I love sweets. But as a kid with a ton of siblings and not enough money, sweets only appeared in abundance for special events.
Thanksgiving? A total letdown. My mom and stepfatherspent hours trying to get their homemade cranberry sauce to come out of a ridiculous antique rose mold. It molded properly exactly once and ALWAYS tasted bitter. And pumpkin pie? Could there BE a blander pie?
My dad made the only decent Thanksgiving dessert—apple pie. So of course our Labrador retriever Toffee got on the counter and ate it. (Then she ate the apple trees Dad was trying to grow because LABRADORS. And then, when my furious father chased Toffee around the yard with a rake, the racist neighbor threatened to call the cops, because while it was okay to chase a Black man with white hoods and guns, going after a dog was a bridge too far because VIRGINIA.)
The apple pies went on hiatus until Toffee died at age 17. Not just because of the dog, though. According to Dad, “For years, it was all about pumpkin. Everybody wanted pumpkin pie, no one wanted apple!” (Except for Toffee. She never stole a pumpkin pie because she was a smart girl who knew exactly which desserts were rake risk worthy.)
Once I married Andy, we spent Thanksgiving with his family (Andy’s birthday usually falls within days of Thanksgiving). If we couldn’t fly to his parents in Hawaii, his cousins would invite us to their Thanksgiving dinner in the Los Angeles area. Engineer Cousin and her husband Quite White would assign Andy a savory dish to bring, usually mashed potatoes or a smoked turkey. (Yes, the whole turkey, probably as payback for pretending he couldn’t cook for years.) I’d always offer to make a dessert, but Engineer Cousin turned me down. I suspected it was because my offerings were too sweet for the Chinese Americans.
I once brought along an unsolicited cream cheese and cranberry loaf of quick bread. Engineer Cousin scolded me, hid it in the garage, and then sent it home with us. For dessert, she served a pie another guest brought. Pumpkin, of course.
It wasn’t until Andy and I hosted Thanksgiving that I got to do desserts. I spent an HOUR on the phone with Dad, because Mr. “I Don’t Really Have a Recipe” had never written down anything as mundane as measurements. I transcribed his guesstimates as best I could and went to work peeling.
My pie wasn’t as good as Dad’s, but Quite White raved about it (earning him some stink eye from his wife). When they hosted Thanksgiving the next year, Engineer Cousin grudgingly said I could bring dessert along with Andy’s mashed potatoes. I brought Andy’s three layer chocolate birthday cake—Devil’s food with ganache frosting. It was a huge hit with everyone except Andy.
“It’s not really traditional,” Andy groused on the way home.
“Who cares? It’s way better than pumpkin pie. Besides, these traditions are all suspect. In fact, the whole holiday is pretty fucked up when you think about it. Who celebrates the beginning of the genocide of the Indigenous population?”
“That’s true, huh? Let’s not add my birthday cake to the celebration again.”
“You just don’t want to share it, do you?”
“They ate three-quarters of my cake!”
From that day forward, we were assigned a dessert and the inevitable mashed potatoes. Sometimes I brought maple cream pie. Sometimes I brought pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust (the only acceptable form of pumpkin dessert).
Last year, of course, there was no Thanksgiving gathering. Instead, I made the whole feast myself for Andy’s birthday.
I do not recommend.
This year, Engineering Cousin is hosting again. Here’s our text exchange:
“Honey!” I charged into the living room waving my phone. “Either the Pandemic changed your cousin’s taste buds or I finally wore her down with my awesome desserts! Because she doesn’t want your boring mashed potatoes. She wants TWO desserts. TWO. And she wants one of them to be CHOCOLATE.”
“As long as it’s not my cake again,” Andy said with a shrug.
“Ha! I win!” I did a victory dance around the living room. “Suck it, potato man!”
“Good job, honey.”
I stopped dancing. “You’re being a very good sport about your cousins not wanting your cooking anymore.”
“Because now I can sit on my butt and do nothing on Thanksgiving. I don’t even have to bring beer.”
“Oh, damn. Oh, no—two desserts! That’s like two days in the kitchen!”
Until I told him he would make the crusts.