*apologies to Geneen Roth

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

 

[Well, I really hadn’t meant to write about my mother for two entries in a row.  Maybe it was all of your wonderful comments about yesterday’s “mom story”; maybe it was an offshoot of Mother’s Day earlier in the month; maybe I’m just feeling all mushy and sentimental after watching the over-the-top , tear-filled finale of American Idol last night. 

Or, maybe, it’s Sarah’s fault. Over at Homemade Experiences in the Kitchen, Sarah is hosting a blog event called “Tastes to Remember,” that asks us to write about “those tastes and smells that immediately bring you back to your childhood.”  Of course, my mother came to mind once again, this time for her baking (which, unlike her cooking, was quite exceptional).  So forgive the bathos. And here’s my own little contribution to this week’s sappy ending.]  

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In the house in which I grew up, food often spoke louder than the people. When my mother was too hurt, too angry, too stubborn or simply too out of touch with her own internal landscape to speak, the dishes she cooked were imbued with their own telegraphic properties. Food could be either a reward or a weapon, and, like each of those, was often withheld until the situation truly warranted its use.   

 

On schoolday mornings, I’d sometimes wake early and stumble into the kitchen before my father left for work (he was usually gone by 6:15, off to a 12-hour day at the butcher shop to kibbitz with customers, haul sides of beef, or trim stew meat just so before wrapping it expertly, as if swaddling a baby, in waxy brown paper). Squinting and still shielding my eyes from the electric light, I’d encounter my dad hunched over his breakfast at the kitchen table. I could always sense immediately whether or not some earlier argument between my parents had been resolved overnight.

 

Was he enjoying two soft-boiled eggs, an orange cut into eighths and his usual cup of black tea? That meant the air had cleared with the sunlit sky; equilibrium had been restored. If, instead, the plate proffered a lone slice of blackened toast, glistening with a hasty swipe of margarine; if the kettle was left boiling unattended (it was understood he’d have to go get his own), then I knew that tension had prevailed, and it would be at least one more day before détente was re-established.    

 

Food also conveyed silent, unspeakable messages of sorrow.   

 

When I was about six or seven, my mother acquired a recipe for “Potato Boats” from one of her Mah Jong friends, and they were quickly adopted as our staple Friday night dinner. Each week, Mom would cut the potatoes in half, scoop out the nubbly, steaming flesh and mash the innards with butter and milk before packing the mixture back into the empty shells, topping each with an orange haystack of grated Kraft cheese. The “boats” were then replaced in the oven and baked until the cheese oozed and bubbled, drooping over the potato edges to form charred rounds of ash on the baking sheet. We all loved the Friday suppers, and my sisters and I waited eagerly for them.   

 

Then my grandfather got sick.  As the only grandparent still alive when I was born, he’d been a fairly constant presence in our lives—living, in fact, right upstairs in the upper duplex of our house, with my aunt’s family. Diagnosed with liver cancer, Zaida was given little chance of recovery. Only two weeks after the diagnosis—on a Friday–he was admitted to hospital.    

 

That afternoon, my mother operated in a haze, her eyes perpetually wet, leaking silent rivulets down her cheeks. She moved aimlessly through the house like a fly caught in the window frame, shifting from one spot to the next as if the counter, the table, the cupboard, were each invisible barriers blocking her path, causing her to recoil and try again, over and over. She somehow still produced the requisite potato boats and salmon patties–I couldn’t understand why we were having them for lunch instead of dinner–and we ate in tense, confused silence.  The following Friday, we were served a different menu; she never attempted the potato boats again.   

 

Still, food could also project a sense of celebration and delight.
 
Shy and reserved, my mother was as soft spoken as grass. Not one to tout her own accomplishments , she relied instead on food to convey positive feelings of pride or self-confidence.  Renowned for her baking, she’d silently bask in the appreciative “ooh”s and “aah”s from friends and family whenever she served her signature creation, a towering Chiffon Cake almost a foot high.  Other times, if she felt adventurous and carefree, she’d bake up “Chocolate Shadows,” a somewhat bizarre yet beloved combination of chocolate cookie with swirls of sweet peanut-butter filling and a hint of mint flavoring.

Perhaps most of all, when Mom was feeling conciliatory and generous and filled with love toward my father, she’d bake his favorite dessert, something we called Farmer’s Cheesecake.  Unlike the rich, dense and decadent rounds  we’re accustomed to today, this homey version, based on one his grandmother had made on the dairy farm where he grew up, was set in a square pan and sported a cake-like crust both beneath, and woven in a freeform criss-cross over, a layer of puréed cottage cheese, eggs, lemon and a hint of sugar. The finished result was then cut into squares to be enjoyed after dinner or, in the case of my sisters and me, for breakfast. The cheese filling, reminiscent of that in a kolacky or cheese danish, was smooth, yet firm and not too sweet.    

On days when I arrived home from school and was greeted by the rich, eggy aroma as it sneaked out from under our front door, I’d race up the stairs in excited anticipation, knowing my mother would be in good spirits.  My sisters and I would sample the cake as soon as it was ready—only a tiny nibble was permitted—before allowing it to cool on the kitchen counter until my dad came home.    

 

When my mother placed a slice of this cake in front of my father, his face, no matter how tense or furrowed from the day’s work, would soften and a smile overtook him as he brandished his fork. He’d relish his little gift of generosity, savoring every morsel along with his cup of tea.  “Just like my grandmother used to make,” he’d murmur, grinning. Then my mother would retreat to the sink; as she passed the soapy dishcloth slowly over each bowl or plate, her face was limned with satisfaction. No words were required, as we all knew what she was feeling.  

 

So you see why I was determined to recreate that cake. I wanted to achieve a vegan version with the same harmony of cookie crust, tart, lemony filling and light, pillowy texture. It took several attempts, but I think I finally found a suitable rendition.  And while it may not quite do the original justice, but I’m still pretty happy with the outcome.  With its irregular lattice crust and home-made appeal, this cake does approximate the Farmer’s Cheesecake of my childhood.   

 

Tonight after dinner, I padded over to where the HH sat and, without uttering a sound, placed a big slice of the cake in front of him. At first he cut into it tentatively, sampling a tiny bite.  Then he dug in to the rest with gusto, and in an instant had already scraped the plate clean.   

 

I could tell from the smile on his face that he’d understood exactly what I meant.  

 

 Vegan Farmer’s Cheesecake

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

This is a great everyday cake, one you can easily mix up for a daily treat, but so delicious you’ll want to share it with friends.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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