Who Cares? : On Nags, Martyrs, the Women Who Give Up, and the Men Who Don’t Get It

“Then I came into the living room at the moment we had to leave and realized that my six-year-old had been wrong. His homework hadn’t been done or checked. His lunch hadn’t been packed. He didn’t have a snack or fresh water. He didn’t have an electronic device to bring to school for their special day. Now not only was I suffering the guilt of not getting him ready, but he would have to suffer the consequences of no one helping him. He would have to stay in at recess to complete his homework. He wouldn’t get the thirty minutes of electronic time his friends would have. I was able to grab an orange and throw it in his backpack for a snack, but it was too late for the rest of it. Even though my husband had been the one on duty for the morning, I was the one left with the guilt of taking my son to school ill prepared.”

—Gemma Hartley, “Who Cares? : On Nags, Martyrs, the Women Who Give Up, and the Men Who Don’t Get It.” Longreads.com. November 2018.

I do most of the traditional gender role jobs of a woman. I cook, clean, wash dishes, do the laundry, buy groceries, etc.

One difference that I notice is that I don’t care how something gets done. If the goal is to make sure everyone eats, then a weekly soup or take out food are perfectly acceptable options.

But, I’ve known women that add further requirements. The food needs to be fresh. It needs to be healthy. They don’t believe in eating leftovers. A lot of these requirements are good ideas, in the main, but need to be thought of as guidelines rather than an absolute rule. Men do this as well, but it is more common among women. I think a lot of it is about control.

Take the example above, I think the child not being prepared and having these imagined negative outcomes might be a catalyst for the child taking more responsibility for themselves. Maybe next time they’ll remind the parent or remember to bring the electronic device themselves. You learn responsibility by having it and coming up short. This is true for children, husbands and wives. If someone can get to 80% of how you would do it over time, why would you want to continue doing it yourself?

You wouldn’t unless you just want to exert control. In which case, you’re not performing emotional labor. You’re merely someone who isn’t a good delegator.

Sure, there are men, likely a majority, that do a bad job of housework to get out of it. But, it’s like managing colleagues, bosses, and subordinates in the work place. You train, eliminate unnecessary requirements, and fire the ones that can’t get the work done. It’s why we need to live with someone before taking on a long-term commitment.

Men need to do more “emotional labor.” Most need to do more around the house. But, on the other side, if you were to hire someone, you would do so knowing that it isn’t going to get done exactly your way, if for no other reason because it’ll take more time and cost more. Same is true for partners, except instead of currency you pay in caring. Pay less.

Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook

“There ain’t a thing I do, / a person I know, / a dish I cook, / couldn’t be made / a mite better. That’s / no reason / not to love it / for the best that it is / right now.”

Not just recipes, but full of wisdom about cooking and life.

In the Introduction of the 2017 edition, it points out that any seasonings indicated in the recipes beyond salt, fat and sugar can probably be quadrupled to be right. They were probably revised downward to reflect the bland 1960s New York palettes of the audience of that time. I tried Turnip Greens ‘n Corn Dumplings with some changes, such as yogurt for sour milk, and enjoyed the result.

Originally discovered this cookbook from the article below:

“But in The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (2015), food historian Toni Tipton-Martin argues that Princess Pamela’s cookbook positions itself as a ‘clever retort to scientific cooking’ that could characterize so much of cookbook writing of the era, especially the kind that got published by predominantly white authors. Tipton-Martin provides a useful framework: Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook isn’t a manual so much as it’s a highly organized diary of her culinary knowhow. Numerous notes in the margins of the book’s reissue, inserted with asterisks by the Lee brothers, fill in the gaps that her original instructions invite.

She prefaces each chapter with a sort of evocative, lush canto; each poem is a time machine. Some read like proverbs: ‘You play ‘possum with that man and you end up cookin’ it for him,’ she writes before a recipe for roast opossum with sweet potatoes. Others attack the dazed, uninformed ignorance of soul food that surrounded her in New York City: ‘Practically every kind of people eat somethin’ that somebody else make a godawful face at,’ she opens her entry on tripe. ‘If that don’t tellya what this race-hatin’ is all about, nuthin’ will.'”

—Mayukh Sen. “She Was a Soul Food Sensation. Then, 19 Years Ago, She Disappeared.” Food52.com. February 2, 2017.

The Dirty Secret of ‘Secret Family Recipes’

“…true originality is rare. Multiple cookbook authors have stories of asking people to send in family recipes and receiving dozens of nearly identical versions. “A lot of that has to do with [recipes sharing] very common ingredients,” says Stephanie Pierson, who wrote in to describe her experience asking for brisket recipes.

—Alex Mayyasi. “The Dirty Secret of ‘Secret Family Recipes’.” AtlasObscura.com. February, 27, 2018.

Omelets, Perfection & Life

Several years ago, I stumbled across an article in Gourmet magazine called “Chasing Perfection” by Francis Lam. This is how it starts:

“Before Chef Skibitcky got ahold of my brain, I, like every other rational person, thought an omelet was something anyone can make. You throw eggs in a pan, stir them around, fold them in half, and put them on a plate. Done. No-brainer. It only gets interesting when you start tossing in other things—ham, some cheese, maybe a sautéed mushroom or two.”

Reading on, this article about the “perfect omelete” made with just a few simple ingredients: three eggs, salt, pepper and a little butter “got ahold of my brain”. I had to try my hand at it. How hard can it be? It’s turned into a minor obsession.

I have gone through periods over the last several years since, trying to make this “perfect omelete”. I’ve come close, maybe one or two times. It turns out it is pretty hard and the key is having good technique.

Since then, I’ve had friends ask me for a omelete making recipe, “for the lay person,” the unobsessed. I now recommend this article that explains some of the finer details. Initially, I was skeptical about adding Boursin, “the French Velveeta.” But, it does a nice job of adding a little fudge factor that helps you get that soft internal texture that you hope to get with the classic french omelet.

The things I might suggest that would improve this recipe for people that don’t make 30 omelets during a breakfast/lunch shift is to use lower heat (somewhere between low and medium, but closer to low – with a final 5-10 second burst of high heat at the end), breaking up the curds as they form with a fork if you can’t get them with the spatula, and adding a little butter around the edges helps to roll it up at the end. Even if you aren’t much of a cook, it’s worth giving it a try.

If you were like me before reading this article, you’ve probably never had a really well-prepared omelet. You will be amazed at the difference. Omelette making may, in the end, be trivial. But, I like how the “Chasing Perfection” article ends. Lam writes:

Three eggs, salt, pepper, and a little butter. That’s all there is in a classic French omelet, but it’s enough to keep reteaching me this vital lesson: Things are only simple when you’ve stopped asking the right questions of them, when you’ve stopped finding new ways to see them. Because what you find, when you learn how to find it, is that even simple things can be wonderfully, frustratingly, world-openingly complex.

Omelette making invites us to ask: What else in my life, besides omelets, have I stopped asking the right questions about? Where have I settled for the simple answer rather than “the frustratingly, world-openingly complex” one? The advantage of omelete making is that even when you make mistakes – it doesn’t roll off right, the skin of the omelete is too thick, or you didn’t stir enough and have to settle for a scramble – the end result is always a really tasty egg dish that’s still better than 90% of what you’ve have eaten in your life.

The Cookbooks of Nathan Myhrvold 

“If you are not passionate, a 2640-page cookbook [Amazon cost: ~$500] is not for you…

…I ask Myhrvold for a simple example of how the knowledge of cooking he has developed might help ordinary home cooking.

‘If you have a steak that is twice as thick as the one you cooked the last time,’ he asks me, ‘how much longer is it going to take to cook?’

I say I don’t know exactly. Somewhat longer.

‘Most chefs can’t even tell you exactly,’ he says, ‘because even though it’s a really basic question nobody taught them. The answer is four times. Heating in a steak works by conduction, and conduction has a scaling law that goes by the square of the depth.’

So is there then no intuition or fingertip knowledge to cooking?

‘Sure there is! A Japanese chef cuts fish more quickly and deftly than I can. But if you talk to the guy at the local steak house, he may have an intuitive sense of how long it takes to cook a steak, but it’s from long experience.’

What’s wrong with that?

‘Three things,’ Myhrvold says. ‘First, learning from experience means that you’ve screwed up a lot. That guy has ruined a lot of steaks! Second, learning from experience doesn’t help teaching people. Why not speed things up by telling learners the principles? Third, sometimes the right way of doing something is counterintuitive, as it was with sous vide, and you’ll probably never find it from experience. Active research can uncover new things.'”

—Nathan Myhrvold, “The Physics of Bread.” Physics World. October 2017.

Modernist Cuisine at Home, at just over a $100, might be worth looking into for those folks with the means and lack a public library option.