Big New York Cheesecake

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.
One of the questions I get over and over again about my book is a variation on the following: “Did you ever worry you were writing about things that were too personal and/or things that put people you know in a bad light?”

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.
Another thing I want to tell you about is Transparent. Even though all of our friends seemed to be raving about the show, it took Matt and me a while to follow suit (mostly because we’ve been boycotting Amazon ever since their fight with my publisher, Hachette.) Anyway, we watched seasons one and two over the holidays, and when it was over, I wanted more. So, I read this article about its creator, Jill Soloway. Here’s a snippet from it: “Soloway describes herself as ‘seditious.’ Her production company is called Topple, as in ‘topple the patriarchy.’”

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. 
I hope your 2016 is off to a fantastic start. But if not, that’s OK too.

Big New York Cheesecake from Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year
serves 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)
4 eggs
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.
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Matthew said...

I'm down to topple the patriarchy xoxo

Caley said...

Enjoy the final days of pregnancy! I'm happy another boy will be on team topple with great guidance from sound parents... even if one parent isn't feeling so heard. We hear you, girl! Keep it comin'.

Sara said...

You are the best! To quote Fleetwood Mac, "Never change. And don't you ever stop." (JK, you can if you want to.) This is one of the recipes I bookmarked in that book as well. Glad to hear it's a hit. XOXO

Neal said...

Best cheese cake of my life. So happy to spend Christmas with you.

Miss Amanda Jones said...

First time commenter here--- Just wanted to say that I am wishing you well at the end of your pregnancy. Before I welcomed my second child I had a similar ramping up of anxiety. I hope things get easier for you; it's definitely a process.

Coincidentally, I also made cheesecake over the holidays! I didn't have the chocolate wafers so I used an older Ruth Reichl recipe from her earlier memoir, Garlic & Sapphires, which seems to be the exact same recipe for the cheesecake part (+ lemon zest) only it uses a graham cracker crust. I intend to try the chocolate crust version but this one was pretty awesome too. Here is a link to her recipe:


Good luck on the birth and beyond!

Dani Elis said...

Family hey!?! :)

I just ordered Ruth's book online as I keep hearing all about it, can't wait to give the recipes a go and start reading... thinking of starting with this cheesecake...because um... YUM.

Good luck with the 2nd bubba and I hope everything goes well, can't wait to (virtually) meet him on this space :)

Also I agree Sara and Fleetwood Mac!


Marjory said...

Hi Amelia,

Cheers to this post! I am really enjoying Ruth’s new book. Somehow her instruction to “dollop” makes so much more sense than someone else's "tablespoon." I also love the line about waxed paper than closes the peanut butter and jelly entry. Working my way through the recipes: cochinita pibil, thai noodles, dumplings, food cart curry chicken, corn muffins, that gorgeous cheesecake. I was also struck by your comment on Transparent and gender roles in general. Genderall? I too was energized by watching Transparent and reading that same article on Soloway, but I am bothered by what seems like a recent trend of confusing gender issues with artistic or academic issues. Did you read the Claire Vaye Watkins essay? Why is her problem a gender problem and not just a writer's problem? I don’t want to clog your comment column, so I’ll stop here. Suffice to say, great post! Targets just what I’m thinking about - and cooking - at the start of this new year.

SarahCatherine said...

Ugh, yes, this is the only New Years post on the interwebs that I've liked so far. For many, many reasons...

1) I'm down to master one cheesecake recipe in my life and have that be it

2) I watched Transparent this December and did not like the first season (those kids were the worst! I get that their Dad was dealing with other issues when the kids were growing up but man, they are still the worst). But maybe you have encouraged me to keep watching the second season... at least, until my one month Amazon prime trial is up.

and 3) I'm a writer as well, who struggles with telling, publishing, sharing my story (fiction and non-fiction) because it’ll make other people uncomfortable or sometimes even vulnerable. It’s always nice to hear that other writers work through this issue as well. I have to tell myself, my worries are other people’s worries too -- which isn’t great news but it helps to know.

Anyway, thank you for this!

Amelia Morris said...

I would first just like to say: I love my readers!!!

Now onto the specifics:
@Caley: "Team topple" I really like the sound of that.

@Sara & @Neal: thanks, guys!

@Miss Amanda Jones: hello! Thanks for commenting and for the well-wishes. I really appreciate it. The thing I think I most loved about this recipe was how perfectly it cooked. It was just soooo creamy.

Thanks, @Dani Elis this baby is super excited to virtually meet you too!

@Marjory: Please, please, please continue to clog my comment column. :) Thanks to you, I spent the morning reading that Claire Vaye Watkins essay. To answer your question: "Why is her problem a gender problem and not just a writer's problem?" I don't know if I read it that way. I feel like she's coming at these issues from such a personal perspective that she therefore ends up having to tackle both issues (on top of others) at the same time, especially in terms of being a new mom, which from my experience is when you really start to feel the whole weight of this patriarchal system on your shoulders. word?

@SarahCatherine Thanks for writing! Since we watched the two seasons so close together, I can't recall if the kids behave better in season 2 or not... For me though, what I most love about the show is the "feel" of it. It feels sooo different from the majority of other shows out there--from the casting to the wardrobe to the pacing to the weird flashbacks to Berlin. Sighhh... I want to re-watch it now!! :)

tannaz sassooni said...

love this idea of being compelled to write because we were at some point not listened to. very resonant. i'm gonna think about that one more. who knew there was so much drama behind this deceptively simple cheesecake? it just came off nonchalantly elegant and coolly delicious.

Wendy said...

Two boys is fine. I have two boys. They have lamer clothes, which is a wee bit sad, but otherwise, no problemo. And I had a nose-to-nose hissing match with my dying father over Christmas. So, um, yeah. It was totally him shoving his oar into a discussion in which he had no business participating, but I still feel yucky about it. Esp. because I won.

sg said...

i have never made a cheesecake and this one really looks perfect - the top is so beautiful! and yes to Transparent - it is so good! everything in the world is crazy but man i feel lucky to be here to see the changing, adapting and creating of language, people, media etc. xo new baby so soon!!!!!!! thinking about you!

Marjory said...

WORD! Great holiday card, by the way.

Mary Anne said...

Wow, great post and great comments! I'll add one that no one has mentioned yet: How great to have friends with whom you are so close that you can show up for Christmas dinner with a cake missing one slice! That's the most heartwarming-est thing I've ever heard. xoxo

Kate said...

I loved this post and congratulations on your new babe, I hope things are going smoothly. That cheesecake looks heavenly and perfect indeed. I struggle with how much to write about people in my life for fear of having to deal with the aftermath. Maybe one day I'll be as brave as you. Happy 2016!!