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.