Once upon a time, birthdays were a huge deal in my family. Being showered with cake and presents made it the best day of the year.
My Chinese-American husband’s family wasn’t like that. Birthdays were no big deal. In fact, Andy’s grandmother was very superstitious about celebrating, especially as she reached her 90s. “If you have a big celebration that makes a lot of noise,” she said, “you’re just reminding the evil spirits that you’re still alive. They might decide to rectify that situation.”
After age 10, my birthdays went from “meh” to “completely shitty.” Now I try to ignore my birthday. This past year, I made the mistake of letting my sisters talk me into a once-in-a-lifetime girls’ trip with a stay at a top-notch hotel and spa (they offered to pay, even!). We made plans and reservations at the beginning of the year. Then COVID hit.
I would have taken it personally, but all American non-introverts are having shitty birthdays this year (thank you so much, you fucking inept Trump Administration). I’m just grateful that 1) I wasn’t planning a wedding and 2) we haven’t lost any family members. But even though I don’t feel singled out, I’ve begun to think like Popo—it’s better not to make big plans, because the universe might decide to mess with you.
Meanwhile, Andy’s gone from shrugging off his birthday to having expectations. For him, though, it’s not having parties with friends and family. It’s about being spoiled with homemade baked goods. He loves getting coffee cake for breakfast and then either a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache icing, or a giant chocolate éclair (yes, homemade down to the hot fudge topping). Baby D and I pick up his favorite burritos or burgers for lunch. Then I either make him pot roast or we might go out to his favorite restaurant.
Not surprisingly, Andy, who handles most of the cooking, enjoys sitting on his butt and being waited on for his birthday.
Unfortunately, Andy’s birthday is on Thanksgiving this year.
Cue the horror music, because I hate cooking (baking is different!) and I am not a good cook (pot roast excepted). But with fast food places closed for the holiday, there would be no burritos and burgers.
I asked, “What meals do you want for your birthday, honey? Traditional Thanksgiving fare, even though it’s both historically inaccurate and kind of like celebrating the beginning of the genocide of American Indians? Cuz we could have anything. And you love my pot roast!”
“Six-hour cake!” Baby D shouted. “Dad wants six-hour cake! And beef Wellington!”
“Dalton, when it’s your birthday, you can pick what we eat,” I reminded my child. “But it’s Dad’s birthday. We do what Dad wants.”
Baby D subsided with a truculent glower.
“We can do a traditional Thanksgiving,” Andy said.
“Oh-kay,” I squeaked. “What about your birthday cake?”
“Six-hour cake!” Baby D insisted.
“You’d better not ask for the giant éclair again, Dad. The cake is so much better and it lasts longer.”
“Not your birthday, Dalton. Please be quiet and let Dad decide.”
“But he’s gonna decide WRONG.”
“How about a chocolate satin pie?” Andy suggested.
“Why would you pick pie when you could have cake?” howled Baby D.
“Because it’s Thanksgiving and I want pie,” Andy retorted. “Besides, your mom always makes that cinnamon coffee cake for me on the morning. Right honey?”
I smiled weakly and only said, “yes, of course,” rather than whimpering, “I’ve created a birthday monster.”
I commenced researching. Comparing and deciding on a chocolate satin pie was easy. Mashed potatoes? No problem, The Joy of Cooking has a great recipe. Stuffing? No one likes it, so forget it. Same with cranberries. Vegetable? Susanna Foo’s cookbook has a delicious and easy creamy cabbage recipe we all like. With my homemade Shaker bread and my dad’s coffee cake recipe, I was all set.
It was the turkey that was daunting. The specter of a half-burned, half- Salmonella riddled bird hung over me like a fowl albatross. I spent hours researching brines. I plunged into debates over basting the sucker versus cooking it upside-down.
Frying the turkey? LOL, not after seeing this video.
I didn’t like turkey to begin with. Now I hated it.
Then I found that I could not find a turkey. There were none at Costco. Whole Foods was sold out. Even Andy tried to find one. No luck.
Overwhelmed with choices and worried about oven management, I decided to outsource the turkey dinner. There were restaurants that served a takeout turkey dinner. Yay!
They were all sold out.
I discovered a new restaurant nearby. They’d hired the executive chef of one of Andy’s favorite restaurants that had closed years ago. The restaurant did not have a Thanksgiving take out menu, but they had very limited outdoor seating.
I made a reservation.
Only to have Andy arrived home from the store with a turkey, a giant bag of potatoes, and TWO bags of cranberries.
“Cranberries?!” I exclaimed. “You want me to make cranberry sauce, too?! And that turkey is huge!”
“Well, cranberries might be nice,” Andy began, only to hurriedly add, “if you want. Or you can do something else with them. And this is the smallest turkey they had.”
“You just want me to utterly fail at cooking Thanksgiving and your birthday dinner, don’t you? Then I will appreciate all you do in the kitchen and you can make jokes about ‘the year Autumn burned my Thanksgiving birthday’ forever. I see you, sadist.”
“Oh, honey, why would you say that? I got this turkey so that me and Baby D can eat turkey sandwiches for lunch all week.”
“And the cranberries?!”
“I thought so. Well,” I told him smugly, “You can make whatever turkey you want next week and throw cranberries on it, too. But we’re going out for Thanksgiving dinner!”
“Remember Chef C? She’s at a new restaurant and I got the last reservation.”
“Is it safe to eat at a restaurant?” Andy asked. We hadn’t been out since March.
“At the beach. At 3 PM, with a ton of wind and they operate at 25% capacity. And of course we will wear masks when not eating. Happy Birthday!”
The triumphant glow of outsourcing the Thanksgiving cooking lasted until last Sunday.
I guess it’s back to the brine.