When Karen, who makes her home in Austin and writes for Entertainment Weekly, first sent us her essay, its focus was almost entirely on her childhood, and how it was darkened by her mother’s mental illness. Hunger — physical and emotional — ruled those days; she was never consistently, satisfyingly fed. Mooching lunch from classmates, lingering at play dates in hopes of a dinner invitation, Karen wrote with a matter-of-factness about those days. She concluded her essay with her father’s simple menu of roast chicken, boiled rice, beets and steamed frozen corn that was heartbreaking in its final instruction: “Serve family style.”
By the time Lisa and I secured a publishing contract for Cassoulet, though, Karen’s story had changed. She emailed us, asking if she could write a new section for the piece, one that addressed her life with her adopted Ethiopian daughter. We couldn’t wait to read it.
Over the course of editing and copyediting and proofreading the book, I have probably read this essay over twenty times. Every time, I weep for Karen’s childhood, but now I also cry with happiness at a story that ends with a new family recipe, one for her husband’s Ethiopian chicken stew.