Jessica Valenti’s “Eat Me” column appears every other Friday at 3pm. Previous installments can be found here.
To be fair, I probably shouldn’t have started with scones.
They’re not the easiest thing to bake – I can never get the dough right – but somehow breakfast baking seemed like less of a betrayal than straight up cookies or cake. But my sad, lumpy-not-in-a-good-way chocolate pear scones were definitive proof that I needed to up my effort.
For a long time I told myself the reason I didn’t bake was because the timing was too difficult, the results too exorbitant. Why spend time on a dessert when what we really needed was dinner? Cooking was necessary, logical; baking was a hobby. Cooking is knives and hot oil; baking is aprons and a cutesy sprinkle of flour on your face.
Baking always felt too domestic to embrace – an icing-laden slippery slope straight into housewifery. After all, if I had enough time to bake – to create something totally unnecessary and luxurious – why wouldn’t I have time to do the laundry? Or pick up his socks?
Working from home was a blessing and a curse after my daughter was born. I was able to make my own schedule and be with Layla throughout the day – even when I was writing, she was just a room away if I needed a baby fix. But as our domestic responsibilities suddenly skyrocketed with the introduction of this mini-person, so did the expectation that I would take care of them because it was “easier” for me. After all, I was home.
My husband Andrew’s schedule is set, mine is movable. If Layla is sick, it makes the most sense for me to interrupt my work to take her to the doctor – I don’t have a boss to deal with. If she needs shoes or diapers or new clothes, I buy them. I’m the one who is home enough to notice when we run out. Everything in our culture makes it easy to fall into traditional gender roles at home. It happens when you’re not paying attention, or too busy to notice. Child care gives way to picking up around the house gives way to laundry. The mental work is what kills you – it’s not just doing the shopping, it’s being the one who writes the list.
So I suppose the truth is that I slid down that slippery slope without the help of cake. But when I did finally embrace baking it didn’t just feel like tacit acceptance of this new domesticity – it was complicity. Because what makes baking so deliciously insidious is that when you share the results of your labor the validation is GLORIOUS. Whenever Andrew brought lemon bars, or blueberry coffee cake into the office, I was a fucking star. I alternated between affirmation-driven highs and a feminist shame-spiral. Half-time homemaking can screw with your head.
I don’t have a brute asshole husband (see: New York Times or The Yellow Wallpaper) who demands or fully expects me to bear the load of housework or child care. I’m fortunate to have married a feminist, someone who I can talk to, negotiate responsibilities with and express confusion and ambivalence to. It makes figuring all of this out a lot easier. And while we’re working it all out, having a cake to stuff your face with doesn’t hurt.
The Best Cheesecake That Will Ever Be In Your Mouth (aka: If my mom found out I’m giving away this recipe I will never be heard from again)
The great thing about this recipe is that you can essentially just mix ALL OF THE THINGS in one bowl and you’re good to go.
1 lb of whole-milk ricotta
2 8-oz containers of cream cheese
1 16-oz container of sour cream
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 stick of butter
(Make sure all of the above ingredients are softened and not just-out-of-the-fridge)
1 tablespoon of vanilla
3 level tablespoons of flour
3 level tablespoons of cornstarch
Dash of salt
Squeeze of lemon
Put everything together in one big bowl and mix with a hand mixer (or throw in a standing mixer) – mix until as smooth as possible. Once all the lumps are out, pour it into a buttered and floured springform pan.
Put in an oven that’s been preheated to 375 degrees, bake for about 45 mins to an hour – until it’s golden on top. Shut the oven off, but leave the cheesecake in there for as long as you can – two hours would be ideal.
Jessica Valenti has written four books on feminism, politics and culture and is a founder of Feministing.com. She just moved back to her native New York after a two-year stint in Boston, which she is very pleased about. If she had to live solely off of one food group, it would be dairy.