Friday, May 27, 2016

Fruit Juice and Vegan Mac & Cheese Inspired by R.J. Palacio's Wonder

The guy with a limp. The girl with down syndrome. The kid in a wheelchair or the man hooked up to an oxygen tank. These are not uncommon occurrences, and yet people never seem to know how to respond. They stare or let their eyes slide away in embarrassment or act overly differential.

I’ve never been able to decide whether I find this upsetting or pathetically funny.

As soon as you start throwing around words like “disabled,” “deformed,” or “diseased,” people  freak out. After all, these are situations that many people can’t identify with or fully comprehend, so they’re not sure how to react.

This is something that Auggie Pullman knows all about. Okay, so maybe Auggie isn’t real. He’s a fictional character from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. But he was meant to show the lives of people who are set apart physically by situations they had no control over. I read it a while ago and thought it was a beautiful, eye-opening story:

August Pullman just wants to blend in. He wants to be able to go out in public without drawing stares or play with other 10-year-olds rather than making them afraid. He may be a normal boy on the inside - he eats ice cream and loves Star Wars - but that’s not what most people see when they look at him.

Born with a severe facial abnormality, Auggie has been homeschooled his entire life. But now he’s entering 5th grade and it’s time for him to go to a public school and meet new people. How is he supposed to do that when nobody seems to want to sit next to a kid with a freaky face? How is he supposed to show them that he’s just a normal kid inside?

Told through the eyes of Auggie, his sister, and his friends, Wonder covers the wide range of emotions (good, bad, and just human) that come along with having something in your life that completely changes the way you approach the world, and how others approach you.

I usually don’t read middle grade fiction, but I made an exception for Wonder because I kept hearing that it was one of the better books out there. I was hesitant at first. The premise of the story made me assume that I was going to wind up wanting to yell at a fictional 5th grader for being a jerk. After all, that’s how many books featuring “special” characters go.
However, Wonder took an interesting approach. It showed Auggie not only through his eyes, but through the eyes of his friends, family, and semi-antagonists. Rather than victimizing Auggie, Palacio showed him as a normal human being living through abnormal circumstances. It was neat to see how other people viewed him: at first with shock, sometimes with revulsion, but then with most of them coming around to recognize how Auggie isn’t that odd afterall. In fact, he’s a bit of a wonder.

One character I enjoyed in particular was Summer. At first she befriends Auggie out of pity. Unlike some of the other kids in the school, the principal didn’t take her aside and ask her to make friends with him. She just decided to sit with him once because she figured that nobody wants to sit at a lunch table all alone. So she took her mac and cheese over at sat next to him in what was meant to be a one-lunch offer of sympathy. But she soon comes to a surprising conclusion: This Auggie kid is actually a really neat, fun person. She eats lunch with him every day from then on out, not because she feels sorry for him, but because she enjoys his company.

That’s where the mac and cheese portion of this post comes from. And the juice? Auggie has a hard time eating certain foods because his jaw isn’t set right, so juice is his go-to when he’s hungry.

Mac & Cheese
Ingredients - 
  • 1 cup of raw cashews. Soak them for 4 to 7 hours in water, drain, then rinse. This releases the phytic acid that likes to hang out in nuts. You don't want phytic acid in your foods because it will bind to nutrients that you need, thus causing deficiencies. Not good.
  • 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast. No, you cannot skip this ingredient. You can find it at many hippy organic stores....Oh. Right. I believe the correct term is "health food stores."
  • 1 and 1/3 cups of water  
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt 
  • Your choice of pasta. I use rice pasta made by Tinkyada and they're the best gluten-free pasta I've found, so I'd recommend you go with them. Their trademark is a bit creepy, but more on that later.
Directions - 

1. Place all ingredients in the vitamix (I assume you can use a standard blender, though it may not come out as smooth). When I say "all ingredient," I am, of course, excluding the pasta. If you didn't know that, then I think it's safer for everyone if you stay out of the kitchen. Blend on high for about 1 minute, or until smooth.Viola! You now have vegan bechamel sauce. Does anyone else think that's a weird name? How can you have a vegan cream sauce? *shrugs*
2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add your pasta and cook according to the package instructions. The Tinkyada pasta cooks for 15 minutes. Try not to look at the logo when you open the package. It'll give you nightmares:
What even are those? Psychotic bunnies? And what do psychos or bunnies have to do with rice pasta? I don't know. I didn't think it could get any more weird until I saw this:
Yeah. Well, I don't think you guys have to worry about anybody stealing your serial killer bunny logo. Just a guess. Okay, I'll stop making fun of them now. Their pasta really does taste good, though, I promise.
3. Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain, rinse, and put back in the pot. Mix in some of your vegan bechamel sauce. You may need to add more salt. Stir, heat on low for a bit, then serve.
4. You'll have leftover vegan bechamel sauce. I had enough for an extra package of pasta. You can store it in your fridge for about 5 days. In case you're wondering, no, the sauce does not have a strong cashew flavor.

Fruit Juice

Ingredients - 
  • 1/2 cup of cold water
  • 1 orange, peeled and quartered
  • 1 apple, cored and quartered 
  • 1 carrot, chopped into thirds. 
  • 2-inch slice of pineapple
  • Handful of ice cubes
Directions -

1. Place all ingredients in vitamix. Blend on high for about 45 seconds (or until smooth). This juice will be a bit thick, so if you want to strain it, feel free. I didn't because I like pulp.

Despite the counter intuitive term "Vegan mac & cheese," this stuff tastes really good. It's creamy and the apparently psycho bunnies are really good cooks because the pasta is perfect (okay, that was the last one). This meal is gluten-free, vegan, a complete protein, tastes good, and doesn't require a lot of time or a highly decorated michelin star chef to prepare. Doesn't get much better than that.

If you have yet to read Wonder, I recommend that you take some time to give it a look. It's a very sweet, eye-opening story that teaches empathy and helps show how to deal with hard situations that are difficult to fathom. It is, unfortunately, a bit fluffy and maybe the ending was a bit unrealistic, which is a bummer, but what do you expect from MG fiction? The message alone makes it worth the read, as do the incredible characters scattered throughout.

Have you read Wonder? Do you plan to? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related articles:
Steamed Clams Inspired by Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See
Polymer Clay Book Tutorial + A Review of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
In Which I Make Mini Cottleston Pies Inspired by A.A. Milne's The World of Pooh 

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  1. Dairy-free mac and cheese! Thank you thank you thank you!
    I have read Wonder and I loved it. Parts of it were painful, but in a good way, like stretching.
    In many cases I prefer middle-grade and YA books to their adult counterparts. I often feel like the adult books are lying to me-more than fiction usually lies. Maybe I just haven't grown up yet.

    1. My pleasure! I kept seeing these recipes floating around and got curious, so I made my own. =)
      Yeah, I love YA. One of my favorite genres is classic novels, way back from when authors thought that telling the truth was important. =)

  2. Wow, this sounds like a really sweet story! I haven't read middle grade fiction since, like, I WAS a middle grader, but I might try this one out.

    1. Ha! I didn't even read MG when I was in middle grade. =) But I like this one. I think you'd enjoy it!

  3. Awesome recipe and interesting book. I often say that the human condition is a disability. I know what you mean about middle grade fiction, but I once heard a saying that if it's too complex for adults, make it YA, and I think theres some truth to that.

    1. I would agree: Everyone has something they're struggling with. I love YA: I do think it can go a lot deeper that adult fiction, if people will just give it a chance.

  4. Ahhh that mac n cheese looks super yummy! I wasn't thinking I would read Wonder, but after seeing the semi-review you have here I think I might give it a shot.

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

    1. Yay! You should give it a shot. Both the mac and cheese and Wonder. ;-)

  5. I usually shy away from any and all middle grade... but this one sounds different. I make have to add it to my TBR list.
    Thanks for the recipe! It looks yummy, especially that juice.
    Jeneca @Jeniqua

    1. It definitely deserves to be read. I think it's one of those stories that everyone would benefit from reading.
      Glad you enjoyed the recipe!

  6. Very interesting recipes indeed, Hannah! You always manage to surprise me :) I haven't read Wonder yet, but I am now intrigued!

    1. Thanks! It was a fun recipe to test out. I think you would really like Wonder!


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