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The Table

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Traditional Christmas Cheesecake

The smell was the first clue that I had missed the window of opportunity for dealing with the Thanksgiving leftovers. The remains of the turkey had been migrating ever further to the back of the refrigerator as my options narrowed. At first I had planned to chop it up and mix it with pickles, onion and mayonnaise for a sort of sandwich spread. After a few days, I thought perhaps a stir fry would be better, since the application of high heat probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. Once a week had passed, I had a vague resolve to make it into soup, since simmering it for a few hours with plenty of garlic and herbs should eliminate any off-taste.

But then I opened the refrigerator yesterday and was greeted with the smell of Turkey Gone Bad. On the one hand, I was chagrined at having wasted food through inactivity. On the other hand I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t have to worry about dealing with that anymore.”

You would think I might have gotten into a habit of smaller turkey purchases by now. Since Tom and I mostly ignore holidays, cooking up a couple drumsticks in a crockpot would really be sufficient nod to the day. Nevertheless, I seem stuck on carrying on my mother’s holiday ritual. Every November she picked out the biggest bird she could find, even when it was down to just two of us kids at home. I don’t remember anything ever going bad in her refrigerator -- she wrangled those leftovers down to the literal bare bones, then simmered the carcass for soup which we dutifully ate to the last drop.

So I suppose it’s been some sense of tradition that keeps me cooking more turkey than Tom and I will ever eat, but the fact is that I don’t have the steely resolve my mother had in the pursuit of leftovers. Anything that produces more than two or three meals had better find its way into the freezer, or I will be shame-facedly scraping it into the trash a week or two down the road.

I thought of that the other day when I was thinking it was about time to visit my brother who lives over by Wausau. Then I thought how nice it would be to take him a plate of the different cookies our mother used to bake for Christmas. So I found the recipes, made a list, got the ingredients -- and didn’t do it. What I realized was that I wasn’t really all that emotionally invested in making them. When I thought about it, I doubt my mother ever was, either.

I guess it was Mom doing what she figured was expected of her for this time of year. She gets points for that, along with every other parent trudging through the chores of the season, but it was kind of like the oyster stew that showed up Christmas Eve. Nobody actually liked the stuff, but it was tradition, so we all stared at the slimy green blobs floating in a milk broth. And ate some more Christmas cookies. Not to give the impression that our holiday observance consisted only of sitting around a table, looking sadly at food they didn’t like. There was also the ritual of tramping around the farm, looking for the most blighted Christmas tree to drag into our living room. Dad had his own holiday tradition, after all -- finding the evergreen that was most likely to be dead anyway in another year.

Anyway, I decided against making the traditional cookies that none of us were all that crazy about. But my brother does like blueberry pie and cheesecake. I nixed the idea of making pie on the principle of finding piecrust too annoying to deal with, which left me with: Blueberry-Topped Lemon Cheesecake

There are lovely ready-made graham cracker crusts at the store. If you insist on making it from scratch, use your own darn recipe.

Beat together:

1 lb. cream cheese 1 cup sour cream 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 1/3 cup lemon juice 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon lemon zest Spoon into crust. Bake at 325° for 45 minutes. There should still be a slight wobble in the center. Put in refrigerator and let chill for 4 to 5 hours.

In a heavy saucepan, bring to a simmer: 2 cups blueberries ½ cup water ½ cup sugar In a small bowl dissolve

2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons water

Add to the blueberries, stirring and cooking at low heat until thick. Remove from heat and stir in:

½ teaspoon vanilla 1 tablespoon lemon zest

When the sauce has completely cooled, spread over the top of the completely chilled cheesecake.

Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.