlier aspirations to be a good example, perhaps even a wise teacher, have dispursed, leaving a willing and loving slave. So I set the pot on to boil and eat a peach to stave off certain starvation.

Making macaroni and cheese is simple but convoluted. The contents, entirely ordinary; sequence of assembly, plain. And I use a couple of older than me Fanny Farmer recipes; two because the master recipe refers me to another page for the sauce recipe. My mac and cheese would be completely ordinary, then, if I could only bring myself to follow the published recipes once, but I haven’t yet and don’t expect to.

I am no more skilled than a squirrel at following directions. They feel excruciating to me, sitting there all sequential, reduced to apparent essence. I have the short term memory of a fruit fly, so I have to read every recipe five or six times, taking slightly different meanings every time, flipping between two pages in a cookbook which long-ago split in half from misuse.

I perform a bit better if I prep before I start cooking because this allows me to focus my anemic attention span on one element at a time. Of course the recipe comes calibrated to produce what I approximate to be about 40% of what I need, so I’m also remembering (I hope) to multiply every volume by two point five. I’m no arithmetic whiz, either.

The Muse asks how she can help. I cringe with appreciation. She doesn’t suspect that she’s just asked a juggling, one-legged tightrope walker who’s inching his way across a foggy chasm while struggling to maintain focus. I decline her invitation, then ask if she’ll ferret around in the spice abyss to find some nutmeg and a little dry mustard. I’m busy grating altogether too much cheese.

The squirrel in me remembers that I have stock leftover from last night’s experiment, so I scurry down to the basement larder for that, which seems certain to taste better than milk in the sauce. The Muse suggests I use her Pyrex measuring cup, and I pull out a thick-bottomed sauce pan to preheat the stock. The macaroni is tender by then. I empty the boiling caldron into the large colander and lightly rinse the pasta. I want to retain some stickiness.

Then I’ve cleaned the caldron and I’m measuring butter for the sauce. I’m gonna make the sauce in the caldron because this will simplify mixing in the elbows, but I’ve gotta wait for the stock to boil because it will combine more smoothly with the roux. The Grand Otter saunters through, pinching tastes of grated cheese, oohing and awing. She asks how she can help and I designate her the scullery. She’ll wash the dirties.

I measure the flour into a small bowl, add some Hungarian half-sharp paprika to it, even though the recipe doesn’t mention this. It hadn’t mentioned the stock, either, or the mustard or the nutmeg. Those are for tradition, but I can’t remember why.

The butter in the caldron melted all by itself while waiting for the stock to boil. I suspect I’ve been slowing down the process by watching the freaking stockpot, thereby ensuring it could never boil.

Later, The Otter’s there when I finally declare the stock ready. I fire up the big burner beneath the caldron and the butter responds immediately. I fail to daintily add the flour/paprika mixture, which immediately whips into a near perfect roux. I pour in the stock and produce an instant, fine-grained sauce. The Otter agrees to help by adding the cheese, handful by handful, while I continuously whip the sauce. I’ve turned off the burner. The sauce seems plenty hot enough to melt even this volume of cheese. My arm cramps as the sauce thickens.

We save a scant couple of handfuls of cheese for the top and it’s combining time. I add a little dry mustard without measuring and scrape in some nutmeg for old time’s sake, then coax clumpy macaroni in with the sauce, pleased that I’d used the caldron. I thought I might need two Corningware pans for the oven, but the mess fits into one. A bit of cheese on top, a few crumbs, the last of the cheese, a few more breadcrumbs, and it was ready for the oven.

I leave the caldron to The Otter and The Muse, ceding licking rights and scullery duties while I disappear for my quiet time. The mac would convect for a half hour, then rest another half hour. An hour at least until supper.

Later, the Otter loaded a mountain of mac on her plate, refusing any accompaniment. She made it through about half the pile before the movie we were watching chased her off to her room. Her tummy’s been grumbling for the past few days, perhaps anticipating the return to ordinary times. The Muse ate most of The Otter’s leftover.

Store-bought couldn’t have created a single memory worth retaining. This batch was absolutely unique, different from every previous batch and different from every other one likely to come down the line. Nobody should have any complaint as long as there’s a pot to lick.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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