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?

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!