The Pie (#91)

It's almost the season for Dad's apple pie...
It’s almost the season for Dad’s apple pie. And flashbacks.

On the weekends, I wake before Andy. I shuffle into the kitchen, turn on the coffee maker, and scoop the oatmeal into bowls. Invariably, one scoop is bigger than the other. Invariably, my hand always reaches for the bigger bowl first.

It is instinctive.

It’s also as unusual as hell. Women – especially in LA – are all about small portions.

Here is the Typical LA Woman at office birthday parties:

“Oh, just a tiny little piece! No, no, that’s too big. Give that to Joe. Oh, still too big! Ross, take this. No, no, not a corner piece! So much frosting, Bruce, Bruce! Here’s your piece of cake. No, half that size. Oh, fine, I’ll cut it in half myself, then.” Typical LA Woman cuts two-inch square in half. Takes ten minutes to eat one bite. Throws the rest away.

Here’s me: “Hand over that corner piece.”

And here is the Typical LA Woman at a Christmas party, confronted with a one-inch butterscotch square of See’s Candies:

“Oh, I shouldn’t, but…Autumn, would you split it with me?”

Me: “Sure.” I cut the minuscule square in half.

Typical LA woman hesitates. “Wow. You cut so evenly! I can’t tell which one is smaller.”

Me: “The chocolate broke unevenly on the top. The one on the left has a little more chocolate.”

Typical LA woman takes the chocolate on the right. “Thanks! I couldn’t see any difference. Where did you get such a discerning eye?”

I give her my best self-deprecating shrug. “It’s a gift.”

That’s a lie.

It’s a carefully honed childhood survival skill.


I’ve probably mentioned my many siblings and our childhood with not-quite-enough to eat. Guess what happens when that combination occurs? Kids fight over every scrap of food. Especially the good stuff, like holiday pies and candies. Which makes sense. Back on the African Savannah, or in the Roman Empire, if your body wasn’t wired to seek out and defend your share of food with the greatest caloric content, well, you weren’t going to pack on enough weight to survive the next famine. You died before you could reproduce, and your loser, celery-craving taste buds weren’t passed to the next generation.

So it’s not surprising that my siblings and I fought, tooth and nail, over the best chocolate in the Whitman’s Sampler box. And, yes, it was literally tooth and nail. Future Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister and I needed weaponry to compete with older, bigger siblings. Lawyer Sis chewed her very strong fingernails into sharp points and scratched. I was less subtle. I just chewed. Big Brother dubbed us “Claws and Jaws.”

My father tried to head off the carnage by dividing the spoils equally. He even employed measuring tape for one birthday cake, only to send us all to our rooms with a spanking because we fought over the pieces with red roses. (Dad SAID he threw the cake away, but his lips had a suspicious ruby tinge that evening.)

After the birthday cake incident, most sweets were carefully divided before we ever saw them. Ex-Stepmother #1 counted out any Oreos into baggies. Yogurts had our names written on them. We were limited to two Whitman’s Chocolates. Future Genius Judgmental Doctor Sister, determined to get the best chocolates, developed a method of testing for caramels – she slid a fingernail into the bottom of each chocolate. If the fingernail came out with fruit cream, she opted for a different selection.

But some foods could not be divided so easily. Like the last bit of Dad’s apple pie. My father, weary of the inevitable shriek of, “But HER piece was bigger!” hit upon a brilliant solution.

He handed Big Brother the knife, and pointed to the pie. “You cut it in half.” Then he pointed at me. “You get to pick which piece you want first.”

Big Brother took a full minute to cut that piece of pie. I took a full minute to decide which piece was bigger. (Both pieces were the same size. I opted for the one with more crust.)

From that day forward, all food was split using Dad’s method. We became experts at judging comparative size and volume. I grew especially adept at spotting Future Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister’s incremental diagonals. Nowadays, Andy doesn’t bother with a level when we hang pictures or window treatments. He just asks me if it’s straight. (Though this is after he “tested” me the first twelve times, “just to be sure.” Engineers. Sigh.)

I am decades away from my childhood. I have more than enough food to eat. And yet, when there are two portions and one is even minutely larger, I still reach for the bigger one. Even if the difference is just a few flakes of oatmeal.

Then I give myself a mental shake, remind myself that Andy’s metabolism burns calories faster than mine, and take the smaller bowl instead.


One of my relatives got married last spring. At the rehearsal dinner, I sat with most of my siblings and our spouses. The event was huge – as most of our family events are. We were packed in at long tables set close together, making movement difficult. The many guests and overwhelmed staff led to a five-minute delay between each table receiving their food.

There was no delay in consumption. My sisters polished off their entrees and their ice-cream-covered brownies faster than I did. No Typical LA Women at my table. I was among my people once more.

Big Brother ate the fastest. He usually does. As soon as he finished, he pushed back his chair. “I haven’t talked to Ex-Stepmother #1 yet today,” he explained. “There’s an empty seat at her table now. Be back in a bit.” Big Brother’s Wife, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister, and I were talking soccer. (Well, I was talking soccer. They were drinking.) We barely noticed Big Brother threading his way through the guests.

Two minutes later, though, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister slammed a fist on the table and stood up. “NO! No, that’s just not right!”

She pointed an accusing finger across the room, where an oblivious waiter set a second brownie sundae in front of Big Brother.

Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister howled, “HE ALREADY HAD DESSERT!”

Big Brother grinned at her, giggled, and waved his spoon before triumphantly before digging in.

Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister was up on her feet next, yelling, “Hey! That’s not fair! You don’t get TWO desserts!”

Ex-Stepmother #1 laughed. Thankfully, the other guests – almost as well lubricated as Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister – took their cue from her and laughed, too. When Big Brother somehow snagged a third sundae and taunted us from across the room yet again, the room roared. My sisters upped the decibel levels of their shrieks. They mimed climbing across the tables. There was more laughter.

The party was breaking up before Big Brother dared to return to our table.

His wife shook her head at him. “Three sundaes? Really?”

“Oh, I didn’t really eat them,” he hastily assured her. “I was just messing with my sisters.”

But when I caught up with Ex-Stepmother #1 in the parking lot, she had a different story. “Oh, that took me back,” she chuckled. “I thought your sister was going to climb over the table and yank that third sundae away from Big Brother.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Big Brother says he didn’t really eat them.”

“Oh, no. He really ate them. ALL of them.”

I thought it was just me, the middle child, that still rushed ahead of phantom siblings to claim my share of the pie. But it’s not. When you come from a large family, it doesn’t matter how big the pie is.

There will never be enough to fill you up.

Maple cream pie. Delicious.
Maple cream pie. Yeah, I made that.  And shared, even.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

50 thoughts on “The Pie (#91)”

  1. Large numbers of Ashboughs in the same place can be very entertaining.

    Also, I’m grinning like a lunatic now.

    1. I did bake both pies. And they were good, but my apple pie is not as good as my dad’s. He dictated the recipe to me a few years ago, but he’s either holding out on a few ingredients or I just can’t put it together the same way. I try every Thanksgiving, though. Maybe this year will be my year…

      You know what I desperately wanted when I was growing up? An only child. To get all the parental attention, and all the pie. 😉 You were living my dream!

      I also dreamed of boarding school.

      I’ll have to include more blood, vomit, and broken bones the next time I write about my siblings. Trust me, it balances out the laughter.

  2. A hilarious and well-written post, as always! Great looking maple cream pie, btw.

    I grew up an only child, so I had to (and still do) fend off all the food my folks kept shoveling at me. I do realize now that I lived the dream.

    I suppose that only a single child can find entertainment in the tales of chaos and carnage that accompany large numbers of siblings. I used to envy my friends who had siblings! Adversity builds character, and a good eye for the larger slice of pie 🙂

  3. Your story reminds me of the last wedding I attended in Canada with my family. The food kind of played musical chairs around the table. I had my husband’s cheesecake as well as my own. My husband had one of my nephew’s salad. My aunt brought over an extra bottle of red wine from their table because they were all drinking cocktails and so on. My father claimed we were embarrassing him, but he was the one with the pissed off look, not us. And believe me, people noticed!

    1. I doubt anyone would notice the second dessert (except my siblings) or salad. And who cares? But the person with steam coming out their ears? That makes everyone nervous. Too bad. Weddings are supposed to be fun. I mean, unless you’re the bride.

  4. Big Brother had three sundaes?! Everyone deserves a second helping. If they want another serving, go for it. If it’s something delicious, everyone would most likely be going for seconds. Chinese dessert is big in my family. They love peanut butter soup and peanut pastry balls. Each time we have one of those banquet dinners, we get served them for dessert and usually there is never enough of that thick soup to go around.

    1. Update: I just interrupted Andy’s shower to ask if he had ever heard of peanut butter soup or peanut pastry balls as a Chinese banquet dessert.

      He said no and looked at me like I was nuts. (hahahaha)

  5. Ah, you have not forgotten the Daughter-in-law tea ceremony and the wedding banquet, have you? Don’t worry, neither have I. I will get to them this month. They tie into Thanksgiving, at least a little bit.

    1. You mean a Chinese wedding banquet, right?

      I know a White American woman who married into a wealthy HK family and her MIL wanted her to wear some family heirloom type jewelry. Did you have to do that?

    1. Re: jewelry–count yourself lucky then. This woman refused to wear the jewelry (even though it was only for one night) and insulted her MIL. Things were tense between them until she gave birth to a “dragon” boy. That’s a loong time for tension to simmer…

  6. Well, I did have to wear a necklace they gave me on our wedding day in NH. But it wasn’t hideous or anything. And it wasn’t an heirloom. And now you are making me glad I didn’t do ONE MORE THING to piss off my MIL.

  7. I will always go for the end piece of cake with all that frosting! There were four kids in our family and we fought over everything from food, dessert, who got to sit in the front seat of the car, you name it. My mother actually made a chart for us reading the Sunday comics, we’d rotate through so we’d all get to be the first to read them. Your pies look yummy. Hope you took a big piece of each!

  8. Haha my step dad used the same “one cuts the other chooses” method when my three step brothers were around – I have to agree it is very effective! The “jaws and claws” description also had me laughing!

    On a side note – Andy is an engineer? So is my Chinese fiance 🙂 I totally sympathise with you about him having to check everything. On the plus side, if I leave something lying around that needs to be put together he will not be able to stop himself from assembling it which is very useful!

    1. That itchy-fingered assembling skill is very useful. Sadly, Andy’s engineering gene does not appear to also come with a compulsive need to clean up all the tools and debris AFTER the assembly is finished. 🙁

      1. Wow. Richard is exactly the same. I think its also the engineer in him. Even if I protest and say that I want to assemble the IKEA table by myself, he pushes me aside and tells me to let a real man handle it. As soon as its assembled, he runs off, leaving tools and packaging and debris everywhere. Sigh.

  9. As usual, a wonderful story Autumn!

    You know, I’ve never understood that whole idea of women devouring these microscopic pieces of dessert. Not saying we have to have “super size” our desserts (which is often the case in America). But really, if you’re going to have dessert, then just have it!

  10. Hehehheh. “I was among my people” 😛 It’s funny (as in crazy) that siblings get so damn competitive, but of course, it is completely understanding, too. My mom’s from a big family and she was the picky-est eater in a family that didn’t have enough food to go around which seems so ironic. And my step-dad became this way as well in his household of giants. My mom is not longer picky, but my step-father is.

    1. Ha, yes, I was deemed a very picky eater also, but I was not so picky about dessert. None of us were!

      I have a feeling you are not a very picky eater, Lani. Or maybe you were once and it’s one of the things travel beat out of you?

      Andy can eat anything. Except mint chip ice-cream. He hates that. Chicken feet, fine. Mint chip ice cream = disgusting. Truly, everyone is unique.

      1. Hahahha. I love mint ice cream. It’s been my favorite since childhood. What the heck is Andy’s problem? Hahhahahaa.

        But seriously, you are correct! I was a picky eater, but then I grew up. Thank god. xxoo

  11. The parents did try out methods to ameliorate the fights over food. Once we hit the teen years, no one (well, no one with a Y chromosome) was allowed to start on seconds of the main meal until everyone else had declined the opportunity to have seconds. The unintended consequence being many seconds getting dished up only to linger in lukewarmth as eyes (led astray by lessons of past laggards left hungry) were often larger than stomachs….leading inevitably to [neck craned] ‘hey, you gonna eat that?’

    1. Oh, it still felt like a free-for-all. And I was happy — or at least full — to end up having nearly all. If it had to reside on a sibling plate for a bit, so be it.

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