What do you do when you’ve had a bad day? We all have them, and today was my daughter’s turn: Difficult math test, monotonous swimming lesson, lots of homework, and a bumpy day with friends on the playground. All in all, a tough day for a ten year-old.
I had a busy day, too. I was researching sources for sustainably-raised meat and drove out to West Marin. I returned home with a list of sources as well as a cooler full of grass-fed meat from Marin Sun Farms for our freezer, including 4 beautiful lamb loin chops I planned to cook for dinner. I spent the afternoon busy at the computer writing and researching a new article and in a meeting. All in all, a busy day for a grown-up.
Then my daughter arrived home, tired, overwhelmed and teary from her day. Her first request was if I would make her favorite dish – Macaroni, Cauliflower and Cheese – for dinner. My immediate response was negative; I had all this lamb, after all. She then pulled a chair up to my desk and began to recount her day to me, while I continued typing at my computer, half listening to the news on the radio in the background and half listening to her experiences.
Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity: Sometimes you have to stop all your busy-ness, let go of your preconceived plans and just sit down at the kitchen table, fully present. I wasn’t fully present anywhere at that moment. So, I shut down the computer, turned off the radio, and sat down at our kitchen table with my daughter. Together, we prioritized her homework so the seemingly mountainous pile became approachable tasks; we worked out those fractions and proofread her Spanish. All the while, I fully listened to the news of her day, the dramas, frustrations and thoughts, remembering that at one point I was also there and and how the world felt to a 10 year-old after a long day.
And dinner? The lamb will wait a day. Tonight we are having Macaroni, Caulliflower and Cheese.
Macaroni, Cauliflower and Cheese
1 medium head of cauliflower, divided into 1″ florets
1 lb. (500 grams) penne
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs (panko)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Steam cauliflower until tender but firm. Remove from heat. Set aside.
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add pasta. Cook until just tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Drain. Return to pot. Stir in cauliflower.
Combine cheese in a small bowl. Set aside.
Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Whisk in milk. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Add 2/3 of the cheese. Stir until smooth. Add mustard, salt and pepper. Combine cheese mixture with pasta and cauliflower. Pour into a buttered rectangular baking dish.
Toast breadcrumbs over medium-low heat in a dry skillet until golden. Remove from heat and toss with remaining cheese. Spread breadcrumb mixture over pasta. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake in oven until top is golden and crusty, about 40 minutes.
Try substituting broccoli for the cauliflower, or combining the two.
Alternatively, you can omit the pasta, and use only vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, rutabaga, parsnip) for a delicious gratin.