For those of you who don't know him, my dad is a man of many talents. He is smart and funny. He enjoys camping, golf, anything to do with the United States Marine Corps (once a Marine, always a Marine) and a glass of McAllen Scotch on occasion. Amongst all of his hobbies, cooking may fall into the top spot of things my dad is good at. I have learned many things from my dad as a result of his passion for the above mentioned for example, how to build a campfire using the crisscross Nicol technique, how to keep my head down during my back swing, and how to kill a man with a gum wrapper (ok that last one is a stretch, I was convinced growing up that any Marine could accomplish this at a moment’s notice). One talent I have that I can credit to my dad is making cheesecake.
When I still lived at home, not a day went by when my dad wasn’t making something in the kitchen. Everyone knew when it was cheesecake day. He would bake several at a time, for a bake sale, Christmas party, dessert for people at work or donate them for a Holiday silent auction at church. I remember walking in the front door when I got home from school. The smell of vanilla and sugar gram crackers would fill the air. The house was warm from the all-day heat of the oven it would make my glasses fog as I came in from the cold winter. He would be sitting at the kitchen table completing his New York Times Crossword in-between cheesecakes. There was always two or three cooling by the window that was open just a crack, and at least two more in the oven. It was certainty cheesecake day. The best part is he would always let me have the leftover homemade gram cracker crust crumbles that resided in the mixing bowl.
These memories are very valuable to me in my adult life; for it is this talent of cheesecake perfection that I strive for each time I attempt to recreate his tried and true recipe. I have to say, I am pretty good. Every once in a while I will stray from the reliable vanilla and add a dash of cinnamon or butterscotch prior to baking however nothing is as good as the original master’s.
I started making my dad’s cheesecake about 5 years ago, when my significant other informed me that this was his favorite dessert. In an attempt to win his heart through his stomach-I began the process of reaching “Dad status” in the elitism of cheesecake making community. I remember my first attempt; I followed the details on the hand written card that was stained with years of baking expertise. I thought it wouldn’t be too hard, right? Wrong. The first attempt came out looking like Cream Cheese soup, Fail. I made a second trip to the grocery store, and preparing the second attempt at vanilla perfection, I realized this was going to be an art that needed nurturing and time to develop. After all, my dad had been doing this for years, and I just a lowly student taking my first lesson. Well, I didn’t get it right the second time either as I am certain the final product wasn’t supposed to be the color of dark chocolate or have the smell of burnt hair.
So as it stands, five years later I have to say I am almost to the point of muscle memory. I have the formula memorized, the technique near flawless and the final product is boyfriend tested and approved. In lieu of gifts, I have dedicated Friday December 23rd to making cheesecakes for each party I have to attend. My house will be filled with the sweet smell of vanilla and sugar gram cracker crust, the kitchen will be toasty with the heat of the oven and I will most likely be doing the Daily Crossword in-between cheesecakes. Thanks Dad. You have not only taught me how to bake a killer cheesecake, but you have left me with a cherished memory (amongst many) that I hope my future children will have someday.