A wildly attractive blond with glassy sea green eyes, Shannon was a 21 year old co-ed when we first met. She threw her head back and clapped her hands when she laughed. With the voice of an angel, she breezed through high soprano notes when she sang. I adored her from the moment we shared our first joke, and for all the days we overlapped as college students, we galloped through campus with giddy abandonment; our lives as full and as bright as a weightless balloon.
A year after college, on what appeared to be a normal evening, Shannon walked into a bar. And there sat Hal.
In a makeshift performance area, a band strummed and drummed providing the evening’s entertainment. Bottles were snapped open. Heads bobbed to the tunes. And leaning against the bar in a white t-shirt and blue jeans, Hal eyed Shannon. Her bangs were pulled back into a long braid, reminding him of the way girls styled their hair in grade school. He noticed the length in her figure (beneath the folds of her black leather jacket), and the glow of her doll face (“She’s silly pretty,” we’d whisper in awe when she was out of earshot). Simultaneously, Shannon attempted to concentrate on the tunes, but her eyes kept flitting toward the handsome figure at the bar. She liked the way his sipped his beer. She liked the way his dark wavy hair jutted out from his black knitted beanie. Once again, their eyes met. The room grew warmer. A spark. An introductory handshake. A phone number exchange. A call. Then a sushi date.
They soon shared pints of Guinness at an 80′s shindig. Eventually they shared a matchbox-sized apartment near the beach. Then came a move to Seattle. One day, they embarked on an adventurous motorcycle escapade towards the Cascade Mountains. Beside a splashing waterfall, a knee touched ground, and a diamond ring gleamed in the sunlight.
Shortly after they got engaged, I asked Shannon and Hal about food and love. I wanted to know if they had a particular dish which was unique to their relationship. To my delight, they picked a recipe which was not only invented by Hal, but one that he personally cooked for myself and our best friends during a visit to the Emerald City. Hint: This recipe starts with that beloved blue cardboard box, stamped with one of the most comforting words in the world…”Kraft.”
Ah, boxed Macaroni & Cheese. Practically synonymous with many of our childhoods, it not only filled our bellies, but it provided comfort unparalleled by any other pre-packaged good. It trumped the tomato flavor of canned SpaghettiOs and the adorable stacks of cheese and crackers in Lunchables. My little brother preferred Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with extra milk, so the cheese sauce became particularly creamy. I liked it when the cheese was clumped because it tasted sharper, so I loosely mixed the packaged powder creating bites of little cheese nuggets. I can imagine all of the wonderful concoctions we would have dreamed up, had we only known we could add other ingredients as well. My brother would have incorporated sliced spicy Portuguese sausage and would have capped it with a spin of Vietnamese Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. I, on the other hand, would have added crumbles of crispy bacon and topped it with Panko breadcrumbs and grated Asiago cheese.
This is how Shannon and Hal do it. They’ve created a dish that is street smart meets Ivy League; Kraft meets Le Cordon Bleu. The ingredients of fresh basil, garlic and truffle oil give the macaroni its exoticism and flavor, while the packaged cheese powder and the Vegenaise (for “Tang”) keep the dish grounded in its roots of all-American processed fodder. What’s more, is that Shannon and Hal chose a dish that very much represents what happened in their lives once they met. What would normally be an unremarkable dish is rendered exceptional because of what they add to it. Isn’t that what love is — someone who wanders into your world and instantly transforms your existence into something inconceivably marvelous? Your whole life has been boxed Macaroni & Cheese, which is delicious, but then suddenly you’ve been introduced to truffle oil and everything you’ve known is blown wide open. That person is a game changer. In the context of food so is truffle oil. So from Shannon and Hal, I give you the first Love Grub Recipe. A recipe which demonstrates how certain ingredients can take something simple and make it special. Exactly like falling in love…suddenly with the presence of that person, everything you experience is extraordinary.
BOXED MAC N’ CHEESE, GOURMET STYLE
(Or as I like to call it, “Put-A-Ring-On-It Mac Attack”)
1 Box Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
A handful of fresh basil, sliced
Fresh chopped garlic (to taste)
Oregano (to taste)
Freshly Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
1 pinch of Red Pepper Flakes
1 Scoop of Vegenaise
Truffle Oil (to taste)
1. Boil the Macaroni & Cheese in salted water. Drain.
2. As instructed on the box, add milk and the cheese packet. Mix until blended.
3. Chop the fresh basil and garlic then add it to the macaroni along with the basil, oregano, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes and Vegenaise.
4. Top the dish with a spin of truffle oil and serve immediately.
Recipe Courtesy of Shannon & Hal. Give yourself a dose of the lovely Shannon yourself by visiting her “Happiness Is…” blog at: http://shannoneileenblog.typepad.com.