Monday, November 15, 2010

Cheese Explosion

So funny story: over 2 weeks ago, I walked in to volunteer at the East End Food Coop for my usual Tuesday afternoon shift, when I noticed that all of the cheese coolers were empty.  Apparently some pipes had some leaks in them, and so they had to take everything out.  Even though the merchandise was still good, they couldn't sell any of it.  But they could give it away to employees and loyal volunteers (aka me).  After my shift is done, and I've been told by at least 5 different people about the free cheese and tofu products they have, I make my way back to the veggie cooler to find the holy grail of cheese: an entire cart full of local artisan cheeses, from Monterrey Jack to Cheddar to Swiss to Colby to Mozzarella to Provolone to Smoked Gouda to Sage Jack.  They encouraged me to take as much as I wanted and to not forget my friends who might like some too.  I walked out of there with well over 20 bricks of cheese.

Needless to say, we've been working through the cheese bit by bit, but we still have a lot left.  Tonight, I braved my fears and made homemade macaroni and cheese.  My fear lies in the fact that I grew up on the blue box stuff, so my view of Mac n Cheese is rather narrowly limited to that.  My fear is that I don't know what real Mac n Cheese should taste like.  But fear no more, I say.  I found out tonight!

I adapted a recipe from  Here's what I did:

Preheated the oven to 400 degrees.  Greased a 9X13 casserole pan.  Boiled for 8 minutes in a pot too small (note to self for next time) 1 pound (16 oz.) wheat elbow macaroni.  Drained pasta.

While that was boiling, I combined the following in a large bowl, almost too small for the end product (note to self for next time):
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded provolone
1 1/2 cup shredded colby
1 cup shredded swiss
1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda
1 cup shredded monterrey jack
Mmmm....cheese explosion....
Next I made the sauce:
3/4 cup plain yogurt (subbed for sour cream which I didn't have)
3/4 cup heavy cream (arteries began to clog at this point in the night)
1/4 cup chicken broth (the recipe's reviews said it was a little dry, so I added this)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. Jamaican jerk seasoning (probably could've used more)
Wait...there's nothing in here!  Because Alyssa forgot to take the picture when it was full :-(
Finally, I combined the drained pasta and cream/yogurt sauce with the cheese.  Stirred thoroughly, popped it in the pan, and topped with a little bit of cheese I reserved and bread crumbs. 
Popped it in the oven for 10 minutes, until the cheese was melted.  Then put it under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes, and voila!
Cheese explosion turned yummy goodness, topped with fresh parsley.
The only thing that slightly redeemed the health factor for this meal was serving it alongside steamed broccoli and sliced tomatoes.

But take my advice: don't go back for seconds (note for next time).  Your tummy (and arteries) will thank me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Common Sense Kindness

Whew.  I've been meaning to get on here for the last week.  It was even on my to do list last weekend.  Clearly that didn't happen!  Life has been a little crazy as of late, primarily because of work.  I was at all four of my schools within the last week, coordinated a professional development workshop, am conducting two professional development workshops this week, and am traveling up to Pitt-Bradford to work with student teachers for three days in between.  Whew.

Which is why my encounter at the grocery store yesterday really made me stop and think.  Jake and I had been invited to a neighbor's for an early Thanksgiving dinner, and I was running to pick up last minute supplies at the Giant Eagle Market District in Shadyside.  Now, if you've ever been there, you know that it's madness whenever you go there, be it 7 am, 2 pm, or 10 pm.  So many people!  I go in and by the end I literally had 4 things in my hand: a can of butter beans, a can of baked beans, bacon (all of these for Calico beans, or 3-bean hotdish--delicious!), and some pumpkin eggnog.  The last item was a splurge, but it's become something of a tradition for Jake and I to get around this time of year. I walk up to the self-checkout lanes.  The express lanes are of course long and filled with people who have 12 or MORE items.  Read the signs people!  But right next to it was a gentleman who had about 6 items in his cart, and an older lady who didn't have that much.  I took my chances and figured that they'd be done before the express lane. 

Then, much to my surprise, the older lady turns around, sees what I have in my arms, and says, "You don't have that many things.  Would you like to go in front of me?"  I stood there astonished for a moment, mouth gaping open.  I at first was going to politely decline until I remembered that I did in fact have to go home and immediately start making things for the dinner.  I replied, "That is so nice of you!  Yes, if you wouldn't mind."  Then, to my even greater surprise, she turns to the guy behind me, who also had 4 items, and said, "You don't have many things either.  Go on ahead in front of me."  Who does that nowadays???

And it just got me thinking about common sense kindness.  She could've been wrapped up in her own little world, not noticing anyone around her.  She could've not even cared in the slightest how she might hold other people up.  But she didn't.  She used common sense, a little mathematical reasoning, and deduced that the few extra minutes she would spend there were worth having people not have to wait for her (and her half-full cart). I've seen people with carts brimming and overflowing with goods not bat an eye when you have a minuscule basket behind them.  But I was able to walk out of Giant Eagle with a huge grin on my face when normally I leave scowling and cursing the masses of people. 

So, I'm going to try to take this approach more often when I'm dealing with strangers and friends alike.  When it makes common sense, show a little kindness.  It's really not that hard.  And you might just make someone's day. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Every election day always gets me thinking about politics.  And not just the big questions--which party is going to control the House?  Which races are going to be big upsets?--but also the littler and ultimately more important question about my own politics--What is most important to me about our democratic process?  What do I want my vote to stand for?