I’ve got a really good taste in my mouth. It’s not of any specific food, but it is because of food. Food: the Great Uniter. I’ve often fantasized that if we could bring leaders of warring countries together and allow them to talk only about food for the first hour, they’d be able to make peace by the second hour.
Talking about food brings out the best in people—in big ways and small. After I wrote my last post about celebrating my sister-in-law Lorraine’s clean cat scan with fireworks and ice cream, I got a note from a woman named Sherri who also just had her last chemo treatment—and who is also taking great pleasure in ice cream.
Sherri and her daughter Danielle live in Long Island, home of Newsday, the newspaper for which I am a long-time columnist. Mother and daughter share a birthday—August 4th—which is what prompted Sherri’s note. But before she got to the reason for the note, Sherri told me a little bit about how she spent July 4th. Like my sister-in-law, Sheri was just days off the last of six months of treatment, and like Lorraine, she was tired. Sherri said her chemo was not all that horrible, and she felt bad when she heard about people who had to go through what Lorraine did. But for all her bravado, it clearly wasn’t a cake walk: she wrote, “I know how hard it must have been for Lorraine. When I swallowed cold, it was like shards of glass going down my throat”. But no sooner had she let this little tidbit slip then she went back to the positive: how ice cream is her new favorite food, that she is thrilled for Lorraine’s good news, and that she and her husband had just spent the long weekend in her “little slice of heaven” in Pennsylvania.
Then Sherri got to the reason for her note. Her daughter Danielle, wrote Sherri, “is the light of my life. The teenage years definitely took their toll, but maturity set in and we’re finally getting back to where we were when she was my little angel (pre-monstrous teen).” Having recently survived those years with my (wonderful again) son, I could identify. Sherri told me that Danielle, who has always been passionate about food, will start culinary school next month. “She has been through so much, and I’m just really proud of her tenacity with regards to her finally being able to go to school. I was really hoping she could be considered for a “Who’s Cooking” column”.
The Newsday “Who’s Cooking” column features an interview with a local accomplished and impassioned cook, along with his or her photo and a favorite recipe. I have nothing to do with the column, but my editor oversees it. I called and read her Sherri’s note. After a moment of silence (was she gathering herself the way I had needed to after reading it?) my editor said, “Yes, we will definitely be able to use her. I just need contact information”.
On a whim I forwarded the letter to my friend Rick Smilow, president of the Institute of Culinary Education, where I teach cooking. Rick has a bigger heart than he likes people to know: within minutes, he wrote back offering to give Sherri and Danielle a certificate to take a class together.
Thanks to my editor, Sherri will be able to give her daughter a gift that will bring both of them great joy; the newspaper will have a lovely story that is sure to move many hearts, and I know Lorraine will be thrilled to hear what her story has brought about. And thanks to Rick, Sherri and Danielle will be able to spend valuable time together, cooking side-by-side. All behind it all, thanks to food, the uniting force that that corralled some human goodness together with the right circumstances to give a woman who has been through a lot an extra bit of happiness.