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Spice of life: Simple parties simply fabulous

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Maple Pear and Blue Cheese Mac %u2018N Cheese offers a unique take on a traditional dinnertime favorite.
Maple Pear and Blue Cheese Mac %u2018N Cheese offers a unique take on a traditional dinnertime favorite. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Every year for my children’s birthday’s I start a few months out trying to get a fix on what they want to do to celebrate.

I am never sure what I will give them to celebrate their special day or what they will be into. As you can imagine, their whims change from day to day; but I am happy to see as they get older that they are easier to figure out.

With my oldest, he just wants to have a friend over and get to have uninterrupted play time. Uninterrupted meaning I keep them supplied with snacks and munchies and the little brother stays out of their hair. Luckily, his birthday falls around Memorial Day, so they can play outside, fish and play in the woods.

My youngest has a birthday that falls just past Valentine’s Day. I am not sure why I had hoped for his birth to fall on the day set aside to show love and friendship, because he would probably not like any of the spotlight to be taken away from his big day.

This year he is turning 10, and I am not looking forward to it. There is just something about saying your youngest child is 10 that makes you feel a bit aged. Yes, an overreaction, but still.

My oldest is about to move on to high school and is a good four inches taller than me, and my youngest is getting older. I guess more than feeling aged like a good blue cheese, I am wistful and reminiscing on when they were small and under my wing.

As they get older, having a conversation with them has become a real event. One-word answers, grunts and wordy diatribes on why I cannot possibly understand what they mean gets old but is almost always entertaining.

Such was the case when I asked my youngest after Christmas what he had in mind for his birthday. What he wanted to do, what kind of birthday cake he wanted and how he wanted to celebrate. This decision was obviously more than he could make because until a few weeks ago he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

Finally, while in the same house one night, he sent me a message that simply said “surprise me”. Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words surprise me I instantly already feel defeated. It’s like I was set up to fail.

So I put together a low-key family night that I thought he would enjoy. First we had dinner at home completely unplugged, and I pulled out all of the stops. My nice dishes, cloth napkins — the whole shebang.

Remember, this is my foodie child, so he eats this kind of stuff up. I made maple pear and blue cheese mac and cheese, which is pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself. We went meatless in his honor. I followed that with his favorite flourless chocolate cake and strawberries.

Later, we visited the new SkyZone indoor trampoline park in Plainfield.

We didn’t tell the boys we were going because they had been on me all summer to take them to the other location in Fishers, but we never had a chance to get up there.

Imagine a sea of trampolines with a dodgeball court, foam cube pit and basketball. We bounced our way through the night, and the boys had a blast.

So maybe not overplanning an event and chasing down every detail is the way to go. I have planned countless birthday parties over the years that were probably overdone and too elaborate. Guess what. They don’t remember a single one.

But on this night, my son told me no less than five times that it was his best year ever. A great meal together and a fun night was just what this young man wanted.

Maple Pear and Blue Cheese Mac ‘N Cheese


8 ounces of elbow macaroni

5 tablespoons of unbleached flour

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 cups of peeled and diced pear

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

¹⁄8 teaspoon of fresh black pepper

pinch of ground nutmeg

2¹⁄3 cup of half and half

2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup of crumbled blue cheese

¹⁄3 cup of real maple syrup (plus more for drizzling)

½ cup of walnuts, chopped (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray (or butter) a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray.

Fill a large pot with water and boil macaroni just shy of al dente. Drain and reserve.

In a small skillet saute the pear with 1 tablespoon of butter. Remove from heat.

In a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and whisk in the flour. Add salt, pepper and the nutmeg.

Allow to cook for 1 minute on medium heat, then whisk in the half and half.

Add 1¾ cup of the mozzarella and ¾ of the blue cheese.

Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the maple syrup and pears.

Add the drained pasta and remove form heat.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of melted butter, walnuts and remaining cheeses.

Ladle the pasta mixture into the baking dish.

Cover with the cheese and walnut topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly.

Allow to sit five minutes before serving.

Heather Tallman lives in the Center Grove area and writes the cooking blog Basilmomma.

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