LUCY BURDETTE: You all know by now that I can't resist a book about food. When I heard on an alumni writing list about about a book called THE CASSOULET SAVED OUR MARRIAGE, I had to track down the editor and ask her to visit JRW! Take it away Caroline!
CAROLINE GRANT: My mom is a great mystery reader, and I grew up steeped in the novels of Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey. These days, though, the mysteries that consume my attention are related to my kids and the continual puzzle of what they will – or will not – eat on any given day. I’d like to see Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Alan Grant tackle my dinner menu. My 7-year-old, Eli, is pretty predictable these days: he likes his vegetables and fruits raw and crunchy; he doesn’t like sauces of any kind; he likes to keep the elements of each meal pretty separate. No big mystery there, though I’ll be happy when we can cook carrots again.
But it’s my older son, Ben, who has moved in and out of pickiness in mysterious ways. For the first couple years of his food-eating life, he ate whatever we put in front of him: eggplant caviar. Goat cheese. Pickled daikon. Chard lasagne. And then bit by bit, he started dropping foods from his diet. It didn’t happen when he started school, as many predicted, but it happened obviously enough that I began to think of him as a picky eater. An unusual picky eater, to be sure; he ate cooked kale and pickled things and bitter marmalade, but no melted cheese (hardly any cheese at all), no milk except a bit to wet his cereal, no tomatoes. Birthday parties, with their ubiquitous cheese pizzas, became problematic. Eating out wasn’t so easy, either. And at home, despite our best intentions to keep cooking the foods we like and waiting for the kids to come around, we found ourselves subtly adapting our cooking to our kids’ appetites, or making modular meals of something new (a different kind of green, squash cooked a new way) topping something familiar (rice or pasta). We have fallen into ruts, and then needed to climb out of them. We get excited about new foods and then exhausted by the problem of needing to make dinner every single night.
But Ben just turned eleven and he seems to be stepping out of this picky eating stage. He sniffs delicately and will taste almost anything now except legumes. It surprises me sometimes, the things he’ll take from the table and put in his mouth. Recently, he pulled the bay leaf out of a dish of olives and ate it. I didn’t notice until afterwards, when he said, “That leaf on the olives is really bitter!”
“That’s a bay leaf, Ben,” I answered, “It flavors the food, but you’re not really meant to eat it.”
“Oh, well, maybe it’ll flavor my water.”
And with that, he stuck the bay leaf in his water and drank it down.
The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage explores various food mysteries: how to establish a new community around food; how to survive a hungry childhood; how to feed our children and our elderly parents; how to adapt to new foods, and new cultures, as we age. What have been the most interesting -- or challenging -- mysteries of your food life?
Caroline M. Grant is co-editor of Cassoulet, Editor-in-Chief of Literary Mama, one of Writer’s Digest’s Best Websites for Writers, and the Associate Director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation. She grew up in suburban New York, eating only the produce grown by her father and grandfathers in their backyards and now, with her two young sons, raises what vegetables she can in their foggy San Francisco garden. She blogs regularly about food and books at her website.