Adding Black to the Mac
By Ken De Laat
Photos by Nicholas De Laat
My grandkids have always loved the macaroni and cheese their mother makes from a process gleaned from her mother. It is one of those signature dishes that people always ask you to bring if they’re having a pot-luck.(“Who can bring a salad? How about dessert? Candice, we have you down for your Mac & Cheese ok?).
Yeah, that dish.
So during their visit last month I thought I’d find a recipe and whip up some M&C for them.
Only to discover that apparently when making Macaroni and Cheese it’s not enough to toss in the noodles, cheese, bread crumbs, some butter and a few sprinkles of paprika.
To offer some reference to the story, my grands and I have the kind of relationship that allows for honesty, even brutal honesty, without apology because we can be assured our interactions are never ill-intended and not to be taken personally. With the trio of sibs having a caucasian Dad and an African American Mom discussions sometimes veer into issues around race. Some are serious... some not so much.
In the aftermath of the meal there appeared to be a rather profound lack of enthusiasm for my attempt. Sensing the collective ‘meh’ around the table I offered up an opportunity for each to grade my efforts. Without pause my trio of loving, yet as I said epically honest, progeny replied thusly..
“C+” said Izzabella, though she may have been being extra kind due to my providing access to her beloved “Twilight” flicks all week.
“D,” said Quintan, the eldest of the threesome.
He laughed then added, “And that’s being generous, Papa. That was by far the Whitest Mac & Cheese I’ve ever had,”
“White as in color or as in race?” I asked.
“Race. No Black table would have that on it. It needs garlic and the cheese needs to be prepared beforehand and poured over, not shredded and mixed in between.”
With the seal broken Izza chimed in, “There was too much milk and not enough spices or flavoring. And way too many breadcrumbs.”
And both agreed there was not nearly enough cheese.
And neither had ever heard of breadcrumbs being part of the dish.
Parker, the youngest and perhaps the least discriminating of the three when it comes to gastronomic pursuits, remained silent.
Mostly because he was still eating.
I recall thinking, “Love that boy.”
However, when finished he concurred with his sibs as to the quality of the offering despite the three helpings.
I took in the feedback and vowed to ensure the recipe used would never again be accessed and, like all of our conversations, the topic moved on to other spheres of interest and the M&C review was forgotten.
Except by me.
A couple weeks later we traveled to their Beaver Island home and at an opportune time I approached Ms. Izza.
“If we go to the store and get the stuff, will you walk me through how to make the Mac & Cheese? You know, so it doesn’t come out so white?”
She agreed, cautioning me that while the process is an in-family thing I might qualify so long as all secrets went unshared.
I agreed and we made plans for Sunday.
I can’t go into all the details (the consequences mentioned in the oath I took were fairly frightening) but I can clearly tell you that the procedure Izzabella guided me through was eye-opening and I was impressed by her ability to cull from the culinary artistry of her mother and grandmother.
Mealtime came and I proudly placed the dish on the table with an approving eye from my mentor.
The reviews were good. There were some tweaks I missed but most around the table felt it more than met the standards approval.
“And how do you like it Papa?” I was asked.
And while I was in foodie heaven having discovered I could create such a thing I just could not resist…
“Well, it might be a little too Black, but…”
“If you can read you can cook, if you can season you can delight.”-Nanette L. Avery
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