What’s the first thing you want when you arrive home?
I want a glass of wine. Then I want either cheese or chocolate. Yeah, I don’t care what you’re thinking right now. Olivia wants cereal and goo pots. Yes, “goo” pots. This is a strange British code word for molten chocolate cake. To be fair, “goo” does sound far more appetizing than “chocolate.” And, if I were fourteen like Olivia’s little brother Finn, I’d want something similar to his homecoming meal request for Macaroni and Cheese. My own “Mom-meal” was always lasagna. I guess I naturally prefer beef and ricotta to bacon and cheddar?
I arrived at Olivia’s house during a massive homecoming. Her parents recently arrived home from tropical vacation, she and Edward just came back from University, and a day after I too suddenly showed up at the door, Finn arrived from boarding school. Then cousins and uncles started arriving; one from New York, another from London. I’m not kidding this all happened on Friday night! Then Loll arrived. And it was Finn’s macaroni and cheese that welcomed us all.
I’ve never understood when people go all slobbery and silly when they hear that macaroni and cheese is on the menu. My relationship with the cheesy ended when, in my younger days, I put the water and cheese powder into my EasyMac in the wrong order, felt like an idiot as it got all glumpy, and promptly decided that this entire dish was a useless and inferior version of the food genre pasta. The whole episode is just embarrassing. Not only was my EasyMac a fail, I failed to understand the power of Mac and Cheese for a long time. Now I make my official apology to the gods of mac because, not only is this “inferior” pasta pretty delicious when home cooked, it’s a binder food. Yes, that is a technical term.
What I mean is, mac and cheese actually binds people together when they eat it. There are a few reasons for this: the food comes from one big share dish, it’s messy so you can’t feel prissy while eating it, the melty cheese is a metaphor suggesting how you might congeal with the new friends around the table. That last might be a little overboard but Macaroni does conceal within a unassuming exterior, extraordinary powers of comfort. Everyone around the table at The Priory–that’s the title for Olivia’s ‘home and grounds’–made fast friends. The powers of wine may also have contributed but the long table and benches in the center of Olivia’s kitchen, decorated by photos, cards from friends, and cute poems that she and her brothers wrote years ago in school, was full of contented smiles just a little different from those at the end of a lovely meal out where there might also be plenty of wine.
When Olivia reaches the front of her house with guests recently picked up from the station at Colchester, she exclaims about the horror of the gates that slowly open to admit cars to her home. I think she finds them pretentious or exclusionary. Her house is so fundamentally the opposite of those words, welcoming everyone and anyone all at once and feeding them from the same delicious cheesy, bacony, crusty, pot. I’m now a full fledged fan of macaroni and cheese, but instead of requesting it on my homecomings (that will still be lasagna!) I’m going to make it for dinner parties. What’s the point in cooking anything showy when you can make something that everyone loves and will make them love everyone around them?