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.

Birthdays might involve going out for dim sum. There wasn’t even a cake until Andy turned 18—when his mom told Andy to pick one up for himself at the grocery store. Andy had a job at that point; I suspect he even had to pay for it.

Since holidays were the highlight of my childhood, I was horrified every time I discovered a new one Andy had “missed.”

You never carved a pumpkin?!” I’d screech. “What did you DO on Halloween, then?”

“Went trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, good. At least your parents let you do that.”

“Of course. The candy was free.”

I was sad for all the fun things Andy missed, but, even though he was the child of immigrants, Andy had a more secure childhood than I did. He was the apple of his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—eyes, the first male in two generations. As the much beloved Number One Son, his mother and grandmother constantly pushed him to eat more. When they went out for dim sum, there were always leftovers to bring home.

I had years on free lunch tickets, plus I had to guard my food from my hungry siblings. My parents were terrible cooks. When we went out to Shakey’s Pizza or McDonald’s (a HUGE treat!), there were never leftovers. Probably the reason we loved holidays was in no small part due to the abundance of food, especially sweets.

Andy, in turn, was horrified that a) I grew up without quite enough food, and b) Kraft Mac & Cheese with Hormel Chili was my favorite dinner.

Over the years, I introduced Andy to holiday fun. He showed me that cooking meals from scratch was tasty (and, when it wasn’t beef Wellington, economical).

Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts.

This year, our child’s birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day fell within days of each other. Piles of candy and gifts accumulated on the dining room table. At that same table, I watched Baby D devour Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts, Andy’s beef Wellington, carryout from Din Tai Fun, about twenty shrimp dumplings from the local dim sum joint, and Andy’s homemade chili and cornbread.

Baby D’s homemade cake.

Meanwhile, Andy watched me make a six-hour chocolate cake and arrange a surprise birthday COVID car parade for our kid. He laughed as I swapped out birthday balloons for red lanterns and lucky money envelopes for Baby D’s favorite See’s Candies so our kid could fully enjoy each special occasion.

After Valentine’s Day dinner, Andy surveyed the accumulated culinary/ holiday debris and said, “Our kid is spoiled.”

“We’re just giving him everything we wished we’d had,” I countered.

“But it’s so much!”

“Maybe you’re right. But there’s one really important Ashbough tradition left.”

“Even your family cannot possibly do anything for President’s Day.”

“Hahaha, no, we’re not celebrating problematic old white men. It’s something else.” I raised my voice and called, “Baby D! Come here! We have one more thing for you!”

Baby D ran into the kitchen. “Is it a giant gummi worm? More hong bao?”

I placed a towel in his outstretched hands and said,

“It’s the dishes.”

When Lions Eat Lettuce (#114)

Gung hey fat choi! It's the Year of the Monkey! (Better give the lion some lai see if you don't want to get eaten, Monkey.)
Gung hey fat choi! It’s the Year of the Monkey. (Better give the lion some lai see if you don’t want to get eaten, Monkey.)

Early one February, Andy asked if I want to go to dim sum with his aunt, uncle, and cousins on the weekend.

I said, “So long as you don’t make fun of me for not eating the chicken feet.”

“But they’re so good! And you won’t even try them!”

I shuddered. “It’s the toenails. If you have to spit out toenails, you cannot pretend you’re not eating another creature’s feet.” Continue reading When Lions Eat Lettuce (#114)

Son-in-Law vs. Daughter-in-Law (#110)

IMG_5730When I butted heads with my in-laws, I had a secret weapon. Well, more like a secret label, really. I was able to avoid taking their criticism personally by calling it “a cultural difference.”

Doubling the number of bridesmaids to 8 due to Chinese superstitions about the Voldemort of numbers? It’s a pain in the ass, but fine, I’ll respect your superstition.

Ignoring the fact that I hate seafood and making sure every dish at the Chinese Wedding Banquet was marine? Well, each dish had some cultural significance and my in-laws paid for it. I fed my portions to my new husband and said nothing. Continue reading Son-in-Law vs. Daughter-in-Law (#110)

Curfew (#102)

How late was your curfew?
How late was your curfew?

When Andy stayed with my family the Christmas before we got married, he was shocked by how late my Baby Sister came home. She was my last sibling in high school. Her boyfriend dropped her off about 1:31 AM. We, of course, were still awake, thanks to the three-hour time difference between LA and New Hampshire. Andy strained chicken stock while I frosted cream cheese sugar cookies. Baby Sister told us good-night and helped herself to a cookie on the way upstairs.

After she went up to bed, Andy said, “Isn’t it kind of late?” Continue reading Curfew (#102)

The Menu and the Message (#101)

 

IMG_5038My new in-laws, Sunny and Jay, insisted on a Chinese Wedding Banquet a month after our traditionally western wedding. They took us to beta test the restaurant two days before the banquet. It went…poorly.

Sunny and Jay found a new banquet location the very next day. As neither in-law sought my opinion on anything ever, I was shocked when Jay sat down next to me with a menu.

“What courses you like?” Jay asked.

I shot my new husband a suspicious look: Is this a trap? Continue reading The Menu and the Message (#101)

Lights Out (#99)

IMG_5041My father had a terrible temper. When he unloaded a barrage of profanity at the washing machine, my siblings and I fled. God forbid his gaze landed on you when he was pissed – you could easily be the next target. On the other hand, you couldn’t go completely out of earshot. If you did, and the man needed a hammer or wrench or rag, and you weren’t there to supply it, you’d definitely get hit with the next blast of fury. Continue reading Lights Out (#99)

Clash of the Utensils (#78)

You wouldn't eat a grapefruit with chopsticks...
You wouldn’t eat a grapefruit with chopsticks, would you?

Chopsticks never made any sense to me. Eating rice with them is a special kind of torture. I’d corner a pile of rice on my plate, smoosh it together with chopsticks, and lose half the pile on the way to my mouth. The futility of eating rice with chopsticks was inversely proportional to the size of the rice pile; the smaller the pile, the harder it was to get a few grains to your mouth. There were times when I’d manage to get two grains of rice in my mouth. This is fantastic for dieting, but lousy for sustenance. Continue reading Clash of the Utensils (#78)

A Question of Cake (#49)

IMG_6585

I love cake. Okay, I love all baked goods, but cake is the best. It was my favorite part of all my parents’ weddings. It’s STILL my favorite part of every wedding. I do enjoy the dancing now that I bring my own partner, but while I’m dancing with Andy, I’m totally eyeing that four-tiered, fabulous, elaborate, fondant-covered wedding cake in the corner. Continue reading A Question of Cake (#49)

Bitter Tea (#28)

The Chinese-American finance brews up something to make the white girl feel better.
The Chinese-American fiancé brews up something to make the white girl feel better.

Not long after my Chinese-American fiancé proposed, I caught a nasty cold. I am sure it had nothing to do with an engagement made stressful by stubborn Chinese parents. Continue reading Bitter Tea (#28)

Dim Sum. Dim White Girl. Aw, Fork! (#8)

White pawn with fork
White pawn gets forked.

The first time I met my Chinese-American boyfriend’s parents, they were not impressed. Not by my appearance, not by the gifts I brought, and not by my conversational abilities. When Andy announced that we were going to Dim Sum with his grandmother, I was pleased. Here was my chance to show Jay and Sunny that I had some familiarity and respect for their cuisine, at least. This white girl can use chopsticks! Continue reading Dim Sum. Dim White Girl. Aw, Fork! (#8)