Unpaid Graft

Back when I was a teenager, everyone took touch typing classes at school. But not me, because I had a rule. The rule was: Never learn to touch type so you never become a secretary. I was convinced that, lacking typing skills, I would simply go straight in at the top, or at least near enough. Obviously this was not a plan based on much life experience but you have to admire the strong feminist principles and sheer chutzpah of my youthful self-belief.

Instead, I got an obscure liberal arts degree and then went to cooking school.

Forget typing, I should never have let them know I could cook. For starters, people begin to expect nice meals. Not just on weekends, on a regular basis. Eventually your identity gets caught up in this so you oblige.

lady typingBut over time, cooking just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Either that or I am becoming a grump. In any case, summer with teenagers makes things worse. Gone is the pleasure once derived from warm weather, a slower pace and lengthy days no longer framed by school hours. Now the kids are older, summer simply means people are around the house more. These people even require three meals a day sometimes. It is not a thing I look forward to anymore. I much prefer September.

Obviously I have made a rod for my own back because there is a myth which prevails in my house about the enjoyment I get from cooking. Granted, this may be because of the ease and frequency with which I do it and also because I sometimes get paid to write cookery books. But just because it looks easy and tastes good does not mean it is always fun. Also, even when paid, I still have to cook dinner, for which I am not paid.

Which has got me thinking. Since it is September 8 2014, I have been a parent for 18 years, 7 months and 3 days. That represents 6785 days on the job, give or take, so far. At three meals a day, this represents 20,355 meals. I should put a golden arches sign with the number of meals served outside the house.

In fairness, there has been the occasional meal out. And times when the kids were at a friend’s. And packed lunches did stop when secondary school started. And, I have been on a total of 4 one-week all inclusive holidays over the years which represents 4 cooking-free weeks. So let’s round down to 20,000. We do not eat out that often.

For argument’s sake, let’s imagine I was paid a paltry £5 for every one of these 20,000 meals. I would have earned £100,000 since the birth of my first child. For a breakfast fee, that’s not bad. Then there’s the six-odd years of packed lunches which remained virtually unchanged for the entire primary school career of both children: a buttered wholemeal bread sandwich, a cereal bar of sorts, 2 chocolate coated rice cakes, a strawberry frube. (Don’t judge me, they never ate fruit.) That is certainly do-able at £5 a pop.

But £100,000 over 18 years only works out to £5,500 ish per annum.

Perhaps meals should be charged per person. After all, that is what happens at a restaurant. But then my ‘this is not a restaurant’ line would lose all it’s power. Not that it has much effect anyway.

In his excellent book Catching Fire: How Cooking Makes Us Human, Richard Wrangham has devoted an entire chapter to the female kitchen condition, entitled “The Married Cook”. Wrangham opens his chapter with a fabulous quote from Charlotte Gilman Perkins on the economic relation between men and women:

The labor of women in the house, certainly, enables men to produce more wealth than they otherwise could; and in this way women are economic factors in society. But so are horses…the horse is not econmically independent, nor is the woman.

The premise of the book is that the discovery of fire, which led to the cooking of food, is what differentiates us from beasts; we apply heat to food. Wrangham, interestingly, ponders how this shift from raw to cooked has affected the female of the species.

…in short, the long hours of chewing necessitated by a raw diet would have sharply reduced hunting time. It is questionable whether the sexual division of labor would have been possible at all. 

Cooking is the problem. If you look at the structure of human community and marriage through the lens of cooked food, as he does, this leads to the suggestion that mating between the sexes is not solely about reproduction or labour exchange. Wrangham elaborates:

It leads to the uncomfortable idea that as a cultural norm, women cook for men because of patriarchy. Men use their communal power to consign women to domestic roles, even when women would prefer otherwise.

I got it so wrong. At least a secretary gets paid for typing. It’s the domestic toil which is the issue. Neigh.

This month’s recipe will, necesarily, be something simple. It’s a grilled cheese sandwich, from my book of the same title, just published. Easy, yummy, and even a man could cook one.

Grilled Lincolnshire Poacher & Emmental Sandwich

Most any cheese is fine here. Use what you’ve got, but it is
nice to mix 2 or even 3 kinds. Serve with tomato soup.

Serves 2

 125 g grated Lincolnshire Poacher or Mature Cheddar
125 g cup grated Emmental
4 large slices white bread
Unsalted butter, softened

 Butter the bread slices on one side and set aside. Mix the grated cheeses together.

 This is easiest if assembled in the pan. Put one slice of bread in a large, heavy bottomed nonstick pan, butter-side down. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese in an even layer.  Cover with another bread slice, butter-side up. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook one sandwich at a time.

 Turn the heat on medium and cook the first side until deep golden, 3-5 minutes. Carefully turn with a large spatula and cook on the second side, 2-3 minutes more or until deep golden brown all over.

 Remove from the pan, transfer to a plate and cut in half. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Repeat for the remaining sandwich.

photo © Everett Collection/Shutterstock

5 thoughts on “Unpaid Graft

  1. alisonmoore2014

    I love this blog Laura. I totally empathise with cooking for teenagers; mine have sucked the life out of any cooking confidence I had. They can’t both like the same thing, one of them has so many things he won’t eat. I ate everything that was given to me as a child and teenager, I loved food. I find it so frustrating and demoralising & dread the holidays with the 3 meals a day demands. Alison .

  2. Pingback: Food Links, 27.08.2014 | Tangerine and Cinnamon

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