My most memorable Shabbats were at summer camp, in Wisconsin. They began after pool time with a run-around process of my cabin-mates and I straightening our hair, blowing a fuse, sitting in darkness as we freaked out until the fuse was reset, and then repeating. We wore one of the four dresses that were reserved for our four Shabbats, and if we were lucky, one of the older campers would offer to do our makeup. Friday nights ended in the gym, dancing in circles and singing our favorites, which always included “Lean on Me” and “Brown-Eyed Girl.”
In between hair ironing and song singing, there was a beautiful outdoor service… and a terrible meal in the dining hall. Chicken swimming in a pool of its grease, rice pilaf minus the pilaf and probably an almost steamed vegetable. In fact, I’ve blocked most of the food out of my mind with fonder memories of grilled cheese and tomato soup Tuesdays.
On Fridays, the name of the game was, Be The First In The Dining Hall So That You Can Eat As Much Challah As Possible, Lest You Starve. And even that had rules: “If you don’t eat the crust,” vouched my best friend Gigi as she hallowed out her eighth or so piece, “you eat less calories.” Which indeed resonated with me and my friends and our growing, weight-conscious, 10-year-old bodies.
After a hurried meal, the white plastic tablecloths were rolled up like burritos (with all the leftovers inside) and tossed in the trash, and off to song session we went.
At the time, when culinary excitement to me meant Charleston Chews from weekly canteen visits, I couldn’t have asked for more. I was celebrating Shabbat with my best friends, we were caked with body glitter, and all of our leftover food could be simply dumped onto the table. No other Shabbat in my life was like it.
And so there it was, the meal of my favorite Shabbat: dry challah innards. Recipe below.
At the end of the summer, being ripped away from my beloved camp and best friends was horrible in every way possible except for two (I mean, aside from seeing family and all that stuff). Number one was a re-exposure to air-conditioning. Number two was the gigantic casserole dish of my mother’s ultra-rich and cheesy homemade macaroni and cheese that would be prepared and sitting in the fridge when I got home, waiting to be baked for dinner. Her famous mac, in all of its panko crusted and gruyere-d glory, was the ultimate welcome-home.
Camp always ended on a Friday, and there was no question about what dinner would be like that night. While the mac and cheese baked, I would sit with my mom, telling her all about the past month, showing her pictures, and just wishing I was back in Wisconsin with my friends. But when the mac and cheese was ready, and that first bite had more flavor than everything I’d eaten that month combined, being home didn’t seem all that bad. Sure, my quiet kitchen was nowhere near as fun as the camp dining hall, but that mac and cheese (and enough of it to have leftovers for my entire first week home) was not a bad consolation.
Welcome Home Mac
1 pound of elbow macaroni
4 cups of skim milk
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
4 ounces each of gruyere, fontina, and sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon of salt
a pinch of pepper
a few drops of hot sauce
1 tablespoon of mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated parmesan
1) Heat the oven to 375 F.
2) Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the box, but remove it from heat two minutes before the directions say. Strain and rinse it with cold water. Set it aside.
3)Butter a one and a half quart casserole dish, and set it aside.
3) In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk. In a separate saucepan over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Whisk for one minute.
4) Slowly pour in the hot milk while whisking. Continue whisking until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the gruyere, fontina, cheddar, salt, pepper, hot sauce, mustard, and nutmeg. Continue to stir until the cheese melts.
5) Combine the sauce and the macaroni. Pour it into the casserole dish.
6) In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter and add the breadcrumbs. Cook until browned and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs and parmesan on top of the casserole.
7) Bake, uncovered, until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, and serve.