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! 

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 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.