Want a perfect read for the Days of Awe? Try Stir: My Broken Brain and The Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor. Healing, redemption and cooking make this memoir a perfect choice.
"Food tells us who we are and who the people we love are," Jessica Fechtor told me in our phone interview. We learn a great deal about Jessica, her near fatal aneurism when she was 28 and her recovery through cooking.
It is hard to get through Stir without a tear or two. "To fry an egg is to operate with the perfect faith that you will sit down and eat it. To season it with salt and pepper is a statement that you will do so with with pleasure, according to your taste. When you're sick and broken and sad and afraid, it feels good to think of a time when you weren't."
With poignant style and humor, Fechtor successfully weaves her illness and cooking. She leads us through her surgeries and her recipes, her recovery and her cooking, creating an inspiring book.
Stripped of her day-to-day life, unable even to walk or shower without help, Fechtor climbs back by the teaspoonful and by the recipe until she trusts that her life is here to stay. And going back into the kitchen proved this for her.
"The stories I remembered (about food), the stories I made let me know there was a life beyond the narrow world of recovery. At their heart were the protective powers of kneading, salting, sifting and stirring, because you can't be dead and do these thingsâ€¦.When you're cooking, you're alive."
Cooking becomes an extension of Jessica's identity. Stirring cake batter became a belief in her future. Family and friends eating at her Passover Seder table was a celebration by the forkful. "Cooking is a direct route to experience. Food is such a centering and shared thing," Jessica told me in answering my question about cooking's role in her life today.
Her new frontier in cooking now includes children. "I am learning about what it means to pass along a love and respect for food, cooking, baking. My children are part of my kitchen life," Jessica said to me. Her girls, Mia and Freddie, have their own table to set, their own dishes and utensils and even their own bud vase and challah on Shabbat. The pleasure in cooking and food that brought Jessica back to what she calls her normalcy is now shared with her children, to pass this legacy of home and table along.
Completing her PhD in Jewish and Yiddish Literature, Jessica parallels these studies with cooking. "Food is identityâ€”food tells us who we are. Hebrew and Yiddish authors also tell me who I am. Food and literature are such centering things."
Writers, like cooks, create as they go along.
Her recipe for Almond Cake is Perfect for Rosh Hashanah. "This recipe is so simple," she said. "It takes a handful of ingredients and only 15 minutes to make. The cake comes out so gorgeous and it looks like it takes more time. My website sweetamandine is named after that cake."
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