Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cooking and Gender

Last week I had an experience that almost turned me into a vegetarian: I bought chicken from a butcher specializing in sustainable/organic meats...and it was the most expensive chicken I have ever purchased.  While the nice lady behind the counter told me the price and started packaging the bird in fancy paper touting all sorts of organic stamps and labels, I just stood there in a weird shocked silence, unable to take it all in, and then with my body on auto-pilot I paid.  The whole way home I just kept telling myself that it wasn't possible I just paid that much for a chicken and if this was the cost of buying "responsible" meat, we were going to have to 1) find second jobs, 2) stop caring about how livestock is treated, or 3) give up meat. None of those really feel like good options to me, and I haven't yet worked out what we're going to do about it, but in the meantime we won't be roasting any more chickens.

I found myself at the butcher in the first place, because we were having friends over for dinner (diehard meat eaters who wouldn't touch a vegetable with a ten-foot pole, or fish or cheese), and Niek wanted to work on his chicken roasting skills.  In the last few years, he's become something of a chicken roasting afficianado, and he'll most likely be working on perfecting his technique for the next few decades.

And this brings me to the actual point of the post, which is supposed to be about the gendering of cooking and my experiences in the Netherlands.  Growing up in the Heartland, I didn't see a lot of men using their skills in the kitchen.  I don't think I can say that any of my childhood friends' fathers cooked, and I don't remember my dad ever making us dinner (now that my dad is retired, he's taken on a lot more of the dinner making duties, so kudos to you, Dad).  Grilling on the barbeque doesn't count, since I would say it's seen as a pretty masculine activity.  There are plenty of discussions in our modern world about how home cooking is still perceived as women's work, and I really wanted to site this article, but my proxy server to the university's research library wasn't granting me access, although I found an amusing anecdote about gender and cooking here and a rather angry assessment of Michael Pollan's take on the matter here.  Interestingly enough, all of the partners of my friends know their way around a kitchen, and some of them even do the majority of the cooking in the relationship.  Regan should tell you about her husband's forays into bread, cheese, and beer making.  I'll refrain from using my guy friends as a representative slice of American culture since I dabble a little more in that crazy intellectual/academic world than most people.  But whoah, am I digressing a little bit?

This is really about gender and cooking in my home away from home.  Most of the home cooking I have experienced in the Netherlands has either been in my own household or in that of my in-laws where my mother-in-law wouldn't dream of preparing a meal and my father-in-law has been in charge of family dinners since my husband can remember.  It was early in our relationship that I learned that Niek's dad was the cook of their house, and I remember being a little shocked hear it.  It shouldn't really have come as a surprise to me considering that Niek cooked dinner for us on our second date and cooks about half of the time now.  Maybe if both of us didn't work it would be different, but since we both find ourselves busy with work and we both actually enjoy cooking, we are able to maintain a fairly even split.  I love that I find myself in a family that supports everyone's interests and skills and doesn't really seem to divide household responsibilities among any sort of gendered guidelines.  Are there swaths of Dutch culture that see women as being responsible for cooking simply because they're women?  Absolutely.  Is it a hard an fast rule everyone ascribes to?  No, and I am quite happy for that. 
Niek's chicken and roast potatoes were a rousing success the other night, even if he didn't think the skin was crispy enough.  Cooks are usually their own worst critics, which I know from personal experience.  It just gives him another reason to try again the next time we have a few friends to dinner, although we may have to wait at least a few weeks.  I'm  going to have to brace myself for the cost of buying another organic bird.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The things we carried (in our suitcases)

As I stood over my suitcase last week trying to figure out how we were going to pack everything without going over the weight limit, I started questioning my dependence on American goods.  As you can see, I brought back the every important essentials of life like cake flour and chocolate chips.  It really took more willpower than I thought it would not to buy the seven other varieties of King Arthur Flour at the local grocery store.  I'm pretty sure most people who visit the U.S. do not think to themselves, "I should really bring this rye flour back with me.  I might need it if I suddenly get the urge to make myself some bread.  Maybe I should go get some of that corned beef I saw on sale, too.  Then I could feel like I was at a deli anytime I want!"
It's all about what makes you feel at a certain degree anyway.  I just keep wondering what I would find in other ex-pats' suitcases.  I have to believe anyone living abroad feels compelled to bring back little pieces of home when they return from a visit.  You should have seen the various products I pouted and fussed about leaving on the shelves of Trader Joe's in Chicago.  I also left a bunch of linens and family pieces that had belonged to my grandmother at my parents' house, much to the disappointment of my mother, who is working to downsize.  I regularly thwart her attempts as I continually ask her to hang on to stuff I know I'm going to need at some unassigned time in the future.  To my parents with a house larger than my apartment: what a storage facility I've made out of my childhood bedroom.  Sorry.

We did pretty well coming right in at the weight limit for our luggage.  We could have made it without borrowing a second suitcase from my parents if it hadn't been for these:
With a much greater selection and much better prices in America, our luggage coming back from the States will always have at least a few books.  I think I should be thanking Delta for restricting the weight limits this year even more.  I can't imagine what else I would have thought to bring back if I had had double the weight limit.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vacation officially over

I took an unintentional break from blogging during the rest of my time in L.A. and then the three weeks I spent at my parents' house in Indiana.  There was just a lot going on, and I was too tired to open my computer most days, let alone write a blog post.  That's alright since I saw most of the people who read my blog.  To those of you who do read and I did not see during my almost eight weeks in America (which is a shame and it would be nice to meet in real life sometime) you can catch up with my picture journal below.  Because, I just know you are dying to know what I did.  My life is, after all, intensely interesting.

Here we go...
I studied a bunch with my friend, Naomi, and we drank a lot of coffee together, just like true graduate students should

Regan arrived home from Nigeria (yea!), and finally after many years of cajoling she convinced me to go to Disneyland. Ask Regan about Disneyland sometime.  She will tell you all about her happiest place on earth.  It was actually way cooler than I thought it would be and it was lovely to have one last day with Regan and Naomi.  Thank you, Regan, for convincing me to go.
After leaving L.A., I was reunited with Niek in northern Indiana and spent three weeks relaxing and helping my parents finish some home improvement projects (no photos of those, though).  I was also in a wedding on the banks of the Ohio River.  My friend and her family made all the food for the reception, and it was delicious.  The bride and I had a nice laugh about the local culture down in southern Indiana.  She pointed out that the reception hall was located conveniently next to the Royal Order of Rednecks Lodge complete with a rebel flag hanging proudly in the mayor's yard...I wish I were kidding about that, but I'm not.  At least Niek got to experience another side of America.

We managed to squeeze in a trip to Chicago for a few days where we marveled at Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, walked around the city, visited the Art Institute, ran along the lakefront, and I introduced Niek to the joy of a deep dish pizza.
And then it was back home just in time to celebrate my town's festival.  Niek and I ran the 5K (Niek's first, and he was amazing) and ate an apple dumpling (the only real reason to be at the festival).  We declined the polka dancing and missed the yodeling contest (my town was founded by Swiss immigrants), but overall had a good time in small town America.  And since you know how much I love to eat, rest assured we took advantage of summer's bounty (sweet corn, blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, cantaloupe, etc, etc, delicious).
And just for fun, here is how I poured milk onto my granola every morning.  I never tire of watching the Delftware cow vomit up milk.
That is, in a nutshell, what I did over the last seven weeks.  There were plenty of other things I did not document with my camera, and I would say it was a successful trip for my work and as a vacation.  I was sad to leave, but I'm happy to be home.  Thanks to the Gladware I insisted on buying and bringing back with us, we even got to enjoy peaches fresh from the tree and tasty, Michigan blueberries one more time before the plane touched down.  Way better than the "breakfast" the flight attendant tried to give us. 
Hope you all have had a nice summer.  It's back to work and back to blogging.