2017 is here! And riding on the waves of the rolling calendar comes an Amazon Top 10 full of books on how to slim down; office one-upmanship on how little everyone has eaten in their quest to be good; and a new vigour behind talk of clean eating, wellness and weight loss.
And I am here, too, with a recipe for sausage and bacon mac and cheese that is oozing with calories, comfort and beauty. See, the start of a new year is all about reinventing yourself, and that often seems to focus on reinventing yourself as a thin person.
I am a size 18. I am also 5ft11 and was given Doc Martens for Christmas so I’m cutting quite an imposing figure of late. I am not thin; I am plus size in both directions, and like so many on the heftier end of the scale, January is an absolute slog. We are knee deep in diet culture, wading through bad science and pictures of slinky women on billboards telling us we just aren’t hot enough.
If there is one thing I began to accomplish in 2016 it was a sense of self-acceptance. I am learning to feel comfortable in my own skin and to recognise my own greatness in even the smallest measures. And it is hard, but it is great. I go to the gym and I run on the treadmill (assisted by my best love of 2016: the Hamilton soundtrack) and I do not care if my arse jiggles because I am just running and I am not throwing away my shot. I eat coco pops because I want to. I will wear loose tops or tight jeans if I want to and I will feel great in either. This is hard, because this time of year all of the advertising world has turned and is trying to make me different. This onslaught *might* make you want to try to shed some weight, but it can also chip away at you until your mental health is in shreds.
My mental health is improving. It’s better. But it falters a little everytime an outside source tells me not to trust myself, or tells me I could be better. Diets, detoxes, whatever – they don’t care for mental health because mental health can’t get you dem washboard abs, they tell us to use sources outside of our body to determine how to deal with it, rather than taking cues from the thing itself. And everytime I falter, I fight to remind myself that food is gorgeous, and I fight to ensure my relationship with food is based on nourishment and not guilt.
So, this mac and cheese. This is to nourish you. Diets pop up in the new year, but it’s still winter. A few weeks ago we were all about pumpkin soup and big stews and quality street for breakfast. It’s still winter and comfort food is still good and comforting. You can heat your house while you cook up some sausages, and feel the warmth rise from the bubbling white sauce as you stand over the cooker, stirring. It is a little gooey, with a little crispiness from the baking, a little crunchiness from the nuts, and a deep, hearty meatiness from the sausages and bacon. It will make you feel good enough, and happy enough, and it will give you the nourishment you need to be whoever the fuck you want to be in 2017.
(This recipe is based on the stuffing mac and cheese in Georgina Hayden’s lovely Stirring Slowly. You can read Georgina’s thoughts on food and self care at The Pool – she is sweeter and less sweary.)
- 4 - 5 garlic cloves
- 75g butter
- 100g flour
- 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 750ml milk
- 150g mature cheddar (plus a little extra for the top)
- 50g parmesan (again, plus a bit more for the top)
- 500g pasta (I used spirali, any tube pasta will do)
- 6 pork sausages, cooked and cut into chunks
- 4 rashers of bacon, cooked and cut up
- A few sprigs of rosemary - some finely chopped, some left in little sprigs
- Handful of walnuts, roughly chopped*
- Cook the pasta a few minutes short of packet instructions - it should be al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Heat the oven to 180°c fan.
- Over a medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until you get a lovely garlic fragrance. Add in the flour and beat, it will form a thick, sort of rounded paste called a roux. As you beat, it should pick up all the flour from the pan, leaving it clean - when this has happened, add in the milk.
- Stir the milk and flour-y mix, until it is lump free (use a whisk if you're getting persistent lumps) and a bit thicker. Once it has thickened, chuck in the cheese, mustard and chopped rosemary and continue to stir until the cheese has melted.
- Mix the drained pasta into the cheese sauce. If it seems a bit too thick, add in some of the reserved pasta water. Pour into an oven safe dish. Scatter some walnuts and the sprigs of rosemary on top. Add a little extra cheese - grate on some extra parmesan and cheddar.
- Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden and crispy on top. Serve - maybe with a salad or some roasted kale.
- *These are nice and really do a lot for the texture and taste, though they are the sort of thing you can cut because they are a bit expensive. You could put some dried rosemary in at the same time as the mustard to get a bit of the flavour.