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:

I cheered and immediately hounded Andy, “What are you gonna make? What are you gonna make, huh?”

“What are YOU gonna make?” he countered.

“Maybe cookies. Except cookies just aren’t that pretty, and you get judged on appearance, too. Maybe red velvet cupcakes? Except if it’s super hot, the cream cheese frosting will melt.

“You know, if it’s hot, people would probably really like ice-cream…” Andy mused.

“Don’t you dare! Stay in your own savory lane, mister!”

Andy opted for chicken wings.

Andy’s wings and dressing.

Once upon a time, Andy only made wings for the Super Bowl. Recently, our picky little prince lost enough taste buds to like spicy food. Baby D began demanding wings during the Pandemic. Andy obliged. He became skilled at homemade blue cheese dressing, too.

I agonized over my dessert all week. I’d been working on a new cookie recipe (oatmeal, coconut, toffee, and chocolate) that tasted fabulous, but wasn’t especially attractive (i.e., flat and lumpy).

I settled on cupcakes, strictly for the edge pretty piping would give me. Taste is very subjective; pretty piping isn’t. I perused frosting recipes in my Cake Bible to see if I could find a buttercream that would hold up to the heat.

I found a maple buttercream variation and a maple cake modification.

Score.

I made the cupcakes on Saturday. The biggest challenge? Keeping Baby D from eating them before Sunday. I’d made exactly 24 cupcakes, enough to perfectly fill my cupcake carrier and display case.

Every so often, I’d hear a plastic burp as Baby D tried to stealthily open the Tupperware.

I’d run for the kitchen. “Stand away from the cupcakes!”

Baby D would sprint out of reach, giggling, only to try again five minutes later. I did my best to deter him by snapping at him with a dishtowel (possibly the most useful thing I learned on the swim team).

Baby D was undeterred.

“Capture the Cupcake” was his new favorite game.

I was sure I’d thwarted him, but on Sunday morning, only 23 cupcakes remained. I jury-rigged one of Baby D’s school art projects (a pincushion in a glittery pot) into the requisite label and ingredient list in order to fill the missing spot—while scolding my child.

Maple Cupcakes

“But I didn’t take it!” Baby D protested. “You caught me every time!”

“You’re not going to blame the dog again, are you? He lacks opposable thumbs for opening Tupperware. Same as he lacks opposable thumbs for drawing the ion canon that still graces our living room floor,” I retorted.

“You know, it’s the cat who is pretty sneaky about stealing food,” Andy mused. “She steals the egg yolks from the mooncakes every year. And she ate out the center of your maple cream pie that one time—”

“Again, Boss Cat has no opposable thumbs! I can’t believe you would even suggest—OH MY GOD IT WAS YOU! YOU ATE THE CUPCAKE! SABOTUER!” I howled.

Baby D dissolved into hysterical giggles as I chase Andy from the kitchen, rat-tailing him with a dish towel.

******

As I placed my cupcakes next to a key lime pie—with piping!—it was clear that some of the new neighbors had upped their game this year. There was an apple pie with a flakey crust, as well as homemade mochi. Andy had to contend with other chicken dishes, including wings with a white sauce.

Thai Vegetable Rolls in Rice Paper

There were even Thai vegetable rolls wrapped in rice paper.

There were also a lot of little kids. I watched one take one bite of a cupcake, make a face, and hand it off to her mom.

“Damn it,” I complained to Andy. “Those kids are used to frosting made of powdered sugar and vegetable shortening. They have no appreciation for real buttercream.”

“The kids aren’t allowed to vote, are they?” Andy asked worriedly. “Because my hot wings have already made two of them cry.”

“Babies,” our child scoffed, chowing down on his seventh wing.

I eyed the desserts and sighed. “There are still uneaten cupcakes and the key lime pie is gone. This doesn’t look good for me.”

“So it doesn’t matter that I ate one, after all,” Andy suggested hopefully.

There was a surprise as our hostess handed out ballots. This time, there would be two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance.

“So she’s giving out four prizes?” Andy asked. “Didn’t it just used to be two?”

“And before that it was just one. This is her newest gambit to make sure we’re not the only winners again,” I whispered.

“No chance this year,” Andy grumbled. “She’s giving that two-year-old a ballot! He can’t even read!”

The winners in the savory division were announced first. A corn dish won for taste, while the spring rolls won for appearance.

“That corn was sweet!” Andy muttered. “It wasn’t even in the right category!”

“Next year, honey,” I said. “If you don’t make the babies cry.”

“Make the babies cry, Dad!” Baby D urged, in between bites of his fifteenth? sixteenth? hot wing. “It means more for me!”

“In the dessert category,” the hostess announced, “the key lime pie won for taste.”

Everyone except Andy clapped and nodded.

“Way too sweet,” was Andy’s whispered pronouncement. “Key lime is supposed to be tart.”

“And for appearance….” the hostess paused dramatically.

I held my breath.

“…the maple cupcakes!”

I pumped my fist and waited for the usual prize of fall-themed pot holders, dish towels, or cheese knives. Instead, the hostess presented me with a bottle of wine.

“This year,” she explained, “the prizes for appearance are all alcohol.”

I don’t drink. The wine meant nothing to me.

But maintaining the neighborhood—and household!—bragging rights for another year?

That’s everything.

Maybe we will break out the wine for our Christmas Party.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)

My kitchen at the height of Baking Season: Christmas.

When we get new neighbors, I usually take them a plate of baked goods. If they’re lucky, the newbies moved in between October and December, which my husband dubbed “Baking Season.” Baking Season starts with cream cheese sugar cookies shaped like fall leaves and moves onto maple cream pie, apple pie, maple sugar rugelach, and candy cane meringues.

The new neighbors usually bring back an empty plate and sexist mouthful of compliments. “You’re a fantastic cook! Your husband is so lucky!”

Continue reading Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)