Christmas is not usually a stressful time for me because I’m Jewish and have just gotten over hosting 25-35 people at Thanksgiving. But this year was different.
My mother-in-law allowed me to bring dessert. Homemade dessert. As in my mother’s cheesecake recipe (which I’ve made before) and an apple pie (which I haven’t).
So on Tuesday night this week, I made my cheesecake and started my pie crust. I followed my aunt’s directions to a tee, but still wasn’t sure how the apple pie would turn out. In the end, they weren’t pretty, but did the job, I guess.
Bringing these desserts to my mother-in-law’s Christmas dinner reminded me of another time when I brought a pie to my former in-laws in central China. What seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to be a minor disaster.
Back then my (then) husband insisted we always fly to Wuhan (the closest city to his hometown) via Shenzhen. This entailed taking a train from our home in Hong Kong to the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, going through passport control and clearing customs, changing to a bus that would take us to the airport, and flying to Wuhan.
One November my (then) husband was in China for a spell of 3-4 months while he renewed his passport and Hong Kong visa. I planned a trip to visit him at his parents’ place in Hubei province so we could celebrate his birthday together. For a treat, I planned to bring a cake. A Hong Kong birthday cake. They look something like this:
But on second thought, I couldn’t imagine schlepping it on the train, clearing customs, boarding that bus, and then flying with it. The cake was too delicate for that. So a coworker and I headed over to the cake shop of the old Metropole Hotel in Kowloon.
There I chose a beautiful pecan pie. Sturdy, presentable, and made from nuts (popular in China), this pie would be easy to transport and a hit with my Chinese family.
When it came time to eat the pie, my three sisters-in-law took one bite and set their plates down. My father-in-law ate half his piece, but I could tell it was a chore to accomplish that much. Then I took a bite after I finished cutting all the pieces, and understood why they didn’t eat more.
It was laced with rum.
While I was used to rum in desserts, my Chinese family wasn’t. I was mortified that I didn’t know about the rum, but also–if I’m to be honest–a little unhappy that I’d gone to all that effort for what amounted to a big waste.
So this Christmas I couldn’t worry too much about my apple pie and cheese cake. While they didn’t look very pretty, at least I knew what was in them!