Commentary: A love letter to mac and cheese


Photo credit: Cadence Callahan

A delicious bowl of mac and cheese sits on the kitchen counter. The meal isn’t homemade, but it is a close second to the mac and cheese my mother makes for my family every Thanksgiving.

By Cadence Callahan, Voices Editor

Mac and cheese has been one of my favorite meals since I was a child. My mother would spend countless hours in the kitchen testing different spices, cheeses and various brands of breadcrumbs to create the perfect, golden, bubbly and cheesy masterpiece. My siblings and I would scarf down the delicious meal in a matter of minutes, leaving my mother with an empty dish. 

My mother shows her love for her children in numerous ways, but she truly shines in the kitchen. She crafts each meal with pure love and affection, and her smile is radiant when she hands me a plate of food she spent so much time on. 

I remember my mother once trusted me with the great responsibility of preparing a dish for our Thanksgiving dinner. I was both honored and nervous because Thanksgiving dinner has always been a big deal in my house. It took me a couple of days to decide which meal I wanted to prepare. I could’ve taken the easy route and made cranberry sauce, a meal that only required a can opener, or cornbread, which meant following the directions on the back of the box, but I wanted my meal to reflect more than that. I wanted my meal to be something my mother would post about to her Facebook friends, so I decided to make the mac and cheese, a dish that was more important than the turkey in my family. 

A week before Thanksgiving, I went to the grocery store, mother’s recipe in hand, and stocked up on the vast amounts of sharp cheddar, gruyere and, strangely enough, cream cheese. I bought paprika, pepper, garlic salt and every other seasoning on the supermarket shelf. I spent almost an hour deciding between elbow macaroni and rigatoni. I was determined to make my mother proud, creating a meal that showed just how much I loved her. 

Just hours before my family members were set to arrive at our home for Thanksgiving, the kitchen was filled with the decadent aroma of Sargento and Velveeta. I had spent the morning shredding almost a pound of cheese; my hands smelled like white cheddar for days after. I whipped eggs and milk together, and slowly poured the mixture into my dish filled to the brim with cheese and elbow macaroni (I was able to decide between the two kinds of pasta). I then sprinkled parmesan cheese on top and added Panko breadcrumbs as the pièce de résistance. 

I impatiently waited by the stove for a painful two hours and watched as the ingredients melted together. When our white timer erupted with the sound of a piercing ring, I put on my mother’s red oven mitts, reached into the oven and grabbed the hot glass dish which contained my creation. I was horribly worried this dish wouldn’t live up to my mother’s delicious meal.

As my mother uncovered the collard greens, yams, potato salad, ham, chicken and turkey she spent the entire day prior making, I couldn’t help but feel nervous about my own dish. Unveiling my mac and cheese, an awkward silence filled the room. Aunts inspected the dish and asked a flurry of questions about the types of cheeses and spices, and for how long I had let it cook. 

My mother was the first to put my mac and cheese on her plate. As she raised her fork to her mouth, my aunts followed her movements nervously with their eyes. Her face instantly lit up as she put the cheesy bite in her mouth and chewed. I watched her as she consumed my meal with pure joy. I then took a portion of the mac and cheese and put it on my own plate, and — although it wasn’t nearly as good as my mother’s — I was extremely proud of myself.

This meal was more than just an obligation I had to make something for our dinner; it was a genuine thank you for all my mother had done for me and my siblings. I wanted to recreate a meal I’d watch her cook for years, a meal she’d cook for me whenever I was feeling down or sick, a meal that meant so much to her that she had the recipe entirely memorized. I aspired to bring the same amount of joy with my dish, as my mother had brought me and my siblings when she cooked for us.

Mac and cheese has been one of my favorite meals since I was a little girl. I remember watching my mother in amazement and wonder as she worked her magic in the kitchen preparing the savory dish, the tattered red oven mitts she refused to get rid of, and the privilege I had of being her taste tester. Since then, I’ve assisted my mother in making the dish for our family dinners, and I cherish the time spent with her.