Eating. macaroni and cheese.
Last night I was so tired when I came home from work that I just had to make something comforting, something so easy I could do it practically with my eyes closed. What else could I make, then, but macaroni and cheese? Soft little curls of macaroni, covered in a creamy sauce, the crunch of chopped onion, a layer of cheddar, the whole thing molten and lush and comforting. The cheese was pre-grated (because I am lazy), there was already a bowl of diced onion in the fridge (left over from a previous cooking experiment), and it took hardly any effort at all to boil some noodles and whisk together a bechamel sauce, stir in the cheese, toss everything together, pour it all into a dish, and bake it until the sauce bubbled and the cheese on top formed a golden crust. The whole process (including baking time) took less than forty-five minutes.
Growing up my only experience with macaroni and cheese came from the school cafeteria. It conjures up memories of fake cheese, tasteless bread crumbs, soggy noodles. It was never something I cooked at home, until college when occasionally we would make the boxed kind, packets of vile orange powder, to which you added milk, and scrawny little tubes of pasta which you boiled and tossed with the ersatz cheese sauce. Butter and whole milk (instead of margarine and low-fat milk) helped a little, but could not disguise the fact that it all tasted like chemicals masquerading as cheese.
Real homemade macaroni and cheese is something else entirely. I've tried different recipes, some using evaporated milk, which I felt tasted slightly metallic from the canned milk, some made with cheddar and monterey jack, which I thought was bland, and finally, milk and a combination of medium and sharp cheddar. Sometimes I buy expensive aged cheddar and grate it myself (a bore), but usually I get lazy and buy pre-grated (but still good-quality) cheddar in a bag. The recipe I use calls for chopped onion, which adds flavor and crunch, and if I'm in the mood I add cubes of good ham, smoky, salty, chewy and slightly sweet, the perfect contrast to the macaroni. This is what I eat when I am home alone, when I want something soothing and simple, the creamy sauce melding with the noodles, a sprinkling of cheese, topped with the crunch of homemade bread crumbs made from good bread blitzed in the food processor.
Having had the forethought to make enough macaroni and cheese for two dinners last night, tonight I only had to put the leftovers in a little oven-proof dish and bake it until everything was hot and bubbling and the cheese had crisped around the edges. Fifteen minutes or so and dinner was ready. Delicious. Happiness on a plate. Heaven at the end of a very long day.