Xmas is fraught with, well, everything. There are expectations and emotions and disappointments. There are holiday highs and holiday blues. There can be loneliness, regardless of the number of cards, gifts, phone calls, visits. There can be stress, despite the yoga and deep breathing, the planning and strategizing. It all just goes with the territory known as The Holidays.
When I was a child, we followed the Danish custom of opening presents on xmas eve. Even though we did not continue this tradition with my kids, when my daughter married, she saw it as the perfect solution to the in-law problem of where to spend xmas. Somehow eating Mexican also became part of the ritual, so now it is tacos and fajitas on xmas eve at my house.
And desserts. I have made what I call Mexican wedding cakes and also cheesecake in the past. Last year's cheesecake was not all that great, though. True to my make-it-from-scratch-if-reasonably-possible philosophy (and my definition of "reasonably possible" is rather loose), I made the cheese from cream skimmed off my herdshare milk. Unfortunately, the herdshare milk had a peculiar tang to it (common in late fall/early winter, presumably from a change in diet for the cows), so the cream cheese was particularly strong. It didn't bother most, but I found the cheesecake barely edible and my son could not swallow even one bite. So ixnay on the eesecakechay in the future.
This year, however, the herdshare milk did NOT have that seasonal tang. In fact, it tasted better than ever. So cheesecake from homemade cream cheese went back on the menu. I made fromage blanc last weekend and baked this French cheesecake recipe Monday night.
Now, I know I have used this recipe before, but I think I did not do the flipping called for after baking. Or it I did, the results were better. Flipping the entire cheesecake over onto a wire rack is supposed to keep the filling from deflating. I dutifully flipped and all appeared to be fine. Then, as called for in the recipe, I left the cheesecake upside down on the wire rack for 20 minutes.
Well. When I later righted the cheesecake, I found a good deal of the filling had leaked out through the wire rack and onto the counter. The filling also did not seem all that cooked, so I scraped it off the counter, plopped it back in the pie shell, and baked it for another 20 minutes.
I'm sure the cheesecake would have been fine, but this is when the xmas gremlins hit. A major cooking failure on the day before a fraught holiday can do that. I was also feeling hormonal. You know that feeling, when your whole life feels absolutely shitty even though you cannot name one particular reason why. So, while one part of me was calmly looking through Betty Crocker for dessert alternatives that did not involve a trip to the grocery store, another part was trying to cry/not cry.
I used to be quite good at generating self-pity, but the older I get, the more ridiculous that effort seems. This particular evening I certainly felt the need for some self-pity and a good cry, but every time the tears welled up, I found myself laughing at my histrionics. Oh, poor me, I can't bake a cheesecake, I'm a failure as a cook and a mother and a human being, boo hoo hoo, followed by, Seriously? Get over yourself.
Eventually, I baked some ginger snaps and lemon bars, so solved the problem of xmas dessert. Everyone had plenty to eat and no one complained about the lack of cheesecake (and if they had, I would have let them sample the semi-disaster because it is still in the refrigerator). And so another holiday season comes to a close.
(I've always wanted to make Hoppin' John for New Years. Maybe this will be the year. Ham hocks, anyone?)