An inspiring, recipe-filled memoir about loss, recovery, and finding oneself through food and cooking.
"I rose from my wheelchair slowly, using the arms of the seat to steady myself; I managed to lift my weighty limbs and limp the three steps to the counter. Stirring left-handed, I did not want to leave the warmth of the kitchen. I felt good. And for a moment I forgot about the life that I was living. Being in the kitchen, the sights and smells, the smear of crimson tomato sauce on my borrowed apron, felt like a bit of home, a place that felt so far away."
Adrienne Kane always loved food. Waiting by the oven for the sweet, crisp cookies she baked with her mother to emerge. Learning to create a simple yet delicious frittata with her best friend. Fueling long hours of work on her senior thesis with a satisfying tagliatelle.
But just two weeks before her college graduation, Adrienne suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that left her paralyzed on the entire right side of her body. Once a dancer and aspiring teacher, she was now dependent on her loved ones, embarrassed by her disability, and facing an identity crisis. The next several years were a blur of doctors, therapists, rehabilitation, and frustration.
Until she got back in the kitchen.
It started with a stir. A stir and a taste. A little more salt. Maybe a side of crisp, sautéed potatoes. She learned to wield a chef's knife with her left hand, and to brace vegetables with her right. As she slowly stumbled from her quiet resting place at the kitchen table to where her mother stood by the stove, food became not only her sustenance and her solace, it became Adrienne's calling.
She tested new recipes and created her own, crafting beautiful, delectable feasts for the people who had nurtured her -- her mother and father, who himself had survived a stroke several years earlier; the friends who encouraged her to write a cookbook; and, of course, the boyfriend-turned-husband who stood beside her all the way. Eventually, through determination, hard work, and a healthy portion of courage, she turned her culinary love into a career as a caterer, food writer, photographer, and recipe developer.
Filled with simple, tempting recipes and complex, hard-won lessons, Cooking and Screaming is Adrienne's moving and heartfelt story of food, loss, work, and joy...and finding her identity through the most unlikely combination of ingredients.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Pasta. Nourishing, quick, easy, and wholly satisfying. I practically lived off the stuff in college. This recipe has remained one of the vestiges of my college days, with good reason. The zucchini becomes an altogether different vegetable upon grating -- as velvety and sumptuous as any vegetable can become.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small dried chili, like chili d'arbol, or a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes
2 1/ 2 cups grated zucchini
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced salt and pepper to taste
1/ 2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces dried tagliatelle pasta
1/ 4 cup minced fresh flat- leaf parsley
1/ 2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/ 4-1/ 2 cup reserved pasta cooking water
In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Crumble the chili and sauté briefly. Turn the heat to mediumhigh and add the zucchini, garlic, salt, and pepper, tossing to combine. The zucchini should be glossy and completely coated in the butter and olive oil. Flatten into a large pancake so that the zucchini begins to exude liquid. Continue sautéing and flattening for 8-10 minutes, until the liquid is gone and the zucchini begins to brown and has reduced in volume by a third.
Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1-2 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Add the parsley, cheese, and any of the pasta cooking water that might be needed to make the sauce loose and flowing. Taste for seasoning and serve with extra Parmesan cheese.
I had been eating a lot of pasta lately, in all of its many forms. As college life got busier, my meals became increasingly brief, tossed together with ease, eaten, and oftentimes forgotten.
Through the back windows in my kitchen, the sun illuminated the pile of dishes resting in the sink. I will get to those, I thought. I had been a bit frantic lately; my rear end had seemed fused to my desk chair as i spent hours in front of my computer working on my thesis. The end was in sight; this life of imminent papers and stacks of textbooks was coming to a close. My days as a student were coming to a close.
It was a tome, or at least it was in my narrow, nearly postcollegiate world. I left the warmth of the kitchen, and walking to my desk, pulled the final pages of my paper from the printer, neatly placing them into the stack. I grew proud and hungry. grabbing a bowl of pasta I had made the night before, I took a seat on the floor. I was surprised by my eagerness to lunch on leftovers. But this tagliatelle was one of my favorites. There are certain foods that take on a different identity when reheated, one that makes them exciting and new, if those adjectives can even be used to describe a bowl of pasta. This pasta was blanketed in a pale, creamy green sauce, like a light pesto, but with the smooth, luxurious flavor of another pasta altogether. In the moment's respite I had the night before, I stood grating zucchini into piles of shaggy shards. The vegetable had nearly melted, and its traces, combined with a splash of cream, turned the contents of the pan into a sumptuous sauce. By the next day, the pasta grew drier, soaking up the cream and leaving behind bits of fiery chili while the zucchini clung steadfastly to each noodle.
I slurped, then chewed. In my right hand was my senior thesis, "The Memoir as a Means to Freudian Psychoanalysis as Seen in Nabokov's Speak, Memory." I had loved this book, voluntarily becoming lost in Nabokov's language for these final weeks of college. My life had become a to and fro, stripped down to the bare essentials. Days were spent in the modern dance studio; in the evenings, I would hunker down in my apartment, curling up on my couch with my dog- eared copy of Speak, Memory and stacks of Freudian reference books.
I had just enough time to put my pasta bowl in the sink, grab a sweater to ward off the chill of Berkeley in the late spring, and meet Maia, my best friend, who had diligently agreed to give my thesis a final read before I turned it in.
I hopped into the car, making my way down the hill to the flatlands near the university. I passed the elementary school, the playground empty and swing set still on this Sunday afternoon. Letting my elbow rest on the open car window, I allowed the cool breezes of May in the Bay Area to mingle with the car's stale air. The wisteria were in bloom, the lavender vines drooping heavily along the entrance to a stately brick church near my apartment. Farther down the hill, the Greene and Greene house, an emblem of the Arts and Crafts movement, with its oxidized copper trim and pagoda-esque eaves, stood alongside the frat houses, ramshackle, littered with beer bottles, and lawn furniture poised on the roof. Berkeley had become my home. It was a place where I was given the opportunity to encounter a variety of different people.
Sitting next to the grubby college student, the politically active classmate, the jocks, and the theater people in giant lecture halls, I steered my way through these countless niches but never truly found my own. Being at Berkeley was as much about a solid college education as it was a place to try on identities. It was difficult to find the ideal, but I had discovered a few things about myself along the way. I loved to dance; I could curl up with a good book for hours; and nothing was more restorative to me than a homecooked meal. I was young and unencumbered. Living in Berkeley offered me the freedom of endless possibilities. But these endless possibilities also kept me wide-eyed in the middle of the night, raising the question: What do I want to do with the rest of my life?
Maia met me on the corner of Haste and Telegraph, right near Amoeba Records, which was blaring a forgotten hit from the sixties. Over the past four years, I had spent countless Sunday afternoons there, thumbing through the overstuffed racks while some ultraobscure band played in the background.
Maia was punctual as usual, and we walked to get a cup of coffee near campus. Prattling on about our weekends, we traveled arm in arm, as we often did, creating a barrier against the students stumbling home single-mindedly during finals week. Introduced through a mutual friend, Maia and I had become fast friends when we both stayed to enjoy Berkeley in the summertime. When the students go home for their break, Berkeley becomes a ghost town, and Maia and I enjoyed the quiet. I am not sure if it comes from the warm weather, or maybe it is the length of the days, but everything seems to move at warp speed during the summer months. Maia and I had many late-night talks and shared many evenings cooking elaborate meals for no one but the two of us. Now, almost two years later, she had agreed to proofread my thesis, despite the craze of finals week for her as well. Maia was so articulate, even her slang was grammatically correct.
Telegraph Avenue, the main street leading toward UC Berkeley, offers an odd assortment of typical college town shops, bookstores, and retailers selling "Cal gear," mixed in with the unsavory sort of tattoo parlors, tobacco emporiums with giant hookahs in the window, and ancient Mexican restaurants serving grilled burritos. I had traveled these blocks so many times that it seemed the sidewalks had grown accustomed to my footprint. Maia and I pushed our way past rows of vendors selling tie- dyed T- shirts toward Wall Berlin, the leftist coffeehouse that had the blackest coffee. We were only blocks away when I casually mentioned that I didn't feel well.
Suddenly my vision narrowed. My surroundings were spinning, my mouth went bone-dry, and my stomach felt as if I had ridden on a rickety carnival roller coaster after consuming too many corn dogs. So I sat down on the curb of Telegraph Avenue. Littered with trash and cigarette butts, smelling of a mixture of urine and patchouli-scented incense, Telegraph Avenue is not a place where anyone should be sitting, let alone lying down, yet I then assumed a prone position. As Maia watched me drift off, my body beginning to go limp on the sidewalk, she called 911. Moments later, the ambulance came and she rode with me to the hospital, preparing to make the phone call that no one ever wants to make.
It wasn't one of those phone calls that wake a mother in the middle of the night, when the ringing of the phone at 3:00 a.m. signals doom, but that phone call, alerting my mother that her youngest daughter was taken to the hospital at 4:00 p.m., was met with the same amount of dread. Maia told my mother that she had gotten me to the hospital, that I wasn't feeling well, that the doctors hadn't told her anything yet. My mother told my father to stay at home and wait for her call. "I'm sure everything is fine," she said, and then she left to pick up my sister Jennifer, who was living only fifteen minutes away.
It had always been just my sister and me. She was six years my senior, and from the time that I could walk, I trotted around behind Jennifer. I idolized her, even through those gawky middle school years. Even with the pain of bad haircuts and elasticized shorts, I thought that she was beautiful. When Jennifer was driving in high school, I looked forward to her picking me up after school, the latest New Wave band blaring out of the speaker of her petite Ford Tempo. That May day, she made the drive over the Bay Bridge to the East Bay with my mother. It seemed that everyone was out for a Sunday drive, as my grandma used to say. A trip that should have taken forty-five minutes turned into an anxious two-hour journey.
As they drove, I weaved in and out of consciousness. My recollections of that day are spotty. I do not remember the whirling lights of the ambulance, or Maia making the call to my parents' house, or calling my boyfriend, Brian, who also rushed to the hospital. In fact, I recall little besides the large white ceiling tiles that hung above my gurney when I first arrived at the hospital. I remained in this semiconscious state until my mother arrived and announced to me that she was there. Reaching under the tightly fitted hospital sheets, she grasped my hand and squeezed as only a mother can do, her presence allowing me to bow out gracefully. I tumbled into unconsciousness and remained that way for three weeks.
I hadn't been to the hospital since birth. No broken bones, never a stitch, no nothing. My childhood days were spent trying to emulate Jennifer or taking dance classes. Things might have been different if I had fallen off a bike or smacked my head on a diving board -- or had any number of typical suburban kid accidents. Perhaps I would have been rushed to the hospital, wheeled into the MRI machine, and the doctors would have detected it -- the slight malformation in my brain, the tangle of arteries, a little knot inside the labyrinth of gray matter, biding its time, and waiting to burst.
An AVM, arterio-venous malformation, is quite a mouthful. I remember asking my family to repeat to me what I had suffered. "AVM, AVM, arterio-venous what?" At night, when I couldn't sleep, I repeated those initials over and over to myself, hoping that in the morning I would actually remember them. But I did not, could not, for several weeks. The AVM had left me with a deficit in speech and cognition, as well as complete paralysis of my right side.
There are two kinds of strokes. The more common is the ischemic variety, a clot in a blood vessel. Then there is the hemorrhagic, or the bleeding sort. An AVM is the latter. Inside the brain is a mess of capillaries. Their main function is to distribute the blood around the brain, into its tiniest recesses. Without them, we would be what I like to call a nonfunctioning blood head. In most people, these capillaries are well-developed conduits, but for two to five in every thousand people, they are not. For those people, the capillary walls are malformed, and occasionally, without warning, they rupture, seeping blood into the precious matter that is the human brain. The result can be either death or symptoms similar to stroke: paralysis, slurred speech, memory loss, obstructed vision, and so on. Guess who happened to be a part of that small percentage? I never win anything. But when it comes to AVMs, I struck the jackpot.
There is an astounding unpredictability to AVMs. Some people live their entire life with one and don't even know it. It may even rupture and the person may never know. Doctors have yet to determine the whys or whens. The effect of an AVM depends on its location. Mine was in the basal ganglia region, an area deep within the brain that controls both fine and gross motor skills.
When I regained consciousness, weeks had passed. Wires and plugs twisted off my bed like vines winding their way up a trellis, and the blipping of monitors blended with the nurses' conversations in the hallway. The brevity of a northern California spring had come and gone. Like a wisp, I had missed it.
Those initial weeks were ones of slumber for me. My eyelids were like lead and I could only force them open for a few minutes each day. Doctors would nudge me into wakefulness, shining pinpoint flashlights into my eyes and forcing me to answer simple questions, like what day of the week it was. They would gather around my bed awaiting my answer. As I would reply, my voice would crackle. And as I eventually became more lucid, the questions got slightly more challenging. The doctors soon gave me the all clear to eat with abandon, secure that I could manage by myself, and snacking is what I most enjoyed. First, there was snack food: a small pile of cheese-flavored crackers; a short stack of saddle-shaped, original-flavored Pringles, cradled neatly one on top of another; and bits and bites of an assorted box of milk chocolates. Each lay in a loose pile on my chest. They would go on rotation. A cheese cracker, leaving a dusty orange trail on my hospital gown, was followed by a crumble of dehydrated potato, then a nibble of chocolate, another chocolate morsel, the crisp crackle of a cracker, and so on. I requested Doritos from one visitor, peanut butter from another, chocolate sandwich cookies from yet another. The windowsill of my hospital room looked like the aisle of a convenience store. Still confined to my bed, I would request a small pile of snacks to be laid on my chest. My mother was only too happy to comply, and the nurses would snicker at the skinny girl's feast.
All of my senses had become muted. I couldn't quite see straight -- I had to wear an eye patch, like a pirate's matey. My speech was jilted. Hearing wavered in and out of pitch. And food tasted different -- it, too, seemed somehow muted. Which must be why I loved and requested junk food so much. I could clearly see the bright orange of the cracker, hear the crunch of the fried potatoes, and savor the sweetness of the chocolate as it slipped down my throat. No one eats cheese crackers for the subtlety of flavor. It was as if I needed that sodium, those ingredients I couldn't pronounce, to know what food was supposed to taste like.
Growing up, my mom packed well-balanced lunches for me. Other kids would buy prepared foods -- the latest pizza pocket or a frozen burrito -- and zap them in the school's microwave; I was never allowed. Out of my brown paper sack I would pull a turkey sandwich, two veggies, a piece of fruit, and some cookies. It wasn't that sweets were banned altogether; it was just that the rest of the meal had to be nutritious.
Once a month, I was allowed certain sugar cereals. And I would wait all month long for that precious visit to the grocery store. Standing in the vast cereal aisle for what seemed like hours, I would try to select the choice box of cereal: one that was sugary but not dyed neon hues (those were never allowed), one that would sweeten the milk in the cereal bowl but not leave it a murky slick, a cereal that kept the right consistency in milk -- not too crisp, not mushy. When the ideal box was agreed upon, I waited eagerly until we got home from the market to pour the perfect bowl. That first sugary bite of longed-for cereal came with such a feeling of pure, unadulterated happiness -- like waking up at noon on a Saturday well rested after a long week of getting up early for school.
So I guess it's no wonder that the first thing I craved in the hospital was junk food. As much as the desire for processed cheese snacks was about finding a morsel of flavor strong enough to break through my new muted world, I was also in pursuit of that same happiness, that same gleeful feeling of having your first bite of something new. Little did I know how many new culinary adventures awaited me in the next phase of recovery.
Copyright © 2009 by Adrienne Kane
What People are Saying About This
"A brave, inspiring book about finding your way, even down the bumpiest of roads." Molly Wizenberg, founder of Orangette.net and author of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table
"An inspirational story with recipes I can't wait to cook." Arthur Schwartz, thefoodmaven.com
"Kane nicely integrates memories of her childhood, family portraits ... as well as many wonderful recipes into this story of recovery." Publishers Weekly
"Explores the emotional power of food. (A) delicious read." Ladies Home Journal
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Cooking and Screaming by Adrienne Kane includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
On a beautiful spring day in Berkeley, California, the day she put the finishing touches on her senior thesis, Adrienne Kane’s life changed forever. She suffered an AVM – a sudden, hemorrhagic stroke – that completely paralyzed the right side of her body. It was time for Adrienne to lean on her loved ones: her tireless family, faithful friends, and boyfriend, Brian.
During her painful recovery, Adrienne found solace and independence in the kitchen. It was the only place she didn’t feel judged, as she slowly taught herself to chop, stir, and grate with her left hand. When Adrienne served a simple frittata or a decadent roast duck, she lost her self-consciousness: hungry guests looked at her delicious creations, not at her disability. Cooking was Adrienne’s key to independence, as her sudden tragedy evolved into a supportive marriage, a successful catering business, and a buzzworthy food blog.
But Adrienne’s life continued to change: she and Brian moved to New York City, far away from the support network – and bountiful produce markets! – she knew and loved in Berkeley. And slowly, Adrienne came to realize that her dream of writing a cookbook had to incorporate the stories behind the recipes – how she became such a unique, accomplished cook. Cooking and Screaming shares Adrienne’s signature dishes, from nourishing pastas to decadent desserts, and also shares a recipe for courage and creativity, in the kitchen and in life.
Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the format of Cooking and Screaming. Each chapter begins with one of Adrienne’s original recipes. What do Adrienne’s food stories – how she developed, served, and refined each recipe – tell us about her life? How do they enhance and compliment her recipes?
2. Discuss the opening scene of Cooking and Screaming, which describes the day that Adrienne suffered an AVM. How does she set the scene for that fateful day?
3. Adrienne realized while cooking at the rehab facility in Vallejo, “Being in the kitchen – the sights and smells, the smear of crimson tomato sauce on my borrowed apron – felt a little bit like being at home.” (37) Why does Adrienne associate cooking with home? What childhood memories of the kitchen carried over into Adrienne’s recovery?
4. Adrienne writes about Brian, “I wanted him to stay for the right reasons and to know that I understood if for some reason he couldn’t. But he stuck around for good. And he gained a wife out of the deal.” (56) What would have been the “wrong reasons” for Brian to stay with Adrienne after her AVM? What seem to be the “right reasons” why he stayed?
5. Discuss the relationship Adrienne has with her father. Did the tragedy they have in common – their history of strokes – bring them closer together? Why or why not? How does Adrienne react when her father talks about her AVM, and why?
6. The first Thanksgiving after Adrienne’s AVM is a turning point in the book. What did Adrienne learn about herself and her recovery as she labored over a side dish of Brussels sprouts?
7. Before the AVM, “I always imagined that I would become a teacher.” (91) What teaching skills has Adrienne brought to her current career as a food writer? What do teaching and recipe-writing have in common? How do they differ?
8. There were many small steps in Adrienne’s road to becoming a writer. Who were the key supporters who encouraged Adrienne not just to cook, but to write about food? What inspired her to switch from writing a cookbook to writing her life story?
9. The first recipe that Adrienne ever wrote was for rice pilaf. How is this an appropriate start for Adrienne’s collection of recipes? What does rice pilaf mean to her?
10. “I would hardly be the next spokeswoman for the disabilities movement,” Adrienne writes. (230) What seems to be Adrienne’s philosophy about her disability?
11. Cooking and Screaming ends soon after Brian and Adrienne settle in New York. What advantages did New York have over Berkeley for Adrienne? In what ways did Berkeley suit her better?
12. Adrienne realized, “writing a memoir gave me nowhere to hide; it forced me to own up to my life.” (268) How was Adrienne able to “hide” as a cookbook writer and a food blogger? How has she managed to “own up” to her past and present?
13. Describe Adrienne’s relationship with her mother. How does it change over the course of the memoir? Discuss the book’s closing line, which is about their relationship: “We rarely would talk about my therapy, and that turned out to be the best therapy of all.” (269)
14. What would you call Cooking and Screaming, if a friend asked you about it: a memoir, a cookbook, a love story, or a family story? How do these different stories fit together as a whole?
15. What do you think of the title Cooking and Screaming? What kind of “screaming” has Adrienne done in this book? Which situations would have had you screaming, if you were in Adrienne’s place?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Visit Adrienne Kane’s blog, www.nosheteria.com, for even more delightful recipes, along with gorgeous photographs of her successes in the kitchen. Print out a few recipes to try!
2. Make a cookbook with your book club! Have each member of your book club bring in a favorite recipe, and create a free online cookbook out of your pooled recipes here: http://www.desktopcookbook.com/.
3. Take your book club to your local farmer’s market, ethnic market, or produce market. Check out the best, freshest, most interesting ingredients in your area, and brainstorm a seasonal snack that your book club can whip up together in the kitchen!
4. Adrienne learns a lot about dealing with a disability over a Scrabble game with her friend David. Challenge your book club to a game of Scrabble! Bring a board to your book club meeting, or play online at http://word-games.pogo.com/games/scrabble?guest_country=US.
5. Berkeley, Adrienne’s home for most of the memoir, was a hotbed of activism in the 1960s. Dive into this groovy and radical period by checking out an online exhibit of posters from 1960s Berkeley: http://www.docspopuli.org/BHScat/gallery-01.html.