Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest every Labor Day. My amazing Chinese-American husband Andy won for many years—until I figured out how to sneak chocolate baked goods into the competition.
Then I won for many years. The hostess finally created two categories, Savory and Sweet, in an effort to mitigate my chocolate dominance. Andy, sulking over repeated defeats, refused to enter again until last year.
Then he jumped categories and trounced me soundly with his homemade ice-cream and sugar cones. My miniature eclairs did not even place.
This year, the contest’s theme was “picnic food.”
Andy threatened to make ice-cream again.
I threatened to withhold sex unless he returned to his proper “Savory” category.
“But we have those new neighbors,” Andy whined. “And the mother is an actual trained chef! What if she brings her fried chicken? She’ll crush me!” We’d had Chef Mom’s friend chicken at another neighborhood event earlier in the summer. And by “we,” I mean I got one bite of fried chicken, got distracted talking with Chef Mom, and then discovered that Andy had appropriated my chicken breast and picked that chicken clean. Her chicken was that good.
“Don’t you remember? She told us she was thinking about bringing sorbet to the contest.”
Andy brightened. “That’s right. Now she’s in your category. Good luck!” Andy consulted his BBQ cookbooks and opted to smoke a pork butt. He also made homemade coleslaw and rolls.
I’ve spent years perfecting all kinds of cookies, which were definitely picnic material. But picnics, especially if you come from the south, scream pie. Except that my dad’s apple pie recipe is more appropriate at Thanksgiving, and I was sure someone else would bring a fruit pie.
On the other hand, I do make a kick ass maple cream pie, which most people have never even heard of. That would add a novelty factor, plus you can pipe whipped cream on top, making it look lovely as well.
You just have to guard the pie from the cat as it cools.
I arrived at the party and found my pies had some solid competition: cheesecake brownies, chocolate chip cookies, an apple crumble, blueberry walnut banana bread, and a rhubarb pie. There was no sign of Chef Mom and her sorbet though. Not yet.
Andy, on the other hand, merely faced baked beans (from a can!) & franks, ramen salad, pasta salads, and some fresh mozzarella with grape tomatoes on toothpicks. His BBQ pork and sides went fast. Even the coleslaw (a total mystery to me, as I always look at coleslaw and think, ”WHYYY?”).
The eating and judging started at 2 PM. At 2:30, Chef Mom still hadn’t arrived…but no one was eating my pies, while the brownies, cookies, crumble were half gone! This is the perpetual problem with pretty pies and cakes – no one wants to take the first slice and mess them up. I’d have to be proactive if I wanted to win.
I dug up a knife, collected some plates, and started slicing. Before I finished extracting the first piece, a line of teenagers had formed. By the time I’d gotten through the line, I barely had a quarter of maple cream pie left, and about 20 adult voters who hadn’t gotten a taste. As in real life, teens don’t always bother to vote. This was worrisome.
On the plus side, Chef Mom hadn’t showed up yet.
I plated up the pie pieces that were left, added forks, and set the very small remaining pie pieces at adult tables.
The hostess handed out ballots before I finished handing out pie.
Andy shook his head at me as we handed in our ballots and said, “Your pies are gonna split the vote, honey.”
“No way,” I countered. “The maple pie will win for flavor.”
Andy would have argued further, but then Chef Mom arrived.
With fried chicken.
Andy went pale and whimpered, “Nooooo.”
I patted his arm. “Look on the bright side. Now you get to eat it.”
Andy ate a lot of chicken while the teenagers tallied the votes.
Finally, the hostess announced, “The winner in Savory category is: Andy!”
There were cheers and applause as Andy beamed and brandished his prize at me. Pretty sure he was humming the theme from Rocky.
Chef Mom sighed and said, “I think I came too late for the voting. None of the teenagers even tried the chicken.”
I snorted and said, “Because my husband ate it all.”
The hostess then called out, “And the winner in the Sweets category is: Autumn!”
More cheers, plus one drunk neighbor from South Boston yelling, “The fix is in!”
I waved my prize back at Andy and sang, “We are the Champions, my friend/ But I’ve won more prizes in the end…”
He made a face at me.
Andy commiserated with Chef Mom as we walked home. “Don’t feel bad. Your food is wasted on the neighborhood palate. Can you believe I made enchiladas from scratch—even roasted my own peppers—and the enchiladas made with CANNED sauce won?”
Chef Mom gasped, “No way!”
“Yep. And Autumn beat my homemade French fries and gravy when I made poutine with a cake made of instant mashed potato flakes!”
“No offense, Autumn, but how is that even possible?” asked Chef Mom.
“People just like sweets, especially if they’re chocolate, more,” I explained. “That’s why our hostess split the contest into two categories a few years ago.”
“Huh,” said Chef Mom. “So you think I should try a sweet next year?”
“I didn’t say that,” I answered, as I shot my smirking husband A Look. “Andy did.”
That sneaky bastard was already plotting for next year.