Growing up in Canada meant we always had a stocked pantry. With seven months of hellish weather, my mother always ensured we had enough canned tomatoes, macaroni and soup to last through Armageddon. It wasn’t until I was twelve years old that I learned the importance of having such a reserve.
During the first week of January 1998, Ottawa experienced continuous freezing rain. Within days the city became a crystallized image of itself with a thick coating of ice on virtually everything. Many people were without power for weeks and the entire city simply shut down. Without power, grocery stores were unable to keep their food fresh and as a result closed their doors. Macaroni and Cheese became our saviour during this time.
However, being such a typically cold place, Ottawa was reluctant to close schools until a week into this natural disaster. During this time my mother would drive me the several blocks it took to get there, carefully avoiding falling tree branches and rogue electrical wires.
One morning I decided that I wanted to walk to school, so I woke up and began getting ready for the trek. My mother was none too fond of this plan and refused to let me go unless I wore a helmet. After several minutes of bickering I finally agreed, only if I could take it off before I was in visible sight of the school.
My mother quickly went downstairs searching for a bicycle helmet. After a few minutes she resurfaced with helmet in hand. As I stood there in disbelief she walked towards me with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle helmet from my late toddler years. It was neon green with a purple mask and turtle eyes peeking through. It was huge and resembled the shape of a baseball batting helmet.
I absolutely refused to wear this thing and argued with her about how I had only agreed to wear a normal bicycle helmet. She explained to me that this one was better since if I fell and a tree branch fell on my head it would also protect my ears. Eventually, without much of a choice I put the green monstrosity on my head and walked out the door; facing the most embarrassing moment of the sixth grade.
Thankfully for me, my school was essentially empty due to the weather and it closed for a week the following day. By the time I had to face the expected teasing and taunting at school everyone had long forgotten my fashion faux pas.
In memory of the ice storm of ’98 here’s a little twist on our family’s staple; macaroni and cheese!
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup macaroni
2 Tbsp. Half and Half
2 Tbsp. butter
½ medium yellow onion, grated
1 ½ Tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
1/8 Tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ Tsp Thyme, divided
¼ Tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. goat cheese
4 Tsp. Mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp. melted butter
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350
Toss cubed butternut squash in 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss on a cookie sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, flipping half way through.
In the meantime, cook 1 cup of macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside; allow to cool.
Spray 4 ramekins with cooking spray, set aside.
When squash is finished cooking, pulse it in a food processor with half and half until smooth.
Preheat oven to 375
Over medium heat, melt butter in a large pan and sauté grated onion. Stir in flour until mixture is smooth. Slowly whisk in 3 cups of milk and stir until liquid thickens.
Add pureed squash mixture and stir to combine. Sprinkle with nutmeg, thyme, red pepper flakes and lemon juice.
Slowly mix in Parmesan cheese and sharp cheddar cheese. Once combined, whisk in goat cheese and stir until smooth. salt and pepper to taste.
Mix in macaroni until it is all equally coated. Fill prepared ramekins with macaroni, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
In a separate dish combine melted butter with Panko bread crumbs and thyme.
Top macaroni with bread crumb mixture.
Cover ramekins with foil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove foil and broil until tops have browned; about 2 minutes.