The Coffee Maker (#364)

I did not grow up drinking caffeine. At my dad’s house, there was only hot tea (usually Bigelows, usually herbal) on cold game nights. At my mom’s house, there was coffee every morning, made on the stove in a cheap, old fashioned percolator. That coffee smelled so good that I would occasionally try a sip, only to gag at the bitterness.

Back then, when the world was so new and all, we didn’t have fancy Peppermint Mocha Crème Brulé Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccinos to make coffee palatable. Since I was an insomniac, I never needed coffee to stay awake. Tea remained my drink of choice (except when laced with lead in misogynistic ceremonies).

Andy, my Chinese American husband, grew up with tea during dim sum, hot tea with meals (even in Hawaii!), and the devil’s brew known as foo chai when he was sick. The he went to Starbucks—I mean, Seattle for a semester of college.

By the time I met Andy, he brewed a ten cup carafe of very strong coffee every morning. He also had his own coffee and coffee maker at work.

In grad school, I worked in a restaurant. While staff wasn’t allowed to have food, we were allowed as much coffee we wanted—including milk and cream. So I’d have a tablespoon of coffee and a mug of cream while working (don’t judge, in my hungry family, we NEVER turned down free food).

By the time Andy and I moved in together, I could manage a mug of Andy’s coffee in the morning…as long half of the mug was half-and-half.

Then we had Baby D and I was up at 4:30 AM. Sometimes I needed a second serving of coffee.

Eventually, Andy started making my coffee milk and leaving it on the counter. I thought it was very nice of him, though I was constantly reminding him to use a coffee mug, rather than my favorite teacups. My friend M sent me a hand-thrown mug with a fall leaf, but Andy rarely used it. Instead, he’d pick the smallest mug available.

I finally caught on: “Hey! You’re hoarding the coffee! That’s why you tried to use my little teacups and you won’t use the big mug!”

“What? No, of course not, honey. I know you like the little mugs and you do have a little mouth and you don’t want to spill,” he protested. UNCONVINCINGLY.

“But it’s fall and I want the coffee in my big fall mug that has the rim I like!”

“But when I give you that mug you never drink it all!”

“That’s because I can’t before Baby D needs something, or the cat throws up, or a dog has to go out, or there’s a racoon in the yard, or whatever! And then my coffee gets cold and it gets a skin.”

“If you just drank coffee black, you could reheat it, like me.”

“Oh my God, I get, at most, 2 cups of coffee. That means you get eight. HOW IS EIGHT CUPS OF COFFEE NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?!”

Andy’s coffee from Costco

Andy had no response…besides finding the darkest, bitterest roast on the planet and grinding more of it to make his coffee even stronger.

 Since we’ve been married, he’s gone through four coffee makers and five grinders. The knob of the last grinder fell off, but since the grinder still worked, my frugal husband used pliers in place of the knob.

For our anniversary this year, I printed out reviews of the best combination grinder/coffee makers—all with 12 cup coffee carafes— and put them in his birthday card. I told Andy to treat himself to his favorite. It sounds lazy, but while I’m fairly ignorant about making coffee, I’m not stupid enough to pick out coffee equipment for a coffee snob.  Also, our kitchen was being repaired after water damage and there was nowhere to actually put a coffee maker. (Andy was living on Starbucks.)

When the kitchen was finished, Andy ignored all my reviews and bought himself a new grinder and an expensive De’Longhi coffeemaker.

“It looks fancy,” I told him. “But the carafe only holds ten cups! You sure you didn’t want a twelve cup one?”

“The De’longhi only comes with a ten cup carafe. But look! It has a milk steamer. You can have cappuccinos or lattes.”

“But I wanted YOU to have the coffee maker that that would give you all the coffee you wanted. It’s not supposed to be about me!”

Andy shrugged. “It’ll be fine.”

My cappuccino with one of Andy’s mochi doughnuts.

The next morning, after a lot of noise in the kitchen, Andy presented me with a frothy cappuccino—in my big fall mug. It was deliciously mellow, not at all like his usual bitter brew.

“This is amazing! Thank you, honey.” Andy beamed, but I still felt badly that he’d gotten me a gift with his gift. “Listen, you don’t have to do this all the time. Just leave the instruction manual out and I’ll figure out how to use the frother and steam my own milk.”

Andy did not leave out the manual. When I called him at work, he said it was in his file cabinet. It was not.

I searched up videos and instructions online. The next time I got up before Andy, I frothed up my milk and added it to some coffee from the carafe.

It was bitter as all hell. Stronger than the coffee from our previous coffee maker for sure. I was still making faces when Andy hurried into the kitchen.

“This is bad, honey,” I told him. “I dunno why it doesn’t taste like your cappuccinos.”

“You used MY coffee?!” Andy looked both outraged…and guilty.

My espresso bag.

“What do you—what coffee have you been making ME?” I whipped open a cabinet. “Is there a can of instant or General Foods International Coffees in here?”

“I would never! This new coffee maker also does espressos, so I make you your own shot for your cappuccino.” He pulled down a brown bag and showed it to me.

“You mean you’ve been secretly making me different coffee? So you can have all ten cups to yourself? While I was feeling bad you got a smaller carafe in order to get the machine with the milk frother?!”

“But don’t you like the cappuccinos better than my coffee?”

“That is…not the point!” I stalked off to walk the dog. And also to complain to my Lawyer Sister about Andy’s duplicitous coffee-switching.

After she quit laughing, Lawyer Sis said, “I don’t know why you’re complaining. Your husband makes you your own special cappuccino every morning. Take the win.”

“Yes, but if I get up first, then I have to wait for my coffee.”

“Oh, boo-hoo. Other people have to pay money and drive to Starbucks for cappuccinos. My husband doesn’t even know how to make coffee. He drinks Dr. Pepper. FOR BREAKFAST.”

I shuddered and conceded.

Andy promised to show me how to make my own shot of espresso. I have yet to take him up on his offer.

Perhaps because I am also enjoying my new coffee maker.

Cappuccino holiday style!

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 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.”

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)

That Woman (#327)

When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.

“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”

A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”

My Chinese American husband shrugged off my concerns. “Some of those kids were out of control in kindergarten. They need some discipline. And,” he said wistfully, “it would be nice if Dalton did exactly what I told him.” Continue reading That Woman (#327)

Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

I did not grow up gourmet.

I grew up excited about McDonald’s. This might have been because my parents’ ideas of cooking meant throwing protein and potatoes in the oven for an hour or two. Sometimes we had rice as a side, but mostly it was baked potatoes. With margarine. (I didn’t discover butter until I was in high school. Whereupon I ranted to my parents, “Why have you been keeping this deliciousness from us and giving us MARGARINE?!”)

My husband Andy is Chinese-American. In his family, rice isn’t a side, it’s necessity. The angriest I’ve ever seen Andy’s Engineering Cousin was when her Quite White husband went on the Atkin’s diet. “It’s ridiculous!” she ranted at Andy on Thanksgiving. “It’s all meat and fat! Not a grain of rice ever! How can you have dinner or holidays without rice?!” Continue reading Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes. Continue reading Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

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)