Jennifer Crawford feels a particular sense of satisfaction when an Instagram post — a “gender repeal” cake that reads “I’m a they,” for instance — leads to a purge of followers.
“Whenever I post anything queer, there’s a big drop,” the 39-year-old home cook said in a phone interview in May. “It used to bother me, but now I really appreciate it when I lose a bunch of followers at once. I call it ‘weeding the IG garden.’ It’s lovely to know just the right ones are sticking around.”
Mx. Crawford won $100,000 on “MasterChef Canada” in 2019, after which they moved, with their partner, Logan Aubé, a software engineer, from a 400-square-foot windowless Toronto apartment to Mx. Crawford’s hometown: a village in Hants County, Nova Scotia, population 916.
There the couple bought a 7,000-square-foot 1866 farmhouse, and the rural fixer-upper fantasy that ensued has been thoroughly documented on Instagram.
“For a long time it was taken for granted that in order to exist freely as a queer person you had to go to a city,” Mx. Crawford said. Instead, they found freedom in a rural region: “The closeness of the community means that people are really interested in understanding you. Everyone relies on each other. We all need each other. Especially now.”
The farmhouse doesn’t have an oven yet, so the couple cooks with an induction burner and a toaster oven. “Most of my food is just me trying to make special stuff out of whatever is in the pantry,” Mx. Crawford said.
That often means subverting supermarket treats like Pop Tarts using rye flour and beets, or making “arancheezies,” a traditional Italian rice ball rolled in crushed Cheezies, a cheese puff popular in Canada, then fried.
Their Pandemic Life
These days, Mx. Crawford wakes up at around 6 a.m., makes coffee and then chooses which color of neon eye shadow to wear. They often spend the day in Garfield print pajamas and a side ponytail, pumping iron out in the barn or tearing up linoleum and demolishing cupboards in the kitchen.
In Nova Scotia, social distancing is made easier by the wide open spaces; still, Mx. Crawford only goes to the supermarket about twice a month. The rest of the time they get food delivered from Wolfville Farmer’s Market, a local farmers’ community.
“Before this even started we were connected to this powerful local food distribution model that was built by the farmers,” Mx. Crawford said. Supermarket trips are for essentials like Cheezies, pepperoni and gelatin (“for all the jelly molds I’ve been making,” they said).
Mx. Crawford’s Instagram output has increased during quarantine, leading to a book deal with House of Anansi Press for a memoir to be published in the fall of 2021 and a weekly column for Daily Xtra, an L.G.B.T.Q. magazine in Canada, called “My Queer Kitchen.” In a recent piece, Mx. Crawford wrote about the importance of comfort. “Comfort is political: Who has the most access to it, how we create it for ourselves, how we create it for others.”
Mx. Crawford is deliberate about their word choices, identifying as “gender creative” over other non-cis labels: “Gender felt like something weird that never quite fit, like I had to study everyone to learn how to do it right,” they said. “People can call themselves whatever they like. I’m not someone who knew what they were their whole life. I still barely know.”
Cooking and Renovating as Therapy
Mx. Crawford, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober since 2018, said that overcoming addiction is about more than just not drinking; it’s about getting in touch with their true self. That has included reconnecting to old hobbies like crochet and wrestling, and finding new interests and passions.
Last Mother’s Day, Mx. Crawford’s maternal aunt, Bernie Bryden, died. Well before Instagram, Mx. Crawford’s aunt kept pictures of her favorite culinary creations in a photo album. “She would develop the photos, scan them and email them to me.”
It was during a visit home last spring, to see Aunt Bernie during her final days, that Mx. Crawford realized it was time to make a move and have more fun in the kitchen. Their most widely reproduced recipe is an irreverent take on the classic pâté en croûte, using donair meat, a popular Halifax street food created in the 1970s as a homage to the gyro.
Much of Mx. Crawford’s content comes from a nostalgic place. Moon Mist ice cream, a popular flavor combination found on Canada’s east coast, is an unlikely swirl of grape, banana and bubble gum, the colors reminiscent of a My Little Pony mane. Mx. Crawford makes a home-style version of the ice cream, but also reimagines it in cake form, as a terrazzo-tile-inspired jelly mold creation and as a mural in one of the farmhouse bedrooms.
Simon Thibault, a cookbook author and James Beard judge, is a fan. “Delicious things can be made out of the most pedestrian ingredients,” Mr. Thibault said. “I think that’s where Crawford is brilliant.”
Mr. Thibault, 43, lives in Halifax today but grew up in Church Point, Nova Scotia. “I came out in ’93 in a village of 300 people,” he said. “Having someone like Jennifer choosing to have a rural existence in a place like this is a step in the right direction toward giving queer people a sense that they belong and can have that rural experience.”
Mx. Crawford said that five years ago, they couldn’t even post a Facebook update without feeling anxious. “I was obsessed with how people saw me. I was traumatized, and an active alcoholic,” they said. “Now I’m comfortable filming stuff and just posting it on the fly.”
Now Mx. Crawford is using their platform to raise awareness again. Recently, they joined #BakersAgainstRacism, a virtual bake sale to raise money for an emergency bail fund for queer and trans activists. A pink cake with blue frosting that said “Defund The Police” raised about $400.
“Maybe ‘Abolish The Police’ will be my next one,” they said.