Topic: Profiles

The Big Question: Can Food Heal?

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All photos/art by Jason Grow

Adrienne Kane knows the power of cooking. In the spring of 2000, Kane, just 21, suffered a devastating stroke that paralyzed her right side. Years of physical rehabilitation followed. Kane, who’d grown up in California in a family that loved cooking, found solace and therapy in the kitchen. Kane wrote about her recovery and the recipes that mean the most to her in her memoir, Cooking & Screaming (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, 2009). We caught up with her in her adopted city of New Haven, Connecticut.

“There’s so much about cooking that requires the use of both of your arms and hands. It’s probably the most natural form of therapy. I don’t have use of my right hand, but I definitely use my arm: steadying a piece of food on the cutting board with my right hand and cutting with my left, for example. My mom always loves it when I’m in the kitchen, because she says it’s like I’m using both of my arms.”

“The ritual of cooking is something I grew up with. My mom is a great pie maker. And my grandma was an insane pie maker. She would make pies for every major holiday. She knew what everyone’s favorite pie was, and for Thanksgiving she’d make like 16 of them. Making those pies for us was how she showed her love to all of us.

“My mom would come home from work, and I’d help in the kitchen. That routine is something my husband and I have now. He comes home from teaching and I come out of the office from writing all day, and it’s this lovely little instance we participate in.

“Every Sunday I get together with a friend. We’ve made dinners together for about a year. The e-mails start on Friday about what we have sitting around–we never use a recipe–and what we want to cook. It’s just a great way to end the weekend and begin the next week.

“Recipes are good touchstones for passages of time. They’re memories. You know how some people can remember a song that was playing on the radio or what was playing on TV? For every major instance in my life, I can remember two things: what I was wearing and what I ate.”

“The [stroke] and the therapy and the cooking have all taught me an enormous amount about patience. I didn’t like to wait; now I’m much more relaxed. That extends to the food I put on the table. I’ve learned that even if it doesn’t look perfect, it’s still delicious. Or if I want to have food on the table at 7:00 and it’s getting to be 7:15 or 7:20, nobody’s going to care.

“One of the reasons I think people shy away from cooking is that they tend to get hung up on the complications. That’s not the way I cook. That’s not the way I live my life. It’s about navigating the obstacles thrown your way. The necessity of being fearless in every aspect of your life. When someone tells you that they’re not interested in your book, so what? You move on.”

“A friend of mine suggested I write a memoir. At the time, I thought, Who’s going to want to read a memoir from a woman who’s not even 30 and is just stumbling through things? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t about age, but experience.

“Since my book came out, I’ve gotten some really sweet, warm e-mails. I heard from one woman who was struggling with an illness. Her father gave her an article about me, and then she went out and bought my book. She found a lot of comfort that there was someone else like her who was young and going through the same thing she was. That my words were able to help an individual meant everything.”

For more on Adrienne Kane, read her blog at: nosheteria.com


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