In Which I Am Torn About #TightsAsPants

Dear Reader, I’m sure you’ve encountered at some point one or both of the following:

*Someone wearing a pair of tights and a longish shirt apparently thinking that said tights suffice as lower body covering.

*Someone remarking, commenting, tweeting that “tights aren’t pants!” (I think I’ve sent such a tweet myself in the past.)

I had occasion to mull this extremely first-world conflict last week, and as it’s been on my mind since then, I decided to take to the blog.

I follow a few nice ladies on Twitter who live in Australia, and often I see them all talking about something that is an apparent mystery to me, but which was obviously a recent topic in Australian media. Last week, I noticed that, all on the same evening, several of them twittered things like, “I will wear what I fucking please! #tightsaspants” I take it, though I do not know for sure, that some Australian lady-commentator made derogatory comments about people who wear tights as pants, prompting some general outrage and frustration.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a proud fat lady, and as such I feel a fair amount of feminist outrage at the way fat women’s bodies are policed and, to a lesser degree, the way our fashion choices are circumscribed, either literally because of a lack of shopping options or metaphorically because of the general shaming and nagging society inflicts when fat women don’t dress according to the mystical “what fat people are supposed to wear” rules (“slimming cuts” – whatever the fuck that means, a lot of black, no loud or clashing patterns, etc.). I’m not much of a clothes horse – it just doesn’t interest me, and I doubt it much would even if I were thin and rich and had all the clothing options in the world – but many fat activists use fashion – or, “fatshion” – as a tool of not only self-expression but of resistance: resistance to a dominant cultural narrative that demands of fat people, and fat women especially, that they not take up too much space, literally, and figuratively by standing out, by refusing to be cowed by consensus opinion that our bodies are not “right,” not attractive, grotesque, offensive, and shameful. (Marianne Kirby has an excellent recent blog post on this subject on her website, www.therotund.com, that started me thinking about this.) This, I think, is part of a larger patriarchal culture that tries to demand acquiescence by women to the idea that they are primarily valuable only as sexual objects for men, and as such must remain constantly available and constantly “attractive” as the dominant culture conceives of the term. By not being “attractive” in this way, fat women advertantly or inadvertantly defy this patriarchal command – as do women who are queer – and so we are punished for it by harassment, shaming, policing, and stigma. (Straight women who meet the standard of what is “attractive” and yet who are loud, uppity, and reject the notion that their value is situated in their sexual availability are also punished, if sometimes in different ways.)

The point is that it is a form of radical resistance to a hostile, oppressive culture when women, fat or not, do not do as they are told and do not follow the script of what is “acceptable”.

When resistance is couched in fashion, there is normally a predictable backlash: the offending women are shamed in one or both of two ways. They are either slut shamed or body shamed. In the case of the former, they are told that the way they dress makes them look whorish, and if they are assaulted, they were asking for it (this victim blaming is part of a rape culture that terrorizes women and demeans men, but let’s leave that for another day). The latter preys on the anxieties inculcated by a predatory capitalism and the patriarchy about the “necessity” of being always attractive, and manifests, usually, as an attack on the woman’s body shape and weight: “You’re too fat to wear ______.” Consider the narrative around skinny jeans, for instance, and then check out this post from Natalie Perkins over at www.definatalie.com for an excellent example of resistance – shaming – and, happily, another round of resistance.

So in summation, those Australian feminists were wrankled because in general, attempts to control things like women choosing to wear tights as pants are actually merely attempts to control women, through slut shaming and body shaming; to corral them back into the role of sexual object, available to men for consumption because they are behaving as the patriarchy desires, working to appear as the patriarchy desires, and also because they are literally available – willing participants in the system of sexual objectification. And fuck a bunch of that, obviously.

And yet.

I cannot shake the fact that I think wearing tights as pants is tacky. Not because it makes women look slutty, because 1) it doesn’t, necessarily, and 2) I have no problem with women looking slutty if they want to as a means of expressing their own healthy sexuality. Also, since there’s noting wrong with being a (responsible) slut if one desires, there should also be nothing wrong with being slutty. Not because some women might not “have the body for it”: I, for one, am fat as hell, and NO ONE has the right to come at me like that’s a problem, because it’s not, no matter what I do or do not have on my fat body. Just … hmm. I just don’t like it. I feel about it the way I feel about young men who wear their pants belted below their ass, so that their underwear-clad ass is exposed, purposefully, for all the world to see. I want to go up to those young men and ask them, snarkily, “Do you not understand what pants are for? Or do you just not understand how to get them to work?” I want to go up to young women wearing nothing but tights and a shirt and say the same thing. This drive is basic, comes from deep down, and is in spite of everything I know about the policing of women as discussed above.

But then I feel guilty about this – after all, what right do I have to join in the shaming chorus? None, of course, even if my motivations aren’t as evil as others’.

So I guess what I’m left with is this: I support the right of every women everywhere, regardless of body shape or size, age, or anything else, to wear tights as pants. But I don’t endorse the practice, ’cause I hate it.

Thus ends another round of “Is Sabrina a bad feminist?”

White Collar, Season 1

I didn’t know what I expected when I ordered Season One of the television show White Collar from the library, but I didn’t expect what I got. It wasn’t unwatchable, but if I’d had anything else of greater intrigue on hand last week, I probably wouldn’t have watched it.

White Collar, Season 1I found White Collar searching through the Amazon TV on DVD Bestsellers, as I often do when looking for new shows to order from the library. I guess I didn’t read the description, because I had some expectation that it would be a sort of general cutting-edge drama about high class people of dubious morals or white collar crime. Something in the vein of Burn Notice or Leverage. I was disappointed to read the back of the DVD box and discover that it was, in fact, a procedural crime drama.

Sigh… aren’t there enough procedural crime dramas already?

The premise of this one requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than a supposedly “realistic” show (i.e. not scif-fi or fantasy) ought. FBI Agent Peter Burke, working for the white collar crime division, catches notorious criminal mastermind Neal Caffrey for a second time when he breaks out of prison four months before his scheduled release (it was for a girl, of course; what else would prompt such a stupid move from a notorious criminal mastermind). Alas, he misses the girl by a day, and in a ludicrous turn of events somehow manages to convince Burke to bring him on as an FBI consultant (complete with super high-tech tracking anklet that even Caffrey can’t outsmart) rather than send him back to prison, paving the way to these two formerly mortal adversaries become partners in a “buddy” crime drama setup.

As if that weren’t a hard enough premise to swallow… Neal Caffrey is a super duper good-looking 20-something criminal mastermind. I know that people are supposed to be better looking on TV than they’d be in real life, but Caffrey’s casting (Matt Bomer) is extra preposterous. Yes, he looks awesome stylish in his retro-chic suits and narrow ties (apparently they’re all the rage), but wouldn’t it have made more sense to have the 40-something Tim McKay (Burke) play the seasoned criminal mastermind brought into advise the FBI, and maybe the role of somewhat square Agent Burke would have provided a nice contrast to Matt Bomer’s unreal good looks? I warmed up to Bomer a little bit more when I read on his Wikipedia entry that he went to Carnegie Mellon around the same time I was at Pitt (if only I had been single at the time!) and played the role of Ben Reade on the ill-fated soap Guiding Light, which Saundra and I used to follow in our younger days.

The more I watched this show, however, the more I realized that Bomer isn’t the only thing that’s “too cute” about it. The relationship that develops between Burke and Caffrey is just too friendly to be believed. If Burke is supposedly the one who tracked Caffrey down and put him in prison the first time, is he really going to become bestest friends with Caffrey now? They try to plant some seeds of doubt in their relationship mid-season, but it only lasts for about one and a half episodes, and not long after Caffrey is declaring in a drug-induced stupor that Burke is the only person he can really trust. Not even to mention the episode where they become roommates.

Adding to the list “too cute” items in this show is Tiffani-Amber Thiessen in the throw-away role of Burke’s wife. It’s not that she treats the role lightly or plays it in a way that you can’t take her seriously. She does a fine enough job with what she’s given, but the wife character just doesn’t do much. She just adds to the home-y scenery of Burke’s house, giving the boys a cozy place to go where they can talk about cases and use her for a sounding board. Otherwise she provides a marital relationship for Caffrey to admire (he’s still after the girl, remember), and sweet moments of marital support for Burke in bookend scenes. It’s a regular gig for Thiessen, I guess, but she doesn’t do much of consequence for being billed as a main character.

This show tries its darnedest to be better than a typical procedural, weaving an overarching plot of Caffrey’s search for his mysteriously estranged love (the plot thickens as we learn she is not estranged by choice) into the episodic weekly crime stories, but given the rest of my take on this show, I can’t really bring myself to care much. The effort at characterization is appreciated, but not terribly successful due to its unbelievability. If you’re looking for something light and you love crime drama, you may enjoy this series, but it was all “too cute” for me.

Curry In Brief

You may consider this blog a follow-up to my last, “Butter Chicken Adventures.” ┬áLast night, I tried another recipe from Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India. It is the recipe that fronts the main recipe section of the book, and is on a page titled “Making a Simple Homestyle Curry.” Here is the recipe as I found it:

4 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped
3/4 teaspoon coriander powder
a pinch of tumeric powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon paprika powder
2 tomatoes, chopped
salt
chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

1) Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onion and saute over a medium heat for about 20-25 minutes or until deep brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 1 minute. Add the coriander powder and stir for another full minute. Then add the turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and paprika, and saute for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup of water and cook for 10 minutes. Put in the tomatoes, stir well, and cook for a further 5 minutes.

2) Now the curry sauce is ready. Add salt to taste. Put in … chicken, lamb, fish or vegetables. Add 1 1/2 cups of water for chicken, 2 1/2 cups for lamb, 1 cup for fish, 2 cups for vegetables. Cook until done. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves just before serving.

I followed this recipe more or less exactly, except instead of fresh tomatoes I used canned. I doubled the entire recipe, so there would be leftovers, except I did not double the water at the end; I used broccoli and chickpeas as my veggies. Two thoughts: one, as with my previous curry from this book, I found – and this time, Ted also found – this dish to be underflavored. It was a good spice mix, it just wasn’t potent enough. Because of my prior experience with Camellia’s curry, I used heaping spice measurements, but this proved insufficient to combat the problem – all of the flavoring ingredients seem to need doubled (or quadrupled in my case, since I had already doubled all of the ingredients to take the dish from one meant to serve two to one meant to serve four). Two, the sauce was much too watery, something Sarah warned me might happen with the recipes in this book. I cooked off as much of the water as I could before my broccoli began to get too soft, but still – if I were to make this again, I would just omit the last addition of water altogether: the liquid in the can of tomatoes would have more than sufficed, along with the liquid that naturally bleeds off vegetables when they cook. Oh, and be forewarned: getting the onions deep brown actually took more than 30 minutes (though this might have been from my use of two onions instead of one), and required a fair amount of stirring and vigilance to prevent them from burning.

Also … y’know, it just didn’t taste like a restaurant dish.

But it wasn’t bad, and it was certainly healthy, so I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it per se.

The New Deviled Egg Craze

Anyone who has known me for a span longer than two years has seen me get on “kicks,” preoccupations of various types that turn into hobbies, habits or regular entries in my repertoire of recipes. My latest cooking craze is deviled eggs.

Salmon Eggs before the pastry bag arrivedIt started a few weeks ago when I was hosting a small cocktail party built primarily around the showcasing of two cheese fondues (another of my culinary kicks). I wanted to feature something else besides just fondue on my hors d’oeuvres menu, but I didn’t want to spend much additional money (since I am generally poor and had already spent my weekly “entertainment budget” on the sum of food and booze). Most easy hors d’oeuvres that came immediately to mind were cheese-based spreads and dips, both of which would be silly accompaniments to fondue. Also, I wanted something finger-food-ish, since the fondue would already require much dipping. Any vegetable-based appetizers I found seemed either too complex for a last minute addition or two expensive (fresh vegetables are not cheap, so even something as simple as crudites was off my list).

At long last I discovered a fairly standard deviled eggs recipe when browsing Food.com. I had never really liked hard-boiled eggs because of the predominance of the egg white; on rare occasions when I do have breakfast eggs, I get them sunny-side up, dip bread in the yolks and leave the cooked whites untouched. But I figured, I didn’t really have to eat them, did I? I was embellishing my menu for the sake of my guests, anyway. I would be happy enough making do with fondue alone, and deviled eggs met my other criteria of being a finger food and being cheap (eggs are under $2 a dozen and I had most of the other ingredients for deviled eggs in my cupboards already)

As with most recipes, however, I’m usually not satisfied just to make the “standard” recipe, especially when a classic food seems ripe for experimentation. I delved further into the online recipe archives before finding two varieties of deviled eggs that seemed promising. The first was a recipe for seafood eggs that gave me a starting place, but ended up largely altered from the original.

Snapware Stackable Egg ContainerSARAH’S SEAFOOD DEVILED EGGS

12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 can crabmeat or salmon, drained and flaked
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or green onion
paprika, for sprinkling

Cut eggs in half legnth-wise and scoop out the yolks. In a small bowl or container (I use 3 cup measuring cup), combine yolks, mayo, lemon juice, mustard, pepper, Old Bay, fish and chives. I like to use electric egg beaters because they combine the yolk mixture easily and thoroughly without pulverizing the texture of the fish or eliminating the color flecks of the chives like a food processor or immersion blender would. Once the yolk mixture is combined, spoon the mixture into the yolk halves and chill for at least two hours before serving.

I have made the above recipe twice now, once with crabmeat and once with salmon, and it turned out delicious each time. What I especially like about this recipe is the fact that it produces enough filling really to load up the egg. Since the egg white is my least favorite part (I regard it as something of a protein-rich cracker, i.e. merely a means of yummy yolk delivery), the more of it heaped with filling, the better.

Mango Curry Eggs from the pastry bagThe second deviled egg recipe I tried was the biggest hit with my guests that night, and I cannot deny that it was mighty tasty. This recipe was also a bit altered from the original to suit my aesthetics.

SARAH’S MANGO CURRY DEVILED EGGS

6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mango chutney
1 tablespoon green onions or chives, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Cut eggs in half length-wise and scoop out the yolks. In a small bowl or container, combine yolks, mayo, mango chutney, green onions, lemon juice, and spices. Once the yolk mixture is combined, spoon the mixture into the yolk halves and chill for at least two hours before serving.

As I found myself having increasing success with deviled egg recipes, and thus found myself making the recipes more frequently, two points of interest arose. The first was logistical. Shelled hard-boiled eggs are slippery characters, and in my first attempts to transport deviled eggs (even just from the refrigerator to the table, but also in the car to other locales) I discovered how easily the finished deviled egg will tip, depositing filling on its neighbor or on the bottom or sides of its container.

Pastry BagThe logical recourse was, of course, to find a plate or container specifically designed for the purpose of corralling deviled eggs. Seems like a simple enough endeavor, but it turns out that finding a deviled egg tray to suit all my needs was a taller order than I imagined. First of all, most of the trays I found were serving plates… all well and good for the table, but without a lid they did me no good (the deviled egg filling will get dry if stored uncovered in the refrigerator). Most of the containers with deviled egg trays and lids were either too cheap (i.e. cheaply made with a dozen bad reviews on Amazon) or too expensive ($40, really? For a plastic deviled egg tray?)

After much investigation I stumbled upon the Snapware Egg-tainer. Not only is it a stackable tupperware-style container designed for deviled egg transportation and storage, but the indented egg trays are plain white and removable so to be attractive for serving on a table that’s a bit classier than a tupperware spread. Unfortunately Amazon failed me on this one. While I did find it on Amazon, it was only offered by third party sellers, and thus saddled with sizable shipping costs. After some further research I found that it was available in-store at my local Bed, Bath and Beyond for $8.99 (two stacked trays for 12 eggs each). So far I’m getting a lot of use out of my trays, and thinking I may have to get another set sometime soon.

Eggs from the pastry bagThe second point of interest as I delved further into deviled egg cookery was aesthetic, namely that most pictures of deviled eggs in cookbooks feature yolks that have been squeezed out through the starred tip of a pastry bag. To give my eggs a professional appearance, I decided to invest in a pastry bag and tip set. My pastry bag research left me a bit confused as to whether I would need a large or small bag, and whether I would need a coupler attachment. In the end I decided on the Ateco Extra Wide Pastry Decorating Tip Set plus a Large Tip Coupler. Unfortunately the tip coupler did not come with instructions on how to install it on the pastry bag, so I decided to try the bag once without it. The tip was difficult to keep in place, so the next time around I decided to use the coupler. To the best of my assessment the only way to install the coupler would be to cut off a small part of the bag; I did and it seems to hold in place well enough (though I do have to remove the coupler for cleaning). The pastry bag allowed me easily to make stylish deviled eggs, but the unfortunate part of the bag is that it’s difficult to get all the filling out in the end. With my curried egg recipe that doesn’t have much extra bulk, this means that I’m scrambling for filling by the time I get to the last eggs. It’s worth making the more attractive, though.

Check back soon as my adventures in deviled eggs continue.

Butter Chicken Adventures

Apparently, it’s White Girls Making Indian Meals Day here on the blog. Hurrah!

A while ago I tweeted that I’d like to take a look at 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi, as it was recommended by Francis Lam, who’s writing I’ve enjoyed on Salon.com and who is also very nice on Twitter. Turned out Sarah owned this book, and she lent it to me.

I have tried in the past to make curries, both Indian and Thai, from recipes gleaned from the Internet; all of them my husband has hated. This is an impediment, surely, since, y’know, that’s half of my cooking audience, generally. One of the problems with cooking for myself and my fuzzier half is that we have very different taste buds, or so it seems. He has a very sensitive palate, and is laid low by what I consider to be very mild levels of spiciness. On the other hand, I prefer very strong flavors and very spicy dishes. He thinks that my taste buds are in some way lacking in efficacy, and he may well be right, but I think this has its advantages: I genuinely like the taste of those bitter, dark green vegetables that one is always being told to consume for health, I can appreciate a good peaty Scotch, and I never look like one of those Middle American, Golden Corral patron-types when I go out to dinner to an “ethnic” restaurant. (A related aside: Nick and I went to lunch at Taste of India last week. There, we overhead one of said Middle Americans lecturing the Indian waiter, “Well, y’know, we Americans like middle-of-the-road stuff – nothing too spicy.” Sigh!)

Anyway. Trying to appease Ted’s delicate taste buds, and trying to make things easy on myself by picking a recipe I already had almost everything for, from Camellia’s cook book I chose Butter Chicken. Here is the recipe as I found it:

2 lb. chicken, skinned quarters, smaller pieces on the bone or boneless pieces (tikkas)
4-5 tablespoons oil

For the marinade:
2 cups plain yogurt
6 cloves garlic
1/2-in square of fresh ginger
2/3 teaspoon red chile powder or paprika
1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
a tiny pinch of tandoori coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lime juice

For the makhani sauce:
1&1/2 lb tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
[Sarah gave me a bag of these – yes, it appeared as though I had a huge bag of weed in my purse.]
3 oz. chilled butter [This amounts to 5 tablespoons, FYI.]
1/2 teaspoon paprika
few drops of vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
salt
1&1/2 fl oz of light cream
[About 2 tablespoons.]

My kitchen as I made my chicken curry, rice, and veggies.

Butter Chicken in process

I didn’t follow the recipe completely exactly. For one, Camellia wanted me to drain my yogurt in cheese cloth, which I don’t have, and didn’t feel like trying to track down. For two, she has very specific instructions for like, adding spices – “Add such and such, wait 30 seconds, add such and such, stir for a minute, add such and such …” – there’s something about this that just … I don’t know, I’m impatient: the spices went in all at the same time. Finally, instead of fresh tomatoes I used canned crushed tomatoes, since there aren’t any good tomatoes available this time of year anyway, and it saved me the effort of scalding and peeling and smooshing the substandard supermarket tomatoes. Oh, and I omitted the oil from the chicken, because it just didn’t seem necessary.

 

Basically, you put everything in the marinade, mix it well, insert the chicken (I used some free-range, vegetarian-fed, air-chilled, boneless, skinless thighs) and let it sit over night. Then you cook the chicken in the marinade, and make the tomato sauce at the last minute, pouring it in with the marinade-y chicken right before you serve the dish. I also made basmati rice and a mess of vegetables to go with the curry. Ted and friend Roger were my guinea pigs.

A pot full of simmering chicken in yogurt sauce.

The chicken as it cooked in its yogurt marinade.

Some trouble arose. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t drain the yogurt through cheese cloth, but the marinade became VERY watery as the chicken was cooking, such that, though Camellia said to cook the chicken low and covered, I ended up uncovering it and boiling off quite a bit of liquid. Also, I think in the future I would use a leaner cut of meat, as the thighs gave off quite a bit of fat that I had to skim off – actually, I think in the future I’d just make this with chickpeas, but that’s a different point.

 

So how was it received? Well, Ted loved it. Seriously. Roger also seemed to be very much in favor of it. I found it … bland, frankly. I knew that it wasn’t going to be spicy, of course, as I’d specifically picked a recipe that wouldn’t be spicy for Ted’s sake. But mild is not necessarily unflavorful. I felt as though all of the spice measurements should have been doubled. But perhaps that’s just my disabled taste buds talking. It was also a bit too tomato-y, perhaps because I’d used canned tomatoes instead of fresh – fair enough, in the future I suppose I’d try to track down a decent green house tomato or several.

I wish I had a picture of the final dish for you: I took one, but my phone’s camera decided not to save it, in a fit of pique. The dish comes out a creamy, orangey pink, and it presented well: had I had some fresh cilantro, that would have been a welcome vegetal note to add as a garnish.

So, judge for yourself: two yeas and a meh. I’m going to take a run at another curry, I think, before returning to this one, perhaps one that involves a little less dairy. And upon returning to this recipe, which I think Ted will insist upon, I think I’ll try increasing the spice measurements by 50% – perhaps Ted and I can find a happy medium.

Indian Madras Curry

In the course of exploring new cookery there are always a fair share of pitfalls as well as pleasant surprises. In my endeavors to expand my repertoire of Indian curry recipes, on of those surprises was my discovery of a tomato-based madras curry recipe. Some curry recipes I just can’t seem to make taste right no matter what I do. This recipe what a flavor revelation the first time I tried it!

Indian Madras CurrySo, why was the Madras recipe so surprising to me? On the one hand, whenever I try a new recipe, the results, be they good or bad, end up being a surprise to some extent. What came as the greatest surprise, however, with the Madras Curry is that it had not creaming ingredients whatsoever.

Everyone has their particular preferences when it comes to varies segments of cuisine. When faced with the choice of curries, especially on a restaurant menu, I scan the descriptions for any mention of creaminess. Yogurt, cream, coconut milk… all acceptable and welcome forms of creamy curry. The madras recipe has none of these, and yet quickly jumped to to the upper echelon of my curry repertoire.

I typically make this madras curry with beef, but lamb, chicken, chickpeas, tofu or vegetables would all be acceptable substitutes. When made with meat, I suggest starting this dish early in the day and simmering for many hours on low heat (or use a slow cooker, if you have one) so that the meat is thoroughly stewed and falls apart easily. Discounting stewing time, this recipe is very fast an easy, as it does not require any

INDIAN MADRAS CURRY

1 lb. beef cubes, or chicken, tofu, chick peas, vegetables, etc.
2 onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper or paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 (16 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Saute the onions, ginger, garlic and spices in the oil or butter for five minutes. Add meat, tofu or vegetables and cook for another minute or two. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer a few hours, if using meat, or until desired doneness. For tofu or vegetables, heat through. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve.

Housewifery

So. Spring is upon us and the school term has ended. This is by far my favorite time of year. The days are warming and lengthening, the plants are emerging in bright green freshness, and my toes aren’t constantly blue from cold. Also, I have absolutely nothing to do all day.

Well, no, that’s not accurate. I have plenty to do, but it is all at my own discretion, and that pleases me greatly. I had been contracted to teach an online class for Pitt’s summer term, but alas, it was cancelled due to low enrollment – I do lament that. I like to teach, and I like the money Pitt pays me to teach. However, even if I had been teaching that class, because it was an online course through the College of General Studies, my time would still have been basically unscheduled. And I love that.

One of the personality traits that has left me ill-suited to more traditional 9-to-5 work is a fierce resentment of schedules: I don’t mind doing work, but why can’t I do it on my own time? Why can’t I get up late and work into the night? Why can’t I work hard all morning and then goof off in the afternoon? What difference does it make, as long as the work gets done? I’m much happier when my time is my own. (I have similar feelings about direct supervision: I know what needs done, I have the skills to do it, just tell me when it needs done by, and I’ll do it – I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder all day, kthxbai.)

So here I am, with all the manipulable time in the world, and it turns out that when left to my own devices, I settle more or less comfortably into being a housewife.

Don’t misunderstand, I have my own interests to pursue. There’s swimming at the PAA; I am developing a summer reading list, and am currently reading Ivan Turgenev’s Sketches from a Hunter’s Album (everyone should read the story “Bezhin Lea”); I’m hoping to get Sarah to my place soon to show me how to use my sewing machine (ahem); and I even have some knitting I plan to attempt, probably leading to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But day-to-day, I’ve been tidying and buying groceries and cooking. I’ve been trying to make lots of healthy stuff for Ted and I – veggies, whole grains, lean proteins – and so I’ve been buying stuff fresh every few days and hitting the farmer’s market, now that it’s open. Downstairs, I cleaned all the things, and Ted’s been making headway on the laundry, so next all the upstairs things will get cleaned. I’ve even been keeping up on the dishes.

I wonder if all of this could seem weird. I am a feminist, after all, and yet here I am, cleaning and cooking and not doing anything formal with my education and remaining completely dependent on my husband’s income. And I feel absolutely fine about that. To begin with, the belief that the work of keeping a commodious home for yourself and your loved ones is somehow less important than going to a job and earning money rests on two assumptions that I reject: 1) that there is such a thing as “women’s work” and “men’s work”, and 2) that “women’s work” is less important or meaningful than “men’s work,” and so women only achieve accomplishment and equality when they do not do “women’s work” and instead do “men’s work.”

Fuck a bunch of that.

Earning money is a nasty requirement for living in our dystopian late-capitalist society; it is not a measure of value or achievement in personal industry whatsoever. My husband is fortunate in that he earns (too little) money doing work that is at least not destructive and/or essentially meaningless. But the fact alone that his work away from the home earns money and my work in the home does not is not an indicator of the value of his work or of my work at all. Further, the fact that I happen to be a woman who is doing what is traditionally thought of as women’s work is moot to me – I am a person doing work that is worthwhile and enjoyable; the stereotypes others have ascribed to that work, or the history of its imposition on unwilling other persons, should not shape my opinion of it, or anyone else’s opinion of me my doing it. It is work that needs done in my home, and I am just the person to do it.

And luckily, I don’t have children, only cats, so the housewifery is still completed in plenty of time to read books and write blogs and attempt to sew skirts.

It also occurs to me that such a lifestyle as my own over the summer could appear lazy, and upon consideration, I think that this reveals a sad fact about our society: we’ve lost track of how much work is enough work. A friend of mine recently said on Facebook, “G.S.W. Gym, sleep, work. That’s all I do anymore.” Going to the gym is good – exercise is good for you. I know this person’s job is one in which she helps others, so that’s good, too. And everyone knows that sleep is good.* But what about hobbies, relationship-building and maintenance, and just free fucking time to listen to the sparrows in the hedge and sip a glass of cheap wine out of beautiful glass? I think Americans may have lost track of what work is for, and what it is not for. Work is for accomplishing things that need accomplished so that society can proceed as smoothly and happily as possible for as many different people as possible. Work is NOT for determining who is “better” than whomever else because of the nature or quantity of their work, for defining ourselves as individuals, or in general for anything other thing than maybe earning a little filthy lucre and, hopefully, improving the world or at least the city for ourselves and our fellows.

I’m improving my world and Ted’s and the kitty cats’, and that’s good enough for me. And hopefully, since his world at home is a little improved, Ted can do his work of improving the world or at least the city with a little extra vigor – no one does their work, whatever it is, in a vacuum, after all.

And come the fall, I plan to go back to work, God willing, as a teacher full-time – work that earns a little money and suits my personality and improves the world. The housewifery will likely slip, then, and we’ll eat a lot more take-out. But for the moment, it’s vegetables all the way.

Vegetables and blogs in defense of housewifery.

*I don’t mean what follows to be a critique of my friend – I’m not saying that she doesn’t maintain her relationships, make time for wine, or that she defines herself or others through her or their work; I’m not saying anything about her at all, except that the particular instance of her status update got me thinking in general terms about the general American population’s views on work. Just to be clear!