The Mom Stop: Hey mac, give cheese a chance
A friend of mine recently posted a picture on Facebook of what looked like a tray full of easy, made-from-a-box mac and cheese with the title “What’s your reaction if someone brought this to Thanksgiving?”
My reaction: People eat macaroni and cheese at Thanksgiving?
Apparently my “Southern disguise” was blown. Comment after comment on the photo lamented easy mac and cheese, and how nothing but the homemade, gooey deliciousness will do. One person suggested throwing some shredded cheddar on the easy mac and melting to so it would at least pass at first sight, if not by taste. Someone else suggested just throwing it out, or putting it at the kids table.
At least my kids would eat it, I thought. The instant, easy macaroni and cheese is the only kind my kids like - because admittedly, it’s the only kind I’ve ever made.
I consider myself Southern. I was born and raised in Alabama. My kids were born and raised in Alabama. My husband, from South Georgia originally, can trace his ancestors to the marshy islands off the coast of Savannah.
I don’t have much of a Southern accent, or at least I don’t think I do; although my family will probably tell you my Southern drawl depends on who I’m talking to, how old they are and why I’m talking to them.
But no matter the fact that I’ve spent my entire life in the South, I’m not 100 percent Southern. (I could blame it on my Minnesota-born mother and my dad, a California native.) While I am “Southern” in many aspects of my life, the fact that I’m a “first generation” Southerner becomes instantly apparent when it comes to food.
Chicken and dumplings? I didn’t try it until I was a teenager. Breakfast for dinner? Never had it until they served it at the sorority house in college. Homemade grits? The only kind I like are in a cheesy grits casserole, thickened with eggs and flavored with Velveeta and garlic to the point where it’s hard to realize the dish actually contains grits.
So no, I’ve never actually had homemade mac and cheese at Thanksgiving, and it was only after I got married and started celebrating the holiday with my in-laws that I discovered the difference between cornbread “dressing” and stuffing. And yes, there is a difference. (To its credit, I prefer the cornbread dressing.)
Thanksgivings of my childhood were large, three-generational affairs where my grandparents and three other couples got together with their families to have a progressive meal. Appetizers would begin around 10:30 a.m. at one house. The main Thanksgiving meal would be served at another house around 3 p.m., with dessert (a table filled with pies, “bars” and cakes - my favorite part of the day) would be around 6 p.m. at a third house. The progressive dinner was a tradition that lasted about 30 years between the four families who had transplanted from the Midwest to Alabama to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority. They were all people from outside the South, who had no other family than their fellow transplant friends who they treated like family.
My grandparents celebrated “friendsgiving” before there was even a word for it. And by the time I came around, it was the original couples, their grown kids and the grandchildren, who I all thought were my cousins. Because we really were like family.
But no, there was no mac and cheese, corn casserole or cornbread dressing.
I guess when it comes to holidays, my Southern roots run fairly shallow.
But that’s OK. I may decide to make mac and cheese this year at Christmas. And no, it probably won’t be the homemade, gooey kind straight from the oven. But that’s OK, too. Because at least I know there will be something my kids will eat - and for that, I’m thankful.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.