Invariably, in drama or comedy series I have recently watched, there have been episodes in which one character, at some point, said to another “touché”.

Who talks like that? In daily conversation? Even if trying to be clever and impress the person with whom we are conversing, who thinks of that particular word? Touché? I can honestly say I have never used it once, in all my years of indulging in communication with another human being. Is this a writer’s idea of being urbane? I vote for it being a lazy author’s way of trying to appear worldly. Only, when every other writer is using the same expression, it is no longer a mark of distinction or sophistication.

The definition for this word: acknowledgment, during a discussion, of a good or clever point made at one’s expense by another person. In connection with fencing, it is an acknowledgment of a hit by an opponent. It comes from French; its literal meaning is “touched’.

So, it is a witty response to being outwitted. And it is being overused by those trying to be witty. But it got me to thinking…

My parents were immigrants who arrived in this country in 1950 without two cents in their pockets. With a small child in hand and no knowledge of English, they rented a small place in the Bronx and immediately looked for work. As with most working-class families in New York at the time, both my father and mother had to find jobs. Families such as ours did not possess the luxury of having a stay-at-home parent. My father worked days at a factory and my mother worked night-time shifts as a nurse. By the time I was born, they had started a restaurant and catering business, which meant they worked 24/7. My sister and I grew up in that restaurant. My earliest memories are of helping out, whether at the sink washing dishes or creating a make-shift coat check for the catered parties. 

The role model I grew up with was that of a working mother, a woman who could lift a fifty-pound bag of potatoes and carry it down a flight of stairs, who could roast 200 chicken quarters in a massive oven without blinking an eye, yet who would pick up a book every chance she could to learn English, and was ravishing when dressed to go out in one of the rare occasions when she was an invited guest at a function. Because she never questioned her strength or determination to support her family, I never did. It was a given.

While my mother left early in the morning to pop those chickens into the oven, my father stayed behind to get my sister and I up and off to school. I remember his braiding my unruly hair and preparing these incredibly thick sandwiches for lunch (no child of his would ever go hungry). I never questioned the roles my parents played. It seemed natural, inevitable. The model I saw in families around me. This was the norm.

This notion was further reinforced in the turmoil and exhilaration of the 1960’s and 1970’s, as women strove to break through cultural prejudices, attempting to penetrate male bastions in the workplace, at colleges and graduate schools and in politics. Women were smart and strong enough to want it all – economic equality, societal respect, family and children. It was all possible.

I believed and I achieved. Graduated law school and started a career. Got married and had children. Worked full-time: by the way, there was no maternity leave back then – accrued vacation was all you got, so I was back at work six weeks after giving birth.  And because we baby boomer women had not yet raised our sons (who were taught to be sensitive to the needs of their partners and aware of the obligations inherent in being a fully supportive husband and father), our spouses were perhaps not as attuned at helping us. So, I took the kids to sports events on the weekends, to doctors’ appointments when needed, to school every morning. I cleaned the house and bought the groceries. And, I admit, ordered take-out for dinner, but really, isn’t pizza the perfect food? 

I enjoyed every minute of it. Except at work. I noticed that I was always a slight step behind my male peers, with comparable skill sets and experience, when it came to salary, bonuses and career advancement opportunities. I was not a golfer, couldn’t go to the bars at night to hang, didn’t have the fraternity network to tap. The guys had this self-contained world of hearty-slap-on-the-back, blink at ethical impropriety, crude humor innuendo.  A dark web of easy male comradery that became stilted when a woman was thrown into the mix. So she never was.

I was naïve enough to be surprised that men weren’t going to give up their dominance without a fierce fight. That they wouldn’t batten down the hatches in the face of our struggle. There was some lip service to the need for change and perhaps slight cosmetic tweaks made here and there.

But really, it all boiled down to:”plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. The more things appeared to change, the more they stayed the same.

Forty years later and the same problems still exist. Women are still seeking parity at the work-place, our heads are still butting up against a glass ceiling. I am disheartened at what appears to be the fundamental immutability of human nature and its institutions. Yet, for the sake of future generations, we cannot give up. More than that – women must understand that playing by the rules, being nice to those in the sandbox, won’t advance our cause. In fact, we must transform the molecular substance of the sand itself. Create our own rules of engagement.

WE are, though, still early on in the game. So, at this point of the skirmish, I have to say – guys – you got me. Touché.

In keeping with the French tenor of this piece, I included a recipe for a typical French pastry (not my mother’s recipe):

Hazelnut Macarons

Sift and mix:

             1 lb. 4 oz. Hazelnuts (finely ground)

 2 lb. 2 oz. confectioners’ sugar

Whip to moderate peaks:

            14 oz. egg whites

Fold egg whites into the hazelnut/confectioners’ sugar mixture. Let rest 20 minutes. Fill a pastry bag and pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets. In a 425 degree oven, bake for 7-8 minutes.

Buttercream filling:

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water

5 large egg yolks

4 teaspoons espresso powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup butter, room temp and cubed

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved. Put egg yolks in a mixer with a whisk attachment and beat until thick and foamy. Cook water and sugar syrup until it reaches 240 degrees F. Immediately remove from heat. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle hot syrup into bowl with yolks. Continue mixing until the bowl is cool to the touch and the yolk mixture has cooled to room temperature. Add in butter, one cube at a time. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder. Keep mixing until buttercream is smooth and creamy.

Spread buttercream onto the bottom half of a macaron and cover with a top half. 

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