Extra Effort - What Preparing a Gourmet Mac 'n Cheese Taught Me About Life

John McManamy Health Guide
  • One indicator of my mental well-being is my cooking. The better I’m doing, the fancier my dishes get. Last night, I did a mac ’n cheese dish using five different cheeses. See what I mean?


    Okay, let me explain …


    Cooking is one of my hobbies, so in general I am going to eat well. But when I am expecting company I go the extra distance. For this to happen, of course, means my life must be sufficiently humming along to even entertain the thought of entertaining.


    This might involve new people in my life, or finding enjoyment in some of my old friends. But this is only possible if my constant companion Fred (I’ve given my depression a name) has left the building.

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    This time last year, following a relationship breakup, I was submerged in a Stygian gloom of Homeric proportions. Fred and I stayed holed up on a diet of peanut butter.


    Even in the best of times, the holidays are a challenge. My way of coping is to channel my inner Martha Stewart. I even have a signature Martha Stewart mac ’n cheese dish, but this time I decided to experiment.


    But first, why cooking is good for me …


    As I like to tell people, when I’m working a sharp knife mere millimeters from my fingers I’m not thinking about the crap I’ve been through that day. My mind goes into a completely different place. When chopping onions, I can only think of chopping onions.


    Why this is good is that my only purpose here on earth involves making God laugh. Part of this has to do my seeing life as a version of tech support placing me on hold with no choice but to listen to Kenny G for eternity.


    I’m sure all of you have entertained thoughts of what you would like to do with Kenny G and his stupid saxophone. But - here’s my secret to life - you can’t think about all that while chopping onions.


    God momentarily stops laughing. Talk about the ultimate stress-buster. Plus I experience the joy of a job well done, and food that is delicious and healthy.


    So the other day …


    I called up three old friends and invited them over. It was going to be a simple meal, a heated spiral ham, but with a few extra touches. This would normally involve my Martha Steward mac ’n cheese, but this time I went with the Pioneer Woman


    First rule of mac ’n cheese. Get good cheese. The Pioneer Woman called for grated fontina, parm, goat cheese, Jarlsberg, and crumbled gorgonzola. Plus bacon, mushrooms, and caramelized onions.



    Looking good?


    I also made chocolate truffles. A picture is worth a thousand words …



    Why going overboard is good for you …


    It would have been far easier doing a plain mac ’n cheese and buying chocolates. But for me, the extra effort was a major part of the exercise. Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness makes a big deal about the deep gratification (not just fleeting pleasure) that comes from putting in the work.


    Indeed, this happened to me - from planning the menu to picking out the ingredients to preparing the food to cleaning up and cleaning up again and again. Each wipe of the counter, each slice of the knife, each tentative taste with the tip of my finger was a meditation on gratitude.


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    Trust me, while all that was going on, Fred was not around. 


    Who knows, maybe tomorrow will find me back in my black hole sharing peanut butter with my constant companion. But I’m not about to miss out on the opportunity to celebrate a small victory. I put in the effort and it paid off in dividends. Are you with me?

Published On: December 22, 2014