Life is fragile, unpredictable, precious, a gift. Instinctively we know this, but in our day-to-day existence, we tend to forget. Fortunately, there are reminders: birth, death, illness, celebration, and other life milestones.
A few days ago, for my family, it was a near tragedy that turned the light bulb back on. A few days ago, my daughter’s dog was hit by a car. It happened so quickly–a split second decision to take off his leash before he was fully in the house. Something out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and this rambunctious puppy was out the door and in the street in no time. He survived, albeit bruised and bleeding. This poor creature, abused as a puppy and shuttled from shelter to shelter until, miraculously, the universe saw fit to bring him to us, has once again had to prove his mettle. But he is strong and he is loved–more than he ever could have imagined–and he will survive.
So now we transition to recovery mode. Our maternal instincts will kick into overdrive and we will nurse this pup back to health until he is good as new. But for my daughter, who has learned a powerful lesson on love and loyalty, and for the rest of us, for whom those few seconds of sickening fear will forever remain frozen in time, life, in all its imperfection, has become dearer.
To celebrate life and to just plain help us all to feel better, here is an updated spin on the ultimate comfort food, courtesy of Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, aka The Fabulous Beekman Boys. Their book, The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, is all about embracing cherished moments with family and friends through food. I have taken some liberties with their “Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale” to suit my family’s personal tastes. Plain, sophisticated, out of a box (though not my personal preference), it really does not matter — as long as you enjoy with those you love most.
Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook)
This rustic version of the tried-and-true classic includes heart-healthy greens, robust mushrooms, and a hint of earthiness from the thyme and paprika. I added some smokiness by including about a cup of smoked gouda cheese.
3/4 lb. kale or other green leafy vegetable
8 oz. elbow macaroni
3 T. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. cremini or other mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 t. dried thyme
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. low sodium chicken stock
2 c. milk
1-1/2 t. paprika
1 t. salt
1-1/2 c. sharp cheddar, shredded
1 c. smoked gouda, shredded
2 T. butter
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the kale in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Remove the kale, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again, squeeze to remove excess water, roughly chop and set aside. Meanwhile, add macaroni to same pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Drain.
In a dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute until aromatic. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes until the mushrooms wilt and begin to release their juices. Stir in the flour and cook until well blended with mushroom mixture. Add about half of the stock (more as needed) and continue cooking for another minute. Add remaining stock, milk, paprika and salt and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the macaroni and kale and toss to coat.
Transfer mixture to a glass 9 x 13 dish or individual ramekins.
In a small skillet, melt the butter and add panko, stirring until bread crumbs are fully coated. Sprinkle over top of the mac and cheese and bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown.
Set aside a cheesy elbow or two for your pet!