A little while ago I posted a query regarding my readers’ preference on the subject of tuna: https://afterthecommercial.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/ and I was not really surpried to find that nobody came up with the same perfect concoction that I’ve considered sacred all these years. It’s okay. I can forgive them their foibles in this area. They probably just didn’t have the same taste training that I did.

Now, as to macaroni and cheese…

My mom taught me how to make macaroni and cheese when I was a very small girl, still unable to carry the big yellow bowl to the oven for baking. Our version took a little while to put together, but it was vastly superior to the orange-y slimy mess that we got at my friends’ houses. I always wondered how they got their casseroles to come out that way–and why in the worlld they would want to.

(One could look a long time and never find V***a in my Mom’s pantry.)

Mom’s recipe started with her biggest stock pot, a lot of boiling, salted water, and a pound of dry large elbow macaroni.

Okay, here’s the very first area of contention. I ran into someone not too long ago who said, with a straight face, that she always makes macaroni and cheese using those mini-tubes of pasta called “salad macaroni”; I didn’t continue the conversation long enough to find out if she also uses the V***a stuff, but I bet she does. How else would you be able to get the sauce into those tiny tubes?

At any rate, you boil the macaroni until it gets nice and rubbery, and then a little bit longer. When it turns nice and white and your teeth don’t bounce back with every bite, it’s ready to be drained so the fun can commence.

On macaroni day I marshal all my organizational skills and set up an assembly line. Left to right: drained macaroni, butter, S&P, saltine crackers, and cheese.

I guess this is where the cheese conversation comes into play. If you truly like your mac-and-cheese smooth and orange and…you know, boring, you’ve no doubt already decided this post is not for you. Okay–goodbye, we’ll see you next time. For the rest of you, I give you a choice. I’ve made this dish with everything from plain old American cheese to the sharpest cheddar I can find, with an occasional foray into pre-shredded cheddar-jack when I run short of time. It’s all good. You can make your choice depending on what’s in the fridge and whether you have time for a trip to the market.

All right, back to business.

1. Add a layer of macaroni.

2. Add a few little dabs of butter.

3. Salt and pepper to taste (remember, you’ll do this for each layer, so don’t get carried away)

4. Crush 3 or 4 crackers in the palm of your hand and sprinkle them on top.

5. Add shredded cheese.

6. Repeat.

7. Repeat.

8. Repeat. By now, you’ve probably reached the end of the pasta. Throw on a little bit of extra cheese for a pretty, crusty top.

9. Pour cold milk into the center of the bowl until you can just see it peeking up at the edges. Pop the whole thing in the oven and cook it until it feels right when you poke a spoon in it. (Lick the spoon with each test, of course–you’ll know when it’s perfect)

Did I forget to give you firm amounts of each ingredient to use? Good! Trust your own judgment. Next time it will all be different anyway, and that’s how it should be.

I believe that good writing, at least anything longer than flash fiction, has some of the characteristics of this macaroni and cheese recipe. What we’re aiming for is a product that’s toothsome, with a color and flavor that appeals to our taste receptors (whether the ones on our tongues or the ones in our brains) and maybe a little something that sets it apart from the next person’s output. The layering makes a difference. It’s not too difficult to come up with the V***a kind of writing. There are websites galore that set out basic plots and structures; all you have to do is change the names and move the location one hundred miles to the north and you, too, can have a (possibly) publishable novel. If you want to write for readers, though, keep in mind that a diet of V***a alone can get pretty bland. It’s the layers of plot and sub-plot, character upon character, that stimulate and intrigue us.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial.