This post is about mac ‘n cheese. But it’s more than that. It’s about friendship. It’s about love.
We have a friend. Let’s just call him Roby. Could be Robert, could be Toby. Could actually be Moby, but I don’t know Moby. Although I do like his music. But for reasons that will become clear shortly, I’d like to protect our friend’s identity.
I went to a birthday dinner last week for Roby, and during dinner, gifts started to fly across the table. I sat there, paralyzed, realizing that I’d forgotten to get him something. This, after neglecting to make him the mac ‘n cheese I’d promised for assembling two bunk beds I’d ordered on sale from Walmart. That had just a few pieces really, maybe between 500 and 5,000.
Roby is a good friend, you see. Probably the greatest friend you could ask for. Such a close friend that he became ordained by the Universal Life Church and served as the pastor at our wedding. Rodney returned the favor several years later by marrying Roby to his beautiful wife Rihanna (again, protecting the innocent here).
Our wedding day was perfection. We got married on a hidden beach in Mexico on the Pacific Coast, not too far from Zihuatanejo, surrounded by beloved friends and family members.
The alter was simple. It wasn’t a formal affair, just the three of us standing together, flanked by our bridesmaids and groomsmen, our guests a few feet back, fanning themselves in the golden glow of sunset. My heels sank into the mat on the sand, making the height difference between me and Rodney even more awkward and pronounced. At one point I became panicked and confused, thinking that I was marrying Pablo Escobar, but relief swept over me when I looked up from the billowing white suit, and saw Rodney’s smiling face looking down on me.
In between us stood Roby.
From the get-go, he enchanted the audience with his deep baritone. I never realized that he possessed such a voice, but he was clearly inspired, moved by the occasion.
“Good evening…” he boomed from the mic.
What Roby didn’t know was that in the center of his crisply-pressed linen pants, seeped quite a significant pee stain. How big? Bigger than a quarter…maybe not as big as a sand dollar. But pretty sizable given his perch.
I don’t proclaim to know what men do when they’ve finished their business- if there is a thwack-thwack that needs to happen before the underwear gets pulled back into position. Or a gentle shake. But clearly this hadn’t happened. No thwack. No shake.
Of course we were too embarrassed to alert him of the issue afterwards. Who would want a friend to feel such shame.
Uh, we do. Years later, we continue to question Roby about this event. We’ve grilled him about his urination procedures, how much he had to drink, could it have been a spill? General feedback from witnesses suggested that under no circumstances could it have been anything other than pee. Roby to this day claims that it was condensation– from what, I’m not sure. A papaya? A beach ball? A really short person with a sweaty brow?
But what I do know, is that the pee stain was the best thing that happened that weekend. In perfect form, it captured my entire philosophy about life. Strive to make things wonderful and welcoming, but recognize that imperfections are a gift. They allow us to connect on the most human level, through laughter and storytelling. Most of all, they allow us to breathe a collective sigh and see the world through rose – or should I say yellow-colored glasses.
Roby, you are my Jennifer Lawrence Oscar stumble, the black fly in my Chardonnay. Actually, the last one isn’t funny at all and Alanis might sue me for copyright infringement, so let’s scrap that example. But you get the drift. We love you like you’re family.
Happy birthday, and enjoy the mac ‘n cheese. It’s waiting for you at home, hand-delivered this morning to Rihanna. It has bacon in it from Dickson’s, just like you probably hoped.
- 16 ounces of bacon (about 8-12 slices, depending on thickness of the bacon). Choose really good bacon as the flavor is a big part of the dish.
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
- 5 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere
- 1 pound noodles, a good quality Italian brand (I used a long corkscrew shape)
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Snip the bacon into bite size pieces, and cook on medium heat in a large sautee pan until crispy. Drain on paper towels, and set aside.
- Butter a 3-quart casserole dish, or if you want to make two separate dishes, like I did, butter a 9x12 casserole dish and a 9” pie plate; set aside.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter. Mix the butter with the panko breadcrumbs. Set aside.
- Pour the milk into a microwave-safe glass measuring cup or bowl and heat the milk for 2 minutes on high. Alternatively you could just use the stove, but I find this easier.
- Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere. Set cheese sauce aside.
- Meanwhile, while the cheese sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the macaroni and cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone.
- Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce, and then stir in the reserved bacon.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish(es). Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere; scatter breadcrumbs over the top and top with foil.
- Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bae until browned on top, about 10 minutes more. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
Hilarious! Great story Jessica.
Thanks Carrie, glad you liked it!
Who knew you had a hidden talent as a fabulous writer!?!? what other tricks do you have up your sleeve??
and that mac n cheese sounds YUMMY!!
I didn’t know I liked writing until 2 months ago : ) I guess hidden from me too!
Hilarious! I cannot believe I have never heard that story!! Thank you for entertaining me at 5:30am.
Of course, glad to have something to entertain you at 5:30AM, I was looking for the same thing myself and didn’t find it!