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DEATH OF A CHEESECAKE

            Once a traditionalist establishes a tradition, it takes an act of God, or at the very least, Congress, to get them to change. Kids in general are traditionalists. You have to be extremely careful of what you do with them, because they are quick to establish routines! Take my three year old granddaughter. When she was two years old, her father, an engineer, was doing a rotation on the afternoon shift. My daughter was pregnant with her third and spent many evenings at our house. One night we offered to bath the children before she took them home for bed. Moist pandemonium ensued as we bathed the children and wrapped them in their terry robes. When we came downstairs, they were allowed to curl up on the couch and watch a half an hour of television before going home. My then three year old grandson discovered a dvd of a 1950’s TV series called Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe. (Dead serious…this was given to us as a joke...wish I had regifted it…quickly!) It was an extremely cheesy show, with plenty of fake fights, and tacky special effects. But we consented and together we watched for two or three hours...okay, it was just 20 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity! I was assuming, or perhaps praying, that they would quickly tire of the black and white tedium. Much to my surprise they found it enthralling and a tradition was established! From that point on, after every bath, my granddaughter excitedly came downstairs, jumped on the couch, demanding to watch “the rocket man”. A bath at Gammy’s now meant an episode of the mind numbing Commando Cody. (BTW, I do not wish to offend anyone who finds Commando Cody as riveting as a three year old!) I am convinced, however, that whatever video we had watched after that first bath would have become her favorite bearing repeating over, and over, and over, and over, well, you get the idea!

 

            I would like to say I’ve outgrown my childish ways, but I suppose, I never have, and at this point, never will. I am quick to develop traditions, HOWEVER, like Commando Cody, not all bear repeating! A perfect example is our family’s Christmas Cheesecake recipe. I made this recipe the first year I was married. It turned out incredible! It was thick and creamy, with a hint of lemon, and aesthetically awe inspiring! Problem is…it NEVER again turned out that well! The recipe is tricky, requiring exact temperatures and ingredients. Perhaps ovens have changed over time, or the consistency of cream cheese, or the planets simply aren’t aligned properly, but whatever the case, the cheesecake is adequate…not spectacular! Don’t get me wrong, it’s always edible, even when you need a spoon to eat it, but it has never again reached perfection. Still, I continue to make it! Why, you may ask? And my obvious answer…because it is our traditional cheesecake! (Ah, finally, an explanation for fruitcake!) Probably the most insidious thing about this is I’ve tried to pass this tradition unto my children! Last year my daughter offered to make Christmas dessert. “Great”, I said, “As long as you make the traditional cheesecake.” So, she did…and vowed never to make it again!

 

            She’s offered to make Christmas dessert again this year. She’s even offered to make cheesecake. But today she asked, “Mom, do you mind if I try a new cheesecake recipe? I saw one on Alton Brown I would like to try.” My heart lunged! My cheesecake recipe! My dear, sweet, cheesecake recipe! No, I don’t want her to make a new one. I want her to make the old one…and figure out how to make it perfect! But, instead I said, “Sure. (gulp) That will be fine.” As hard as it is for me to admit it, sometimes you have to let go of traditions, or at least alter them. Still, one question remains...does this mean I have to wait 25 years before I can get rid of Commando Cody?!!

 

Traditions are wonderful! They inspire memories, instill a sense of belonging, and give us the predictive insight of a seer. But, just like that beloved old flannel nightgown that is being held together by fortitude, not fibers, sometimes we have to “pack them away”…not to be forgotten, but to allow new traditions to emerge.

 

 

SOUR CREAM CHRISTMAS CHEESECAKE

 

Okay…having said all that…truth of the matter is I’M NOT okay with ditching my cheesecake recipe! (Not a shocker!) Challenge…for all the bakers out there…when reading the recipe, does anyone have any suggestions on how we might save this recipe? (I suspect cooking method is a major issue.) If not, care to share your family’s TRIED AND TRUE recipe? Thanks!

 

Ingredients

Crust:

2 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

 

Filling:

5 packages (8 oz) soft cream cheese

3 tablespoon flour

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 egg yokes

1/2 cup sour cream

1 3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

5 eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

Directions

1) Crust: Mix crumbs, sugar and butter together. Press mixture on bottom and sides of 9 inch spring form pan, building up sides of pan to form a rim all around. Refrigerate until needed.

 

2) Pre-heat oven to 500 F. Make filling in large bowl of electric mixer. Combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, lemon peel, and vanilla. Beat at high speed just to blend.

 

3) Beat in eggs and egg yokes, one at a time. Add cream, beating just until well combined. Pour into crust lined pan.

 

4) Bake 10 min. Do not open oven door. Reduce oven temp to 250 F. and bake 1 hour longer.

 

5) Spread top with sour cream. Let cool in pan on wire rack. Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

 

6) To serve: With spatula, loosen crust from sides of pan. Remove side of spring form pan. Cut cheesecake into wedges. Nice with Strawberries.

       


PACKING AWAY THE CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS

            Few things in this world can reduce us to a blubbering mass of saline production like packing away clothes our children have outgrown. This is especially true in the first year of our child’s life, when hormones are raging, (I think this statement is true for men as well as women!) and our little urchins outgrow their clothes every few weeks! If you are a parent you’ll remember that first tearful day when you realized you could no longer snap your baby’s 3 month onesie over her diaper. Niagara Falls!!! So, with shaking hands, a heavy heart, and perhaps your first true appreciation of the passage of time, you lovingly laundered the outgrown clothes, packed them in a box, and stored them away for later use. (A little aside here…Is it just me or have other people packed away pristine looking clothes only to open a box a couple of years later and discover the front of all the baby clothes are riddled with stains? Where do they come from? They weren’t there when you packed the clothes away…you surely wouldn’t have kept something THAT disgusting! I’m sure there is a perfectly simple chemical explanation for the resurfacing of stains…perhaps oxidation of the iron in their food or maybe there is a stain fairy that travels the globe leaving splatterings on the clothing of good girls and boys! Anyway, it’s just an enigma that has perplexed me for years and has absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand! Shocker!)

 

            Anyway, over the years we pack many things away. Not only clothes but toys and books, and eventually, metaphorically speaking, outgrown interests and friends. Although we may have learned to control the weeping, we still lovingly pack away the stuffies and lovies, blankies and dollies, hoping some day our children will appreciate our thoughtfulness and experience a loving reunion with possessions once considered life sustaining! (Point of fact…even if your child isn’t overly enthusiastic about the pinned together scrap of a blankie that he was once joined at the hip with, it will bring back tons of memories for you as you bury your face deep in the folds, hoping some of the “baby smell” remained…aka…soured milk!)

 

            I’ve long ago gotten rid of most of the baby clothes (refer to the resurfacing stain quandary), but every year I experience the same sensation when I unpack our Christmas decorations. It’s with smiles and recollections that I place my children’s homemade ornaments on the tree. I flip through an abundance of photos featuring my children with Santa and mirthful pics of our pajama clad Christmas mornings surrounded by wrapping paper carnage. To this point I am all smiles, BUT when I come to the Christmas stockings a certain melancholy takes hold. I still fill the stockings of our unmarried children, but it is the two stockings that remain empty that bring a tear to my eye. Oh, the perplexities of dichotomous feelings! On one hand I am thrilled two of our children have found wonderful partners and are busy making their own Christmas traditions. On the other hand the empty stockings signify a paradise lost; a stage in our lives never to be revisited, and yes, the inevitable passage of time!

 

            I must admit this moroseness is always short lived. Come on, it’s Christmas time, how glum can I be? I smile when I think of how my daughter made stockings for her and her husband the first Christmas they were married; and has since made stockings for her three children, and her severely exuberant standard Schnauzer! When my youngest son and his new bride were home on a recent visit, she was busily knitting stockings for her and my son’s Christmas mantel. Neither of my children asked for their childhood stocking…as I assumed they would…but then it occurred to me, I hadn’t brought mine from home when I married, and I also made stockings that first Christmas! And so I know all is well and as it should be. I trace their names with my finger tip, take solace because the Christmas stockings were never visited by the stain fairy, and pack them away for next year. There will come a time when five stockings will go unfilled each year, but I will remind myself to count my blessings knowing that the unfilled Christmas stockings aren’t empty at all, but rather filled with memories of Christmases past and the anticipation of Christmases yet to come!  

 

I always send my completed blog to my daughter to read before I post it. She came over tonight and I asked her if she had a chance to read my blog. Rather emotionally, she said with a teasing grin, “Yes! Why’d you send it to me? You’re so mean! You know I’m emotional about this right now!” (She is currently in the throes of a poignant battle…with her youngest child 15 months old, she is biologically being urged to become pregnant again vs. their decision not to have more children.) “Well”, I said, “if it makes you feel any better, it brings a tear to my eye, too!” Truth be told, I’m not trying to make anyone cry…well, maybe a little BUT the message here is that time DOES march on, and we have two choices. We can either embrace the changes and delight in them or wallow in the past. I, for one, choose to embrace the present, smile at fond remembrances, and work towards making today a day worth remembering years from now!               

 


A TAD BIT OBSESSIVE


“You’re nuts,” she said.

 

“Yep,” I agreed.

 

“No, I’m serious. You have a problem,” she continued.

 

“I’m not arguing with you. You’re right,” I concurred.

 

“You should get help,” she belabored the point.

 

“Probably,” I acknowledged.

 

“Does look great in here, though,” she conceded.

 

“Thanks,” I said, as I continued to swag say, hmmm, at least a mile of evergreen roping on my living room rafters.*

 

            She was referring to Christmas, or more to the point, my obsessiveness with the Holiday. I will be the first to admit I’m obsessive, but genetically speaking, it’s in my blood. My father was obsessive…just ask my mom; use to drive her to distraction. Didn’t matter what he got interested in, he obsessed. It could be his new stereo, playing bridge, collecting big band music, outwitting neighborhood squirrels or to her total vexation, “That damn computer!” Obsessive people totally get it when others become fixated on their latest interest, but non obsessive people (yes, I would go as far as calling them “normal” people) don’t understand how we lose the total capacity for rational and appropriate involvement with our most recent pursuits.

 

            Case in point…my daughter, also possessing the obsessive gene, has recently become fixated on baby carriers. Undoubtedly, the general public would say it isn’t necessarily time well spent. This particular carrier is for her third child, she doesn’t plan to have any more, and her toddler will only be in it for the next couple of months, BUT, to an obsessive person, this doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she acquires information and an impressive understanding of the structural, historical, safety, and fashion worthiness of ALL carriers; past and present. She can identify which styles originated in Central America, the Far East, or with the Plain’s Indians. She knows which carriers are manufactured in this country, those hailing from China or Europe (ah, those elusive and highly sought after Scandinavian models), and those being sewn by half-crazed women trying to find ways of making money, while staying at home with their children. These women, btw, are the ones that she prefers to support, herself being a half-crazed women trying to find ways of making money, while staying at home with her children! Birds of a feather!

 

            Anyway, most obsessive people could give you a fairly comprehensive list of their lifetime obsessions. For the non obsessive, let me explain that there are two distinct forms of obsessions. The first is what I refer to as “A passing fancy.” These are the interests that totally consume us for a time; you might say they are the spice of life, providing variety and interest, not sustenance. In days of old, these obsessions lead us to libraries and museums or taunted us to take classes and consult “professionals”. Today, the internet has eliminated the necessity of moving from the comfort of our homes as a world of information is now available for the taking 24/7. If you live with an obsessive individual, you can wait for these phases to pass. Sooner or later, usually sooner, when we’ve acquired enough information to sate our curiosity and provide us with just enough data to be hence forth insufferably knowledgeable on the topic, we become bored and move on to our next fascination. The more diabolic of obsessions, which I refer to as “life long passions”, do not go away; EVER! These are seen in the guy next door that loses sleep because a mole has attacked his perfectly groomed lawn or the woman who would rather miss her child’s graduation than the latest issue of People Magazine. (Good Lord, how would you know whether or not Angelina Jolie’s new tattoo is written in Arabic or Swahili?) Then there is the guy who will play golf in a thunderstorm, or yours truly, who goes slightly (uh, slightly, extensively, why quibble over semantics, right?), overboard preparing for Christmas! (Ah, bet you never thought I’d get this back to Christmas!)

 

            But there you have it. I totally and completely obsess over Christmas. (A book is required on that topic, a weekly blog simply won’t do!)  But who can blame me? In my opinion, Christmas is the ultimate legal, feel-good, addictive drug. I love the colors (uh, my house is predominately red and green, so you kinda feel like you’re at the North Pole, even in August!), I love the smells, and I love the way people act. To quote Frank Cross in the movie Scrooged, Christmas is…”the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” And that, my friends, justifies all the prep and planning. While preparing for Christmas, I enter a euphoric state. I think of how people will feel when they’re snuggled on the couch, wassail in hand, taking in the room. I can hear friends and family giggle as they unwrap gifts. (I wrap EVERYTHING separately…even dividing up pairs of socks into individual boxes…let’s face it, opening gifts is as much fun as owning what’s inside!) And I love how the child in all of us surfaces each Christmas Eve as we slyly scan the evening sky, still wanting to believe! And although the Holidays can stress us out, there is indeed something magical about the season. Strip away the commercialism, extended visitations with in-laws, and increased waistline girth, and the essence of the Holiday shines through, like the Christmas Star. Christmas is a time for all of us to be the people we always hoped we would be. Come on, obsess a little or a lot…it’s allowed, and in my opinion, desired!          

 

*That  year I hung EXCESSIVE amounts of greenery from the rafters, filling the room with not only the smell of the great outdoors, but enough allergens to keep us rubbing our red, itchy eyes throughout the month! BTW…Safety note…NEVER throw what amounts to a quarter acre of dried boughs in a fireplace and try to burn it all at once. This falls into the realm of scathingly brilliant mistakes and fodder for a future blog!

 


THE LIVING HOUSE

            I have been accused (accused, hmmmm, sounds so harsh) ok, it’s been suggested that I do not handle change well. Truth be told, I normally have to be dragged kicking and screaming into change. It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with end results, case in point, THE INTERNET, but that’s a whole ‘nother story, it’s just that I cringe at the process of changing. Although I can be impulsive, spontaneous, and rather fickle, I put a lot of effort into fine tuning and tweaking my decisions, and once I do, I settle into them and see little reason to go through the process again.

 

            Perhaps the only place in my life where this does not hold true is in decorating. I view houses as living, breathing, organic entities that must continuously evolve or face extinction. Let’s face it. We’ve all been in prehistoric houses, often our grandparents. (Hmmm, must remember I’m a grandmother when I say things like that!) They decorated their houses 30 years ago, and other than removing the protective plastic sofa cover, they’ve changed little. Repainting means finding a shade that most closely resembles the color already on the walls, and their new furniture must fit into the dimples already created in the carpet from previous furniture. Over the years they’ve added their children’s graduation pictures to the walls, and the shelf above the couch holds a growing collection of souvenirs from their road trips, but nothing significant changes, ever.

 

            I, on the other hand, am ALWAYS in the throes of decorating. You know how some people feel about a new car smell, to the point of buying “new car” potpourri when the original smell has worn off? Well, that’s how I feel about the smell of fresh paint or recently sawed wood. It’s intoxicating! Once that freshly decorated smell goes away, I get the wanderlust for a new project! And it’s not decorating for the sake of decorating. Oh NO, far from it! It’s more like listening to your house and responding to its needs. A couch says, “I’m tired of looking at the fireplace. Let me look out the window for awhile.” A wall screams for a splash of color. And the laundry room is pleading with you to restore order by installing cubbies. In my opinion, you would be heartless to ignore their needs.

 

            I realize it takes practice to learn how to speak “house”. Just like new parents need to learn to interpret their infant’s nonverbal cues, so must a homeowner learn to listen to their house. So, grab a cup of coffee, herbal tea, or favorite libation and take a “day trip” through your house. Visit each room and sit in a variety of locations. It’s amazing how different a room looks from different vantages. Start a home journal. I like to use an 8” x 11” sketch book that you can write, draw and paste in. Record your ideas and possible changes. You can use the journal to collect photos and ideas when looking through magazines or surfing the net. Then use the journal to record your changes, including pictures and info for future reference. One of the biggest secrets to decorating is learning to separate the screams from the whimpers. Just like parents know the difference between their child’s whine for a superfluous unfulfilled desire and the scream of pain, our house’s needs vary in intensity. Don’t get overwhelmed by everything you want to do. Prioritize and realize that decorating is an ongoing process, and to the chagrin of everyone I’ve ever lived with, never complete!

 

            Obviously, budgets are a large factor when planning any change; however, many alterations are relatively inexpensive or free and produce dramatic results. Rearranging your living room to create an intimate “chat corner” costs nothing more than a few sore muscles. Bringing color into a room through freshly painted walls or a new wall hanging can be worked into most budgets. Just remember, there’s no way you would be happy wearing the same outfit day in and day out, neither does your house. Change, gulp, is good, at least where your house is concerned. Consult it frequently and listen when it speaks!  

 

I use sketch books for the house and garden. Over the years they’ve gotten banged around and often abused…case in point, one fall I needed to get a shipment of plants in the ground before a trip, so I was out working in the garden, in a steady drizzle, with my trusty sketch book haphazardly wrapped in plastic while providing the blueprint for planting. Not only do journals become a great resource of collected info and plans, but a wonderful diary of the life of your house and garden.

 

THANKSGIVING

            In a couple of days it will be Thanksgiving, and I must admit, I know exactly how the Pilgrims felt. They invited their new Native American friends over for dinner, and they were astonished when they stayed for three days! Talk about a challenge! Those early American hostesses needed to figure out how to turn leftovers into savory meals that would nourish and sate a houseful of noisy guests for what was perhaps the first 3 day weekend! As I prepare for my out-of-town children to descend, I check and recheck the pantry and fridge to make sure I have enough on hand to keep their tummies full and their taste buds delighted. Unlike the Pilgrims, I have the luxury of fore planning our meals and sleeping arrangements, but I can visualize our creative foremothers, scratching their heads under their starched bonnets, and coming up with yet another way of serving the Thanksgiving bird! (Which, btw, history tells us was pheasant, not turkey!) 

 

            When thinking about this year’s Thanksgiving story, many delightful tales come to mind. There was the year my brother and his wife bought a turkey that was so huge it wouldn’t fit in a roaster, and they placed it directly on the lowest rack of the oven. (Instead of cleaning the oven afterward, they threw it out! They really did need a new oven, this just hastened the process!) Or the year my daughter brought home 2 college dinner guests. One was from India and one from Korea. Neither had celebrated an American Thanksgiving, and after literally loosening their belts and reaching comatose levels of gluttony, they whole-heartedly concurred that America was truly a wondrous place! Or the Thanksgiving when I threw up every 10 minutes (a terrible case of morning sickness) and was fearful that the smell of roasting turkey would forever be nauseating to me! (Fortunately, I got over that!)

 

            Finally, I decided to share a story that has nothing to do directly with Thanksgiving, but it is in fact, all about giving thanks. My mother grew up on a farm in a tiny town in Texas. My maternal grandmother, Bushia, had 13 children. Before she passed away she had buried four of her own children; her first born died of heart problems when she was just three days old, a ten month old son died of pneumonia just as he was learning to take his first steps, a son was killed in the Korean War, and her oldest son died of a heart aneurysm. I can’t even begin to imagine taking care of so many people while spending a total of TEN YEARS PREGNANT! But most significantly, I can’t imagine living in a time and place where common childhood illnesses were life threatening. (My fraternal great-grandparents lost all five of their children in one episode of influenza before leaving Poland and starting all over in America!)

 

            But on to my story! One day my cousin and I were visiting Bushia. We were sitting around the kitchen table comparing notes, and I suppose, complaining…a lot. (In our defense, I wish to point out, at the time neither of us were married, and we were bemoaning our boyfriends, not husbands and children, so I gotta think Bushia’s reaction was probably fueled by years of listening to her own daughters complain, and we were simply the recipients of the proverbial “final straw” syndrome!) She was busy fussing in the kitchen, coming in and out of the room, and not directly involved in our conversation. We were shocked and aghast when on one of her “pass-throughs” she stopped, slammed her hand on the table, and said, “You women have it so easy today. When I was a young woman I didn’t have dishwashers or washing machines. I couldn’t go to the grocery store to buy dinner, and there wasn’t a t.v. to watch if I got bored. I didn’t worry about how much attention my husband was showing me, I was too busy! So was he. A good day was a day that everyone got fed and no one died. Stop whining and start being grateful for what you have.”

 

            With those words she went about her business…even in old age she was always busy making her house a home and providing for the comfort of others. And she was happy…or maybe a better word was content. My cousin and I continued to sit around the table talking, rather shame-faced, both making a silent pact to NEVER vent around Bushia again! But in my heart, I knew she was right. Not that our lives today are perfect and without worries. We have concerns today that my grandmother never had to contend with, but the most valuable lesson I learned that day was that happiness is not something given to you by other people or things; it’s something within you that permeates everything you do. Everyday you can choose to focus on the things you don’t have or be grateful for the things that you do.

 

            So this Thanksgiving, and every night before going to sleep, take a moment to ponder your day. In the simplest of terms, if you can say “Everyone was fed today and no one died” it WAS a good day, worthy of praise, and a reason for Thanksgiving!   

 

 

We do not need to go through life with blinders on, refusing to see the problems, but when we hold those as our focal point, we’re apt to miss the joy around us.