Tuesday, October 22, 2019

From the Archives - How To Be a Demon Roommate from Hell


When I was a student at UC Santa Barbara, I routinely wrote little essays and stories that I’d photocopy and mail to family and friends … kind of like this blog, but obviously long before the Internet was available to the masses.

One of my features was a multi-part guide on “How To Be a UCSB Student.” Most of that is collapsed into one post, here. Not included was “Part Four: Being a Demon Roommate from Hell.” At long last, I bring that installment to albertnet.

How to Be a Demon Roommate From Hell – January 25, 1989

Being a Demon Roommate from Hell (DRH) is no easy feat. I would call myself a poor specimen. Fortunately, I have the benefit of living with what I would deem the quintessential DRH. While an interview has been impossible, a careful case study has given me sufficient information for this handy how-to guide.

Part One: The Kitchen

Driving your roommate(s) insane through kitchen tactics is simply a matter of hygiene, or lack thereof. Here, cockroaches can aid you in your task by capitalizing on your messes, thus creating a symbiosis between man and insect (though our roaches are so large, they could almost be classified as rodents.) Leave these critters tasty morsels on a regular basis, and they will reward you with repulsive displays of fecundity.

Make a point of never washing dishes. You can either leave them lying about, filthy, or make a sporting attempt to hide them somewhere in the kitchen. The latter technique offers added benefit, because in addition to the anger it invokes in your victim, dishes can often get lost for days at a time, which is like a buffet for your roach population.

Cook something really smelly on a regular basis. Subsisting entirely on rice, lentils, and fish is an excellent technique. Cook the rice and lentils first thing in the morning to fumigate the house. (As luck would have it, the cold morning air outside prohibits adequate ventilation.) Cook the fish at lunchtime and at dinnertime, like clockwork. The sheer monotony of this is oppressive all by itself, but you score additional points for wasting energy (and thus your roommates’ money!) by heating the oven twice a day, instead of saving and reheating leftovers. Rub it in by cooking with the oven door ajar. Even if you could find justification for this practice, it’s best not to explain yourself.

Never take the garbage out. Instead, leave it for your roommates. If they are stubborn, they might take you on in a game of chicken, meaning the trash can stay by the door for days at a time. Don’t give up: if your roommates have any decency they are doomed to lose at this game. Once they’ve finally removed the garbage, leave it to them to start a new bag. Leave your new garbage lying around on the counters, or bury it halfheartedly in crumpled paper towels.

Part Two: The Bathroom

You can never have enough soap in circulation if you are a DRH. Have at least four bars of the orange, slimy variety lying around. (Ideally, it should lose its shape almost entirely, as if trying to become a liquid.) Keep two bars near the sink, making sure to let them ooze messily all over the porcelain. Disregard the soap dish completely. The other two bars should go on the rim or the floor of the bathtub, where they won’t be missed.

If you are a talented, well endowed DRH, you have dandruff. Not the kind wherein tiny flakes of hair fall just from your scalp, but Gnarly Body Dandruff (GBD). This involves a combination of dead skin and half-inch, jet-black curly body hairs that shed copiously . Together, they have the uncanny ability to clog drains. Apply liberally to all parts of the tub, sink, and toilet.

If your roommate is a qualified victim, he likes to dry off quickly after a shower. Therefore, you can really get under his skin by foiling his attempts to dry his towel. If he hangs it on the curtain rod with the window open, close the window. Then hang the towel on the hand towel ring, or better yet, wad it up into a little ball. If your victim is tenacious, you may need to repeat this procedure several times a day.

Never, ever replace the toilet paper roll. The point here isn’t just to save money, but to try to leave your roommates paperless in an emergency situation. Again, if they are stubborn, you may need to lay in a secret supply of TP to ensure victory in this war of attrition.

Part Three: The Living Room

There is plenty of room for creative expression here. The only rule of thumb is to trash the living room as completely as possible given the range of your possessions. When you throw your books on the floor, always shoot for maximum dispersal. Make every horizontal surface your personal desk and cover it with worthless papers. If your roommates move these, you can score bonus points by pretending these papers are important and becoming visibly upset.

Laundry is an excellent means for polluting the living room; you can enhance its impact by never washing it. Be particularly liberal with your undergarments, especially “tighty-whitey” briefs (though yours aren’t exactly white).

Part Four: Your Roommate’s Stuff

Chances are, your roommates own some pretty nice things; all UCSB students do. Ask to borrow them often. Or even better, just use them as though they were yours. If you have a roommate with his own room, make yourself at home there. If your roommate is using one of his possessions, you can bother him simply by coveting it: “Gee, that HP 15C calculator sure is nice. That would be perfect for a computer science major like myself. Gosh, it hardly seems fair that you, a liberal arts major, should have one of those, when I have nothing.”

Part Five: Odd Quirks and Personal Habits

The beauty of odd quirks and personal habits is that, since they’re not outwardly hostile, your roommates can’t call you on them or ever expect to change them. They will silently suffer through them, experiencing a general feeling of helplessness.

Here again, specific techniques are up to the DRH. However, there are some old standbys which are always effective. Grunt: “Unng,” “Brouuagh.” In the morning, you can create a nonstop cacophony of grunts: “Graup, oooooguuaww, brouuagh, b-g-g-g-g-uuua, ungh.” Snorting, hacking up phlegm, and spitting into the sink are all excellent techniques. Say “Duh” frequently; while this may have no effect the first ten thousand times, it will eventually begin to drive your roommates insane. When one of them finally approaches you about it—“Dude, you actually say ‘duh,’ I can’t believe it!”—deny this emphatically.

Sleep at strange times. If you’re napping at noon, your roommates might not even see you, and may accidentally wake you up. Perfect! Now you can yell at them, grunt, and refuse to accept any apology offered. Another favorable outcome of this technique is that your roommates must be silent as long as you’re in bed, in addition to having to stumble around in the dark. Go to bed at nine so your victims can’t play their stereo.

Part Six: Exercises and “Yoga”

Just like a real exercise regimen, pretending to know how to exercise will require time and practice. The only equipment required is a pair of Kelly green sweats, which must be worn every day, without laundering. (Any color will actually do, but green has been proven especially offensive to a person of average tastes.)

Swing your arms around wildly, and pump them up and down frantically. Do curls with no weights, watching your bulging muscles continuously. Another very effective fake exercise is the Jackrabbit Jump: holding your arms out at ninety degrees to the body, with your eyes fixed on the wall, jump straight up in the air, collapsing into a kneeling posture after landing.

The offensive breathing accompanying your “exercise” can be accomplished in one of two ways: either hold your breath throughout each activity, loudly bursting forth clouds of carbon dioxide at the end, or simulate hard breathing with every movement like Richard Simmons (who may have learned this from a DRH, if he happened to have been cursed with one).

You can do these exercises while cooking or reading the newspaper, or even while following your roommate around the apartment trying to talk to him. This gives him the uncanny and highly disturbing sense of being chased around in his own home. Always keep your main goal in mind: to make your roommate(s) want to yell, “Look, those aren’t real exercises! Why don’t you go for a run or something?”

Fake yoga consists of very slow, thoughtful, but essentially random movements, ideally involving outstretched limbs, performed in the corridor or anywhere else indiscreet. Fake transcendental meditation is also a very effective annoyance. Pretend to have sent your mind on a grand tour of the universe. The real beauty of this one is that the more inaccurate your simulation is, the more annoying it is.

Part Seven: Things to Say

Verbal atrocity is an incredibly powerful form of (entirely legal!) roommate abuse. Once again, this medium allows much room for creativity, but I’ll offer some effective examples. You might say, “Oh, I met the sweetest girl today. She wasn’t like the other girls on this campus. She was just so charming and gave me the biggest smile. I’d like to introduce her to an active sex life.” (Give this same speech, verbatim, on a regular basis; alternate it with corresponding tales of woe after being denied.) Other possibilities: “Gee, I can’t believe what you feed your body. Don’t you know that white flour disrupts your blood’s delicate pH balance and can cause hypertension? And look here, this onion salt contains sodium silicoaluminate. That can cause Alzheimer’s disease.” Or, “How can you read that magazine? Don’t you know it’s hopelessly middle class? I’m X-class: I’ve completely transcended the class system.” And there’s this old standby, of course: “You’ll never earn money or respect with a liberal arts degree.”

Give your roommates frequent advice about dating. Never mind that you haven’t had a date since they’ve known you; this will work in your favor, as unearned authority is profoundly exasperating to any reasonable person. Expound on the importance of eye contact and good come-ons. Offer to take your roommate to a public place to practice his skills. (If he insists that he doesn’t want to “pick up” any girls, profess disbelief. Tell him, “Hey, you don’t fool me … everyone wants to score!”) Whenever possible, try to set him up with a girl of your choosing. If she has a boyfriend, all the better in creating an embarrassing situation!

Part Eight: General Protocol

When your roommate says, “Good morning,” grab him by the collar and growl, “Speak for yourself, buddy. I feel like hell.” Respond to regular greetings with a simple grunt. When he says, “See you later, have a good one,” clam up. Don’t say a word. Save your sociable tendencies for when he’s busy, perhaps when he’s trying to read a boring history textbook.

In the process of executing various DRH techniques, you will surely be tempting your roommates to object verbally to your behavior. For example, when a roommate’s diplomatic instincts finally break down and he tells you you’re being a slob, fly into a blind rage and begin an impassioned defense. Remember, louder is better! Logic is no substitute for volume and repetition! Try to incorporate into your rantings and ravings as much random dirt on this roommate as you can dig up. Let it all out! In some instances, your roommate could prove to be a vicious, razor-tongued bastard, and he may shred you verbally. In this case, smash your fist into the refrigerator repeatedly and then hold a grudge for at least a week.


My original essay ended there … with the instruction to punch out the refrigerator. I suppose you could argue this wasn’t a particularly deep essay, and it must be said I wasn’t a particularly deep person at age 19. Looking back now, the essay seems incomplete, and I can’t help but to tell the rest of the story.

Part Nine: Parting Ways

It goes without saying that, at the end of your lease, your roommates will go find a new apartment without you. When you discover that they’re both moving out, frame their behavior as the lowest, most vicious and cruel treachery you’ve ever encountered. Speak of your shared housing experience as though it were a high point in all of your lives, and act incredulous that your roommates should want to destroy that—to discard this precious friendship like a used Kleenex.

Part Ten: Epilogue

Don’t ever mention to your roommates that you suffer from actual manic depression. Let that dawn on them years later.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ask a College Dad

Dear College Dad,

When my wife and I dropped off our daughter at college, everyone in the family had been wagering on who would cry the most. Oddly, nobody cried, not even my daughter. I thought her eyes would at least get shiny, but she was utterly emotionless. I think her exact words were, “Shouldn’t you and Dad be getting on the road?” Is this in the realm of normal, or have I raised an ice princess?

Shannon M, Hilliard, OH

Dear Shannon,

Not to worry, her behavior is completely normal. Don’t take this wrong, but your kid has probably all but forgotten about you by now. She’s rushing off into her exciting future and doesn’t have the mental space to get all wistful like you. That would be like doing 80 on the freeway while gazing at the rearview mirror.

Of course, as with all child development realms, the range of normal is very broad. Many kids cry their eyes out. This is usually because they’re totally unprepared to be college students. (Kidding!)

Dear College Dad,

I live in a college town and have been haunted for weeks by something I saw during Welcome Week: a very young looking girl barfing in a nightclub parking lot after being ejected by the bouncer. She was so drunk she could barely stand! Ever since then I’ve been on pins and needles because my son started college last month at Chico State, a notorious party school. How on earth will I stay sane for the next four years?

Dave R, Carmichael, CA

Dear Dave,

Don’t you remember your trip to Mexico with the YMCA when you were 15, with scant adult supervision, when you got sick on $8-a-liter vodka and woke up on the beach at noon with a terrible sunburn? Okay, maybe you didn’t do all that, but lots of now-adults did such things. The fact is, parents have a tendency to worry about the kinds of trouble their kids could get in without comparing it to what they themselves did. (Or maybe it’s only good parents who do this.) Your sensibilities suggest that your son didn’t grow up with oblivious parents. He will probably survive.

Dear College Dad,

When I was down at Parents’ Week at my son’s school this past weekend, I saw an elderly couple with his-and-hers sweatshirts: “UCSD Grandpa” and “UCSD Grandma.” It didn’t even occur to me to invite my parents along to participate in this milestone. Did I totally drop the ball on that?

Michael B, Fresno, CA

Dear Michael,

Having his or her grandparents there for the drop-off was probably a huge embarrassment for that grandkid, which is a really good thing. Still, it’s not always that practical to involve the elderly like that so it’s certainly not standard practice. Here’s an economical idea: next time you visit your kid on campus, show up wearing a “UCSD Grandma” sweatshirt yourself, if you can find it in a unisex size.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter came home to do her laundry last weekend, and I overheard her talking on the phone about “Yes Means Yes.” I have no idea what it means other than it’s almost certainly related to “No Means No.” Can you help?

Nadine Roberts, Fremont, CA

Dear Nadine,

First off, if your daughter doesn’t mind talking about this when she knows you could be eavesdropping, she may well be receptive to a useful dialogue that could begin with you asking her this question. Myself, I don’t have any special knowledge of this concept, and its associated laws, that you couldn’t easily Google. You might check out this link and this one.

Dear College Dad,

My son just started his sophomore year of college. He never called me when he was a freshman, but I chalked this up to his being overly busy and wanting to really hit his stride as a student. We got along great when he was home for the summer, but since he’s been back at school he hasn’t called me once! What do you think is going on here?

Rebecca M, Southfield, MI

Dear Rebecca,

The answer is utterly simple: sons don’t call their moms. They just don’t. Never have, never will. You might find a few counterexamples, but those are just outliers, like that tiny minority of cats who are willing to be put on a leash. (Don’t read too much into my metaphor.)

Dear College Dad,

My son left behind a couple of MP3 players when he went off to college. He obviously doesn’t want them anymore since they became obsolete the day he got his smartphone. Would it be ridiculously sentimental of me to start listening to these, to get to know my son better through the music he likes? Kind of like a virtual meet-up in the musical realm?

Andrew B, Hillsboro, OR

Dear Andrew,

That wouldn’t be ridiculously sentimental, but would probably be ridiculous. Just because you latched on to “Dark Side of the Moon” as a teen and identified strongly with it doesn’t mean modern teens relate to music this way. Through platforms like Spotify, they’re omnivorously moving through countless songs and artists, sampling and discarding at an astonishing rate. Whatever tracks are still on your kid’s MP3 players are ancient relics of a time so fleeting it wouldn’t register in any historical sense. But if you think you might enjoy a crash course in obscure bands like Because It’s Tuesday, why not take a listen?

Here’s an idea: email your kid to tell him you’re enjoying the tracks on his old MP3 player, and he might well react in a favorable way, such as expressing exasperation that you’re wasting your time with music that is so 2014. This might set you up to ask for a “mix tape,” sparking a robust dialogue about what the hell a mix tape is. Your kid might even style you out with a current playlist.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter started college this term, and my husband and I never hear from her! I mean, when I was in college all we had was a landline that we shared with our roommates, so it was a little more difficult logistically, but I still managed to call my folks. Now these kids have their smartphones on them at all times and can so easily shoot off a quick text … but I still get nothing! I’d happily settle for “All is well – luv ya mom!” (though a call would be even nicer). Am I being crazy? Have I somehow offended my daughter (meaning I should reach out and make up, as if she’d even answer her phone or my texts)?

Megan S, Topeka, KS

Dear Megan,

Now you know how these teens feel, when their friends don’t respond to their digital overtures! The sad fact is, the ease of all this technology has unrealistically raised everyone’s expectations of what a reasonable response interval should be. The relative inconvenience of traditional landline phones probably prevented a lot of hurt feelings … it was possible to go long periods without contact without inferring that total neglect was the culprit. Just be patient, as the passage of time is surely experienced differently by your kid.

Now, if you get really desperate, it couldn’t hurt to occasionally employ the texting equivalent of click-bait. For example, if your daughter used to share a bedroom with her little sister, you could text, “Wow, Fiona has really torn your old room apart! It looks like a hurricane went through there.” What college kid could resist responding to that? Not mine, I’ll tell you that much…

Dear College Dad,

My daughter shared with me this shocking tale: her roommate’s mom showed up at a frat party (during parents’ week) with a bottle of tequila and ended up riding the mechanical bull while delighted freshman looked on. This happens every year apparently as certain moms try to relive their own college experience. Has everybody gone mad?! Should I be worried about the effect this college scene is having on my daughter?

John H, Albany, CA

Dear John,

That really is shocking. I hope that a) the mom wasn’t injured, and b) that “mechanical bull” still means what it used to and isn’t a euphemism for something unthinkable I’m too naïve to even know about.

As for the impression on the other partygoers, I’m sure this woman’s daughter was mortified (at least, I hope so) but all the other college kids are probably the better for it. This parental behavior might temper the allure of drinking … maybe parents will make alcohol abuse seem lame, like they did with Facebook.

Dear College Dad,

If my child leaves NYC on a train headed for Stanford University at 7 am on Sunday morning, traveling at 100 mph (as if!),and Stanford is 3,246 miles away, how long will it take before I have exactly $0 in my retirement account?

John L, Ithaca, NY

Dear John,

I was really starting to sweat about having to do math, and then I realized this is a trick question. Of course the answer is, if you have a retirement account, then you are in the subset of Americans who have too much money to get financial aid from Stanford, thus you wouldn’t be sending your kid there to begin with. Any functional adult living as close as you do to Cornell, a legitimate university, would see through the thin façade of Stanford’s inflated reputation, acknowledge that it’s more of an incubator for tech than an actual university, and refuse to spend a rent cent there.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter keeps texting me asking for photos of our cat. It’s starting to get ridiculous … this is practically the only contact we have: me obliging her with cat pix. Is my kid’s brain going soft or something? Any hints on how I might try to elevate the conversation?

Irma T, Dallas, TX

Dear Irma,

I suppose this could be a “safe” way for your daughter to reach out … it’s possibly easier to admit you miss your cat than to admit you miss your family. (Or, it could be that your cat is just much, much more attractive than you are—no offense.) One way to promote a more robust discourse would be to reply and say, “Given the number of cat photo requests you have made, I need you to prove to me that you’re not a bot before I send any more.”

Dear College Dad,

My child seems like a good kid and is pretty well adjusted and happy, though not exactly a valedictorian. Is there any hope for him?

Samantha W, Cary, NC

Dear Samantha,

No. No hope for him at all.

Just kidding! Doom-and-gloom rumors of colleges being impossible to get into have been greatly exaggerated. Meanwhile, with marijuana being legalized in state after state, and addictive video games on the rise, any well-adjusted, non-addicted, and happy kid will soon find the world his oyster, through the attrition of his would-be rivals.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter is a sophomore now, and every time I ask her what she ate for dinner she says either Kraft macaroni and cheese or quesadillas. I’d been so relieved she made it through her freshman year without gaining the infamous “freshman five” (or fifteen or whatever it’s up to), but now she’s developing such bad habits! I feel guilty because I never taught her how to cook. Is there a tactful way to warn her about gaining weight with her reckless diet-of-convenience?

Jennifer P, Stamford, CT

Dear Jennifer,

I’m no expert on females, but every cell in my brain tells me there’s no tactful way to broach this topic, and almost zero chance your advice would be appreciated. That said, you can at least get her off the Kraft crackaroni & cheese with a pair of non-weight-related rationale. First, since all Gen-Z kids care passionately about the environment, remind her the cheese powder packets aren’t recyclable. Next, point out that these same packets introduce potentially harmful phthalates into the cheese sauce. Homemade mac ‘n’ cheese is much yummier—and won’t feed your kid’s addiction to convenience). Send her this link.

Dear College Dad,

You were sure harsh about Stanford in your response to John of Ithaca. Is that really appropriate, given Stanfords widespread reputation as a top school?

Laura S, San Francisco, CA

Dear Laura,

First of all, Stanford really is pretty lame. Second, I’m a Berkeley grad … what would you expect me to say?

Dear College Dad,

I can’t help but notice the majority of your letters are from moms, not dads. What’s up with that?

Beth A, Arvada, CO

Dear Beth,

It’s simple: dads never worry about anything. They’re too busy watching the game.

A College Dad is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a College Dad,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Homemade Macaroni & Cheese


Sometimes you just need some starch. Whether you’ve had a hard workout or a hard day, nothing really satisfies like a giant plate of pasta. Sure, there are sophisticated ways of serving it, like with a Bolognese Ragù or a rich Alfredo, but what if you’re in a rush and/or don’t have a lot of high-end ingredients on hand? Or what if you need to satisfy your Philistine children? Well, that’s when you need some good old fashioned macaroni and cheese. I’m not talking about that lowbrow crap from a box, either. I mean the good stuff. In this post I’ll tell you, and show you, how it’s done.

As no other organizing structure suggests itself to me, I’ll give you this dispatch in the (perhaps mythic) who-what-where-when-why-how style of the newspaper reporter. In case you’re an albertnet newbie, I should warn you that I beat around the bush quite a bit on this blog, feeling that this beating is a) kind of the point, and b) something you probably deserve. If you just want the recipe, search within this page on “the actual recipe” which is buried way down in the “how” section.

Who, where, and when

Instead of telling you who makes this excellent dish, I’ll tell you who, weirdly, doesn’t: Irma S. Rombauer. Her Joy of Cooking, that indispensable cookbook no kitchen is complete without, has recipes for everything you could dream of, plus a lot of foods you’d never dream of. For example, it’s got recipes for cooking squirrel, opossum, and raccoon. In fact, the original edition (of which I’m a proud co-owner) shows you how to skin one of these varmints.

I love the boot in that drawing. You know those trendy “nose to tail” restaurants that emphasize using every part of the animal? Well, that’s nothing: how about using every part of the animal kingdom? These modern restaurants have got nothing on Ms. Rombauer.

That’s why it’s so utterly weird that The Joy of Cooking doesn’t have a recipe for macaroni and cheese. It’s so strange: the closest it comes is “boiled macaroni with cheese” and “baked macaroni.” The first is too simple (it couldn’t possibly produce the fully integrated flavor sensation we’re looking for, being basically cheese thrown on pasta) and the second looks like a lot of hassle: it sends you off to a separate recipe for “AU GRATIN III” which includes a lot of nonsense instructions like “the finished result should be neither powdery nor rubbery but ‘fondant.’”

The question of where is surprisingly relevant here: you can make this just about anywhere, so long as you have a couple of flames (one for the pasta water, one for the pan). This isn’t true of just any recipe. Sometimes a foreign kitchen just throws off your game. I’m up at my mom’s place in Oregon, where my brother Geoff’s pizza dough got a bit screwed up the other night by a strange oven that didn’t provide the right yeast-rising climate. I feel my brother’s pain: I once tried to make my Mexican-style rice at a friend’s apartment in NYC where the ingredients at the local grocery came (apparently) from Mars. But this mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is so simple, very few such pitfalls exist. The most basic kitchen tools and pantry will do.

On to when: as I touched on earlier, this is the dish you make when you’re tired, your brain is fried, your kids are disgruntled and in need of simple starchy love, you don’t have time to shop, and/or you lack the brain energy to do anything even slightly complicated. It’s an alternative to take-out, delivery, or a frozen dinner (if you even stock that sort of thing). Through this culinary mac ‘n’ cheese miracle, one moment you’re a burned-out cog of corporate industry ready to put your head in the oven, and the next moment you’re calmer than a mindful yogi, and a hero to your children.


My recipe is for the most basic version of this dish. I know it’s traditional and delicious to bake mac ‘n’ cheese in the oven with a bread-crumb topping, and my brother Max has even made his own bread crumbs for this purpose. A friend, emailing me years ago with a restaurant recommendation, wrote that Nizza la Bella has “the best macaroni and cheese in any restaurant I've ever had (the macaroni gran pere, baked, not that runny slop they serve at trendy macaroni specialty restaurants in utterly hapless Oakland).” Obviously there is ample opportunity to make this dish gourmet.

But I’ve never done that and I won’t start now. First of all, if I had that much energy, I’d make something fancier to begin with, like fettuccine Alfredo, maybe with homemade noodles. Second, pasta + bread crumbs = double-starch, which I’ve never seen the point of. (It’s like potato slices on pizza … what’s up with that?) To go to the extra trouble with bread crumbs, when this mac ‘n’ cheese is so good as-is, would be like putting one of those little cocktail umbrellas in a glass of beer.

Speaking of beer, check out this mac ‘n’ cheese themed Beck’st my friend John sent me years ago:

He’d just been on a brutal bike ride, he wrote, “so I made some celebratory macaroni and cheese with caramelized onions and linguiça sausage and peas. The cheese sauce is a combination of cheddar and Parmesan Reggiano. And I washed it down with the local lager.” Needless to say, I challenged him on that being macaroni at all (trying, alas unsuccessfully, to coax him and the rest of the Beck’st recipients into a debate about the correct translation of “farfalle”). He replied, “Dude, I know that’s farfalle — or ‘laços’ as they’re called here in Portugal — I was just testing you! Making sure you’re not falling asleep. However, if I make a cheese sauce (from scratch, as I do) and pour it over a pasta-like product, I have ipso facto and without question made ‘macaroni and cheese.’ You and your rules…”

Actually, I am not a purist when it comes to this dish. I have made it with macaroni, shells, farfalle, fusilli, cellentani, campanelle, rigatoni, penne, and orecchiette. I’ve used all kinds of different cheeses—whatever’s in the fridge—and I’ve added ham, peas, and even hot dog slices, for crying out loud. The basic recipe is completely adaptable and extendable, as you’ll see if you ever make it to the “how” section of this post. But first:


Why take even this much trouble? Why not just make mac ‘n’ cheese from the box, like in college? Well, for one thing, once you’ve got the hang of this recipe (and really, it’s not hard, trust me), it doesn’t actually take any longer. Meanwhile, the stuff from the box doesn’t give you much yield, and if you scale it up enough to feed a hungry family, that’s a lot of wasteful packaging, and probably costs more than doing it right. Finally, there’s the matter of what you ingest.

When a product has to say, “No artificial flavors or dyes,” we’re into “thou doth protest too much” territory, like being on a first date where your date says, apropos of nothing, “Don’t worry, I don’t have any STDs … I just got tested!” And when you look at the boxed mac ingredients, you see all kinds of stuff you wouldn’t use if cooking for yourself:

The second ingredient is glycerol monostearate, whatever that is. And why couldn’t they get by with regular monoglycerides … why did they have to use acetylated monoglycerides? Okay, I’m sure somebody’s dad is a chemist and could tell us that sodium alginate and oleoresin are totally harmless, but should that be good enough? Here’s a rule of thumb: if an ingredient isn’t in your spell-checker, and/or your kid can’t pronounce it, maybe it doesn’t belong in your mouth.

And that’s just the ingredients the boxed mac manufacturers tell you about. You know the little paper/foil packet with the powdered cheese? It’s not an ingredient, of course, but it’s the reason you ingest phthalates every time you make boxed mac ‘n’ cheese. Just look at that word: “phthalates.” That’s some seriously fucked up spelling, the kind of consonant cluster that just says “dangerous chemical.” This article explains the problem and though it tells us not to panic, I’m still a little put off. Among other things, we’re warned, phthalates “can disrupt the production of testosterone.” Them’s fightin’ words!

“But wait,” you’re saying, “I’ve been boycotting Kraft for years, and only eat Annie’s boxed mac ‘n’ cheese!” Hey, me too, but we’re still not out of the woods. I consulted the Annie’s website and found that although they do address this issue, their answer is disconcertingly more complicated than “no phthalates.” In a nutshell, the level of phthalates in their product is below the European Food Safety Authority acceptable threshold (the US doesn’t have one yet). The Annie’s website states, “We are working with our trusted suppliers to understand where phthalates are coming into our supply chain and how we can evaluate and limit them.” This is all very reassuring, but no match, in my opinion, for good old fashioned home cooking. (Full disclosure: I still keep Annie’s around for when my younger daughter has to fend for herself.)


Okay, on to the actual recipe. The gist is this: you’re going to start with an easy white sauce called a roux. (It’s different from the dark roux used in southern or Cajun cooking. Kind of a Midwest roux, you might say.) This is the base that you’ll grate hella cheese into. Stir the pasta in and you’re done. (Here’s a Tom Swifty on the topic: “‘Ugh, I shouldn’t have eaten so much white sauce,’ Tom said ruefully.”)

You’ll need just six ingredients: 
  • Any variety of short, stubby pasta (and any brand ... De Cecco, Barilla, American Beauty, Golden Grain, house brand … doesn’t matter)
  • White flour (though wheat flour will work fine)
  • Milk (whole, skim, part-skim, organic, not-organic, pretty much anything but non-dairy “milk” or chocolate milk, which I haven’t tried yet)
  • Cheese (sharp, mild, cheddar, Swiss, gouda, just about whatever you’ve got except American/Velveeta, which is not food)
  • Salt (Morton’s, iodized, non-iodized, house brand, fancy-pants sea salt, whatever)
  • Pepper (basic pre-ground, fresh ground, ground from green peppercorns, ground from a four-foot-long grinder, whatever)

Here’s what I came up with at my mom’s house:

Using a fancy-pants pasta like cavatappi can impress your dinner guests, though classic elbows are, well, classic. I was cooking for a big group so I doubled the recipe, and had to mix pasta shapes. No problem: just compare the cooking times and delay appropriately before adding the faster-cooking pasta.

So here’s what you do. Put a big pot of water on the stove and read albertnet while it reaches a boil. (That’s right, you can wait and make the sauce in the mere 10 minutes required for the pasta to cook!) Salt the water and throw the pasta in. Now, in a large paella pan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium/high heat. How much? I guess something like three tablespoons per batch, a batch being defined as the amount one pound of pasta will yield. Once the butter is melted, gradually add flour, stirring continuously until you get a nice paste.

How much flour? Well, not so much that the paste loses its buttery taste. Just two or three tablespoons for a single batch. You should end up with a ball of paste the color of yellow teeth and about the size of a young mouse. (I realize these aren’t very appetizing comparisons … what can I say?)

Hey, don’t forget to stir the pasta occasionally!

Now you start gradually adding the milk to the paste. The milk might sizzle a bit in the pan, which is fine, but the heat should be low enough that nothing scorches. Integrate the milk and paste gradually, using a whisk. Keep adding milk, gradually turning your paste into a thin roux.

When you’re done the sauce should be about the consistency of paint. Salt and pepper to taste. Now you start grating the cheese in there. You can have your kid grate the cheese into a giant mound on a plate while you’re doing the sauce, or you can have your kid stir the sauce while you grate the cheese right into it. You’ll know you’ve grated enough cheese in there when the sauce is almost as thick as pudding, or when your kid stops yelling, “More cheese!” Give it a taste. The cheesy flavor should be intense. If it’s not, add more cheese. Or add more cheese for no good reason. It’s hard to go wrong … just don’t add so much that it gets greasy. That’s never happened to me, but doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

The cheese sauce should be ready right about the time the pasta is done. (By the way, this isn’t the time to show off how sophisticated you are by undercooking the pasta. This is comfort food, damn it! Cook it all the way.) Strain the pasta, pour it in the cheese sauce, and stir away. The only tricky part about this step is managing not to drool into the pan. Turn off your overhead fan so you can hear the tantalizing sound this stirring makes. It should sound like walking through thick mud. Here’s some video … turn the volume up!

For this last step, you should gather everyone around to “help.” This might be one of the few family activities left that can make your kids literally jump for joy. If one of your kids already went off to college, text her a link to the movie with a heartwarming caption like “HOW YA LIKE ME NOW!?” If all of your kids have left for college, it’s okay to cry into the sauce, so long as you’re not wearing mascara.

Now, if there’s any flaw to this dish, besides its being basically nothing but refined starch and saturated fat, it’s that the color is just a bit on the pallid side. So you’ll want to serve it with colorful, salubrious vegetables, like really good red tomatoes. (No corn, dammit! That’s even more pallid, and it’s just another starch!) Up at my mom’s place, I scrounged up some frozen green beans and dry-farmed tomatoes at the last minute. NOOICE!


Is it responsible parenting to serve this starch ‘n’ fat bomb? Well, probably not. But you can limit the damage by loading your kid’s plate up with vegetables, and not letting him or her have a second helping of mac ‘n’ cheese until that plate is clean. And let’s be realistic: the odds are very high that your kid—yes, your kid!—will become a young adult who makes mac ‘n’ cheese from the box on a somewhat regular basis. If you can teach this basic technique, you might just help your family win the War on Phthalates!

A final note

Here’s a handy tech tip for storing the rest of that block of cheese. When you first cut into the plastic wrapper, start a few inches from the end. Cut it cleanly all the way around. Now you have a “cap” that you can slip down over the brick, and don’t need to waste extra plastic. This short documentary film explains it better.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2019 World Championship Road Race


Bicycle races can be fun to watch. Sometimes, though, it’s like the Super Bowl … super boring because it’s a blowout. In cycling, this generally happens when one team (usually Ineos) dominates. Teams or riders dominate when they’re doing a better job of doping than the others. Announcers stand by and pretend nothing is amiss. I don’t pull punches like that … in fact, when I get frustrated I start throwing punches all over the place, practically at random. I haven’t had to do that lately, because … well, who knows, could the sport be cleaning up? It’s possible. Or maybe I’m sinking into complacency.

Well, I don’t have Ineos, or any other trade team, to kick around today because it’s the World Championship road race, where riders represent their countries instead. (At least, they’re supposed to.) But you can bet my coverage will be as biased and unprofessional as ever.  For example, I would love it if the defending world champion, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, totally sucked today because he’s a filthy doper. So read on, for the “real” (i.e., my version of) the story.

2019 World Championship Road Race – Yorkshire, England

“Having a teammate would certainly help at the finish,” the announcer says as I join the action. His Antipodean voice sounds both sad and playful, like a character, Dumbeldork or whatever, from a Harry Potter book. So far I’m not hugely impressed with his tactical insight.

Well, our recent Vuelta a España winner, Primoz Roglic, is dropping out. He probably just showed up for form, to make an appearance, like those dead weight guys on your work conference calls. It’s frigid and raining here … at least half the peloton will drop out. The race is brutally long: 261 km, almost 162 miles.

“Is there a possibility of Peter Sagan winning a fourth title?” the announcer asks. Um, yeah, I think we can assume there’s at least a possibility.

Right now the entire peloton is together and they’ve completed the BS just-add-mileage point-to-point part of the race, and now face seven laps of a hilly circuit.

Wow, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) is dropped! They’re saying he crashed earlier. I don’t need to admit this, but he was my top pick to win today, after he looked so good in the Tour. I guess I’m no oracle.

Nairo Quintana (Colombia) is with Gilbert, and I’m going to pose this question: “Is there a possibility of Quintana even finishing today?”

Okay, Gilbert is quitting. “Oh, dear, Gilbert’s dreams are over,” the announcer says lugubriously. “He’s crying like a little bitch, he can’t stop.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

I don’t know, Gilbert doesn’t look like he’s crying to me … he just looks cold. “He’s inconsolable,” the announcer goes on. How can he say that, when nobody is actually trying to console Gilbert? Speaking of inconsolable, I’m not super stoked with the footage today. We aren’t getting any feeds from motorbikes because the drivers and cameramen don’t feel like being out in the rain. Perhaps eventually their bosses will make them get their asses out there.

In 1986, the Worlds were in Colorado, and I had front row seats. I didn’t have a formal credential of any kind, but discovered that you could just sort of go wherever you wanted if you acted like you belonged there. It was cold and raining on and off, and I took shelter for a while in the American tent as rider after rider dropped out, joined us in the tent, collapsed into a chair, and bitched about what a grind that was. The only one who stayed in the race was Greg LeMond, who missed the final breakaway. I watched the finish from the roof of an RV parked at the finish line. It was glorious: Argentin outsprinting Mottet.

To get into the British spirit here, and because I’m lazy, I’m having PG Tips tea instead of coffee. Alas, it’s not enough to wake me up so I have to go fetch more. Don’t worry, there’s at least 90 minutes left and the peloton is still all together so you won’t miss anything.

Okay, I’m back. The announcer says there are “less than 100 riders left in the race.” I think he meant “fewer” but then these guys aren’t exactly liberally educated.

It’s a bit tricky telling who is who, frankly. I don’t get to see anybody up close without the motorbikes, and nobody is in his recognizable trade team jersey. The jackets obscure their numbers which doesn’t help. Meanwhile, anybody who gets a bike change doesn’t show up on the readouts that the announcers use, which challenges them. I’m also spoiled because in this past Vuelta everyone was so tired by the third week, the peloton tended to shrink down to a very manageable size.

They keep promising the motorbike footage but nothing yet.

I just spotted an American rider! He’s tucked in the back, wearing a natty all-black jacket. That would be extra warm if there were any sign of the sun today. I have to say, I doubt this race will do anything for tourism in the UK (though that actually is a great vacation spot).

Oh, cool, we’ve finally got motorbike footage! Of course, it comes with a new caveat:

I wouldn’t want to fly a helicopter in these conditions so I guess I can’t complain.

Sam Bennett, the Irish spinter, drops out. Good, I don’t want this coming down to a sprint. That’s boring.

I’ve just learned that Valverde has abandoned. Excellent! Nobody is able to get footage of him climbing into his team car. He’s probably ashamed to abandon so early, being the defending champ. Well, in fairness, I’m sure he’s totally fried from taking second in the Vuelta. (Am I tempted to give him some credit for that achievement? Please.)

With five laps (about 70 km) to go, it’s still all together, with France and The Netherlands on the front setting tempo. The Dutch are trying to set up wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel for the win.

 Wow, an American attacks! It’s Lawson Craddock.

Daaamn, he’s getting a pretty good gap very quickly!

Some random dude has joined him. It’s Stefan Kung, a Swiss rider. He’s a pretty big guy, which bodes well. Big guys do better in the rain, just like they can hold their booze better. This isn’t just established fact, it’s my personal opinion as well, so you better take it seriously.

After taking like three minutes to eat a gel, Kung finally takes a turn at the front.

I strongly dislike Craddock’s handlebars. They’re like the “Randonneur” touring bike bars from the ‘80s. I guess I’m still rooting for him, though. It’s not like he chose those bars. In fact, his willingness to use what he’s provided, even when it’s so awful, is the height of professionalism.

In the peloton, Mike Teunissen of The Netherlands drills it at the front to shrink down the peloton. We’ll see what that does to the 31-second gap up to the lead duo.

Dang, just watching this is making me cold. I tried to warm my hands on my tea mug but it’s one of those double-walled insulated ones. I’m up in Oregon at my mom’s house, and the window is open because I’m too busy to empty the cat box right now, so it’s mighty frigid here. This is such a hard race for me!

The leaders have a gap that’s fluctuating between 25 and 35 seconds. Obviously they can’t hold this for 57 km, but perhaps somebody interesting will bridge up to them. I don’t think it’s possible for an American and a Swiss to do an epic break like that on their own … you need a Belgian or Dutchman in the mix to do something that heroic. That’s just the way it is.

Patriotism aside, I’d like to see van der Poel win, because I love to say his name. Back when his father, Adri, was winning a lot, back in the late ‘80s, I enjoyed saying that name, figuring out how to inject it into every conversation. (With that kind of social skill, it’s kind of amazing I wasn’t more of a ladies’ man.) Anyway, the young van der Poel is also a mountain bike and cyclocross racer, which I think is just kind of cool.

As the peloton comes through the finish line for another lap we get a more accurate split to the break: it’s only 20 seconds.

Another random guy attacks the peloton. His bike looks really odd, somehow bringing to mind a giraffe. I’m still getting used to seeing disc brakes on pro peloton road bikes. I’ll bet they’re nice to have in the rain today.

The chair I’m sitting at is too low. This is making my shoulders sore. Man, Worlds is a bitch!

The break is just sitting out there. I’m starting to think maybe Craddock won’t win this after all. Speaking of American victories, though, Junior Worlds was won by an American this year: Quinn Simmons. He fricking soloed … I didn’t watch it, but I’ve heard it was amazing. So we’ll keep an eye on that guy!

OMG, some dude totally stacks!

D’oh, his helmet whacked the pavement and everything. Poor dude.

Some guy attacks the peloton, bridges all the way to the break, and suddenly Craddock is dropped!

Man, things change fast. The new leader is Mads Pedersen of Denmark. That was an amazing bridge. So it’s just Pedersen and Kung out front, with Craddock floating a bit behind. Craddock is joined by some Dutchman … who now drops him.

Italy’s Gianni Moscon attacks the field and blows by Craddock, who’s on his way back to seek the breast of drafting and be suckled by the peloton.

The Dutchman who bridged up to Craddock was Teunissen, and he’s now on his own between the breakaway and Moscon, chasing like a madman.

And Teunissen has got them! This is great news for Holland because now van der Poel can just sit on, back in the peloton, and wait to counterattack if the break gets caught.

And now Moscon catches the break!

This is cool: Kung asks Teunissen for a gel and Teunissen gives it to him. They’re great pals now … if they make it to the last kilometer together, of course, that will change quickly.

One of my nephews just came over to see what I’m doing. He thinks that basketball is a far better sport than cycling. (Of course he does … he reached 6’4” at age thirteen.) I explain, “These are real men. They’re out there for over 160 miles in the frigid rain, rather than always playing indoors in a climate-controlled environment.” Peter replies, “Yeah, but they’re wearing yoga pants!” I explain that these uniforms predate yoga. But he’s wandering off. He’ll never learn.

The screen says the break still has 25 seconds but it doesn’t look that way to me. I could see everybody together in one shot just now.

Nils Politt of Germany makes a savage attack. What’s left of the peloton reacts swiftly.

With surprising quickness, Nils and three others, looks like van der Poel is one of them, significantly shrink the gap to the breakaway. Note the absurd Simpson-Meets-Flanders flag in the foreground.

Teunissen is dropped! I did not see that coming. Perhaps he’s dropping back for van der Poel. Could these guys be that organized?

And Nils is suddenly dropped! It’s because van der Poel is going so damn fast! Matteo Trentin of Italy is the guy on his wheel. Not sure who that third guy is.

And now van der Poel and Trentin catch the breakaway!

But the peloton is not far behind and there’s a ton of attacking back there.

So this lead group of five has two Italians. I think Moscon’s jacket might have thrown people off from realizing this. The Belgians have got to be pissed … they don’t even have a guy in the break!

There’s a chase group of three only 7 seconds behind, with the field another 10 seconds back. I hope this break stays off because I’ve taken some trouble reporting on it.

Kung misses a feed. D’oh! But somehow he scores another gel. Very resourceful, that guy. Note that this is the third gel he’s eaten since we started watching. Wise man.

The chasers are Izagirre Insausti (Spain), Carlos Betancur (Colombia), and Tom Skujins (Latvia). They’re looking really tired. Betancur is now dropped.

Up here in Oregon, winter has already arrived. I guess it’s fitting I should be freezing my arse off as I watch this. (In case you haven’t realized it yet, today is really all about me.)

The gap to the peloton is up to 35 seconds with 24 km (15 miles) to go. Betancur latches back on to the other two, but these guys are falling apart, they’re going to get caught. It’s a shame for them … they were so close to catching the break.

The gap is going out further, now up to 48 seconds so it’s not looking good for anybody in the peloton. As for the break, is van der Poel a big enough badass to beat the Italian duo of Moscon and Trentin, if they take turns attacking him?

Just to recap, the break is Kung (Switzerland), van der Poel (Holland) Pedersen (Denmark), and Moscon and Trentin (Italy).

Moscon cracks!

This lowers the breakaway’s chances of staying off, but obviously benefits Kung, van de Poel, and Pedersen if they can hang tough and hold it to the line.

But Moscon digs deep and makes it back on!

You know he suffered terribly to chase them down. What a badass!

Tim Wellens (Belgium) gets sawed off the back of the peloton. The peloton is rapidly dissolving as some furious Belgian bashes away on the front (perhaps unaware of the specific damage his effort has just caused).

Amazingly, Moscon has revived and is now doing solid work on the front of the break!

The leaders are now on the final lap, with only 13 km (8 miles) to go and a 47-second lead. In normal conditions, and in a shorter race, I’d expect the peloton to still have a solid chance, but I’ll bet everybody is just tired, cold, and demoralized. Look how sad Sagan looks. I think his sunglasses are falling off. Maybe that’s why he’s always rocking the ski goggles on the podium. Well, he won’t be doing that today.

Oh my god! Suddenly ven der Poel completely cracks!

He detonated so abruptly, I couldn’t even get a snapshot of the gap opening up. I think he probably bonked. He should’ve hustled up a couple of gels like Kung did!

And just like that, ven der Poel is caught by the peloton.

And now he’s off the back completely. What a shame, after his amazing move to catch the break.

Pedersen, notwithstanding the huge advantage Italy has in this breakaway, does a solid pull.

Trentin has finally ditched his jacket. Moscon is doing a lot of work on the front, making sure Trentin can save something for the finish (being the faster sprinter).

Now Kung pulls through. These guys are really working well together and that’s why the winner of this race will almost surely come from this group.

And Kung is just crushing it on the front! Moscon is dropped again, and Trentin is dying!

Kung is amazing. He was the original guy in this break, you’ll recall. And that was ages ago, with like 65km to go.

Sagan makes his move. Uh, dude? You are aware how overdue this is, right?

Kung is still being a total hero at the front and you can tell he’s suffering.

Now they’re inside of the final kilometer and suddenly they’re crawling, each waiting for someone else to pull through. Kung, on the back, looks absolutely miserable. I think he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him.

And Trentin launches his sprint!

But Pedersen is super fast and, surprisingly (to me, anyway, as I’ve never even heard of him) comes around! He’s heading for the line and looks like he’s got it!

What an amazing victory! I hadn’t really thought much about Petersen’s chances in this breakaway … he was just some guy. So what can we quickly learn about Pedersen? Well, he’s only 23 years old. He rides for an American team. He was second at Flanders last year. And now he’s being interviewed.

“What does it mean, to be wearing the World Champion jersey?” asks the interviewer. Pedersen replies, “Well, it’ll be harder to keep it clean. White is tricky that way, and remember, cycling costumes have to be washed in cold. So 2020 will be a tough season. I think I’ll need to lay in a good supply of Tide Plus Colorguard, and some Spray ‘n Wash.” The announcer says, “This must be a very special moment for you. A good soak should help with those whites. You might consider checking in with Mr. Laundry for some more helpful tips.” Pederson responds, “Thanks. Thanks for that.” (Note: I might not have this exchange exactly right. It’s possible laundry didn’t actually come up.)

Here’s a nice shot, thanks to the super-slo-mo replay, of Pedersen winning the race. I love how utterly wretched Kung looks in the background.

And here’s van der Poel crossing the line, looking pretty bollixed himself.

A domestique, noting earlier that I was slapping my hands together to beat blood back into them so I could type, has now brought me a down vest. I appreciate the gesture but where was he half an hour ago? The race is over!

Now the medalists are mounting the podium. Trentin really doesn’t look very happy.

Not surprisingly, Pedersen looks well chuffed.

And here’s your final podium. Trentin still can’t manage a smile. I hope he doesn’t kick any dogs later today. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll reflect on how a silver medal is actually pretty cool. Kung looks pretty pleased and he should be … he’s only 25 and obviously a complete badass with lots to look forward to. Also, being taller than the others, he will probably ultimately make more money. As for Pedersen, you know who he looks like? Buzz Lightyear. Am I right?

So, in closing, I invite you to ponder these facts: 1) an American initiated what became the winning break (even if he didn’t hang around to contest the finale), and 2) Valverde sucked even more than I hoped he would. What a great race!

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