Say “Mac and Cheese!”

So as I’ve mentioned here before, one of the biggest—and most surprising—“homesick” foods I’ve been craving was macaroni and cheese, aka mac & cheese, aka perfection. And perfection became a reality last week when my dad smuggled nine boxes of it in his suitcase when he visited me in Paris.

When he had asked me, a week earlier, what I wanted him to bring, I quickly answered “Annie’s mac & cheese—the shells and white cheddar in the purple box—and Kraft mac & cheese, with the character pasta.”

“And, you know, bring yourself,” I added, almost as an afterthought.

Daddy came through with the goods. A six-pack of Annie’s and three boxes of Kraft. I took a picture of all of the boxes, knowing that would have to last the week until my dad left and I would resume being in charge of (and paying for) my own meals.

It was worth the eight-day weight. The first night I made it—I picked Annie’s because of the 2:1 ratio—I was testing to see if the pasta was done every thirty seconds. No one was home and I ate it slowly, licking the spoon after every bite. I wouldn’t have to hide my powdered astronaut cheese.

The second night, I conveniently wasn’t hungry until the host daughter left. Then, it was time to creep into my room, grab a box from my suitcase-cum-pantry, and run upstairs to get the water boiling. Another night putting off the eventual judging!

But then she came back fifteen minutes later, right as I was getting ready to dump the pot’s contents in the strainer, and my heart almost stopped—and not because of the upcoming dish.

“What are you making? Pasta?” she asked, coming over RIGHTNEXTTOME to grab a fork.

“Do you know mac & cheese, or macaroni and cheese?” I replied. She travelled around North America for the whole month of October. There was no way she couldn’t know mac & cheese.

She laughed. “Yes, I do. I’ve never tried it. But an American friend of a friend described it to me. He said it was like … comfort food?” (English is in italics).

“Yes, exactly,” I replied, trying not to sigh in relief.

“So that’s the pasta, and that’s the cheese?” she asked, daintily placing a slender, French finger on the packet.

“Um, yes.”

I waited. Oh, how I waited.

I waited for the “Oh, that’s nice,” airy response my French teacher lobbed at me when I told her what I missed the most from school. I waited for the “Why would you miss that in France?” speech that her friend had thrown at me (in French!) in September. And, most of all, I waited for the “you might as well have said you missed eating earthworms” face the Irish guy made when I told him I missed mac & cheese (I ended up explaining it as Ramen noodles but a thousand times better, and I dont’ think it really worked, judging by his face).

Yeah. Europeans don’t really get mac & cheese. 

“Cool,” she said, and walked over to the couch and started watching television on her laptop.

The smile I had on my face when I mixed the butter and the milk and the cheese shockingly had nothing to do with the meal I was preparing.

Two boxes down. Seven to go. Nineteen days left of Paris. Whassup.

P.S. Pretty revealing that I wrote the “mac & cheese” blog post first before the “my dad visited me” post, right? Love you, dad! 

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I Love Lamp but I Miss Mac and Cheese

In France, there is no such thing as being “homesick.”

But this isn’t because Paris the best city in the world or because the French are so pretentious that there is no way to express that your are homesick because there’s no way you could possibly ever be homesick in Paris. I think.

No, because in the French language, if you want to say you are homesick you can’t literally translate “I am homesick” into “Je suis mal à la maison” or something. Okay, I guess you could, but the only thing it would mean might be “I am sick of this house” and, well, that’s not exactly the best thing to say to your host family. Instead, you literally translate the phrase into “Je suis mal du pays,” which literally means “I am sick for my country” or something like that.

That’s nice and all, but how can I say I am homesick for the food of my country—specifically, Kraft Easy Mac?

I feel like a terrible person for writing that. You can call me a snob, complainer, whiner, stereotypical American, whatever—I get it. I mean, I’m in Paris, the food capital of the gastronomical world complete with magical bonuses like crepes and escargots and beautiful desserts and the concept that you can eat Nutella on anything you want sans judgement. Come on, Disney even made a movie that took place solely in the kitchen of a French restaurant.

So then why the hell am I craving a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese so freaking badly????

I lived on that stuff back at Drexel. I ate it more often than I should reveal. It’s embarrassing how easy it is for me to eat Easy Mac, or just macaroni and cheese in a box.

Like, one time, I ate Easy Mac for breakfast. Another time, I used vanilla coffee creamer instead of milk when preparing my Easy Mac. And then there was the time I made the microwavable Easy Mac to eat while I waited for the stove Easy Mac to cook. I’m pretty sure that the last meal I cooked at my apartment in Philly was macaroni and cheese, but the Trader Joe’s brand of macaroni and cheese.

And geeze, okay, fine, I lied—I’ve eaten Easy Mac for breakfast on more than one occasion.

But that all stopped seven weeks ago, in August. I was the one who broke things off between me and Easy Mac because I didn’t think I could stand the long-distance relationship when I was in Paris.

You see, there aren’t any macaroni and cheese boxes in any of the grocery stores I’ve been in here. And there usually isn’t macaroni and cheese on any of the menus I’ve looked at—not even the fake fancy macaroni and cheese American restaurants offer that have lobster or bacon in it so therefore it’s fancy.

However, I did find a charming American expat grocery store called Thanksgiving that had Kraft Easy Mac … for like four euro a box. Looks like Easy Mac isn’t so easy in Paris, weird. Usually I pride myself because I can afford to eat Easy Mac and not ramen noodles, but this I cannot justify. Maybe when I get desperate in a couple weeks—but then my dad will be visiting so then there’s no point because I’ll have him smuggle me a couple boxes anyway.

But until then, and until my mom visited two weekends ago, I thought I would just power through my cravings. And I had been okay, or so I thought. There was a lot of new, fun French food to distract me. But then that honeymoon period of my relationship with French food was over and then I didn’t feel bad about letting my ugly side come out because I WAS IN DESPERATE NEED OF SOME EASY (MAC) LOVING OKAY????

And then I cheated on French food with Canadian food, in a Canadian bar called The Moose.

Ahhh, The Moose.

I was introduced to The Moose when my mom, her fiancé, and my grandparents visited me for a couple days and we thought it’d be a good change of pace from the French bistros and cafes we’d been frequenting, mostly because I was getting annoyed at having to order everything in French only to have someone else ask for the check in English and then receive the evil eye from the waiter.

It wasn’t love at first sight—later, it would be love at first bite, but when I went to The Moose the first time I ordered a chicken burger because I was so excited to find a chicken burger. I was a dummy. The chicken burger was good, but later that night I found myself thinking about the glimpse of macaroni and cheese I had seen on the menu.

I didn’t even make it two weeks before I was back at The Moose. This time it was with eight other friends that had came to eat the mac and cheese or verify that yes, in fact, I did find a bar in Paris called The Moose. We had to wait about an hour for a table of nine people, and the whole time I was shaking with anticipation about being so close to the mac and cheese but so far away. I knew it was there, somewhere, in the kitchen, but it wasn’t close enough to me.

To heighten the thrill, the (American) waitress warned me when I ordered mac and cheese. “It’s not like normal mac and cheese,” she told me.

Gulp. “What do you mean?” I croaked.

“It’s not with the little elbow macaroni. It’s with longer pasta. And there’s cheese on the top but not all the way through. There’s a light cheese sauce. It’s just … I don’t know, it’s not like American mac and cheese, I guess is what I’m trying to say,” she said.

“It’s fine. I’ll take it,” I said. You’re a terrible salesperson, I thought.

Even bad or weird mac and cheese is still good mac and cheese, you know? (I know, because I’m the mac and cheese expert).

She had built me up, the witch. I thought she meant it would be  with spaghetti or fettuccine in a weird Alfredo-cheesy sauce that, admittedly, I still would have eaten.

But good news! The blind date went well and my dish was delicious. The noodles weren’t extremely long—I wouldn’t even have noticed the slight blemish if the waitress hadn’t pointed it out. And yeah, there was melted cheese on the top and then only a cheese sauce for the bottom noodles, but that wasn’t a problem either!

There’s the money shot, baby.

True, the sauce wasn’t cheddar at all—which I was expecting because cheddar cheese doesn’t exist in France, not really. I think this was what the waitress meant when she said it wasn’t like American cheese. I couldn’t tell what the cheese was, exactly, but it was definitely like the kind of cheese I’ve eaten in restaurants or at family meals with my host mom. French-y cheese, is all I can say it was. I wish I could be more descriptive, but I like a little mystery on a first date. Maybe I’ll ask when I go back.

I had this mac and cheese last Friday—more than a week ago! I’m still trying to figure out if it’s too soon to go back or if that’ll make me seem too needy (or, ya know, too much of a fatso).

But I will go back, soon. This was the kind of mac and cheese worth waiting for. This was the kind of mac and cheese that I wanted to say, “We’ll always have [The Moose Bar in] Paris” to in a non-cheesy way.

That isn’t to say, however, that I’ve forgotten about my first love, good ole Kraft Easy Mac. I’ve done a bit of stalking on my ex. I mean, I’ve literally stalked the Easy Mac Facebook page—but I didn’t “like” it because I’m not that weird. Please, what am I, an amateur?

Maybe it’s because I never paid enough attention to Easy Mac when I had it. Or maybe I didn’t value what I had and don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone? But I found out SO MUCH about Kraft Macaroni and Cheese after we’ve parted ways that I feel like I didn’t even know it.

For example. Did you know that the website for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is http://www.youknowyouloveit.com/????? I’m not making this up either. What a douchey, cocky, but kind of funny move, don’t you think? Like the frat boy you can’t help but smile at.

Still can’t believe this is real. The website address, I mean, not that I was involved with someone so old.

It made me think of so many questions about Kraft’s history. When did they buy the rights to that site? Was it before Gossip Girl and you know you love me xoxo Gossip Girl. How much did it cost? If you make a typo trying to get to the site, does that mean that you’re actually going to get rerouted to a porn site?

Once I got over the hilarity of the domain name, I realized that there was more to Kraft Macaroni and Cheese than I thought. It comes in bags now—“homestyle” bags—that seem fancy because you can make it on the stove or in the bowl it comes in and it comes with extra features like crunchy bread crumbs or bacon bits and has flavors like “Hearty Four Cheese.”

Daaaamn, Kraft, looks like you might be winning the breakup after all.

Not making this up either.

AND lemme tell ya, Kraft has been branching out big time. Not even just into new macaroni and cheese dinners. Now there’s Kraft Macaroni & Cheese popcorn topping. What the what, right? How desperate would you have to be to try that?

LOL JK. I would totally buy it but at 2 cans for $8 + shipping fee, it’s more expensive than forking over 4 euro for a box of Easy Mac or 11 euro for The Moose’s macaroni and cheese (I’m a cheap date).

I’m not completely insane. I’m still making logical decisions. See?

P.S. I do love lamps, but not as much as Brick in Anchorman. You could say, however, that I love mac and cheese like Brick loves lamps.

The things you do for cheesecake … I mean love

I found the best dessert I’ve ever had in Paris (and my life, but let’s keep this Paris-centric) and I have no problem admitting that it was not a macaron or an éclair or a little pastry or even a cake.

It was a cheesecake. And it was so good that my friend and I ate the last slice of cheesecake in this tea shop, asked who their supplier of cheesecake is, and then walked ten minutes down the street to go to that bakery and ordered another slice of cheesecake.

No shame. No regrets. No nutritional content.

It started, innocently enough, at a tiny bubble teashop called O Bubble that we wandered into walking down a winding street in the Monmartre neighborhood. I’ve only ever had bubble tea once, in Philly, and I wanted to sit down and have something little to tide me over before dinner, where I had made plans with a group of friends to eat later.

It was just supposed to be bubble tea. But then we saw a sign for a deal for bubble tea and a cupcake for five euro and thought, why not?

But when we went inside and saw that the cupcakes were tiny French-sized cupcakes that wouldn’t even fill up Thumbalina, we were kind of thrown a curve ball. This is the first sign that we are serious dessert eaters.

Of course, after the promise of a sweet treat was made to me, I couldn’t go in there and not eat something (Lily felt the same way and this is why we are friends). But the cupcakes were tiny and the cookies didn’t look that great, so the only other option was cheesecake.

Cheesecake is not one of my favorite desserts. It’s not even in my top three favorite desserts at the Cheesecake Factory. But like I said, I wanted a dessert, so I agreed to try the regular cheesecake instead of the lime cheesecake (Lily said it would be a crime to key lime pie and this was when I naïve and didn’t care that much about that cheesecake).

Our bubble tea came at the same time of the dessert, and for the first couple minutes we lavished all of our attention on the tea. You have to take a plastic wrapper off of it, how cute! Oooh, look at the balls, they’re so pretty! These straws are so weird!

To my eternal shame, I didn’t even remember the cheesecake until I was a couple sips in. That simple, unassuming cheesecake. It knew. It knew it would be worth the wait, the beautiful bastard.

One bite. That was all it took for me to know this had to be documented.

I took an unassuming bite. Just cheesecake, right? Wrong. The sound I made when I took my first bite, when coupled with the way I licked the spoon, made me forget all of the times I had scoffed or rolled my eyes at female characters who made sex noises while eating and inadvertently started making their male companion pay a lot of attention to her fork and her mouth.

Lily and I looked across the table. We weren’t on the fake date we had jokingly said we were on before. We were now in a threesome with a piece of cheesecake.

The cheesecake was the best of the bunch. Instead of the usual graham cracker-y crust, this cake had a cinnamon spice cake bottom that I originally thought was a carrot cake bottom. For me, this was the best part of the cake, though the cheesecake part was thick, not floppy, and very smooth. I ate those bites like I was eating frosting out of a can with a spoon.

Lily and I didn’t talk much other than “Oh my God” and “This is amazing” and to wonder whether the bottom part of the cake was cinnamon cake or carrot cake. And because we’re dessert experts, we went on to discuss how amazing it would be if there WAS a cheesecake with a carrot cake bottom, or a cheesecake with a red velvet cake—dessert stoner talk, if you will.

After I finished scraping the plate and Lily finished tearing apart the doily the cheesecake was served just to find more crumbs, talk turned to how if there was another slice we totally would have bought it, no shame. And Lily decided to ask if they made the cakes on-site or bought them from somewhere else, no shame.

The slightly awkward move was worth it in the end, because it turned out that they bought their cheesecakes from a bakery down the street called Berko. The helpful cashier wrote down the address on the back of a business card and handed it to Lily, who looked at me.

I said it, but I didn’t have to: “We’re fucking going.”

And we fucking did.

We were supposed to leave and meet up with friends to go shopping for clothes. That did not end up happening at all. We chose cheesecake over shopping.

It was worth it. It was a bad decision but it was the right decision for us. We were screwing over our friends for our drug of choice. We cackled the whole walk from one supplier to another. We rubbed our stomachs anxiously as we became one more step closer to getting our fix. And in case this metaphor wasn’t hitting home for you, we even compared that cake to drugs.

First it was “Can you imagine what this will taste like if we had the munchies?” And then we moved to harder and stronger drugs. This must be what crack is like. I’m getting cocaine jitters. When we finish this cake, it’ll be like we did heroin. And then we can pass out into an opium-esque food coma.

The girl behind the counter must have thought we were on drugs too. Hell, we were on drugs—the drug that is that cheesecake. She literally shook her head when we told her we had just come from O Bubble just to eat another piece of cheesecake.

SO many flavors. Gotta eat ’em all!

And then she laughed at how big our eyes got when she went over all of the cheesecake flavors: key lime, salted caramel, banana caramel, Oreo, natural, white chocolate raspberry, berries, a cheesecake completely dipped in chocolate, and something with brown swirls and a gingerbread-esque cookie on top.

It took a while to decide. Two other customers came and were served while we deliberated our choices. After all, we had a lot of thinking to do.

Natural was out, since we had already tasted that. Lime was out because, as Lily said earlier, it would be a crime against key lime pie. We agreed it was either the salted caramel or the white chocolate raspberry, with the former ultimately winning the competition.

We’ll get the white chocolate raspberry next time. And then we’ll each order a slice so we can share them, we agreed. Mind you, this was before we even ORDERED the cheesecake.

Since Lily bought the last cheesecake, it was only fair that I bought this one. I’ve got this date, I remember thinking.

It was the best date, real or fake, I’ve ever been on. Mostly because we only ate cheesecake and ended up laughing so hard we cried about two minutes into our date.

A couple minutes after we had lowered our voices and moans from our first couple of bites, two pretty, blonde, thin French girls (one blonde and one brunette, just like us!) wandered into the store. They ordered their own individual cheesecake slices—Oreo and that gingerbread-esque one—and sat down at the table behind us. Lily, who was facing them, gestured to them so I’d turn around, and when I looked back at her we nodded understandingly at each other.

So perfect. So, so, perfect.

They’re like us. They get it.

Except, except they weren’t like us and they didn’t get it. They left before us, even though they came after us. And even worse, THEY ONLY FINISHED HALF OF THEIR RESPECTIVE SLICES AND LEFT THE CHEESECAKE ON THE TABLE AND WALKED AWAY.

This was all willingly, too. No one was there with a handgun forcing them to leave their cheesecake behind.

I couldn’t help expressing my thoughts on that. Hey, I’d rather be spewing word vomit that regular vomit—which was still an option, unfortunately, at that moment.

“Those idiots,” I seethed, probably sounding like ole Richard Nixon when he found out that those Watergate burglars got caught.

Lily burst out laughing, which wasn’t surprising because we had been giggling pretty regularly for the past fifteen minutes. But the girl behind the counter—all the way on the other end of the room behind the counter—turned and looked at me and started giggling too.

“Idiot” is the same word, and pretty much the same pronunciation, in French, so she’d have to be an idiot not to have understood what I had just uttered.

Whatever, she thought I was crazy anyway. Love makes you do stupid things.

And at least I didn’t walk over and finish their cheesecakes.

This is not an exaggeration. Yesterday was the silliest, stupidest, and happiest I have been in a long time—and to think it was just two pieces of cheesecake!

I think the quotes say everything I need to say:

Me: “Are you crying right now? Seriously?”

Lily: “These are tears of laughter. And a little bit of joy.”

Me: “You have mascara all over your eyelids.”

Lily: “You know what? I don’t even care. Let me just have this and then I’ll worry about the makeup. Because I might cry later when this is finished.”

 

Me: “I want my wedding cake to be this.”

Lily: “I’ll marry myself just so I can have a whole cake of this at my wedding.”

 

Me: “Right now I have the shakes and the giggles. And I’ll probably get the shingles later, but it’s fine.”

 

Lily: “You’re not eating right now! Why?”

Me: “I feel so full. But ugh, fine. I’ll power through it.”

Lily: Starts laughing and shakes her head.

Me: “You make sacrifices for the ones you love.”

 

Lily: “I can’t eat anymore.”

Me: “I know, me too.”

Lily: BURPS.

Me: Laughs.

Lily: Picks up a fork. “More room.”

Me: Stares. “Wow, you’re actually eating more. I thought you were kidding.”

Lily: “I feel better though!”

 

Lily: “Might as well just slapped [this cheesecake] on my thighs and taped it there, because the main ingredient in this is cellulite.”

 

Lily: “I think I’m going to throw up.”

Me: “If you throw up here we can’t come back …. Oh, wait, we can just go to the bubble tea place instead. Okay. Never mind.”

Lily: “I’m really glad I brought this long sweater so I can cover up my stomach.”

Alissa: Sputters her water across the table. Bursts out laughing.

Lily: “I didn’t even mean for that to be funny! I was just thinking out loud!” 

Lily: “I almost just want to take my belly button ring right off.”

Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and our taste buds yielded more power than common sense. We were only able to eat half of this richer, thicker cheesecake. We hung our heads when we asked for a take away box, but the girl was understanding.

The absolute worst part that was even worse than asking for a doggy bag in France? That we were planning on going home for a bit before meeting three hours later at a bar. And we actually thought about who would get custody of the cake before we came up with the idea that we would bring the cake to the bar and then take a cake break (like a cigarette break that is probably equally unhealthy) to finish it.

As Lily said when she packed up our cake: “I’m just gonna leave our spoons in there. Mine is the one with half of a bite left on it that I couldn’t finish.

I had to keep telling myself, no shame. Absolutely no shame. But my stomach was definitely feeling my shame for me.

I would say that I was like a kid in a candy store … except I was just like a little bit older kid in a cheesecake store.

And, wouldn’t you know it, we never even ate the cake at the bar. I actually ended up throwing it out after I discovered on the subway ride home that the box and torn open and the inside of my purse was covered in cheesecake.

But to be as honest as I have been this entire blog post, I was actually more upset that my purse got to eat that hunk of cheesecake. Because I was totally planning on just going home and eating the rest of the dessert at two a.m.

Love you, Lily, but I think I might just love that cheesecake more…