When SoCal Gives You Lemons (#366)

If you have a square foot of land in Southern California, you probably have citrus tree. If you don’t, you might have one in a pot. If you don’t have one in a pot, all your friends with lemon trees are currently offering you free lemons (the oranges aren’t quite ripe yet).

Tis the season in SoCal.

Our lemon tree is loaded this year. Andy has made lemon pancakes and crepes with lemon curd multiple times in the last month.

Andy’s crepes with lemon curd

When Baby D had dental work done, Andy made him a lemon posset. (I thought possets died out in Victorian times, but apparently there’s a resurgence.)

When a friend asked me to bring a dessert for a New Year’s party, I figured I’d better use up some lemons. But what to make?

Then I remembered Lawyer Sis raving about her daughter’s addictive lemon cookies. Kickass Niece (who kicks ass in school, social justice, taekwondo, soccer, and baking) was apparently forbidden from making those cookies too often when the rest of the household stopped fitting into their clothes.

I hit Kickass Niece up for the recipe. She told me it was basically any sugar cookie recipe modified with extra sugar and two lemons. (My version of this recipe is at the end of this post.) I got to work.

The cookies came out super lemony (I suspect East Coast lemons are puny compared to ours).

Andy and Baby D tested them for me. They both shrugged.

Andy: “They’re good.”

Baby D: “They’re okay.”

I asked, “Where do they rank compared to my other cookies?”

Baby D said, “My cookies are the best, then chocolate chip, then maple rugelach, then chocolate cookies with white chips, then the cream cheese sugar cookies, then the candy cane and chocolate meringues, then these.”

Andy said, “The chocolate cookies are first, then D’s cookies, then chocolate chip, sugar cookies, then maple rugelach, then these.”

“So they’re last?!”

Baby D shook his head and said, “No, the oatmeal cookies with cranberries or raisins are last. Or the Berger cookies.”

Andy said, “No, the candy cane and chocolate meringues are last. DEAD LAST.” (Andy thinks chocolate and mint together are the devil.)

I sighed and wondered if I should have made different cookies—until I realized that Baby D was stealing the just “okay” lemon cookies off the cooling rack every chance he got. Cookie casualties reached the double digits before I started squirting him with the cat’s water bottle.

The lemon cookies didn’t look very impressive (even though I picked the prettiest ones for the party platter). But only a handful remained at the end of the evening. As we were leaving, I offered the remainder to the mom of one of Baby D’s classmates.

The mom said, “Actually, I think I will. Olivia’s got a cold and these might cheer her up.”

Her friend piped up with, “Oh, and I’ll take some for Janet.”

Olivia’s mom eyed her friend skeptically and said, “Janet?”

“You know, my imaginary friend who will get just as many cookies as your daughter.”

Olivia’s mom gasped in outrage and said, “I really am taking these for Olivia!”

“Suuuuuure,” said the friend.

We laughed and made our exit with an empty platter—which outraged Baby D, especially when he learned that we’d sent the last of the cookies home to Olivia.

He may even have sent Olivia an angry text about her eating the last of “his” cookies.

To which she responded: “What cookies?”

Olivia’s mom is so busted.

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies

Since folks on Instagram asked for the recipe:

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies (aka Kickass Niece’s Cookies)

  • 2½ cups (318 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt (I used kosher salt ground finer with mortar and pestle)
  • 2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100 grams) for rolling
  • Zest and juice of 2 large lemons (maybe 3 if you are using puny East Coast lemons)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed to beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and beat an additional minute. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a shallow pan or bowl. Using a small (1 tbsp) spring loaded ice-cream scoop, scoop out individual pieces of dough, drop them into the sugar, and roll them around until they are coated with sugar and roughly ball shaped. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing at least 2 inches apart—these cookies will spread and flatten considerably as they bake.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges brown. (If you like softer, chewy cookies, cook less. Spouse prefers more caramelized and wanted them even browner on the edges.) Cool for cookies for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, assuming you don’t have a ravenous child who eats them all off the rack.

Faux Noodles (#361)

For decades, my neighborhood has held an annual cooking contest. Ever since Andy and I moved into the neighborhood, one of us has won it. Sometimes, both of us win it.

I can’t decide if the hostess loves or hates us.

For a few years, she was happy that the rest of the neighborhood would “up their game” to compete with Andy’s appetizers and my cakes. But then my desserts became so dominant that no one else would go up against me in the “Sweet” category.

Last year my cookies were one of two desserts. I won for both taste and appearance (though the hostess refused to give me both prizes because neighborhood goodwill or some other bullshit).

This year, the hostess decided to make it extra challenging for the contestants making desserts. The main ingredient?

Noodles.

Andy declared that he would make chocolate ravioli—probably because I’d repeatedly told him chocolate is always a winner.

He asked, “What are you gonna make, honey?”

I shot him a dirty look and said, “Nothing, because there’s only one decent pasta dessert and even pastia has NOTHING on chocolate ravioli, duh.” (Also, the last time Andy veered out of the “Savory” category, he demolished my miniature eclairs with his caramel pear ice-cream in homemade sugar cone spoons. I learned my lesson.)

Andy’s chocolate ravioli

Andy spent the two weeks before the contest experimenting with mascarpone cheese and all my frozen frostings as fillings.

I told Andy this meant that it would have to be a joint dish where we shared the credit.

Horrified, Andy went back to regular noodles. (Andy insists this is a lie. He says the real reason is that none of my frostings worked. Even when he froze the filling in advance, the fat would separate during the boiling of the ravioli. I told him to inject a filling afterwards. He refused.) He decided on homemade pappardelle noodles, with he would serve with his pork ragu.

This meant that I had a chance after all. If I could just find something in the “Sweet” category with noodles and chocolate.

Gen X childhood to the rescue! The most popular cookies back then were the ones kids could make themselves–without using an oven and starting a fire. One of my stepsisters taught us to melt chocolate chips and butterscotch chips together, stir in dried chow mein noodles, dump them on a cookie sheet, and call them haystacks.

I did some googling and found that folks now toss just about anything in a haystack. I went with two recipes: white chocolate/ cashews/ chopped up caramels, and butterscotch/peanuts/ pretzels/ peanut butter (with the bottoms dipped into dark chocolate).

Finding the so-called chow mein noodles in an area with a large Asian American population was trickiest part of these cookies…because those dried noodles aren’t actually used in real Chinese cuisine. Even Kroger knows this:

“Chinese Inspiration” noodles sounds much nicer than “Lazy White People Stereotype” noodles. Nice spin, Kroger.

In multiple grocery stores, I found pho noodles but no faux noodles. It wasn’t until store #4 in the old white people neighborhood that I hit the jackpot. I bought out all the faux noodles (five packs!) that had probably been shelved last century and got to work.

I finished 70 haystack cookies in under an hour. Cutting up the caramels took more time than anything else. Another reason haystacks were popular back in the day.

Meanwhile, Andy spent 5 hours making his noodles and ragu.

At the party, his dish went up against macaroni salad, pesto noodles, rotini and red sauce,  and multiple pasta salads. All the pasta was store bought except Andy’s.

Meanwhile, the dessert table should have been disqualified. There was a blackberry crumble, Rice Krispie treats, lemon bars, and two cakes. I was literally the only person with noodles or pasta in their dessert.

The hostess opted not to DQ the cheaters. After the votes were tallied, my haystacks took first in appearance. The Rice Krispie treats won for taste (highly sus).

The Savory contest was not sus: Andy’s homemade pasta won for taste, while the pasta salad in the pretty bowl won for appearance.

When the hostess handed out prizes, the other winners got wine. Andy and I got identical boxes.

Off my quizzical look, the hostess said, “These two go together.”

At home, I unpacked three colorful pasta bowls from my box. Andy unpacked another three from his box.

A set of six colorful bowls in different patterns.

“These are really nice,” Andy said.

“Way better than wine,” I agreed. “And a very fitting prize.”

No way did those Rice Krispie treats deserve a bowl awarded for noodles.

Or even faux noodles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade (#351)

As I mentioned in previous posts, my husband had a grudge against all the gifts I got from ex-boyfriends. Not an angry, “burn them ALL” kind of grudge, but the kind where stuff disappeared. Mainly, I found it amusing (I’m not much for jewelry anyway), but I did fight to keep my favorite purse.  Also, I lied about the provenance of a few other items and I still have those, so HA!

I’m not sure why some? All? men are like this. Is a woman wearing the clothes or jewelry a man bought her the human equivalent of a dog peeing on something to make it his own? If so, karma already got back at Andy; the first time we took our rescue dog Woofie to the dog beach, the dog had a blast, playing in the waves—only to return to us, lift his leg next to Andy, and pee on my husband.

I laughed so hard, I nearly peed my own self.

I’m too busy living that exhausting SAHM life to even look at other men. Andy hasn’t got the slightest reason to be jealous.

Of men. (Or women)

The only thing I drool over now is food. I grew up on very bad American staples like Hamburger Helper and TV dinners. McDonald’s was exciting to us. Gourmet or even homemade food with seasoning and spices? Heaven.

My brother-in-law once made a fabulous beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. Half the kids were asleep at the table when it was finally served at 9 PM, but I raved about beef Wellington for weeks.

Next Christmas, Andy made beef Wellington.

Andy’s beef Wellington

A French-Canadian opened up a restaurant near us that served poutine. I hadn’t had poutine since a visit to Ottawa years ago. I dragged Andy there and made ecstatic noises as I scarfed down French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Andy told me it was a heart attack on a plate.

I said, “At least I’ll die before the dementia gets me.”

Andy got a fryer and perfected his doubled-fried French fries, along with giblet gravy.

Andy’s fries, back in the days of our first small fryer.

Cheese curds are very hard to find in Los Angeles (which makes me so jealous of Midwest Mark My Words), but Andy found some garlic cheese curds at the Farmer’s Market. Now he makes poutine for my birthday and Mother’s Day. (And he even has some, too, without a single comment about cardiac arrests.)

On one visit to Utah, Current Stepmother made prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. That Yorkshire pudding, covered in jus? It was the bomb.

British Sunday Dinner!

Guess who got TWO Sunday dinners with primes rib and Yorkshire pudding before her husband tore a ligament in his dominant hand?

I did.

When a new burger place featured an Impossible Burger with chipotle aioli, I only had to get take out twice before Andy started making me Impossible burgers with homemade chipotle aioli and homemade buns.

After dinner with friends at The Melting Pot, Andy got a fondue pot, raclette cheese, and made his own. He even makes baguettes from scratch.

Andy’s pizza.

We don’t do takeout pizza anymore, because it can’t compare to Andy’s homemade crust and tomato sauce. But then I oohed and ahhed over an Italian chef who showcased his fried pizza on Netflix. Andy fried up a wedge of pizza dough with mozzarella, arugula pesto, and tomato on the inside and it was to die for.

Sometimes, I’ll suggest going out to dinner. Andy will shrug and say, “But I make it better at home and it’s much cheaper.” And he’s not wrong.

Perhaps Andy upstaging all other chefs is about saving money. The man is very frugal.

Perhaps he merely enjoys making delicious food for an appreciative audience.

Perhaps it’s just male insecurity channeled productively.

Whatever the reason, all I can say is, “Well played, sir.

“Tonight we’re eating in.”

Fondue Night!

Taste vs. Appearance (#341)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking competition over Labor Day every year (with the exception of Plague Year 2020). Each year has a different required ingredient.

My amazing chef of a husband crushed the competition for years, starting with the salsa competition. Until he foolishly got tired of me micromanaging the presentation of his dishes: “My poutine does not need to in your grandmother’s cut crystal bowl! It’s fine!”

“But the flyer says you get judged on taste AND appearance.”

“I’m using the pie dish! You want to use crystal, make your own contest entry!”

I’m a baker, not a chef, but I figured out how to sneak potato flakes into a chocolate cake and won. Because everyone likes chocolate AND I put it on a pretty crystal platter.

Andy sulked for a year or two while I raked in the wins. The hostess then created two winners: one for Sweet and one for Savory. Andy promptly trounced me with his ice cream.

After that Andy and I dominated in our respective categories. The hostess then decided to have two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance. Last year Andy lost out to blander dishes because his hot wings made the neighborhood children cry. I lost on taste to what Andy called “an overly sweet” key lime pie, but my piped maple buttercream cupcakes won for appearance.

Maple Cupcakes
Andy’s wings and dressing.

I shook my head over Andy’s loss and opined, “It’s kind of on you, babe. If you aren’t going to modify the taste to suit the neighborhood, you gotta at least TRY to win for appearance. Those kids have never had real buttercream and some of them spat out my frosting because they expected the usual sacrilegious American mixture of powdered sugar and shortening. But my piping and display were pretty, while you tossed your wings into an aluminum pan and stuck your blue cheese dip into a takeout container. Appearance matters!”

“No one cares about how it looks, Mom,” Dalton interjected, with an eye roll.

“YOU don’t care how things look,” I shot back, with an eye roll of my own. “You don’t even comb your hair. Other people care. If it doesn’t look good, they might not even try it.”

“Good,” said Dalton. “Then it will be all for me!”

Dalton, a growing boy who was growing more ravenous as he played more soccer, now wanted ALL the food. My chocolate chip cookie recipe made about 85 cookies. 24 hours after I made those cookies, they were gone.

I stared at the empty cookie cannister and asked Andy, “How many cookies did you have, honey?”

“I had maybe five yesterday and two this morning.”

“And I had three, meaning…Dalton!” I yelled. “Get your butt in here!”

Dalton dribbled his soccer ball into the kitchen, eyes wide and innocent.

“You ate SEVENTY-FIVE cookies in twenty-four hours, young man!”

“But I couldn’t have, Mother,” Dalton answered. He lifted up his shirt and pointed to his trim midriff. “Where could they have gone? Not in this belly—look, nice and flat!”

“You’re hilarious, skinny boy. Go wash the empty container.”

I began modifying recipes in an effort to slow the child’s rate of consumption. I used whole wheat flour. I added oatmeal. I tried an orange and cranberry modification when we had oranges on our tree. I finally settled on an oatmeal, coconut, chocolate chip cookie with toffee.

It wasn’t the prettiest cookie.cookie dough on parchment paper It was more high maintenance than my other drop cookies, since it had to be baked on parchment paper or the toffee bits would stick to the baking sheets. But Dalton couldn’t eat them all in 24 hours and he declared it his “favorite cookie.”

a container of lumpy cookies
D’s Favorite cookie

******

This year, Dalton had a soccer tournament over Labor Day weekend. We’d have no time to cook before the party started. We probably wouldn’t even get home until after the judging ended on Sunday afternoon.

I sighed and told Andy, “I guess the Ashbough-Wong winning streak is finally over.”

He shrugged and said, “It’s really too hot to cook anyway.”

Even at the coast, it was close to 100 degrees. On the turf soccer field? 110 degrees. (The players were dumping ice on each other when subbed out.)

Saturday evening, the cooking competition hostess texted the neighborhood: It’ll be 100 degrees tomorrow at noon. Should we move the party to tomorrow evening or Monday?

I texted back immediately: Monday! We can definitely make it on Monday!

The neighborhood voted for Sunday at 5 PM.

“The fix is in,” Andy joked on our drive home.

“I can make something, but it doesn’t give me enough time to make the golden butter cake with the diced almonds and raspberry buttercream frosting,” I fretted. “What pretty dessert can I make in two hours or less? With ground, diced, or minced ingredients?”

“Cookies!” yelled Dalton from the backseat.

“But they aren’t pretty. And they don’t have ground, diced or minced—wait. I do use the stone-ground wheat flour…”

I made “D-Fav” cookies.

picture of a cookie with ingredients listedAndy threw together spicy Thai tofu. We made it to the party with fifteen minutes to spare.

This year, there were more kids at the party than food dishes. Families would bring one entry…and three children. Our hostess was thrilled to see my enormous platter of cookies.

“Thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “So far there is only the one apple-bread-cake thing and some lemon bars on the dessert table.”

Andy’s tofu was competing against Persian kebabs, homemade naan, smoked pork belly, meatballs, caprese salad (with no ground anything that I could see), shrimp ceviche, a chicken dish with shredded carrots, and various other forgettable dishes.

I liked Andy’s dish the best, but he wasn’t optimistic. “It’s tofu. Nobody votes for tofu.”

“Well, at least you brought something. I don’t think there’s enough food.”

Sure enough, almost every serving dish was empty by the end of the judging—including my massive platter (much to Dalton’s dismay).

The teens tallied up the votes and handed the results to the hostess.

She announced, “In the savory category, pork belly wins for taste and the kebabs win for appearance!”

“Told you,” Andy whispered as folks cheered. “It’s meat for this crowd.”

“And for the sweet category,” the hostess continued, “the winner for taste is the D-Fav cookies, and the winner for appearance is—wait a minute. Kids, I told you the same dish can’t win in both categories!”

The teens gave the hostess blank stares. One youngster muttered, “But the cookies won both categories. And they were the best.”

The kid’s mom gave her an elbow in the ribs and said, “You should know, you ate ten of them.”

To the teens, a lumpy appearance didn’t matter. Neither did arbitrary adult rules.

The kids are all right.

Picture of a wrapped gift with a gold bow and a card that says "Congratulations."

But the hostess still wouldn’t give me two prizes.

Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

I refer to the time between the end of November and Christmas as “Baking Season.”

It starts with my husband’s six-hour birthday cake (although sometimes he asks for a giant éclair or a chocolate pie), then segues into Thanksgiving desserts (pumpkin cheesecake and maple pie). After that, I make literally hundreds of cookies for Christmas. There are tins for teachers and heaping piles for my familial horde when we travel.

I also bring cookies to parties, carefully arranged on holiday themed platters. This is actually my favorite part—making my project pretty. I’m the same way about preparing my house for a party or dinner. Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms are a miserable chore. Putting out the gorgeous old tablecloths and fine china? So fun.

My fun became more of a chore once Boss Cat, feline marauder extraordinaire, joined our household. The rescue group made us promise to put the obese Boss Cat on a diet.

Boss Cat after losing a lot of weight.

Boss Cat thought diets were bullshit. Once she lost enough weight to be able to jump onto the dining room table, she was relentless.

If you turned your back for two seconds, she’d snag a strip of bacon from your plate. Or a piece of chicken. Or even TOFU AND RICE. Continue reading Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

Christmas Cookies (#332)

First book of Cookies, by Natalie Haughton

Years ago, my friend JM bought me a cookie recipe book. I tried the recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies for a Christmas party. They were a hit. Sometimes I brought those cookies into work during the holidays, sometimes I took the recipe home and made them for whichever siblings/ parental units I was visiting on the East Coast.

My family started requesting those cookies—probably because the only other person who made cookies was my brother-in-law, Georgia Boy. His gumdrop cookies were a nostalgic holiday tribute to his grandmother. They were also awful.

But even Big Brother wasn’t tactless enough to say this to Georgia Boy. Instead, he and Doctor Sister would wait for Georgia Boy to go on a bike ride and suggest I make cookies and let their children “help.” It was a win-win for them—I’d be entertaining First Nephew, First Niece, and Third Nephew for hours and the kitchen would be unavailable. Continue reading Christmas Cookies (#332)

Sweetsgiving (#330)

I love sweets. But as a kid with a ton of siblings and not enough money, sweets only appeared in abundance for special events.

My parents’ weddings had cake. Birthdays began with doughnuts. Halloween had candy. Christmas had cookies.

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. Continue reading Sweetsgiving (#330)

Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking contest the Sunday before Labor Day.

The stakes? Bragging rights and cheese knives.

The contestants? Everyone on the block.

The outcome? My Chinese American husband dominated for years. Then I started entering chocolate baked goods and crushed him. The hostess finally created two categories, one for “Savory” and one for “Sweet.” Andy vengefully jumped categories and destroyed me with caramel pear ice-cream.

Two years ago, we tied. Last year, the contest was canceled because of COVID.

Two weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

Continue reading Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Holidays were huge in my white family. We wore green, pinched each other anyway, and listened to the Irish Rovers on St. Patrick’s Day (despite being Protestant or atheists). Small gifts appeared on Valentine’s Day morning. There were Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Our birthdays began with presents and towers of doughnuts. Christmas magic (and excesses) went on for days.

Holidays were not big in my Chinese-American husband’s family. Growing up, he got a red envelope with cash, usually from his Popo, on Chinese New Year.

That was it.

Even though some Wong family members were very earnest Christians, there were neither Easter baskets nor Christmas stockings. Continue reading Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

TUESDAY, T-MINUS 2 DAYS

6 AM: Suicidal squirrels dart in front of dog on walk. We go down in a heap on cement, one of us swearing all the way. Badly bruised knee, road rash through pants, banged up hip and wrist. Nothing broken. Unfortunate. Still stuck having to cook up Thanksgiving & Birthday dinner for husband.

12:20 PM: Start on crust for Chocolate Satin pie husband requested. Baby D dismantles Oreos for the chocolate crust while I limp around kitchen.

1:30 PM: Pull pie crust out of oven. Discover sides have slid to the bottom of pie pan. Tell Baby D to quit eating all the Oreo middles while scrambling to find more reputable recipe online. Wonder who the fuck bribed 100+ people to write glowing reviews of crap pie recipe.

2 PM: Settle on Epicurious chocolate cream pie because have all the ingredients. Cook filling and bake pie crust while Baby D sneaks more Oreo middles.

4 PM: Assemble pie and refrigerate. Baby D moans about tummy ache and swears off Oreos forever. Continue reading Turkey Day Birthday (#308)