Mac n’ Cheese with Kale, Gorgonzola, Shiitake Mushrooms and Truffle Oil.

There’s a reason I’ve been so quiet.  I’ve long had my next topic in mind, but the more I thought about it, the larger it became.  After many months, this convoluted Godzilla-like beast of a concept wreaked havoc on my motivation because, frankly, it became too damn daunting of an undertaking.  I felt that evoking King Kong was the only solution to beating this idea into submission and, well, he’s been busy doing whatever gigantic monkeys do.

How’s that for a disclaimer?  Deep breath…

Lately, I’ve found myself contemplating identity through the lens of tense and time.  (Otherwise known as “Symptom #24 You’re Spending Too Much Time Alone With the Cat”.)  Often, I view my past, present, and future self as three different individuals.  Present Self is almost always apologizing to Future Self – “I’m sorry you’re going to have to do the dishes (because all that cooking has made me sleepy)”, “I’m sorry you’re going to have to move the car at 8am (even though I could very well do it now but, well, The Simpsons is on AND YES I KNOW IT’S ON DVD)”, “I’m sorry tomorrow is going to be plagued with the hazy memories of cheap pizza and even cheaper bourbon at 3 am (worth it!),” etc.

In regards to Past Self, however, Present Self goes back and forth between feeling staggeringly perturbed or startlingly impressed – the former usually when reflecting on immediate Past Self, the latter when reflecting on distant Past Self.

Still with me? Yeah? As a reward, here’s a picture of the cat who inspires such mediations.

What has struck me is the number of times I’ve looked back on Past Self and thought, for better or for worse, “I cannot believe I did that.”  This sentiment often results from either a contradiction in perceived personality, or a surprising tenacity of spirit.  Or sometimes, naturally, just from being an idiot kid.

For example, I can’t believe that as a teenager I willingly got on the back of that Mexican guy’s scooter in Cozumel to go alone to an unknown destination (sorry mom).

  • I can’t believe I took so calmly to getting a tumor at 16 years old.
  • That I moved across the country to a new city just a month after turning 18.
  • That I allowed my cat to be homeless while I lived in the dorms, finding it on the streets of Wallingford twice a week to feed her and sleep beside her in my minivan.
  • That I often ventured to the seediest of dive bars when I was 21 to rub elbows with the regulars for the sake of story and photography.
  • That I hosted a couple hundred people – friends and strangers – to cycle through my house after our friends were killed, and managed to remain “strong” and dry eyed until many many months later.
  • That I maintained my sanity while, as a full time student, I juggled seven jobs.
  • That I offered to cook for 200 people over 3 days without any previous catering experience.
  • That I went back to dancing pointe as a 27 year old.
  • That I had the guts to sing 99 Red Balloons auf Deutch in front of an sold out audience for New Years.
  • That I actually started a blog for REAL LIVE PEOPLE to read, and am publicly pondering shit like this!

And many, many more….

There is one theme that weaves its way through these musings pertaining to Past Self.   Many moments of former Nora do not fit the mold of who I think I am.  I think that I am shy.  That I am scared.  That I am indecisive.  The above, however, are not characteristics of a shy, scared, indecisive person.  So, what gives?

We are not anything.  We are everything.  When thinking about myself, I’ve been trying to use the phrase “I feel“, rather than “I am” – “feel shy, scared, indecisive etc”.I “am” implies a stagnant inability to change.  Yet, we are always changing, always evolving, always becoming just slightly different versions of our Selves.  Just a simple alteration of language can liberate what we think we’re capable of.  How often do we unintentionally confine ourselves by saying, “I am“?  If we were to break free from our perceived persona, what would become of our potential?

Going back to my perpetual battles between Past, Present, and Future Self, I wonder what I might be doing now that would inspire Future Nora to say, “I can’t believe I did that.”  And if I were able to recognize such a thing, what effect might that have on my motivation and confidence?  To my perception of Self?  Shouldn’t the goal be to always seek to impress, rather than disappoint, my future self?  (Well, maybe not by doing the dishes. Past Nora will always be cursed for slacking on those.  She’s such a bitch.)

So whatever, you ask, has this to do with food?

Regardless of where we are in life – however satisfied, depressed, driven, anxious – most of us have one at least one constant that rarely changes: our penchant for comfort food. While it’s different for everyone, this post is ultimately about finding those stable joys in an otherwise ever evolving Self. And with that, I’ll pose the question: What have you done in your life that challenges your perception of you?


Comfortingly Lavish Macaroni and Cheese

Preparation: 30 – 40 minutes
Serves 6

Gorgonzola, kale, shiitake mushrooms, and truffle oil join forces to create this bold mac and cheese. For kale skeptics, this is a great subtle way to incorporate this powerhouse into dinner.  Feel free to tailor the proportions of gorgonzola and truffle oil to your own taste; these flavors are not for the shy palate.

(Musically) pairs well with Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues

Ingredients

1 bunch kale, stems removed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
a few pinches of salt, divided
16 ounces macaroni noodles
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola
1 – 2 teaspoons white truffle oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to boil and submerge the kale leaves. Cook until tender, 8 – 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove the kale, shake out excess water and blend in food processor or finely chop. Set aside.

Heat butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Once melted, toss in the shiitake mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and fry until the mushrooms begin to release their liquid and become tender. Set aside.

Bring the kale water back up to a boil with a pinch of salt, adding more water if necessary to mostly fill the pot. Once boiling, toss in your noodles, give a stir, and cook until al dente. Drain and throw back into the empty stockpot.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium low heat, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour, whisk to incorporate, and cook until this roux just barely darkens in color. Add the milk, a little at a time, and stir until smooth. Keep cooking and stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes hot. Off heat, gradually stir in the Monterey jack cheese and gorgonzola until melted. Fold in the kale, mushrooms, and truffle oil.  Pour cheese sauce over the noodles, reheat, and taste once more for salt. Spoon into bowls, top with extra jack cheese, and serve pipin’ hot. Tastes best while lounging under your favorite blanket.

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