The Bucket List (in a Jar)–In Which An Old Couple Makes a New Recipe

Dear Lily June,

American Chinese food is a big part of your parent’s love story. I can’t tell you how many Chinese takeout cartons we’ve killed for your father since the start of our romance, but I can assure you, like pizza boxes for your mother, it’s a lot. The two low-rent foodies that we are, breaking bread–or, in this case, egg rolls–has always been an occasion for social interaction, affection, and taking stock of our relationship. Saturday’s bucket list task for your father (which we did together)–“Learn to Make Crab Rangoon”–was no exception.

***

Step One–Gather and Mix Your Ingredients.

Rangoon 1

After you’ve purchased your 48 wonton wrappers from three separate trips to the store–one to the Asian Market where you bought rice flour wraps for salad rolls instead of wheat flour wrappers for wontons because you’re hopeless, a return to the Asian Market where you get the right wrappers but hopelessly frozen, laying them out on the sun of your car’s dashboard and crossing your fingers, and finally a last trip to Walmart where you find them again, this time unfrozen–you’re ready to make the filling. As the Muncie Asian Market says endearingly,

“We apologize for imperfect customer.”

The filling of crab rangoon is simple, and involves the following elements, stirred together in a bowl:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese
  • 3 tsp. mayo
  • 1 6-oz. can crabmeat, drained and flaked
  • 2 green onions with tops, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. white sugar

The ingredients to a relationship are far more complex. To know why I wrote the task for your father in the first place, you have to know, Lily, that in the year before I met him, your dad Ryan worked at the local cheap Chinese food place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Swen Chinese Restaurant.

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Oh Swen, how we do and don’t miss you simultaneously.

You have to know that his job there as a server was one he loved/hated, and that though he quit it before he met me, he got it back for the year before we married, when he and I worked more jobs than fingers on a hand in order to save up for our wedding–dress, cake, castle, horse-drawn carriage–purchasing or renting almost everything ourselves.

It was a year of working our fingers to the bone, and we barely got to see each other. After teaching all week and working odd jobs all weekend, we would crash into our bed with him still smelling of fried appetizers and soy sauce, and me still complaining about landscaping and apartment cleaning. But we did it, Lily, together: Like the elements of a good recipe, we combined, and our love, all the better for it, took on its own distinct flavors.

 

***

Step Two–Fill the Wonton and Begin Folding.

When the filling is combined, you take a heaping teaspoon of it and place it in the center of the wonton wrapper. Next, you dip your finger into a bowl of water, and run it over the four side edges, tracing it like were a frame around your wedding picture. Looking at it like the diamond shape of a ring, you pull one corner to the other, folding it over.

Rangoon 2

On Saturday, our whole family woke up in a state, literally feeling (forgive the pun)ย  crabby. He was stressed, I was tired, you were teething. We knew we had a lot (forgive the pun again) on our plate for the day–house hunting, grocery shopping, cooking.

We were so focused on the bigger picture–looking for a house we’re not sure we can afford, dreaming of your future in it–we forgot to focus on the small details of the present, and even the moments of the past that folded into it, bringing us to that day, those moments.

Details like, for instance, how Swen used to call the appetizer, instead of Crab Rangoon, Crab Angles. Only, due to a misprinted menu or a (purposeful?) failure in your dad’s or my pronunciation, we called them Crab Angels. Because I wasn’t sure, for a minute, which was right, I looked it up and found this definition on Wikipedia when it comes to aviation:

“Crab angle is the amount of correction an aircraft must be turned into the wind in order to maintain the desired course.”

It doesn’t help me understand the dish, but we should have, Lily, corrected the course we were taking that Saturday morning, to avoid what would become an inevitable evening’s fight. Unfortunately, the corners of our thoughts weren’t lining up just right, and we did end up embroiled in a long discussion about anxieties and house purchases and the insecurities it brought up from our financial and familial pasts and what that would mean towards our future.

***

Steps Three & Four–Pinch the Folds Closed. Twist Together.

Sometimes, Lily, it’s when elements of food or life are pinched hardest that the pressure holds the wontons–or the people making them–together.

Grab the wonton wrapper by the center point and lift. Hold it so that the filling is at the bottom of the plate. Pinch the bottom and top corners into the center so that each slants down toward the plate, like the angle of a house’s roof. Twist the points just a bit, not so gently that they come undone, not so roughly that the wrapper rips.

Ultimately, Lily, your dad and I talked everything out. He reflected my fears about our potential home–and what affording it might mean–back to me. And I tried to reflect his hopes about our future there back to him. The truth is, like a pastry, we will shape our lives to fit what we fill them with. We always have, and always will, just like we found a way, working odd jobs at all hours of the day, to afford a wedding when we were just two poor graduate students struggling to make ends meet (pun intended).

It turns out that, like the crab puffs themselves and their origins, our fears are usually mostly full of hot air. Despite claims of coming from a Burmese recipe, there is, after all, no real Chinese dish called Crab Rangoon. It was likely invented by Americans from either Hawaii or San Francisco back in the 1950’s, the tell tale sign being that cream cheese, like most other dairy cheeses, is virtually nonexistent in Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine.

But I never would have learned that if it weren’t for your father. It was his love of American Chinese food that caused me to even challenge us to find and make the recipe, just as it was his initial passion driving us to look into homes in the first place. Just as it was he who once upon a time asked for my hand, asked to make a life with me.

When it comes to holding all the elements together, your father, Lily, turned out to be the real master. While I and my puffs came ever so slightly undone, he did what he’s always done: He held us together.

***

Step 5–Oil, Bake, and Eat.

Life, and love, are often a matter of learning by doing.

Rangoon 5

Spray the completed shapes with oil & set them into muffin tins. Bake at 425 degrees for about 12-15 minutes (or less if you smell them burning, apparently). Eat them and learn what you’d do differently.

Our finished product came out a bit overcooked, more savory than I would prefer, and less sweet. But I know the little things I’d change, if I could: Pull them out of the oven a little sooner. Swap the green onions for yellow ones. Use more sugar.

Your dad, as he usually does when we try something new, said he liked them. He’s less quick to analyze the process, more apt to just enjoy the finished product. It takes us both, Lily: the doer and the planner. If I hadn’t printed the recipe, we might not have even come close to producing something like the appetizer we’ve eaten on countless occasions. But when we weren’t sure how to shape them, we didn’t look it up. Your father just grabbed some wrappers and filling and water and was willing to get messy.

The next day’s significance snuck up on us, as it isn’t a date in our history we usually celebrate or even remember. It took Facebook to remind us. My status update read, “[Alyssa Moore] said yes.” Seven years ago, Lily, your dad stood in front of me and asked me to take a leap into our lives together. He got down on one knee in front of a river and said, “I won’t f*ck you up.” And he hasn’t, Lily. Ever.

To bake, as to live, together requires coordination. One person does the cutting, the other the measuring. One person’s better at mixing, the other at making shapes. It doesn’t matter who does what, as long as you play to each other’s strengths. Seven years from the date I said “Yes,” to your father, Lily, I was sure I would say it again, despite our spats and our worries, despite sometimes being so out of balance or sync that if we were a dish, we’d produce an inedible taste.

Because there are times in any good love story when your lives are so sweet together, they’re like the top tier of a wedding cake. You want to take those moments and freeze them, find a way to make them last forever. And just when you’re sure they won’t, one or the other of you remembers some small detail and you both sink your teeth into the memory. And you stop working or worrying. And you savor.

***

Picture Credits:

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20 thoughts on “The Bucket List (in a Jar)–In Which An Old Couple Makes a New Recipe

  1. Patricia says:

    ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘ Yea! House hunting. I am pretty sure that y0u will find the right house for the three of you. It may take a while so just prepare yourself for that but looking is fun. Though we are not ready to buy, we seem to be forever looking. Danny’s tastes run high and I have learned to just smile and keep my mouth shut. He will want to make sure that I am happy with whatever he finds and we either can or cannot afford it. I am determined not to end up with a huge house we cannot afford but there will be a fight about how much acreage and how much live water (streams) costs. I am now into the simple life.

    About the recipe: You had me until you put “mayo”. I can’t stand the look, taste or smell. My sister is the same as are a couple of my nieces and Danny’s brother-in-law. When we have family events with his family, there always has been and always will be deviled eggs. They actually make mine separate with mustard and dill relish until Danny’s brother-in-law discovered them so now they have to make double.๐Ÿ‘

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      We have about six months, Patricia, before our apartment lease runs out so it’s now or a whole ‘nother year of renting. We’re tired of our money not going towards something we can own, and also we want so badly for Lily to have her own space. Here’s hoping we find something we can afford.

      Good for you on setting the boundaries with your own home hunting. May we both find the places that we–and our significant others–can live with and live in! I hope, despite your embracing the simple life, that you find somewhere with good internet access!

      In the meantime, I completely agree with you on mayo. I won’t eat it unless it’s baked into something where the taste is pretty much completely buried (like thick dips). We used it in this recipe really just to add a creamier texture to the filling, and we used the olive oil variety so the texture/taste was even more hidden. But you could easily omit it. That being said, I wasn’t thrilled with this recipe overall, so I think, if we were to make it again, we’d keep looking for a better mixture.

      And you had me at the end until you said mustard! What you said about Danny’s family’s deviled eggs reminds me of my sister and lasagna. She *hated* ricotta when we were growing up, so my mother would always bake her her own small pan of lasagna without it. I was always so jealous. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Patricia says:

        My mom did things like that for us too. Danny wanted to taste my deviled eggs once and he actually liked them. We like tart vinegary tastes though. Yes, Internet connection is a must. Danny has contacted a man who has some office space and when the man comes back into town, he is going to get with us. I just hope we can afford it. Danny is doing the stock market thing so he needs the internet. He does internet seminars daily also. While it sometimes scares me, I support his desire to do this. At least this time, he is doing it the right way. He gets advice from the pro’s and it seems to work for him. We don’t have the money for him to get in deep so he is building it slowly. He says has learned from is mistakes. I hope so. He goes to the library every day to use the internet until the market closes.

        We found this house in one day. I don’t regret it in spite of the internet situation but we are just renting. I actually like not getting a phone signal most of the time. The kids can’t call constantly with drama. I write letters to my parents so I don’t have to yell for them to hear me. Mom’s problem is not so much hearing as understanding. When I am with her, I have to remind myself to talk more slowly because of her hearing. She’s annoying because she pretends she knows what you are saying or guesses the most stupid things. I get so irritated and then I feel guilty. At least she still has her intelligence.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. dearlilyjune says:

        I’ll wish Danny much success on the market if you wish us much success with the house hunting. It’s fun with no down payment and a very low likelihood of raising one. And by fun, I mean grueling torture.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Patricia says:

        Best of luck! Been there, done that! We went to have some issues with our 2012 Subaru fixed and to waste time, we started looking at 2015 Subaru’s. The salesman pushed us and pushed us and Danny told him we didn’t really need a new car and no, we didn’t have a down payment. The dealership played the game of let me try this and let me try that every time we started to walk away. We left with a 2015 Subaru with lots of upgrades for $17 more on our payment. We really didn’t intend to get a new car. I think we did come up with a very small down payment though. We usually don’t have a down payment. If someone wants to sell bad enough, Danny says you can get a house without a down payment but not necessarily easily. What you can do is to buy a fixer upper and once you get it fixed up, sell it and buy a bigger house and keep on truckin. People do that all the time. I think that was Danny’s intention when he bought the first house we lived in. The kids and I hated that house but it was a corner house with big trees. He refused to sell it to “We Buy Ugly Houses” when we bought our new house and we kept paying the note and utilities. Finally, I talked him into selling it to a friend who does house flips. We made a little money and I was never so glad to see a house go bye bye. I know you have a difficult task in front of you but it can be fun. Look for for sale by owner. Some even owner finance so ask about that. You get a better break on credit checks when you go FSBO and you won’t have to pay a Realtor fee. I was shocked that we were able to get our last house financed. It was a $415,000 house and we were under bankruptcy. So you see, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I keep hearing that your job is your credit. In other words, if you have job stability, you can pay. We have a guy working on cleaning up our credit. He’s doing good so far.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Patricia says:

        We went to look at some space to use as an office so we could access the internet comfortably at any time. The space was too large and out of our budget. The owner who is a builder and excavator suggested that we rent a small house he built on his property. His property is on a lake and faces the mountains. Though small, really too small, it was gorgeous. The kitchen has modern appliances (extra large refrigerator and 5 burner built in stove. There are built in glass shelves, the walls are blue pine and cedar, there are front load washer and dryers, glass front walls. We were in awe. The rent is $100 more than we are paying now but he pays ALL utilities which is worth about $350 and we wouldn’t have to have an office space. We would, however, have to rent a storage unit for furniture and there is no garage and Danny has way too much s…t and he has to have a place to keep his motorcycle. The guy keeps his heavy equipment on the property so there is that and he said they may do some welding in front of the house from time to time. We think we could put up with that to have this house for a year or year and a half. I suggested that we give our dining and living room furniture to our son and daughter-in-law. Then I thought about how dumb that would be. What if we choose a larger home for our forever home? So we are going to wait and see where we end up. We are still considering the little house. While this house is perfect for us, it is older and it has a smell to it. You get used to it when you are in it for a bit but when you first walk into the bedroom, it is bothersome. We have tried everything.

        You know, you could also entertain renting to own where the lease payments are applied toward buying the house.

        Sorry for all the unasked for advice. Can’t help myself.๐Ÿ˜

        Liked by 1 person

      5. dearlilyjune says:

        It’s funny; I keep trying to push us the opposite way. I want small, cozy. I want to simplify my life as much as is possible to focus only on the small goods! I hope you & Danny find the home to fit your hearts. I know, from all your kindness with me, a house would have to be huge to accommodate yours!

        Your advice, Patricia, is always appreciated. We’ve thought about the rent-to-own approach, but in a small town like ours, the homes available this way are run-down, sometimes to the point of being dangerous. It looks like after our tax returns, we’ll have enough for a very small down payment. It’s not much, but it may buy us our little corner of the world.

        Of course, if the world flips on its axis sending us to your neck of the woods, we may snatch up that little home you’re talking about! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Patricia says:

        I too want to down-size more. I would be happy with just enough furniture for this house but you just never know what will come your way.

        I thought about you when I saw this house. Actually, I thought you would like the house we are in except for the smell. I think this area would be so wonderful for you, Ryan and LilyJune. There is Fort Lewis College in Durango and it is much larger than I thought.๐Ÿ™„

        Liked by 1 person

  2. lindalanger6 says:

    Good post Cooking together is a challenge for a couple, much like rearranging furniture or hanging wallpaper. It brings out the best and worst in us. On the pronunciation of crab rangoon, my beloved Jennifer called it “cranberry goon,” which brought to mind a giant doofus stomping through cranberry bogs

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allie P. says:

    So much going on here. Happy Anniversary of sorts, good luck with the house hunting, and thank you for the recipe. I am not sure how we would go about making that in my house. I am the baker of the family while the hubby is the cook. This seems to be dangerously close to a kitchen compromise which is usually fraught with danger in my house.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lonna Hill says:

    What a great post! My husband and I like to cook together, too. It is something that we discovered several years into our relationship, though, because I knew nothing about cooking when we first met and didn’t know that I could actually like it. Unfortunately, it’s not something we do much together anymore because, with our recent move and his new job, he is working very long hours.

    My favorite line is, “Sometimes, Lily, itโ€™s when elements of food or life are pinched hardest that the pressure holds the wontonsโ€“or the people making themโ€“together.” So, so true. My relationship with my husband….so many of my relationships for that matter….grow the most when we are feeling the pressure or experiencing hardships.

    Liked by 1 person

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