Book Notes: Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

Molly Wizenberg’s first memoir, A Homemade Life, was a revelation to me. I’d been reading Orangette for quite some time, so when the book came out, I gobbled it up like a slice of cake on cheat day. I found her depth of emotion and authenticity utterly breathtaking, and was so pleased to be able to meet her at BlogHer Food 2010, mere hours after finishing the book on the plane that got me there. She was very kind and approachable and let me pepper her with questions about food blogging and memoir writing (I was in the thick of dissertation research at the time) when she could have been socializing and enjoying cocktails with her cohort of famous food bloggers.


So, when Delancey came out earlier this year, Wizenberg’s account of opening a restaurant with her husband, I was eager to read it. I was intrigued by the language about how the process inspired “the first crisis of her young marriage.” While I was a little worried that it would be another Cleaving, I knew that the details would be far less salacious, and was confident that this would be another meaty, satisfying peek into the life of a gifted writer-turned-restaurateur.

You know how sometimes you make your coffee in the morning and even though you haven’t done anything differently — you scoop the same amount of beans in the grinder, smash ’em up, dump ’em into the coffeemaker, add the same amount of water you always do into the chamber — you somehow wind up with a thin, transparent brew that barely breaches the blood-brain barrier? You’ll choke it down but all the while you’re plotting your route to the nearest coffee shop after you drop off the kids at school? I felt that same frustration and disappointment when reading this book. It’s about 256 pages long and by page 100 I was wondering when it was going to get interesting.

It’s difficult for me to articulate exactly why this book left me cold. Maybe my expectations were too high. So much of what she shared in Homemade resonated so profoundly with me — the midwestern upbringing, losing a parent to cancer, an abiding love of Paris, a deep commitment to home cooking — it was practically genetically engineered to hit all of my identification receptors. But Delancey just didn’t sing for me. Maybe it’s because I have never opened a restaurant from scratch before and so I couldn’t identify. But I also feel like Wizenberg was holding back this time around. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read the first book, but I remember it being more open and genuine. In Delancey, she seems to be somewhat disconnected from the experience, holding it at arm’s length, perhaps to protect her family from the gory details?

Here’s an example of what I mean. Late in the book, her husband finally cracks under the pressure of midwifing a new restaurant into existence.

He didn’t get the privilege of saying that he didn’t want to do it anymore. I told him this, or something like it. I screamed. I remember him asking me over and over why I couldn’t understand, why I couldn’t just comfort him. (189)

Here is a critical moment in this couple’s relationship and the way it’s portrayed here is just … meh. Beige. We are told, not shown, and it’s like this for most of the book. It’s thin coffee with too much cream. On top of that, most of the recipes at the end of each “chapter” (many of the interludes barely qualify as chapters) don’t really reflect, amplify, or comment upon what has just transpired in the narrative. They’re merely ornamental, as though Wizenberg felt some imperative to include recipes because she’s a food blogger. (And we won’t even discuss the cameos by a certain food blogger and her husband; I’ll save my feelings about that for my book group discussion.)

For me, Delancey is maybe indicative of a tipping point for blogs-to-books, in that I wonder whether the blog-as-commodity is waning. (A good thing, in my opinion.) I feel like publishers are hoping to trade on a big name (as in the case with Delicious!) and a built-in fan base (as in this case) and are sacrificing depth in the process. Along the same lines, I really enjoy Mallory Ortberg’s Dirtbag Teddy Roosevelt and Dirtbag Zeus, but I don’t see myself buying Texts from Jane Eyre. In short, I don’t think it’s necessary to monetize every blog post on the internet. I think that there is really brilliant, moving work living on the internet and I think that, in the case of Delancey, it loses some of its color and life in the movement from online to print.

I’ve got lots of books on my To Read list. I’m currently reading My Brilliant Friend; what have you read recently that we can discuss here?

Book Notes: Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

Earlier this year, I swore to read a book a week over the course of 2014, a plan that failed spectacularly because, duh, I’m a slow reader who picks impossibly long books that couldn’t be finished inside of a week absent any semblance of a life or need for sleep. That said, I have read a LOT of books over the summer, including This Is Where I Leave You (LOVE — can’t wait for the movie!), Broken Harbor (LOVE), The Leftovers (ALSO LOVE), the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (LOVE, even though the author got a little up her own you-know-what in the final book), The Carriage House (DID NOT LOVE), Vampires in the Lemon Grove (MEHHHH, I am disappoint).



On our recent vacation to New Mexico, I devoured (to be clear: when I say “devour” as concerns this book, think of it as the literary equivalent of hate-f**king the fraternity brother who lives in your apartment building) Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. This is not a book that had been on my radar before a food-writing friend of mine alerted me (along with some other local food-writing women) to its existence and suggested that we get together and discuss it. So, I checked it out from the library and packed it along for the long drive to Santa Fe.

Let’s start with the good. We won’t be here long. I really like the way that Reichl drew a direct line from World War 2-era subsistence agriculture and foraging to contemporary notions of homesteading. Just like in Portlandia (“the dream of the 1890s is alive in Portland“), the dream of the 1940s is alive in Ohio … and Brooklyn, and Austin, and Omaha and so on. I also really appreciated when Reichl would demonstrate her deep knowledge of food, from the difference between winter and spring parmigiano to the various histories and uses of particular foods. That’s when her writing really sang in this novel; sadly, she would drop those lovely moments like hot potatoes in service to her hot mess of a narrative.

There is a LOT going on in this book. We’ve got the letters from a mysterious young woman to James Beard during WW2. We’ve got the death of an iconic food magazine (*cough*) and the obvious emotional trauma Reichl is working through via her surrogate(s) at said magazine. We’ve got the Underground Railroad, xenophobia against Italian-Americans, the post-WW2 “lavender scare,” and a mysterious back story and an obligatory love plot for Billie Breslin, the heroine. Reichl has embedded her novel with so many moving parts that she ends up under developing every single one of them, relying instead on tired tropes and stereotypes, down to the ugly-duckling-gets-a-makeover scene. Some people have suggested that Delicious! reads like a YA novel, but that would be an insult to YA fiction, much of which doesn’t insult its readership by telegraphing every plot development and tying up every single crappy narrative thread with an overwrought bow. 

Where was Reichl’s editor? Who was there to say, “Have you considered narrowing your focus a bit?” Or perhaps, “Have you considered fleshing out your characters a bit?” The love interest is so underwritten that Reichl might as well have just marched a cardboard cutout of Mr. Darcy into the scene for all the charisma he has.

And I’m not even mentioning the continuity and basic copyediting errors!

When my friends and I got together to discuss the book, we wondered whether it would have been published if it hadn’t had Reichl’s name on it. I seriously doubt it. I’m shocked it was published, period.

Next up: Delancey. I loved A Homemade Life, so Molly Wizenberg better not let me down!


52 X 2014: Failure and I Bury the Body


The first book in my 52 X 2014 project is a collection of poems by Sasha West called Failure and I Bury the Body. I’ll be frank: starting out with contemporary poetry is my veggies. Eating the frog first, so to speak. Poetry has never been a particularly favorite genre of mine, although I do have my favorites: Keats, Ginsberg, Williams, Hughes. (All men! Sheesh!) Nothing any more challenging than a sophomore-level undergraduate survey, though. But I know (and like!) Sasha and her husband and always want to support lady writers, so I thought this would be a fitting way to kick off my crazy plan.

While I can’t speak to how West uses form and poetic designs (I can see that she’s doing things, I just don’t have the vocabulary for them), I was quite struck by the content. Unsettled. Disturbed, even. The collection follows a woman on a road trip with the personification of Failure through the American southwest via Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Kirkuk, the Arctic, and Dallas. Failure and the narrator are joined by Corpse along the way, keeping him alive(ish?) in order to torture and love him, before enacting a thousand different murders upon him. Thoreau, Pound, Dolly the sheep, and Sir Ernest Shackleton make appearances along the way as West articulates Failure as the embodiment of man’s devastating effects on the planet, from fracking and deforestation to war and atomic bombs. It goes without saying that West also engages with the trauma man heaps upon man, as well.

Despite the fact that about 90% of the collection is dystopian bleakness, there is beauty to be found, primarily in West’s language, which took my breath away on more than one occasion. This poem was particularly powerful:

I Tell Failure the True Story of the Corpse

For that half year I was so happy
I pulled down all the generators
all the telephone lines; long lanky summer
while we slowly became wire, I blew
out tires and candles, pushed drills
into derricks and fractured earth
to find the oil, ruined water and wells,
broke teeth and gears. And my happiness
like a bowling ball on a trampoline
pulled towards itself all
disaster– the great-aunts were
buried ten to a plot in the Independence
Cemetery, the uncles lit cigarettes outside
pulled smoke into tumors
while the snow stuck in their hair
and the spokes of their chairs, and
the junkyards filled with the wreck
of every car in town, and tap water
like lit torches gleamed with fire, and the wars
escalated and reaped bodies, cities, and
our love pulled into our bed the dissolution
of all marriages around us, so we
trailed behind our happiness (tin cans
tied with twine) all that
disappointment in our wake, broken ships
we towed between the icebergs
on our way down to the glaciers
of the pole.

Gorgeous, right?

So, that’s the first book complete. Now on to Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

The Cookbook Project: Lu Ann Barrow


As I mentioned in the inaugural post for this project, the artist whose work graces the cover of Sampler is Lu Ann Barrow. I find Mrs. Barrow’s story to be quite intriguing indeed.

When Sampler was published in 1986, Barrow was 52 years old. Despite having completed her BFA at UT-Austin under the supervision of William Lester 30 years prior, her biography in the cookbook claims that her art took a backseat to marriage (to architect David Barrow, Jr.) and raising two sons (David III and Thomas). The copy reads, “When one sees her works one may wonder why they have not seen a Barrow original or heard of her previously. She has a limited amount of time available for painting, and numbers of finished canvases are not her goal.”

This closing sentiment scans as a bit defensive, does it not? Barrow was either fed up with being asked why she didn’t produce more art or she was heading off such inquiries at the pass. She is quoted in her biography as preferring to stay close to home, rather than traveling to show her work in places like Oklahoma and New Mexico. Against the backdrop of 1980s power feminism, Barrow stakes a position that privileges the home, family, and domestic duties over a high-flying career (but there are no recipes attributed to her in the Artist Recipes section, either).

By all appearances, Barrow has been quite prolific over the past couple of decades, and her work, which is decidedly in the folk-art school and depicts domestic and rural concerns, has appeared in some high-profile contexts. The Austin Museum of Art hosted an exhibit of her work in 2006, and as recently as 2011, Barrow has headlined shows in Fort Worth and Dallas.

This background information about Barrow is what makes her role as “starring” artist in Sampler (the section dividers in the cookbook are thick pages with reproductions of paintings by individual Texas artists, with their biographies on the backs of the pages) so interesting. Here is a woman who earned a BFA, deliberately training for an art career but backseating it in favor of being a wife and mother (no judgment here, y’all), and whose subjects are largely women engaging in some sort of domestic activity. Her work adorns the cover of a cookbook composed of recipes attributed mostly to women identified as Mrs. Husband’s Name (Her First Name in Parentheses).

I am tempted to argue that Sampler reflects some vestigial conservatism among certain segments of Austin society in the mid-1980s. I wonder what a community cookbook compiled by the Art Alliance Austin would look like today; I reckon that Mrs. Husband’s Name trope would be absent.

The Cookbook Project: An Introduction

Hello, friends! Remember me? It has been a while since I checked in on Ye Olde Blog. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what’s been going on in these parts in the past TWO MONTHS (oy):

1. Went to Colorado for a week (I have been and am still planning to do a couple of Foodie Field Trips posts about our culinary adventures in Denver and Boulder).

2. Started adjuncting at two different schools (three classes up north, one class down south), which eats up much of my time.

3. Still freelancing.

4. Juggling family, friends, craft projects and whatnot.

5. I’ve lost 13 pounds since April! Have been pinning heaps of low g.i. and paleo-friendly recipes because, y’all, I’m turning a certain milestone age tomorrow and I would really like to get down to my pre-pregnancy weight and fitness level before completing my next rotation around the sun.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you about my next project. Let’s call it my “I’m finally recovered from all of that dissertating, where will my research take me next?” project. You may recall that I swore a while back that I’d never write a book on women’s cookbooks as material artifacts, but I may have changed my tune a little bit. You see, last fall, when I was in the throes of completing and defending my dissertation, one of the students in my Rhetoric of Eating class brought in a cookbook belonging to her mom. It’s called Sampler, and it is a community fundraising cookbook put together by the Women’s Art Guild (now the Art Alliance Austin) of the Laguna Gloria Art Museum. Because the topic of women’s community cookbooks was fresh in my mind, I was all over this cookbook like a duck on a Junebug. Fortunately, Madison and her mother were kind enough to loan this cookbook to me to study, along with a healthy armful of other historical Austin community cookbooks.


So, over the next several months, my intention is to acquire my own copies of these cookbooks and pore over them in hopes of piecing together a portrait of Austin culture and foodways past, which will, in turn, help put our contemporary culture and foodways in their context. I hope. Maybe. A very wise woman once said that it is a bad project that has all its questions answered before it even begins, so I just want to make it clear that I have lots of questions and absolutely zero answers.

After a few passes through the cookbook, I think I want to divide up my analysis into a number of categories: the art, the artists and their biographies, the food, and the stories attached to the food. I think the most interesting part of this cookbook is the section of recipes contributed by artists in the Austin/Central Texas community. There is everything from ratatouille to bologna cups with peas to fried rattlesnake. These, paired with the artists’ stories of themselves, make for compelling reading, especially when juxtaposed with the stories told by and within the recipes contributed by Guild members.

I want to start with a discussion of the cover art. The piece is a reproduction of an oil painting by LuAnn Barrow called “Cooks Gathering.” I think it speaks beautifully to the title of the cookbook, Sampler, in that it evokes quilting, at least in my mind. The women are gathering with their contributions to the table: one assembles a salad, one sets down a pie, while still others converge with their creations. A sampler quilt is one in which each block consists of a different pattern. In hand-stitching and embroidery, a sampler is a way to display your skill with various techniques. Along these same lines, an art-guild cookbook entitled Sampler suggests that everyone brings a different skill to the table, whether it be facility with pies or crab dips, or prowess in oil paintings or pottery.

Up next: A profile of LuAnn Barrow and a snapshot of artists’ lives, as seen in the pages of the cookbook.

Cook. Write. Teach. Make.

I recently reviewed Gail Simmons’ memoir, Talking With My Mouth Full, and despite the fact that it was sort of “inside baseball” for foodies and Top Cheffies, part of her story has really stuck with me. In her memoir, Simmons explains that when she graduated from college, she didn’t really have much direction in terms of a career. A family friend told her to make a list of the things she loves to do and to let that be her guide. Simmons’ list was Eat, Write, Travel, Cook. And she’s done a fairly impressive job of incorporating those four loves into her career.

I think about her four words a lot as I emerge from the fog of graduation, go to work at my temp job (where the work has slowed down so considerably that I’m often getting paid to balance my checkbook, write thank you notes, and browse Pinterest), and work on freelance stories and pitches. I have a research project on the back burner that I would really like to make some forward progress on, but I just haven’t taken the time to sit down with the texts in question and start digging in for research. (I’m hoping that once my temp requisition ends I’ll be able to devote some serious time to writing and research.) I have recently seen a tiny bit of traction on the academic front in that it looks like I’ve picked up one class (a survey of British literature, of all things) at a local private university, but I can’t help but sometimes let myself go down the rabbit hole of bitterness about my academic career.

So, I have to make my own list of things that I love the most and find a way to make those work for me. The title of the post is a bit of a spoiler in that regard: Cook. Write. Teach. Make. These are the things I love to do, and I need to let them be my guide. I’ve been doing some cooking for others beyond my family lately and it makes me happy to see them happy with what I’ve fed them. The writing, well, that’s a no brainer. I won’t ever stop doing that. (In fact, look for an uptick in posting here once I’m done temping!) Teaching may have to take different forms than what I am accustomed to, but I’m open to exploring the possibilities. And the make? Well, it’s time for me to dust off the sewing machine and the knitting needles. I gain enormous satisfaction and pleasure from making things to wear, to give to people, or just because. I may not fashion a career out of it, but I can certainly gain some peace from it. And peace is what I need most right now.

It feels a little strange to include a recipe in this post, but since I started with the review of Gail Simmons’ book, I’ll end with it. Part of the reviewing process meant testing one of the recipes at the back of the book. The “tear off a hunk of baguette and eat it with a hunk of Gruyere cheese” recipe seemed a little easy (and may actually be something I “review” later today), so I opted for the frozen chocolate, peanut butter, and banana bar with toasted coconut.

This was a pretty fussy recipe (you can find it here), but the end result is pretty tasty, if a bit dense. The chocolate layer is THICK and softens more slowly than the creamy banana layer, which makes it rather difficult to eat. But the peanuts and toasted coconut on top provide the overall effect of a frozen Snickers bar (with higher quality ingredients, of course). I haven’t eaten very much of it (I cut it into slabs and froze them) because that chocolate layer is a bit much, but I think this would make for a lovely finish to a summer barbecue, or just to add a little sweetness at the end of a difficult day.

Reading roundup

I am slowly but surely scraping deadlines off my plate, which makes me so, so happy. I hope to resume proper blogging soon, but in the meantime, I would like to point you to some other writing I’ve been doing:

A guest entry on elitistacademic about Breaking Dawn, part 1.

Recaps of Top Chef for the Austin Chronicle.

A blog entry about Christian’s new film, Local.

Tomorrow, I will have a review of Bacon in the Chronicle, and then a super fun feature in next week’s paper. And I hope to participate in next week’s Baked Sunday Mornings, too.

Okay! Off to do some chores and some reading and some shopping! It’s nice to not be buried under a pile of work for the first time in a very, very, VERY long time.

A feminist food studies bibliography

So, I’m defending my dissertation this Wednesday. Let me say that again: I’m defending my dissertation this. coming. Wednesday.

Excuse me. I need to go have a lie-down.

I’m thinking of blogging my preparation process over the next few days as a means of articulating my talking points, but I’m not sure about that, given that much of what I’ll talk about might lack context. But what I will do here, today, is provide a bit of an annotated bibliography of feminist food studies texts. That will help me ensure that I know that this ground is covered. The folks over at the f-word put together a nice preliminary list a couple of years ago; I’ve added a number of other titles to the list as necessary. An asterisk next to the entry means that I haven’t read it (and will be visiting the library to pick it up for review this weekend!).

Adams, Carole J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Theory, 1999. — Pretty radical stuff. Adams argues that eating meat is ultimately to be complicit with patriarchy. I am not necessarily on board with this argument, but I do think there is value in Adams’ analysis of the linguistic/rhetorical slipperiness that happens when we talk about meat. for example, chicken becomes poultry (or its component parts: breasts, wings, thighs), cows become beef, pigs become pork. When we talk about meat in abstract terms like that, those terms become portable and applicable to other forms of flesh (“Are you a breast man or a thigh man?” asked Frank Perdue in one of his chicken commercials).

*Arndt, Deborah. Women Working the NAFTA Food Chain: Women, Food & Globalization, 1999.

Avakian Arlene Voski and Barbara Haber. From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food, 2005. — I really like this book, because it offers a historical account of feminist food studies (well, up to six years ago). It’s a collection of essays that chart the history of women’s cultural relationship to food beginning with “The Marketplace,” which contends with the specters of Betty Crocker and the Gerber baby in the woman’s role of feeding her family. After providing historical contexts, the collection moves on to “Representations” and “Resistances,” which contribute to Avakian and Haber’s argument that there is, indeed, a place in women’s studies and feminist scholarship for the study of food and women’s relationship to all things food-related. This collection hold the local in tension with the global, looking at everything from the use of food in ethnic representations to the depictions of fat women (who eat too much) in popular culture.

*Bentley, Amy. Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity, 1998.

Bower, Anne. Recipes For Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories, 1997. Bower argues that the community cookbook enabled women, marginalized within their contemporary cultural contexts by the virtue of their gender, to build community while also participating in American public life. The essays collected here help to situate women, via these cookbooks, within their cultural, political, and moral landscapes, bringing their various values — from expressions of local culture to philanthropic concerns to civil rights legislation — as communities and as individuals into relief.

Counihan, Carole. The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power, 1999. It’s been a long time since I read this one.

*Engelhardt, Elizabeth. A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender, Southern Food, 2011. This one just came out, and Elizabeth is on my dissertation committee. Luckily for me, there isn’t a copy to be had in the city of Austin. Awesome. (Actually, I haven’t checked with Barnes & Noble, but I am not hopeful.) I was fortunate enough to see her talk about the book at the Texas Book Festival, and I learned some interesting things. More on this later.

Haber, Barbara. From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of America’s Cooks and Meals, 2002. Haber is (was?) the curator of books at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library and studied the library’s historical cookbook collection in order to trace women’s participation in America’s economic, social, political, and cultural history. Spanning the Irish famine to the development of the Harvey House restaurants to the heyday of Gourmet magazine, Haber’s study makes the argument that not only can cookbooks reflect the zeitgeist of a culture, but also “reveal secrets about their owners” (209).

Inness, Sherrie. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender and Race, 2000. Demonstrates the ways that food (its procurement, preparation, consumption, etc) shapes the lives of women with respect to their race, class, and ethnicity, as well as their positionality as it regards the way that food is marketed and advertised.

——-. Dinner Roles: American Women and Kitchen Culture, 2001. Here, Inness argues that cookbooks, along with other media, “reveal the dreams of an era […] the media’s representation of cooking and women illuminates a great deal about mainstream American society and its assumptions about women’s societally desirable roles” (12). So, just as today’s fashion magazines enforce an unattainable standard of physical beauty thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, so did cookbooks in the first half of the twentieth century promote an idealized vision of appropriate gender roles for both men and women. Inness’ thesis is, essentially, that cookbooks functioned as conduct texts that perpetuated the notion of the kitchen as an inherently female space, from with which the white, middle-class woman would cook the foods that attracted a man and kept him happy.

*——-. Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food, 2001.

——-. Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table, 2005. I own this, but for the life of me cannot recall what she’s doing in this one. I imagine it has something to do with race, gender, and class, though.

Mannur, Anita. Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, 2009. Mannur focuses on the recent trend of food narratives within the context of South Asian diasporic cultural production. She writes, “discursively, the terms by which ‘Indianness’ is imagined almost always mobilizes a culinary idiom; more often than not food is situated in narratives about racial and ethnic identity as an intractable measure of cultural authenticity” (3). One aspect of Mannur’s project is to uncover and disclose the complex contours beneath this flattening. She does so by interrogating the whys and hows of the deployment of the culinary metaphor, surveying the broad landscape that stretches from chick lit to experimental film to cookbooks.

*McFeely, Mary Drake. Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century, 2001.

Neuhaus, Jessamyn. Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America, 2003. Neuhaus demonstrates the rhetorical techniques used by cookbooks produced from the 1890s to the 1960s to encourage women to seek the domestic sphere out of a sense of duty to both her family and her country. For example, a woman as skilled turn-of-the-century household manager ensured her husband’s ability to perform in the workplace (16); a woman who effectively and patriotically planted a victory garden or cleverly stretched her rationed staples helped American troops do their jobs more effectively during World War II (25); and the homemaker who deployed her culinary savvy in purchasing pre-made food products was doing her duty as a good postwar middle-class consumer (30). Indeed, Neuhaus returns to the trope of a woman’s duty again and again, arguing the various ways in which cookbook instructions are couched in a rhetoric of duty shaped by historical and cultural contexts.

*Schenone, Laura. A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of Women Told Through Food, Recipes and Remembrances, 2004.

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, 1986, 2008. A historical survey of the domestic science experts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and how their emphasis on scientific and hygienic cookery set the stage for the infiltration of homogenized corporate food into the American diet. The “modernizing” effects of the mavens of scientific cookery, who praised the hygienic virtues of canned vegetables and potato flakes unsullied by human hands, opened up a space into which industry could insert itself into American women’s kitchens. The result was a standardized and homogenized cultural palate and a vast market waiting to be plumbed.

——-. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, 2005. The follow-up study to Perfection Salad. In it, Shapiro examines the way that the American appetite was further shaped by the twin powers of industry, which had a surplus of food manufacturing technology in the wake of World War II, and advertising, which industry manipulated to create a need and demand for such foodstuffs as frozen TV dinners and cake mixes. Despite housewives’ initial rejection of these products, they were eventually accepted into American kitchens.

*Sharpless, Rebecca. Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, 2010. I am plotting a paper on The Help, and I reckon I should read this soon.

Williams-Forson, Psyche. Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, 2006. This study is such a fascinating read. Williams-Forson uses chicken (both animal and food) as the primary line of inquiry to examine the ways that black women established and expressed their agency from slavery to the present. This is a truly interdisciplinary study, with Williams-Forson looking at recipes/cookbooks, literature, Chris Rock, and the controversial and heart-wrenching work of Kara Walker to demonstrate the cultural work done via representations of black women and chicken.

Shoofly, don’t bother me

One of the obsessions that has emerged from my dissertation research is women’s personal recipe collections. Now, there are already books written about women’s cookbooks as material artifacts, so I don’t think I’ll ever write one myself.

That said, I think they’re a fantastic way to piece together a profile of a woman. And sometimes I wonder what sort of footprint I’ll leave behind, in terms of how I represent myself through my cooking preferences. What will the archaeologists and anthropologists of my life find? What will my collection of internet bookmarks (mostly for muffins/cupcakes/brownies/cookies, if we’re being honest) say about me, or the recipes printed off the Internet and stashed away with my ever-growing collection of Everyday Food and Eating Well magazine back issues? That I have a sweet tooth that often works at cross purposes to my good intentions? That I am a very disorganized curator of my life in the kitchen? That I maybe, perhaps a little bit, have a bit of a hoarding problem when it comes to cookbooks and other recipe collections? Sure I’ve got a few annotations here and there, but not consistently. And the fact that half of my family has a very limited palate and bursts into tears at the mere scent of something new (I’m not kidding) means that I don’t really wander too far beyond the borders of the familiar, because that causes a lot of DRAMA and wasted food.

All of this circumspection was triggered by a blog I learned about on the ASFS listserve a couple of months ago: The Shoofly Project. The blogger there, Katie, is writing a book on Mennonite foodways and in the process is delving into her grandmother’s recipe box. (I love that she discovered seven different recipes for lemon pie! And that of the 90 or so recipes, 70 of them were for desserts! Keturah, c’est moi.) I love everything about this blog. I encourage everyone to go check it out.

Which brings me to a conundrum. You see, I bought this first edition (second printing) Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook off ebay a few years back and haven’t really known what to do with it. It is stuffed full of recipes clipped from newspapers, typed up from what appears to have been a local cooking show in Chicago in the early 1960s, and pulled off of baking pans.

The owner’s name, Eileen Marales, is written in a straightforward cursive (remember cursive?) hand inside the front cover. “Eileen Marales.” with a period at the end. The uppercase E is a bit ornate, but the rest of the script is tight and efficient. I imagine that Eileen was maybe a secretary or a schoolteacher. Some sort of profession requiring tidy organization, as reflected in the way she tucked her clipped recipes into the appropriate sections of the cookbook.

I don’t really know what to do with this cookbook. It is not in wonderful condition, so I can’t really sell it (nor do I want to). I don’t know if I should donate it to a library or try to find the Marales family in Chicago and send it to them. Or maybe I’ll just keep it and make a project of cataloging and analyzing what I find amid these yellowed pages. What would you do with this old treasure?

For love of Edward Cullen

Friday in my class we talked about the meanings of vampires in the cultural imagination. Here is a powerpoint slideshow I put together based on a poll taken from my class and my Facebook friends. There’s not a lot of commentary here, but it’s a very compelling document indeed! Can you tell which comments were from my students (mostly freshmen, all women) and which are from my “grownup” friends?


And for those of you with older versions of Office:

The reading for that day included the intro and final section of Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves and this article from NPR. I found that the girls were fairly resistant (maybe?) to the idea that a culture’s version of the vampire is reflective of the zeitgeist. We talked a bit about the conservative vampire of the 1980s and how he (why always male?) reflected paternalistic Reagan-era politics and AIDS fear, and how Stoker’s vampire interrogated the figure of the New Woman and late-Victorian xenophobia (which we will discuss later this week).

From there I asked them to describe Edward Cullen, who is this moment’s Vampire du Jour. They came up with protective, creeper, sugar daddy, father figure, stalker, unconditional love, and a few others I can’t remember right now. From there, I asked them what it is about Edward’s “ambient ethos” (a phrase I shamelessly stole from Snehal Shingavi) that is reflective of our zeitgeist. Twilight came out in 2005, smack in the middle of GWB’s presidential regime, we were embroiled in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina happened, the first of a number of personnel changes on the Supreme Court, etc. The past five years have been full of all sorts of upheaval and uncertainty, and Sarah Hepola argues that for 30-something women, Twilight offers an escape from the disappointments of the real love plot, and that it is particularly resonant with women going through major life changes (I, for one, got sucked in while expecting my daughter, who just turned 2 yesterday).

It would serve then, I suggested to my class, that the reason we responded so overwhelmingly to Edward Cullen is that we needed or wanted someone to take care of us. I might even argue that both Presidents Bush AND Obama can be reflective of our desire for a savior-protector.

There’s the whole Mormon angle to contend with, too, but I chose not to open that can of worms in class.

This week we’re discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moving on to Stoker’s Dracula before embarking upon Eclipse. This is still very much in progress, but I’m keen to see how they respond to thinking critically about someone as polarizing as Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Stay tuned!