Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Kraft Dinner Story

My mom, like many moms before her, occasionally served macaroni and cheese for dinner. My siblings and I would never fight over which type we liked best - the Velveeta brand with shells. We would fight over who got to cut open the cheese package and had the arguably best job for the night, adding the cheese to the cooked noodles.

Kraft dinner was never a contender. I remember distinctly that the powder provided never seemed to truly become a cheese consistency and that there was always a somewhat dry, chalky taste to the final product. So when we had macaroni and cheese, we always asked for Velveeta.

Some years ago, I learned that I had been living a misunderstanding.

My family was up in Michigan, visiting my relatives as we did one or two times a year. My sister and I had gone off to a friend's for the evening to watch a movie (probably Bring It On, possibly Fired up!) with a cousin and friends. We had stopped at the local IGA (which, by the by, in Michigan, those IGAs were the best stores and it was truly a disappointment to realize that the IGA tag does not always mean quality) and picked up food. My cousin had grabbed a box of Kraft dinner. I wasn't that hungry, so I didn't argue.

The movie was playing, dinner had been made, and we each grabbed a plateful. When I took that tentative first bite, expecting an experience based on every time I'd eaten that particular brand ever, I was completely stunned to find myself enjoying the taste on my fork.

"No way," I said. I honestly was surprised and I looked over at my friend. "What did you put in this? It's delicious."

She looked at me like I'm crazy (which, to an extent, I'll accept) and replied along the lines of "milk and butter like it says."

At that particular moment, it clicked. You know how some people have an epiphany about their life and the pieces sort of fall in place and they realize their calling and the path seems so clear to them? Yeah, I wasted my epiphany on realizing that all those years we had had Kraft dinner as a child, my mom had made it using skim milk and half the butter. What a difference 2% milk and butter can make! Kraft dinner jumped handily up several spaces in my "dinners I like and are easy to make" list.

I even had a second mini-epiphany (a mini-pihpy perhaps?) that my siblings and I preferred Velveeta shells not necessarily because the cheese came in a separate pouch but because that pouch probably used full fat milk to make the cheese product contained within. Incidentally, I've noticed that Velveeta is now advertising a 2% milk "low fat" version of their shells. I suspect my mom buys that one.

My cousin and friend laughed as I spent the rest of the evening occasionally commenting on how I had just eaten the most delicious plate of macaroni and cheese ever.

And to be fair, my mom is an excellent cook and baker and the icky macaroni and cheese dinners detailed above have nothing to do with her skills and everything to do with her desire to make a carb-loaded dinner just a little healthier for her kids. Also we would add peas to the macaroni and cheese which is a great thing.

Although these days I tend to try to stay away from boxed Kraft dinners, every now and then nostalgia will hit and I will make a meal. I'm sad to say that after that magical evening, I've never been able to fully recreate the taste experience.

I suspect it might have to do with the fact that despite my use of 2% milk, I can never bring myself to add the full amount of butter called for; you've taught me well, mom.

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