There is a season with Molly Parr: Mac(cabees) and cheese

Published: 12/11/2020 2:02:11 PM
Modified: 12/11/2020 2:01:58 PM

Come ye gather ‘round the dancing candles of the Chanukah menorah; do I have a story for you! Nope, it’s not about the brave Maccabees and their fight against Greek assimilation. Nor is it about the oil that lasted for eight days, and the fried latkes we eat in celebration of that miracle. It’s about a lesser-known, possibly even more awesome Chanukah food: cheese.

The custom of eating cheese for Chanukah dates back to the Middle Ages and the apocryphal Book of Judith. Judith, a beautiful widow, plied the general of the invading Assyrian army with salty cheese, and then wine to slake his thirst. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious.

I like celebrating a strong female leader — and I like cheese. So even though we won’t have anyone over this year, we’ll still be eating mac and cheese to celebrate the holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good latke. I’m partial to celery root and carrot ones, with a plop of Greek yogurt doctored with cilantro, garlic and lemon. Last year we had over more than a dozen folks, and I spent days in advance frying up potato and sweet potato latkes. I served them with creme fraiche, chives, and kosher caviar — a gift from my father in Jerusalem. The evening was a blast, and, yup, my house smelled like latkes for the next three weeks (another reason to go mac n cheese over latkes this year especially).

When I have large gatherings like the one I had last year, I sometimes make a chipotle mac and cheese when adults outnumber the children. But because it’s just the four of us for the foreseeable future, I’ve kept this recipe clean and unfussy: a simple roux of flour and butter for the base, and cheddar for the cheese. I did add a Ritz cracker crust, and I encourage you all to do as well. I smashed the crackers while they were still in their plastic sleeve, which made things less messy.

A hot pan of mac and cheese feels so right for cold December nights.

Mac and Cheese


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups shredded cheese

Box of pasta (I’ll leave the shape up to you)

Sleeve of Ritz crackers, smashed (I counted 13 and a half crackers in my sleeve)

4 Tablespoons melted butter


Preheat the oven to 375F

Cook the pasta al dente according to the directions on the package, but rinse and drain one minute less than the recommended time.

Meanwhile, gently melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. (This brownish paste is called a roux, by the way.) Add the milk a little at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Bring to boil. Cook, stirring continuously, until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat.

Add the cheese to the sauce. Stir well to mix, then taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Add your well-drained pasta into the sauce, then pour everything into a 13”x9” or 2 quart baking dish.

Make your topping by combining the smashed Ritz crackers and the melted butter together. Distribute evenly over the mac and cheese. (I used my hands for this step.)

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Serve hot.

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She’s been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. She was furloughed from Smith for the summer and is using the time to work on her first cookbook. Send questions or comments to

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