Comfort food for the uncomfortable pregnant lady

As this pregnancy limps to the finish line, I've had to find ways to simplify my life. I keep comparing this pregnancy to my last one and asking myself why this one seems so much harder, given that for all intents and purposes, it's going more smoothly. I mean, last time, I had gestational diabetes. Last time, I had a lot of inexplicable pain, and last time it was the heat of August in the last month. This time, I'm diabetes-free and mostly pain-free, and I can't even complain about the weather.

Still, this seems much harder. Maybe it's because I'm four years older. Being 39 and pregnant is HARD on the body. But most probably it's all situational. Last time, I didn't have any other kids. In fact, I didn't even really have a husband, seeing as he was working on the road for 90 percent of the gestational period. I had a fairly simple and relaxing desk job. At night, I came home, ate cheese sandwiches, watched bad TV and petted my cats. This time I have a family to feed at night, a demanding and physical job, and it's freaking CHRISTMAS.

Something had to give. I can't up and quit my job, and I can't make it not be Christmas, but heck if I can't figure out how to eliminate some of the work in creating evening meals. I, Megan Stuke, have become the Queen of the Casserole.

I've found ways to make one-pot meals exciting and fun. My husband and child are totally into this kind of cooking, since it often includes noodles and cheese, and let's face it, who doesn't like noodles and cheese? Sunday night's pasta dinner, then, moved away from our usual Italian fare, and toward the "Mama's tired and this is comfort food" part of the show.

Extra Creamy Mac and Cheese with Ham 1 box large elbow macaroni (I used corkscrews because it's all I had)

4 ounces cream cheese

1 cup shredded Velveeta

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

2 cups milk or half and half

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon dried mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper

2 cups cubed ham

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Start some water boiling and begin cooking your pasta. Also, preheat your oven to 350 F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the flour. Whisk together to make a thickening agent, then turn up the heat to medium high and slowly start adding milk. Whisking constantly, add more milk as it bubbles and thickens. Once you have added all the milk, add the cream cheese and shredded cheese, along with the spices. Don't be afraid to salt the sauce — I always think it needs it. Just salt gently and taste as you go.

Meanwhile, dump your noodles into a large mixing bowl, and dice up your ham. Add the ham and the cheese sauce, and stir everything together. (I actually did this all right in the casserole dish, but if you aren't careful it can get pretty messy.) Transfer to a large casserole dish, and sprinkle panko on top of everything. Bake for 15 or 20 minutes until everything is slightly brown on top and the ham bits are heated through.

This made enough for my family of three to have several meals, which makes it EXTRA awesome. Leftovers are my friend.

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