It’s totally weird to realize how much you’ve grown emotionally as an adult.
For all my determination not to let the bastards grind me down, I am not one who enjoys confrontation, even necessary ones. I’m not the most emotionally in touch person and certainly not the most sensitive creature on the planet. There was a time when I would have let bridges completely burn down and simply cut my losses.
But I can’t afford to do that now, and, to my great surprise, nor do I even want to.
These past two weeks haven’t been easy for me. Growing conflict between a co-worker and I had turned the place that I usually enjoy and where I spend the majority of my waking hours into a simmering pot of resentment and frustration. The Me of ten years ago, or maybe even just a few years ago (maybe even a few months ago, who knows?), would have let the silent, cold war between us continue. The resentment would have escalated, and we each would have engaged in increasingly passive aggressive tactics until one of us would have been driven to put in our two weeks’ notice.
The Me of this year, this past week, these past 24 hours, knew that things could not continue as they were. Knew that stewing in one’s own angry juices did nothing except make everyone around her, self included, feel like shit. So, I worked up the nerve to sit down with the co-worker and actually talk things out. While trying to communicate to her all the things I had been feeling, my voice wavered uncontrollably, my hands trembled like I’d been an alcoholic who’s had a few dry days. There were even moments when I thought I could have burst into tears.
How incredibly brave it is to present your vulnerable, hurt self to another person. I don’t do it very often. Even now, it would never be my Plan A.
This time, however, it did a world of good. Being so full of my own despair and anger, it never occurred to me that she was just another human being too, full of insecurities and anger and hurt feelings and pride. Not, as my petty, self-centered imagination had so easily attributed, a cruel, overambitious cutthroat who was doing everything in her power to cut me down. Eventually, it came down to both of us confessing how stressful our situations were due to being short-staffed during a time when our workload was only increasing. We both recommitted ourselves to being more open and communicative, to never let ourselves reach that end of the fraying rope again.
I immediately felt better after our talk. She did too, I’m sure. The rest of my day felt almost weightless. My work productivity increased and I felt better and more confident about getting all of it done on time. I felt better about everything. I hadn’t realized how much of a negative effect the situation had on almost every aspect of my life until I didn’t feel those things anymore.
Yeah, so emotional maturity. Weird.
So, after the last few weeks of emotional upheaval, let’s talk comfort. Particularly of the food variety. Ever since reading Mark Bittman’s easy way to make a roasted red pepper sauce, I’ve been pretty obsessed with making and adding this sauce to everything I possibly can. Eggs. Soups. Meats. It is the best condiment ever. And the latest way I can express my roasted red pepper love? Comfort food and all the cheesy, carbohydrate goodness it entails.
This recipe takes that classic dish of macaroni and cheese and gives it a little zing in the form of a roasted red pepper and garlic. Suddenly, ordinary pasta and cheese are kicked up a notch with another depth of flavor that is sophisticated and highly complimentary. Top with panko breadcrumbs for a deliciously satisfying crunch. This recipe serves many and makes for a great party or potluck dish.
Or you can bring it to your dorky Game of Thrones Season Premiere party like someone we won’t mention here. Ahem.
Roasted Red Pepper Mac & Cheese
For the red pepper sauce:
Yield: Approx. 2 1/2 cups
5 red bell peppers
1 bulb of garlic
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash the red bell peppers and place in a deep baking dish that is lined with aluminum foil. Pop this dish into the over and keep an eye on it over the next hour or so, rotating the peppers as each side blackens and sort of collapses in on itself.
When the peppers have more of less deflated and blackened, remove from the oven and let them cool until you are able to comfortably handle them with your fingers. And while you’re waiting for that to happen, you can roast your garlic bulb. Look! The oven is already hot and everything.
When your peppers are cool enough, carefully remove the stems and seeds. Remove the outer skins from the peppers, which is easier than it sounds, since the skin is practically detached from the flesh of the pepper at this point.
Once you’ve roasted your garlic and removed each clove from its pod, throw them, your peeled peppers, and all the delicious pepper juice that was produced from roasting the aforementioned peppers (do not throw this away!) into a blender and blend it all until the resultant mixture is a thick, creamy sauce one of the most gorgeous, vibrant colors ever. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste.
For the rest:
2 1/2 c red pepper sauce (recipe above)
2 c heavy cream
2 large eggs
4 tbs (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter
16 oz elbow macaroni, shells, or small pasta of your choice — I used conchigliette
6 qts water
6 c cheese, grated – pick three or four of your choice to combine: Asiago, Parmesan, Gruyere, Monterey, Sharp Cheddar, Fontina, etc. Any cheese with a nice sharp tang will work great in this dish
1 1/2 c panko crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat up approximately 6 qts of water with a generous handful of coarse salt. Taste your water — if it tastes like the ocean, it’s perfect. Bring the water to a hard boil and cook the pasta according to its maker’s instructions. Throw in a splash of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot as well as each other.
In the meantime, whisk together eggs, cream, and red pepper sauce until fully combined and smooth. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste.
Once fully cooked, drain the pasta of its water using a strainer or colander and throw it back into the pot it was cooked in. Add the butter and gently mix into the pasta until it is fully melted.
In a 9×13 casserole dish, lay down a thin layer of pasta and then top with your mixture of grated cheeses. Alternate between putting down a layer of pasta and cheese. Finally, pour the creamy red pepper mixture over the pasta and cheese. Top with breadcrumbs and some more grated cheese.
Bake in the oven for for 45 mins, until the top layer is a light brown and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven and let it cool for 5-10 minutes at room temperature before serving.