Baking is Cheaper Than Therapy

A woman navigating a socially-fraught world with a cookie as her compass

 

Resolutions Pumpkin Roll

 

By Alysia Sawchyn

 

My partner and I spent a small amount of time this past week bickering/discussing the role of family during the holidays. On Thanksgiving, we went to both his and my parents’ houses on the same day—though, thankfully, only ate one meal—and Christmas has sprawled into a multi-day, four-house event. 

As an only child who moved away at seventeen, I haven’t spent most holidays with family (see September’s post for how that jokingly—sort of—got me started baking), and those I have were always less-than-traditional. 

It’s comical, how opposite our families seem on the surface: “Dear Abbey, my partner’s family is large, conservative, and traditional, and mine is not. How do we reconcile the holidays without resentment?” 

On Thanksgiving, we pulled up to his parents’ large split-level to his two brothers (one wearing a backward baseball cap) clambering over the roof putting up Christmas lights. 

“It’s so—” I couldn’t find the right word. Wholesome? Not really, if you know them. American? I’m not sure what that even means. Hallmark-esque? Yes. 

Later, we—the brothers, my partner, and their cousin—played catch in the front yard. The Rockwellian haze was only broken when my youngest brother-in-law made a joke about domestic violence. Or perhaps that actually continued it, depending on your opinions of Rockwell. I learned that day, too, that my father-in-law doesn’t believe in climate change.

 “I’ve spent time with your parents without complaining,” my partner argued. 

He made a fair point. I’ve done a fair amount of eye-rolling and foot-stomping in anticipation of the Christmas sprawl. Not my proudest moments, I’ll admit. I’ve never had to spend so much time with people whose views made me uncomfortable because they chafed against who I am. 

My family is far from perfect. An example: My now-deceased racist grandmother. (My father, if he reads this, will probably say she was not racist, but a “product of her time,” but I’m going to go ahead and keep that word.) But when I saw her, which was only once a year, and she said something awful, one of my parents quickly stepped in and gently corrected her. 

At my partner’s house, us “liberals”—his father’s semi-affectionate term—are in the minority. I imagine my saying, “Please stop telling me about your ‘Asian friend’ because you think I’m inherently interested in her or because you want to show how open-minded you are,” accompanied by the cartoon sound of tires screeching to halt and wind-whipping as so many blond heads turn to stare. 

And that is a best-case scenario in my imaginings. As I’ve said before, I have an off/on temperament when it comes to standing up for my viewpoints and myself; polite disagreement or intelligent argument eludes me when it comes to social justice and personhood. 

By the time you read this, I’ll have already attended all four gatherings. I’ll likely have done it smiling, and I may even have had an okay time at some of them, in spite of my own forebodings. My partner and I now have a plan-of-action for interceding during racist/homophobic/sexist remarks, something which we probably should’ve done sooner. 

My point? In my case—and I emphasize my case because there are so many families that are much, much different than ours, outright malicious and hurtful, both physically and emotionally—I’ll suck it up and stick it out because I care about my partner and he cares about his family. I don’t believe in obligation to blood, but I’ve chosen to spend my time with him. He turned out really well. Perhaps I’m sentimental because of the season, but one of my resolutions for the coming year is to whine less and do more good instead. Wish me luck as I move forward in learning to speak out more in a productive, assertive fashion.  

Therapy homework:

Bake a resolution pumpkin roll for a friend who is unable to spend his holidays alongside his family. Remember how fortunate you are and strive to do better (complain less) next year.

 

Resolutions Pumpkin Roll

(Adapted from Libby’s.)

Equipment:

clean dishtowel
cookie sheet
cooling rack
parchment paper

Ingredients
for cake:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 & 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin

for filling:

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
6 tbs. unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

other:

1/4 cup powdered sugar
cooking spray

 Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the dry cake ingredients except the sugar.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, and pumpkin. Add in the small bowl’s contents, stirring until combined.

5. Spread the batter onto the lined cookie sheet so it is uniform and roughly the shape of the pan. Bake for about 11 minutes.

6. While the cake is baking, lay the dishtowel on the cooling rack and cover it with the 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

7. Once the cake it cooked, immediately turn it out onto the dishtowel and rack. If you’re the praying type, do so while slowly peeling off the parchment paper off. Roll up the cake and towel together and leave them to cool on the rack.

8. Once the cake is cooled, combine the filling ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.

9. Unroll the cake and use a butter knife to spread the filling over it evenly. Re-roll the now-iced cake (without the dishtowel), wrap it in plastic, and cool it in the refrigerator at least two hours before eating.


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.