Sunday, Jul 9, 2017
I'll admit I wasn't sure about a memoir that alternated between recipes and recovery from an aneurysm, but Stir must have won me over because I not only felt the unique disappointment that only happens when finishing a good book, I also can't stop talking about it. Jessica Fechtor's recovery from a brain aneurysm while running on a treadmill is memoir-worthy without the wonderful observations, recipes, and memories. That's why Stir is a multi-layer cake of a memoir, a cake so fluffy with life and beauty, not even an aneurysm can sour it.
Each chapter is comprised of both an intimate essay portraying Jessica's life before, during, and after her aneurysm and a recipe correlating with that part of her life. Prior to her aneurysm, Jessica was ambitious - teaching, cooking, working towards her doctorate in Jewish Literature, and running every day. Stir is a little bit of that old life, mixed with both a long recovery and her new life, which is equal parts grasping for her old life while giving cooking more attention than she had prior to her illness. The recipes range from cholent with kugel to a simple tomato soup, and celebrate her family and roots while revitalizing classics with intriguing modifications. Jessica utilizes leftovers in a lot of her recipes, which really jives with my own style. I cannot wait to have leftover greens and rice so I can try her crispy rice and eggs recipe. Another recipe, a kale and pomegranate salad, calls for pomegranate molasses, which is something I have never heard of. As a huge molasses fan, I immediately set out to find a bottle of it before I even finished Stir.
Though I love the recipes and applaud Jessica's bravery during her long recovery, I enjoyed her observations the most. The last bit of mustard in a grey poupon jar helps "emulsify the oil and vinegar into a uniform dressing," and gives "a jar at the end of its life . . . one more job to do." And ". . . when you put freshly baked bread and a lump of softened butter on the table, you are taking good care of your people, no matter the rest of the meal." Jessica struggles through a handful of surgeries that cause a variety of issues. One surgery leaves her with a chunk of skull missing and Doctor's orders to wear a helmet until the chunk can be replaced. She also loses sight in one of her eyes and has a temporary loss of smell. Her ability to embrace each of these hurdles while simultaneously searching for ways overcome them is a lesson in both mind over matter and resilience. At one point Jessica realizes that, prior to her aneurysm, she thought she was being considerate by helping out while visiting friends for dinner. By doing so, however, she prevented others the pleasure of hosting. During her recovery she "allows herself to be hosted." She also questions that if silence describes the opposite of noise, what is the opposite of scent? Observations like these make Stir a page-turner.
I enjoyed Jessica's outlook on life, her plentiful and unique descriptions, and applaud her determination through her long recovery. With each new setback Jessica patiently and determinedly familiarizes herself with the new changes in her body and mind. She not only adjusts to the changes, she refuses to let them get in her way for very long, especially not in the kitchen.