Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The allure of housewifery

I spent the morning cooking and preserving--crackers, pita, veggie stock, pesto, mayonnaise. I spent yesterday giving my son's old bedroom a thorough, deep cleaning, and repainted it (for the first time in 15 years). I spend an hour every morning in the garden, and carve out time for the CSA and what little grocery shopping I do (which involves several stores as a rule, since I only buy from locally-owned mom-and-pops when at all possible).

It seems like it should be drudgery, but it isn't. It is probably the one thing I do--taking care of my home and my family--where I am absolutely confident that I know what I'm doing.

In my public life, as an arts management consultant and a teacher, there is always a niggling sense that I'm not quite up to snuff, that I don't quite fit in, that the world is a scary place with nuances that I will never grasp.

It's not about control. I know that I'm not really, when it comes down to it, any more in control at home than anywhere else-- I can cook all day and then have everyone call at the last minute and tell me they won't be home for dinner. I'm not sure anyone really notices the deep cleaning, since no one ever comments on it. My tiny act of revolution-shopping locally-affects the economy and the zeitgeist not one whit.

Perhaps it's about ambition, or lack of it. I'm not an ambitious person, so excelling in the public sphere seems pointless. I only want to do what I do; I don't really want to run things, and if I'm already the best at something, knowing that is mostly good enough for me.

I think that housewifery-the cooking, cleaning, nurturing and creating a household--speaks to women on an epigenetic level. This is what we did for eons, long before the industrial revolution took the means of production (which used to belong to women) out of our hands. It's only been 200 years since the weaving, and then the farming, and then the sewing, and then the cooking, and now even the childcare was industrialized and removed from the home. Along with it came a massive PR effort to convince us that these things were drudgery, and unworthy of our talent and our time, that somehow, because they were "women's work" they were valueless. Industrialization removed the activity from the homes of the people and the hands of women, and then labeled those hands, and their owners, as idle, vain, and useless.

I don't feel nearly as idle, vain or useless at home, up to the elbows in bread dough, as I do in a modern grocery store, confronted by aisle upon aisle of incomprehensibly varied non-foods, or in an office, where I've been delegated one tiny part of some massive effort to plug into the gears of commerce.

I know young mothers who count it as a point of pride that they don't know how to cook and have no time to clean. They hire others to do these things. If they aren't valuable enough to do themselves, how must they feel about the people that do it for them?

Goat cheese crackers

10 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 T honey
3 T sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T kosher salt

Beat the goat cheese, honey, salt and butter together until smooth. Add the flour and beat until well blended. Divide the dough in half or thirds, and place each half on a piece of waxed paper about 18-inches long Gently roll the dough back and forth, using the countertop as a base, to crate two 12-inch logs or 3 8" logs. Wrap each log in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days; it should be very stiff.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C) for thick crackers or 300 for the thin ones. Take one log out of the refrigerator, and using a serrated knife, cut it into 1/2-inch thick slices for a crumbly, shortbread-like cracker, or as paper thin as you can for a crisp cracker. On an ungreased baking sheet (or lined with parchment) place the slices 1-inch apart. Repeat with the second log, keeping the unused dough refrigerated until needed.

For the thicker crackers, bake for 30 minutes then turn and continue baking until the crackers are a rich golden color, 15 to 20 minutes more. For thinner crackers, bake 20 minutes, check the color. Should be an even golden brown. Add time incrementally until done. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let cool completely. They can be stored in an airtight container for about a week or in the freezer for up to six months.


  1. I really feel ya with this post. Even though I don't enjoy cooking, I agree that things associated with women always somehow lose value. I mean, look at fields predominantly occupied by women and pay is fairly low. nd why is it that women moreso than men in general like cooking, but chefs still tend to be men?! I'm not ambitious either. It's always been important for me to earn my own living (because of patterns I saw growing up I always wanted to be financially independent), but working on one small piece of the pie, esp. when most people aren't even interested in the whole, isn't compelling to me. It's important for me to have meaning in what I do, and understand results. And, oh, I thought I was the only person who didn't feel grown-up and always in the back of my mind feel like I'm faking it in Corporate America. :)

  2. Such an honest post. Thanks, lovely lady, for reaffirming some of the life-choices I've made.

  3. Jen, I just wish I'd figured all this out while my kids were still small like you have. Now I'm just hoping to indoctrinate the grands when I have some!