I’m a big fan of BBC Radio 4. Especially the comedy programmes. Although I do also listen to NPR now that I’m living in the U.S., and happily recognise that there is some excellent programming to be found there, I always find it just a little less satisfying than good old R4. Familiarity has a lot to do with it of course, and I’ve been shocked to find myself smiling at a broadcast of (cue stage whisper) Money Box – which represents “the latest news from the world of personal finance” and is possibly the most boring programme in the entire world – simply in recognition of familiar voices. I do still draw the line at Poetry Please though, so clearly there is hope for me yet.
But R4 really does produce some excellent comedy programming, and I am grateful that I’ve managed to grasp just enough about modern technology to be able to regularly download the magical, wonderful (free) podcasts that enable me to stay up-to-date with them even when I’m 6000 miles away.
Among my favourites (and there are many), is I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, presented by Marcus Brigstocke, and currently coming to the end of the fifth series. (Hurry immediately to the BBC website – unfortunately it isn’t available there as a podcast, but there are two recent episodes available to download until 6th February).
For anyone not familiar with the format, each 30-minute episode involves a special (famous) guest who has been presented with a ‘to-do’ list of common experiences that they have never previously tried. This might involve reading a particular book, listening to some music, undertaking an activity, or watching a play, television programme or film (hence I’ve Never Seen Star Wars…). Some episodes and experiences are really only funny if you’re familiar with the guest. Others, however, including the one with Phil Jupitus and a colonic irrigation (from the very first episode) are just hilarious. Really.
Food is another popular choice (pop-tarts and pot noodles have both featured), and it should be clear where I’m going with this now… If I was a guest on I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, the food portion of the programme would most likely be dedicated to macaroni and cheese. Yes. It’s true…
I have never eaten macaroni and cheese
(In an attempt to make myself feel better about this it seems a good time to point out that last week’s episode brought us British comedian and television presenter Les Dennis apparently eating cheese for the very first time. Really, Les?). But anyway, I’m actually not even sure what to call it. Is it macaroni and cheese? Mac and cheese? Mac ‘n’ cheese? This doesn’t seem like a good start. Anyway, macaroni and cheese (until we’re on more familiar terms I think I ought to maintain a certain level of formality), seems like a big deal in the U.S., and for a while now I’ve thought that it’s something I really ought to try whilst on my culinary exploration of everything American.
Like many foods here, there seems to be two very different – and divisive – schools of thought about macaroni and cheese, that can be summed-up quite simply as:
Processed vs Homemade
Now, while many fast-food and other restaurant chains have some form of macaroni and cheese on their menu (either as a side-dish or main course), it’s Kraft (who have been marketing their boxed variety since 1937) that dominates the market in take-home and easy-cook varieties, characterised by the infamous ‘blue box’.
And Kraft actually produces a commercial version that is sold in at least some of those chain restaurants as well. A quick internet exploration – which I have to admit is all that I’m either tempted or prepared to do here – reveals a common tendency to describe it as ‘orange goo’, whilst also admitting (worryingly) that it looks better than it tastes. Hmm. To be fair, Kraft uses rather different words to describe its most popular product – notably cheesy goodness, creamy delicious, and homestyle – but I’m pretty sure that they’re biased. Either way, it seems that feelings can run high when it comes to this stuff, and if you don’t believe me then take a look at this impressive (if delightfully odd) reading of the box’s contents on YouTube.
But there is also a real enthusiasm demonstrated by people with an obvious pride for cooking real macaroni and cheese. It’s a rivalry that’s explained beautifully, with real passion and feeling, in this radio interview with Joseph C. Phillips on NPR. (See. I already told you they made some excellent programmes). And the internet is just full of recipes by keen advocates – from Martha Stewart to Patti LaBelle via the BBQ pit boys (which I can’t even begin to imagine). Overall, it appears that the real delight in macaroni and cheese is to keep it simple and traditional. Purists do not believe in the addition of bacon, scoff openly at the current trend involving lobster, and the use of anything other than cheddar is generally considered to be sacrilegious. It seems to me as though they’ve got a point – that this must a good place to start – and I’ve been busy searching for a suitable (classic) macaroni and cheese recipe. Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions, and I’ll let you know how I get on.
And – just out of interest – if you were on I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, what (everyday) food would you be trying?