I recently met up with an old friend who just so happened to be in New Jersey at the same time as me, and the topic of words came up. Communication is his job in the Coast Guard. He wrote a sci-fi novel, and plans on turning his current blog into a collection of short stories once he retires. We’ve known each other for many incarnations, and he remembers a time when my writing was honed like a fine knife.

“I don’t know, man,” I muttered while unconsciously gnawing the callous on my left pinky between sips of bourbon. “Ever since I started playing cello, the words have slowly gone quiet. It’s mostly pictures and sounds in my head these days.”

Professor X and I have been in a constant state of travel recovery since Christmas. Perhaps the perceived extra strain is simply time passing over our meat sacks. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that getting anywhere from Corvallis, OR by plane is a massive schlep. Either way, I have the perpetual sensation of being “just back.” By the time I restock cat food and paper towels, we’re off again. In such a state, I recently decided to make cheesecake for no particular reason.


The Cheesecake

My recipe is by no means mine. My Grandma Barbera tinkered endlessly with one from the back of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese box to get to the process currently detailed in my handwriting on a piece of 3×5 notepaper.  During that particular spring/summer, she greeted us with at least one cheesecake for our feedback every time we visited. The final two contenders were towering monuments to dairy. We each had several slices during the taste test; judging height, texture, appearance, and degrees of lemon since this should be a plain cheesecake enhanced with a touch of lemon, not a lemon cheesecake. It was such a close call that grandma retained and eventually passed down both recipes. Only one remains in my archive, but the original with both is enshrined in a frame backed by one of her old dish towels somewhere at my mom’s house. I only know that this is the one I preferred from that sunny day of familial dairy bloat.

I made The Cheesecake at least twice a year for nearly decade. A former suitor of some importance loved the dessert. When we parted ways in 2006, The Cheesecake was retired. It also didn’t help that my springform pan was at least as old as I was, and started leaking while in the oven. When I set about my task last Friday, I realized that the pan was a longtime gone. You can’t make The Cheesecake without one, so off to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

While there, I remembered that it’s baked in a bain marie; a fun tip not mentioned in the recipe, but key to The Cheesecake and a variable tested on at least one visit to grandma’s house. None of my baking pans will accommodate a 9-inch springform, so I picked up what they’re calling a “lasagna pan.” (Ed note: Who the fuck are people feeding a lasagna that big to? You could feed a small Sicilian village for a week with something that size. Sweet baby Jeebus.) Decades of jerry rigging a bain marie suddenly fell away. I beamed resplendent with thoughts of what one can do with even a modest operating budget.

Once home, vertiginous jet lag crept in. I downed a fistful of crackers with some seltzer while perusing the recipe, and was struck with a sense of omission; omission of the important details and nuances my grandmother researched that made this cheesecake “The Cheesecake.” Crunching away, I wondered why it’s been 11 years since I last made it.

Get Thee

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 stick of butter, melted

For the filling:

3 x 8 oz packs of cream cheese

1 1/4 cups sugar

6 eggs, separated

1 pint of sour cream

1/3 cup flour

2 tsp vanilla

rind of 1 lemon

juice of 1/2 lemon


-Preheat oven to 350 F, or 375-400 F if it’s my craptastic oven. Set cream cheese on counter to warm to room temperature.

-For crust, combine all ingredients and press 3/4 of mixture into greased pan. I didn’t see that 3/4 part until after the mix was in the pan. Honestly, it was just fine. I also wondered what the hell grandma did with the other 1/4 since she was loathe to waste food.

-In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese on low speed until soft. Gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Check the bottom of the bowl to make sure no lumps are hiding. Cream cheese in pernicious stuff.

-Beat in egg yolks, one at a time.

-Stir in sour cream, flour, vanilla, lemon rind, and juice until smooth.

-In another bowel, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks, then fold into cream cheese mixture. The mix will expand significantly, so don’t skimp on the bowl size.

-Pour mix into prepared springform pan. Place that pan into a “lasagna pan” (11×14 rectangle) and fill with an inch or two of hot water. This is the all important bain marie step.

-Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until top is golden. Realize 10 minutes in to baking that you forgot to add the sour cream. Call mom. Post on Facebook. Receive no answers.  Eventually pass the hell out on the couch because your diurnal rhythms are hopelessly out of whack. Don’t forget to set an alarm, lest you burn the house down because you slept through a cheesecake.

-Turn off heat and allow to cool in oven for 1 hour. Contemplate whether or not you’re getting sick while chugging more seltzer.

-Remove cake, and let cool to room temperature. Remove pan collar. Chill overnight or for a minimum of 2 hours before serving. Discover that The Cheesecake is just fine, if not better, without the sour cream.