On the importance of butter.

By: Ash

When I was younger, we would make a concoction that we called gas. Now, I don’t exactly know how that name came to be, whether it was what it did to our energy level or to our bodies (not being afflicted by severe lactose intolerance, this part was not much an issue for me but I saw its action bring down a robust healthy young male more than once). I do know that I had a lot of fun making it with the people I made it with. The recurring cast of characters focused mainly on 3 of us, but there were others from time to time.

The recipe was simple and though the proportions would change based on availability the standard was always, 2 pounds of cheddar cheese (painstakingly shredded by hand), 1 pound of spaghetti, and way too much salt. What always struck me as odd about the stuff was that I was familiar with macaroni and cheese, but interestingly, I never actually agreed to eat macaroni and cheese until college, and that in the form of easy-mac. To me, somehow, gas was different enough from macaroni and cheese that I would eat it. Peer pressure was probably involved, but it did turn me on to the idea that other shapes of pasta with other kinds of cheese could be palatable. Macaroni elbows are still my least favorite pasta shape though.

I remember a revolving stage of characters who would be in the house as we would make this stuff, and the looks on their faces, ranging from delighted to horrified, as they watched us prepare and then set about eating the gas, were always amusing. Remember, we’re splitting across a few people roughly 2/3 of a pound of cheese clinging to 1/3 of a pound of spaghetti, each. This was not for the faint of heart; this took courage, determination, and a kind of teenage metabolism that abandoned me about 11 years ago now. I don’t remember the day it left very well, it just slipped away without me noticing… at first.

The last night I remember making this particular simplified recipe with these particular people it was one of those oddly warm spring nights, just before the end of senior year of high school. I’d arrived early to the person’s house on the north-side of campus, and he and I, with a few others hanging out set about the task. I only vaguely remember the gas, but what I do very clearly remember is taking off early from the group hang (I think that’s what the kids would call it these days) and telling a particular person that I loved her for the first time.

Following that night, I was soon whisked off seemingly far away and never really thought much about gas again. The particular person went another direction, and that worked out as it usually does. In the mean-time, as mentioned above, I discovered Easy-mac and sometime later another particular person introduced me to Stouffer’s pre-made frozen mac and cheese which sufficed for some time as a decent gastronomical substitute that, not quite as delightfully punishing as gas, was at least a lot easier on the wrist (so much grating!).

It wasn’t until almost 15 years later that I thought about gas again, the people who I used to make it with, and the reasons we don’t talk anymore. One committed suicide. Another and I drifted apart years later; one could pick a few reasons why we did and a few reasons why we shouldn’t have, but we did.

The thing that brought it back to mind was a slow dawning realization. 15 years on from high school, I’ve found a very particular person.  We’ve lived on the west coast, traveled all over the US and Europe together, come back East, and managed to accidentally have 3 children along the way. Well, that’s not fair, the middle one was on purpose, that’s her claim to fame in the family.

The dawning realization started with a slow evolution of dinners in our household. In an effort to trick the children into eating vegetables (and in the boy’s case, meat or really anything that’s not pure carbs or candy), we had taken to mixing varying forms of green stuff into pre-made mac and cheese, until experimentation lead us to realize we could make better (and healthier) stuff on our own. The routine came to making homemade mac and cheese once a week (loaded with broccoli, green beans, or cauliflower) in the somewhat standard fashion; cream, milk, and cheese to thicken. Over time, as the children came to gleefully eat raw carrots and broccoli (even I think that’s gross), we got away from the mac and cheese, but they would still occasionally ask for cheesy pasta and things evolved again.

We’d taken the children a few places, and they’d seen a few things, and they had taken a liking to plain buttered spaghetti. I’d have to attribute this mostly to the boy, who hates tomatoes, refuses to touch red sauce, and in an effort to get him to eat just well anything at all in a restaurant we eventually hit on lightly salted butter on spaghetti – he loved it. The girls tried it and eventually took to it as well.

We try to stick to some routines, so my very particular person enjoys getting out of the house and away from the children alone every week for a few hours to grocery shop. I don’t care for this much.  I greatly enjoy grocery stores and wandering about aimlessly looking for new and weird things in the store – also it was one activity we always greatly enjoyed together and now it’s frequency is much lessened, but perhaps that could be a topic for another month. Regardless, when this is going on, a few weeks in row for expediency, the children had buttered spaghetti, and as a special treat to buy their love (which was for sale, and I wanted it) I didn’t even put any vegetables in it.

As week after week wore on, parmesan sprinkled on top turned into mozzarella, turned into more mozzarella melted in and stirred with salt on top, which due to the aforementioned grocery buying situation occasionally became cheddar stirred in and melted for lack of mozzarella. It this sounding familiar?

So, I say the realization was gradual, when really I meant the process of getting back to the basic recipe was gradual. The first time I added cheddar and started stirring it hit me in a flash, the people, that last night, all the other nights, and why I’m happy that in spite of all that has changed and all that has happened, I at least am where I am.

So this brings us back to a thought. Mostly the thought is about butter, and how the butter REALLY does make this stuff better; I mean a little bit of butter makes it more palatable, less sticky, and allows you to use a lot less cheese, which aids in both cleanup and guilt (I am feeding this to children after all). But the rest of the thought was that until that moment, when I realized what I was making, I hadn’t thought about those people, that particular person, or that last night in spring almost 20 years ago in a very long time, and I may never have again without that last synapse waiting on standby in my brain to make a connection to gas.

I don’t know why this seems interesting to me, or why I think it might seem interesting to a reader who I’m sure gave up and didn’t sit through my ramblings, but it does make me curious what other strange triggers are waiting out there going forward. I know this one was a mixture of fond remembrance, pain, and relief – all of those emotions attached both to the people involved and the idea that it’s probably good I stopped eating like that later rather than never. I don’t know if future cascades of memory could be as complicated or require so much exposition as this one, but maybe I’ll get another writing out of one should it happen as notably.

Along those lines, I’m also curious what seemingly unrelated things have triggered others into flashes of transcendent time and realization, if only for a moment. Don’t expect to get comments, but I’d like to hear your stories as well if you want to tell them!

One thought on “On the importance of butter.

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