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:

I cheered and immediately hounded Andy, “What are you gonna make? What are you gonna make, huh?”

“What are YOU gonna make?” he countered.

“Maybe cookies. Except cookies just aren’t that pretty, and you get judged on appearance, too. Maybe red velvet cupcakes? Except if it’s super hot, the cream cheese frosting will melt.

“You know, if it’s hot, people would probably really like ice-cream…” Andy mused.

“Don’t you dare! Stay in your own savory lane, mister!”

Andy opted for chicken wings.

Andy’s wings and dressing.

Once upon a time, Andy only made wings for the Super Bowl. Recently, our picky little prince lost enough taste buds to like spicy food. Baby D began demanding wings during the Pandemic. Andy obliged. He became skilled at homemade blue cheese dressing, too.

I agonized over my dessert all week. I’d been working on a new cookie recipe (oatmeal, coconut, toffee, and chocolate) that tasted fabulous, but wasn’t especially attractive (i.e., flat and lumpy).

I settled on cupcakes, strictly for the edge pretty piping would give me. Taste is very subjective; pretty piping isn’t. I perused frosting recipes in my Cake Bible to see if I could find a buttercream that would hold up to the heat.

I found a maple buttercream variation and a maple cake modification.

Score.

I made the cupcakes on Saturday. The biggest challenge? Keeping Baby D from eating them before Sunday. I’d made exactly 24 cupcakes, enough to perfectly fill my cupcake carrier and display case.

Every so often, I’d hear a plastic burp as Baby D tried to stealthily open the Tupperware.

I’d run for the kitchen. “Stand away from the cupcakes!”

Baby D would sprint out of reach, giggling, only to try again five minutes later. I did my best to deter him by snapping at him with a dishtowel (possibly the most useful thing I learned on the swim team).

Baby D was undeterred.

“Capture the Cupcake” was his new favorite game.

I was sure I’d thwarted him, but on Sunday morning, only 23 cupcakes remained. I jury-rigged one of Baby D’s school art projects (a pincushion in a glittery pot) into the requisite label and ingredient list in order to fill the missing spot—while scolding my child.

Maple Cupcakes

“But I didn’t take it!” Baby D protested. “You caught me every time!”

“You’re not going to blame the dog again, are you? He lacks opposable thumbs for opening Tupperware. Same as he lacks opposable thumbs for drawing the ion canon that still graces our living room floor,” I retorted.

“You know, it’s the cat who is pretty sneaky about stealing food,” Andy mused. “She steals the egg yolks from the mooncakes every year. And she ate out the center of your maple cream pie that one time—”

“Again, Boss Cat has no opposable thumbs! I can’t believe you would even suggest—OH MY GOD IT WAS YOU! YOU ATE THE CUPCAKE! SABOTUER!” I howled.

Baby D dissolved into hysterical giggles as I chase Andy from the kitchen, rat-tailing him with a dish towel.

******

As I placed my cupcakes next to a key lime pie—with piping!—it was clear that some of the new neighbors had upped their game this year. There was an apple pie with a flakey crust, as well as homemade mochi. Andy had to contend with other chicken dishes, including wings with a white sauce.

Thai Vegetable Rolls in Rice Paper

There were even Thai vegetable rolls wrapped in rice paper.

There were also a lot of little kids. I watched one take one bite of a cupcake, make a face, and hand it off to her mom.

“Damn it,” I complained to Andy. “Those kids are used to frosting made of powdered sugar and vegetable shortening. They have no appreciation for real buttercream.”

“The kids aren’t allowed to vote, are they?” Andy asked worriedly. “Because my hot wings have already made two of them cry.”

“Babies,” our child scoffed, chowing down on his seventh wing.

I eyed the desserts and sighed. “There are still uneaten cupcakes and the key lime pie is gone. This doesn’t look good for me.”

“So it doesn’t matter that I ate one, after all,” Andy suggested hopefully.

There was a surprise as our hostess handed out ballots. This time, there would be two winners in each category: one for taste and one for appearance.

“So she’s giving out four prizes?” Andy asked. “Didn’t it just used to be two?”

“And before that it was just one. This is her newest gambit to make sure we’re not the only winners again,” I whispered.

“No chance this year,” Andy grumbled. “She’s giving that two-year-old a ballot! He can’t even read!”

The winners in the savory division were announced first. A corn dish won for taste, while the spring rolls won for appearance.

“That corn was sweet!” Andy muttered. “It wasn’t even in the right category!”

“Next year, honey,” I said. “If you don’t make the babies cry.”

“Make the babies cry, Dad!” Baby D urged, in between bites of his fifteenth? sixteenth? hot wing. “It means more for me!”

“In the dessert category,” the hostess announced, “the key lime pie won for taste.”

Everyone except Andy clapped and nodded.

“Way too sweet,” was Andy’s whispered pronouncement. “Key lime is supposed to be tart.”

“And for appearance….” the hostess paused dramatically.

I held my breath.

“…the maple cupcakes!”

I pumped my fist and waited for the usual prize of fall-themed pot holders, dish towels, or cheese knives. Instead, the hostess presented me with a bottle of wine.

“This year,” she explained, “the prizes for appearance are all alcohol.”

I don’t drink. The wine meant nothing to me.

But maintaining the neighborhood—and household!—bragging rights for another year?

That’s everything.

Maybe we will break out the wine for our Christmas Party.

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.

Every day the mom network has stories of moms managing kids, work, pets, and broken appliances while this husband went golfing or that husband was hungover from poker. Moms struggle to recover from things like surgery and childbirth, getting up when they should be lying down because their husbands are shit (and allowed/ expected to be shit) at coping with recalcitrant toddlers and teenagers.

As a society, we allow men to focus on their own needs (be it their career or their Crossfit workout) while expecting moms to always hold down a fort teeming with screaming children–even while they’re holding down their own job. Men’s wages even increase once they have kids, despite doing less around the house, while women get penalized. (The combination of pandemic and social media threw this disparity into high relief.)

The result? Less women are getting married. Less women are having kids. More women opting out of a shit system where even single moms have more leisure time than married ones.

Good call, women.

Now, there are some great dads out there. And we certainly hear about them! In fact, the very first state-wide celebration of Father’s Day in the U.S. was in honor of a widower who raised his 6 kids when his wife died—some 40 years after 200,000 widows had to raise kids alone after the U.S. Civil War.

The media is all over these good dads:

This dad learned to braid his daughter’s hair!

This dad coaches his daughter’s team and not his son’s!

This dad bought his daughter tampons isn’t that fucking amazing!

Seriously. How low is the bar for dads?

I mean, take Andy. No, don’t really take him, my husband is a great cook, can dance, makes decent money, and has solid health insurance.

But…Andy would also give our child 12 hours of screen time a day if I weren’t around so he could play Clash Royale or read the news in peace. Andy wouldn’t have done the work to get Baby D into swim classes, Junior Lifeguards, or any sports. Without my  badgering guidance, Andy definitely wouldn’t have volunteered to coach any sports, or signed Baby D up for Cub Scouts. There wouldn’t be father-son trips to McDonad’s Playland, let alone the beach.

Our kid would also be wearing clothes he outgrew 2 years ago.

Yet my fellow moms shrug off this standard dad behavior. Instead, they are in awe over the fact that my husband goes to the Farmer’s Market and cooks on the weekends. They repeatedly tell me how lucky I am.

Can you imagine being amazed if a mom went to the market and made dinner?

Other women tell me what a great dad Andy is because he goes to his son’s sports games—even though he’s missed a few while injured or out of town.

Meanwhile, my Surgeon Sister works long, unpredictable hours and misses some of her daughters’ events. When Surgeon Sis introduced herself as “A’s mom” at swim meet, a woman blurted out, “You’re A’s mom? I thought you were dead!”

The bar for moms is set so high you’d have to be an eagle to fly over it.

The bar for being a good dad is so fucking low a dachshund couldn’t get under it.

But don’t worry, I’m not a total monster. Yesterday we still celebrated Father’s Day in our house.

I walked the dogs early while Andy had coffee and read or played video games. Just like every other day.

I took Baby D to specialized soccer training while Andy relaxed, as I do every Sunday.

We gave Andy new bourbons to try and a few other gifts, plus his favorite doughnuts and apple fritters. Then I took Baby D and some friends to a pool for the afternoon, followed by pizza and frozen yogurt—handling my kids’ activities and social life like I do every day.

Cuz every day is Father’s Day.

Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Content Warning: We’ve lost so many millions of mothers to COVID this year that even relentless jewelry-hawkers like Pandora are exercising a modicum of compassion in their Mother’s Day advertising. If you aren’t up for reading about the holiday, skip this post and consider yourself hugged.

My mom died when I was a teenager. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year after that.

I’d’ve liked to ignore the entire day. Or better still, the entire week.

Instead, there were celebrations for the other moms in my life. By the time I left home, I had to remember cards and gifts for my ex-stepmother, my current stepmother, my former stepfather’s current wife, etc. (My family is so complicated that my Big Brother finally made a PowerPoint presentation for those foolish enough to marry into it. My husband is still bitter Big Brother didn’t make it until after we got married.)

After I got married, though, Mother’s Day wasn’t so bad. Sure, I had to add my mother-in-law to the list of card recipients and badger my husband about getting her a gift, but this also served to remind him to start planning a celebration for the other mother in his life. Andy made sure that our dogs Fey and Woofie “remembered” Mother’s Day with gifts for me. He also made me beautiful breakfasts.

Once Baby D was born, every person I ran into on Mother’s Day weekend wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day.” I got cards, chocolates, and sometimes a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. Once Andy even sent me to the spa for a massage while he wrangled Baby D alone. ONCE.

By the time Baby D was three, Mother’s Day had evolved into A Most Important Event. Dozens of adorable, utterly useless crafts came home from preschool in my honor.

A paper plate “purse” with coupons for hugs, kisses, and chores that my child refused to ever let me redeem.

I also discovered that preschools and kindergartens went all in on “Mother’s Day Teas.” Children sang tear-inducing “I Love My Mom” songs while the teachers handed out tissues. Afterwards, kids served their mothers chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, and lemonade…and immediately ate the goodies themselves while the mommies were still blowing their noses. Since SoCal moms are constantly dieting, most moms didn’t care. Much to Baby D’s dismay, his mother ate her chocolate strawberries RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM and he had to wait until all the moms were served to get his own plate of treats.

Even youth sports recognized what a big deal Mother’s Day was. No games were scheduled on Mother’s Day. Which hardly seemed like a Mother’s Day present; the whole point of my ridiculously energetic kid playing sports was for SOMEONE ELSE to exhaust him on the field so I didn’t have to exhaust him at the park or in the pool or with Nerf gun wars. But instead of playing on Mother’s Day Sunday, corsages or flowers were given to all the moms in attendance at the Saturday games (the coaches warned you in advance to be in attendance).

While I might have preferred to celebrate Mother’s Day with more sports and less obligatory maternal celebrations, other moms relished the recognition. “At least I get this,” one mom told me, sniffing her bouquet.

Aghast, I said, “Your husband isn’t doing anything for you?! No brunch or dinner?!”

“Oh, there’s a dinner tonight—for my mother. I still have to pick up the cake and flowers and make the boys sign her card and get her present wrapped. And tomorrow, it’s a brunch for his mom. She can’t drive, so my husband will pick her up while I’m getting the house and meal ready a second time. By the time he takes her home, I’ll just have enough energy to put in a movie for the boys and retreat to my room with a glass of wine.”

With my mother deceased and Andy’s mother 3,000 miles away, I’d never really thought about Mother’s Day for the “Sandwich Generation” before. It sounded exhausting.

Yes, Mother’s Day without my own mom was always sad.

No, Mother’s Day as a mom wasn’t always what I wanted.

But it was mine. All mine.
Right down to the Nerf Wars.

A Sunny Visit (#309)

After my father-in-law died, my Chinese-American mother-in-law hunkered down at home for more than a year. Her children flew to Hawaii to visit her. Sunny, who had once longed to travel, only left the house for shopping and walks.

Until my brother-in-law needed help with childcare. Sunny decided to bookend her months at Denny’s house in Northern California with visits to our house in Southern California (and a side trip to Vegas with her sister, of course).

Having had my fill of in-law visits, I went to New York City during the first four days of Sunny’s visit. Don’t be thinking it was filled with shows or shopping, though! I cooked, cleaned, and helped my sister adjust to having a newborn.

When I got home, practically the first thing my son did was complain about eating out.

Now, maybe you think it’s normal for husband and son to eat out when the wife is gone. If so, 1) check yourself on the gender stereotyping and 2) you must be new here. Continue reading A Sunny Visit (#309)

Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

TUESDAY, T-MINUS 2 DAYS

6 AM: Suicidal squirrels dart in front of dog on walk. We go down in a heap on cement, one of us swearing all the way. Badly bruised knee, road rash through pants, banged up hip and wrist. Nothing broken. Unfortunate. Still stuck having to cook up Thanksgiving & Birthday dinner for husband.

12:20 PM: Start on crust for Chocolate Satin pie husband requested. Baby D dismantles Oreos for the chocolate crust while I limp around kitchen.

1:30 PM: Pull pie crust out of oven. Discover sides have slid to the bottom of pie pan. Tell Baby D to quit eating all the Oreo middles while scrambling to find more reputable recipe online. Wonder who the fuck bribed 100+ people to write glowing reviews of crap pie recipe.

2 PM: Settle on Epicurious chocolate cream pie because have all the ingredients. Cook filling and bake pie crust while Baby D sneaks more Oreo middles.

4 PM: Assemble pie and refrigerate. Baby D moans about tummy ache and swears off Oreos forever. Continue reading Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

For more than a decade, our Labor Day weekend has been marked by intense kitchen rivalry, thanks to the neighborhood cooking contest.

Andy trounced everyone for years—until he got tired of me micro-managing the presentation of his savory entries and told me to make my own dish. I did, and he was sorry after I crushed him and our whole neighborhood with my baked goods. Two years ago, Andy staged a comeback and walloped me. Last year, we tied.

Some of Andy’s doughnuts.

This year was looking to be a showdown. Andy spent quarantine mastering everything from French bread to homemade doughnuts, prepping for a possible assault on my baking territory.

There have been casualties:

My waistline.

An immolated dish towel. Continue reading When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

Quarantine Scenes (#282)

I dunno about everyone else, but I can’t write for shit these days.

There is no concentration in the time of coronavirus. Not with husband and child sharing less than 1200 square feet with me. If the kid isn’t demanding food, attention, or help with school work, the husband has a conference call on speaker phone. (I don’t understand three-fourths of the conversation, but I’ve learned that most engineers have social skills similar to toddlers. Both equate volume to getting their way.)

If the kid is playing an online game with friends (or without friends) there are shouts of anger and despair.

I haven’t been alone in a month. No, not even in the bathroom, because dog and cat know how to open the door. Continue reading Quarantine Scenes (#282)