Monthly Archives: May 2012

Watching Mad Men With Mum

stop-romanticising

My mother has come to stay from New Zealand, and had never seen Mad Men. (She was under the impression it was a sit-com.) I don’t have HBO to watch the latest Season Five, so am satiated in the meantime by watching the whole thing again from Season One. Since Mum was born 60 years ago, I’m getting a different sort of cultural commentary this time as she points out the anachronisms, or perhaps she’s pointing out the ways in which America was ahead of New Zealand in 1960. So far:

- Women always wore hats in those days, not just the Rachel Menckens. I had read this before, from an original ‘Mad Woman’ who is now 80 years old.

- Peggy wrapped her sandwiches in plastic. In New Zealand, no one was wrapping their sandwiches in plastic back in 1960. I grew up in the 1980s, and my sandwiches were wrapped in baking paper — not because it didn’t exist, I suspect, but because baking paper was more economical. But in America, Saran Wrap had already been introduced, in 1949. In New Zealand, we don’t have Saran Wrap. We have Glad Wrap, invented in Australia in the early 1960s, but didn’t become ubiquitous right away. It would have then taken a while longer to reach New Zealand, I’d expect.

- When Helen Fisher calls Betty Draper to ask her to babysit Glen and the baby, they’re talking on a phone with a plastic cord. But in New Zealand, the cords of phones were covered in fabric. It seems the next model of phones — those used in Mad Men — came out in the early 1960s, or I suppose, were possibly already in homes by the year 1960 itself.

- People shared their cigarettes. When Betty and Francine talk in Francine’s baby’s room on that really hot day in summer, Francine pulls out a packet of cigarettes but she doesn’t offer one to Betty. People didn’t start to have their own packets until later, after cigarettes were well-known to be cancerous, and when tax made them far more expensive than a packet of biscuits. That said, I don’t find Francine an especially nice person, so perhaps she wouldn’t have offered a friend a cigarette, despite the custom.

Related:

How TV portrays office culture from The Guardian

Blowing Smoke And Mirrors About Mad Men Anachronisms

Did they really smoke that much? A Newsweek secretary-turned-Washington correspondent says the on-screen sexism, drinking, and smoking capture the office culture of the early ’60s, from The Beast Daily

The Real World Lessons We Can Learn From Mad Men from Undecided

The History Behind Mad Men Moments from GMP

How Season 5 Of Mad Men Reminds Us Of Forgotten History from Film School Rejects

The Secret To Russian Fudge

There are two types of cooks in this world: those who make excellent Russian fudge and those inclined to make toffee.

Googling has so far not helped me out on this one, so while Mum was staying at our place this week I had an extended lesson in how to make it set every time, and now I feel obliged to put this up on the internet, because I can’t find anybody else who has adequately described what a ‘soft ball’ is, nor explain all the secrets to getting it right, though this description is a very good start. It really is all in the beating. Some of us noobs need a little more help, so for my own future reference as much as anything, I have taken some (relevant!) progress pictures. I’ve since made five successful batches without help, so I think I’ve got it now.

FROM THE EDMONDS COOKERY BOOK

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 125g butter
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
Put sugar and milk into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Add condensed milk, butter, salt and golden syrup. Stir until butter has melted. Bring to the boil and continue boiling to the soft ball stage, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Beat until thick. Pour into a buttered tin. Mark into squares. Cut when cold. Vanilla essence or chopped buts may be added to fudge before beating if desired.


EXTRA NOTES

This is from a New Zealand cookbook (though I’m to assume it comes originally from Russia?) so be sure to use Australian/NZ/British sized measuring cups, which are larger than American. I don’t know if this works if you use American sizes — I guess it’s all relative, but what I had been doing is using the Pyrex jug to measure the liquids (American) and a local measurements for the dry ingredients. Don’t do that.
It takes a longish time to dissolve the sugar and milk properly over a gentle heat. When bubbles start to rise, that generally means it’s dissolved enough. This part can be made faster by using castor sugar, in which case it dissolves pretty much instantly, and you can start adding the rest of the ingredients.

BOILING IT UP

The colour in this photo isn’t true to life (too yellow) but this is basically what the mixture will look like once you’ve got it to the ‘soft ball’ stage.

 

WHAT ON DOG’S GREEN EARTH IS A ‘SOFT BALL’?

To check whether the mixture is at the ‘soft ball’ stage, drop a bit of it into a glass of cold water.
This is what a ‘soft ball’ looks like when dribbled off a spatula into a glass of cold water. Next, tip out the water and scoop out the fudge mixture. It should look like this once you’ve rolled it between your fingers:
It’s hard to describe the feel of a soft ball in pictures, but you should be able to hold it briefly between your fingers like this:

A MOTHER OF A BEATING

The secret to good fudge lies partly in the length of time beating, but then again, at other times I have made this fudge successfully without much beating at all.
A stick mixer won’t do the job.
Then again, if you’re a pioneer, you’ll get by with a wooden spoon and a sweaty brow. As for me, I have to use an electric hand beater, and it usually takes longer than I think it should, on a medium speed.
This is what it looks like before any beating, and just cooled enough for it to stop bubbling. I’ve transferred the mixture into a plastic bowl so I don’t damage the non-stick saucepan with the beaters.
It takes about as long to whip fudge as to whip cream. Something I’ve never measured. The process is similar. Soon you’ll start to see it ripple a little bit.
Continue to beat. A few minutes later, the ripples will be more pronounced and the texture will have changed to something lighter in colour and heavier:
What you really want to see is the fudge starting to set around the edges:
As you can see from the electric beaters, the fudge has set into stalactites.

You know you’ve beaten enough when the mixture really starts to feel heavy on the beaters. (A good reason to use the medium setting on the beater — it’s easier to feel the texture changing.)
Here is the mixture poured into the pan ready for setting. As you can see, the mixture keeps its shape. The folds and peaks remain, unless I smooth them down with a wooden spoon. Be sure to grease the pan really well so that you can tip the whole thing out as a block later ready for cutting into squares, maybe on a chopping board.
Mark it into lots of small squares with a knife once it’s cooled a bit. Then put it in the fridge. When it comes time to cut it, use a hot, wet knife to avoid making so many tiny crumbs.
Post Script
I cut up the fudge and put it into Glad bags, ready for the freezer. I’ve never frozen fudge before, but apparently it’s fine, as long as you seal the container properly. My husband came into the kitchen and said, ‘What are you doing?’
‘Freezing fudge,’ I replied.
After a short pause he said, ‘You can say it, you know.’
‘What?’
‘You’re packing fudge.’
And in case you think I planned on eating all of these batches of fudge myself, I gave a large portion to my husband, with strict instructions to share it around at work. According to his Indian workmates, this fudge is almost exactly the same as barfi. I’ve seen better phonetic correspondences. (Here’s Breaking Barfi, a Breaking Bad parody. Hell, why not.)
There can’t have been much work on at the office either, because it was agreed that Russian fudge is actually Scottish.
Enjoy!

Definitions of ‘Feminist’

The name ‘feminist’ is a declaration of interest in women and of open commitment to women’s concerns.

- Lynne Spender, from Intruders On The Rights Of Men: Women’s unpublished heritage

For many women of color, especially young women, the word ‘feminist’ provokes an image that is antiquated, overtly-aggressive, anti-male and white.

- Are You Feminist Enough?

In similar fashion, some misguided people think that ‘Feminist Is Not Necessarily A Compliment‘:

Feminism does not hold a monopoly on women’s activism, and it’s time that they start to understand this. If they truly want women to identify as feminist, rather than attempting to force this label on us, perhaps they should address the various issues which have caused so many to take issue with feminist organizing.

- as explained by Womanist Musings.

Do we really need a new word? You can’t go making up words like ‘womanist’ just because you don’t like the word ‘feminist’. Well, you can coin any new word you want. No one’s stopping you. It just seems ridiculous and unnecessary to me.

Feminism isn’t complicated. It is about treating individuals with respect. That’s it.

- from Libertarian Lou’s Blog

Here’s another explanation of a Straw Feminist, from Feminist Frequency.

I have always been a feminist, ever since I felt a simmering annoyance that my grandmother used to call my brother ‘a big girl’ and meant it as an insult. (To his credit, I’m not sure he bothered to take it as one.)

I was a feminist at university, though I didn’t realise it. But I did clean the office of a feminist sociologist as a part time job. The feminist used to came in early to work before I’d left after the earlybird shift, and she shared with me her views on women in the workforce, and noted with interest that although it was the women doing the bulk of the cleaning work, our cleaning bosses were men.

I had a feminist Japanese lecturer — a woman who specialised in Japanese literature, and who found much to shun about her own Japanese upbringing. She asked one day during class if anyone knew that New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and of course I knew it, but I nodded quietly. She saw me nod, then asked me personally if I knew what year that was, and I knew full well that women first voted in the 1893 New Zealand election, but I wasn’t going to admit to such knowledge in front of all my peers, so I shook my head and looked at the floor. I looked up and saw the disappointment in my lecturer’s eyes. She said, ‘I would’ve thought you of all people would’ve known that, Lynley.’ I don’t know how I’d emanated the air of a feminist, especially when I wasn’t the type to speak up in class, but it still came through.

And after some reflection and a good number of years, I realised that if I do have feminist interests and feminist views, then it would be disingenuous to identify as anything but. I don’t wear t-shirts with feminist slogans, and I’d no more introduce myself as a feminist than as a reader of books. But it has to be acknowledged. I am what I am, despite the unfortunate connotations of the F-word. I do speak out when I see instances of sexism. I don’t let people get away with calling our female prime minister a childless whore. I speak up when young women are victim blamed for bringing rape upon themselves, whatever they’re wearing, whatever they’ve had to drink, wherever they were in the world. I encourage working female friends to make sure the fathers of their children take equal time off when their children are sick, because child-rearing should not be a women’s responsibility alone.

THOUGHTS ON THE WORD ‘FEMINIST’

Many people don’t like the word, even though they do believe in equality between the sexes. I understand that reluctance, because I never used to like the word either. Maybe it’s because we think of Germaine Greer, or whoever. I happen to agree with a lot of what Germaine Greer says. She is the crazy woman who speaks the truth, and only occasionally pisses me off. But that’s by the by.

But ‘feminist’ is neither a compliment nor an insult, anymore than ‘dentist’ or ‘artist’ or ‘idealist’ is an insult.

Is it possible to be quietly feminist? Sure. I don’t think all feminists are open about it, more’s the pity. Likewise, many people are quietly Christian, or quietly atheist. I’m not suggesting that to be quietly feminist is better than being stridently so. It isn’t. If you refuse to stand up and say something when you see instances of sexism in your life, then you are not standing up for what you think is right, and that is what I’d call cowardly.

What if you reject the word altogether? Is ‘feminism’ the very end of a continuum, or is this a binary state? What is the flipside of ‘feminist’?

I’d like to posit that if you’re not ‘feminist’ (whether quietly or stridently), then you must be ‘sexist’. I can’t see how there can be any in between state.

First, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. You don’t have to be shouting from rooftops about feminist issues (even if you are riding on the backs of those who have done so on your behalf.)

If you’re not ‘feminist’ — if you don’t believe in equal opportunity for men and women — then you are by extension, unavoidably and definitely ‘sexist’. Now, if you think that’s an insult, feel free to take it as one. I won’t argue.

Worth Reading:

I Do Not Turn Off My Feminism, from Persephone Magazine

No, but seriously… what ABOUT the Menz? from Freethought Blogs

What No-one Else Will Tell You About Feminism from Jezebel

Feminism Survey: Men on the street from Sociological Cinema

Myths About Feminism from Riot Grrrl

Is Feminist a Sexist Word? from Inside Higher Ed

A collection of high-profile women who have said they’re not feminist… while doing feminist type things and enjoying the benefits, collected by Salon

How To Spot A Feminist from Wom*News

‘Women’s Issues’ Are Men’s Issues from GMP