The Women in My Kitchen

When I first looked at the Cincinnati apartment I would eventually move into, my (now) landlord gave me a tour. In pointing out the various features (built-in bookcases, a weird sink-closet in the bedroom) he lamented over the small size of the galley-style kitchen. After enthusiastically signing a lease (those built-ins!) I told him how much I like to cook. “But why take this place with that kitchen” he asked me. “Are you sure you really want the place?”

Yes, I really wanted the place. Small kitchen aside, the apartment had its charms (built-ins). Besides, I figured, I’ve lived in places with smaller kitchens, less well-organized kitchens. This would be just fine.

But, honestly, I didn’t expect it to be great. In reality, my kitchen has become one of my favourite places in the entire apartment. Its smallness obscures its functionality; its configuration belies perfection. Sure, it needs a dishwasher, a larger place for a trash can, a garbage disposal. But, it reminds me that not everything must be perfect to still be good. Just like me, the kitchen has its flaws; but it is overwhelmingly as unique and well-suited for its purpose as any kitchen I’ve ever lived with. Cooking in this kitchen comes naturally to me—it’s comforting, cozy, manageable. It feels like stepping into my own little world, a place where life mostly makes sense, where I know I will find the spice or spatula I’m looking for with ease, and where I feel good about what I’m doing (even when it’s occasionally a smoking-pan-of-dinner disaster). It is—in every sense of the word—charming.

Let me give you an example. On a whim recently, I decided to research the sink in my apartment’s kitchen. It seemed vintage, albeit in good condition, and I wondered if I could find out when it was probably installed. Never would I guess that it was most likely original to the building (1937) and that it was a top-of-the-line model that was also sold with a customizable mix of cabinets and drawers (all of which are still here). Somewhat shocked by my discovery, it led me to wonder exactly how many other women (or men) had stood in this same kitchen as I do every day—washing dishes, cooking, eating, staring out the window at the neighbor’s house. How many others were here before me, and what did they cook?

In a way, thinking about this makes me feel more connected, not only to the imaginary renters before me, but also to my mother. In some ways, I feel like I am reenacting her when I’m standing in my kitchen; I get these short flashes of what her life was like before me, but also of what our life was like when she was still here. Even though my childhood kitchen was very different (large, fancy, and also very 1990s), perhaps some of what I find so comforting about this kitchen is that very sense of connection I have to people across time, not only those I knew like her, but also those who will always remain unknown to me.


The sink itself: Whitehead Monel original

Menus as Artifacts for Rhetorical Analysis

Getting students interested in writing is the daily battle for English teachers everywhere. I’ve found I can pique students’ interests in writing if it’s centered around food. While I have an entire folder of activities and ideas about teaching a literature class through food, my main focus this semester is incorporating that topic into a traditional introductory college composition class. At the bottom of this post I’ve included an instructional sheet I developed from an activity in the Food & Linguistics lunch group I was a member of at Wichita State University.

Currently, my students in ENGL 1001 at the University of Cincinnati are working on writing a rhetorical analysis essay, and one of the takeaways I want to emphasize for them is the usefulness of the skill (notwithstanding the somewhat uselessness of the essay itself). By forcing them to analyze something as seemingly basic as a restaurant menu, they see how these skills can be useful in real-life application, and they also gain confidence in their analytical thinking.

I honestly wasn’t expecting my class to take so well to this activity; I was worried it would end up being too theoretical for their second week of college. But, lo, it has been one of the most successful activities so far. They really jumped on different visual elements in each menu to identity purpose, audience, and genre, and the majority of the write-ups were well thought out and contained a significant amount of analysis for such an artifact. They also didn’t spend too much time summarizing the item itself, which I believe comes from their familiarity with menus and their innate understanding of what analysis is, even if they don’t always know what it looks like.

Guided Questions for Mini Menu Analysis

First-day-of-school Eve

As a kid, my dad always let me have a bowl of ice cream before bed. I'd watch television and shiver happily as I scooped bites of Neapolitan, rotating between the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla in order. When I got old enough, I filled my own bowl; my parents always made fun of how much ice cream I could fit in it.

Now, on the night before I start the first year of my PhD, I'm having another bowl of ice cream. There was always something especially calming about the ice cream ritual, and even after 21 years of first days, those nerves remain. But in some way I feel like I can reach back to the six-year-old girl who waited in bed for her dad to bring her a bowl of ice cream, safe and snug and watching Taxi until she fell asleep.