Confession No. 19 — Here we go again with the blasted healthy lifestyle change
I think I’ll quit scheduling autumn doctor appointments. Probably the winter ones too.
It appears, after listening to the trimonthly lecture from my friendly neighborhood endocrinologist this past week, that the days of making everything better with heavy cream are history. Bacon and all other fatty meats will no longer be the norm in our diets. I guess it’s also a good thing that I recently cleaned the deep fryer and put it in the storage building. Damn me!
It was almost two years ago when the same doctor delivered the diagnosis that my father always warned me about. Fear followed disbelief, and I went to the extreme.
I became an herbivore.
Before you stereotype me, there are a few things you should know. I do own an Apple computer, but I do not drive a Volkswagen. Nor do I wear Birkenstocks, or consider Seattle to be Mecca. Also, I’m not a big Phish fan. — I was just an out-of-shape overweight guy who was looking for a healthy, but delicious alternative.
Being a vegan is easy if you like most vegetables. Obviously, it’s even easier if you can live without meat. Living without starches, such as I did, made the transition a little more difficult. Still, I had a lot of fun — even bringing my wife along for the ride. The pounds came off. The blood glucose levels came down. I felt better. Then came the next doctor appointment.
Dangerous pats on the back
If you’ve ever played a team sport, you know that most good coaches don’t like to tell you how good you are … not until the end of the season, anyway. The same thing can be said for musical ensembles or live theater productions. The director wants you to worry, until the performance is over.
When the doctor tells me how well things are going, I tend to celebrate by breaking all the rules. I’ve done everything from developing a cigar habit (when I grew out of monthly asthma attacks) to stopping my antibiotics (when the physician told me the nerves would likely grow back together in the finger I’d deeply sliced). When I left the endocrinologist after that second ever appointment, I treated myself to two chili cheese dogs, and a mound of frozen vanilla custard topped with caramel and salted pecans. It went downhill from there.
Yes. I am the reason your coach made you run laps. I am the reason your band director was an out-of-control flake. I am the reason your drama director was a drama queen. Who am I? I am the person who truly believes “it won’t happen to me.”
I am neither committing to a life of veganism nor running marathons, though I do plan to bring back a few meatless menu items and air up my bicycle tires. Chili cheese dogs and I have a love affair that cannot be broken up — not even by disease. I’ll just eat them less frequently, and order one. The same goes for bacon. As for heavy cream, I’ll plan on buying the smaller pint-sized versions and replacing with Half & Half when I can.
The next doctor appointment, however, will have to wait until spring.
The following recipe is neither vegan, nor healthy. But it is a cold-weather staple, and a main dish for a lot of people. I’ve tried numerous methods for making homemade macaroni & cheese. Some include a custard mixture, while many others call for breadcrumbs. Those are not for me. I also have a difficult time introducing other ingredients such as tomatoes and green chiles. I believe that a macaroni & cheese dish should be creamy and savory, and nothing more. The method below fits that bill. I confess that I have not found the ‘perfect’ cheese mixture. The mix in the photo was about 50 percent queso quesadilla (a Mexican melting cheese), 40 percent sharp cheddar and 10 percent smoked provolone. It was topped with sharp cheddar and Gruyère.
Macaroni & Cheese
1 lb. – tubular pasta
1/3 cup – salted butter
1/4 cup – all-purpose flour
4 cups – whole milk
2 lbs. – semi-hard cheese, grated (cheddar, provolone, etc.)
1 cup – semi-hard cheese (preferably cheddar, for topping)
½ cup – hard cheese, grated (Gruyère, Romano, etc.)
1 teaspoon – Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon – garlic powder
¼ teaspoon – ground mustard
⅛ teaspoon – ground cayenne pepper
Boil pasta in salted water to al dente. Set aside.
In large saucepan, or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly for about 3-4 minutes. Slowly pour in whole milk, working the whisk the entire time to avoid lumps. Once mixed, add Kosher salt, garlic powder, ground mustard and ground cayenne pepper. Stir regularly for about 6-8 minutes. Mixture will be slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add 2 lbs. Semi-hard cheese. Stir until all cheese is melted.
Add cooked pasta to cheese sauce mixture and stir until combined. The mixture should look thick, but soupy at this point. Otherwise, add milk to the mixture until it resembles a chowder.
Place macaroni and cheese mixture into buttered 13×9 glass baking dish, or in individual ramekins. Top with the 1 cup of semi-hard (cheddar) cheese and ½ cup hard cheese. Sprinkle with chili powder to desired color.
Bake uncovered in 350F oven for about 20 minutes, until top is slightly browned and bubbly.