Notes from Underfed: The Mac & Cheese Files
September 8, 2011
ASPEN – With the news that the latest event to be added to Aspen’s event schedule was going to be the Mac & Cheese Festival, I effortlessly ceased my wailing about the overcrowded local social schedule. As nature abhors a vacuum – as do most cats – the brain space that used to be filled with event fatigue now became flooded with memories and thoughts of M&C, and anticipation of the first annual M&C Fest.(Pre-notes: I recognize the incorrectness of referring to the first M&C Fest as “the first annual,” as it is not yet an annual event. But I am sufficiently confident that once the glory of a festival devoted to M&C is put into motion, that’s one train that will be hard to stop.(Putting in abeyance my griping about over-festivating is a special occasion, limited to the M&C Fest. Once the city announces the Swiss Chard Charrette, the moaning recommences. Only louder.)• My worthy adversary, Carolyn Sackariason (editor in chief, Aspen Daily News), knows three things (at a minimum) very well: How to sniff out a story, how to sniff out a free meal, and M&C (making, eating, water-cooler conversation concerning, etc.). So I was amazed, and gravely disappointed, that The Aspen Times scooped Sack on the M&CF story. The only way she returns to a place of proper respect in my eyes is to make me a dish of her “Sack Mac.”(Sack once recited her M&C recipe for me, and I wrote it down. Within a matter of hours I had lost the recipe, and was too embarrassed to ask for her to recite it again. Meaning I reverted to my own, far inferior recipe.)• Saturday mornings in my childhood were devoted to Hebrew school – two hours of services, lessons and inventing ways to have fun with a yarmulke. (None more interesting than discovering that a particular make of yarmulke, rubbed on the pants, could then be thrown to the ceiling and made to stick.) The minutes once home from Hebrew school were devoted to M&C (frozen, possibly – hopefully – kosher; I can’t remember the brand. Not Stouffers.) My brother, due to extreme hunger from davening and kippah-tossing, would crank the oven to 500 degrees (175 degrees above instructed temperature) to get the thing cooked as quickly as possible. Thus was born Oksenhorn-family Saturday-afternoon M&C: burned to a crisp on the outside, frozen solid on the inside.• Perhaps the great anthem of the Colorado mountain ski-bum is Leftover Salmon’s “Pasta on the Mountain,” which rips off the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” (though I question if using the same two-chord pattern can be called a rip-off) to riff on recreational marijuana use, living as free and cheap as possible, and Kraft M&C.• The best M&C I can remember came from Woody’s Cook Shack in Marble. I also remember how small the portion was, which might have something to do with how it tasted. But man, I’d love to go back and check out that theory.• Somewhere in this amazing nation of ours, at this very moment, someone is buying a box of Kraft M&C (the 7.5-oz. “Blue Box”) on sale for 29. (Lucky bastard.) Best deal in America. (M&C also exists comfortably at the other end of the spectrum. Top restaurants are selling M&C, mixed with lobster meat and truffle oil, for well above pocket change. Probably not the Blue Box, though.)• Switzerland has a dish known as lpermagronen, which is M&C with cream, roasted onions and potatoes. (Scoop up the remains with bread, and in one dish you’ve covered every white food you’re not supposed to eat.) The Scots eat macaroni cheese pie – M&C baked in a pastry shell. The Italians have macaroni and cheese pizza. I’m having trouble deciding whose is the greatest accomplishment – one of the above, or we Americans, who have figured out how to sell a meal for roughly the price of a super ball. • Although I can’t recall the specific occasion, I’m sure that Jon, the sports guy, and I have discussed the absence of M&C on the menu at Hickory House. I assume we’ve had this discussion because, somewhere in the countless dozens of conversations about the House’s ribs (amazing), au gratin potatoes (something beyond amazing), Jos (favorite waiter in town), French fries (wanting) and prices of their dinner specials (incredible, perplexing and much appreciated), we certainly must have commented on the lack of M&C (surprising).Earlier this summer my daughter Olivia (a M&C connoisseur with a fondness for the Annie’s brand) and I attended Theatre Aspen’s opening night of “Annie” (no relation), catered by Hickory House. The menu: ribs, BBQ sandwiches, cole slaw – and M&C. Really good M&C. Ummm … might I make a humble (and obvious) suggestion?• Aspen’s City Market has six separate places to buy M&C. Count ’em. (And I shall: The hot deli counter; the packaged “never frozen” type just below the deli counter; a different packaged kind in the section with the cheap, plastic-wrapped hams; the cardboard-boxed foods; the organic frozen foods section; and the regular frozen foods section. I consider organic frozen separate from regular frozen because the organic is labeled as such, and a few refrigerator doors down from regular.) Clark’s has just four M&C departments.
The inaugural Aspen Mac & Cheese Festival is set for Saturday, Sept. 10, from noon to 5 p.m. Among the participating restaurants are Jimmy’s, Rustique, Ute City Bar & Grill and Cache Cache.