Thinking Outside the Boxes

I got home from work to find that she had been opening boxes. Pretty much every flat surface was covered with the contents of two kitchens about to merge.  It looked like a bit of a garage sale. I cleared the coffee table and, one category at a time, we brought all its items there and sat down to consider them. Small appliances. Mugs. Glasses. Saucepans. Skillets. Bakeware. Serving pieces. Utensils. (Dinnerware and flatware were skipped: we had already agreed which set of the former to keep; the latter had been inadvertently put in storage.) Nearly every decision was easy; there were no turf wars over paring knives, no heated debates about measuring cups. It’s a little easier because we have some extra storage space in the garage. A waffle iron can wait there, along with some Corningware and another pair of cookie sheets. If we don’t miss them by Thanksgiving, they’ll be available to fit under someone else’s Christmas tree.

But the day stretched on, as moving-days do, and we hadn’t thought much about dinner.  “Can we have boxed macaroni and cheese?” she asked mournfully.

We’ve known each other long enough for me to recognize that as international code for “I need comfort food and I need it now, or at least in about 8 minutes.” We keep a few boxes around for such emergencies–and they’re currently very easy to find, since all the kitchen cupboard doors have been removed for refinishing. I took one off its shelf and set a pot of water to boil. 

While she sorted wooden spoons and spatulas for comparison, I started making extras. I know better than to suggest mixing anything into boxed macaroni and cheese, but there are no such prohibitions against preparing bits and pieces that can go alongside. (Good thing, because unless there are other flavors nearby, I find more than a few bites of mac-and-cheese–even made from scratch–to be overkill.)

I browned a hunk of ground beef (a little less than a quarter pound), removed it, and in its drippings sautéed a small head of swiss chard and the kernels stripped from the ear of corn that had been slept through on Friday; finally, with a little olive oil, a chopped tomato was more heated than cooked. All were combined in a serving bowl and tossed with a little Worcestershire sauce, salt and fresh pepper.

By this point–the utensil decisions having been made–she prepared the deck for dinner, and returned to the kitchen to find a colander of draining macaroni, and a pot in which I had melted butter, heated milk, and was augmenting the cheese powder with a little cheddar and monterey jack. (Full disclosure: I was tempted to ignore the powder completely, but I am just wise enough not to completely mess with comfort food.) When the cheese melted and the sauce came together, the macaroni was stirred in, and served in shallow bowls–mac and cheese on one side, extras on the other.

“If you make it this way, you can make all the macaroni and cheese,” she said. Knowing I hadn’t ruined one of her favorites: well, that’s a comfort.

Outside the Box

2 responses to “Thinking Outside the Boxes

  1. Pingback: OK, Eat | Dinner at the Country House

  2. Pingback: 180 | Dinner at the Country House

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