I 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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!