Saturday, August 15, 2015

what am I reading?

School starts in a little more than a week (ahhhhh!), so I've been taking advantage of the fact that I have a lot done (seriously! my syllabi are almost finished!) to read and read and read. And read some more.

One set of books I've been reading for both fun and a research project are any food memoirs I can get my hands on. Two I read this week are French Kids Eat Anything by Karen Le Billon (not really a food memoir, just tangentially related) and Bon Appetempt by Amelia Morris. Morris keeps a blog of the same name ( and is more in line with the food memoirs I've been reading--the tale of a person outside of the restaurant biz who just wants to make food, eat it, and share it with us all as readers.

The research project is a discussion for another day, so I'll just share my general impressions with these books.

I picked up Le Billon's book, French Kids Eat Anything not because I have some big secret that I'm not telling anyone (other than how very much wine and coffee I've consumed since I graduated. The answer? A LOT--about TWO PANTS SIZE'S WORTH) but because I'm fascinated by the North American (Canadian and American) tendency to put the French on some sort of food pedestal. Look at the French! They have all their (food) shit together! They can eat raw cheeses and no one thinks they might get listeria (that's for Jessica)! Their bread is amazing! Everyone takes long, leisurely lunches and dinners with wine, and everyone is SO THIN! Also, they have great medical care for new moms AND they get all that vacation! Okay, so it's easy to see why everyone thinks France is so great, but at the same time I'm SKEPTICAL. Because, yeah, we should always be skeptical.

In my skepticism, I picked up this book in which Le Billon promises to share how (to quote the cover) "our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters." Huh. Well, that's a lofty claim for a book. However, the book is more than a worship of French culture--it's an examination of what they do that works and why it works. And Le Billon is not completely accepting of all aspects of French culture, and is in fact critical of some elements, addressing many of the questions readers themselves might raise.

Le Billon decides to move her family (French husband, two young PICKY daughters) to France for a year from Vancouver to see what it's like. They live in a small village in Breton, and there she learns that there are a lot of cultural differences, namely that her kids are looked at reprovingly by all the French people they interact with because they are picky, they snack, and they don't know how to eat right. Because of these clashes (especially with her French in-laws), she sets out to try to eat more French-like at home, including introducing new foods, overcoming picky habits, and cutting out snacking that is so endemic to North American parenting.

What she realizes is that it's not that the French have magical rules--they have an ingrained culture that makes things like snacking seem bizarre and out of the ordinary that it elicits stunned glances on the streets (or outspoken criticism), and they consider taste-training to be a part of a child's education. Which means that from an early age (like, from the first foods children eat), the French have culturally accepted and passed down methods to introduce a variety of foods and their eating habits. When Le Billon begins implementing these strategies (at first disastrously, then more slowly with good results), she realizes that good eating must be modeled and taught as much as anything else. And, most of all, it should be pleasurable.

I enjoyed this book a lot because Le Billon recognizes that environment is as big a factor in this process as individual effort; in fact, she soon realizes that maintaining this culture is nearly impossible when she returns to Vancouver, though she finds a middle-road that continues to encourage her kids to eat vegetables and enjoy their food. In the prologue, she notes:
In France, schools, governments, and communities, have worked together to create food and education systems that support parents in feeding their children well. In North America, it seems as if the opposite is true. So we urgently need to have a collective conversation about how to reinvent kids' food culture--in homes and schools, on farms and in stores via market and governmental reform. My hope is that this story (which is not about haute cuisine, but rather about how ordinary French families re empowered to feed their children well) will inspire you to join in that conversation.
In the end, she of course does provide guidelines (she's assuming the reader is looking for ways to cure their own children of their dependency on white bread and Goldfish crackers), but they are more of aspects of a philosophy rather than rigid rules. And I think that's where the value of this book lies for me: it's not a cure-all, but rather opens the door to a conversation to better ways of eating and enjoying our lives (Rule 10: "Remember: eating is joyful--RELAX!") through food, for both ourselves as adults and for our kids.

And now I've taken up too much of my space to talk about Amelia Morris's lovely memoir, Bon Appetempt. So I'll talk about it and some of the other memoirs I'm reading later.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Boise Bicycling (plus other things)

This week, it got hot. I know, I know, don't complain--you could be sweating through a muggy, buggy Southern summer for the umpteenth year in a row. However, the heat paired with our air conditioner going out is not too awesome.

However, in the end, it's still not that bad, and we've been really enjoying our first month here. In fact, as of yesterday, it was a month. We have now been residents of Idaho for one whole month. We have a cute house not a ten-minute-bike-ride away from work (which I know Mr. Money Mustache would certainly approve of!.

In fact, I've been biking up to campus everyday to get into a good routine before the semester begins. My office is mostly set up now, with just a few things left to be done, But the bike ride is such a nice part of my morning; I'm able to ride down the hill, catch the trail, and bike along the river right to my building. No fuss. No wrangling parking. Better yet--and in true MMM form--no paying for parking. And if I can't bike because of the odd day of nasty weather, I can walk in about 25 minutes. Not bad at all!

The Greenbelt (the bike path through town) is just one segment of the extensive bike system throughout Boise. Many of the streets (at least downtown area) have bike lanes, which is fantastic. In fact, now that we're done moving in, I'm going to make it a goal to bike as much as I physically can to places to save on money, get a bit more movement out of what will likely be a sedentary (for the most part) day at work, and to preserve our little car for longer. I'm pretty excited that we live in a place where we can do that.

However, the one thing I have noticed is that despite all of this biking infrastructure, Boise bicyclists are--how do I put it delicately?--they be cray, y'all. I'm firmly in the minority of helmet users* here (as is L). They don't observe traffic signals. They ride on sidewalks even when there's a perfectly good bike line on the road. If they use the bike lane, they ride the wrong direction on it, even if it's marked as one way or the other. It's baffling to me--it's like, did you even learn a little about appropriate bike behavior and bike safety?

Now, there are a few roads that I have conceded that I just can't be on the main road and thus must use the sidewalk. Otherwise, however, I choose routes that are non-sidewalk based. And if there's a bike lane, you know I'm in it and on the right side. And I ride with traffic in the street where it's safe and I won't impede traffic.

I think a huge part of it is that people are simply uneducated about bike safety and bike behavior or the rules aren't really enforced by other cyclists or the community at large. And by riding on the sidewalks, they think they are being safer when in reality they're causing a huge conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, which actually leads to more accidents. I understand about being scared of riding on the street--it can be a little nerve-wracking to share the road with motorists--but the motorists also need to get used to seeing bicycles not as annoyances but as rightful road users as well. Plus, maybe it'll encourage more bike lanes.

Overall, however, the biking culture here is friendly, lots of people use the Greenbelt, and bike racks abound. I love living in a town that is so bike-friendly, and a place that is flat enough to bike easily. We will own this place on bikes by the time some of you come visit us!

*HELMET RANT TIME: why people don't wear helmets is generally unfathomable to me. The excuses I hear are "oh I just don't like them" and "It messes up my hair." What if people said that about seatbelts? "Oh, I just don't like putting that strap across my chest" or "they wrinkle my clothes"--most people would think you were insane. And then you'd get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Basically, helmets are one of the few forms of protection a bicyclist has, and the chances of getting hit on the head or incurring major neurological/physical trauma are increased without proper use. So to people who don't wear helmets, I say--I prefer to keep my brain in my brain-box, thank you. Wear a damn helmet and get over yourself.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

summertime madness

August is officially here. Normally, I'm sweating a lot, heaped up on the floor of my barely air-conditioned duplex, but in July, I moved to Boise, Idaho, where the humidity is low, though the grass isn't nearly so green. It's been a crazy summer, concluding the craziness of the last few months, which included so many changes that my head is spinning a little. First, I got a job. Then I wrote a dissertation. Then I defended said dissertation, thus earning myself the title "Dr." and the letters "Ph.D." after my name.

All of these changes and more will be detailed more on a new blog I'm intending to start that will be associated with my professional work. But since this was a blog I began to talk about my food, my running, and my random reading, I'm returning to discussing just that. In other words, this will be my personal blog dedicated not to the esoteric or arcane bits of my scholarship, but more to the general day-to-day runnings of my life.

Right now, a major concern has been with all of the changes and celebrations and transitions, I've fallen out of my eating and running routine. Namely, I've put on about 20 lbs since the start of the year, and that bugs me a lot, partially because my pants are no longer fitting, and most of my work clothes will be too small in three weeks when school starts.

To rectify this situation, I've decided to refocus on my exercise and eating and discuss it here, along with some of the fun things I've discovered about my new home. I've found like a zillion yoga studios (with lots of "new customer" specials!), so I'm going to go through them until I find one I like best (for the best price). Additionally, I intend to return to my barre3 practice, a practice that kept me pretty sane and fit through the last few years of graduate school.

Finally, running! I've found a fantastic running group in Boise, and I have run with them a few times. I hope to continue running with them (as well as running on my own) and training for a few races in the meantime. Changes are tough, but this current transition has been delightful so far, and I really want to work to get back into my formerly healthy habits that don't involve drinking my way through June (I blame that for about 10 lbs) and eating really tasty, healthy foods.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I get up in the morning and usually, instead of getting ready for the day, exercising, or spending time with my spouse, I jump on the computer to check my email...and to look at anything "important" on facebook. 45 minutes later, I realize I've wasted time that could be spent doing any number of other things, but I shrug it off with a twinge of regret. After all, I'm keeping up with friends! I'm reading good articles! Throughout the day when I need a "break," the same thing would occur with the same excuses.

Then, late-September, I grew tired of it all. Sure, I was keeping up with friends and seeing interesting pictures and learning who was now engaged/pregnant/had a baby/other major life changes, but I also was bogged down with a lot of vapid posts and enraging articles (or pointless ones). Was this really worth the amount of time I was spending on it each day? I had already taken the app off my phone (which was an excellent choice), and I was curious to see what ditching FB entirely would be like.

So I stepped away. I promised myself that October would be a month where I didn't check Facebook. I checked it once in the middle of the month and once because a friend had listed something she wanted me to look at, but otherwise I stayed off of the site.

The first week was hard. My impulse was to check FB at every opportunity where there was a lull, where I was bored, or where I just would normally go look at it. Then, by the end of the second week, I stopped thinking about it, my impulse to check it went away, and I actually forgot about it (except for informing people that I wasn't really on FB lately, so to contact me directly.

It turns out to have been...freeing. I have been more focused on everything else, and I have not been sucked into drama. I have missed things friends have posted (and birthday reminders), but hopefully people won't mind too much. I think after October, I'm going to continue to mostly stay away, maybe only logging in once a week at most.

All this, of course, is not a judgment on anyone else's use of FB. Given my proclivity to be constantly on it and not doing other things, refraining from using it regularly has been a good decision, and one that I'm glad I tried. So if you want to go have coffee with me or chat, give me a call or send me a message!

Friday, October 24, 2014

women + cooking

If you know me, you know I love food. I love eating it, and I love cooking it. And if you know my spouse, you know cooking is something we love to do together, and something that we tend to share pretty equally in terms of household chores.

Yet, I know that other women aren't as lucky as I am to be married to someone who can pick up the slack when a meal is needed, and there can be a lot of guilt associated with the decisions made to feed one's family quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. And Virginia Heffernan's article "What If You Just Hate Making Dinner?" spells out that anxiety clearly as she relates her frustration with the new slate of cookbooks aimed at telling mothers to cook lest DISASTER befall their precious children.

I find this article fascinating, though I don't fully agree with it, because I am interested in the ways modern women are coping with changing domestic roles and home cooking. The world is changing, women are less frequently at home, yet the standards in place have yet to fully reflect the new social reality.  Heffernan notes the hyperbolic language these cookbook authors use to pressure their (female) readers to get back into the kitchen and make their families an organic, whole-wheat, homemade sandwich:
I don’t think there is ONE THING MORE IMPORTANT you can do FOR YOUR KIDS THAN HAVE FAMILY DINNER,” is how Ruth Reichl, of Gourmet, is quoted (italics and caps not mine) in “The Family Dinner,” by Laurie David, with recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt. Pomposity of this kind abounds in Laurie David books, and ultimately the books’ apotheosizing of home cooking is more memorable in its aggression than the somewhat meeker recipes (Easy Cheesy Dinner Frittata, Turkey Meat Loaf, Your Favorite Grilled Cheese). No one thing more important for children than family dinner? I might have put “send them to school” or “hug them occasionally” at the top of that list.
Heffernan's irritation at this kind of mother-guilt is warranted. At first, I was prepared to be frustrated with this article, but I realized that some people truly do not derive pleasure from cooking as I do. Heck, there are days when I'm grateful for a quick bite grabbed as I dash out the door, a bite not carefully crafting but thrown together from what is easy and convenient and meets my basic nutritional requirements. But since I have no children, no one is squinting at me for refusing to sacrifice time I don't have to make a homemade meal every night. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.

In the end, Heffernan exposes yet another way women are associated with domestic cooking as well as the censure they face if they reject the all-organic and homemade trends. After all, these books are targeted to women, and no clear efforts are directed to the other members of the household (men) who could contribute to the efforts to healthfully feed a family (be that family with or without children). No one faults a man for not knowing how to cook, but women face judgment and scrutiny if they admit to not knowing how to make a simple meal or confess a lack of interest in domestic concerns.

And I realize, once again, how lucky I am to have a partner who shares the cooking with me, and with whom cooking is a joy, not a burden.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the deep end

I've dived (dove?) into the deep end of academia, and I'm finding myself not sinking, though sometimes just barely treading water. This semester, in all its delights brings article submissions, a co-authored publication, research, and, finally, the job market. Job hunting is thrilling and exciting, and I feel poised to begin my career, for real.

I also find myself in the unenviable position of having to explain to people how the academic job market works. The well-meaning questions like where do you want to go? where will you end up? why not apply to X place? are not that frustrating, but reveal how weird and strange and often esoteric the life I've chosen is to the outside eye. It's not that I wouldn't love to choose a place and apply for it, but with my jobs list growing ever longer, I invest enough energy to get excited enough about each position to convey that I really do want to work at X University. Then, when the application has been emailed, Interfolio-ed, or otherwise submitted, I forget they exist.

You see, if I stayed too excited about any one job and then never heard back, it would be crushing. So by divesting the interest and excitement I generated to apply, I (hopefully) will only experience mild disappointment if I never hear back or they send me the thanks-but-no-thanks message. I'll save my excitement and longing for when I get bumped into the later phases of interviewing and campus visits.

Anyway, so my friends are currently delighted whenever I pop up (which hasn't been very often), and I catch a bit of space to breathe, but I have actually been enjoying feeling purposeful every day. Every day I submit more applications and do more scholarly work, and it feels awesome (though still daunting), and I feel more secure in knowing that this is what I want to do, gluten-free bakery dreams aside.

With all this energy comes an edge of sadness. I was in Megan's barre3 class the other day, and it struck me: there really is so much I'll be leaving behind, be it the easy camaraderie with my best friends, friends who have been with me for so long now, to my inspiring running group, to my barre3 buddies. It made me tear up a tiny bit as I tried to focus on my core, but this too is a feeling I have to compartmentalize for now. There will be joy and sadness in my future, but that's something for future-Jenn to worry about. Meanwhile, I'll savor the moments I'm able to have with these amazing members of my community when I get the chance.

And now, back to it...

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

one challenge ends a new one begins

I ended the barre3 spring challenge in a bit more lamely than I'd hoped--I slipped out of my good nutrition habits, which definitely impaired the initial gains I'd made. HOWEVER, the challenge was, ultimately a success. I gave up coffee--and learned that it was inhibiting my sleep. I gained strength (and worked out a lot). And, best of all, I learned more about how I ought to approach things and gained some new friends in studio and online.  It was fantastic.

In fact, I'm now working for the local studio, so I'm there more than ever, and I'm loving it. It's wonderful to be able to take on a new role in an organization that I'm such a huge fan of, supporting friends.

But really, while this post begins with a nod toward the physical/health challenge I took on this past month, I want to talk about a larger, more pressing challenge: dissertation (and publication).

I have begun writing my dissertation, continuing to gather data. (I began transcribing today, and though I know it'll get easier, it was TORTURE. But then again, as I'm transcribing, I'm thinking about the data with fresh eyes, so that's kind of cool). Today I transcribed. Yesterday I wrote several pages and outlined several chapters, getting some good feedback from my adviser.  Tomorrow will be more writing and transcribing, meeting up with a fellow dissertator (we are egging each other on this summer to WRITE).

I also joined up with an online group, and have pledged to submit some job materials (the other major summer writing challenge) by the middle of the month. Much work to be done, indeed!

Despite the large amount of challenges on my plate, I am finding a rhythm of work and writing and play, a balance between writing and working to earn money, between working (generally) and taking care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It turns out that when I'm making progress on my work, I'm not berating myself for lazing around my house all day.

I'm hoping to break the cycle of summer lazies, where summer flows by in one undifferentiated mass, a summer that before I know it is gone, and I'm faced with the inevitable pressures the fall will bring. This year, a new one will loom large: the job search. It is my hope to tackle it with my best energy and to emerge triumphant, job in hand by graduation in May, not to mention a dissertation defended and articles submitted and published. These are my goals, and they are steps toward the scholarly life that I'm finally learning how to fully embrace.