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.

A Doggie Story (#339)

Our rescue dogs were very different in temperament. Woofie, the Labrador mix, saw every creature as a potential playmate. If he could have, that dog would have opened the door to any stranger with a ball…or a knife, or a gun.

Fey, our German shepherd and shar-pei mix, saw every stranger as a potential threat, unless they were a white male over six feet tall who smelled like In-n-Out burgers. (You can probably guess who rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles and what food they used to gain a starving dog’s trust.) Fey refused to let the gas meter man near the house, which was a pain in the ass, but she also refused to let burglars break into the house, which everyone except Woofie found heroic.

Woofie shook off criticism like water. “Bad dog!” meant nothing to him. So did “no!” and even, “Jesus fucking Christ, Woofie, how did you dig up an entire bougainvillea in two minutes?!” Continue reading A Doggie Story (#339)

The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

As usual, March has not been a great month. Fellow blogger Mark suggested I hunker down at home.

I tried. Things got ugly there, too. Literally.

The city decided to chop down all seven mature trees that form a canopy around our house. These trees are on the city property that border the street; even though homeowners water them, they belong to the city. Homeowners aren’t allowed trim the trees without going through an arduous permitting process, but city didn’t trim the trees for about fifty years. Their massive roots raised and cracked the sidewalks.

Older folks are likely to trip and fall. Folks in wheelchairs have a hard time getting through. The city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specter of lawsuits loomed. Continue reading The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest every Labor Day. My amazing Chinese-American husband Andy won for many years—until I figured out how to sneak chocolate baked goods into the competition.

Then I won for many years. The hostess finally created two categories, Savory and Sweet, in an effort to mitigate my chocolate dominance. Andy, sulking over repeated defeats, refused to enter again until last year.

Then he jumped categories and trounced me soundly with his homemade ice-cream and sugar cones. My miniature eclairs did not even place.

This year, the contest’s theme was “picnic food.”

Andy threatened to make ice-cream again.

I threatened to withhold sex unless he returned to his proper “Savory” category. Continue reading Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

Showers (#250)

Ah, the baby shower.

Traditionally, these all-women events involved opening boxes of baby clothes and cooing over them. Many showers had guessing games. I’ve played everything from “What chocolate bar has been melted in this diaper?” to “Is this white powder baking soda, cornstarch, or flour?” 

Since I’m a chocoholic, an amateur baker, and competitive as fuck, I won all the traditional baby showers (even when the hostess tried to trick me by throwing in cream of tartar). Continue reading Showers (#250)

New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

A few years ago, a thirty-something couple moved into the house behind us. They had two girls under age five and another baby on the way. When the mom told me that her husband once danced and sang on a table, I assumed she was indulging in nostalgia rather than foreshadowing.

Until festive lights went up in the backyard. This was followed by a disco ball, loud music, and the chanting of “Drink, drink, drink!”

Another neighbor called and asked where the frat party was.

“At the newborn’s house,” I replied.

Continue reading New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest over Labor Day weekend. The hostess picks a different ingredient or theme each year.

My husband Andy is an amazing cook. He won until the year of the potato. I snuck in a potato flake cake from a 50s recipe. My chocolate crushed the competition – including my husband. The following year, the hostess split the competition, creating two different categories: one for savory items, one for sweets.

Last year Andy didn’t enter a savory dish. He says it was because it was a hundred degrees and there was no way he was turning on the stove. Continue reading Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Wretch (#218)

My mother loved being pregnant. When I was 10 and she was pregnant with Baby Brother, she gave up alcohol and cigarettes without complaint. Same thing when I was 11 and she had Baby Singing Sister. She rarely threw up and was always cheerful.

My older sister, the Judgmental Genius Doctor, had miserable pregnancies. Continue reading Wretch (#218)

Problem Pet Owners (#213)

Some people shouldn’t have pets. Take my family. I had anywhere from 3-7 siblings when I was growing up. There’s no way a parent will notice a listless cat needs a vet visit when they don’t even know that child #2 has a chipped ankle because they’re busy bandaging the road rash of child #4, dragged an entire block by the dog they never had the time to train. Eventually, the ill-trained dog will be sent to the local doggie death center. The children will cry. The dog will be replaced by a bunny. Raccoons will eat the rabbit because it was left outside.

Welcome to the circle of life, suburban edition. Continue reading Problem Pet Owners (#213)

Year of the Dawg (#212)

It’s Chinese New Year, and it’s also my third blogoversary! I bet y’all think I’m gonna do an uplifting or informational post about the Year of the Dog today, right?

Nope. Today I’m gonna talk about just how much a new mattress can improve your life. Continue reading Year of the Dawg (#212)

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