John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is narrated by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old girl who has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs. This means Hazel must walk around with a oxygen tank - not the kind of thing the average teenage girl who find easy to deal with. Hazel is an honest, sarcastic and funny narrator - she does not shy away from the reality of her condition, and so as the reader we are also forced to accept this early on - Hazel is really sick and will probably die. But that does not mean that she isn't going to live, really live, while she can. To help with her this, Green gives her Augustus ("Gus") Waters - a sexy, handsome teenage boy who is also suffering from cancer - osteosarcoma. Gus, a former basketball star, lost his leg to cancer, but like Hazel is a sarcastic, funny and charismatic teenager. The two meet at a local support group for kids with cancer - Hazel's extremely involved mother forces her to go so she can meet people (she has left school, got her GED and now takes classes at a local community college). Hazel and Gus share a friend, Isaac, who has lost an eye to cancer and is also going blind. It is a testament to Green's magic here to say that Isaac provides some great comic relief to the book, although also, as you would expect, sadness and heartbreak. Gus immediately is attracted to Hazel and comes on strong. Hazel, haven't never really experienced romance, is distrustful at first and pushes Gus away. That is short lived and the two, as teenagers should do, fall in love cutely and completely. They are both off the charts smart and the witty banter that Green creates for them, while perhaps unrealistic, is a funny joy to read. They introduce each other to the things they love - Hazel shares her favorite book - "An Imperial Affliction" - written by a recluse Dutch writer, Peter Van Houten. The book is about a teenage girl with cancer and ends, mysteriously, mid sentence. Both Gus and Hazel become obsessed with the book, its author and the mysterious ending. (In a much different vein, Gus shares his favorite book, based on his favorite video game, which Hazel also learns to love and reads the whole series). While Hazel and Gus' love story is a sweet ride, these kids have cancer and so the giddiness of new love is soon ruined by real life - cancer, and the book swerves into tearjerker territory. The book will make you cry, sob even, but you will come out of the book glad to have read it, perhaps a little optimistic and appreciative of what you have in life, and happy to have spent some time with Hazel and Gus.
Carrot Risotto, adapted from Amanda Cohen as described on chow.com
During a sweet date night for Hazel and Gus (can't say anymore about it without revealing some plot points), they enjoy an elegant vegetarian tasting menu. An exotic "dragon carrot risotto" makes an appearance. While I couldn't find dragon or any other colorful carrots at my local Whole Foods, I chose some small young carrots (not stubby finger baby carrots, but with stalks) to make this risotto. It is carrot times three - I used carrot as the risotto liquid, added pureed roasted carrots to the creamy rice and then stirred in shredded raw carrot towards the end of the cooking process. As we head into March this dish is the perfect way to welcome spring.
For carrot puree:
12 ounces carrots (4 or 5 medium)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups carrot juice (pure, not sweetened)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (more if necessary)
12 ounces carrots (4 or 5 medium) grated on box grater
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper
carrots and chives to garnish
- To make puree, preheat oven to 400
- Peel and chop carrots into 3 inch pieces.
- Put carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and toss.
- Roast until carrots are soft, turning every so often, about 20 minutes.
- Put carrots into a blender, add a couple of tablespoons of warm water and puree. It does not need to be totally smooth, just a mashed carrot consistency will be nice. Set aside.
- In a large deep sauce pan heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute more.
- Add rise and stir until rice is coated in oil and slightly toasted - the rice will crackle, about 1 minute.
- Add the wine and immediately stir cooking over medium heat until wine is evaporated.
- Add the shredded carrot and stir, cook for one minute.
- Add 1 cup of carrot juice, lower heat to a simmer, and stir until carrot juice is absorbed.
- Add the second cup of carrot juice, let cook on low until absorbed.
- Then add the broth, a cup at a time, stirring often until each cup is absorbed.
- Once you start adding the broth, the cook time should be about 15 minutes, until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy.
- At this point, add the carrot puree and stir to incorporate.
- Add the cheese and butter and stir to incorporate.
- Serve, garnishing with raw carrot and chives. You can use any herb you want.