Mac Attack

Here’s a fun (and potentially sad) fact: Luke cooks dinner for me every single night (well, for “us” technically).  Once a week we might go out to a trendy restaurant via our “buy one get one free” passport book.  Otherwise, it’s up to him on what to eat and how to make it.  Though, I help by picking the time we eat (which might be less like helping and more like my being bossy).

Having a partner like him has been crucial for my road to becoming an independent writer.  He picks up on a ton of slack so that I can have the time to do all the intense things this journey requires.  Also, I am a really shitty cook.

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We discovered this early on in our relationship.  He’d make some delicious balsamic roasted tomato chicken thing while I struggled to even make quinoa taste good.  The first time I attempted quinoa, I just threw a small can of diced green chiles in there.  It basically tasted like green chile dirt.  Luke pretended to enjoy it.  

Since I work at home and eat six times a day (for workout reasons), I have a few staples  that I can cook up fairly decently.  I make pretty decent scrambled eggs.  But the decency is more about the texture.  I like to use this bitter cheese that’s low fat and high protein.  This kind of makes it taste like batteries.

Luke then goes and buys me my favorite brand of green chile to put on my eggs to make them more palatable.  Here’s a tip.  You know what goes good on green chile?  Rosemary.  Are your minds blown?  I read about it in a magazine.  It sounds weird, but it works - even on my battery eggs.

Then there’s pasta.  I am so excellent at boiling water and then throwing something in it for eight to ten minutes that I brought it to lunch at my social work job every day for eight years.  Except, I didn’t believe in microwaves and trust me, there’s nothing worse than cold pasta and dry chicken breast.  To this day, nothing hits my gag reflex harder than the idea of eating pasta (nothing).  

And then there’s vegetables.  I spout off my mouth about healthy living, but when it comes to veggies, I struggle to prepare much of any of it.  Years ago, I just started throwing power greens in a blender with water and ice and chugging them.  Despite the bitter taste, it’s actually pretty refreshing.  Luke drinks them now too.  

There are occasions where Luke goes to do his own thing for the evening and I am left to fend for myself.  This usually results in me eating a main course of tuna (right out of the can) and a side dish of chips and guacamole.  The guacamole is my way of “making it healthy.”

On such a night back in August, he offered to cook me something before he went out.  I didn’t want to be THAT helpless so I told him not to worry - that I could (and probably should) make something on my own.

I went to get started on my chips and guacamole only to see that our guacamole well had run dry.  One cannot live on tuna and tortilla chips alone - not even for a single meal.  I went to the pantry and saw a box of mac-and-cheese (that was probably getting close to expiration).  Even if I had given up on pasta, I had not given up on mac-and-cheese because, well, it’s cheese (kind of).

I have learned that cans of tuna pair well with mac-and-cheese and therefore this would be what I made for dinner.  That said, things got rough from the moment I opened the packet of cheese and/or cheese related substance.  The yellow fluff powder busted all over the counter.  I scooped up what I could to salvage it.

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Once, I got the mac all nice and bubbling in the boiling pot, I read the directions further and realized we didn’t have the milk that the recipe called for.  This wasn’t too much of a problem as we had plenty of non-fat greek yogurt in the fridge.  Dairy is dairy and you just need it to make the “cheese” creamy, right?  It would have to do.

Then, when I reached in the pantry to get the tuna I discovered that, like our guacamole, we didn’t have it.  I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t just eat carbohydrates for dinner.  What was I?  Human?

The good news was that we had some chicken breast in the fridge.  The bad news was that it was raw.  It had been so long since I grilled chicken breast that I forgot how to do it.  Never mind.  I didn’t have time to worry about it.  I already started boiling the noodles.  I needed to catch my meat up to speed.

I lit up the grill and threw the chicken breast on.  It occurred to me that incredibly flavorless chicken breast would only make my meal more blah.  I had to figure out a way to bring more flavor back into this.  

When scanning through our fridge, I saw some leftover artichokes from when Luke made something else amazing.  This was perfect!  I have eaten so many cheesy artichoke dips in my time.  Therefore artichokes in mac-and-cheese would obviously work here.  

The noodles finished boiling right as the chicken needed to be flipped.  I got the grill duties done and began adding the cheese essence to the mac.  The yoghurt blended right in and made it nice and creamy.  But I wasn’t going to eat the entire thing and needed to split it in half.

Here’s where I’m going to have to admit something weird again.  I can’t just eyeball the amount of food I eat.  I have a minor obsession with actually weighing it out on a digital food scale.  When Luke cooks our meals, he often just has me dish up my own plate so that I can weigh it first. (now that I am writing this out loud, I’m understanding just how strange this sounds).

So, while the chicken finished cooking, I busted out the scale and began dividing up the mac-and-cheese between bowls.  As I did this, I kept dropping mac-and-cheese all over my phone sitting on the counter.  This was becoming a mess.  

Once the chicken looked nice and done, I yanked it off the grill and got it on the plate to dice up.  However, when I sliced into it, it was still raw in the middle.  I had to throw it back on the grill and wait even longer.

Meanwhile, the “cheese” was starting to dry up which instantly turns mac-and-cheese gross.  I didn’t understand it.  Why was my meal attacking me?!  I threw in some more yoghurt to regain that creamy texture.  

By the time the chicken had cooked, this meal had taken 45 minutes to prepare.  When I sat down to take my first bite, it became clear that the artichokes did not belong here, nor did the yoghurt.  The best way I could describe it is that it tasted like someone’s awkward conversation.  

It wanted it to be good, but it just couldn’t get there.  But, of course, I didn’t want to give up on eating it.  I had worked so hard on the damn thing and I hate wasting food.  There are starving children in Africa who don’t have mangled mac-and-cheese.

What I did give up on was wearing a shirt.  With it being summer and having just slaved over the stove and grill (and not having air-conditioning), the hot meal didn’t feel very refreshing.  I just hoped our AirBnB guests wouldn’t walk in to see me shirtless - sweating over a bowl of some yellow substance.   

By the time I finished it, I felt so full and gross, that I immediately went to our bathroom to get naked and floss my teeth.  Wait… let me clarify this.  I have rather large teeth that probably held 60% of the chicken I cooked.  I can’t stand it when I get food stuck in there.  And I had to get naked while flossing because I was still overheated.

This photo was not from the “Mac Massacre,” but of another night I attempted to cook. This mess was about half of my mac and cheese attempt.

This photo was not from the “Mac Massacre,” but of another night I attempted to cook. This mess was about half of my mac and cheese attempt.

When I cooled off enough to put my shorts back on, I went back into the kitchen to see crap all over the counters and a giant pile of dishes in the sink that I now had to clean.  Oh, and also I had still left the stove on.

In the end, I didn’t die of salmonella and I didn’t burn the house down.  But the whole disaster took up so much of my evening that I didn’t even get to write.  It made me appreciate what Luke does for me on a whole new level.

When Luke cooks for me every night, I thank him for doing so.  But the problem was that I had been thanking him for something I had gotten WAY too accustomed to.  When we say things like “thank you” and “I’m sorry” over and over again, the words can become a bit meaningless.

I realized in that moment that my thank you’s had become more of a courtesy rather than actual appreciation.  Luke deserves WAY more credit than that.  Now, when dinner is served, I try to find ways to be more intentional about my thank you’s.  

I thank him before I even take my first bite and take a second to remember how much I appreciate this meal I didn’t have to cook.  Once we finish eating, I thank him again - somehow trying to make it sound less redundant.  Instead of going right back to working, I find what little things I can do to help him clean up first.

Also, when you go too long without doing something for yourself, you will forget how to do it.  I am sure it’s like riding a bicycle.  But I don’t even have time to ride bicycles these days.  As a result, until this whole writing adventure finds a more stable place, I’ll have to continue to rely on him for his help.

When Luke got home, he asked how my evening was.  I told him that I had a bit of a kitchen nightmare.  A few days later, he’d look in the fridge and had seen the leftovers in the Tupperware.  Between the gross artichoke slop and my more deliberate gratitude, he knew that his help did in fact have a huge impact on my life.

 

Edited by Glen Trupp

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