Cassoulet Again

This week alone I’ve managed to consume at least 15,000 calories. And it’s only Wednesday. Yes, yes, I know, t’is the season and, yes, t’is, but really, 15,000 calories and most of it from wild boar and duck fat–come on. Somebody call Jenny Craig. Or an ambulance.

I’m testing recipes for my first book. And no, it’s not a cookbook. Not really, anyway. It’s a novel entitled Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses and it’s due out in August. My well-researched and unusually competent protagonist is a professional chef, amazingly successful and lauded in food magazines from Gourmet to Bon Appetit. The problem is the real-life me is just an incredibly enthusiastic eater and passable home cook.

When my editor at Kensington Books initially suggested that I include some recipes at the end, one from each section of the book, I was thrilled. But being an experienced home cook and being able to write a coherent recipe are, I am finding out, two distinctly different things. I hope the descriptions of the recipes I’ve constructed have a certain literary panache, but translating them to the page in teaspoons and pinches, and directing when to sauté as opposed to braise, well, let’s just say it’s been a process.

The signature recipe of the book is an Italian riff on cassoulet, prepared for our protagonist by an admirer in a pull-out-the-stops eleventh hour bid for her affection. The description may be a bit over the top–which arguably it needed to be in service of the story–but the problem is I need to make it taste as good as I’ve described it. Therein lies the rub.

Last Saturday my husband brought in the mail. Along with the usual bills, magazines and advertising circulars was a large, heavy vacuum-sealed package.

“What’s this?” Dave innocently inquired, hefting the package onto the counter.

“Oh, that must be the wild boar and duck confit I ordered,” I told him.

No reaction. Dave’s fantasy football line up was due by noon and his quarterback was out with appendicitis. He clearly had bigger things to worry about than why his wife had ordered twenty pounds of wild boar and 5 lbs of duck confit. Happily, he didn’t inspect the bill. Then he might have had a few questions.

We’ve had cassoulet every night since then. Now Dave is starting to ask some questions. Every morning for the nearly twenty years we’ve been married I’ll ask him what he wants for dinner. He never has an opinion and most of the time he doesn’t even answer me; he just smiles and rolls his eyes. I haven’t bothered to ask him since last Friday.

This morning at the breakfast table Dave inspects his oatmeal. “What’s this?” he asks suspiciously. “It looks like a bean.”

“It’s not. It’s a lump of brown sugar.”

“Are you sure?” he says, his eyes narrowing. “Hey, aren’t you going to ask me what I want for dinner tonight?”


“If I promise to give you an answer every time you ask me for the rest of my life, can we please not have cassoulet again tonight?”

After twenty years, now it’s my turn not to answer. Pay back’s a bitch.

Since last Friday, I’ve made 5 different versions of my “Tastes Like Love Cassoulet” and the good news is each one has been an improvement. A few more tries and I think I’ll get it.

The recipes are due January 3. I’m placing my order for another few pounds of boar and duck confit this morning and I’m planning to ring in 2011 with a cassoulet party for 50 of my closest friends. Unfortunately, Dave’s told me he can’t make it.