Meatless Monday – Birthday Mac & Cheese

The one who made me a mama was turning 18. Because his birthday gift is a 3-day trip to an out-of-town concert venue with family + seven teenage friends over New Year’s (yes, we might be nuts, but we also have a lot of experience chaperoning teens…), we decided to have a celebration dinner at home. And because on his Thursday birthday he had rugby practice while Brother had a band concert, we made Sunday his birthday dinner.

He asked for homemade mac & cheese.mac-n-cheese

And because he will only turn 18 once and I have only this year leaned hard into a (mostly) plant-based diet, I gave him what he asked for.

Not only that, but between four different lunch requests between three people and several courses for dinner, I cooked for five hours and made nine different recipes: boxed mac & cheese with veggie dogs for Tween; a big salad and a tuna melt for Teen; spicy coconut noodles for me; homemade mac & cheese, veggie meatballs, and coleslaw for dinner, and orchard crumble for dessert; and–since I opened a can of tomato sauce but only used 3 Tbsp–enchilada sauce which would provide the base for two more weeknight dinners.

Food is most definitely one of the key’s to this young man’s heart! (Not to mention the traditional gingerbread pancakes and homemade applesauce he devoured for his birthday breakfast…)

This has been a big week in our lives: Thursday he became a legal adult. Friday Guy and I designed a congratulatory ad for his high school yearbook (and yes, I cried just a little, admitting to myself that there is no one else on this planet with whom I have such a unique relationship). Saturday he got his first job (other than kid-, pet- or house-sitting): for almost eight hours of absolute downpour, he stood outside and helped people select and attach their Christmas trees to vehicles; Guy had to take him not one but two dry changes of clothes (he even stole the shoes Guy had on!), and he did it all with a big smile and great attitude. And today, four days into his nineteenth year, he found out that he got accepted to his #1 college choice: Colorado State University at Fort Collins, where he will study Wildlife Biology and play rugby. And yes, I cried just a little more. He even let me hug and kiss him more than once this evening as the news sinks in…

Go rams!

Go rams!

So, yes, I made him exactly what he asked for and more. How many more birthday dinners will I have the privilege of cooking for him?

Macaroni & Cheese

¼ c red onion, diced
1 ½ c elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat mac)
3 T margarine
3 T flour
2 c milk
½ t salt
1/8 t pepper
2 c sharp cheddar cheese
Bread crumbs (mix w/ a little extra cheese & Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute)

Boil the macaroni according to package directions.

Warm small amount of oil (veggie or olive) in a sauté pan, then sauté onions until tender. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, melt margarine and blend in flour. Add milk, cook, and stir until thick. Add salt, pepper, and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Mix sauce with macaroni and onions and put in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Notes:
I use one large stock pot to cook onions and make mac & cheese.
You don’t have to use oil to cook onion; you can sub a tablespoon of water if onions start to stick.
The roux (margarine, flour, milk) always looks like it won’t work, and it always does. Seriously, it has never failed me. Just keep stirring and breaking up flour clumps by pressing them with a wooden spoon against the pot.

 

 

Find His Motivation

Some may call it bribery. I call it motivation.

Initially, the goal (mine, at least) was to get Teen’s college application essays written before the school year started. Despite the 2-session college essay workshop he attended, that didn’t happen. The college counselor came to our home to talk through the process, yet Teen has felt so overwhelmed by this extra layer of life-reorienting paperwork and studying on top of his regular regimen of school, studying, sports and activities, that he couldn’t find the motivation to start, stuck behind the starting line.

Too busy and tired to do much extra Monday through Friday, we’ve focused our attention on weekends. Our conversation on Saturday went something like this…

Me (washing dishes): Teen, how about those college apps?
Teen (watching TV): Nah, it’s the 10-year anniversary of the Croc Hunter’s death. I’m gonna watch reruns on Animal Planet.
Me: Hit “record” on the DVR and watch them later?
Teen: No, thanks.

On the one hand, I get it. Besides his dad and Jesus, Steve Irwin was his first hero. At risk of sounding sacrilegious, Irwin had similar life-changing effect on Teen. He spoke to young Teen’s heart. He shared Teen’s fascination with animals, particularly scary/threatening ones. With his engaging personality and the vehicle of TV, he communicated to the world the beauty and importance of under-appreciated creatures. Still…

Me (an hour later): Teen? College apps?
Teen (watching TV): Mom! I don’t think you understand–when you nag me, it makes me less likely to do anything else!
Me: Deep breath two three…
Me (walking into the next room and leaning down close so I can speak quietly): And I don’t think you understand that when you don’t do what you need to do I get frustrated and feel less like helping you.

Sunday Teen had a proposition.
Teen: Mom, I have an empty tank to fill. Can we go to the reptile store, please?
Me: Why would I buy you a reptile when you’re going to college in a year?
Teen: I’ve been saving money. And I can take it with me to college (despite our repeated words to the contrary he really believes this and won’t be talked out of it).

And slowly, it dawned on me. The kid’s applying to college to study Wildlife Biology in preparation for a PhD in herpetology (the study of reptiles). This could work in my favor…

[Read the story of how I made peace with his passion for reptiles]

Me: Tell you what–you get steps A, B & C done, plus your chores, and tomorrow we can have a conversation about another reptile under our roof.

While Guy and I went out that evening, Teen spent hours working on college apps. He’d gotten way more done than I’d expected, so we took a trip to the reptile store.motivation

Teen was unusually relaxed and talkative on the way there. He shared his favorite things about this school year so far, what he’s learning and enjoying. He confirmed the serious Mom Points I was winning by willingly engaging his interests. Though I usually stick to the frog section of the store (dart frogs are way more my style), I was all his, asking questions about what he liked/didn’t and allowing him to share his generous knowledge.

Hence I saw it one flash of a second after he did: a striking ball python with unique coloration. Teen already has two ball pythons. They are curious, active, beautiful (if you can talk yourself into being willing to admit a snake can be beautiful), bred for genetic diversity and coloration. I recognized my bargaining chip.

He held it, just a baby, and began to fall in love. He held several others, some double the price, and came back to him. I joked he could name the snake “Motivation,” “Mo” for short.

Just about an hour after we got home, he finished a draft of his college essay. The prompt says:

“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

Teen wrote about his passion for reptiles. Could their be a more fitting reward for this kid?

Teen named his new pet Orpheus (all his pets have mythological names). Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice, died of a snake bite. He descended to Hades to rescue her, and his gift with the lyre melted Hades’ heart. Hades granted him his wife back under one condition: she would follow Orpheus as he walked to the light. If he turned around to look at her before they had both emerged, he would lose her forever. A few feet short of his goal, Orpheus lost faith and turned, catching glimpse of Eurydice’s shadow as she was whisked away from him.

The carrot (snake) dangling before his sight sent Teen hurtling past the starting line and, now that he’s moving, more movement will come easier. If his motivation lags, I will point him to the tale of Orpheus: you can’t turn back before you fully reach your goal. Don’t lose faith.