I wrote (or re-wrote I guess) the introductory chapter to my thesis this week. Given that I haven’t written the conclusion yet, this is probably pre-emptory and it is likely to change once the whole thesis is written and re-read but it felt like the right time to write it, in the scheme of things. I only have two chapters left to revise – the methods chapter and the conclusion – and somehow, this week, I had to write the introduction.
Part of what happens in an introductory chapter of a PhD thesis is an autobiographical account of the researcher – how you came to the research, your history, how you ended up writing this particular thesis. I’ve had to think long and hard about how I ended up here – three and a half years in, writing a thesis on food experiences. As it happened, I re-read Food and the Self (de Solier, 2013) last week because part of the introductory chapter also includes a discussion on foodies. I realised that quite a lot of my identity and self-formation is tied to this blog and the production of food (both on this blog and in real life). Perhaps this is unsurprising to y’ll – as A- said to me recently, ‘you really do like to feed people, don’t you?’
De Solier found, amongst the foodies she interviewed, that production – that is, cooking and blogging – was just as important to their self-formation as consuming – that is, shopping and eating (both at home and in restaurants/cafes). I find that is the case with myself too. This space is important to me, to my sense of who I am and also of who I might be. I hadn’t realised quite how much importance the blog played in my identity until I started to read de Solier and think about my own personal narrative. It is also why writing my PhD has been so hard, because I have had to be critical about many of the things I believed to be good about food (things like food education, cooking, food gardening, eating well) – things I still believe to be valuable but which I now approach with a wider, more skeptical stance. This stance acknowledges differences in class, culture, race and gender much more than my previous (pre-PhD) self and is now incredibly wary of anyone who makes sweeping statements regarding the benefits of something (whether it be food-related or not).
Quite how much I enjoy producing food (and cake in particular) became evident this week when I rejoined a professional kitchen. A- told me on Thursday that I looked very happy and I realised I was. I had just spent several hours making cake and cheesecake and brownies that people were going to buy and I felt an immense sense of personal satisfaction about the whole experience. It was odd because some small part of me has often tried to deny this about myself (possibly because it means I will never really have any money) – I really like feeding people – and this realisation is also reassuring in a way. After so many years of wondering who I am, I finally know – I am someone who makes cake. (Or, in the case of this post, brownies.)
These brownies have been all over the interwebs in the last few weeks. They’re from Claire Ptak’s new book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is amazing. I read many cookbooks (and I own a possibly ridiculous number of them) but this is definitley one I am going to add to my collection. These brownies are fudgy and dense, fragrant with roasted almonds and every now and then (like a treasure) a sweet hit of blueberry. Claire describes them as being reminiscent of Cadbury’s fruit and nut and they are, but they are better.
Blueberry Almond Brownies
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook (although I originally saw this in The Guardian)
200g whole almonds
225g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate (70%)
375g golden caster sugar
75g rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
75g dried blueberries
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular baking tray that is about 2cm deep.
Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast until fragrant – around 15 minutes.
Melt the butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat, and add in the chocolate. Over a very low heat, and watching like a hawk, allow the chocolate to melt. When it is almost all melted, turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes – there should be enough heat to melt the remaining chocolate. (Claire recommends melting the butter/chocolate over a double boiler but I don’t have any bowls/saucepans that fit together well and so this is my method. You can also melt it in the microwave in 30 second bursts.)
Whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together. Pour in the butter/chocolate mixture and fold together.
Roughly chop the almonds and then add those and the blueberries into the chocolate mixture.
Pour into the baking tray and spread the mixture right to the edges.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. The original recipe said 25 – until the brownie is set around the edges and wobbles at the centre. My oven is hotter than most and so this only took 22 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for an hour. Then place in the freezer to firm up for another hour. Slice into pieces and serve. These make really good Friday breakfasts.
De Solier, I., 2013. Food and the Self, London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.