Thursday, October 25, 2007

Remembering an Undercelebrated Feminist

When I was 22 and living in South Jersey, I didn't know a lot about cooking. I remember experimenting with a few dishes in college (mainly very bland stir fries), but, in general, culinary arts were intimidating. My mother wasn't a bad cook or anything, but she never did the whole "let me give you some kitchen pointers" thing with me. I don't fault her for it - I actually PRAISE her, since it would have suggested that I "need to know these things," for it will be my role at some point to whip up 3 square meals a day for my nuclear family. Eventually, I asked her for her chicken and rice recipe, which became the only proper meal I was able to prepare between the years 1994 and 1996.

Getting back to New Jersey. I spend a lot of time in Tower Books on South Street in Philadelphia (which is a very attractive city, regardless of what you might read!) and one day, I stumbled upon Peg Bracken's, "I Hate to Cook Book." A chorus of angels sang while the rays of heaven illuminated the spine of the paperback on its shelf. It was a fantastic find for a person as frightened of the kitchen as yours truly. Within it's pages, I found a kindred spirit. A woman who really understood my general indifference toward the art of food. She simplified recipes. She made it possible to create decent tasting sustenance without killing yourself with the details. A woman who felt that time spent in the kitchen was better spent elsewhere, like drinking a martini on the sofa. It was just a cookbook, but it was also as much a feminist publication as The Golden Notebook. She went to many publishers with her idea and was shot down (her meetings were all with men, who felt that this kind of publication might discourage a wife or somehow devalue her - what a bunch of jerks, huh?) until she spoke with a female executive who understood the book's potential. Her book has the same spirit as those magnets and greeting cards you see now with speech bubbles like "Make your own damn dinner!" positioned next to a smiling 1950s-style housewife in an apron. I have a dishtowel bearing this image.

Peg Bracken died this week, at the age of 89. May she be remembered fondly by women everywhere. (Interesting factoid from Wikipedia: "She married and moved to Portland, Oregon, where she worked as an advertising copywriter along with Homer Groening, father of Matt Groening." Matt's father's name was Homer?)

From the NY Times: "Her other books include “The I Hate to Housekeep Book” (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962); an etiquette book, “I Try to Behave Myself” (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964); and a memoir, “A Window Over the Sink” (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1981)."

I have since learned to appreciate cooking quite a bit. But, I did so out of inspiration and a desire to be creative. I was never expected to churn meals out, day in, day out. I cook because I like it, and when I don't feel like it, I go out. Isn't this the way it should be?



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