I'll say one thing about my wife. She's the epitome of consistency. I don't know how she does it, except that maybe she's also honest — to a fault.
It was some time in 1995 or 1996. I decided to make homemade Chinese-style egg rolls. I'd made them many times to very positive reviews. These were nothing special as far as ingredients — just the standard cabbage, carrots, garlic, sprouts, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts — along with baby shrimp and some roasted pork.
But the production is something akin to making homemade tamales. You have to prepare the various filling ingredients; combine them (or not); get your beaten eggs and wrappers ready; heat your oil; and rock and roll. Like tamales, homemade egg rolls are not a make-them-for-one-meal thing. It's a project.
On second thought, the ingredients are special. Why? Because the ingredients in my Chinese-style egg rolls are allowed to stand out, versus the black pepper or ginger-flavored versions you find in your grocer's freezer, or at your local Chinese buffet. Oh, I use ginger and other spices in my recipe, but my Chinese-style egg rolls are so good that you don't even need dipping sauce. Unless you ask my wife.
I'd been chopping and mixing, rolling and frying for at least a few hours when Catherine walked through the front door. Sitting on the edge of the counter was a baking pan with dozens of golden egg rolls stacked in a pyramid. Most of them would be cooled and placed in the freezer to enjoy later. But the prettiest Chinese-style egg roll — which I'd already set aside — would go to the love of my life.
“Looks like you've been making egg rolls,” she said.
“Just about all day,” I replied. “And these are so worth it. They are the best egg rolls you'll ever eat.”
So, I dropped her egg roll back into the wok for a few seconds, then set it to drain and cool slightly. I'd also made her some homemade duck sauce using apricot preserves, cilantro, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. She didn't need the dipping sauce, but I wanted to make my point as a cook.
She dipped her egg roll in the sauce and took a bite.
“Well? What do you think?”
“Mmm,” she said, chewing. “Good.”
Her 'good' wasn't the sound of 'Wow!' good. It was more the tone you hear when that person has doubts — just this side of being a question, instead of a statement. I was insulted and devastated.
“Good? Is that all? It's just good?” I asked.
And then she said the one thing that no guy ever wants to hear — no matter what the woman is talking about.
“Yours aren't the best I've ever had, but they are good egg rolls.”
"Damnit, Catherine! You have to be kidding, or your taste buds have some major growing up to do. What are the best egg rolls you've ever had?”
“I don't know Adam,” she replied. “Don't be so be so insulted. These are good. OK?”
As my rage grew, I grabbed the large pan of egg rolls and shoved them into the trash. I then gave her my dirtiest look, and stormed from the kitchen. Much of the discussion that immediately followed is not fit for print. Besides, I came up on the losing end of that little talk — and my egg rolls were gone.
There are a few lessons to be learned from this story. Fortunately, we learned them. For me, it was accepting that someone else might not consider my egg rolls to be the best. I say, to hell with them.
My wife's lesson: You might have to lie to Adam about his food, else he could waste $50 in ingredients acting like a spoiled child.