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?
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 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.
“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.