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.

Birthdays might involve going out for dim sum. There wasn’t even a cake until Andy turned 18—when his mom told Andy to pick one up for himself at the grocery store. Andy had a job at that point; I suspect he even had to pay for it.

Since holidays were the highlight of my childhood, I was horrified every time I discovered a new one Andy had “missed.”

You never carved a pumpkin?!” I’d screech. “What did you DO on Halloween, then?”

“Went trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, good. At least your parents let you do that.”

“Of course. The candy was free.”

I was sad for all the fun things Andy missed, but, even though he was the child of immigrants, Andy had a more secure childhood than I did. He was the apple of his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—eyes, the first male in two generations. As the much beloved Number One Son, his mother and grandmother constantly pushed him to eat more. When they went out for dim sum, there were always leftovers to bring home.

I had years on free lunch tickets, plus I had to guard my food from my hungry siblings. My parents were terrible cooks. When we went out to Shakey’s Pizza or McDonald’s (a HUGE treat!), there were never leftovers. Probably the reason we loved holidays was in no small part due to the abundance of food, especially sweets.

Andy, in turn, was horrified that a) I grew up without quite enough food, and b) Kraft Mac & Cheese with Hormel Chili was my favorite dinner.

Over the years, I introduced Andy to holiday fun. He showed me that cooking meals from scratch was tasty (and, when it wasn’t beef Wellington, economical).

Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts.

This year, our child’s birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day fell within days of each other. Piles of candy and gifts accumulated on the dining room table. At that same table, I watched Baby D devour Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts, Andy’s beef Wellington, carryout from Din Tai Fun, about twenty shrimp dumplings from the local dim sum joint, and Andy’s homemade chili and cornbread.

Baby D’s homemade cake.

Meanwhile, Andy watched me make a six-hour chocolate cake and arrange a surprise birthday COVID car parade for our kid. He laughed as I swapped out birthday balloons for red lanterns and lucky money envelopes for Baby D’s favorite See’s Candies so our kid could fully enjoy each special occasion.

After Valentine’s Day dinner, Andy surveyed the accumulated culinary/ holiday debris and said, “Our kid is spoiled.”

“We’re just giving him everything we wished we’d had,” I countered.

“But it’s so much!”

“Maybe you’re right. But there’s one really important Ashbough tradition left.”

“Even your family cannot possibly do anything for President’s Day.”

“Hahaha, no, we’re not celebrating problematic old white men. It’s something else.” I raised my voice and called, “Baby D! Come here! We have one more thing for you!”

Baby D ran into the kitchen. “Is it a giant gummi worm? More hong bao?”

I placed a towel in his outstretched hands and said,

“It’s the dishes.”

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)

West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.

My birthday.

On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget. Continue reading West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

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)

Cooking & Competition (#198)

My neighborhood has an annual Labor Day cooking contest. The hostess decides on the type of food, the neighbors cook up their best dishes, and everyone at the party votes for their favorite. The year we moved in, the competition was for the best homemade salsa.

I’m competitive as hell, but I’m not a good cook. Luckily, my husband is an excellent cook, and he makes an amazing homemade salsa.

“Ha-ha,” I carolled. “They may as well hand over that prize now!” Continue reading Cooking & Competition (#198)

Cakes & Bellwethers (#138)

When I started working as an assistant for the Empress of International Film and Television Sales, it was a temp job, to make ends meet while I tried to make it as a screenwriter. But the Empress was soon addicted to my organizational skills. I was soon addicted to my paycheck and health insurance.

I worked long hours. In at 7-8 AM to deal with Europe, out at 7-8 PM after dealing with Asia. Right before film markets, the hours were even longer. At film markets and festivals, you were on duty 24-7. There were perks, though. Tables at the best restaurants had to be booked months in advance, with a deposit. If my boss got invited elsewhere, guess who got the pre-paid table? Me, and three friends. Sometimes it was me and some random people I’d literally just met. Continue reading Cakes & Bellwethers (#138)

A Question of Cake (#49)

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I love cake. Okay, I love all baked goods, but cake is the best. It was my favorite part of all my parents’ weddings. It’s STILL my favorite part of every wedding. I do enjoy the dancing now that I bring my own partner, but while I’m dancing with Andy, I’m totally eyeing that four-tiered, fabulous, elaborate, fondant-covered wedding cake in the corner. Continue reading A Question of Cake (#49)