When I close my eyes and think of the best moments in my life, my mind is flooded with vivid images of days spent with my grandparents, Mammo and Pappo. I loved to get up, much before the sun, and go with Pappo to the farm. He'd help me up into his pickup truck; I always felt so tall and so proud to be with him. We'd take the ride down those bumpy back roads, my blonde pigtails flapping, Pappo whistling "Wild Blue Yonder" as the plumes of Oklahoma dust rose from the wheel wells, leaving behind deep red plumes.
After a full morning of farm work, I know Pappo was tired. I'm sure he wanted nothing more than to head back home, shower, and eat breakfast. But, when the hay was baled and placed in long, long rows, he'd let me jump around on them, smiling, laughing, and feeling like I was miles above the ground. By the time I was done, my hair and clothes were covered in hay and I was itching from head to toe.
Later in the day, after a hearty breakfast and a bath, Mammo would take me to run errands around town. We'd go to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, the bank (I always looked forward to the sucker I'd get from the teller), and a shop or two down on Main Street. We'd finish the day with a trip to the drug store; Mammo would order a cup of coffee and I'd get a chocolate ice cream cone. When I was done, she'd lick her thumb, dip her napkin in a cup of water, and clean the dried-on chocolate streaks from my face.
That's my Americana. I've moved away from Oklahoma and Mammo and Pappo are gone. But every once in a while, something takes me right back--a whiff of something that reminds me of those plumes of red dirt, a picture of a pasture of golden wheat waving in the wind, or a meal I know my Mammo and Pappo would've loved.
Mammo, Pappo, I wish you were still here so I could show you this blog. I wish you could come over to meet my husband and see our new house. Just once, I wish I could have you sit at my kitchen table while I cooked for you. I can't share this hearty down-home macaroni and cheese with you, so I'm bringing it to Meeta's Monthly Mingle in your memory. Jenn's hosting this month and she's chosen "Americana" as the theme. It's perfect for this dish and these memories.
Mammo, Pappo, I love you and miss you every single day.
Macaroni with Farmhouse Cheddar and Bacon
adapted from Williams-Sonoma
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-in-wide pieces
1 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 c. milk, warmed (I used 2%)
1/2 lb. farmhouse cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 lb. sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Butter a shallow 1 1/2-qt. baking dish or casserole. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook macaroni until al dente, following package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp, 5-6 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside on paper towels. Leave grease in skillet.
3. Add butter to bacon grease. When it foams, whisk in flour, salt, black pepper, mustard, and cayenne until a paste forms. Slowly whisk in hot milk. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 12-15 minutes. Add three-fourths of each of the cheeses and stir until melted, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
4. When macaroni is cooked, drain and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Pour in cheese sauce and three-fourths of the bacon. Stir to mix well. Top with remaining cheeses, bread crumbs, and bacon.
5. Bake until top is golden brown and sauce bubbles, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.