TRR photos by Jonathan Fox

If you’re not adept with a mixer, cream cheese can end up in a lot of places it does not belong.

Let them eat cake

I’m not much of a cook. Fortunately my expectations are fairly low when it comes to putting food on the table. Since every night is singles night here at Camp Fox, the complaints are few and far between. I’m pretty sure it goes back to my childhood and the family circus that was dinnertime in Binghamton, NY, circa “Leave it to Beaver.” Ours was not a calm household, and the dysfunction that exploded across the dinner table nightly  left marks on my psyche that linger to this day. So when you invite me to dinner and I politely decline, don’t take it personally. It’s not your cooking, it’s me.

That said, I’m pretty enthusiastic when it comes to dessert, and while I’m usually the guy who shows up at your doorstep with store-bought cookies and a sheepish grin, I decided it was about time I learn how to bake. “It’s on my bucket list,” I explained to a friend, “and there’s no time like the present. I can see the bucket from here.” An invitation to Christmas dinner provided me with the perfect opportunity to find my inner Betty Crocker, and I decided to make a cheesecake. “How hard can it be?” I asked my pal. “The recipe’s right there on the box. It’s just cream cheese.” Making my list and checking it twice, I confidently sauntered through the grocery store, loading my basket with the requisite eggs, sugar and graham cracker crumbs. “It costs how much?” I said to the dog, referring to the two-ounce container of pure vanilla called for in the recipe. “I only need a teaspoon! When am I ever gonna use vanilla again? This can’t be right.”

I whipped out my iPhone and sure enough, a quick search revealed that the price of vanilla “skyrocketed” in 2018. “About 10 times what it was just a few years ago,” the online article (www.cookinglight.com) informed. “Currently fetching upwards of $600 per kilo, vanilla now costs more than silver.” Shaking my head and muttering to the dog, I briefly considered taking out a second mortgage to cover the cost of dessert. Resolved to do the recipe justice (after all, it’s on the box) I bit the bullet and paid for my supplies, anxious to get home and into the kitchen. Twenty minutes  later, I realized I was in over my head. Surprised to discover that I even own a hand-mixer, I was unsure how to use it at first. Let’s just say that  there’s still cream cheese on my ceiling today.

Far too many mixing bowls and wooden spoons later, the thing was in the oven in a borrowed “spring pan” and I stood back to take in the scene before me. I’m not kidding about the ceiling. The recipe calls for “softened” cream cheese (lots and lots of softened cream cheese) and it wasn’t long before I discovered that when “softened” the stuff takes on a life of its own.  After that, it’s only a matter of time before the electric mixer turns the whole thing to liquid in yet another bowl, increasing the odds (IMHO) that there might be cream cheese on the ceiling at some point in the process. I turned to the internet again, having been warned by a friend that the cheesecake “could crack,” and sure enough, it’s a thing. If you Google the subject, you’ll see what I mean, suffice it to say that a lively debate over the do’s and don’ts  of a crack in the surface of my ridiculously expensive contribution to dinner is ongoing. Mine cracked.

Not only that, but after hours of cooling followed by endless worrying that the sides would stick to the pan, I somehow managed to arrive at my destination with gifts under one arm, a dog at my heels and no cake. All that, just to leave the freakin’ thing at home. “Wow, man,” I said to my hostess. “This had better taste good,” I said. “You know what? Never mind—just lie if you hate it. I don’t want to know. I’ll just go back home and get it.” Thankfully, nobody seemed to hate it and the thing was a hit, crack and all. I might even do it again, if I can get approved for a loan next Christmas. I don’t see the price of vanilla going down anytime soon.

 

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