Macaroni and cheese is my one true love. It always has been.
When I was seven and it was socially acceptable for me to eat neon noodles every day for lunch, I’d stick my head in laundry chute and yell, “DAAAAAAAAD!”
“What?” he’d shout from the basement. (We use cell phones these days.)
“I’m so hungrryyyyy. I’m starrrrrrving. Feed me. Feed me. Feed me,” I’d chant, while stomping on the floor until I heard him coming up the stairs.
In the kitchen, I’d hand my dad the box of pasta and assume my supervisory chair at the table. I imagined the best thing about being an adult was knowing how to make macaroni and cheese. I had tried on my own, of course, but noodles, water, and the magic powder were surprisingly disappointing. I watched my dad carefully, trying to learn, but the counter was too high. I begged him to teach me.
“What comes next?” I asked, while he poured the cooked noodles back into the steaming pot.
“It’s top secret,” he said.
“Tell me!” I cried.
“Secret ingredients. That’s why it tastes better than mom’s,” he said. (Years later, I would learn mom skimped on the butter, but I would never understand why.)
“C’mon!” I demanded.
“All of your favorite things,” he said.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Peanut butter, “ he said.
“You’re lying,” I accused him. It didn’t taste like peanut butter.
“Well, what do you think makes it taste so good?” he replied.
I didn’t have an answer. I stood on my chair, trying to see for myself.
“Now the ice cream,” he said.
“Stop lying!” I cried. “Tell me how to make it!”
He went to the refrigerator, retrieved a half of gallon of vanilla ice cream, and set it on the counter next to the noodles. Turning his back to me, I saw him scoop the ice cream. I contemplated everything I knew about food. I had never tried this. Maybe he was right. My mouth watered imagining the peanut butter and ice cream mixing together.
“How much ice cream?” I asked hesitantly.
“Two cups,” he said.
I believed him.
Fours years later, I finally was old enough to babysit. I was certified by the Red Cross, and eager to earn money. Unfortunately, my parents still hadn’t taught me the most important skill of babysitting: how to make macaroni and cheese.
“Do you know how to make macaroni and cheese?” my first client asked.
“I think so,” I said. “You mix the box with peanut butter.”
And yet they still let me watch their child.
Making macaroni and cheese whenever I want is one of the best things about being an adult. However, my macaroni and cheese is no longer neon orange. Although it still comes in a box, it’s gluten-free, and I mix it with lactose-free milk.
I am no longer blissfully unaware of the ingredients in my food and medicine. As digestion became increasingly painful in my 20s, I began vigilantly reading labels in grocery stores. However, I never thought to read the all ingredients in my medications.
One of the first lessons my mast cell specialist taught me was many patients react to the inactive ingredients in medications. These ingredients (also called excipients) can include fillers, dyes, binders, and preservatives – not the actual medicine itself. I used to think brand name and generic drugs were the same, yet I had awful experiences when my pharmacy changed my prescription. While the active ingredients are the same, the inactive ingredients can vary greatly. Now I only use dye free medications, and have memorized a list of manufacturers my body tolerates.
The same applies to supplements. I learned this the hard way two years ago when I tried quercetin, a mast cell stabilizer. The brand I chose used the least ingredients: just quercetin and cellulose, a common binder made from plants. I even checked it out on their website: “hypoallergenic plant cellulose.” Sounds great, right?
Three days of flu-like lethargy and one seizure-like reaction later, I discovered the plant they used was Southern Pine. Pine is one of my most severe allergies. Why the hell would you put a Christmas tree in medicine?
Know what’s in your pills. It’s not sunshine and happiness. Or peanut butter and ice cream.