Macaroni, Summer and Nostalgia

I’ve been eyeing the macaroni in my pantry.

It’s been taking up space ever since I bought a large bag for mac&cheese. I’ve made the mac&cheese but most of the bag remains.

Outside, the summer days are winding down and there’s a distinct promise of autumn in the air. On the weekend my neighbors shuttered their place for the season and their daughter mournfully told me that school starts next week. Based on her gangly frame and metal braced smile, I’m guessing she’s in middle school. It’s been several life times since I’ve been in school but I do remember my university days.

I remember the anticipation of September, of new semesters and syllabuses, of new books and class schedules. Of returning room mates who’d boast of summer jobs and conquests.

During our first week back, Ed would fire up his old Pontiac and we’d go buy a month’s supply of groceries. My room mates, Ed and Bee were grad students, older and wiser than me in the art of shopping on a student budget. While I eagerly surveyed the cookie aisle, they’d fill the cart with vegetables, pasta and cheap cuts of meat.

At home Ed would break down the meat packages into smaller portions, then label and freeze them for week day meals. Bee would quickly store the cans of tomatoes, beans and soup – labels facing forward, like on like, stacked with larger cans in the back and shorter cans in front. No surprise that my room mates were microbiology grads and research assistants; diametrically opposite to my undergrad General-Science-maybe-Arts character.

Most of the dishes cooked were stir fries of veg, meat and veg with liberal doses of garlic, ginger and sauce for flavor. Everything was cooked in one pot. Partly for wash-up efficiency, partly because we only had the one pot. One of my room mate’s standby was macaroni and bully beef.

If you grew up in any of the British colonies, you’ve probably heard of bully beef. It’s called corned beef on the can but is as different from corned beef as SPAM is from ham. Cans of bully beef were field rations for British soldiers during the Boer, WW I and WW II wars. In places where there was a heavy British presence, it infiltrated the kitchens and became part of the local cuisine.

Growing up, I enjoyed bully beef hot, spiced with chili peppers or cold, sliced with crunchy raw onions. Prior to my university days, I had never eaten macaroni and bully beef.

Which in a very round about way, is how I finally decided to cook the macaroni in my pantry.

The recipe is very basic. Cook macaroni. Dice and cook one yellow onion. Add bully beef with a squirt of ketchup and lots of black pepper. Add any other vegetable that makes sense. Eat hot and when very very hungry.

This is not a gourmet, Instagram friendly dish. Hence no picture. Suffice to say it is hearty student food. I scooped a steaming bowlful, settled down for dinner on the balcony and said a nostalgic goodbye to the dying days of summer.

Ucluelet, Vancouver Island. August 2019


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