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.

Nil Zip Zilch Nada

Y’all, I just don’t have a meaningful, proper blog post in me tonight, what with the grading and the dissertation defense prep. But I did watch a few DVR’ed episodes of The Pioneer Woman’s (awful terrible horrible) show on Food Network with my friend Crystal this afternoon (it was research!) and “live” tweeted it. My hope is that I will be able to corral those thoughts into something substantive within the next few days.

A milkshake for lunch

Today I had a milkshake for lunch. Partly because I’d worked myself up into such a froth of anxiety about my imminent Big Day that I couldn’t conceive of eating solid food and partly because I had seen these folks the first night of Fun Fun Fun Fest and was intrigued.

Handshakes is a new trailer in east Austin. They just opened up about a month ago, but the owner tells me that they are having their grand opening on November 12 and hope to soon serve “upscale grilled cheese.” The milkshake pictured here is called the Good Morning, and it contains oatmeal, vanilla ice cream, milk, and cinnamon. I paid a bit extra to have strawberries mixed in (the whole thing cost $6.50; not sure what the price was before the mix-in).

Handshakes’ signature milkshake is the Panshake; it’s got a pancake in it! Weird! Their other flavors include Banana Pudding, Corn, and the Grave Digger (cookies & cream). It’s got me thinking about all the different weirdo milkshake combinations out there. Peanut butter & Jelly (with bread!)!! Bacon and eggs! Donuts! Bagels and lox!

The possibilities, they are endless.

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.

On eating local food

So, I sort of made a dumb deal with myself in which I would participate in NaBloPoMo to keep my writerly juices flowing (because the flood of freelance work and academic writing isn’t enough?!). Mostly I wanted to goose my blog writing because I have a bunch of ideas but haven’t taken the time to write any of them down here.

So, a day late (maybe I’ll extend this to Dec. 1 to compensate for missing yesterday), here we go. First order of business: I read this Opinionator blog by Mark Bittman yesterday and nodded to myself, all, “yep, totally. Agree 100%.” And then, this morning, he mentioned on Twitter that the conversation on the entry was being dominated by Big Food apologists and bratty Americans who didn’t want to give up their Chilean berries, so I decided to post this comment:

I buy local food as much as possible because I care about the environment, because I want to help support and foster local farms and farmers, because I want to know that my food has been handled safely and responsibly (and in the case of animals, grass-fed and raised and slaughtered humanely). I want to eat food that tastes like what it’s supposed to taste like and hasn’t been fiddled with in some laboratory somewhere along the way. I buy local food because I don’t want a penny of my money going to Monsanto. I buy local food because I don’t want to be part of the homogeneous Big Food/industrial agriculture system. I buy local food because the stakes of the Big Food companies are to make as much money as possible, while the stakes for local farmers involve their families, communities, and ecosystems. Want to occupy Wall Street? Buy local food.

Bittman is right to point out that the Farm Bill and its concomitant corn subsidies are among the roots of the problem with our food system today. Some may argue that people can’t afford to buy local food, which is true, but the corn subsidies have done so much damage to our food supply, our environment, and our health (and if you don’t think that Occupy Wall Street has anything to do with your $2 meal combo, you haven’t been paying attention) that we MUST take action. ConAgra actively lobbies to keep the corn subsidies in play because that’s what benefits its bottom line. Which is more important: taking care of our bodies, our ecosystems, and our communities by incorporating as much local food as we can into our diets, or perpetuating the stranglehold corporations have on every aspect of our lives while they make money off our increasingly fat asses?

Jack Allen’s Kitchen

I don’t usually do restaurant reviews here, but I’m making an exception for my newest obsession, Jack Allen’s Kitchen.

(Don’t worry, Olivia, Contigo, and La Condesa. I still love you, too.)

When my dissertation chair, the elitistacademic, invited me to lunch at JAK, she pitched it as “serious farm-to-table fare.” I usually don’t take much convincing to check out a new-to-me restaurant, but then I looked at the menu. HOLY PIMENTO CHEESE, HOW SOON CAN WE GET THERE?!

(Side note: When I was in high school, I went to a tiny Southern Baptist church in Crockett, Texas. Once a month the youth group would have a Sunday-night volleyball game in the annex, and the church ladies would make us sandwiches and provide chips and drinks and stuff. Every time they served pimento cheese, I would act like a five-year-old and make yuck faces and just generally be a brat about the vile orange glop. One night, one of the ladies pulled me aside and schooled me, rather fiercely, about my rude and childish behavior. I now have an enormous appreciation for pimento cheese, as well as for how annoying children who make yuck faces at the food you’ve made for them. So, sorry church ladies. But that stuff in the tubs from the Safeway was pretty darn gross.)

Anyhoo, I met up with the EA around noon-thirty today and after perusing the menu (I was curious about the Navajo chicken taco, but because spinach isn’t in season here yet, it’s not currently being served. I LOVE THAT.) we made our selections.

We started out with the pimento cheese appetizer (you get a wee sampling taste as a sort of equivalent to the basket of bread you’d get at another restaurant). I really, really had to restrain/pace myself. The housemade flatbread crackers were thin and crunchy and nicely seasoned, and the pimento cheese itself was creamy and mild.

Despite the wealth of truly fattening and enticing items, I opted for a salad, something called the Chicken Club Fancy Salad or something. It has achiote grilled chicken, sliced apples, figs, and blue cheese in it, and is tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The chicken bore a surprising bit of sneaky heat, but nothing too overpowering.

The EA boldly ordered the chicken-fried pork chop. Look at this beast!

Underneath that monster is mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley that had zucchini and pattypan squash, as well as some others. EA sliced me off a piece and let me tell you: you have not had chicken fried ANYTHING that tasted as good as this pork chop. “You can tell this is local,” said EA, “because you can actually taste the pork and not just the [perfectly seasoned and crisp] breading.”

Because we were going whole hog, we asked to hear the dessert selection. There was apple-pecan cobbler. Banana toffee cream cake. And wah wah wah wah and also wah wah wah wah. We stopped listening after “banana” and “toffee.”

Friends, I have no words. “It reminds me of my Big Mama’s banana pudding,” I said. “It reminds me of the pies we ate when I was a kid,” said EA. It was pudding-y and cream pie-y and … well. I had to force myself to stop eating it because I was stuffed beyond comprehension. In fact, I skipped dinner tonight, I ate so much at lunch.

But I also got a souvenir!

Oh yeah, baby.

The space itself is lovely: open and airy with a lot of natural light and clean lines. Each table or booth is afforded its own generous footprint; there’s none of that elbow-to-elbow nonsense here. Our server, while scruffily goateed and ponytailed, wasn’t the burnout of my first impression. He was informative and polite and efficient and didn’t hover. Well played, sir.

So, all told: solid, solid dining experience. I called my husband on the way back into town and told him we had to go there together immediately. I think the words “homemade pimento cheese” and “chicken fried pork chop” sealed the deal.

(P.S. Sorry the pictures are sort of blurry. I think I need to clean my phone’s camera lens.)

Apple crisp

It’s October. Technically fall. Apples and pears are in abundance at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets. And yet it’s still 90 degrees outside in my town. Oy vey, times a thousand. It’s supposed to drop down into the 70s this week, so we’ll be able to think about soup and hearty meals for about fifteen minutes, but this terrifyingly hot and dry summer has got my sense of the seasons all out of whack.

That didn’t stop me from making an apple crisp, though. Sure, apples and oats and cinnamon and brown sugar scream sweater weather, but these were organic fujis (ENORMOUS) on sale at the grocery store (kind of ironic that just this morning I got up on my high horse about cheap food; on one hand, I think it devalues food in our minds, but on the other hand, I like the idea of affordable organics for people who have less money to spend on food). I got a little over three pounds (about five apples) and let them sit on the counter for a few days before deciding what to do with them. I was thinking about apple butter for Christmas gifts because I really want to emphasize handmade gifts this year (that and books). But I am really, really busy right now and decided to go with something that would take an hour and would require as few dishes as possible.

I would also like to point out that the dish of apple crisp in this picture rests on top of my completed (!!!!!) dissertation. That doesn’t mean that I will stop talking about my project here, because its roots run deep and the ideas within it reach to many corners of food culture. But for now, I am enjoying the sense of pride and liberation at having reached this particular milestone. I hope to get my defense on the calendar for sometime before Thanksgiving.

Apple Crisp
(adapted from Simply Recipes)

5 large Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
juice of two lemons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark brown sugar (I like the deeper, earthier taste of dark brown sugar)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used McCormick’s roasted Saigon cinnamon, but they did not sponsor this post)
1/2 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/2 cup unsalted butter (that’s one stick, y’all)

    Preheat oven to 375 F.
    In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice and vanilla (be aware of any lemon seeds that splurch into the bowl).
    In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and almonds. Use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter and mix until blended.
    Place the apples in a casserole dish (I used a gigantic 11×15 dish, but a 9×13 would work here, too) and sprinkle the oat mixture evenly on top.
    Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream (or go crazy and top it with one of those seasonal flavors, like pumpkin. I bet a chai-spiced ice cream would be good with this, too).

(I hesitate to designate this recipe as gluten-free, since rolled oats are a controversial ingredient when it comes to gluten contamination, but if you’ve got certified GF oats, you are good to go with this recipe.)

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?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

I decided, on the spur of the moment yesterday, to dip my toe back into the Baked Sunday Mornings project. I had made an executive decision, after three months of full-time work (a tough adjustment after more than 10 years of a part-time schedule!) and weekends that saw us run ragged with To Dos, to just do nothing. Putter. Laze around. Not rolling on Shabbos, so to speak.

This, of course, meant that in addition to doing chores and taking a fairly long nap, that I spent a fair amount of time sewing and baking. But at least it was an agenda I set for myself, and by that right, it was very relaxing. And the tangible results of this laziness are quite delightful.

I was actually very irritated while making this cake, particularly while zesting the oranges. “Why would you make a cake calling for fresh orange zest in the middle of summer?! Oranges are a winter fruit! These grocery-store, hothouse, imported oranges are mealy and lame!” (This was all inner dialogue, mind.) One of the cookbooks that I write about in my dissertation says that “Our lives are so disconnected from organic or natural timekeeping and the best efforts of the earth, that once we enter the sterile world of pre-packaged supermarkets it is hard to remember that strawberries and tomatoes are not worth eating in January and that onion soup and oranges don’t make sense in August.” Needless to say, I totally agree.

That doesn’t mean that this cake isn’t delicious — it truly is. The oils from the orange zest did their job and the cake, which was especially scrumptious when it was still warm, is definitely a treat. It’s a little dry this morning, but I wonder if maybe 10 seconds in the microwave would activate the olive oil a bit and awaken the moisture. I just wonder what it would taste like made with locally grown oranges in season (being in Texas means that I actually do have access to locally grown oranges in season!). Maybe I’ll try this one again in December.

On failure

These were supposed to be black-bottom cupcakes, as seen here. I made them in anticipation of a girls’ night in I’m having here at my house tonight with some friends from school. Kind of a big difference, no? I think that the combination of using mascarpone instead of regular cream cheese and overfilling the muffin cups led to this spectacular baking disaster.

Okay, they’re not THAT much of a disaster. I tried a quarter of one last night and it was quite delicious. It even had the tiniest suggestion of the cheesecake-y “filling” in the center. But because they’re nothing like I had intended them to be, I consider them a failure. But it’s one I can laugh off.

This has been a difficult week. Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging much (because I haven’t had much time to cook — there have been a lot of sandwiches and thrown-together meals around here lately) is that I have been working a full-time job at Pearson (ach! my values!) since April 25. My job requisition is through June 30, and we had made plans for the rest of our summer accordingly. But about a week ago, my boss came to me and told me that there was a way to extend my job requisition indefinitely, by having me support an admin whose boss had just gone on maternity leave. I accepted because I like having the extra money. We’ve been fortunate enough that I have been able to sock most of my pay from this job into savings (well, a nice portion of it. There has been *some* shopping!). So, we signed the Big Kid up for more camp and I made plans to take one day off a week to finish my dissertation revisions.

I supported this admin for three days, then noticed on Wednesday morning that someone else was helping her. I asked my boss about it and she told me that this young woman found me “unhelpful” and that she “didn’t feel comfortable” working with me. So she had been assigned someone else and my job requisition would not be extended.

This stung. Oh, did it sting. I won’t go into all the gory details, but I am guessing that she found me “unhelpful” because I questioned the efficiency of the things she was having me do. (Make binders, then take everything out of those newly made binders and move it into other binders, among other vague, ill-defined instructions.) Basically, I thought this girl was an idiot (not quite sure why I’m using past tense there), and didn’t do a very good job of concealing those feelings. At the end of the day, it was a personality conflict and no one is the bad guy in situations like that, but I still feel like I’ve failed. It’s demoralizing to realize that someone disliked you enough to tell your boss’s boss that you suck rather than tell you to your face.

So, like I said, a rough week. This happened on Wednesday, which meant that I spent the rest of my work week in a pit of self-loathing, wondering what I could have done differently to keep my good reputation there intact. I have endeavored to do a really good job there, and I get along really well with all of my colleagues (save this one guy, but I learned very early on that *everyone* hates him). This also stirred up extremely bad memories of past job failures: I have been fired from more jobs than I care to admit, all from when I was in my 20s and had an extremely bad attitude. I have worked very, very hard to be a better person than the one I was 10-15 years ago, and this incident just churned up all of those long-buried failures back to the surface.

But this is not a complete tragedy. Because the Big Kid is now signed up for camp through July 15, I will have two full weeks to dedicate solely to dissertation work (plus an exciting freelance story). After he’s done with camp, he and I will do all sorts of fun things together: bike rides, pool trips, bowling, trips to the school library for storytimes, and so on. (There will probably also be some summer-bridge-style homeschooling, but he doesn’t know that yet!) I will be able to resume my morning runs. I can go to aqua fitness at the Y at a time that works for our families. I won’t be spending $25 on gas every two or three days. I can catch up on my sewing projects. I can get started on an article and work on my job-market materials. This development is a good thing, for me and for my family. But I still feel like a failure, and I guess only time can help me get past these ugly feelings.

Time, my family, my friends, and ugly cupcakes.