A woman navigating a socially-fraught world with a cookie as her compass
Madeleines for Mad Times
By Alysia Sawchyn
I sometimes affectionately refer to my partner as “the WASPiest WASP.” Tall, thin, with light hair and blue eyes, he is the fairest person I’ve met who lives in Florida year-round. And though his family is Catholic and from the state, rather than Protestant and from the East Coast, their mannerisms and trappings are oddly similar.
His mother—along with the rest of her family—attended Auburn. Post graduation, she worked briefly as a flight attendant until she met his father and settled in as a stay-at-home mom, golfing and volunteering between raising three boys, each born within two years of the previous one. There are scandalous secrets of grandparents’ breakdowns blamed on children, inheritance intrigues, and financial successes. My partner’s father, who first retired in his early forties, owns a cattle ranch on 1,200 acres of land.
The ranch house is big and beautiful, with four bedrooms, each with their own attached bath, and a kitchen that feels as big as our one-bedroom apartment and that in reality has more storage space. One perk of dating this particular Florida-WASP: We sometimes get to stay at the ranch house on long weekends and pretend it is our own.
During our most recent stay there, my partner’s father (whom, for the sake of the brevity, I’ll call my father-in-law for the remainder of this) came by one afternoon to mow the grass closest to the house where the cows do not graze and attend to the bulls. In between these tasks, which he leaves to his full-time ranch hand during the week, my father-in-law sat in the spacious entry room with my partner while I hunched over my laptop at the dining room table, maybe ten feet away.
My father-in-law is conservative: He is a die-hard Republican who, though sometimes socially liberal—pro-choice and pro marriage equality—is not above the occasional racist remark about job loss or crime. He enjoys baiting/debating my partner, the verb choice dependent on who is describing the action.
I am left out of these conversations; my father-in-law once commented I must be “some kind of English-department liberal.” And how. I think he leaves me out because he does not want to offend me, though he clearly enjoys disagreement. And I struggle because I am left out and I am usually in his home when these conversations happen and because when it comes to discussing social justice I have two settings: off and fluorescent-on.
My father-in-law is voting for Donald Trump*, which I expected, but still can’t believe. “He hates both the candidates,” my partner says in his father’s defense. “He just hates Trump less.” This is where I come in with expletives.
I tuned in and out of their ranch-house conversation about the upcoming election.
“Why do you hate her so much?” my partner asks.
My father-in-law’s answer: During the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky affair twenty years ago, he had to explain to his maybe-five-year-old son, my partner’s brother, what a blowjob was.
I wish I was making this up.
I didn’t laugh, though what he said is laughable. How ridiculous that your petty, twenty-year-old grudge outweighs the well-being of millions. Spoiler: Your son is now twenty-five and, I’m pretty sure, likes blowjobs just fine.
Though it’s easier and less painful to shut my eyes and plug my ears to this shitshow of an election, to make jokes about those whose beliefs and values are so different from mine, it’s important for those of us with families and close friends who have problematic or outdated belief systems to engage with them.
I’m going to go ahead and say this: Many of us who have family and friends who hold these beliefs are privileged, though our identities may be complicated and twisting. Let’s try to do some concrete good. All the funny memes and social media postings (this blog included) combined do less toward enacting change than sitting down with another human being and having a conversation.
Bake mad-times madeleines. Once cooled, take a handful and walk to your partner’s desk. Tap him on the shoulder. Make yourself a space on his lap and feed him a cookie. While he chewing and happy, ask him, “How are you going to talk your father out of voting for Trump?” Come up with a conversation-starter.
You will need madeleine pans for these; however, if Julia Child is to be believed—and she is—the batter works just as well cooked in large, sturdy open seashells or muffin pans (though if you use the latter the cookies will lose their distinctive shape).
Mad-Times Madeleines (adapted from Williams and Sonoma):
6 tbs. unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tbs. honey
1/2 heaping cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 orange’s zest
1 lemon’s zest
1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Beat butter with sugars.
3. Add salt and honey, then eggs, one at a time. Mix well after each addition.
4. Beat in flour, baking powder, and zest until mixture is evenly combined. Let sit.
5. Butter baking tins and put them in the fridge for two minutes. Once they are chilled, re-butter and coat with flour, tapping against the sink to get rid of excess.
6. Using two teaspoons, scoop the batter into the tins. Put in less than seems necessary.
7. Bake for 8ish minutes.
8. Let the cookies rest very briefly before tapping them out.
* It is my sincere hope this will be my last post that mentions this man.
Alysia Sawchyn currently lives in Tampa, Florida. Her writing has appeared in Indiana Review, Midwestern Gothic, Burrow Press Review, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art and a nonfiction editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection. She can be found on Twitter @happiestwerther.