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.

WEDNESDAY, T-MINUS 20 HOURS

9 AM: Assemble brine ingredients. Husband reads over shoulder and says, “You’re using wine in the brine?”

“I’m using a Martha Stewart recipe. It’s not just wine, it’s a Riesling.”

10 AM: Brine cooked. Turkey is successfully submerged in brine bin.

THURSDAY, T-MINUS 3, 2, 1…

5 AM: Begin baking requested birthday coffee cake.

6:30 AM: Hit knuckle on 375 degree upper oven rack while sprinkling cinnamon crumble topping on almost baked cake. Jerk hand away and drop half of crumb topping on the oven door and kitchen floor. Swear a lot. Make more topping. Clean floor. Swear some more.

Andy’s favorite birthday breakfast.

8 AM: Cake is done. Make scrambled eggs and bacon while it cools, serve breakfast and cake to menfolk and wonder how the hell I wound up in the fifties. Andy devours cake, laughs over Beer Advent Calendar present. Beer Advent Calendar immediately eclipsed by big check in card from Andy’s mom because Chinese-American moms.

9 AM: Remove turkey from brine and hold over sink while brine pours out of neck? butt? of turkey—for about 10 minutes. Spend 10 more minutes trying to figure out how to position turkey so that wings are “tucked under” the body as Martha Stewart instructs. Finally swallow pride and call husband for advice.

Andy: “You’re cooking the turkey on its front?!”

Me: “You can go now.”

Wait until husband leaves. Flip bird the bird and then flip bird onto its back. Tuck wings underneath and tie up legs. Brush a cup of melted butter all over the turkey. Open drawer of Andy’s special kitchen utensils and pull out a cooking thermometer. And another. And a third. Oh, wait, there’s another one, and yet another—

“Andy! Which the hell thermometer do you use?!”

Husband returns, sorts through all seven thermometers, and hands me the hi-tech, electronic thermometer that has a long metal cord connecting the probe to the temperature reader.

“Is this a souvenir from the aliens?” I ask.

Andy sets the alien thermometer for 165 degrees and asks if I want to insert the probe. I ask him to calculate how long the turkey is supposed to cook, because perks of marrying someone with two advanced degrees in math. Andy tells me that at 20 minutes per pound it will take 4 hours and 40 minutes for the turkey to cook. I check my instructions and tell him the thermometer will just get in the way of basting. I’ll wait until I have to rotate the pan after 2 hours to use the thermometer.

Then I ask him where the turkey baster is, because Martha says I have to baste the bird with juices from the bottom of the pan every half-hour.

Reader, there is no turkey baster. We have SEVEN cooking thermometers and no turkey baster.

Discover all local stores are sold out of turkey basters.

Andy says, “I use a spoon.”

Spoon means tipping turkey roasting pan at precarious angle to reach the drippings and spoon juice all over the turkey. Spoon method seems ideal—for burning the chef or dumping the turkey on the floor (where dog eagerly awaits his chance to finally play the coveted canine role of “Bumpus dog”).

Baste the turkey with the stupid-assed spoon 4 times. I do not get burned. Disappointed dog does not get to Bumpus.

After 2 hours, I rotate the pan and graciously allow Andy to insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because he clearly wants to show off his expertise and not because I have no idea where a turkey thigh is. Set alien probe alarm for 165 degrees.

The thermometer reads 160 degrees.  I say, “I think it’s almost done. I’d better start the bread.”

“Oh, it’ll probably take a few hours for those last five degrees,” Andy assures me.

Reader, it does not take 2 hours.

Impatient turkey

It takes 20 MINUTES. The alarm goes off as I am up to my elbows in flour and dough. I hurriedly finish kneading and pull the roasting pan out of the oven—

–only to catch my wrist on the long HOT metal cord of the thermometer. Swear words pour from my mouth like brine from a turkey until the pan is safely on the top of the stove and my wrist is under cold water. The dog abandons his Bumpus dreams and hides in the living room.

Birthday wounds.

I swear some more. “The turkey is done, but the bread hasn’t even started its first rise! I haven’t even started creamy cabbage or the potatoes through the food mill! Arrgh! All hands on deck!”

The menfolk obediently shuffle into the kitchen.

Andy guides Baby D through pulverizing potatoes while I get the Shaker bread rising and the cabbage cooking. The gravy from the drippings is very salty (the perils of brining!). I rescue it with a flour slurry and chicken stock. Thankfully, Martha Stewart recommends turkeys “rest” for at least an hour after cooking.

Dinner is on the table at 3 PM, with the bread hot from the oven.

Andy declares the turkey excellent, the cabbage “almost as good” as his, the gravy delicious, the mashed potatoes suitably garlicky, and the bread, “good as always.” He eats enough that I have time to walk the dog before bringing out the chocolate cream pie with the Oreo cookie crust.

Baby D turns pale and refuses pie. A suitable replacement is found.Andy declares the pie his new favorite birthday dessert. Baby D shudders.

When Andy gets up from the table, I notice something.

“Honey, have you been wearing those pajamas ALL DAY?!”

“Yep. Best birthday ever.”

Turkeys (#307)

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.” Continue reading Turkeys (#307)

When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

For more than a decade, our Labor Day weekend has been marked by intense kitchen rivalry, thanks to the neighborhood cooking contest.

Andy trounced everyone for years—until he got tired of me micro-managing the presentation of his savory entries and told me to make my own dish. I did, and he was sorry after I crushed him and our whole neighborhood with my baked goods. Two years ago, Andy staged a comeback and walloped me. Last year, we tied.

Some of Andy’s doughnuts.

This year was looking to be a showdown. Andy spent quarantine mastering everything from French bread to homemade doughnuts, prepping for a possible assault on my baking territory.

There have been casualties:

My waistline.

An immolated dish towel. Continue reading When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

Burned (#291)

My Chinese-American husband is a fantastic cook. Andy can make any cuisine, from pulled pork barbecue to agedashi tofu.

Andy’s beef Wellington

His eggs Benedict are sublime. Pretty sure I joined Instagram just to make people envious over of his beef Wellington.

I am content to give Andy the cooking crown in our household. I focus on baking, which is my strength.

I stay in my lane.

Andy is NOT staying in his lane. Continue reading Burned (#291)

Breadaggedon(#279)

Thanks to the inept Trump Administration, COVID-19 is popping up all over America. It’s going to get worse, too. SO MUCH WORSE.

America is sliding into full-on, toilet-paper-hoarding pandemic mode. Yay.

Andy texted me from Costco this weekend: “They’re rationing bottled water.”

Me: “Who cares? Be sure and get all the flour, sugar, and butter you can.”

After following Marta and Jocelyn through quarantines in China, I’ve figured out what quarantined folks really need:

Baking supplies and recipes. I’ve got both! Continue reading Breadaggedon(#279)

The Joys of Downhill Skiing (#271)

Wondering where I’ve been?

Working on maple sugar rugelach.

Well, first I was in the kitchen, covered in flour, making Christmas cookies. Tons of cookies, because we were meeting up with the familial horde in Utah.

Then we were on the road, and then we hit the slopes. Continue reading The Joys of Downhill Skiing (#271)

Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

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. Continue reading Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

Showers (#250)

Ah, the baby shower.

Traditionally, these all-women events involved opening boxes of baby clothes and cooing over them. Many showers had guessing games. I’ve played everything from “What chocolate bar has been melted in this diaper?” to “Is this white powder baking soda, cornstarch, or flour?” 

Since I’m a chocoholic, an amateur baker, and competitive as fuck, I won all the traditional baby showers (even when the hostess tried to trick me by throwing in cream of tartar). Continue reading Showers (#250)

Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest over Labor Day weekend. The hostess picks a different ingredient or theme each year.

My husband Andy is an amazing cook. He won until the year of the potato. I snuck in a potato flake cake from a 50s recipe. My chocolate crushed the competition – including my husband. The following year, the hostess split the competition, creating two different categories: one for savory items, one for sweets.

Last year Andy didn’t enter a savory dish. He says it was because it was a hundred degrees and there was no way he was turning on the stove. Continue reading Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Of Cursed Birthdays (#220)

When I was a kid, birthdays were a big deal.

As an adult? Well, after your 25th birthday, when your car insurance bill drops, there’s not a lot to look forward to. Besides, no birthday could ever live up to my 10th, when I got a kitten and pierced ears.

My husband tried, though. Andy made me a cake the first year we were together. It was beautiful: nicely frosted, with my name written across it, even. Andy is a fantastic cook. I know it. He knows it. Everyone knows it, probably because I brag about it all the time. I expected the cake to be delicious.

I took a bite. The cake was moist. It was sweet.

Other than that, it had absolutely no flavor. Continue reading Of Cursed Birthdays (#220)