I had a realization the other day. Maybe I always root for the underdog because, in a sense, I am one as a middle child.
Coming in between an older brother who pairs an impressive build with a just-can’t-help-but-like-him personality and a younger sister with the world at her fingertips, it’s too easy to indulge in a little self-pity every now and then. What’s so exciting about being number two after all?
When Lila at last surpasses me in height, which could happen any day now, I will not only be a second-class sibling, but also the shrimp of the family. Then it will be true: middle children do, in fact, get the short end of the stick.
If birth order has a profound and lasting effect on psychological development, as many believe, I can’t say being born in the middle didn’t do me any favors. For one, with a brother whose every action and antic is a topic of discussion, you’ve got to learn that attention isn’t the only indication of how well liked or interesting you are. You hope this encourages you to care less about what other people think. (You hope!) Without older siblings and parents on their third go-round to dote on you, you learn to become more self-reliant. (At least, you hope you do!)
You can play the role of peacemaker as well as that of black sheep. (Not that being the only one who doesn’t like tomatoes or wasn’t destined for a certain highly regarded Virginia institution of higher education makes you a black sheep, but the list does go on.) And you’re supposed to be especially good at sharing, even the best.
I agree with this last point entirely – most of the time. The trouble comes when I want to indulge. I eat pretty well so when I cut loose and go for it, I like to go for it and that means downing every last bite of whatever decadent sweet or greasy treat is in front of me. I let store-bought, restaurant-dictated serving sizes be my guide, even if it looks like that brownie sundae was meant for two.
Whether it’s sweet fried plantains, a slice of pecan pie à la mode, or, apparently, this mac ‘n cheese, once I give myself the green light to chow, I’m not one to share. I’ll offer you a bite because good manners dictate I do, but in a voice so full of regret that you’ll take the hint and feign sudden disinterest.
The first time we made Ree Drummond’s Macaroni and Cheese, adapted here, we served it up in a small casserole dish. Both Dorian and I helped ourselves to a healthy first portion, realized how good it was, and then beelined back to the stove for seconds. Without a clear distinction between his seconds and mine, we both hungrily eyed all of what was left. Since I took a smaller first serving, I thought I should get the lion’s share of what was left. That would have been fair of course, but I held my tongue because how much fairness can a middle child expect in life anyway?
For subsequent makings, I bought a pair of cast iron single serving side dishes. I thought this would make it quite clear who gets what and, more importantly, what was mine.
Mac n’ Cheese
2 cups dried pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoons dry mustard
2 cups sharp Cheddar, grated
Fresh ground black pepper
Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
In a small bowl, beat egg. In a large pot, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook for a couple minutes, whisking constantly. Don’t let it burn. Pour in milk, add dry mustard and whisk until smooth. Cook until very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
Take some of the sauce and slowly pour into the beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking the egg and until smooth. Pour egg into the sauce, continuing to whisk constantly. Stir until smooth. Add in cheese and stir to melt. Season with salt and pepper; don’t be afraid to over salt here. Pour in the pasta and stir to combine.
Serve immediately (while it’s still very creamy) or pour into a buttered baking dish, top with extra cheese and bake until bubbly and golden on top, 20 to 25 minutes.