So I graduated from my university this past Sunday.
I spent a large part of my time at college thinking that “it wasn’t for me.” It’s been a little strange to kind of have this growing realization that I’ll never again be in a community that has so much support, warmth, encouragement, and opportunities as the one I’ve just left. I know it all had to come to an end, but it’s hard to get a grasp on the fine line where one part of my life ends and another begins.
And I don’t think that difficulty comes so much from not having my whole life (or even the “next step”) figured out, but rather from having a feeling of wanting to belong somewhere, or to something or someone, but being too scared to figure out which where or thing or one to choose.
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My school produces a literary journal every year, and there’s a student-written poem from last year’s edition that has been going around in my head the last couple months. This is going to be pretty damn awkward if that student ever sees this post, but I figure I should give credit where credit is due, so here goes: her name is Astra Lincoln, and she’s a very, very good writer. This is an excerpt from her poem “Peter Pan Syndrome.”
“& you were nine when the last of your baby-teeth fell out, and
this frightened you. you found a piece of loose thread hanging off
your baby blanket, and ripped it off. this was then tied around the
third tooth on the left, which proceeded to be pulled out and hid
beneath your pillow with a letter: ‘dear tooth fairey. i am scared
and i will miss your visits. i can not be without you. i heard you
won’t pick up teeth that were pulled, and did not fall on their own.
i hope that every night you come and see this tooth. i hope you
do not take it, but leave it here and check every night to see if it
is a keeper. it does not want to be kept, but it does not want to be
So yesterday was my best friend’s birthday. We first met a little less than 3 years ago, when we were both transfer students into the university that we’ll be graduating from in a little less than two weeks. I was lucky in that aspect—most of the other people in our transfer group were what I’ll call less than kindred spirits. But Abbey, she’s a good one. I mean, she lets me make her perhaps the fattiest, most calorically-dense treat for her birthday AND she lets me capitalize on it by taking photos of it and putting it up here to show it off.
But in all seriousness, she is one of the best friends I could ask for. Although we’ve lived in the same house together for the past two years, very soon we’ll both be off—her, to travel the world and me … to figure out how to travel the world. So I suppose that this birthday celebration of hers, and mine next week, are all wrapped up in the same end-of-the-year whirlwind of trying to come to grips with all the bittersweet feelings that come with any really big ending (and beginning). It’s a strange grab-bag of emotions.
Anyway, so a big celebration calls for a big celebration treat. I’m pretty sure this is one of her favorite desserts, and it’s also one of mine. And, come to think of it, I think it’s pretty high up there on everyone’s favorite dessert list. And if it’s not, it at least should be. It’s a universal good. I’m willing to say it’s better than cake, and better than any kind of birthday cake you can think up (I think it beats last year’s, but I guess I’d have to leave that ultimate judgement up to my friend).
I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for tall, creamy cheesecake, mostly because how can one not trust Dorie on these matters? But, I’m not going to lie, the pictures on this site’s creation of the recipe is what really sold me. One grocery trip and a combination of cream cheese, butter, sour cream, eggs, and heavy cream later, I too had my own creation of the recipe. I really liked it, and my friend loves it, so it was a complete success. But, with that being said, I don’t know if it’s my ideal cheesecake. It is creamy, airy, and smooth. It has a delicious flavor, and it feels dangerously light enough to want to eat a quarter of the thing in one sitting. Which is all really good, but I think I’d prefer the type of cheesecake that is insanely dense, and extremely thick. I’m thinking it might be more along the lines of this one, by Smitten Kitchen? Anyone ever try that one?
Also, a couple more notes regarding this recipe: I think if I were to do it again, I would either make the crust one layer on the bottom, without pressing it up along the sides, or I’d make it thinner so that it can go completely up to the top of the sides of the cheesecake. For some reason, I think either of those options would look more elegant. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, that weird little swooshy design along the sides of the crust are due to my running-the-knife-along-the-sides skills when trying to loosen the cheesecake from the springform pan. It was completely accidental, but I think it actually looks pretty cool. It’s what my friend Abbey would call a “happy mistake” (she went to a Waldorf school as a child, if that means anything to you). Also! I didn’t have a roasting pan big enough to hold the springform pan in for a water bath or bain-marie, so I just placed a big pan full of water on the rack below the cheesecake while it was in the oven—I hope this somehow served as a substitute, but I have a feeling this cheesecake would have been even better if it were able to have a proper water bath.
With those extensive qualifications, I think it’s important to note that it is a really, really good cheesecake. It looks dreamy (or at least I think so), and it tastes like it too. It doesn’t feature any other flavors but vanilla, and I think the creamy, smooth filling with the tangy (and addicting) sour cream topping makes for a taste that’s really satisfying, and pure. I think it’s a classic cheesecake.
PS: Song pick of the week is Wolf Parade’s I’ll Believe in Anything. It is goooood. (I kind of really like this thing I’ve gotten into, where I share a song if I feel like it. I’ve been reading a lot of Hungry and Frozen lately and she always shares what music is inspiring her at the time she’s writing the post and I really like the vibes it gives. Am I transgressing my boundaries by telling you what to listen to, on top of what to eat? Maybe, but I enjoy it! So there!
One Year Ago: Strawberry Cream Cake
Graham Cracker Crust
1 3/4 cups (I believe something like 210 grams) graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 pounds (4 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two
Sour Cream Topping
2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil. Set aside.
To make the crust, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt. Pour over the melted butter and, using your hands, mix it together until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Turn the mixture out into the prepared springform pan and, using your fingers or the edge of something hard like a measuring cup, pat the mixture into an even layer along the bottom of the pan (and up the sides a little bit too, if you’d like). Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust begins to get ever-so-slightly brown and fragrant. Once the crust is removed, lower the oven to 325 degrees F. Set the crust aside to cool while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
To prepare the filling, first prepare a big kettle-full of water for boiling. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the room-tempurature cream cheese at medium speed until it’s soft, smooth and lightened, about 3 or 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt, and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the mixture is even more lightened! Beat in the vanilla, followed by the eggs, one by one, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go and beating for a full minute between each egg addition. The batter should be “well-aerated.” On a low speed, add in the sour cream and heavy cream and stir until fully combined. Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula to make sure the mixture is well combined.
Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in a large roasting pan. Scrape the batter into the pan, over the crust. If you have a somewhat standard 9-inch springform pan, the batter should just reach the brim. Place the roasting pan, holding the unbaked cheesecake, in the oven. With the oven door open, carefully pour the boiled water into the roasting pan so that it reaches just halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake in the 325 degree oven for an hour and 30 minutes, until the cheesecake has risen and puffed up above the rim of the pan and has gotten slightly browned at parts (it may even have some little cracks). Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open. Let the cheesecake rest in the cooling oven for another hour—this prevents any major cracks on the cheesecake, I think.
After an hour, carefully pull the roasting pan out of the oven, making sure not to slosh any water onto the precious cheesecake! Carefully lift the springform pan out of the water bath and let the cheesecake cool on a wire rack until it comes to room temperature.
Once the cake is cool, cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill the cake (I know, the waiting! it never ends!) for at least 4 hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, run a butter knife along the edges and carefully open the springform latch and remove the pan sides.
For the sour cream topping, combine the sour cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl until well mixed. Dollop the mixture on top of the chilled cheesecake and smooth it out into an even layer. Store the cheesecake in the fridge, and always serve cold.
Happy Birthday, Abbey! x
So, I made this over a week ago. That seems a little weird to me, to be writing about and talking about something that is already long gone and enjoyed (well enjoyed, mind you!). Although I usually don’t blog in anything close to “real time,” I think I have been especially aware of the time lag lately since everything seems to be going by SO QUICKLY. We’re down to a less than 3 weeks (!) until I graduate. That’s three weeks to find a way to eat all the food in my pantry, to handle both my best friend’s and my own birthday, to do all those things I’ve wanted to do in this city with these friends over the past 3 years that I haven’t got a chance to, to finish that thing called a thesis that has been consuming me wildly, to, you know, figure out what I’m going to do with my life after I graduate (something that strangely enough hasn’t been consuming me wildly, but should be).
It’s all a little surreal to me. I could try to gauge my feelings about everything but I’m pretty sure I have neither the time nor the audacity to try and figure that all out at the moment. I have a good knack of blocking pesky or bothersome things out of my consciousness anyway. Some part of my brain, for my sake, hides feelings and decisions that I don’t want to deal with away where I can’t reach them. They stay there, until someone or something else makes the decision for me or it all compounds into one big terrible mess that I can’t ignore. I can’t tell if this “skill” of mine is good or bad yet (you tell me).
Anyway, a critical part of this whole scheme of mine is that I don’t have time to do everything I want or need to, but I do have time to muddle away making treats of some form…obviously. Because treats are necessary. Anyway, so about a week ago a friend of mine and I wanted to make some treat resonant of tea time; something buttery, cakey and a little crumbly, sweet. Although I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for the better part of a year, the fact that I had an almost-full jar of apricot jam in my fridge (along with the very important fact that I have only the aforementioned scant 3 weeks (3 weeks!) to use it up), this recipe seemed like destiny.
So we made the dough, briefly chilled it, squished it all into a pan and spread nearly the full jar of jam on top. I suppose that on this particular day, we were feeling rather aesthetically inclined, seeing as we went all out and decided to do a pretty lattice top. You’ll be happy to know that despite how we pretty much botched it up, squished it all around, and made it look rather messy, when it emerged from the oven it was a real beauty. We ate slices of it warm, but I think it is best at room temperature.
When I ate a slice of it for breakfast, it reminded me of when Waylon and I were in Florence, where we shared a twin bed at a hostel. Even though the shower didn’t work, the breakfast at that hostel was the best—they had teas and toast and jams and an apricot crostata, with a lattice top just like this one. I can’t really remember what it tasted like, but I think this one was just as good if not better. The pastry is crumbly, buttery, and soft, and it has a really nice texture from the addition of some cornmeal (the idea of which came from David Lebovtiz). It’s basically like a cookie-pastry crust that’s all wrapped around a thin layer of sticky sweet jam.
Regarding the jam, I think any would really do. With that being said, I honestly also think a quick homemade jam would be best here—that way you could control the amount of sugar and balance out the sweet pastry with a more tart jam (kind of like that of the rhubarb-raspberry sort in another crostata I made, just about forever ago). I do however find a lot of appeal in the idea of making this sort of dessert as a spur-of-the-moment thing by being resourceful and using up what you have on hand. So if you have an almost-full jar of apricot jam in the fridge that needs to be used in a few weeks, I’d say that trumps all.
One Year Ago: Rhubarb-Grapefruit Marmalade (hey! that woulda worked well here) and Caramelized Cauliflower Pasta with Parmesan, Pine Nuts, and Lemon
You can make the dough ahead of time and store it in the fridge, but when you take it out to press into the pan, you’ll probably have to wait a bit for the dough to soften and become flexible. Also, feel free to substitute any sort of jam you’d like here.
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 cup (70 grams) cornmeal or polenta
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
9 (110 grams) tablespoons unsalted butter, at room tempurature
1/2 (100 grams) cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
14 ounces (450 grams) apricot jam
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until well-combined, about 1 minute. Mix in the egg and egg yolk until combined. Add in the flour mixture and continue to mix at medium speed until the mixture begins to get all clumpy.
By hand, separate the dough into two balls, with one part roughly twice as big as the other (as in, separate the dough into two parts of 1/3 and 2/3). Wrap the two balls in plastic wrap and place the in fridge for about 30 minutes, just to firm up.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the fridge. Starting with the larger section, press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Fill the crust with the jam, spread in an even layer. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining 1/3 dough until it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into narrow strips and place them in a lattice pattern, if you’d like, on the crostata. I personally think it’s prettier and more personal if you don’t make it look too perfect.
Bake in the preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Side note: in researching this recipe I found this bit hidden in the instructions of a recipe from an Italian cook: “Do not let it overbake or the pasta frolla will become hard as stone and the jam will become as sticky as glue.” So yeah, keep that in mind.) Let cool at least a little bit before serving; it’s best served at room temperature.