On Family Roles, Sisters, & Mac & Cheese

Digging through the cookbook collection again – Lordy people, will this ever end? – and I family cookbookcame upon this one.

Big oops! This should not have been in the “possibly discard” pile. If either of my sisters hear of this, they’ll be at my doorstep with pitchforks, toot sweet. So keep it under your hats, okay?

This is our family cookbook — as in, our actual family cookbook. It was the brain-child of Oldest Sister, who managed to undertake the entire project without our parents knowing about it.

I think it was a year in the making. She sought recipes from family members I didn’t even know we had, as well as old photos and remembrances. Then she assembled it, paid for the binding, and presented it to Mother and Father at their 50th wedding anniversary, in 2000. As well as copies for every family member.

She titled it “Oh Fer Dumb” the phrase our parents used whenever they heard something ridiculous, silly, or just plain stupid.

So I’m sure you can imagine why tossing this puppy out would have incurred the wrath of both sisters, and possibly my brothers too. I was going to quietly return it to the shelf, never admit my near transgression, when I happened to leaf through the book.

Click to Jump to Recipe

I made three startling discoveries. Allow me to share them with you:

  1. Were it not for Campbell’s ‘cream of’ soups, my family would have starved.
  2. Several family members are under the impression that Jello and Cool Whip are acceptable ingredients for any and all salads.
  3. When forced to write something, “and make it funny, okay? Like you usually do,” I do a bad job of it. Like, incredibly so.

You see, at some point near the cookbook’s publication date, I received a frantic phone call from Oldest Sister:
“I need your help! I barely have any stories for the cookbook!”
“What do you mean?”
“You know how I asked people to send me any amusing little stories they have about Mom Family pictureand Dad?”
“I only got three, and they’re not even funny!”
“That’s a shame.”
“I need you to write something.”
“Yeah. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe four or five stories about our childhood, that sort of thing. And make it funny, okay? Like you usually do.”
“But why me?”
“Because you’re the writer of the family.”

That’s how she said it. “You’re the writer of the family.”

Is this a thing? Does every family have a designated writer?

“Now here’s Sue, she’s the comedian of the family, Dan is our little actor, and we’re planning on a third baby because we still need a writer.”

Except it seems to me that in order for someone to earn the distinction of being ‘The Writer of the Family,’ one should actually do something. You know, like write. Get Published. That sort of thing. And by the year 2000, I did squat.

When I told Husband what she said, he replied, “Yeah, I can see that.” But he couldn’t explain why. “You just are,” he said with a shrug.

I fretted over the task far longer than reasonable. Oldest Sister gave me a few reminder calls: “You are writing something, aren’t you? Please tell me you’re writing something?”

I scribbled out four small tales, just to appease her. One on my parents love of a good deal, another on Mother’s inability to throw out plastic utensils, a short essay on the problems related to farming parents raising city kids, and a small ditty about Grandma’s bean soup (don’t ask).

All of them forced, contrived, and equally terrible. I winced upon reading them.

And yet – hold the phone – you know what this means, right? What this signifies? Holy Falutin’ Cow, I’m published!

This counts, right? Four stories of mine in, oh, I don’t know, maybe 100 or so books, spread over the U.S., and some were given as gifts, too. So it wasn’t just for family members, okay? And true, they are bad stories, not my best work, but dammit they’re mine! And there’s my name, right there: Christi (Hovey) Hartwell, by each one! It totally counts!

I’d say a celebration was in order, but given how it’s over 15 years late, maybe that ship has sailed. Instead, let’s pull a recipe out of the book and call it good.

Now, I see here we have a recipe from Middle Sister titled, ‘The BEST Tuna Casserole.’ Turn the page and Second Oldest Niece has a recipe titled, ‘No, Mine’s the BEST Tuna Casserole.’

It’s not every family cookbook that includes a small feud, but you gotta love it when they do. I suppose we could make both casseroles and settle the feud once and for all, but I for one am not a big fan of tuna casserole.

Instead, I see that Middle Sister also included a recipe called ‘Macaroni and Lots of Cheese.’ Middle Sister is very direct when it comes to naming her recipes. Indeed, this macaroni dish has lots of cheese. Well said.

And mac & cheese is just the sort of comfort food a writer needs when she realizes her first published stories are complete tripe. 😦

Macaroni and Lots of Cheese

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: decidedly comfortable
  • Print


  • 3 cups Rotini pasta, plain or tricolor
  • baked macaroni and cheese1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper (can use black pepper)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt*
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 package cream cheese, softened (4 oz.)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (this is my addition, it makes a nice topping on mac & cheese)

Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain.
In large saucepan, melt butter and saute onion until tender. Stir in flour, pepper and salt, add milk and stir with a whisk until incorporated. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Stir in cheddar cheese and cream cheese until melted. Remove from heat; add macaroni and stir until well combined.

Pour into a greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Mix together Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, sprinkle on top.

Bake at 350º for 20-25 minutes, until heated through and top is lightly golden.

Prepare to be comforted. All is well. ♥

*Middle Sister did not include salt in her recipe, but I think she’s one of those cooks who assumes you know enough to salt your food. I didn’t measure how much I put in, so what’s listed is a guess. 



Author: CJ Hartwell

After spending most of her life in Phoenix, Arizona, CJ Hartwell moved to the middle of Minnesota. Is she nuts? Probably. For updates on her sanity, click on the link to follow by email.

16 thoughts on “On Family Roles, Sisters, & Mac & Cheese”

  1. Lovel post. Your sister had a good idea incorporating your families best loved recipes into a book. Too bad they didn’t share more good or funny stories but I’m pretty sure your stories were better then you thought and were appreciated by your parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would pay good money to read those four stories. You have a scanner, right? Everybody has a scanner these days, they only cost about 12 bucks a bang now. Hit me! And yes, everybody is their own worst critic. Well, at least the serious writers. There are a lot of people out there who couldn’t compose a decent narrative if their lives depended on it, but they somehow manage to attract 746,112 blog followers, a clear indication that there might be something amiss with our education system. But I’m not bitter… 😉

    Liked by 3 people

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