About the name of the blog

Do we need forks? is a name that reflects my philosophy about technology - the first question we should ask is "Do I NEED this?" Will it make my life and meaningful occupations easier, or better in some way?
As a student (first time around), I remember reading a scene from a play set in the 1600s, where French nobles were wondering what to do with a fork. The social context meant that forks were unnecessary. In that time, people would
bring a knife, use a spoon for liquids, and hands for everything else. In a different social context where people are concerned about hygiene, a fork seems relevant. Or you could just wash your hands really well before each meal.
This philosophy about technology relates well to frameworks of occupational therapy. We look at the person - do they really need this technology? - the occupation - how meaningful is this occupation and do they need technology to make it easier to participate in? - and the environment, which includes social factors - is this technology going to fit with their environment?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Final blog with links and references

Four comments on other people’s blogs 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Final baking blog! A bit delayed because of illness...

This week I baked two things: a batch of oat cookies to take on a road trip, and a chocolate cake for a birthday.  I’m going to focus on the chocolate cake.  I made it for a friend’s birthday.  He isn’t really having much of a celebration so I decided he at least needed a cake!  Plus I wanted to express love and care and consideration on what I consider to be a special day, celebration of not only this person’s existence, but also the fact he has made it through another year on the planet.  Life can be tough sometimes and it’s important to stop and celebrate.
As with last week, my baking is about subsistence and celebration.  Rarely do we celebrate without food.
I’ve never been very good at cakes; they tend to sink in the middle and I have to fill in the gap with icing.  Or they are dry on the outside and too wet in the middle, or dry all through, or a little bit burned.  But I persist anyway, in search of the perfect recipe.  I asked my flatmate for a recipe, because he makes a really good chocolate cake.
I’m usually very good at baking, as my mother has taught me heaps of tricks.  When I think back to my childhood, when I learned to bake, we didn’t make a lot of cakes.  Mum made our birthday cakes, which were secret, so there wasn’t any teaching of skills at this point.  As a teenager, I used to make a bundt-type chocolate cake in the microwave, which usually worked, but I didn’t really like eating it so stopped making it.  Making cakes is definitely an area I need to learn some skills in.  It’s hard though, because I only bake them a few times a year.
I bought the ingredients from Countdown, as it’s cheap and has a good range and I know where everything can be found.  The eggs came from a friend, nice and organic and free range.

I made the cake after dinner when I was in the right mood.
I identified well with Mrs Baskin in Margaret Mahy’s short story "A work of art", getting into “a magical, cake-icing mood” (p. 39) when she decides to bake a cake for her son Brian's birthday.  When I’m baking for someone else, I like to have lots of free time, to think and get the creative juices going, and so I can take care, to ensure the finished product is worthy of a celebratory event!
I followed the recipe and it was all going well.  I used a silicone cake tin that belongs to my flatmate.  It was a bit annoying as the sides are wobbly and I almost lost the mixture over the sides.  Then I made a fatal mistake.  With only 20 minutes to go in the baking, I moved the tin to look at how the cake was going.  Well, it immediately sunk in the middle.  Badly!  I laughed at this, but was also happy, because now the mystery of my sinking cakes was solved.  I left it in for the remaining 20 minutes and got my flatmate to check if it was cooked.
This time, I’ve learned why previous cakes have sunk – me interfering!  I’m really pleased I learned something and it means that next time I make a cake, I will have some knowledge born of experience.
Once cooled, I made a lovely cream and chocolate icing – I’m good at icing!  It had to fill a big gap in the middle, so I made extra.  The cake looks great, but wouldn’t fit in the cake tin for transportation, so it is now a little bit oval and squashed in.  My hope is that my friend will appreciate the gesture and that it tastes ok.

I think if the cake hadn’t sunk, I would have taken more care and found a tin that fit the cake, but by this stage it was late, I was grumpy, and I believed the cake was a bit “ruined” anyway, so I decided my friend would have to lump it or leave it.  As the whole point of baking is to participate in his birthday, I wasn’t too worried about the outcome – it’s going to be eaten anyway!  As Mrs Baskin says “Some art is meant to last and some is meant to be eaten up.  Not everything has to be a monument” (p. 48), when the horrified art dealers see she has eaten the cake with Brian.  What I love about this story is that Mrs Baskin has eight children and still takes time to make a cake for Brian.  This story reinforced the fun aspect of baking for others, the joy of selecting ingredients.  Despite all the everyday mundane tasks we do, these celebrations are important.  I make time to bake because I have to, to participate in the celebrations of life with my friends and family. 
The second aspect to Mahy's tale is that Mrs Baskin's cake is so beautiful, it ends up in an art gallery, then is ultimately eaten.  This part of the story reminds us that food is something that is designed to be baked/cooked/grilled, then consumed, then you have to start all over again, as Mrs Baskin does at the end of the story.

Reference: Mahy, M. (1988). The door in the air and other stories. London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Week 39 - What need does baking meet for me?

This blog relates to week 39 and the search for what need I’m meeting with my activity.  These last two weeks, I haven’t been able to bake.  I fell ill with bronchitis and have been bedridden with little energy.  This was quite timely, as it gave me an opportunity to literally answer the question Mary posed:  “What if you couldn’t bake?  What need would you have to fill?”  Although I mainly bake to give gifts, this week I’ve been missing my scrumptious oat cookies that are wheat-free (to suit my intolerance to wheat).  I usually make a batch in the weekend to munch throughout the week.

So, one of the needs for baking in my life is to consume, to eat.  Another need it fills is the need to give gifts.  Both of these needs are part of that we call “labour”, the never-ending cycle of life.  Thomas F. Green writes of the endless cycle of “gathering and consuming” (1968, p. 17), of the passage of life governed by seasons and death, then rebirth.  Green defines labour as being about necessity and nourishment.  The oat cookies form part of my weekly sustenance, while my baking for gifts is also part of my sustenance, as a person who is connected with other beings in this world, celebrating with them their ups and downs, birthdays, births, deaths, marriages.  These celebrations also occur on an endless cycle, as I was reminded when my friend’s brother died unexpectedly a few days ago.  My friend lives in France, so I sent a card rather than bake, but had she lived around the corner, baking plus a card would have felt like the right thing to do.  Baking fills my need to participate in life with those I love, both on a practical nutritious level, and a more spiritual level.

There is also something satisfying about producing something to eat, as Hannah Arendt puts it:
The blessing of labour is that effort and gratification follow each other as closely as producing and consuming the means of subsistence, so that happiness is a concomitant of the process in itself, just as pleasure is a concomitant of the functioning of a healthy body (1958, p. 108).

Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Green, T. F. (1968). Work, leisure, and the American schools. New York: Random House

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Last Friday's baking session -thinking about aesthetics, health, and spirituality

Today I made a lemon, banana, and rice cake for my friend.  I’d thought about it the night before as she is going through a rough patch, and this morning I decided “Yes, I will bake the cake!”
There is a certain spiritual aspect to this baking for a friend.  It is my way of saying “I’m thinking about you, and want you to have something nice in your life at this time”.  Baking for me also relates to a long tradition of baking for celebrating life, death, and events in the community.  I can relate to Alexa Johnston saying that “Once upon a time the normal, rather than eccentric, response to the birth of a baby, the arrival of a new neighbour or a sudden bereavement, was to turn on the oven, bake something appropriate and drop over with a contribution to the affected household” (p. 7).  This is a tradition I have been raised in and on reflection, am proud to continue, as I see nothing morally wrong with it, and no need to change it.  As Johnston says, this is a way of “showing love and care for others” (p. 8).  I feel part of a tradition that has been handed down from my ancestors in Scotland and then brought here to New Zealand.
My friend is gluten-intolerant, so she can have this cake without hassles, and I know she loves the taste of it.
Health aspects of baking arise here.  When baking for a gift, I often need to think about allergies or likes and dislikes of friends, or if the friend will even eat it, if they are, as Johnston states, afraid of creamed butter and sugar.
I had to be out of the house in two hours, so I decided to focus on just making the cake and no other activities, unlike usual, when I flit from baking, to cleaning, to tidying, and back to baking again.  I got out the mixer, and added ingredients like I was in a race.  For the dry ingredients, I got down my stainless steel mixing bowls, bought with my mother at the Milton supermarket in their second-hand shop at the back, where you can find good deals o a good day.  My wooden spoon has been with me since I lived in Australia, then moved to Wellington, through four different flats, then to Waihola, and now lives in Roslyn.  It is just the perfect wooden spoon for mixing baking and spooning it out.  I used a fresh banana, instead of one from the freezer, and a lovely, juicy, lemon from the tree outside.  The cake mixture seemed more yellow than ever, perhaps because of the fresh fruit, or because the eggs were from a friend’s chicken coop.  I’d visited there two days earlier, admiring the “girls” who were settling in for the night, having negotiated possies in the chicken house.  I felt like I was in the flow, dashing from garden to fridge to fruit bowl to pantry, making no mistakes and everything coming together nicely in the trusty mixer.  The yellow was so enticing; I just had to taste it – yes, best ever!  I used my trusty loaf tin, lined with baking paper that I’ve reused for at least 4 batches of biscuits, meaning the paper is nice and greasy with butter.  In went the cake for 50 minutes, giving me time to do the dishes and leave the kitchen tidy for my flatmate.  Yay for the mixer! - it made my task so much easier.  Fifty minutes later, the kitchen gleaming, my bags picked for Tech, bedroom tidied and house vacuumed, the cake was done, passing the skewer test but a little dry.  I should have checked it earlier!
If I think about the aesthetics of the cake, it is important that it looks edible – golden brown on the outside, and usually white and moist on the inside, although yellow today.  Now that I know I can get the cake all lovely and yellow, it will never be the same to me when it’s white inside, although others won’t know the difference.  For the crust, you need to stop baking at the exact right point to get the exact right golden colour, that hue that makes you go “mmmmmm”.

Reference:  Johnston, A. (2008). Ladies, a plate: Traditional home baking. North Shore: Penguin Group (NZ).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Affordances - connection/action properties

Often when I bake, people ask for the recipe.  This kicks off a train of events and a bit of effort is then required from me...

The options are
i) find my recipe book, bring it to Tech, photocopy the relevant pages, which always leads to me thinking "Ooo they'll also like this one", then give or mail the hard copy to my friend
ii) I type up the recipe up with amendments if the original doesn't quite work without tweaking.  Then I need to print it off, give or mail the hard copy, or email it
iii) I scan the original and email the picture

So, earlier this year I started a blog with my recipes on it, with the intention of adding to it each time someone asks me for a recipe.
That way, they are responsible for the printing and also have the option to just have their laptop sitting open while they bake, which is what I often do when trying a new recipe.
Now I just need to memorise the blog address!

Affordances - moral properties

I initially thought that baking and gift giving would be perceived as "good"activities in a moral sense.  But, my flatmate has asked me not to make too much baking for him, as he has been talking about diets and slimming down.  Perhaps he views baking to have "bad" attributes.  As Johnston (2008) states, when discussing how eccentric baking can be perceived these days "Worst still, most baking begins with creaming together butter and sugar, probably the most feared items in our Western diet; we are trained to feel guilty just at the thought of eating them" (p. 7).

Michael Pollan also explores ideas of 'good' and 'bad' food in his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma".  This  book is centred around the dilemma that faces all omnivores today:  what to eat?  Although based in an American culture, I could identify with the demonisation of certain foods and people taking their food advice from governments, and experts, rather than deciding for themselves.

This reference helped me think about baking as being part of a tradition, of recipes handed from person to person, often within families.  Pollan also made me think about loss of tradition, how knowledge about something as simple as eating food has become divorced from our psyche and has become the domain of experts.  We are no longer allowed to enjoy food, but have to analyse each choice.  Baking doesn’t fit into this modern paradigm, echoing Johnston's sentiments.
When offering my biscuits to my classmates, there were a few who seemed conflicted about having a second, even though I was saying I needed to get rid of them.  This meant I had to be a bit of a bully and appeal to their inner child, who really wanted a biscuit, I could tell!

Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Affordances - communication

Last Thursday, after consultation with a classmate, I decided to make belly button biscuits (according to a recipe from my friend Svar) to share with my class at the Friday PIO2 tutorial as a surprise gift.  People seemed happy and enjoyed eating the biscuits, and it was nice to be called "sweet" by one classmate :-)  We didn't have much verbal conversation about the sharing of the food, but the non-verbal messages were adequate.
Haley & McKay (2004) found that participants in their study on the benefits of baking in acute inpatient mental health care "had all baked a product, they had something in common with each other and, therefore, had something to discuss" (p. 127).  I often find when I give baking away that people start talking about their favourite recipe, or one that someone else makes that is their favourite, and so a sort of funny conversation that comprises each person taking turns to list their favourite recipes begins!
The capacity for gift giving is implicit in the activity of baking.  How often would you bake a batch of biscuits or a cake and not share the results?
Another type of communication that is required for baking is negotiation, for space and time in my flat kitchen.  It rarely needs to be done, because in an unspoken way I simply cook when my flatmate is out, or at a time that fits within his kitchen rhythms, and vice versa.

Reference: Haley, L. & McKay, E.A. (2004) 'Baking gives you confidence': Users' views of engaging in the occupation of baking. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(3), 125-128.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ergonomics of baking - analysis of the environment

The kitchen environment you have available to you definitely impacts on your ability to bake.  The last time I cooked, I decided to make cupcakes, because my flatmate has muffin tins which afford me to make cupcakes.  I've made them before in a cake tin by squashing in all the cupcake holders together, but they came out square, so muffin tins are much better!

When it comes to cooking and baking equipment, I thought I'd accumulated just the right amount over the years, but when I moved into my new flat, I discovered a few things I didn't have and would quite like: electric beater, muffin tins, cake racks.  These extra things make it easier to bake and give me more options.  I also like the fact that the kitchen bench here is nice and low, which fits with my small stature.

Annabel Langbein, in Anyone can bake (2010) states confidently that we only need 17 items in the kitchen to bake successfully - one day I'll have to compare my list to hers.  On the other hand, Susan Campbell has published 268 pages of cooking implements in her 1980 manual of kitchen implements.  This tells me that the equipment you need depends on the person.

If I think about social factors - does baking fit into my overall environment? Yes, it's socially acceptable for a woman in New Zealand to bake - people are pleased with the results but not surprised that I can do this.  Johnston (2008) talks about how people in today's society view baking as "eccentric" and that it used to be the normal response to "the birth of a baby, the arrival of a new neighbour or a sudden bereavement" (p. 7).  I like to think I'm keeping the traditions of my Nana and my Mum alive when I bake for occasions and gifts.

Johnston helped me to put my activity of baking into a historical and cultural context.  Johnston explores the history of baking in New Zealand in her introduction.  She writes about how community organizations often created a collective cookbook for fundraising purposes and mentions the personal quality of the recipes, eg ‘Grandma’s buns’, an example from my cookbook.  Johnston writes of baking being a way of communicating with neighbours in time of need and celebration.  She also places baking in a modern context, as an activity that is often seen as time-consuming, and perhaps not worth the time.
If I think about the impact an observer would have on the activity, I think of me mucking up ingredients when I've tried to have a conversation at the same time as bake.  Then I think about baking with my mother as an observer.  At this point in my life, I find it impossible to bake with her present, as she constantly interferes, by making comments about my inadequacy as a baker and actually putting ingredients in when I'm not looking!


Campbell, S. (1980) Cooks' tools: The complete manual of kitchen implements and how to use them. William Morrow & Company, Inc: New York
Johnston, A. (2008) Ladies, a plate: Traditional home baking. Penguin Group (NZ): North Shore
Langbein, A. (2010) Anyone can bake. Annabel Langbein Books: Remuera

Ergonomics of baking - analysis of the activity

When I think about time requirements of baking, I think of it as time consuming, and appropriate for days when I have free time. Last time I baked, I had about four hours free, and that felt about right, although I didn't use all the time up.  Alexa Johnston (2008) sums it up perfectly like this

I am often asked how I find the time, since many imagine that baking takes ages to do and should be well down the list of priorities for a busy woman today.  But making time to do something I enjoy so much is not really a challenge and it needn't be frightfully time consuming anyway.  You can achieve great results in less than an hour - and brilliant ones if you just take a little longer...(p. 7)
For me, I can make biscuits in half an hour, but it is so much nicer to take a full hour.  So yes, you can do the activity in a different way and get the same outcome.

On that note, sometimes you can change the ingredients, but that requires a bit of skill or experience.  For people with not a lot of skill, there are countless baking 'manuals' out there, aka cookbooks.

One thing that baking requires is a lot of focus.  If I'm talking to someone else while I do it, I often miss out ingredients or put in the wrong quantities, whether it's a new recipe or one I'm familiar with, so for me, it's probably best if I do it as a solitary activity or ask someone of equal competence to complete certain tasks.

Baking also requires you to have use of your hands.  In her book Cooks' tools: The complete manual of kitchen implements and how to use them (1980) Susan Campbell devotes the first section to hands, stating "Hands may be regarded as an integral part of any tool..." (p. 7) then goes on to mention that no implement is better than hands, for example when rubbing butter or kneading dough.  I think baking would be very difficult to bake with one hand, and almost impossible with no hands, but this woman would probably disagree with me:

Campbell, S. (1980) Cooks' tools: The complete manual of kitchen implements and how to use them. William Morrow and Company, Inc: New York

Johnston, A. (2008) Ladies, a plate: Traditional home baking. Penguin Group (NZ): North Shore

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ergonomics of baking - analysis of the person

The question is: how does baking fit with me as a person?

On Wednesday, I baked cupcakes for my flatmate’s son’s 9th birthday, in place of a gift.  See the post above for a photo.  This fits in with a recent philosophy of mine: since I’ve returned to studying, my finances have been stretched, and last year I decided to bake sweet treats for birthdays and gifts instead of buying gifts.  I place a strong value on recognising important events in life with a gift, especially birthdays.  I also like to give something to say ‘Thank you’, or if someone is ill.  Therefore, baking fits me from a financial point of view and also spiritually, as it fits in with my values around gift giving.

I feel competent baking, as my Mum taught me the skills when I was a child.  Even though this current zest for baking is relatively recent, I can recall the basics and find following a recipe is a challenge I can meet easily, while I also have confidence to experiment.

I have time to bake, as I work from home as an occupational therapy student, and this semester has more “free time”.

While thinking about my motivation/preference to bake, I realised that I do view it as a bit of a chore, but a necessary one while I cannot afford to buy gifts.  If I have the time and am relaxed, baking can be rewarding to me, but my preference without the financial pressure would probably be to bake a lot less than I do right now.

Hopefully baking will become a habit during these three years of financial pressure and something I will continue to value.  Perhaps I view it negatively sometimes because I miss having my disposable income and see handmade gifts as a reminder of that loss.

But, like participants in a study by Haley & McKay (2004), the sense of achievement of making something and being “able to keep it or to share it with others was beneficial” (p. 127).  This feeling overrides any little niggles about the precious time it takes to bake - the sense of pride is worth it.

Reference: Haley, L. & McKay E. A. (2004). ‘Baking gives you confidence’: Users’ views of engaging in the occupation of baking. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67(3), 125-128.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Birthday cupcakes

Here are some cupcakes I made for my flatmate's son, who turned nine yesterday.  They were well received, except he thought the '9' was a 'g' and was a bit confused :)

I used a tried and trusted recipe, but had forgotten about needing to decorate the top.  I found some candles in a drawer and used chocolate chippies to write his name.

To me, baking something like this, a gift, could be viewed as creating an artefact, a work of art, rather than just labour.  Reading Thomas Green's Work, leisure, and the American schools helped me think about how baking fits into Hannah Arendt’s framework or work, leisure, and labour.

By reading Green, I realised that baking as I do, for gifts, does create an artefact of sorts, but because that artefact is food, which is ultimately consumed, baking comes under the “labour” set of activities.  Also, according to Green, labour is concerned with those matters in life that occur in cycles, such as seasons, and life and death.  I bake when events occur in people’s lives, to celebrate life and loss.

Green, T. F. (1968). Work, leisure, and the American schools. New York: Random House.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Practical considerations

Things I need to think about to make this happen:
  • ingredients - I'll have to go to the supermarket more often than once every 10 days!  My flatmate helps out with supplies too.
  • space - I have a great kitchen in my flat with good working spaces and a working oven, and a Kenwood chef (see below).
  • equipment - our kitchen is really well equipped.
  • time - I already bake for at least an hour every week, so will probably need to add a baking session to my week.  I can fit this in on Wednesdays, when I don't have any school.
  • consumers - my flatmate is on a diet and has asked me to stop making so many nice, sweet, treats.  I may have to start bringing the results to tech!