Lettuce Eat Local: Leap of Joy


Amanda Miller
Lettuce Eat Local


“Happy 9th birthday!” I’ll say wittily and with such originality. I’m sure my friend, who’s turning 36, will have never had anyone else share the Leap Year birthday math humor with her. It’s the joke that never gets old! (Especially because it can’t, ha ha.)

I know it’s lame, but we can enjoy it only once every 1461 days, so we might as well make the best of it. I have a niece that’s due on February 29th and as unlikely as it is, I’m hoping we get to celebrate her birth on Leap Day just because it’s so unique. 

I’ll probably keep running with the theme while I can, and invite friends over for a ¼-our-age-themed games and snacks evening. It’s not often I break out the graham crackers, cheese sticks, and Dr. Seuss Matching cards for company, but who doesn’t want a chance to relive their elementary years every now and then (every, say, four years?). 

To be fair, I should clarify — I don’t break out those age category activities and foods often for adult guests. I do, however, live in a house occupied by small children, a demographic often supplemented by additional kids. We don’t have extras over every day, but it does happen quite a lot. 

Before sickness intervened, recently I was expecting to have 8 kids ages 3 and under (along with their parents, don’t worry) over for supper. That’s a fairly common number of total kids to have in this house, just not normally all quite that young. This weekend had another high rate of kid focus, not necessarily out of the ordinary: I babysat a three-year-old Friday, had the three cousins over Saturday evening, and thought we were getting a two- and four-year-old sibling set for foster respite for the weekend. 

Needless to say, I started to question the efficacy of mopping the floor Wednesday. Oh well.

Anyway, I don’t need a Leap Day reason to focus on kid-centric food. Even if we didn’t have a selection of extra kids around at any given time, we do have a three-year-old; while poor Benson doesn’t get a lot of “children’s menu” options like chicken nuggets, corn dogs, or grilled cheese sandwiches, I do realize some things are more appealing to a child’s palate.…so he gets to enjoy things like pizza or quesadillas when his friends come over. And he always eats his fair share of classics like ketchup, applesauce, and baby carrots.

And I’ve been in a mac ‘n’ cheese place for a bit. Brian does not consider it hearty enough to be food, Benson is too fickle to make it for, and I only want it for a few bites, so it’s not a big winner in our family. I like to make it for other people, though, or to play around with it, since it’s so versatile and (in general besides our home) universally appreciated. Mac ‘n’ cheese soup for soup night, chili mac for Super Bowl, white cheddar macaroni for playdate lunch. I wanted to try cheesy mac pizza yesterday, but I have to remember who’s actually at the table and not just what I think they should like because it sounds fun. 

But there’s movie night here tomorrow and now I’m just distracted thinking what cheesy goodness I can make with leftover brown rice noodles…we’ll see what happens. This is probably more macaroni and cheese than I’ve made total in the four years since the last Leap Year, but what better way to enjoy our extra day.

Macaroni and Cheese Soup

I just wanted to make something more kid-friendly to serve alongside a pot of chili, and while I’d never actually heard of someone doing this, there seemed zero reason not to. It’s really just extra milky/brothy macaroni and cheese, so not there’s not much to it; but it felt fun and slightly more adult-friendly as well. Don’t forget to play with it — use any good melting cheese (pepperjack! gouda! swiss!) and toss in whatever meat or bonuses you like (bacon! caramelized onions! creole seasoning!). 

Prep tips: the noodles will continue to soften as the soup simmers, so add the milk and cheese while the macaroni is still a bit firm. 

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, minced

2 celery ribs, minced

8 ounces elbow pasta (whole-wheat works well)

3 cups chicken broth

6-8 cups milk

1 pound cheese, shredded (I used smoked cheddar and monterey jack), plus more for serving

1 tablespoon Italian herbs

salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in a large saucepan, and saute onion and celery until crisp-tender. Dump in pasta and broth, and bring to a simmer; cook until noodles are a bit firmer than al dente. Add in about half the milk, and stir in the cheese and herbs. Cook, stirring often, until cheese is melted, adding in remainder of milk to achieve the desired thickness. Season to taste and serve. 


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