Basic Mac ‘n Cheese

Scrumptious mac ‘n cheese

Recently I made some classic mac ‘n cheese and posted a pic on Facebook. A discussion ensued that included a dear friend in the UK who apparently was not a fan. What? “You’d love mine!” I assured her. This led to various comments and my ultimately, as I am wont to do, googling mac ‘n cheese, where I discovered it’s regarded as having come from England! Well, this piqued further interest. Like, why the Southern roots in America? Enter Thomas Jefferson!

Having recently read The Hemingses of Monticello, I had learned, among many other fascinating things, that Jefferson was a foodie. When Congress sent Jefferson to Paris in 1784, he took one of his trusted servants and arranged for him to be tutored by a well known and respected chef to ensure he would have French cuisine back in Monticello. Jefferson at some point discovered macaroni and arranged to have a “macaroni machine” shipped to Monticello and later served macaroni to his guests, thus popularizing it in the South. There even survives a recipe for macaroni in Jefferson’s own hand! (Note he referred to all pasta as “maccaroni”.)

Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for macaroni
6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 lb of flour
a little salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices [sic] which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni [sic]
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Having learned this story I was inspired to post my recipe for mac ‘n cheese, partially hoping my friend in England, who is a whiz in the kitchen, will give it a try. 😉

This recipe evolved out of a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which was fine as a starting point, but I found cumbersomely written, as well as not fully in keeping with my own preferences, so it’s tweaked from both those perspectives. I took lots of pictures in case you learn visually as I do.

Basic Mac ‘n Cheese

1. Make 1 1/2 C. bread crumbs.

2. Toss the bread crumbs in butter goodness.

3. Sauté 1/2 large onion, almost to the point of carmelization.

4. Throw the onion into your Cuisinart briefly.

5. Grate a block of sharp cheddar cheese.

6. Prepare 2 C. macaroni. I rarely use actual traditional macaroni. I prefer penne rigate or, even better, torchiette. Add the pasta to boiling water, which has been lightly salted. Do not add oil to the water. Cook al dente. Drain.

7. Simultaneously, melt 3 T. butter in a good sized saucepan, preferably stainless steel. Add 3 T. unbleached white flour. Stir to near browning. Add 2 C. whole milk, a bay leaf and a bit of paprika. Stir constantly over medium heat until it thickens. WATCH this carefully. You do not want this to stick to the bottom! Stir in the onion. Remove from heat.

8. Add 2/3 of the grated cheese to this mixture. Season to taste.

9. Add the pasta to this mixture.

10. Pour one half of the pasta/cheese/sauce mixture into a buttered casserole dish.

11. Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining grated cheese over this.

12. Add the remaining pasta to the casserole dish.

13. Top with the remaining cheese and then top with the bread crumbs.

14. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for ten minutes before serving so it keeps it’s form.

And that’s how I do it! I know this dish has reached gourmet status in some realms. Please do share what your variations are. I’d love to know what your favorite tricks are! Meanwhile, you have the basics on classic comfort food with a very rich history! Enjoy!

Love and kitchen blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Watch for Annie Haven’s book giveaway beginning of February, where you can enter to win a copy of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy. You can find her on Facebook at Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew page on Facebook! Thanks, Annie! 🙂

Sharing Christmas

Some of you might recall that awhile back I was invited to do a booksigning at Whispering Winds Nursery here in Mendocino County, and the generosity of spirit of the owners drew me back recently when the idea of securing live Christmas trees for our recent fire survivor families was suggested on a Facebook page I was following. This nursery is clearly a destination nursery, built under the canopies of various centuries-old redwoods and oak trees, one which sports a rambling ladybanks rose in summer. That’s co-owner Kristine Hill with me in the pic above. And she was delighted to help make that vision a reality by offering a 10% discount to those who wanted to supply fire survivor families with a live Christmas tree which they could later plant on their properties. I happily notified the editor of the local newspaper, thinking she might lend us a tweet, and boom, two days later this Christmas story ended up on the front page of said paper!

As fate would have it I had an unexpected visit from a longtime dear friend, Eta, an artist you would appreciate as she makes the most delightful succulent container gardens, which she sells throughout the Bay Area, who spent the night, and in the morning I was inspired to take to Whispering Winds. Both of us immediately brought out our cameras, well worth sharing with all of you here this Sunday morning. May the goodness and joy of this project and venture find its way to open hearts and kindle the spirit of Christmas in your lives.


my favorite tree

St. Francis




Christmas trees




Eta and Kathryn, proving old friends are the best!

Love and Christmas blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

Book News: Anyone still pondering gifts for the thoughtful on your list, please do consider gifting a copy of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden. You can find on Amazon (which has currently lowered price!) and GreenPrints and a few indie bookstores around the country, including Malaprop’s in Asheville; Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino; Three Sisters in Ukiah; various Copperfields in Marin and Sonoma; Book Depot in Mill Valley; Book People in Austin; Eureka Books in Humboldt County; Four Eyed Frog in Gualala; Sun Dance Bookstore in Reno. Ask your local store to order and I will send directly. ISBN is 978-0-9815570-0-7. If you want an autographed copy let me know and we can go through the PayPal door, and I will pay your postage! I even can giftwrap and send elsewhere in the country! Ebooks are available worldwide on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and through Kobo as well. There’s still time! Thank you! Merry Merry Christmas to you and your family! XOXO

What to do with your rose hips!

4th of July roses

For years now I have been pruning the roses without pulling off the rose hips, thinking vaguely of what I might be tossing away of value, but imagining myself too busy to explore and process, all the while ignoring old hippy wisdom that treasures rose hip tea. But not this year! I had researched sufficiently to know to harvest them “after the first frost” and conveniently there have been two mild frosts this month, so I had determined that Thanksgiving weekend might be an opportune time to finally get to the rose hips. Happily, the weather cooperated, by offering a before dawn sprinkle, and a mix of fog and gentle sun the rest of the morning.

rose hips

My 4th of July rosebush is quite mature now, and is an abundant source of hips without resorting to harvesting a single other rose in my garden (though I am thinking of adding a few from the heirloom arbor rose, simply for variety and the added experience). It was a simple enough task of cutting off the rose hips from the bush with a small pruner. What a joy to know they are organic and pesticide-free! I then brought them inside, washed them off thoroughly, and pulled off the “tails”.

Ideally the next step is a task you might want to do with someone else helping, while chatting over tea as this is the most time-consuming part. For you need to cut off the top and bottom of each hip on a cutting board.* Then cut each hip in half. This is the easy part. And then you need to remove the seeds and fuzz inside each seed. Fortunately my nails are long, strong and clean as I really did resort to digging out the seeds with my nails. It was very basic and I rather enjoyed it in a primitive kind of way. I knew I was reconnecting with a long valued human skill not often relied upon as in earlier times. And I must warn you that the fuzz on the inside of these seeds can be a teeny bit prickly to the skin. I can easily see why it’s recommended that you do remove it, as it can be “an irritant to the stomach.” So just be mindful of it. Scrape it away from you as it accumulates on your cutting board. Or wash it off periodically, to avoid contact with it. Also, be sure to toss any hips that are split, too dark or mushy, or, underripened. So out go the seeds and fuzz from each hip. And you are left with these wonderful treasures, rich in vitamins C and A, in iron, magnesium and calcium. My original harvest left me with just one cup.

“In ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition, rose hips were strung together and worn by the hopeful to attract love. Legend has it that raiding Vikings fortified themselves with these berry-like fruits while invading foreign lands. During World War II, British children took doses of rose hip syrup when fresh foods were scarce.” ~ Traditional Medicinals

And now it’s time to dry them. I set my dehydrator at 135°F., the fruit setting, and dried mine for six hours.

Final result:

dried rose hips

To make rose hip tea simply use 2 teaspoons dried hips per cup of boiling water and allow to steep for 15 minutes, then add a bit of honey. I intend to mix some of my hips with hibiscus, as is commonly done. It is a marvelous hot drink you will fully enjoy to help stave off the chill of this time of year. You can store the hips in a glass jar in a cool, dark place for months. Or seal tightly and freeze indefinitely.

I would love to hear of your rose hip adventures in your kitchen! Anyone ventured into rose hip jelly or syrup?

Love and gardening blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

*The British call this “topping and tailing”! 🙂

11/29/2017: Adding this tip, which I just discovered! It’s a good idea to do the topping and tailing of each hip on one day, and then dig out the seeds on the following day, when they’ve had a chance to air dry just a bit. #learning #refining

Book/blog News: So pleased that an excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is included in the November issue of that beautiful publication out of North Carolina, one of my favorites, Western North Carolina Woman. It’s available online as well as stores in the deep South. Also, exciting that news of this blogger and blog was recently featured in Reader’s Digest, in a story on the value of being a horticulturist/gardener. Lastly, please watch for an upcoming book giveaway on this blog of copies of the new Bunny Mellon biography! Details soon!
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