Posted in Meals/Sides

Sweet Southern Comfort

Now this title is admittedly misleading, because I have never actually lived in the south.  And I’ve never tried the liquor by the same name either. It’s just a song that was popular on CMT during my senior year in high school (when I discovered country music) and for some reason, it kept playing in my head yesterday while I thought about this post. (Click here if you’d like it as the soundtrack while you read.) Alas, here we are.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visits to Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas over the past 8 years, the northeast has remained my home…but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about delicious sweet tea, charming accents, and drive-through daiquiri stands (as a passenger of course) on a hot day like this one! The refrain kept playing through my head yesterday as I whipped up a batch of what could be called the quintessential comfort food: homemade macaroni and cheese. Now before you think there’s been some kind of miraculous cure: no, I still can’t have dairy…or gluten for that matter. (Corn, the jury is still out…but that’s another post for another time. Keep hoping!!) So how is it possible to have homemade macaroni and cheese?? Well, a little creativity and a huge thanks to the lovely folks at Daiya foods.
For those of you with food issues, you’ve probably discovered that the hardest part of your limited diet is not finding delicious foods you can eat. I still chuckle sometimes when people ask me incredulously, “Well, then what can you eat??”. I sometimes want to respond with a long list of delicious items: shrimp, crab, filet mignon, duck, potatoes, chicken, every fruit and vegetable under the sun, etc., but I usually refrain and simply smile and stick with the meat and potatoes response. The truth is there are plenty of foods that we can eat. The real challenge presents itself in two main ways: 1) trying to find safe foods when eating out or in a large group setting and 2) the lack of convenience (and affordability!) when it comes to our safe foods. For example, those of you without food issues, think of a bad day you’ve had recently. Maybe not even necessarily bad, but crazy, busy, hectic, etc. You might have  a plan in mind for dinner but next thing you know, you’re climbing into your car at 7:30 PM and the thought of cooking and not having food on the table until 8:30 is too much…so you swing by your favorite “grab and go” place (which is pretty much any restaurant these days) and you’re happily fed by 8:00 PM. Or maybe you have leftovers in the fridge, but a stressful day has left you craving a delicious pizza…or a trip down memory lane with a bowl of Easy Mac. Done. Leftovers saved for another day.
Well, for those of us with food issues, such days are not so simple…and often times, simply impossible. Grabbing a quick dinner on the run is not only a challenge, but usually also a risk. The comfort foods which we once turned to after a long, busy day are now relegated to the “Do not cross the threshold of my front door” list. These are the moments when we get a little down, and perhaps on occasion even a little bitter (though I’m not one to readily admit that), and we long for the days of a delicious Chick-Fila milkshake, a Panera broccoli and cheddar bread bowl, a fresh slice of pizza, etc.
So what do you do in these moments? Sometimes you sit yourself down with a cinnamon rice cake, slather on some almond butter, and tell yourself that things could be worse. Sometimes you drive well out of your way to go to the nearest you-safe place and order something delicious…and then regret it a few hours later when you realize how much of your food budget you just spent on a single night…and that doesn’t count the gas used! And sometimes, on those rare nights when you have the time and energy to do so, you find a solution: you make a you-safe version of a favorite comfort food, and all is right in your world again. For a night anyway J
Though I can tell you I’ve been the protagonist in all the scenarios above, last night I lived out the last one. After crazy weeks of end-of-school madness which rolled right into shingles recovery hibernation time followed immediately by an unplanned summer school/camp stint, I finally had a day of nothing. While this was the greatest gift I could have asked for, it’s also one of those days when you stop running for once and your brain just gets overwhelmed thinking about how blessed you are to have such a full life, how sad you are that your fiancé now lives across an ocean, how tired you are because you’ve been waking up before 6 AM for way too many months now, how surprised you are that you miss your students because there are so many news stories you wish you could be discussing with them, how excited you are about the events of the next year of your life; let’s just say when you finally stop running like the Energizer Bunny, you run into the brick wall of reality you’ve been evading…and it can be simply exhausting. So after a long day of organizing, list-making, etc., there was nothing I wanted more than some macaroni and cheese. I had the pasta, but that was about it, so I ventured out into the heat to gather the necessary “cheese” and milk from Whole Foods…only to find that they were sold out of the cheese. Now again, this could have been a possible bitter moment (what person with a regular immune system has to worry about a grocery store running out of cheese?? There are at least 20 varieties to choose from), but fortunately I was fresh off a long Skype chat with the Physicist so my spirits were high. I was unwavered. I simply returned my basket and headed north to Mom’s Organic Market, picked up my necessary supplies, and headed home. Within an hour, I was settled on my couch with this amazing meal (that’s right, I ate dinner in front of the TV), watching Gilmore Girls, and quite thankful for the blessings of my life…even my crazy immune system. The best part? I have more left for tonight’s dinner J

So, if you have food issues similar to mine, bookmark this page and file it away for one of those days in your life. If you don’t have food issues, well, you can try it…but take it from me, I’d stick to the real cheese. Do it for those of us who can’t J
Katie-safe Comfort: Macaroni and Cheese
3 Tbsp. Earth Balance spread (the dairy-free AND soy-free version)
1 Tbsp. yeast
2 cups cashew milk (you can use any variety, I’m on a cashew kick)
1 package Daiya Cheddar Style shreds
8 oz. brown rice pasta
black pepper
Old Bay
gluten-free bread crumbs

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in the yeast as it melts.
*NOTE: you should also start boiling the water for pasta in a separate pot*
2. Add the cashew milk to the melted butter and stir. I also added some Old Bay and pepper to the mixture at this point, but that depends on your taste!
3. Add the package of cheese to the milk mixture and stir periodically for 5-6 minutes.
4. When the pasta is ready, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and place in a casserole dish. (I chose to use the Pi dish sitting next to my casserole dish last night…because why not??)
5. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and Old Bay to taste.
6. Place in the oven and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until top starts to brown.

I should add that I was inspired while prepping the cheese sauce to turn this into
my own version of Hamburger Helper…hence the ground beef in that third pan.
Ready for the oven!

The finished product!!
(It’s hard to see the difference in the pre-baked and this one…but I can assure you there is!)

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