Beyond the Book Festival with Jessica Fechtor: Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home

by | Feb 10, 2017 | What’s Happening

Wednesday, March 15, 12 pm
Sandler Family Campus

Most people experience some moment when their life skips off the rails, freefalling in uncertainty, bracing for the blow. Some say things happen for a reason and some make their own reasons for the things that happen. For Jessica Fechtor, it was an aneurysm, a vessel that burst in her brain during a simple jog on a treadmill at 28 years old.

Newly married and a Harvard PhD candidate in Jewish Literature, Fechtor awakened in the hospital to find she had lost her sense of smell, sight in her left eye, and now inhabited a body that in her words had a “broken brain.” Muscularly weakened and with depth perception impaired, she began the slow road to recovery with physical therapy and surgeries, catching glimpses of her old life from the sidelines.

Drawing on the restorative power of cooking, Fechtor’s journey to recovery began in her kitchen. Coming to terms with such an event, however, depends on one’s personal constitution. She chose to write a memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home. An inquiry into the nature of resilience, Stir is now a national bestseller. Winner of the 2015 Living Now Book Award, Stir has been praised by The Wall Street Journal as “a recipe for living a life of meaning.”

In Stir, Fechtor writes, “food is the keeper of our memories, connecting us with our pasts and with our people.” She goes further to describe food and cooking as path to “finding your everyday.”

“Serious illness robs you of your everyday. When I first came home from the hospital, I needed help with the smallest, simplest tasks. I couldn’t even make myself a cup of tea…. It felt huge when I was finally strong enough to stand at the stovetop and stir. I always loved to cook and bake. Returning to these things was a way of reclaiming myself, my life, and my everyday,” Fechtor says.

Stir contains 27 recipes, including some for challah, cholent, kugel, chicken soup and sweet potato curry latkes. The recipes are connected to heartwarming stories of Fechtor’s support community.

“Food, writing, and my strong Jewish identity are all linked by my love of stories and storytelling,” she says. “The food we eat tells stories about who we are. My connection to Judaism is also about stories, about being a part of a rich history built on layers and layers of written and oral texts. Rituals, like words on a page, create meaning. That meaning making is what I’m interested in above all.”

Fechtor will share her unique story of survival, defining her birth as a writer—all stitched together with comforting family recipes—at the Beyond the Book Festival event.

Tickets are $10 per person and lunch is included. To purchase tickets, contact the Simon Family JCC at 757-321-2338. Author signing and book purchases will be available at this event.

For more information, contact Michele Goldberg, Simon Family JCC cultural arts director, at or call 757-321-2341.

Beyond the Book Festival, an extension of Lee and Bernard Jaffe* Family Jewish Book Festival, is presented by the Simon Family JCC in partnership with The Jewish Family Service of Tidewater.

*of blessed memory