I had him at chicken cacciatore

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It was June, 1998. D and I had just started dating, but it felt like it might turn into something serious. He was playing for the Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team at the time, and was traveling a lot, but between trips, I invited him over to my tiny studio apartment for dinner.

At this point in my life I had been working in restaurants for several years, and I loved good food. I spent most of my disposable income on meals that I couldn’t really afford, and Saveur and Bon Appetit magazines lined the shelf in my kitchen. When the a new issue arrived in my mailbox, I devoured it, marking every recipe that caught my eye with a sticky note.

That night, I made chicken cacciatore, and D and I sat across from each other in my bedroom/living room, eating with my low coffee table between us. We each took one bite and then another, and then I waited to see what he would say.  Finally, he looked up at me and smiled so wide that his dimples made their dents in his darkly tanned cheeks. “This is so delicious,” he said in a swoony kind of way. And I smiled right back at him, full of pride.

In the introduction to The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, editors Caroline M. Grant and Lisa Catherine Harper write, “…cooking for and eating with those we love most remain some of the best ways we celebrate them.” That was exactly what I was doing for D when I made him that first meal: celebrating him, the possibility of us.

Cassoulet is chocked full of wonderful essays about how we use food to celebrate our families and honor tradition, but also how we create our own traditions with food. In “Lobster Lessons,” Aleksandra Crapanzano describes how she woos her boyfriend’s great-aunt Margaret away from her regimen of bland, overcooked food to dishes that have Margaret hoarding savory recipes until the following summer, when she’ll see Crapanzano again. In “Rachel Ray Saved My Life,” Melissa Clark undergoes a transformation from someone who doesn’t cook even at her own dinner parties to someone who creates a Mother’s Day spread that dazzles her foodie mom. (And made me cry a little.)

But Cassoulet also contains essays about contentious relationships with food. I loved Elrena Evans’ essay about navigating the complicated terrain of food and body image. When Evan’s toddler stops eating, “fails to thrive,” Evan’s own history of eating disorders rises to the surface, and she vows to take her daughter’s developing issues with food day-by-day, baby step-by-baby step.

This book is a perfect gift for anyone who eats or cooks (everyone!) And it’s a perfect way to pause during a hectic day and be reminded of what’s really important in life: family, food, health.

That summer of 1998 when D and I began dating was filled with evenings at a small table at what still is one of our favorite restaurants. We held hands and sipped bottles of smoky wine, our spoons clanking as we fought over the last bite of crème brule. The following November, we moved in together, and by December we were engaged.

It was bound to happen fast. I had him at chicken cacciatore.

 

You can come meet Caroline Grant, co-editor of Cassoulet, on Saturday—this Saturday!!—at the Loft Literary Center, where she will be reading with Katrina Kenison and me at the 7th Annual Motherhood & Words Reading!

 

Where: Open Book, 1011 Washing Avenue South, Minneapolis

When: Saturday 5/4 7 pm

 

It’s free! And of course there will be lots of yummy food and wine. Bring your friends.

And if you’d like to be entered to win a copy of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, leave a comment below by Monday, May 13th describing an experience with food and family that has stayed with you.

 

 

 

 

17 Comments

  1. My maternal grandmother lived in a one-bedroom apartment in St. Paul, a two hours’ drive from our house. Whenever we’d visit, she’d prepare a meal that could easily have served 12, even though there were only four of us. My mom and dad, my older brother, and I would sit at the polished table, set with china and linen napkins, while she bustled between the dining area and the galley kitchen, bringing out yet another dish. My brother was a picky eater then, but he adored Gram’s cinnamon rolls, big as a fist, oozing frosting over their crusty tops. It was one of the only times he’d ask for seconds.

    As Gram got older, cooking and baking became too much for her, so we’d take her out for Baker’s Square pie, just down the street from her apartment. She and my dad were the only people I knew who liked sour cream and raisin pie. When we’d eaten our fill, my parents would politely haggle with Gram over who would pay. Gram always won the argument, much to my parents’ dismay. She could not be persuaded otherwise.

    She died at age 91 in the hospital, surrounded by family, after suffering a stroke. After her funeral Mass, we gathered in the church basement to celebrate her life over slices of Baker’s Square pie. Gram would have loved it. And she would have tried to pick up the check.

    • Oh Joy, I love this! I can just see her bustling around her apartment, having fixed a huge feast out of love for all of you. And she WOULD have loved that pie in the church basement. Thank you for sharing this wonderful portrait of her!

  2. Not too long ago, we were running out of ideas for dinner, and all we had in the freezer was some salmon. My husband and I teamed up and we made delicious salmon cakes for dinner. They were awesome! But the best part was the two of us side by side, chopping and flaking salmon, and mixing. I will always remember it.

  3. When Matt and I first started dating (spring ’99) I called him like a damsel in distress because I couldn’t get my modem to work (remember those?) By the time he got to my apartment (also a tiny studio!) the modem mysteriously started working again and I had fixed a little pasta dish with proscuitto and olives.

    Thanks for jogging the memories!

    And guess what? Caroline Grant is our June speaker for the Write On, Mamas! Can’t wait to read the book.

  4. My husband tells me it was my Chicken Marsala that sealed the deal, on a rainy evening in 1985, though when I recall that night, it’s lasagna I see. No matter. I’d cooked the meal because I had something to say.

    He’d broken my teenage heart once in high school and we hadn’t seen one another for years. In our mid-20s, we dated again, but then he stopped calling. Finally, we were back together for what might be forever.

    “Listen up. Three strikes and you’re out,” I said, curled in his lap between dinner and dessert.

    We’ll be married 25 years next Wednesday night. I’m planning to make Chicken Marsala.

    • Ah Lisa, I love that story. How long after that meal did you get married?

      • Thanks, Kate. We got married nearly three years later. So even though it’s 25 years married next week, if you count back to when we first met…38 years. I was 15, he was 19, and we still have the ticket stubs to the NY Giants football game where we met. Ticket price: $7.

        What a fun bunch of stories in comments here!

        • Oh wow, Lisa! Well, he definitely made the right choice the third time around. I’m so glad that you’re celebrating your many years together!

  5. My mom has always made a pumpkin chiffon pie for Thanksgiving, and every year she cursed and grumbled while she made it. As we got a little older, my sisters and I asked why she made it if it was such an ordeal, and she said because G. loves it and I love my sister. The pie was promply rechristened “I love my sister pie.” Years later, my mom was working on her masters and working full time and generally extra busy and stressed and I offered to make the pie for Thanksgiving along with my usual blueberry and apple. She took me up on the offer and I jotted down the recipe. It seemed to come out fine (though I never ate my mom’s version so I had no way to judge my own), and there was no muttering or cursing involved. I asked my mom what the big deal was with that pie, it didn’t seem so hard. “Not hard, but fussy,” she said. And I could see what she meant. I had made the pie alone in my apartment, but she was always making it with two or three of us calling for her, needing something, most likely while she was trying to clean up from dinner and fold laundry and remembering what it was she had meant to do four hours earlier when she got interrupted then. Yeah, I could see where things would go awry. “I love my mom and my aunt” pie was a one shot deal. My mom went back to making the pumpkin pie after that.

  6. I am excited about reading this book. I am late bloomer in the cooking department but this desire to connect through food is something I share with my sister in law. We are spending two weeks together at her cottage this summer and plan to give this to her as a gift so we can share chatting about it alongside all the cooking we will need to do to feed our combined clans.

  7. One year when our kids were little we were in Sanibel and purchased a cookbook from a local bookstore. My son was napping and my husband was at the pool with our daughter. I made the cookies and when he woke, took them down to my husband and daughter. Every year after that, we made sure to bring the recipe with us whenever we went on vacation. The cookies will forever be called “Florida Cookies”.

    • I love that, M.K.! And thank you so much for visiting Motherhood & Words. I look forward to checking out your blog.

      Warmly,
      Kate

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