Thanks a Lot, John LeClair by Johanna Parkhurst and a Hearty Mac & Cheese for those growing boys!

johnleclairI had to alter my schedule for the week, and do a review and recipe  for Thanks a Lot, John Leclair by Johanna Parkhurst. This book is the sequel to another one of my favorite young adult reads of recent years, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike where we met Emmitt Lapoint for the first time. Emmitt the star hockey player of his small town Vermont high school has a big secret, he’s in love with a boy. So in love in fact, that it’s changing everything. He needs to make sense of it all, and so he tries to figure it our the same way he as since he was 7 years old, by writing letters to his hero,  NHL player, John Leclair. He’s never sent any of the letters mind you, but they do seem to help him when he needs to figure things out.

For this book, I had to make a Mac and Cheese, it was a go to dinner for Emmitt and his brother Casey in the book, hot dogs with Mac and Cheese was a THING in this book. I kept hoping  to see a veggie make it to the menu when Emmitt was in charge of the cooking, so I took matters into my own hands, and came up with a recipe even young Emmitt could master. A Hearty Mac and Cheese with broccoli and mushrooms, rich, with a lovely crunchy topping, gooey and super filling. No wine pairing for this one though, keeping it alcohol free for the youths!

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Now the story.

Johanna Parkhurst does this thing, she writes her young characters with such evident respect and high regard, one can’t help but to read it them in the same spirit.  Emmitt is a boy who has placed a lot on his own shoulders, and for the most part he carries it well. He’s made being “good” his life’s purpose. The thing is since Dusty’s come along though, being the Golden Boy is getting harder every day. However things are getting strained with Dusty, he is tired of feeling like Emmitt’s dirty little secret. For Emmitt, the pressure to live up to all the expectations people have put on him, that he has put on himself, are becoming stifling.

This story in many ways is a straightforward coming of age story, adversity comes to test the mettle, and our hero rises to the challenge. The real beauty in this story for me, was in getting to see how Emmitt learned that true strength and success are not things you can see. They are the stuff that makes your life purposeful, meaningful and full of happiness, and those things, they are not for the outside world, they are for you, and  those whose lives your presence fills with purpose, meaning and happiness.

However don’t let this all this depth distract you, this book is funny, witty and seriously adorable, in short, the full YA package. Every character adds to this story, and it’s lovely to see that Emmitt who has always has everyone’s back, gets to have people stand up for him, and show him just how much he matters. At a time, I at least,desperately need it, this book left me feeling good about the future.

Hearty Mac and Cheese

  • 1 cup of chopped broccoli florets
  • 1 cup of chopped white button mushrooms
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup of grated Gouda cheese (or Gruyere)
  • 5 cups of milk
  • ½ all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of breadcrumbs
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb of rotini pasta
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 375F. Separately, cook pasta according to  instructions and set aside.

In a large pot (I used a 4qt cast iron braiser, which I put in the oven to bake the Mac & Cheese) melt 2 tablespoons of butter at medium heat. Once it’s bubbling add the mushrooms, cook them for about 3 minutes stirring constantly, add the broccoli and cook that for about 2 minutes. Once the veggies are sauteed, take them off the pot and set aside in a bowl.fullsizerender

Start to warm your milk to use for the sauce. Have your flour at hand, as well as a whisk. In the same pot put the rest of your butter, once it starts bubbling, pour in the flour and whisk vigorously until butter and flour are incorporated.fullsizerender

Once that is done pour the milk in, continue to whisk and add the cheddar and Gouda or Gruyere cheese to the sauce. Mix until the cheese is well melted, add the pasta, veggies, salt and pepper. Let that cook down for 3  minutes until sauce it thicker, it should be a bit thin though, since liquid will be absorbed in the oven.

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For the topping, mix the nutmeg, parmesan, breadcrumbs and paprika. If you are using a cast iron pot, you can sprinkle the crumbs right on top of the mac and cheese and put in the oven for 30 minutes. If not, pour pasta mixture into a deep 9X13 baking dish and top with your crumbs, and bake for same length of time. Let it sit for about five minutes before serving. It is a lovely mid-week meal with a simple side salad. Also the leftovers are AMAZING (I had them for lunch today)!

Thanks for visiting, I hope you enjoy the book and the recipe. I have a couple more things in the works this week, including my picks for Comfort Reads of 2016 so check back in soon!

Cheers and happy reading!

Laurax

Every Inferno by Johanna Parkhurst

EveryInfernoLG (1)JJ keeps having nightmares from the day his parents died. That day, that he lost everything. His whole family. He was just a little kid at the movies with his parents, and in just a few minutes he was an orphan.  Lost his mom, his dad, even his baby sister was taken away from him.

JJ is bitter sure, I mean who wouldn’t be, and yeah he drinks too much which is really a problem at 14, but he’s got so much in his head. So many bad memories and that man he keeps seeing in his dreams, he knows that man was the one that set that fire that killed all those people at the theater where his parents died.

JJ feels hopeless all the time, seems like no matter how much he tries he keeps messing up, and he keeps getting in trouble. He’s a burden. A burden to his aunt who took him in after his parents died a burden to his school, to the town, even to his little sister who he barely sees these days.

JJ is having a hard time figuring stuff out, and then there is the whole thing with liking boys. He hasn’t give this particular issue very much thought, but his friendship with Mckinley is making it harder and harder to ignore.

He wants to do good, he does, but he won’t be able to get peace until he can let go of the past, of what happened to parents. He knows that the only way to do that is to finally figure out what happened the night they died. He has his suspicions and starts looking into them little by little…Except life is happening to him finally. He is making headway, most days he doesn’t have that sinking feeling that fucking up his life for good is just a matter of time.

He’s letting people into his life and that is making a difference. He can even see his sister again now that he is not messing up all the time. He’s making progress, but there are still things that hold him back and the more he looks into how his parents died, the more he thinks the person who did is still out there.

I like how Johanna writes very much, she’s got a great sense for how young minds work and she is VERY aware that young doesn’t mean dumb or emotionally stunted. Young people struggle with big feelings and big issues, many times on their own because their very struggles make them feel completely isolated. They need support and they need a little faith some times to get on track and move on.  JJ learned to rely on himself, and to open up to others who would hold him up, and that made the difference in him being able to move one.

I enjoyed this story because it felt familiar and it felt true to life, sometimes we are our own obstacle, and sometimes we just need a break and something to hope for.  The mystery was also pretty intriguing, and kept me on my toes until the end. I liked the bit of darkness Johanna added here and I certainly enjoyed the lightness she threaded through it as well.

Great young adult title, totally recommend.

Every Inferno is available for purchase here.

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura