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10 June 2010

the first meal I ever cooked

mise en place for mac and cheese

I'm pretty sure it was 1974. The year we watched the Watergate trials on television all summer long, in the cool dark den on the shag carpeting. The year that the Vietnam war had been declared over but still appeared on the television between Watergate and the Brady Bunch. The year of third grade, when my teacher was this embittered old woman who forced herself to smile at us through her false teeth. One day, she beat one of my classmates with a ruler, beat him on top of his hands and on the sides of his head, because he didn't read the worksheet very well that day. He had only moved from Mexico a few months before. I stood at the back of the classroom with my hands opening and closing into fists. I didn't do anything, but I told my parents. It was the year of striped pants, a banana seat on my bicycle, the Sunshine Family pottery store, barbecued steaks and lemonade, and wet t-shirt nights during the summer when we soaked our t-shirts and lay on mattresses on our parents' bedroom floor to huddle into the fan against the heat. It was the year I turned 8.

Then again, memory being the fickle friend it is, it could have been 1972. Or 1976. I really have no certainty here.

Our kitchen was outfitted with avocado-green counters and an orange sink. (Or was it the other way around? Or was it yellow?) There was a little breakfast nook, surrounded by walls my mother had papered with an intricate contact paper design of spindly, angular houses side by side. It wasn't until we were in the back of a neon-green Rabbit going down Lombard Street with our cousins that I realized I had been looking at row houses in San Francisco as I ate my Eggos every morning. There was a chugging-along dishwasher, an electric plug-in griddle on which we made pancakes most Sundays, a drawer full of candy bars and junk food, and not enough space for all four of us to fit at once.

Later, when I was an awkward teenager, I'd stand at that sink and look out the window at the avocado tree in our backyard, dreaming of boys who made me sigh and wishing they'd notice me. But in 1974 (or 72 or 76), I wasn't thinking of boys. I was thinking about macaroni and cheese.

I made a disastrous breakfast for my parents, which I believe happened before this mac and cheese. (However, looking back at that post I wrote in 2006, I said I knew how to make mac and cheese before this. See what I mean about memory?) My mother taught me early to sauté the ground beef if we were eating chili or tacos. I was allowed to fetch the sugar and flour from the baking cupboards when my mom set out to bake. But I don't remember another meal I made from scratch before this one.

I remember feeling excited, my knees trembling a bit as I stood on the chair. Slowly, I unwrapped every slice of American cheese of its plastic, then folded it into quarters, and made a stack of cheese squares. With great diligence — and a few scraped knuckles — I grated the cheddar on the tall box grater that had been in the drawer. While the pasta cooked in boiling water, I poured out the milk, unwrapped the margarine from its shiny gold foil wrapper, and waited.

(When I told Danny about this ritual, he loved it. He also laughed. "Hey, at least you were setting up a mise en place. It's taken you years to remember that now.")

I waited to make dinner for my family.

cheese sauce

Cheese sauce. Really, it was all about the cheese sauce. The pasta was elbow macaroni — were there other shapes available back then? Plain and functional and entirely necessary. But really, in the end, not that interesting.

It was the sauce, the gooppy sauce that tasted of cheddar and salt and milk, the sauce that thickened from the plastic substance that made up American cheese (you know that it's technically a cheese-style product, right?), and surrounding every small piece of elbow macaroni with the kind of whole-hearted embrace that I later hoped for from those junior high boys.

Did you ever pick up a single piece of elbow macaroni and suck out the cheese sauce? I did. I sure liked that.

I still love cheese.

(Just not American cheese. When we were re-creating this sense memory for our meal on Thursday, I tried to convince Danny to let us buy American cheese. No way. He is forever scarred by the experience of eating a piece of cheesecake when he was 12, an expensive piece of cheesecake in an historic hotel in Colorado, a piece of cheesecake paid for by his friend's mother, a piece of cheesecake that tasted as though it had been made of American cheese. No way, he said. I just can't do it.)

mac and cheese

I don't remember all the details, but I do remember my mother talking me through the process from the kitchen nook. I remember the magic feeling of watching the margarine melt into a lurid-yellow pool, the milk skimming its surface, and the sauce starting to thicken the more cheese I added. It was magic. I started with a bunch of ingredients on a paper towel. By standing in front of the stove, attentive and excited, I ended up with a casserole dish full of cheesy pasta nestled against each other, waiting for our forks.

I have rarely been so proud in my life as I was the night my family first ate my macaroni and cheese.

Lu helped to make mac and cheese

And now, as my daughter stands at the counter beside me (a counter free of avocado-green, unless we are slicing up another one and sprinkling it with salt), I laugh as she reaches for the gluten-free pasta. "Noodles!" she says, remembering her love for this food as well as the guy on Sesame Street, who always makes her smile.

I wonder all the time: what will be the memories of these years of her life? What will she be like when she is 8? And what will be the first meal she makes on her own, with Danny and I offering advice if she wants, but standing back and letting her make her own mistakes?

I know that when I eat that dish, whatever it is, whenever it is offered, I will think of my mother and thank her again. There's nothing having your own child to make you fully appreciate the parents you had.

Thank you, Mom.

* * *

This post was inspired by a conversation on Twitter late last week. Interested, I asked: "What was the first food you cooked when you were a kid? How did it make you feel?"

I've been thinking lately about cooking, and how some people don't cook at all, and how sad that makes me because it can be such a joy. There are so many reasons for the lack of cooking from scratch in some households. So many reasons. But I've seen that some people are intimidated by the process, think their food should be like the stuff in magazines, and so they don't begin.

I love fresh ingredients, produce from the farm stand down the street from us, deeply flavored cuts of meat we buy at the farmers' market, and everything in season. But since Lu was born, I've been softening some on what I now think of as my rigid insistence on the "right" food. Now that she's an active toddler who never stops moving, I can see the allure of the microwave and a packaged dinner. We still cook, though. I think cooking from scratch is not just about the food. We're cooking to create memories together.

If only we all cooked with as much attention and excitement as we felt the first time we cooked, we would never stop.

So I asked that question and was deluged with responses. People's answers were so rich with detail and exuberance that I could feel their faces smiling through the screen. I encouraged everyone to write a post by today, a piece about the first foods they ever cooked.

If you can, set aside some time tonight or tomorrow morning, and read. People, you are so generous and open-hearted here. I loved reading every single post.

And I'll be adding more as the week goes on, so if you feel inclined to write, let me know.

For extra credit points (because I gave you an assignment, after all), make the recipe written by someone else here and let us know how it worked out for you.

Custard French Toast with Macerated Strawberries from A Cozy Kitchen

Lasagna from Gluten-Free Maui

Lemon Pudding Cake from Parsnip + Pistachios

Scrambled Eggs from Danatopia

Tapioca Pudding from Cook It Allergy Free

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Celiac Teen

Apple Cake from Marta Fuertes Boto

Cream Puffs from Fran at Food News Journal

Eggplant Parmesan from Shelly at Food News Journal

Buttermilk Pancakes from Fresh Start

French Toast from Goodness and Goodies

Eclairs at A Baking Life

Snickerdoodles from Eat the Love

Guacamole from Hipster in My Latte

Southern-Style Chocolate Meringue Pie

Biscuit Pizzas from Real Housewife of Sheboygan County

Strawberry Cream Sherbet from Hitchhiking to Heaven

Scrambled Eggs and Steamed Rice from Island Dreaming In Oklahoma

Instant Top Ramen from Going for Seconds

Pie from Starving Off the Land

Roasted Chicken Salad from In Jennie's Kitchen

Omelets from Omnivorous Child

Dump Cake from My Mema's Way

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chronicles of a Canadian Twenty Something

Coffee Chiffon Cake from The Cookbook Chronicles

Chocolate Chip Cookes from Eating Nearly Everything

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches from Kiku Girl

English Muffin Pizzas

Vegetarian Dishes from A Family's Life

Red Sauce and Meatballs from Creative Cooking Gluten-Free

Mouthwash Cake from Heather in SF

Jamaican Beef Patties from The Sophisticated Gourmet

Eggs Scrambled with Tomatoes from Eat More Cake

Raspberry Pie from Whispered

Easy Bake Brownies at Loaves and Wishes

French Toast from Gluten-Free Cat

Chicken and Dumplings from Feeding Maybelle

Chocolate Chip Slab Cookies from Backseat Gourmet

Stack-ups from Notes from the Home Plates

Easy Bake Oven Gingerbread Cookies from Kat's Food Blog

final mac and cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

You know, there's a recipe for macaroni and cheese in my first book. It's Danny's, and it's delicious. It has a gluten-free roux to make a white sauce, and Manchego and Gruyere (I think) and gluten-free breadcrumbs on top. It's refined and so lovely.

But sometimes, you just want food to taste the way it did when you were a kid. Last week, we made this mac and cheese, all cheesy goodness and no fancy techniques, and we all ate happily together.

12 ounces gluten-free pasta (we used this Bionaturae rigatoni)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
mound of grated cheddar cheese (a little more than a cup for us)
mound of grated gouda cheese (a little more than a cup for us)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to rapid boil. Throw in the pasta, along with a glug of olive oil. Cook until the pasta has a slight bite to it. (Gluten-free pasta needs to come out of the water with a little bit of crunch. Cook until it is soft and you will have mush.) Trust your taste instead of the timing on the package. They are usually off. Drain in a colander, toss with a little bit of oil, and set aside.

In the same pot, melt the butter. Add the milk and swirl them together. When you have one bubbly liquid, add handfuls of the cheese and stir. Add more handfuls of the cheese and stir until all the cheese has been melted fully.

I found that using the Gouda instead of the American cheese I used as a kid meant this sauce didn't thicken the way I expected. You could use less milk, or you could do what we did. Make a little slurry with the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir it well, then add a bit into the cheese sauce and stir. The sauce will thicken immediately (you may not need all the slurry).

Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pour in the pasta. Stir.

You can easily eat the mac and cheese right here. Or, if you want, you can brown it in a 400° oven while you make some broccoli and salad for dinner.

Feeds 6.


At 1:07 AM, Blogger Bethany Fegles Photography said...

This post totally made me think of watching the tv show "The Wonder Years" as a kid growing up. I always dreamed of growing up in the 60's or 70's after watching that show. lol :)

Your macaroni and cheese looks incredible! I couldn't find a recipe for it in your recipe list. Is it somewhere on your website?

Our family loves your blog! Thanks so much for sharing!
:) Bethany

At 4:23 AM, Blogger ccr in MA said...

I'm not sure how old I was when my brother and I tried to make a birthday cake for Mom. We didn't understand what separating the eggs meant, so we just added them and moved on.

That was one flat cake.

At 5:13 AM, Blogger GFree_Miel said...

This is such a nice post. The description of your childhood kitchen makes me imagine what it could have looked like.

I'm one of those sad people who doesn't really cook. When I was a kid, if I was in the kitchen, I was in the way. Your posts always make me want to cook though because it's so clear how much you love it and how happy it makes you.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger maybelle's mom said...

I do think sucking the cheese out of the straws was the best.

when i read your tweet i asked my daughter who is three what was the first dish she made all by herself. She told me she has been making pancakes "for years" but its a secret.

And, I am afraid that you did miss my post about chicken and dumplings.

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous i-geek said...

Oh, I can't remember. I don't think it was until the summer after college graduation. I didn't have a job until August, so I spent the rest of the summer learning how to cook (Mom had taught me how to bake quite well, but had been content to do the cooking herself). I found a cookbook of soups and started with several of those. Then I moved on to the chicken cacciatore recipe in the Martha Stewart Living cookbook. 'Twas a big hit with my parents.

I love mac-and-cheese. My mom has always made it from scratch with a bechamel sauce as the base and lots of real cheddar, both in the sauce and on the top of the casserole so that the baked dish would have a nice crunchy layer of browned cheese. I've made it several times for my husband in my own kitchen and was quite sad to think that I might not be able to have it again when I went GF after Christmas 2009, especially since by that point my gut was damaged so that I couldn't eat any dairy. A few months of healing later, we found out that Ancient Harvest elbow pasta works beautifully, as do brown rice flour and lactose-free milk for making the bechamel. We couldn't tell that the finished dish was GF, it just tasted good.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Kim Maes said...

Shauna, your post evoked such a nostalgic sentimentality in me. What a beautiful memory of that time in 1974 (or 72 or 76). It brought me right to those mustard yellow appliances and linoleum floors in our own kitchen during the 70's.
This has been so much fun. I am not sure if my hormones are going crazy, or what, but all of these posts have made me feel emotional. In fact, jenny from Creative Cooking: Gluten Free brought me to tears as I remembered my grandma's chicken soup that she would make special just for me (it was my favorite meal). And when she knew she was sick and not going to be around much longer, she, unbeknownst to me, made huge batches of the soup and froze it. She only told my mom that she was doing this for me-she did not tell me. So when she passed away, I had the most wonderful gift I have ever received waiting for me. A freezer stocked full of her love. I cannot tell you how long I made that soup last-I was afraid to eat it for fear of losing that connection with her. And when we warmed that very last jar, we cried.
Thank you for helping to bring back memories that are so easily forgotten as we rush through our days. This was a wonderful way to slow down and reminisce about such moments that were hidden but not forgotten.

At 8:12 AM, Anonymous springazure said...

Shauna, your daughter will have happy memories even if all you do is stick a frozen pizza in the microwave together and let her push the button!

Growing up I cooked alongside my mother, who was a farm girl and didn't know how not to cook from scratch. My brothers and I longed, longed for store-bought bread, macaroni and cheese from a box, frozen waffles. WE had to eat the home-made kind. It was SO humiliating at the school lunch table to pull out our sandwiches made with crusty bread fresh from the oven....A rare treat was having a burger at the local diner after church!

At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Amanda said...

So our mac and cheese came from a blue box. I think that is why I never liked mac and cheese. I'll have to try an "adult" version I guess.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Bianca said...

The first thing I ever made was spaghetti and meat sauce; and the look on my mothers face was one of absolute shock and awe, as she NEVER cooked. She says the cooking bug skips a generation. Spaghetti is still my favorite meal to eat and make!

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jenn Sutherland said...

I must've missed this conversation in the twitter stream, but I'm so glad to continue the conversation here! My first "from scratch" cooking memory is of making my Dad's birthday cake - his favorite pineapple upside-down cake - with the pineapple rings and maraschino cherries from the well-loved Betty Crocker cookbook for kids. It was a little burnt in places, but I've never been so proud as that first cake, and seeing my dad smile in delight as he ate it.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Eat the Love said...

Your post was SO amazing. Every post on the list (and I'm trying to make it through all of them) has been so great. The power that food has over evoking memories is so wonderful and poignant. I know whenever I eat snickerdoodles, I get sent back in time...

Thanks for triggering this thread. Yay! And coincidentally, I had mac and cheese last night....

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Shelley said...

I it was yesterday. I was about 13, 1974 approximately. My mom was a single parent to my younger sister and I and we were so poor. My mom was a waitress at Sambo's Restaurant! We were going to go visit my grandparents and I wanted to make something for my grandfather. He loved cinnamon rolls so that is what I tried. Mom was at work and it was just my little sister and I trying to make these things all by ourselves. There was my first mistake. We measured it all so carefully, did the yeast, they actually rose! Then came the moment to try them, they looked so good but something had gone so wrong. They were so salty you couldn't eat them! I was devastated. I figured somehow we had made a mistake in the measuring. We threw them out and made a second batch measuring every last ingredient so careful. It happened again! My mom didn't cook with us really and so I didn't know or have that gut feeling yet about if a recipe was wrong. So now, I am standing in the kitchen crying because I know my mom is going to be mad because of all the stuff that I have wasted and how we struggled to get anything! Crying, tears running down my cheeks, trying to read the recipe through tears, I make a third batch and decide to change the salt amount and finally the third batch came out. My mom came home and I told her how hard I had tried to do it right. She didn't get mad. I don't remember if my grandfather liked them or not. Silly, the things we remember.

Thanks for that. Haven't remembered that in a really long time!

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure I made regular pasta with a jar of our own jarred sauce beforehand, but the first dinner entree I remember making was a riff on coq au vin with white wine, a splash of brandy and the tiniest whiff of cloves, baked in the oven with carrots and onions (the recipe called for pearl, but I always used regular yellow onions in slices). I remember giving my cousin's then fiancee a copy of the recipe, I must have been 11? 12?

Love your memories.

One of my favorite food memories was jarring the year's tomato sauce (usually the last weekend in August.) We would buy two bushels of ripe plum tomatoes, use our own basil from the garden, onions, garlic and lots of olive oil. Every pan we had in the house (and borrowed ones) would be set simmering on every burner (we had two stove tops). Then we would pass it all through a mouli, jar it up. (And if you were me, you would sneak spoonfuls of sauce for the purpose of "tasting it for salt!" all along).

- Christine

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Lori said...

Your post was great! In fact they were all great!

This was loads of fun to participate in!

Can we do something like this again?

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen said...

There's seriously nothing better than the feeling of being nostalgic. Steve Martin coined the term "nostalgic about the present", which I think is what you're feeling when you see your daughter cook. How amazing it is to be apart of a memory you know one day someone (including you) will look back on. There's nothing better. Beautiful idea for a post! Happy to be apart of it.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Swiss said...

Love this post and the reponses and hope to read as many of the blogs as I can.

I was laughing at the one who said they wanted store bought food- my daughter was like that too, she and a friend stole a box of macaroni and cheese from Thriftway.
They had to go and admit it to the manager so I am sure she will never forget- she is almost 40 and is just now getting into cooking but you know I do not rememeber the first thing she cooked-waaa I will have to ask her. My son worked at a Chinese place so I am sure his was stir fry.

My mom was Queen of her kitchen so we didn't do much but caught on by watching. She did let me make muffins from scratch when I learned that in Home Ec. When I was on my own I was thrilled to cook for her and Dad. My Dad was from California and loved Chili Rellonos so I made them for him- even a few batches I froze for Chritmas- you know what I got from all this? The love of cooking, yes, but mostly the love of cooking for someone else and having them really love it.

Thanks for this wonderful idea, it sure made me smile.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Karen said...

When I was nine or 10, my mom would let me open up a can and put it in a pot, to warm over a gas burner. And I would say, "Look! I'm cooking!"

It was almost always a can of Franco-American noodles in cheese sauce, which looked like fat white worms in liquid plastic.

It's really amazing that some of us ever made it to adulthood.

When I was 11 or so, I received the Winnie-the-Pooh cookbook, which had a recipe for Cottlestone Pie. It instructed me in how to make the crust, and told me to fill the crust with river stones while it baked. It then told me to pour in the filling, but it never told me I was supposed to take the stones out, and even my mother (no great cook, as you may have already surmised) didn't understand the recipe. So we never made it.

I honestly can't remember the first thing I ever cooked. I remember the canned macaroni, and learning to fry eggs, and at some point I think I made pancakes on my own. After that, it's all a blur....!

At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it! My first meal cooked was macaroni and cheese, but we ate the fancy boxed kind made by Kraft. Although I truly love nutritious, organic, skillfully grown and cooked foods, I still have a special spot for my "Mac Attacks." Darn it. And, when I moved out, I did learn to make the homemade version, quite similar to the one you made here. It's divine too! Thanks for sharing such colorful and vivid memories with us all. You are such a gifted writer.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Dawn (KitchenTravels) said...

I followed along with your Twitter conversation - what a great topic. But you know what? My answer is that I honestly can't remember. I mean, I probably cooked a fair amount with my mom growing up, but at the moment I just can't seem to pinpoint a single dish that I cooked by myself... other than popcorn. Was it that long ago? Am I just getting old? *sigh* I'll have to give it some more thought.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger Gretchen said...

I wonder if my mom remembers? I honestly don't!

I remember cooking pancakes, and lemon chicken (a baked style with fresh lemon juice, not like the kind in Chinese restaurants) with baked potatoes, and several other staples from a young age. But not what came first. I know I gradually shifted from just helping out (preheat the oven and put the potatoes in before Mom gets home, or put this casserole in...) to being able to cook full meals on my own.

Once I tried to make a cake on my own and didn't want to look up a recipe; I just made it based on my idea of what should go into a cake! It was mightily unsuccessful and a foreshadowing at many tragic baking attempts later (not sticking to a recipe works on the stovetop, but not so well in baking!)

I was however able to make the simple yet wonderful shortbread recipe from the Kid's Kitchen Takeover, my first cookbook of my own, and was very proud of it. I also made fresh pasta from that book (lumpy because we didn't have a pasta roller, so it was hand-rolled with kid strength, so after laboriously making uneven noodles I just cut it into lumps with a knife, but those were yummy too) and tried out an old fashioned taffy pull and many of the kitchen science experiments.

At 12:52 AM, Blogger Banannas said...

love this post. i had to stop and think about it, and, eventually just sit down and post a blog entry about it. thank you for this little foray back into the past!

At 9:01 AM, Blogger The Annessa Family said...

My memories of cooking always center on baking. Pancakes, cookies, cakes...something sweet. I remember thinking my mom was a culinary master when she'd make chocolate chip cookies from scratch...just watching the chocolate chips fold into the batter was magical. I miss being little :(

Now that I'm all grown up (not so much) and gluten free I still long for baked goods but enjoy things a bit more quick to prep now that I'm a wife and work full time. I have to recipes you can search, one for pancakes and one for chocolate cake, on my blog,

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Tasty Eats At Home said...

Great post. And what an excellent memory - mac and cheese. I never knew how to make it any other way than out of a box growing up. Sure, we'd use the plain macaroni noodles for other things, but not mac and cheese. I can't remember the first meal I ever cooked. I know I had a friend that liked to "experiment" with me in the kitchen, and we once made some soupy milk+oatmeal+random stuff thing for her grandmother, but that wasn't really "cooking". I hope my kids remember cooking with me, learning, experiencing...

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Georgia Pellegrini said...

Memory-evoking meals are the best kind. I think macaroni & cheese often falls into that category.

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous kamran siddiqi said...

I apologize for not commenting on this earlier... It's just that I had to study for finals and blog, and cook, and work on two top-secret projects. It's been crazy around here, but now that I have time to comment- thank you for sharing part of your childhood and youth-hood with us! It was a great read (as all of your posts are!) and it was great to participate in it :)

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anna Phallactic said...

I was part of the Twitter discussion but could not finish my entry on time (the reasons for which are discussed in the opening paragraphs). But I posted it anyway.

And now I'm craving mac and cheese. Beautiful post, Shauna!

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Julie said...

So brilliant. Thanks for this! I wish I could share this week, but may have to settle for reading. Scrambling to meet a book deadline! Reading these will be a nice break from editing..

At 11:01 PM, Blogger HeatherinSF said...

Thanks for suggesting this assignment, it was really fun! You know, come to think of it, we had avocado green appliances. Ah the 70s...

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Italian Cooking Adventures said...

I love the way you write, thank you for your words,well done!

At 6:54 AM, Blogger Shae said...

What a great story, and such a sweet idea to round up all these tales. I can't wait to read them -- might start with Mouthwash Cake!

We are the very same age, so your experience resonates so much with me. Ah yes, the cheese sauce and the longing for the whole-hearted embrace! Thank you.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Brenna said...

I absolutely loved this post! You are an incredible and inspiring writer. I will be making that mac and cheese for sure! Looks divine! Thanks for sharing!

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Tori said...

Our kitchen was just as retro as yours. Red and black lino, avocado green appliances and yellow formica countertops.

I remember making a cake from a box mix when I was 7 or 8; my Dad watching from the living room. It called for a cup of oil so I climbed up on the counter and grabbed my cup, the one I drank milk from during dinner, and filled it up. My dad intervened and showed me a stack of pyrex measuring cups.

I used to make Tuna Casserole from The Joy of Cooking. Standing on a step stool draining tuna fish and opening cans of Cream of Mushroom soup.

At 8:07 PM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Hi Shauna- long time. My computer died and had to go to Apple heaven to be resurrected. It seems to be performing miraculously now.

I can't remember the first meal I cooked. I remember the first pie I baked. (Apple pie with French crumb topping.) But macaroni and cheese- I couldn't afford the Kraft- I bought the generic brand for 19 cents a box- was what what got me through college.

I always cooked it when I had a few too many drinks, and I ate it out of the thrift shop aluminum pan that was one of only a few in our shared kitchen. My roommate, Laura, who was in law school constantly reprimanded me for leaving it partially full of plasticized macaroni and cheese - as I had already passed out in my bedroom and I never thought to clean the pot or even fill it with water.

Now I clean as I cook, and I make my macaroni and cheese modifying a recipe from Cynthia Nims' "Wild Mushroom" cookbook. (and I put porcini mushrooms in my mac & cheese, too...) It has four cheeses in it- she advises using all the old cheeses you've forgotten about in your fridge, and you can be sure that it would never have cost 19 cents a box! But it's still comfort food, no matter how you slice it. I'm just glad it doesn't dye the napkins florescent orange...

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

What an engaging post that took me down memory lane "If only we all cooked with as much attention and excitement as we felt the first time we cooked, we would never stop." hmmm in my case the first time I cooked was a disaster depite all my attention and care. It's a good thing I didn't stop though

At 5:26 PM, Blogger The InTolerant Chef ™ said...

My mother always let me play around in the kitchen.Although she herself is not a confident cook she never stood in my way. The first dish I cooked alone was a souffle when I was 6. I am now a qualified chef and it's thanks to my mum, who never told me what I couldn't do.

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Sandalola said...

Beautiful post, Shauna! I can't remember what I first cooked, and I was born in the 80s! memory isn't so great either. :P I like cooking delicious things for people, but I don't have the time (i.e. I'm a full-time student).

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

I don't remember exactly what was served in the first meal I prepared. I do remember it included sandwiches, and some sort of salads/veggies/other stuff. It was when I was 10, and a bunch of my father's friends had come to help remove the roof from our house, and build a new one. My mother was helping (on the roof, swinging a hammer), my brother, seven or so, was picking up every nail he found in our backyard. I didn't want to do either of those things, so mom said I could make lunch. And so I put enough stuff on the table for 10 hungry grown men to eat. Nothing fancy, but enough.
And all through my childhood, cooking was a way to get out of "work" (crawling around getting dirty somehow -- I was a kid who wanted my hands to stay clean, in a era when such a thing was impossible).
This is probably why I still love cooking today. I finish my job, I come home, and I fix dinner for my family. And it is still "getting out of work." Doing something I love.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I love homemade mac and cheese, but have yet to master the cheese sauce, it always just comes out OK. Anyway, have you ever tried tinkyada pasta? It's by far my favorite - and hard to overcook, which is the best part.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Carrie said...

I'm so sad to say I HONESTLY cannot remember the first meal I ever cooked! I'm not sure if that's because i've cooked ever since I can remember or maybe it just wasn't that memorable! haha! :-) I sure wish I could eat real cheese though after seeing your mac & cheese pictures! Yum!!

At 7:35 PM, Anonymous Mary said...

Can you tell us what brand of "noodles" those are??? I have yet to find GF pasta that I like. Help!

At 10:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I was wondering if you could offer a concise list of questions to ask at a restaurant?

At 3:09 AM, Blogger Summer said...

I can remember the first meal I ever cooked, I must have been 8 or 9, still in primary school at least. I remember that same feeling of excitment at being able to cook for my family for the first time, to make dinner for my mum who always made dinner for us.

Spagetti Bolagnaise was a traditional favourite in our house and my mum always made it from scratch. I had watched her many times and been allowed to help at the various stages - browning off the mince, stirring in the tomatoes and herbs, plating up, but I had never done it on my own.

I remember standing at the kitchen worktop, getting out all the ingrediants, chopping my onions, browing of the mince, creating the sauce and cooking the pasta. I remember that proud feeling of thinking... I'm cooking... I'm really doing it! I remember tasting as I went and thinking... this tastes good.

All was going well with my meal and I was getting ready to serve it up. This is where the slight hiccup came in. I remembered my mum always washing the pasta before putting it on the plates, but somewhere along the line I must have missed the fact that she did this with boiled water from the kettle. Instead I ran my pasta under cold water to wash away all the unwanted liquid.

And so when it came to serving we had cold spagetti with bolagnaise sauce. My family and I have never forgotten this meal, the first I ever cooked and how I served them cold pasta!!!

I still think fondly of this first ever meal - even though it didn't go entirely to plan. It reminds me of the love I have had for cooking from such a young age and that sometimes things don't go exactly to plan - but that that's ok.

At 3:26 AM, Blogger mamafrog said...

The first thing I ever remember doing on my own--no help--was a scratch chocolate cake when I was about 10 or so. (Back in those same 60's--but which I'm not too nostalgic about!) It came out perfect and made my mom so jealous because hers hadn't. It was balanced out by the shortcakes I made the same year to go with strawberries. They were totally inedible because I had used soda instead of baking powder! My cooking has at least improved in following 40 or so years--but I still make some awful mistakes.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Rachel said...

I don't remember the first meal I cooked, but I have a very vivid early memory of baking with my Mum. It was our first Christmas in a new town, I was about 8. I had gone to bed at 8:30 or 9 or whatever my bedtime was, but I couldn't fall asleep after laying awake for hours.
I got up and heard noises downstairs, so I wandered down to the kitchen and found my Mum making Christmas cookies. She said she'd had trouble sleeping too, and decided to make cookies while she was up. She told me I could help her. I remember how wonderfully against the rules it felt, up in the middle of the night with my dad and brother asleep, creaming butter and sugar. It was like a secret my Mum and I had, us girls stealing into the kitchen at the dead of night.
After the cookies were baked and I had one, I started to feel sleepy and went back to bed. I remember my Mum telling me I didn't need to brush my teeth before going to sleep, which felt even more deliciously deviant. We still talk about this at Christmas.

At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a story about why I grew up baking but was sort of locked out of general cooking. My mother always worked outside the home. I don't remember a time when she did not. At one point, we had relocated and she was working 2nd shift at her hospital job. One day she picked up a day shift and when she got home (maybe 3:30 in the afternoon) she had been on her feet all day and was wiped out.

I asked what I could do to assist with dinner (I was maybe 10) while she rested in the family room. She had popped a casserole in the microwave and asked me to stir it and re-start.

So, always the helper, I stirred and re-started. When I went to report on my progress, I explained I had taken a spoon and broken up all those large lumps in the tomato sauce.

My mother's reaction was a mix of laughter and chagrin as she realized I had just crumbled all the homemade meatballs in her spaghetti sauce.

I was restricted to chocolate chip cookies for a good long while after that.

At 4:00 PM, Anonymous joyce said...

I've been crazy Mac and cheese lately, but it was over my food budget to buy the ingredients for this week sadly.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Larissa said...

I made chicken for my family when I was about eight. And I burned the crap out of it, somehow all on the bottom. So my dad proclaimed it "black bottom creole chicken" and "delicious" (it wasn't) and ate his whole serving.

My dad is awesome. Sorry about the carcinogens, Dad.

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Callista said...


Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I made it the night that you posted it, and it was AMAZING. Macaroni and Cheese is one of those classic childhood dishes that I've loved my whole life, but have not been able to find a basic, delicious gluten-free recipe. All of the stuff I had tried up until this point was fancy, and nothing like my childhood memories. This recipe was super easy to make, and oober delicious. I thought it tasted even better the next day, and I am so thankful that you have posted it.

Thanks for all that you do!


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