Banging Eats with Feats is a column dedicated to Wesleyan students’ favorite recipes and the stories behind them. Submit a recipe you care about and let us know why! Form is online.
Thanksgiving is upon us again, and with it comes feelings of gratitude, lots of carbs, and, for me, a struggle with my national identity. Thanksgiving is the American holiday par excellence. Unfortunately, I’m not the quintessential American. I was born in the United States to immigrant parents but moved away at the age of 10 and didn’t return until I started college.
Each year I have struggled to decide what it means to be an American. Is it enough to be born here? Do I have to live here a certain amount of time before I qualify? There have always been cultural references from my peers that have flown over my head because there are tons of American movies, music and art that my parents, who are both Jamaican, never introduced to me.
Does this exclude me from American culture? Am I less American because I hold two passports? How do my blackness and femininity intersect with my Americanness? For much of my life, my Americanness has been defined by friends, family, and classmates, especially since living in countries where my nationality distinguished me more than race, gender, or any other identity.
I only started untangling the web of fears and insecurities surrounding my nationality about two years ago, during my senior year of high school, which I did at an international boarding school in the Netherlands. Funnily enough, writing my college applications made me think more deeply about what being an American means to me.
It was around Thanksgiving, which was also the time I was applying to colleges. I had been working on my personal essay for the Common App for weeks. You’d think with all the different experiences I’ve had in my life – living in three different countries, attending a weird, fancy, kind of iconic boarding school – I’d have a lot to write about. But I was stuck. I couldn’t seem to find a way to condense my life story into 650 words or less that didn’t feel like a laundry list of my life experiences.
“Discuss an achievement, event, or realization that triggered a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others,” the prompt asked me.
There didn’t seem to be just one event leading up to Thanksgiving that made me who I am today. Traditionally, all Americans at my boarding school organized a Thanksgiving dinner. Each of us prepared a dish or two and, along with a friend of any nationality, brought it to our dining room where we all ate our meal. We even walked around the table and said what we were grateful for.
It wasn’t a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Not only did we not have access to essential ingredients that would have been readily available at home, we were all so different; we came from all corners of the country and our families came from all over the world. The only thing each of us really shared was our citizenship. But bringing the diversity of our experiences together made it one of the best meals of my life. Although my mother’s mac and cheese, a dish that’s a hit from here to Helsinki, certainly didn’t hurt.
This was the first time I really enjoyed Thanksgiving. It was no longer some foreign tradition that my family emulated out of a need to assimilate into American culture. It was my way of celebrating the friends who had become like family when my own family was thousands of miles away. It inspired one of my best essays, which brought me to Wesleyan with a whole new family of friends with different perspectives to learn from.
“I have found significant comfort in the American community this year,” I wrote in my personal essay for Common App. “Although we share a common country of origin, we are the most diverse community on campus. Our heritage spans many different places, and our differences make our shared experiences all the more valuable; The time together is all the more fulfilling. At Thanksgiving dinner, I became truly grateful for the diverse community around me, and the ones I had the privilege of growing up in. I realized that the best thing about all the places I’ve lived is that they’re made up of a remarkable combination of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I appreciate more than ever the national motto that Jamaica shares with the US: ‘One out of many.’”
Well, without further ado, here’s the macaroni and cheese recipe that got me into college (and it’s even cornier than my intro):
Sulan’s (literally) world-famous Ooey Gooey Baked Macaroni-and-Cheese
- 1 standard packet of elbow macaroni (any brand)
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- ½ cup flour (optional)
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (or crumbled butter crackers, like Ritz)
- 4 packs (about 32 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese (I prefer to hand shred 4 blocks)
- 1 packet grated mozzarella cheese
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup milk (some people use condensed milk but I find it doesn’t make much of a difference)
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup (I like Campbell’s)
- 1 pinch smoked paprika powder (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 375 F. Prepare a baking pan measuring approximately 13″ x 9″ x 2″ with oil, butter, or cooking spray.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add a pinch of salt and the macaroni. Make sure to stir it every few minutes to keep it from sticking. After 8-10 minutes, strain the macaroni.
- While the water is boiling, place a medium saucepan over low heat and melt the butter.
- Once the butter has melted, add the milk. Gradually add the flour while stirring until the mixture has a thicker consistency.
- Add the egg. Keep the heat low and make sure to stir very slowly to avoid scrambling the egg.
- Gradually add the cheddar cheese. My preferred method is to add a handful or two and then stir until fully incorporated before adding more.
- Return the strained macaroni to the original saucepan, then add the cheese sauce, cream of mushroom soup, and half the breadcrumbs to the same saucepan. Mix well.
- Transfer the macaroni to your prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with mozzarella, breadcrumbs and paprika.
- Place the pan in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
This recipe serves 10-12 people. It’s easy to double it up for larger gatherings. Have fun and Happy Thanksgiving!
Sulan Bailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.