Thursday, October 3, 2019

Stir: My Broken Brain and The Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor

Sitr: My Broken Brain and The Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
Published June 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved.

Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished."

Woven throughout the narrative are 27 recipes for dishes that comfort and delight. For readers of M.F.K.Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Tamar Adler, as well as Oliver Sacks, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Susannah Cahalan, Stir is sure to inspire, and send you straight to the kitchen.

My Thoughts: 
I have had a sinus headache for a week. I'm not saying that to make you feel sorry; I'm saying it so that I can tell you that, even though I've had sinus headaches for more than forty years and even though I'm exceedingly familiar with their symptoms, every single time I get one that lasts for more than 24 hours, I begin to worry that I'm having an aneurysm or that I have a brain tumor. That's the way my thought process works.

It never occurred to Jessica Fechtor, on the other hand, to think that something might be seriously wrong with her when she felt a click in her head then what felt like water running inside her head. Not when she was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room of the local hospital. Not when she was transferred to another hospital, moved to the ICU, not when all of her family raced to be by her side. Not until they had to open her skull and put a clip on a blood vessel in her brain did she begin to understand that her life might have taken a turn for which she was not prepared.

Fechtor was a driven young woman who was working on her doctorate, running miles everyday, teaching, and entertaining regularly. She and her husband were nearly ready to start a family. She was not, in other words, a person who was used to sitting, taking it easy. But when a severe infection set in after her first brain surgery, it was the beginning of a long road to recovery. Fechtor was blessed to have family and friends who stepped up and really helped. But it was hard for her to sit on the sidelines, especially when it came to working in the kitchen. So it's no real surprise that it was the desire to get back to feeding her people that got Fechtor to push herself to recovery. It was not just a matter of building up stamina again. Fechtor had to learn to deal with the fact that her depth perception was off - the knife in her right hand might end up slicing the fingers on her left hand instead of the apple that hand was holding, the liquid she was pouring into a bowl was just as likely to run all over the counter instead of into the bowl.

I enjoyed this book on multiple levels - as a kind of medical memoir, as a memoir of a life in which food played a huge part, and for Fechtor's writing, which she honed by writing a blog as part of her recovery.
"Being sick is supposed to come along with grand realizations about What Really Matters, but I don't know. I think deep down, we're already aware of what's important and what's not. Which isn't to say that we always live our lives accordingly. We snap at our spouses and curse the traffic and miss the buds pushing up from the ground. But we know. We just forget to know sometimes. Near-death forces us to remember. It pushes us into a state of aggressive gratitude that throws what's big and what's small into the sharpest relief It's awfully hard to worry about the puddle of milk when you're just glad to be here to spill it."
All of the recipes Fechtor includes in the book come with the story behind them - the morel mushroom and fresh pea dinner she had on her 27th birthday that she worked to recreate - and explanations for why recipes give particular instructions, such as salting a chicken days in advance of roasting it. These recipes are all getting copied before I take this book back to the library!

Perhaps this was my favorite bit:
"Home is a verb. It's not only where we live, but how." 
I've never thought it home in exactly that way before, but it is absolutely the way I feel about my home. Fechtor has inspired me to up my game in the kitchen to get back to being the person who expresses my love through food but also in all of the ways I treat people - taking into consideration what will make the people I care about happy, what will provide comfort, what will make them want to linger.


  1. I enjoyed this book also and made a couple of the recipes, which turned out great!

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this one but I feel like I need to reread it. I had a review copy that didn't have the recipes so that definitely needs to be fixed! Sorry you had a sinus infection but glad it wasn't anything else!

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