GIVEAWAY: The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

When my copy of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, I opened it hurriedly and dove in.  One of the editors, Lisa Catherine Harper, is both a friend and a writer I adore.  I read, loved, and reviewed her first book, A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood.  Other writers I love, like Deborah Kopaken Cogan and Catherine Newman, also contributed.  This book is a wonderful meditation on what food means in the context of a family.

When I think about food and family, my mother comes immediately and always to mind.  I wrote about her, years ago, about how she embodies the sentiment that casseroles are grace.

I am deeply honored to share a beautiful essay by Lisa Catherine Harper here today.  I love everything she writes, and this is no exception.  I know you will too.

I’m delighted to offer a giveaway copy of The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage.  I can’t recommend this book enough: you will love it.  Please leave a comment here – if you want to share a story of food in your life, that would be terrific! – and I will choose a winner on Sunday. 

Still Life with Orange

By Lisa Catherine Harper


In our backyard, we have a gorgeous, old orange tree. Its leaves are thick and glossy, and come winter, it’s studded with more bright fruit than we know what to do with.  We snack on it, and make arancello, and squeeze gallons of fresh juice, and still, we have sacks and sacks to give away.  In the spring, when the blossoms for next year’s crop are budding like tiny, fragrant constellations, we have a few brief weeks when we can picnic under its sweet-smelling shade.

For me, the orange tree is a California dream and everything the fruit of my northeastern childhood was not.  No matter how many years I live with them, those oranges still seem to come from a faraway place. For my children, though, the tree is ordinary, the stuff of home.

And this is where things get interesting. I think that it’s in this tension between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the unusual and the mundane, that traditions are made. The fact that those oranges are a part of our everyday life is what makes them special.  We wait for them, we watch them grow, we harvest them, we eat them. Most of the time, it’s just there, a pretty tree that stands beyond our kitchen window, as much a part of our yard as the cats.  But when I bother to pay attention, in those out-of-time moments when I become aware of its natural cycle, then I know that–without trying or doing anything special–we have a tradition.

What are family food traditions? How do they come about? And why should we care? These are the questions I’ve been thinking about for the last four years as I worked on my new book, The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat.  As my co-editor and I selected stories, submitted by a wide range of food writers, fiction writers, essayists, and journalists we found ourselves thinking hard about our own family food and we realized we wanted to tell a different story, one that moved away from mantras and manifestos and talked about the real issues facing real families every day. Not what we feed our families, but how, and why, and why should we care?

The stories we included in Cassoulet share two important things. First, family food isn’t just the food we feed to our kids.  Husbands feed wives, dads feed kids, siblings feed each other, children feed parents. Second, family food doesn’t necessarily involve special occasions or long-standing traditions. As the stories accumulated, we had accounts of everyday food, snack food, despised foods—these were at least as important as celebratory food, or recipes sanctioned by generations. Writers remembered the absence of food, too, because for better, for worse, in sickness, and in health, every aspect of our relationships is implicated in our family food. It’s something of a cliché to say food is love, but our tables rehearse—explicitly, implicitly—the joy and connection of our most intimate relationships as well as the conflict. What became abundantly clear is that family food is shared in relationship, and it reflects these relationships.


The point, though, is not to give us parents one more thing to feel guilty about. We don’t need more rules, or more people judging us.  What many of us need is simply to broaden the conversation and understand that what happens in the kitchen or at the table is at least as important as the ingredients that end up on the plate.


And here’s where my orange tree comes in.  In a very simple way, it reminds me to pay attention to what I already have. Sometimes, the simple act of picking an orange is enough to restore us.  In the midst of all the rush and bustle of family life, in the middle of work and homework and carpools, sometimes, a sustainable family food culture is more important than sustainable food. My family’s food will not look like yours-and this is the whole, beautiful point.  In our family, we have the tree. Your family will have something else–a red sauce, or a pancake recipe, or a garden.  We can start by telling our stories: this is what family food means in our life. What does it mean in yours?

21 thoughts on “GIVEAWAY: The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage”

  1. Beautiful essay–and this book recommendation is yet another reason I want to hit pause and do nothing but read. Maybe I could go on a reading vacation–somewhere warm for two weeks. Just me and my books.

  2. That’s pretty much the only vacation I ever want to take. Am already looking forward to a flight tonight to read. But I’m sitting next to my dear friend. Oops. Hope she’s ok with that anti-social behavior from me. Who am I kidding, though – am sure she expects nothing less.

  3. I grew up in a family where food was used as a “fill in” for every possible situation. “You’re tired? Here, have something to eat.” “Your stomach hurts? Here, eat something.” It has taken a lifetime to undo the early messages I received and learn to see food in ways that nourish my body and my spirit in soul-filling ways. I’d love to have this book to read and then pass on to my daughter, who is expecting my first grandchild in November!

  4. I love this essay, Lisa, which resonates with so many of my own thoughts and beliefs about food, family, and love. I write a food memoir column for Edible Santa Fe, and most of the stories I tell revolve around the kitchen table: the one of my adult life and, increasingly, the one I grew up with. They are often stories bound by the every day. I think the metaphor of the orange tree is a perfect one.

    I would love to win a copy of your book! I think I first heard of it on

  5. Look forward to reading this! A food story… we recently started a regular weeknight dinner with our neighbors, which I love for many reasons. It gives us a nice break from our usual mealtime dynamics (use your fork! sit down! two hands on your glass! etc.), introduces our kids to new foods and traditions, and it has deepened our connection to our neighbors in a way that wouldn’t have happened through just play dates.

  6. Food has been and continues to be a central theme in my family’s life. As the mother of a young daughter, I am navigating in new territory regarding how I want food to play a role in our family’s life, and have found that it is opening emotional doors that I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for sharing this book with us…I wonder if it wouldn’t help me to better understand my interesting relationship, perhaps love affair, with food!

  7. Thanks for sharing this essay. It made me reflect on both keeping old traditions alive, and making new ones with my little family. I will add this to my must read list! Happy Thursday!

  8. Like Kristen I’m navigating new food territory now that I have a young daughter, and have had to drastically change my diet over the last two years. Gone are the days of wine, cheese and bread for dinner. (I’m not sure what I’ll do the next time I visit Paris.) I’m falling in love with food in a new way, and letting go of old ways of being with it that no longer serve me. I’ll add this book to my list too (They had me at “Cassoulet”)

  9. As a single, low-income parent, meal planning had become a dreaded, weekly chore. How do I stretch an almost-non-existent food budget, while ensuring that we ate healthy, nutritious, and flavorful meals? I started to meditate on the philosophy “Live simply, that others may simply live.” And, with that brief, yet profound, phrase, I found the beauty of “seasonal shopping,” seeking out local meats, fish, dairy, and produce (our new neighbor has chickens, and shares the fresh eggs!). Simple meals, made with extraordinary ingredients, and heaps of love, prepared and shared
    with my little girl – these have become the food traditions we cherish, and will hand down to future generations.

  10. “What many of us need is simply to broaden the conversation and understand that what happens in the kitchen or at the table is at least as important as the ingredients that end up on the plate.” I couldn’t agree more- lovely essay! Thanks so much for sharing, Lindsey!

  11. The book looks absolutely lovely. I have a love affair with cooking and food which started at a young age helping my grandmother make homemade bread, pies, cookies and delicious meals in her kitchen in Maine. They are such lovely memories of my youth. I spent a few years in Europe and those years also made me love and appreciate food and family and long leisurely meals that last all evening. Now as a mother of three very young children I have to say mealtime has lost its luster a bit. It has become more of a chore. There is a lot of “please eat your broccoli, stay seated, please chew with your mouth closed etc, etc”. I hope to get back to my love affair with food one day. I long to stroll through farmers markets sans double stroller and preschooler in tow. Some day…..maybe until then I can read about someone else’s beautiful food essay.

  12. Food is such a huge, huge thing–and I’m embarrassed that I’ve lived this long without realizing it. In the past 6 months, I’ve been struggling mightily with it–the planning for it, the shopping for it, and the preparing of it. Not to mention storing it, and cleaning it up. and paying for it. Yes, I believe food can break a marriage. Would love to read this book. Need to dive deeper into this topic. (But I’m still reading Quiet–at your recommendation, love it–and need more reading minutes in each day!)

  13. Love this. We have come to involve our girls (7 and 9) in most of our cooking and shopping. And, as a result everyone in the family has their “magic'” in the kitchen – from Middy magic (her custom shrimp sauce with pasta) to daddy magic (secret pancake recipe). So meal time is more about enjoying the moment and less about the chore of putting something on the table. Happy Thursday. It’s Caitlin magic night tonight and she has a few favorites, so we’ll see! Thanks for sharing a great post and more suggestions for good reads.

  14. Lindsey, thanks for your review. I was intrigued after I read Catherine’s review, but your approval seals the deal. Officially on my list. (Not that it’s hard to get on my list if you write about food and family…what’s not to love?)

  15. I remember thinking one day long ago that I could either be grumpy about Having to cook and grocery shop or I could make it an adventure and have fun creating new food. I decided the latter and have ever since made cooking a challenge to delight in and enjoy even if it is less than stellar. My three daughters are adventurous eaters, They refer to me as the gourmet cook, and now that they are grown up and two of them are diagnosed celiacs, they have the flexibility to believe in their own experiments and teach me how to continue the adventure.

  16. This essay makes me want to read the book… in hopes that it might inspire me somewhat. You see… I really hate cooking. And now, faced with the need to cook for myself and family from now until, well, forever… I really WANT to like it. To enjoy making healthy, thoughtful, lovely food for the people I love. But right now I feel totally stuck. Perhaps my family needs an orange (or, in northern Cali) lemon tree 🙂 xox

  17. I love this! I want to “relearn” my joy of food and cooking after two years of being immersed in the early months of parenthood. I’ve been a doctoral student for several years and growing to love food has been a huge part of the grad school experience for me. I would write all day, and then choose a recipe during the afternoon, shop, and spend (sometimes hours) the early evening making a beautiful meal. I loved it. And then when my son was born and we moved, I just can’t get back into the rhythm of loving to cook again. Obviously, I can’t spend hours like I used to on the meal, but I’m struggling to find a happy medium.

  18. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for an important date!

    Well, I’m just late in commenting… probably missed your deadline, as Sunday wanes even here on the West Coast… sigh.

    But just wanted to say that I do enjoy your blog, all that you share of your life and your writings and readings. Thank you.

  19. Great essay. Growing up, food wasn’t that important to my family, mostly because mom didn’t cook well. But I married into a food family and I now get it. Even if it’s Taco Night, having the family around the same table – talking! SO important, so lovely.

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