Cook away your fears – macaroni and cheese edition

Mia is making the jump to sixth grade this year, and last night her new school held a potluck picnic at a nearby park so the new kids and parents could meet the crew, buy some used uniforms, and fill out the requisite paperwork.

Yes, you read that right: potluck.

I used to work in a kitchen, but that was years ago. I was younger, and foolish. Doing things that I didn’t really know how to do did not intimidate me. Most of my experience was behind the line at a restaurant, which is very much like working an assembly line in a factory, or heating up gruel for roughnecks in the Gulf. Since then my culinary ambition has not extended beyond scrambling some eggs or slapping some lunch meat on bread. If I ever had any skills in the kitchen, they are long gone.

Now there is only fear.

A typical cupboard in my "kitchen." The plastic pumpkin is the closest thing to anything food-related you will find in there.

My kitchen has a microwave oven, which is where all the action happens. Everything else is storage space.

My counter. None of your fruitbasket fripperies here. Behind the bottles are some volumes of witchcraft. I stay away from that shit.

I’ve been meaning to change this for a long time. Since, oh, Mia was born. She’s eleven now, so I think it’s time to start. I was going to bring something to the potluck, and it wouldn’t be bean dip. My friend A gave me a recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese, which she assured me would be easy.

“Don’t be intimidated by the roux,” she said.

Roux? That’s some old-school New Orleans shit. Real cooks fuck with roux. I was starting to get scared. But I went to the store to get the ingredients anyway. I was going to push through this. There were going to be a lot of people very happy to judge me at the picnic. I was determined to blow their minds with my mac and cheese.

I went to the tv dinner store. Apparently they sell other things too.

I had to buy basics, like flour, and salt and pepper. I thought food already came with all that stuff included. What the hell?

Get some flour, the recipe said. Look at this ridiculous selection. The rational mind breaks down. Mia in the foreground: "Daddy, I'm frightened." Me too, kiddo. Me too.

We went home, laden with foodstuffs, and I set to work. Mia patted me on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Dad, you’re actually going to finally cook something after talking about it my whole life!” Then she retreated to her room, well out of the blast zone.

In the thick of it. The laptop is there because it has the recipe onscreen and also because life is a pointless abyss if I'm not plugged in.

The recipe told me it would take me ten minutes to prepare. It took me more like twenty-five, and things did not go according to plan all the time, but it got done. The resulting batch was enough to feed two hungry people. Not enough — at all — for a potluck.

I would have included a picture of the finished product, but we ate it before I remembered to. It pretty much looked like macaroni and cheese.

So we made an emergency call to my mother and she promised to make her tater tot hotdish the next day. She did, there was plenty of it, and people devoured it. A culinary success.

I am, however, heartened by my first real kitchen experiment. I made a roux. I used pots. There was some flour involved in there somewhere. The end result both looked and tasted like macaroni and cheese. This first minor success has encouraged me to try cooking more often.

Fire, knives, and Tabasco sauce … what could possibly go wrong?

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