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Cook to Celebrate - The New York Times

The other day, my colleague Jamal Jordan posted a food photo on Twitter — an upsettingly beautiful skillet of mac and cheese, bubbling away furiously over the white-hot coals of his grill. I had no words at all, just endless heart-eye emojis, and it’s all I’ve wanted to eat since.

Jamal told me he chopped a little bacon and sautéed it in a cast-iron pan. He added cooked macaroni, stirred in a basic flour-butter-milk roux, reinforced it with a mix of grated cheese — a smoked hard cheese and some grated Cheddar — then scattered some bread crumbs and more bacon on top. About 15 minutes of indirect heat on the grill, and it was ready. Jamal’s grandfather used to make it for him like this in Alabama (but without the bacon, which means it’s delicious without bacon, too).

Today’s my birthday, and that no-recipe recipe is a little gift. I usually like to have a crowd over and cook for them — setting out a whole ham with hot biscuits and fixings; steaming lobsters in the largest pot I own; tipping a crab boil onto a newspaper-covered table; setting up a simple cocktail station and letting everyone help themselves. None of those things would work this year.

In the early days of the pandemic, when my niece turned 7, she couldn’t party, so she baked a birthday cake with her parents — Dorie Greenspan’s perfect chocolate-chocolate cake (above) — then spent the day teaching herself to skateboard. My friend Jimmy planned a slightly more ambitious birthday with friends at the drive-in, where we all ate homemade khichdi and yogurt and drank cold watermelon juice in our separate cars, parked next to one another, texting jokes the whole time.

Everything about this year is different. It has to be. But there’s still room for joy, and I’ll take it wherever I can. Tonight, it’s in my backyard, with my partner and our dog and a bottle or two of cold, fizzy wine — and a skillet of Jamal’s mac and cheese.

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We’re here if you need anything, just send us a note at cookingcare@nytimes.com and someone will get back to you.

Stamps! Is it weird to be excited about stamps?! They’re not here yet, but I can’t wait for the new Ruth Asawa stamps I ordered to arrive. If you’re not familiar with her extraordinary life and work, start with this story by Thessaly LaForce.

I just started reading the essays collected in “Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the Twenty-First Century,” edited by Alice Wong, and highly recommend it.

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