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.
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.
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.
On Saturday, our whole family woke up in a state, literally feeling (forgive the pun) 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.
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.
- By Patrick Verdier, Free On Line Photos – Photo: http://www.folp.free.fr/Open.php?getTabSigIdeImg=1862&getModeGrdFormat=1Description: http://www.folp.free.fr/AddComment.php?getTabComIdeImg=1862, Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5635134