Turkeys (#307)

Once upon a time, birthdays were a huge deal in my family. Being showered with cake and presents made it the best day of the year.

My Chinese-American husband’s family wasn’t like that. Birthdays were no big deal. In fact, Andy’s grandmother was very superstitious about celebrating, especially as she reached her 90s. “If you have a big celebration that makes a lot of noise,” she said, “you’re just reminding the evil spirits that you’re still alive. They might decide to rectify that situation.”

After age 10, my birthdays went from “meh” to “completely shitty.” Now I try to ignore my birthday. This past year, I made the mistake of letting my sisters talk me into a once-in-a-lifetime girls’ trip with a stay at a top-notch hotel and spa (they offered to pay, even!). We made plans and reservations at the beginning of the year. Then COVID hit.

I would have taken it personally, but all American non-introverts are having shitty birthdays this year (thank you so much, you fucking inept Trump Administration). I’m just grateful that 1) I wasn’t planning a wedding and 2) we haven’t lost any family members. But even though I don’t feel singled out, I’ve begun to think like Popo—it’s better not to make big plans, because the universe might decide to mess with you.

Andy’s giant birthday éclair

Meanwhile, Andy’s gone from shrugging off his birthday to having expectations. For him, though, it’s not having parties with friends and family. It’s about being spoiled with homemade baked goods. He loves getting coffee cake for breakfast and then either a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache icing, or a giant chocolate éclair (yes, homemade down to the hot fudge topping). Baby D and I pick up his favorite burritos or burgers for lunch. Then I either make him pot roast or we might go out to his favorite restaurant.

Not surprisingly, Andy, who handles most of the cooking, enjoys sitting on his butt and being waited on for his birthday.

Unfortunately, Andy’s birthday is on Thanksgiving this year.

Cue the horror music, because I hate cooking (baking is different!) and I am not a good cook (pot roast excepted). But with fast food places closed for the holiday, there would be no burritos and burgers.

I asked, “What meals do you want for your birthday, honey? Traditional Thanksgiving fare, even though it’s both historically inaccurate and kind of like celebrating the beginning of the genocide of American Indians? Cuz we could have anything. And you love my pot roast!”

“Six-hour cake!” Baby D shouted. “Dad wants six-hour cake! And beef Wellington!”

Andy’s beef Wellington

“Dalton, when it’s your birthday, you can pick what we eat,” I reminded my child. “But it’s Dad’s birthday. We do what Dad wants.”

Baby D subsided with a truculent glower.

“We can do a traditional Thanksgiving,” Andy said.

“Oh-kay,” I squeaked. “What about your birthday cake?”

“Six-hour cake!” Baby D insisted.

“Dalton–”

“You’d better not ask for the giant éclair again, Dad. The cake is so much better and it lasts longer.”

“Not your birthday, Dalton. Please be quiet and let Dad decide.”

“But he’s gonna decide WRONG.”

“How about a chocolate satin pie?” Andy suggested.

“Why would you pick pie when you could have cake?” howled Baby D.

“Because it’s Thanksgiving and I want pie,” Andy retorted. “Besides, your mom always makes that cinnamon coffee cake for me on the morning. Right honey?”

I smiled weakly and only said, “yes, of course,” rather than whimpering, “I’ve created a birthday monster.”

*****

I commenced researching. Comparing and deciding on a chocolate satin pie was easy. Mashed potatoes? No problem, The Joy of Cooking has a great recipe. Stuffing? No one likes it, so forget it. Same with cranberries. Vegetable? Susanna Foo’s cookbook has a delicious and easy creamy cabbage recipe we all like. With my homemade Shaker bread and my dad’s coffee cake recipe, I was all set.

It was the turkey that was daunting. The specter of a half-burned, half- Salmonella riddled bird hung over me like a fowl albatross. I spent hours researching brines. I plunged into debates over basting the sucker versus cooking it upside-down.

Frying the turkey? LOL, not after seeing this video.

This is the only kind of turkey I want to make or eat.

I didn’t like turkey to begin with. Now I hated it.

Then I found that I could not find a turkey. There were none at Costco. Whole Foods was sold out. Even Andy tried to find one. No luck.

Overwhelmed with choices and worried about oven management, I decided to outsource the turkey dinner. There were restaurants that served a takeout turkey dinner. Yay!

They were all sold out.

Crap.

I discovered a new restaurant nearby. They’d hired the executive chef of one of Andy’s favorite restaurants that had closed years ago. The restaurant did not have a Thanksgiving take out menu, but they had very limited outdoor seating.

Perfect.

I made a reservation.

Only to have Andy arrived home from the store with a turkey, a giant bag of potatoes, and TWO bags of cranberries.

“Cranberries?!” I exclaimed. “You want me to make cranberry sauce, too?! And that turkey is huge!”

“Well, cranberries might be nice,” Andy began, only to hurriedly add, “if you want. Or you can do something else with them. And this is the smallest turkey they had.”

“You just want me to utterly fail at cooking Thanksgiving and your birthday dinner, don’t you? Then I will appreciate all you do in the kitchen and you can make jokes about ‘the year Autumn burned my Thanksgiving birthday’ forever. I see you, sadist.”

“Oh, honey, why would you say that? I got this turkey so that me and Baby D can eat turkey sandwiches for lunch all week.”

“And the cranberries?!”

“Ahhhh…”

“I thought so. Well,” I told him smugly, “You can make whatever turkey you want next week and throw cranberries on it, too. But we’re going out for Thanksgiving dinner!”

“What? Where?”

“Remember Chef C? She’s at a new restaurant and I got the last reservation.”

“Is it safe to eat at a restaurant?” Andy asked. We hadn’t been out since March.

“It’s outside.”

“Still…”

“At the beach. At 3 PM, with a ton of wind and they operate at 25% capacity. And of course we will wear masks when not eating. Happy Birthday!”

*****

The triumphant glow of outsourcing the Thanksgiving cooking lasted until last Sunday.

At 6PM, Los Angeles County announced that all restaurants would be closing to everything but take out at 10 PM—on the day before Thanksgiving.

I guess it’s back to the brine.

We Stan (#306)

Many folks grow up huge fans of celebrities. One of my sisters had the New Kids on the Block all over her room. We (her seven siblings) were forced to listen to NKOTB on all long car trips (actually preferable to my father’s choice of Johnny Horton).

Big Brother was torn between crushing on the red-headed neighbor girls and Princess Leia.

My Hollywood crush was Data from Star Trek TNG, because what’s better than a super strong, super smart, emotionally unavailable dude? In sports, I will always be a fan of Ed McCaffrey from the Denver Broncos.

Judgmental Genius Older Sister appeared immune to the allure of sports stars, movie stars, and rock stars. She was too busy graduating magna cum laude and crushing it in medical school to have time for crushes. At holiday gatherings, she had no idea who the celebrities de jour were, and she generally she fell asleep by 8:45 PM (sitting straight up, in the middle of the couch).

Then she was busy with her residency, surgery, oncology, a terrible pregnancy, and her first daughter. I’m pretty sure she has only just learned of the existence of the Kardashians (from her second daughter).

So I was a little shocked when this recently showed up in a family group text:

Dr. Sis: Guess who is in our hospital!

No one had any guesses.

Dr. Sis: Love this man!

Now we really had no guesses.

Dr. Sis: He is the Michael Jordan of medicine!

Still lost.

Dr. Sis: DR. FAUCI!!!!

Me: Oooo…how exciting!

Dr. Sis: Are you being sarcastic?! You’d better not be being sarcastic.

UNC Alum Relative: Nobody can be as good as Jordan.

Foolish Sibling: Is he the guy Brad Pitt played on SNL?

Dr. Sis: This is not basketball! This is not movies! This man SAVES LIVES!

UNC Alum Relative: Was I meant to be put on this chat?

Dr. Sis: YES YOU WERE NOW PAY ATTENTION, IT’S DR. FAUCI!

We were properly cowed. Dr. Sis sent us links to Dr. Fauci and his visit (apparently he was doing something called “grand rounds”).  She instructed us to show them to all our children.

Hopefully there’s no test during Zoom Thanksgiving.

Because ain’t no fangirl scarier than fangirl with a scalpel.

My favorite photo of Dr. Fauci, trying desperately not to laugh as Trump spouts the most ignorant gibberish imaginable.

 

*In case you aren’t familiar with “We Stan,” or “K-pop stans,” here’s the best definition: 

From the Urban Dictionary

Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Over 70 million Americans have spent the week holding their breath. We remember how confident we were four years ago. How we arrogantly assumed that the rest of the country saw Donald Trump for what he was: a hateful, racist, incompetent, misogynistic narcissist who would run the country into the ground.

I watched the numbers roll in on CNN and compared it with the New York Times website. And by 7 PM PST, it was clear that Clinton did not have the votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It was shocking, but true. Numbers don’t lie. The trend was obvious.

My Chinese-American mother-in-law was visiting. She didn’t understand why I was upset. “It will be fine,” she said.

“It will not be fine,” I told her. “With the Senate also Republican, there will be no checks on that man.” I fled to my bedroom. Continue reading Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Decisions at the End (#302)

Content Warning: this post deals with burial arrangements. Given that over a million people have recently died due to COVID, alone, and with their families often unable to follow the deceased’s religious or personal wishes regarding their remains, you may want to skip this lighthearted post. If so, I understand. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that your memories of your loved one become more comfort than sorrow.

My Chinese-American husband never worried about death. His only end-of-life plan was purchasing life insurance.

When we had Baby D, I got life insurance, too, and insisted that Andy increase his coverage. Because I am always braced for catastrophe and death, I asked him, “What do you want me to do if you die?”

Andy snorted and said, “What do I care? I’m dead.”

“No, seriously. Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”

“Whatever you want.”

“How about a memorial ceremony with your favorite foods and beer and bourbon?”

“If that’s what you want. Because I don’t care. I’m dead.” Continue reading Decisions at the End (#302)

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)

Burned (#291)

My Chinese-American husband is a fantastic cook. Andy can make any cuisine, from pulled pork barbecue to agedashi tofu.

Andy’s beef Wellington

His eggs Benedict are sublime. Pretty sure I joined Instagram just to make people envious over of his beef Wellington.

I am content to give Andy the cooking crown in our household. I focus on baking, which is my strength.

I stay in my lane.

Andy is NOT staying in his lane. Continue reading Burned (#291)

Hells Bells (#285)

I’m having a hard time working from home. That may seem odd, since I’m a writer used to working at home.

Let me clarify: I am used to working at home ALONE.

My husband is technically an essential worker because his company does top secret work for the government. I stopped asking what he does because there are polygraphs involved and we need our health insurance. Andy’s supposed to be going into work. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, company employees kept testing positive for COVID-19, which meant the company closed down and sanitized every infected employees’ building(s). During this process, the company sent all the employees that normally work in the infected building to other buildings. Not surprisingly, employees in THOSE buildings then became infected and those buildings had to be shut down.

It was an endless, ludicrous game of Whack-a-mole until all the buildings wound up shut. The company had no choice but to attempt remote work. Continue reading Hells Bells (#285)

The Mask Avenger (#284)

Like a lot of Chinese-Americans, my husband isn’t into fanfare. He doesn’t make a big deal out of the delicious meals he cooks. He presents me with seedlings for my garden that I had no idea were germinating in his greenhouse.

I only found out about a huge bonus he got from work when I found it on our checking account.

Compared to all the mediocre white males who constantly tout their non-accomplishments (see the Trump Administration for hundreds of examples), Andy’s reticence seems like an excellent characteristic.

Alas. Information hoarding has a dark side. Continue reading The Mask Avenger (#284)

Easter Won’t Be Easter Without Any See’s Candies (#283)

See’s Candies at Christmas time.

When I moved to California, I discovered See’s Candies. I got really pissed that I’d been stuck with Whitman’s Samplers all my life. I also gained about ten pounds (they give out free samples).

It’s probably not a coincidence that we bought a house a few miles from their outlet shop. Our son also grew to love See’s Candies, and the sales people there grew to love him. Every holiday had some See’s, whether it was a chocolate Santa in his stocking or green shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day.

Due to COVID-19, See’s closed for the first time since World War II in March. Continue reading Easter Won’t Be Easter Without Any See’s Candies (#283)

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)