Me and Marie - just like old times!I celebrated this past New Year's Eve with one of my best friends from middle school, Marie Quindara. She and I along with our other friend, Linae formed an inseparable band of three giggly, tweenage Catholic school girls. We shared a delight for boys, New Kids On the Block (Marie wanted Danny, Linae picked Joey and I longed for John), Debbie Gibson (Tiffany was too slutty) and spending hours on the phone on three way calls (remember when you pretended to get off the phone but continued to listen in while your friend tried to entrap the third party in saying bad things about you?). Kids today may have texting, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. but sadly they will never get to experience the highs and lows of conference calling.
Madonna circa 1986When I was eleven years old, my parents yanked me out of public school and enrolled me into a Catholic school, even though we were devout Hindus. This all went down after my mother caught me leaving for school dressed like Madonna and completely freaked out. She was convinced that I was surely doomed and it was only a matter of time before I joined the "gangsters" and did "the drugs". She figured a school where nuns enforced a strict uniform policy would help shake the heathen out of me. So there you have it, I went from singing "Like a Virgin" to praying to the The Virgin Mary.
As you can imagine, it was very confusing for someone raised as a Hindu to go to a Catholic school. I wanted to fit in with my friends at school so I attended mass, sang in the church choir and learned to pray the rosary. Then I went home and not wanting to disappoint my family, I participated in traditional Hindu rituals. I couldn't figure out if I was Catholic or Hindu and it was like I lived this double life but Marie and Linae became my constants and being with them and having our friendship made me feel normal.
I had not seen Marie since shortly after graduating high school which was about 15 years ago. She was visiting Chicago with a friend and it was so nice to catch up with her. Marie reminisced about our old teachers, the crushes we had on the boys in our class and how our life was ruined the day Alyssa Milano's doppelganger, the very attractive Nina Ngo stepped foot into our classroom. I brought up ice cream Fridays, the bake sales, her father's amazing pancakes, her mother's pancit and lumpia and the time I tried to renounce my Hindu faith so I could eat a beef hot dog.
Yes, you read that last part correctly. My family did not eat pork or beef which meant Big Macs, bacon and pepperoni pizza were forbidden. My parents did their best to make sure we did not feel deprived. Instead of hamburgers we ate Filet O' Fish sandwiches or my dad grilled lamb burgers and in place of meatballs, spaghetti was served with Prego and cut up turkey dogs. As a child I would have to scan ingredient labels for foods that I wanted to eat to make sure there were no beef or pork products in them. As a result, I now have a black belt in reading nutrition labels. It was a devastating blow to me the day I learned my favorite instant ramen flavor contained pork. One time, my mother accidentally purchased beef hot dogs instead of turkey dogs and she made me give them away to our neighbor. Can you imagine opening your front door only to be greeted by a young Indian girl with sad eyes and pig tails offering you a free package of hot dogs?
But back to how a hot dog made me want to renounce my faith. The hot lunch at school that day was hot dogs but I wouldn't be able eat one because surely they would be made made from beef. But, if I were to become a full fledged Catholic there would be no issue and I would also be able to eat other things on the forbidden list - spaghetti with an actual meat sauce, here I come! I passed Marie a note in class, alerting her to my plans. She wrote me back and told me I was crazy and how could I think about hot dogs at time when our classmate Andre was looking so hot. I can't remember if I ate the hot dog or not but hearing this story again only reminds me it's really no surprise that I ended up with a career focused around eating and drinking.
In closing, I would like to leave you with this recipe for Macaroni and Cheese. Mac & Cheese has a very special place in my heart and I ate a lot of it while growing up. It was one of the very few foods that we did not have to adjust which in turn made me feel normal. I could have it and feel just like any other kid.
After making other versions that would come out grainy, oily or dried out and gloopy, I consulted a couple of chefs and one suggested this stove top method which produces the creamiest mac and cheese I've ever had. I was also advised to use a processed cheese product as this will keep the mixture nice and creamy. I'm not a fan of processed cheese but it really works in this recipe and you only need a little bit. I like the dish plain but you could certainly add bacon or green onions or whatever heart desires.
You could pair this with a nice fruity red wine such as a Barbera, Pinot Noir or even Zinfandel but beer is your best bet. Beer does a much better job of rounding out the creaminess of the cheese where sometimes the acidity in wine can work against it. I would recommend something fairly rich, nutty and slightly bitter like Rogue Dead Guy Ale or Two Brothers Cain and Ebel.
Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
2 large eggs
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
hot pepper sauce (to taste)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard (dissolved in 1 teaspoon water)
1/2 lb macaroni or pasta shape of your choice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups grated cheese of your choice (sharp or mild cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc.)
1 cup grated American Cheese
Mix the eggs, 1 cup evaporated milk, pepper sauce, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and mustard mixture in a small bowl and set aside. Bring two quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add remaining salt and macaroni; cook until almost tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to pan over low heat. Add butter and toss to melt. Pour egg mixture over buttered noodles along with three quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining milk and cheese; stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about five minutes.