Memoir Tells Story Of Resilience, Love And Food

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Jessica Fechtor
Jessica Fechtor

Jessica Fechtor's new book reminds us how fragile life can be; how we're all one moment away from potential catastrophe. It also tells how her love of food grounded her, healed her, and brought her back.

Jessica was a bright young PHD candidate at Harvard, recently married and looking forward to starting a family, when seemingly out of nowhere, she suffered a life-threatening brain hemorrhage and aneurysm.

Her new book about her injury and her journey back is a story of resilience and love — with delicious recipes.

This conversation was originally broadcast on June 30, 2015.


Jessica Fechtor, author of the new memoir, "Stir: My Broken Brain And The Meals That Brought Me Home." She tweets @sweetamandine.

Recipe from 'Stir': Marcella’s Butter Almond Cake

It’s my secret weapon in the kitchen, one of those cakes that comes together in no time from practically nothing, but is so pretty and tastes so good that no one ever believes you. I call this cake “Marcella’s” after its creator, Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C& H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen.

My friend Janet suggests sprinkling a pinch of salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar. My friend Janet, by the way, is a genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.


  • Butter and flour for the pan
  • 3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 11/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
  • A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter and flour a 9‑inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.

Whisk together the melted butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla, and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.

Serves 8 to 10.

Reprinted from Stir. Copyright © 2015, Jessica Fechtor

This segment aired on December 24, 2015.


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