i haven’t one doubt to the sultry expression of winter sun slinking along the windows of the house, taking turns in each room, inclining intently across the short list of hours she has to currently court the day. and yet softly the days are slowly growing longer. i let what sun i can court me and occupy the vestibule of my mind. i need structure but would rather bask. i seek her out, follow her down the hallway, sit tangled in her golden mane. she retracts gracefully – with tempo, patience, and measure. i edge ever closer just to feel her heartbeat and remind me of my own. the afternoon is spent in flirtations. eventually, because our time together is so limited, i learn to ask her out to dinner early. a meal together, perhaps? here in the hallway?
one thing leads to another and stretched between my lips is the arch, dip, and tines of a fork, coated with an indulgent entanglement of pasta, dairy and allium. you see, it’s the first week in january and I’ve made macaroni and cheese. and i’m eating it in the last sunny spot in the house, unashamed and out of the casserole dish it was just newly bubbling in. with a world obsessively fixated on turning january into the promise of utopia, hinged on the sanctuary of resolution, it seems this move is the very antithesis of “the goal”. but what are goals if not personal? perhaps laced somewhere in between the egoless stick of butter, three cups of cream, pound of elbow macaroni, and wedge of gruyere is the unmistakable truth that will guide me to the best version of my 2017 self. maybe not. maybe it’s winter time and i’m cold and i don’t want to be.
i’ve just woken up from what i think was a resolution for better sleep (which was in fact a glorified nap) and rub a still-dark, still-cold world into and back out of my eyes. in the quiet of the morning i reach for the faucet and run water down the thick greens of a bunch of leeks. i undress the first layer from the leeks to reveal a more supple version of themselves – this isn’t our first rodeo and they’re excited to be invited to dinner. the cool water penetrates a thin layer of mud and grit and i slice them top to bottom, nothing tossed but the roots.
inwardly i’ve made the single recommendation to myself that this year, if there ever was a year, is the one where i’ll pay tribute to what keeps me happy, not what makes me. a sustained force nurtured from the inside. yes, all the good things too. let me be comfortable in my own skin, let my slumber be abundant and deep, let my actions echo honest and well-thought intention. but let me find the way that will genuinely perpetuate these notions. not a quick juice and a forced jaunt. let me exalt the fading winter sun. let me pray to the casserole dish, hands supplicant, as if to recommend my honest faith in the meals that gather us, grow us, mate us, and generate love. more of this and less fabrication. less hype and more dirty dishes.
the date with the sun in the hallway is a success.
- 6 tbl unsalted butter, divided
- 1 tbl dijon mustard
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp minced fresh parsley
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 medium leeks, green and white parts thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 16 oz elbow macaroni
- 3 tbl all purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 8 ounces of Gruyere cheese, shredded
- preheat the oven to 350 degrees. lightly grease a 3 quart casserole dish. melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. once the butter begins to foam add the dijon mustard, thyme, and parsley. add the panko: it will eagerly absorb the butter and herbs. toss the breadcrumbs occasionally over medium heat, until toasted, fragrant, and golden. transfer to a small bowl.
- wipe out the skillet and melt 2 tablespoons of butter over high heat. add the chopped leeks and cook, stirring until wilted, about 5 minutes. reduce the heat to low and cook the leeks until tender and melted, an additional 15 minutes.
- prepare a large saucepan of salted, boiling water. add the macaroni and cook about 2 minutes less than what’s instructed on the box - you're looking for an al dente texture. remove the macaroni to a colander, and drain and rinse under cool water.
- in a large saucepan melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. add the flour and cook over medium-high heat, whisking for about 2 minutes - until golden and fragrantly nutty. add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened, 5 minutes. the sauce will not be incredibly thick, but undoubtedly silky and smooth. remove sauce from the heat. add the cheese and whisk until melted into the sauce.
- combine macaroni, cheese sauce, and leeks - stirring well to combine. remove macaroni to the casserole dish and bake for 30 minutes, until sauce is bubbling. carefully remove, top with mustard breadcrumbs, and bake an additional 7 minutes, until toasted and golden. allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.