We’d been going together for three months. I was ready to take the leap. I’m not so sure he was.
“Are you really sure we’re ready for this? It’s a big step,” he reminded me.
“I have confidence,” I said. I didn’t want him to know I was scared to death. I’d been married before. I knew this was a major turning point in our relationship. It was now or never. I’m a good cook. I’d make the best dinner ever. And it would be my first dinner party in my new condo. Most important, our two families would meet for the first time.
I carefully planned out the menu. I’d cook my favorites. The dishes I was confident I’d make as well as any star on Food TV. Serving chicken cacciatore, salad and my famous cheesecake for dessert, what’s not to like?
He wanted to help. He offered to make the topping for my cheesecake. I figured that should be easy enough. I’ll let him. He won’t think I’m a control freak.
My kids arrived first. For once they didn’t complain, “Chicken again!” They knew to be on their best behavior. They were rooting for me. They liked this boyfriend. They wanted things to work out for us. There were no complaints when I asked them to set the table.
Next he arrived with his teenagers. Unlike my kids who are loud and outspoken, they seemed shy, reserved. I didn’t feel right to give them a job to do at this point so I invited them to sit down at the table. I was glad I went the extra mile and made place cards so they didn’t have to guess where to sit. I was so nervous, I figured they were nervous as well. What could go wrong? I thought to myself. Calm down. It’s just dinner. I’ve made these dishes a million times before.
As my boyfriend followed me into the kitchen I thought he was going to try to sneak a kiss. How romantic, especially with everyone in the next room. Instead he handed me a “vintage” harvest gold Tupperware container filled with the fruit topping he made for my dessert. “Sorry,” he said. “I forgot to add sugar. It’s more like mushy fruit than a cheesecake topping.”
“That’s ok.” I told him. I handed him a bottle of wine and said, “Just go sit down at the table and entertain your kids.”
Ok, I thought. I can handle this. It’s no big deal. I’ll just put his topping in a nice crystal bowl and we can spoon it on our cheesecake. I go into the refrigerator and take out the cheesecake so it can come to room temperature while we’re having dinner. I carefully run a knife along the edge of the cake and pull on the release on the springform pan. The cake cracks. Not a little crack. This is a major, Grand Canyon crack. It would take a whole container of Cool Whip to cover it but I only had a little left. I had to come up with something. Chocolate is always good. I had a bag of chocolate chips. Quickly I melted half the bag in the microwave and poured it on my cheesecake and returned it to the refrigerator to set.
We all gathered around the table. I set the salad bowl on the table for everyone to take their own. I’d already tasted my chicken in the kitchen before I brought it in. I knew it was delicious. Moist and tender, it had just the right amount of garlic and oregano. It was just the way I liked it. After everyone had a bite no one said a word. I was afraid to ask. My kids finally opened up and started talking about their day, their frustrations with their jobs. His kids sat in silence. My kids finished their plates asking for more. His pushed their food around. Mine were begging for dessert. They love my cheesecake. His remained quiet.
I was starting to take this personally. Maybe they didn’t like being dragged out of the house, away from their computers, their TV, their friends. Maybe they didn’t like chicken. Maybe they didn’t like my kids. Maybe they didn’t like me. Soon, we’d have the piece de resistance; my fabulous dessert. All will be well.
Clearing off the table, it took all the strength I had to not finish the chicken his kids left on the bone. Someone might be watching. I tossed it in the garbage. What a waste. This evening was not going well at all. I was counting on the cheesecake to save the day. I don’t know what they didn’t like about my chicken but I loved it.
I reached into the refrigerator. There it sat in all its glory. My cheesecake. I will redeem myself, I thought. The night will not be ruined. I put on a pot of coffee. I set out the dessert dishes. I passed around new silverware, fresh napkins. I couldn’t wait. I love my cheesecake. “I hope you like the cheesecake.” I announced, practically begging for approval. “It’s my own recipe.” Yes, no frozen Sara Lee* or low fat version for my company. I put my heart and soul into this cheesecake.
I set the cake on the table in front of me. It looked beautiful. The chocolate coating glistened. I topped it with a little dollop of Cool Whip. I even placed a few raspberries on top. It was perfect. I took a deep breath. I lowered my knife to make my first cut. Nothing happened. I tried again. The knife wouldn’t go through. The chocolate had solidified like a rock. It wouldn’t give. The harder I tried to cut the tougher it seemed. I heard chuckles. They were starting to laugh. I started stabbing it with the knife. They laughed harder. I grabbed the knife in my fist and plunged it into the chocolate Frisbee. The entire topping came off at once. Wiping my brow in frustration I couldn’t help but smile as I was getting a round of applause. I took my bow saying, “Now, for my next act…”
The hard part was over. Not only had I gotten through the chocolate, I finally broke the ice. I handed the Frisbee to my boyfriend who delighted in breaking it up into smaller bits and passed them around the table as if he was passing around a ceremonial matzo during Passover. I had no trouble slicing up the rest of the cheesecake and passing that around. The praises were great, but the laughter was priceless. It’s the mistakes that make memories. And I’ve had my share of them.
“By the way,” my boyfriend told me after everyone had left, “the kids hate any chicken on the bone. And so do I. But dinner was perfect.”
To this day, they have never let me forget my first family meal cheesecake.
*Note: There’s nothing wrong with Sara Lee cheesecake. I’ve enjoyed it many times directly out of the freezer, especially the night before starting a new diet.
My Best Cheesecake Recipe
40 oz. Cream Cheese, Softened.
1 ½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 t pure vanilla
2 t almond extract
1 cup sour cream
3 T flour
1 ¼ cups crushed vanilla cookies
1 T sugar
1 T butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375º.
Crust: Melt butter and mix with sugar and cookie crumbs. Spread on the bottom of a 10” or 12” springform pan.
Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Lower the oven temperature to 350º.
Filling: In a large mixing bowl, on medium speed, beat cream cheese and sugar together. Then beat in all the remaining ingredients, adding eggs one at a time, until smooth. Do not over beat. Pour into pan and smooth top with rubber spatula.
Bake: 350º for 1 hour, until filling no longer jiggles. Chill in refrigerator at least 3 hours before removing from pan.
Toppings: Serve with fresh strawberries, blueberries, canned apples with cinnamon, cherries, whipped topping, whatever you like!
Crust variations: Graham cracker, Oreo Cookie Crust, Cinnamon Wafers!!! Yum. Whatever you have in your cupboard.
Like chocolate? Top crust with chocolate chips before adding filling.
PB&J sound good? Use peanut butter instead of the butter when making the crust. Then top the cheesecake with strawberry or grape jelly before serving.
Thanksgiving: Mix canned pumpkin into the filling and flavor with a tablespoon of cinnamon.
Please add your ideas: ______________________________________