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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasteless (#352)

Karma comes in many forms.

You might, for example, write a gloating glowing, envy-inducing post about what an amazing chef your husband is, complete with mouth-water photos of eggs Benedict and beef Wellington.

Only to find yourself unable to taste ANY food a few weeks later. Because after 3 years of dodging, COVID finally got you.

And you can’t even figure out how the motherfucker did it.

I wear a mask indoors EVERYWHERE and I hardly go anywhere. Just the store, and monthly soccer/ PTA meetings (with my KN95). Andy and I don’t do movies, concerts, or big sporting events. We only go to outdoor soccer games for Baby D and we don’t sit close to other parents. The only place we go out to eat is sushi once a month—right when they open, when no one else in there, the staff is masked, we only unmask to eat, etc. Our whole family is vaccinated, boosted, and bivalent boosted. We had a very small dinner with one (vaccinated, boosted) family at Christmas and another at New Year’s (with windows open and plenty of ventilation).

If I meet another mom for lunch, we eat outside. If I visit a friend who has a new kitten in her house, I wear a mask. Hair stylist? Mask.  Pedicure three times a year? Mask.

If COVID had nailed my husband, that wouldn’t be too surprising. He wears a mask everywhere indoors, just like I do, but spends over 40 hours a week in a windowless building with shit ventilation and no small number of coworkers without masks. He has an office with a door he keeps closed whenever he can, and a portable fan, but he has tons of meetings with people who don’t always mask and come in from all over the country.

If COVID had nailed Baby D, that would have been even less of a shock. I know that kid takes his mask off at school, where he also plays tuba, soccer, and runs around with hundreds of other disease vectors daily. The kid had a cold at Christmas and got another one about 15 days ago. We test him repeatedly for COVID.

Yet I’m the one COVID got. The post nasal drip started a week ago, and Wednesday I woke with snot and coughing. I thought it was just Baby D’s cold, since I had the same symptoms. I didn’t have even a low-grade fever—usually the big difference between a cold and COVID or flu. The kid had already given his cold to Andy a few days earlier, so I wasn’t surprised I was sick. All the COVID tests, including the one I gave Baby D the day I started sniffling, were negative. I took my Sudafed, wore my KN95, and went on with trips to stores and one meeting.

Friday I was eating a sandwich and thought, “I need more mustard.” I put on more Dijon mustard and finished lunch. Afterwards, I had a piece of a new craft chocolate candy bar Andy had gotten me and thought, “This is sweet, but not chocolately at ALL.”

The penny dropped.  I realized that our dog, who had been skunked a month ago, hadn’t reeked skunk when he breathed on me earlier. I ran to the dog’s favorite pillow (which had also begun to reek of skunk) and buried my face in it.

I smelled NOTHING.

Not even regular dog breath.

I broke out the COVID test. The “positive” line was bright red before the moisture even reached the “control” line on the test strip.

COVID snuck in under cover of Baby D and Andy’s cold. But how? 3 days prior to symptoms, the only thing I did was walk the dog three miles (early in the morning, we only saw maybe 2 people in the distance) and work in the garden. No one I saw within the previous week had COVID (or admitted having it). Could Andy or Baby D have COVID after all?

It took some maneuvering since I couldn’t actually go into the school, but I got the school to release Baby D so I could test him for COVID.

Negative.

Andy went to a testing site near work.

Negative.

Clearly, I was a Taylor Swift song:

I went into isolation in the bedroom. If I had to come out for the bathroom or wanted to hang outside on the patio, I wore a mask. Andy and Baby D would wear masks to crack open my door and shove in food:

My bean and cheese burrito from Chipotle. I could taste the warmth of spiciness, but that was all.

I was lucky to get that burrito. After I whined (on the phone) to Andy about how I couldn’t taste a damned thing, my husband decided not to waste his time or his culinary talents on his wife.

This was my lunch on Saturday:

A bowl of steamed broccoli next to plain spaghetti noodles

Andy texted later to ask if I wanted dinner.

I texted back, “No thank you.”

Andy tested positive on Sunday morning. Andy has asthma. Andy had his prescription of Paxlovid within the hour.

Andy can still taste food.

Baby D, who enjoys being confined in his room, doing no chores, having meals delivered, and playing all the computer games he wants, is still, amazingly, COVID-free. The triumphant little brat even waved his latest negative test in my masked face this morning and caroled, “Read it and weep, Mother!”

HOW?!

I can’t smell at all. I can only tell whether the food in my mouth is sweet, salty, or bitter. An orange tastes sweet, but has no orange flavor. Coffee is bitter, but it doesn’t taste like coffee.

Eating now is an exercise in disappointment. I only do it to refuel. After a breakfast of oatmeal and an orange, I might have a bagel and apple for lunch and then I’m done for the day.

Luckily for my still-tasting spouse and child, I’m a big planner. I’d gotten their favorite See’s Candies for Valentine’s Day weeks ago. Andy finished his peanut crunches before midday.

I got a lovely haul of chocolates as well. Am I eating them? Hahahaha why bother.

Most COVID-related anosmia clears up within 1-6 months. But I have one friend who got COVID in 2020 and has never recovered her sense of smell. She shrugged it off, saying, “Well, at least I don’t gag when I have to pick up dog poop anymore.”

What are the odds I open those boxes of candy by March?

Not great.

A table with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and other candies

Homemade (#351)

As I mentioned in previous posts, my husband had a grudge against all the gifts I got from ex-boyfriends. Not an angry, “burn them ALL” kind of grudge, but the kind where stuff disappeared. Mainly, I found it amusing (I’m not much for jewelry anyway), but I did fight to keep my favorite purse.  Also, I lied about the provenance of a few other items and I still have those, so HA!

I’m not sure why some? All? men are like this. Is a woman wearing the clothes or jewelry a man bought her the human equivalent of a dog peeing on something to make it his own? If so, karma already got back at Andy; the first time we took our rescue dog Woofie to the dog beach, the dog had a blast, playing in the waves—only to return to us, lift his leg next to Andy, and pee on my husband.

I laughed so hard, I nearly peed my own self.

I’m too busy living that exhausting SAHM life to even look at other men. Andy hasn’t got the slightest reason to be jealous.

Of men. (Or women)

The only thing I drool over now is food. I grew up on very bad American staples like Hamburger Helper and TV dinners. McDonald’s was exciting to us. Gourmet or even homemade food with seasoning and spices? Heaven.

My brother-in-law once made a fabulous beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. Half the kids were asleep at the table when it was finally served at 9 PM, but I raved about beef Wellington for weeks.

Next Christmas, Andy made beef Wellington.

Andy’s beef Wellington

A French-Canadian opened up a restaurant near us that served poutine. I hadn’t had poutine since a visit to Ottawa years ago. I dragged Andy there and made ecstatic noises as I scarfed down French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Andy told me it was a heart attack on a plate.

I said, “At least I’ll die before the dementia gets me.”

Andy got a fryer and perfected his doubled-fried French fries, along with giblet gravy.

Andy’s fries, back in the days of our first small fryer.

Cheese curds are very hard to find in Los Angeles (which makes me so jealous of Midwest Mark My Words), but Andy found some garlic cheese curds at the Farmer’s Market. Now he makes poutine for my birthday and Mother’s Day. (And he even has some, too, without a single comment about cardiac arrests.)

On one visit to Utah, Current Stepmother made prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. That Yorkshire pudding, covered in jus? It was the bomb.

British Sunday Dinner!

Guess who got TWO Sunday dinners with primes rib and Yorkshire pudding before her husband tore a ligament in his dominant hand?

I did.

When a new burger place featured an Impossible Burger with chipotle aioli, I only had to get take out twice before Andy started making me Impossible burgers with homemade chipotle aioli and homemade buns.

After dinner with friends at The Melting Pot, Andy got a fondue pot, raclette cheese, and made his own. He even makes baguettes from scratch.

Andy’s pizza.

We don’t do takeout pizza anymore, because it can’t compare to Andy’s homemade crust and tomato sauce. But then I oohed and ahhed over an Italian chef who showcased his fried pizza on Netflix. Andy fried up a wedge of pizza dough with mozzarella, arugula pesto, and tomato on the inside and it was to die for.

Sometimes, I’ll suggest going out to dinner. Andy will shrug and say, “But I make it better at home and it’s much cheaper.” And he’s not wrong.

Perhaps Andy upstaging all other chefs is about saving money. The man is very frugal.

Perhaps he merely enjoys making delicious food for an appreciative audience.

Perhaps it’s just male insecurity channeled productively.

Whatever the reason, all I can say is, “Well played, sir.

“Tonight we’re eating in.”

Fondue Night!

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.

T-Minus None (#346)

Today I am thankful that Andy’s Engineer Cousin is the one hosting Thanksgiving.

Hosting is hard. You have to coordinate, cook, and clean. And then be cheerful instead of resentful when everyone arrives to eat and party. If you don’t think hosting is hard, then a) you’ve never hosted or, b) you’re a white male with a wife who does all the damned work, and, c) you’re headed for a divorce.

But not hosting doesn’t mean we’ve got it easy.

Andy’s been assigned mashed potatoes (okay, this is not very challenging, I admit). I was assigned “some dessert with maple.” Quite White, Engineer Cousin’s spouse, was miffed last year when I unveiled my homemade chocolate satin pie and pumpkin cheesecake instead of the maple cream pie. Quite White moaned, “I was looking forward to the pie all day! It’s my favorite!”

Maple Cream pie, pre-piped whipped cream.

In vain did I throw Engineer Cousin under the bus explain that Engineer Cousin had asked for something chocolate, not maple.

Yesterday morning I made the maple cream pie, because no one is making the mistake of a maple-less Thanksgiving again.  Yesterday afternoon Engineer Cousin texted and told me that more folks had just RSVPedincluding Andy’s brother and his three kids. So last night I made about 120 cookies (Denny’s kids are partial to my cookies, possibly because his wife won’t let them have any sweets).

At 8 this morning, Engineer Cousin texted again: “I know it’s late notice, but could you bring some gravy?”

It was the moment Andy had been training for. Within minutes, he had all the chicken carcasses he’d been saving out of the freezer and boiling on the stove for stock. Carrots, celery, and onions were added, plus thyme from a pot on the patio.  Then he was was off to H-Mart for chicken livers.

Andy’s as good at whipping up emergency gravy as I am at emergency cookies.

The hardest part was protecting the emergency cookies from my own marauding spawn. Dalton is always hungry—especially for cookies. Andy bought Little Debbie Snack Cakes to serve as decoys. That worked for a bit, but by bedtime, Dalton had made several attempts to “liberate” the cookies.

What? You’ve never slept with cookies on your bedside table?

Last night the cookies slept in our room. This morning, Dalton made a beeline for them and had to chased away.

From the hallway, he yelled, “You have to go to the bathroom sometime!”

When Andy called Baby D into the kitchen later, Baby D ran in, expecting cookies. Instead, his father pointed to a stack of potatoes. “You can help me peel those.”

“What? I don’t want to peel potatoes!”

“Doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re eating dinner, you can help make it.”

“But I’ve been doing all the dishes!”

“Which is way less work than cooking or baking.”

“Besides,’ Andy told him, “You need to learn life skills.”

“I already know how to peel!”

“Great,” I told him. “Prove it. Whomever peels the most potatoes the fastest gets a cookie.”

Less than 10 minutes later, Dalton announced he was done. Sure enough, there was a big pile of peeled potatoes on the counter. Andy was still peeling, rather slowly, while listening to a podcast on his airbuds. I handed Dalton a cookie, just as Andy finally looked up.

“Hey,” Andy protested. “He dumped two potatoes back in my pile! I get the cookie!”

Dalton stuffed the cookie in his face and gave two chews. Then he turned to his dad, opened his mouth, and said, “Oh. You want dis? Here!”

And how is your holiday—or regular day —going?

Author’s Note: Don’t worry, I gave Andy a cookie, too.

Enough potatoes for 25 people?

 

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.”

Taste vs. Appearance (#341)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking competition over Labor Day every year (with the exception of Plague Year 2020). Each year has a different required ingredient.

My amazing chef of a husband crushed the competition for years, starting with the salsa competition. Until he foolishly got tired of me micromanaging the presentation of his dishes: “My poutine does not need to in your grandmother’s cut crystal bowl! It’s fine!”

“But the flyer says you get judged on taste AND appearance.”

“I’m using the pie dish! You want to use crystal, make your own contest entry!”

I’m a baker, not a chef, but I figured out how to sneak potato flakes into a chocolate cake and won. Because everyone likes chocolate AND I put it on a pretty crystal platter.

Andy sulked for a year or two while I raked in the wins. The hostess then created two winners: one for Sweet and one for Savory. Andy promptly trounced me with his ice cream.

After that Andy and I dominated in our respective categories. The hostess then decided to have two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance. Last year Andy lost out to blander dishes because his hot wings made the neighborhood children cry. I lost on taste to what Andy called “an overly sweet” key lime pie, but my piped maple buttercream cupcakes won for appearance.

Maple Cupcakes
Andy’s wings and dressing.

I shook my head over Andy’s loss and opined, “It’s kind of on you, babe. If you aren’t going to modify the taste to suit the neighborhood, you gotta at least TRY to win for appearance. Those kids have never had real buttercream and some of them spat out my frosting because they expected the usual sacrilegious American mixture of powdered sugar and shortening. But my piping and display were pretty, while you tossed your wings into an aluminum pan and stuck your blue cheese dip into a takeout container. Appearance matters!”

“No one cares about how it looks, Mom,” Dalton interjected, with an eye roll.

“YOU don’t care how things look,” I shot back, with an eye roll of my own. “You don’t even comb your hair. Other people care. If it doesn’t look good, they might not even try it.”

“Good,” said Dalton. “Then it will be all for me!”

Dalton, a growing boy who was growing more ravenous as he played more soccer, now wanted ALL the food. My chocolate chip cookie recipe made about 85 cookies. 24 hours after I made those cookies, they were gone.

I stared at the empty cookie cannister and asked Andy, “How many cookies did you have, honey?”

“I had maybe five yesterday and two this morning.”

“And I had three, meaning…Dalton!” I yelled. “Get your butt in here!”

Dalton dribbled his soccer ball into the kitchen, eyes wide and innocent.

“You ate SEVENTY-FIVE cookies in twenty-four hours, young man!”

“But I couldn’t have, Mother,” Dalton answered. He lifted up his shirt and pointed to his trim midriff. “Where could they have gone? Not in this belly—look, nice and flat!”

“You’re hilarious, skinny boy. Go wash the empty container.”

I began modifying recipes in an effort to slow the child’s rate of consumption. I used whole wheat flour. I added oatmeal. I tried an orange and cranberry modification when we had oranges on our tree. I finally settled on an oatmeal, coconut, chocolate chip cookie with toffee.

It wasn’t the prettiest cookie.cookie dough on parchment paper It was more high maintenance than my other drop cookies, since it had to be baked on parchment paper or the toffee bits would stick to the baking sheets. But Dalton couldn’t eat them all in 24 hours and he declared it his “favorite cookie.”

a container of lumpy cookies
D’s Favorite cookie

******

This year, Dalton had a soccer tournament over Labor Day weekend. We’d have no time to cook before the party started. We probably wouldn’t even get home until after the judging ended on Sunday afternoon.

I sighed and told Andy, “I guess the Ashbough-Wong winning streak is finally over.”

He shrugged and said, “It’s really too hot to cook anyway.”

Even at the coast, it was close to 100 degrees. On the turf soccer field? 110 degrees. (The players were dumping ice on each other when subbed out.)

Saturday evening, the cooking competition hostess texted the neighborhood: It’ll be 100 degrees tomorrow at noon. Should we move the party to tomorrow evening or Monday?

I texted back immediately: Monday! We can definitely make it on Monday!

The neighborhood voted for Sunday at 5 PM.

“The fix is in,” Andy joked on our drive home.

“I can make something, but it doesn’t give me enough time to make the golden butter cake with the diced almonds and raspberry buttercream frosting,” I fretted. “What pretty dessert can I make in two hours or less? With ground, diced, or minced ingredients?”

“Cookies!” yelled Dalton from the backseat.

“But they aren’t pretty. And they don’t have ground, diced or minced—wait. I do use the stone-ground wheat flour…”

I made “D-Fav” cookies.

picture of a cookie with ingredients listedAndy threw together spicy Thai tofu. We made it to the party with fifteen minutes to spare.

This year, there were more kids at the party than food dishes. Families would bring one entry…and three children. Our hostess was thrilled to see my enormous platter of cookies.

“Thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “So far there is only the one apple-bread-cake thing and some lemon bars on the dessert table.”

Andy’s tofu was competing against Persian kebabs, homemade naan, smoked pork belly, meatballs, caprese salad (with no ground anything that I could see), shrimp ceviche, a chicken dish with shredded carrots, and various other forgettable dishes.

I liked Andy’s dish the best, but he wasn’t optimistic. “It’s tofu. Nobody votes for tofu.”

“Well, at least you brought something. I don’t think there’s enough food.”

Sure enough, almost every serving dish was empty by the end of the judging—including my massive platter (much to Dalton’s dismay).

The teens tallied up the votes and handed the results to the hostess.

She announced, “In the savory category, pork belly wins for taste and the kebabs win for appearance!”

“Told you,” Andy whispered as folks cheered. “It’s meat for this crowd.”

“And for the sweet category,” the hostess continued, “the winner for taste is the D-Fav cookies, and the winner for appearance is—wait a minute. Kids, I told you the same dish can’t win in both categories!”

The teens gave the hostess blank stares. One youngster muttered, “But the cookies won both categories. And they were the best.”

The kid’s mom gave her an elbow in the ribs and said, “You should know, you ate ten of them.”

To the teens, a lumpy appearance didn’t matter. Neither did arbitrary adult rules.

The kids are all right.

Picture of a wrapped gift with a gold bow and a card that says "Congratulations."

But the hostess still wouldn’t give me two prizes.

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)

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:

Continue reading Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

Post Father’s Day Post (#323)

Compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is pretty recent. It only exists because certain politicians got all whiny about how dads in America were bereft of recognition. Instead of self-soothing with their higher wages, or their ability to assault women with impunity, or their success despite white mediocrity, they demanded their very own holiday.

President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law in 1972. Yes, NIXON, the most corrupt U.S. President until Trump demanded Nixon hold his beer.

Mother’s Day, at best, says “thanks for all the unpaid emotional labor of child-rearing, please have this one day off.” Ironically, it often means more work for a person who is already overworked and underpaid.

Father’s Day? Father’s Day is ridiculous. We live in a damned patriarchy. Every day is Father’s Day. Continue reading Post Father’s Day Post (#323)