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Meals That Heal

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I have finally understood why everyone says being a grandmother is so great...You get all the joy and love without any of the physical pain of giving birth or the sleep deprivation that follows. My daughter, son-in-law, and infant granddaughter recently spent a week with me to recover and heal from both the physical and emotional trauma of bringing a new life into the world. I am reminded that breast-feeding can be hard and painful. And as I said to everyone, Mom's job is to feed the baby, our job is to feed Mom...and then feed ourselves. Surprisingly, meatballs have saved the day and healed us all.

When she was in the hospital in New York City and refusing to eat the hospital food, my daughter asked for meatballs from Co. in Chelsea. New York City can be a hard place to live, and I carried those meatballs up to 98th and 5th in a taxi during a cold autumn rain. Even lukewarm, they immediately brought us back to life. So when I had to decide what to make for my granddaughter's first full family dinner, I decided on meatballs (with spaghetti, of course!).

In my new cookbook, Scratch, I have a recipe for tiny meatballs (page 213), which I usually put in soup (here's how to get your own copy of Scratch!). So I just made them bigger and took out the cheese (because my son-in-law is allergic to it). I didn't have enough homemade sauce (page 77), so I used one jar of homemade and two jars of store-bought. Then I made both gluten-free pasta for those avoiding gluten and whole wheat pasta for the rest of us. With a big salad and a loaf of hot and buttery garlic bread, we all sat down together (the baby's grandfather, my ex-husband, included) and ate until we were all full and happy.

It's a small thing. But it's no small thing. The act of sitting down together and enjoying hot homemade-from-scratch food that gets absorbed into our blood and bones makes us who we are, physically and spiritually. And cookbooks are an important way to preserve that spirit and those tastes even as time goes by and people come and go from our lives.

I am especially reminded of the power of cookbooks and food to preserve and heal because as I was holding the baby this week, I looked over and noticed the cookbook that a dear friend sent me when I told him I love Syrian food--Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck. It is an apt title; the recipes are steeped in tradition, connected and shared through generations, and part of a vibrant culture. Remarkably, there are 10 different recipes for and with meatballs in Dweck's cookbook.

I couldn't help but wonder how these meals are being shared today. Is there even any kitchen or table for a family or friends to sit down at in Aleppo anymore? The lush and abundant photos in the cookbook contrast starkly with the bleak, gray images of destruction and suffering that we see in the news daily.

I realize that there is no easy solution to the turmoil in Syria--and I cannot begin to fathom the complexity of the negotiations that have been underway for years in the attempt to bring peace to the region. But I still hope and dream of a time when conflict will not escalate to war; when instead, we sit down together at a table and share a meal. At the dinner table, there is the opportunity to learn from each other and share our pain, our fears, and our hopes and dreams. At the dinner table, there is the opportunity to share meals that heal.

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