The Connection. Hazel, the main character in The Fault in Our Stars, is a sixteen-year-old terminally-ill vegetarian from Indiana. A vegetarian meatloaf seemed appropriate, given the connection to the Midwest. Plus, this book is horribly sad. Comfort food fits the bill.
Lentil Loaf and Mashed Potatoes with Gravy
During my stint as a vegetarian, one of the gaping holes in my food life was the lack of a good main dish to serve with mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. Soft, creamy, buttery, delicious mashed potatoes. But when most of your main dishes feel like sides already, it’s hard to make a good case for such a nutritional zero. That’s why I scoured the internet for vegetarian meatloafs until I eventually hit upon a combination I like. The fruit of my labor is below. I hope you enjoy.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease one loaf pan. In a small saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil. Mix in the bouillon cube, then add the lentils. Return to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 40 minutes until water has been absorbed and lentils are tender.
While the lentils are cooking, dice the mushrooms very fine in a food processor. Saute the diced garlic in butter for a minute or two, add mushrooms, salt, and pepper, and cook until done.
When the lentils are done, blend them in the food processor until a bit mushy. Some whole lentils are fine. Let cool slightly before mixing with the rest of the ingredients so they don’t cook the eggs.
In a medium size bowl, combine the lentils, the onion, the oats, most of the breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup of the parmesan, the eggs, the tomato sauce, the mushrooms (reserving some to mix in with the gravy), the basil, and the parsley.
Spoon mixture into a buttered loaf pan and smooth down. Top with a sprinkle of bread crumbs and the remaining cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes until slightly crispy on top.
Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy (recipe to follow, but the trick is soy sauce, brewer’s yeast, and lots of butter).
“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
I was crying my eyes out on the couch the other night when a roommate walked in and looked at me with mild concern. “It’s my book,” I explained. “It’s Really Sad.” “Oh. What’s it about?” “Kids dying of cancer?” I got a “Well, gee, you kind of asked for it” look.
The subject is so obviously sad that I didn’t think it would get to me the way it did. I liked the book. The characters are honest, wry, and heartfelt. Like any good YA novel, the plot moves along at a good clip and sucks you right in. But it’s not just about dying. It’s about how broken hearts are a side effect of dying, as the characters would put it, which is honestly easier to relate to. And it’s Really Sad.
There are a few standard gripes with this book, but I mostly disagree with them. The first is that the characters are too well spoken for sixteen-year-olds. Well, that’s probably true, but they talk like teenagers wish they could talk. They talk like I did in my head when I was sixteen and pretending to confess my love to my high school crush, or coming up with killer one-liners to win old arguments. Who wants to read a book that reflects how the average teenager actually talks? That sounds terrible.
Second, the language is pretentious. But again, these are teenagers. Yes, Augustus has a silly fascination with metaphor and big words, and it’s kind of annoying. Yes, the characters say things like, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” It’s ridiculous. But teenagers do and say stupid things that they think are stunningly insightful all the time. And this hyperbolic, saccharine, over-the-top language kept on reminding me of how young and idealistic and unlived they were. I thought it worked.
The third complaint is that it doesn’t capture the raw hopelessness of losing a child to cancer. I think that’s probably true. This book is crazy sad, but it does sugarcoat the experience. These kids are the textbook example of how you should have cancer: still strong enough to live their lives, lucky enough to find true love at sixteen, sarcastic enough to have an excellent perspective and a sense of humor about the whole thing. I’m going to guess that’s not what it’s like most of the time. But it did made me think about what it would be like to die young, and it did make me appreciate that I have as many years behind me as I do. And finally, it made me care personally about an abstract concept—the “kid with cancer”—and I think that might be one of the best things that fiction can do.