There were a few moments this past weekend when I thought I might go into labor. I was finishing up dinner and having lots of back-to-back Braxton Hicks contractions (which I didn’t get with Teddy until the very end) and quickly thought to myself, “I need to eat this food, fast.” But then I didn’t go into labor.
Point being, this is probably going to be the last post I write as a family of three. And there is perhaps too much ground I’d like to cover. I obviously want to write about this cheesecake, which blew Matt’s and my mind. I want to tell you how I know that in January most food media has moved on to cleanses and “healthier” fare; how, in fact, Bon Appétit’s January issue declaring itself chockfull of “healthy-ish” recipes arrived at our doorstep before Christmas day. (It’s a gift subscription that continues to come, and Matt and I continue to read it despite ourselves.) The holidays hadn’t even begun yet and we were already being reminded of the post-holiday cattle call to live better, eat healthier, and improve, improve, improve!
(As you know, I’ve already given myself permission not to improve this year.)
If you read my previous post on my general anxiety about the state of the world and my specific anxiety about hosting my mom and step-dad for Christmas, I want to tell you about how their visit didn’t go very smoothly—to put it lightly.
And I’ve answered this question in a variety of ways. (The short answer is: Yes, of course I worried about this.)
A longer way I’ve answered this question (most recently in an interview in this journal) is like this: “A few months before my dad died suddenly of a heart attack, I got to have a really honest conversation with him about the timeline of certain events that took place when I was a kid. He was very forthcoming even though I was asking him about things that would certainly cast him in a bad light; he also knew I was asking him these questions because I was going to write about it all. And while I knew he wasn’t thrilled, I think he also knew that his actions had shaped my life in a major way and that it was my story to write.”
I also answered it like this: “Yesterday I listened to Terry Gross interview Jonathan Franzen about his new book Purity, and they got to talking about this very thing—specifically about Franzen’s relationship with his brother who thought he’d recognized himself as one of the main characters in The Corrections. Franzen was worried that his brother would hate him forever, but then came to a different conclusion. He said, ‘But if I can't be a writer, then who is [my brother] in a relationship with? Who is he the brother of? And I think that that's broadly true. You have to be allowed to do what a writer does, and if a relationship can't take the identity of…one of the participants, then it's probably not going to last.’”
But recently, my friend Kara said something in passing that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing of course, but she mentioned how, of most of the writers she knows, at some point in their life, someone wasn’t listening to them. The implication being that they therefore had to write it all down—it being what they were trying to say. So, at the very least, the page was listening. The page couldn’t ignore or deny their perceived reality.
This is how I’m feeling right now, re: my big family blow-up over Christmas. I feel very unheard. And what do you know? I’m writing about it, even if it’s in fairly vague terms right now.
Go, Jill, go! I want to shout. Topple it! (And if I step outside, she might even hear me as she lives in nearby Silver Lake.) But as I cheer for her, I also want to tell you about the men in my life and how much I’ve been leaning on them. See, the holiday fight was/is between my mom and me. Meanwhile, my step-dad and Matt acted as support beams. It was actually a good trip for my step-dad and me, I think. I saw him differently—a much softer version. I’ve also been leaning on my brother, on the way Teddy now tells Matt and me on a somewhat regular basis, “I love you so much,” and on the anticipation of getting to meet his little brother any day now; I don’t think I’ve mentioned it online yet, but this second baby is another boy. I’m going to be surrounded by men! And that’s A-OK with me.
Did you want to hear more about this cheesecake? OK. So maybe it's because cheesecake is inherently delicious or maybe it's because the last time we made a version it was 2010, but this one was to die for. Matt and I brought it to our friends' Neal and Jodi’s house (with a slice already cut out so that we could take the above photo of it for this blog post) for Christmas dinner, and then when we saw it wasn't completely eaten by the night's end, had to bring another slice home for the next day because we were already hungry for it again. In short, I will never want for another cheesecake recipe for the rest of my life. This one is perfect.
Big New York Cheesecake from Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Yearserves 8 to 10
1 package Famous Chocolate Wafers
1½ pounds cream cheese
1 pint sour cream
1 5/8 cups sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter (melted)
2½ teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To make the crust, crush chocolate wafers until you have about a cup and a half (that will take about 6 ounces of wafers). Mix in a quarter cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and the melted butter. Using your fingers, pat this mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, making it even all around. Put the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes (it will keep here, covered, for a couple of months). Bake for 10 minutes, just to crisp the crust. Remove the pan and turn the oven down to 300 degrees.
Beat the cream cheese with a cup of sugar, the eggs, and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla until you have a completely smooth mixture. Pour it into the crust and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cheese is set on the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Remove the cake from the oven (leave the oven on) and cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, mix the sour cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Spread this mixture evenly over the cooled cake, then return it to the oven for about 12 minutes until the glaze is glossy and set.
Cool completely, then chill for at least 8 hours.