Back-to-school Baguette

Back-to-school Baguette

 

I’m spending part of this Labour Day baking baguettes. It’s a cool and rainy day and tolerable to have the oven on. I’m glad to have a bit of baking therapy to help me get over the back-to-school anxiety pervading the house. And this way the sandwiches on the first day of school will be amazing.

On our summer holiday this year we spent a few days in Quebec City. One day we walked all over the Plains of Abraham, the fort and the old city. (Thank you, National Battlefields Commission, for such an informative website about the whole struggle for Quebec, and not just the battle on September 13, 1759. And I learned a new word: justaucorps, the long fitted eighteenth-century coat.)

We paused for lunch in the glorious Jardin des Gouverneurs, overlooking the St. Lawrence, with a big monument to Wolfe and Montcalm, the victor and the vanquished.

20170817_124101We bought our lunch at a little grocery store nearby. The non-celiacs had baguette with ham and cheese, reportedly absolutely delicious. I promised the family then that I would make baguette in time for the first day of school. This week I stocked up on ham and Jarlsberg, and here I am baking the bread.

One piece of specialized equipment can be used here: the baguette pan. You can also make your own out of several layers of aluminum foil (more relaxing handwork) or just bake the loaves on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. They will spread a bit that way, but still be delicious. 20160422_143831

The recipe is from my old favourite, Kneadlessly Simple. As with all the recipes in that book, you start the day before by mixing up the sponge so that it can rise overnight. The dough could not be simpler to mix up. Then, the next day there is a certain amount of forming and shaping. This is where the anxiety-calming occurs: sprinkling a handful of flour over the pieces of dough, forming rectangles, folding and rolling, and finally slitting the narrow loaves with a sharp knife. I’ve made this bread enough times that I can feel when the dough is the right texture and it’s somehow comforting to know this with my body rather than my brain.

Here is the basic recipe. I always double it since the children can eat a batch in the wink of an eye.

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast
1 1/2 cups cold water, or a bit more

Method

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix (with a wooden spoon or dough whisk) until spongy but still quite firm. Add a bit more water if the dough is too floury. Cover with a silicone mat and leave overnight to rise.

The next day, the dough will look quite wet with little bubbles on top. Scatter a handful of flour over the top and massage it into the bread. As the dough becomes less wet, start kneading it with one hand (leaving the other hand clean for touching your tap or knives or whatever). When it feels dry and squishy and springy, dump it out onto a silicone mat with a little flour dusted on it. Cut the lump of dough in two and leave it alone for ten minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and make shaping easier. 20160422_143827

In the meantime, oil your nifty french bread pan or whatever pan you are using.

After ten minutes, start shaping your dough. Push it into a rectangle about the shape of a piece of paper and fold it in thirds as if you were folding a letter. Then make it into the same size of rectangle, but this time roll it along the long side so that you have a sort of snake. Pinch the edges well together and continue rolling your snake until it’s the same length as your loaf pan. Put the snake in the loaf pan and slash the tops diagonally three or four times with a serrated knife. Admire the professional effect.

20170904_130337

Allow to rise for 45 minutes to two hours, whatever works best for your schedule. About 20 minutes before you want to bake, put a broiler pan or cookie sheet in the bottom of your oven and turn it on to 500°F.

When the oven is hot, spray the loaves with water and put the pan towards the back of the oven. I use the middle rack, but a lower rack may work better in your oven. Carefully pour 1 cup of cold water into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. Shut the door quickly to capture the steam. Turn the oven down to 475°F.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, and then remove the pan from the oven. The loaves will look somewhat solid and slightly coloured. Using a palette knife or thin spatula, loosen the loaves and slide them onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. Put back in the oven for 6-8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 4-6 minutes. These times are a bit approximate and will depend on your oven.

Then remove your glorious loaves and allow them to cool. I will guard mine until it’s time for the lunches to be made.

And…breathe.

 

 

 

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The OCDSB has, in two recent decisions, decided to sentence all high school age children in Overbrook and Vanier to a bus commute to a suburban school, Gloucester High School. On March 7, the board voted to close Rideau High School, after vigourous opposition from the community. This decision ensures that all children in the English stream in Overbrook and Vanier would be sent to Gloucester High School. I wrote a letter after their initial vote and attended the meeting at which the final vote was taken. An excerpt from my letter:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with your vote to close Rideau High School, and to urge you to change your vote the next time around.
Rideau High School serves a very special community within Ottawa. It has a high number of indigenous and Inuit students, as well as a high proportion of new Canadians. The programs that are in place there work well and there is no compelling argument that setting them up again at a school that is further away will provide any improvement. 
There is significant evidence to suggest that students in need do better at smaller schools. A growing body of research shows that it is particularly important for students in high school to have physical activity built into their day. Walking or cycling to Rideau High currently provides at least part of that. Gloucester High School is not at all a pleasant place to cycle to, and putting high school students on buses will not improve their mental or physical health. 
I understand the point that Rideau High School is underpopulated at the moment. I have seen no evidence of creative problem-solving on the part of the board to deal with this issue. Closing the school seems to be a very blunt instrument; in recent years, Viscount Alexander was also under threat of closure and has seen something of a Renaissance once a French immersion program was introduced there. 
Last night saw me again at the headquarters of the OCDSB on Greenbank Road. (I booked a Vrtucar; because I got home at 10, the spouse returned it so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. How jolly it will be to book a car every time I need to get the children’s high school: read on).

Our school trustee made the following motion:

Trustee Ellis has given notice that he intends to move as follows at the Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 21 March 2017:

Therefore be it resolved:

A. THAT starting in the school year 2017-2018, grade nine students residing in the York Street Public School grade 7 to 8 English attendance boundary east of the Rideau River, and south of Beechwood and Hemlock be directed to LisgarCollegiate Institute (see attached map);

B. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, grade nine students residing in the Manor Park English attendance boundary (see attached map) be directed to Lisgar Collegiate Institute; and

C. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, Lisgar Collegiate Institute will accept grade nine students to the Gifted Congregated program if Lisgar Collegiate Institute is the closest high school offering that program to where the student resides. (This will create space for students from the above areas.)

I spoke in favour of the motion, noting that we live in Overbrook, 2.4 km from Lisgar, a safe and pleasant walk or bike ride for our grade 9 student.  Sending the children of Overbrook and Vanier to Gloucester would take them away from this reasonable commute and send them on to a very unsafe bike lane on Ogilvie, or more likely, the bus. We have no interest in sending our children to a suburban school, 5 km from our house, along an appallingly unsafe bike route, unprotected from vehicular traffic.  Here is some video of the bike lane on Ogilvie. The OCTranspo quick planner tells me that the route from my house to Gloucester High School involves 3 buses and would take 45 minutes (on good days when the connections work, of course).  There is also a two bus option taking 56 minutes. Friends in Vanier, living over 7 km from Gloucester High School, have a number of options, ranging from 38 to 56 minutes and two of those options involve 3 buses. My child can ride his bike to Lisgar in 10 minutes.
Several delegations spoke at last night’s meeting, and all were in favour of the motion. The board then voted against the motion. I am appalled that the board did so and now proposes to send all students from some of the poorest areas in Ottawa to a suburban school. Two other high schools are closer to my house than Gloucester: Glebe and Hillcrest.
Study after study has shown that the best outcomes for children occur when active transportation is built into their day. Further studies have shown that walkable neighbourhoods have more social capital. The school board seems to be disregarding recent social studies research in its decisions, to say the least. I thought the Prime Minister said when he was sworn in that we were in a new age of evidence-based decision making. The PM has no sway at the OCDSB, of course, although if his children went to high school in that board they would be going to Lisgar.
We bought a house about 3 km from Parliament Hill so that we could raise our children in an urban environment. We have endured the bussing during elementary school from our house to Manor Park PS with the expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel come high school. The board’s decision ensures that no child in French Immersion living in Ottawa or Vanier can walk or bike to school DURING THEIR ENTIRE SCHOOL CAREER FROM JK TO GRADE 12. I am enraged. Please excuse the yelling.
My fury is not abated by the fact that a neighbourhood significantly further away from Lisgar than ours, Lindenlea-New Edinburgh-Rockcliffe Park, continues to be able to send its children to Lisgar. Lisgar is much more my neighbourhood high school than it is theirs. If I lived in Lindenlea, my house would be about 4.8 km from Lisgar and an 18-minute bike ride. I can only conclude that the school board continues to draw its boundaries along class lines.
I turned to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study for more information. Their website notes: We are a team that brings together the University of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, local Community Health & Resource Centres, Ottawa Public Health, United Way/Centraide Ottawa, The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, and other community-based partners. Our goal is to better understand the neighbourhoods in which we live, work and play in order to offer evidence about the dimensions that are important for community health and well-being. We also provide the City of Ottawa, health service providers, social service agencies, community organizations and residents with information on 107 neighbourhoods in Ottawa in order to help them to identify what is working well, and where community development is needed.
The survey provides the following information. The percentage of the population in the bottom half of the Canadian income distribution is 61.9 % for Overbrook-McArthur; 53.9% for Vanier North; 22.4% for Rockcliffe Park; and 25.6 % for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The average percentage for Ottawa is 35.3%. Furthermore, median income after taxes is $25117 for Overbrook-McArthur; $28848 for Vanier North; $43788 for Rockcliffe Park; and $46050 for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh. The average median income for all of Ottawa is $35554.90.
I am not arguing that the residents of Rockcliffe Park etc. should stop sending their children to Lisgar. The bus routes from those neighbourhoods to Gloucester High School are similarly daft. I am pointing out the injustice that the children of  Overbrook and Vanier,who live much closer to Lisgar, and whose families are much less able to weather the extra expense and strain of having children attending a school much further away, are being shifted before those in wealthy neighbourhoods who live further away from Lisgar.
The school board is using the French Immersion children of Overbrook and Vanier in order to bolster an already bad decision to close Rideau High School. The board needs to show high levels of enrolment at Gloucester for next year in order to be able to pronounce the closure a success. This is a face-saving, self-serving exercise and is bad for the children of my neighbourhood.
Overbrook and Vanier children need to be able to use active transportation to get to school, and would benefit immensely from the Lisgar environment. The school board appears to be set on a series of policies (the closure of Rideau High School and now this) that would hollow out an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood that needs all the help it can get. This is not the way to plan for a successful future for our community.
The reason that the board is drawing the boundary this way is that residents of wealthier neighbourhoods have better contacts, more social capital, more time to spend on activism and are more adroit at navigating administrative systems. The poor cannot do this so well. The OCDSB does not want a posse of Lindenlea parents screaming bloody murder. I am an Overbrook resident with a lot of social capital myself, so watch me: BLOODY MURDER.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

I celebrated this day, as I do every year and indeed every day, by doing unpaid work at home. pipeToday I hung out some wash for the first time this season; I love hanging out laundry and usually put out the first load when snow still covers the garden, as is the case today. Last year part of my celebration was unclogging the kitchen drain at 8:30 at night. I don’t feel unappreciated in my unpaid work. The children and the spouse often thank me for it, and notice how much I do. This work is not invisible nor is it unappreciated.

What I’m thinking about most today is my paid work. You may have noticed the long gap in posts last fall. I stepped out of the slow lane and took a job teaching second-year history  during the fall term at Carleton University here in Ottawa. I had taught there from 2003-2008, starting when the teenager was one year old and I was finishing my dissertation, and stopping just before the birth of Little, our third child. I was inspired to reapply as a contract lecturer (also know as a sessional) last spring, when I took the children to Discovery Day at the Carleton University Library. I remembered how much I love just being at a university; I like being around students and books and learning. Carleton is also an especially pleasant university. There is an atmosphere of kindness, coupled with a rigourous degree of administrative competence that I find very appealing. This was the Christmas decoration in the library this year. Nice, eh? tree

So I applied to teach Early Modern European History, a course I had taught before in a somewhat different guise. I’m a medieval historian, so it’s a pretty good fit. I prepared my course over the summer and in September started to teach my 35 students in a nice sunny classroom. I was able to bike to work well into November. Lovely.

I’d like to get the question of white privilege and intersectionality out of the way right now. I positively reek of the middle class. I am white and university-educated, married to a university-educated man. We live in a detached house. My parents are university-educated, and so are my inlaws. I make no claims here to being oppressed on the same scale as women enduring privation and oppression around the world, coping with poverty and lack of advantage. And yet… and yet I am noticing that I am working in a pink ghetto. The pay is terrible, the benefits are minimal, the pension provisions non-existent, the chance of advancement zero.

 

The job itself was as I remembered. I was nervous at first but then settled in. My class helped a lot with this, since they were energetic, engaged, enthusiastic and talkative. I was so impressed with them. I had been worried that they would all be on their phones the whole time, but most of them looked straight at me for the entire class, waiting for enlightenment. They were very surprised when one day I enlightened them about types of British medieval sheep breeds. Man, I love that stuff. I became comfortable with lecturing again, and this time because I am older perhaps I allowed myself a more informal style. I can happily confirm that I still know how to think and write and advise, and I still love thinking about history as much as ever.

I can also confirm that being a contract lecturer is just as irritating as always. At one point a few weeks into the term I thought, “Ah, yes, I remember this. Doing a job you love, and pretty well at that, with no job security, poor pay and no hope for advancement is really annoying.”  I am appreciated and noticed at home; at work I feel invisible. The only reason I can afford to work as a sessional at all is that my children are old enough so that our household has no daycare costs. Otherwise, it would not be even remotely worth it. And why do I want this job? I trained for it, I can do it, and I want the flexibility of a part-time job. All those degrees mean that we came a bit late to starting our family. All female academics face this dilemma. The end of the PhD often coincides with the beginning of panic about procreation. The few years that women have left in their thirties to bear children are also supposed to be the years of the further apprenticeship leading to the tenure-track job: post-doctoral fellowships, conference presentations, the writing of articles and books. I chose to spend my thirties in raising children, and now I would like to teach part-time. But I also want to be paid well for it.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail put it very well: “if you pay women less than men, they feel devalued in the workplace….” (Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management). That’s just it; I feel devalued in the workplace.

Let me explain. I make exactly the same amount as my male counterparts who work as contract instructors: about $7000 per half course. Before the latest round of collective bargaining, CIs at Carleton were the second worst-paid in Ontario.  Details of the new contract are not yet available. A full course load for a tenured or tenure-track professor is two courses. If I taught that much, I would gross $28,000. I had a look at the figures, published by Ontario law, of those faculty at the university paid over $100,000 per year. On the low end: $121,000; on the high end, $141,000. Some faculty of course do not appear on this list, since they earn less than $100,000. The starting salary of an assistant professor in 2016 was $68,590. Tenured and tenure-track faculty supervise graduate students, serve on committees and do their academic research. They work hard. But are you seriously trying to tell me that those additional duties are worth at least $40,000 a year more than teaching two courses?

It is galling to work as a university instructor with the same level of education (almost all of us have PhDs) side by side with people making so much more money. I bear no animus against tenured faculty. They got lucky; I didn’t. Contract instructors don’t wear signs, so the students can’t tell us fake professors apart from the real ones. I try to bring humanity into my instruction in the humanities, and students respond to that. Over the years I have had people coming to my office hour for career advice (don’t ask me, I got myself into this dead-end job by studying history with skill and enthusiasm) and reassurance. This year, for the first time, a student who had not been in class for a while came in to tell me that he had attempted suicide a number of times over the last month. I sat there stricken with fear for him. Now, luckily, I have a little experience with suicidal people, and was able to treat him as gently and kindly as I knew how. I have worried about him ever since. I’m not teaching this winter, so I never see him on campus. I think that sort of responsibility might be somewhat above my pay grade. I have no training to deal with that; I am not even really part of the institution. Once my contract is up, that’s it.

Among sessionals there is no gender inequity in terms of pay.  The gender inequity at universities exists elsewhere. According to a report on academic staff by gender at Carleton University for 2014-2015, across the university, women made up 40.8% of contract instructors, while their proportion of full professors was 22.1%. The starting salary of a full professor in 2016 was $113,180. We already know what contract instructors make. Recent research notes the following about the situation across Ontario.

A HEQCO [Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario] survey of contract faculty at 23 universities across Ontario in 2014 similarly found that women are overrepresented among the ranks of contract faculty, with 63% of survey respondents identifying as female (Wiggers, 2015). The findings from both of these recent surveys of contract faculty show that the overrepresentation of women in low-paid and precarious academic jobs has increased dramatically in recent decades. While the gender wage gap among tenure-stream academics is narrowing, women are increasingly overrepresented among the ranks of contract faculty. This dynamic is cause for concern because the number of contract faculty positions is increasing, the availability of tenure-stream positions has stalled, and there are few provisions in place to convert contract faculty into full-time positions. OCUFA estimates that the number of courses taught by contract faculty has doubled since 2000. With women overrepresented among the ranks of contract faculty, their opportunities for career progression and increased earnings potential are greatly limited.

Sarah Kaplan noted that there are serious consequences for devaluing women in the workplace: “They’re more likely to drop out of the workplace. You then lose a productive worker in an economy where we’re desperate for talent … There are plenty of economic reasons why we should have equal pay.” Canada’s economy needs me to work, but it is not to the university’s advantage to pay women well enough to keep them in the work force.

What are the prospects for change in gender inequity in universities? Very dim, I think. Universities control the demand for people who study literary theory, or eighteenth century intellectual history, or Greek archaeology. They also control the supply. In recent years, the supply tap has been gushing out PhDs with very little chance of employment. I started graduate school in 1994. The prevailing wisdom then was that masses of tenure-track jobs would be opening as the baby boomers retired. Then compulsory retirement was waived, and universities started to replace courses taught by tenured faculty with those taught by sessionals.  The students think they are getting real professors, but they are getting underpaid facsimiles. I don’t mean that the quality of teaching or level of intellectual sophistication is markedly different between the two types of teachers; what is different is that one sort is well-paid and can live a middle-class life, and the other is paying off student loans, worrying about saving for their children’s education and not living the middle-class dream available to the previous generation. I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what it’s like to be a university instructor and one statement struck me especially hard: “English departments are the only employers demanding the credentials that English doctoral programs produce. So why do we invite young scholars to spend an average of nearly 10 years grading papers, teaching classes, writing dissertations, and training for jobs that don’t actually exist? English departments do this because graduate students are the most important element of the academy’s polarized labor market. They confer departmental prestige. They justify the continuation of tenure lines, and they guarantee a labor surplus that provides the cheap, flexible labor that universities want.”

Universities have created a dual track system. Contract instructors make their budgets go much further. It is in vain to hope that the universities will change a system that works so much to their advantage.  Where I live, the Government of Ontario is in charge of the universities. It is also in charge of labour legislation. I really hope it will take on the responsibility of ending the pink ghetto on Ontario campuses. What I would like to see is meaningful part-time position in Ontario universities, in which the level of remuneration between part-time and full-time positions is aligned. I was astonished to discover that part-time occasional teachers in the Ottawa public school board are paid a pro-rated amount, from the same pay grid used by the full-time employees. Schools and universities both need to pay all employees fairly.

I feel like a fool. I feel like the university is taking my love of my subject and using it against me. I feel even more like a fool because I saw my mother, an anthropologist, go through the exact same thing when I was a child. I am a second-generation sessional. I saw my mother’s PhD hanging on the wall at home; I saw how smart and literate and well-spoken and energetic she was, and I thought, “I want to be just like my mummy.” My eight-year-old daughter announced recently that she wants to be a math professor. Luckily, I have several years to try to sway her opinion.