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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lemon (#348)

I wouldn’t trade my husband for anything.

I reminded myself of this last weekend when he injured his dominant hand working on the sprinklers. (That’s sprinkler injury #2, for those counting.)

But if Andy had been a car? TOTAL. LEMON. (For younger readers, “lemon” is slang for a car that is constantly breaking, usually due to shitty manufacturing.)

The Spousemobile has had five surgeries on his knees and ankles (two ruptured tendons, two torn menisci, one giant cyst removed). He’s got compressed discs in his back. He’s broken his tailbone (not his fault, the poor Spousemobile got rear-ended by a texting idiot). Andy also has infection-induced asthma; normal winter colds regularly led to bronchitis until he got his CPAP machine (because he also has sleep apnea). He’s got retinas that would like to detach and has had holes in them soldered up by lasers regularly.

Luckily—or perhaps smartly—Andy picked a sturdy wife that can soldier on through pretty much all ailments. Torn quadricep? Watch me scoot around on the floor to clean! 6 months of nausea while pregnant? Let me just take some puke bags with the poop bags when I walk the dogs. Flattened by a dog while walking my dogs? I’ll leave a trail of blood, but I’ll get us all home. Familial vasovagal response that makes me pass out when I donate blood or see someone injured? Don’t worry, I’ve gotten very good at either not passing out or figuring out how to do it with minimal fuss/ bother. (The secret is to make a lot of jokes and talk to nurses to keep your blood pressure up. If that doesn’t work? Lie down ASAP. No matter how dirty, the floor is your friend.)

A man with tools and a bathroom sink
Andy being handy

Despite his issues, there’s no way I’m trading in the Spousemobile. Like most men, Andy tends to automatically put his own needs ahead of his pets and spawn, but when I lose my shit calmly explain that ideally one prioritizes one’s child over reading a newspaper, Andy makes adjustments. He works at a job he doesn’t love in order to keep us fed and medically insured. He cooks 30-50% of the time (he cooked more before child and injuries). He’s handy around the house (despite the demon sprinklers).

He wrestles with Baby D and even grudgingly coached youth sports.

A man and a boy with matching ice packs
Of course, wrestling with Baby D sometimes means ice packs for all.

Meanwhile, no small number of my Gen X mom friends have traded in their undented Chevy Novas (all white models). Some have decided there’s no point in having an extra car that just sits in the driveway with XM Sports Radio blaring while they are madly driving to work, school, the store, practices, the doctor, and the vet. Younger women, seeing all the trade-ins (and crashes) are opting to avoid the marital car altogether. Those that do get married are opting against having children.

I don’t care what the Boomers say: the Millennials are all right.

And Gen Z? They believe in voting, unions, universal healthcare, addressing climate change, and better public transportation.

May they never know what a vehicular lemon is.

I Am Only Here for the Candy (#344)

I don’t like scary things. Not costumes. Not movies. Not books. Not TV.

There’s enough scary shit in real life. Why would you seek out terror?

I don’t understand people who enjoy being scared. Did they not have enough to frighten them in their childhood? I’d wake up with a full bladder and hold it until morning rather than risk running into a monster on the way to the bathroom.

I remember my father being exasperated with me as I child because I was so certain someone could get a ladder, climb up three stories, come in my bedroom window, and “get me.”

Dad explained how loud and difficult that would be. I was unconvinced. He sent me back to bed, but at least refrained from saying, “Jesus Christ, child, I probably couldn’t GIVE away you or your equally feral, troublesome siblings! Why would anyone go through the trouble of climbing a ladder to try and STEAL you?”

I loved Halloween, of course, but only because there was free candy and sparkly costumes. I was every Disney Princess imaginable (Leia included), and a fairy. Never once did I want to be anything scary.

My Chinese-American husband, on the other hand, enjoys scary, suspenseful entertainment. “The Walking Dead?” One of his favorite shows. He’s never met a Resident Evil anything he doesn’t watch. Meanwhile, I’m in the bedroom, yelling at him to turn the volume down because ANY suspenseful minor chord music will make me wonder who is being murdered. I tried to watch “Squid Game,” but had to run out of the room repeatedly. (Andy would patiently summarize the games and deaths for me later.)

Why are we so different?

I have theories.

Andy’s childhood was more secure than mine (though both our fathers were scary and strict). Andy doesn’t speculate or imagine scenarios as much as I do. Sometimes Andy will see me wiping away a tear and foolishly ask, “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” I’ll sniffle, “I was just thinking about what if one of those right wing crazies crashes into the Torrance Farmer’s Market while you’re there because he’s targeting Asians, and you get killed and then I have to tell Baby D and I was trying to figure out what to do for your funeral…”

Andy will hand me a tissue and remind me, “Remember, don’t spend money on a casket. It’s a cardboard box or nothing.”

I once asked Andy if he ever worried that something might happen to me.

He said, “No.”

“You don’t think about it at all?”

“No.”

“What do you think about?”

Andy shrugged. “Nothing, really.”

“You can’t think about NOTHING. No one thinks about NOTHING.”

Andy just shrugged again. I kinda thought he was lying, until I read an article about how some people don’t always have an internal monologue going. That was unfathomable to me (and everyone else who monologues). But while I couldn’t understand not constantly judging thinking, it immediately made sense that Andy was a non-monologuer.

I’m a little jealous. It sounds very restful and zen. My internal monologues go from 0 to DISASTER in seconds. Which means that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m immediately convinced that any unusual noise or smell means there’s a fire/ murder/ kidnapping happening.

This is one of the reasons I like having dogs. I’m pretty sure that my dogs will smell or hear any danger long before my comparatively weak human senses detect it. This comforting fact enables me to get back to sleep. Sometimes. (Of course, sometimes you have dogs that snooze right through impending danger.)

Throughout our son’s childhood, I’ve tried to keep him from scary stuff. I didn’t want him to have nightmares or wake up scared like I did. He would pester us to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones and I’d think of how Darth Vader and melting faces kept me awake as a child. Baby D was on a strict diet of “Thomas the Tank Engine” until the older kids on the block introduced him to The Hunger Games.

And he was fine. Not a single nightmare, ever, not even when Baby D sneakily read the books at age eight (by the light of a ring that flashed red, white, and blue). He sailed through Harry Potter without fears of Dementors.

Baby dressed as a big orange pumpkin.

 

Toddler dressed as a skunkWhen he was little, I could pick the most adorable Halloween costumes for Baby D. Nothing scary, just pumpkins, bunnies, and fluffy skunks.

 

Once he hit preschool, Baby D insisted on being a ninja. For three years.

After that?

Kid dressed at the Grim Reaper, with skull mask and scythe

Kid is going to give me nightmares.

The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

Power Trip (#340)

I didn’t plan to take the summer off from blogging. Every day, I’d think, “I’m going to write the post about rescuing the cat! Or the one about husbandly information hoarding!”

And every day something would happen. Maybe an ant invasion. Maybe non-stop emails about soccer. Maybe another volunteer organization needed something handled. With the country opening up again (sometimes in very stupid ways), I had more visitors this summer than ever.

It was also summer vacation, which meant Baby D was home. I dread summer vacation. Yes, Dalton is more independent now that he’s older, but also more argumentative about chores. About screen time. About EVERYTHING, actually. Continue reading Power Trip (#340)

What Bugs (#338)

My Chinese American husband doesn’t see dirt. At least, not in our house. He’s got a whole dirt manufacturing thing going on in our yard with multiple compost piles, but can he spot an errant leaf or Lego on the floor and pick it up? Haha, no. Not even after he’s experienced multiple late-night Lego fire walks into our son’s bedroom.

Back when we were dating, Andy would get mad about his roommate leaving crumbs on the kitchen counter.

Now that we’re married? Andy leaves crumbs on the kitchen counter. Continue reading What Bugs (#338)

I Heart Competition (#335)

In BC times (“Before Child”), my Chinese American husband never missed a gift-giving occasion. Flowers were delivered on my birthday, or sometimes, “just because.” There were platinum earrings to match my engagement ring at Christmas. An emerald necklace was mine on Valentine’s Day.

It took me a while to realize part of Andy’s motivation was to overshadow—and in some cases replace outright— all gifts from previous boyfriends.

In AD times (“After Dalton”), Andy’s gift-giving prowess deserted him. One year he completely spaced on stuffing my stocking (a huge family tradition) or giving me any Christmas presents. Since that was the first year we didn’t spend Christmas with my family, that meant I had nothing to open on Christmas morning.

Our son actually stopped stuffing his face with gummy worms, looked over his giant wall of toys/crumpled wrapping paper, and said, “Mommy, you must have done something terrible.” Continue reading I Heart Competition (#335)

Cold Wars (#334)

My Chinese American husband grew up in tropical Hawaii. When he moved to Los Angeles, his mom sent him with an electric blanket.

Years later, I laughed over that blanket before donating it to charity. I grew up on the East Coast, spending many holidays in New Hampshire. “Southern California is not cold,” I told Andy.  “Twenty below on a chairlift is cold.”

The disparity in our experiences was highlighted during vacations. I ignored Andy’s advice and ran up a sand dune barefoot on the island of Kauai, yelling, “How hot can it be?”

Answer: “Hot enough that you wind up whimpering with ice packs on your burning feet.” Continue reading Cold Wars (#334)

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)