Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In the Still of the Night

This was the scene outside the window at 4am on Sunday.  The city was blanketed with 5-10cm this past weekend and as a result, plans were put on hold, excursions curtailed, and we got down to the serious business of consecutive weekend snow days.  This meant a weekend of baking, eating, Christmas movie watching, listening to Ella Fitzgerald's "Jingle Bells" (the Big Yam's favorite tune) on repeat, gingerbread house making, skating, and tobogganing.  Not for the first winter was I grateful for Lil' Ugmo's prime positioning at the side of a well-rounded park.  It makes it tremendously effortless to fulfil Norman Rockwell-winter fantasies.  I saw people pulling up on our street to park with their skates and sleds and all we had to do was tow the Big Yam to the end of the street:

The Dotytron got it into his head that he wanted to make gingerbread houses with the Big Yam and so prep for that occupied a big chunk of our Saturday evening.  Making the dough, rolling, cutting, and baking wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but I'm a gingerbread house denier (it's all part and parcel of my candy blaspheming ways), and to be honest, the Dotytron did most of the work.  At the end of the day, our Sunday morning looked like this:

so I can't really complain.  It was worth it.  Despite my protestations to the contrary, home made gingerbread and royal icing is way better than the store bought stuff.  In this way, the gingerbread houses are reflective of my general relationship to Christmas and the holiday season.  I know I swim against the tide in this, but I favor the experiential, the hand made, the time investment over all the disposable, bought crap with which we clutter our holidays.  Why are the holidays generally considered stressful by most?  It's because you spend time fretting over what to get for GROWN ADULTS who already have everything, with a deadline, no less!  How enjoyable is that?  I would almost always rather have a dinner out with friends and family, or get together and order pizza, or hang, than stuff.  Really, the one thing the Dotytron and I desperately want is babysitting vouchers.  Those are GOLD to parents.  Overnight ones are even better.  The memory of the Big Yam being scared of the Grinch, swinging to Ella Fitzgerald, and haphazardly plonking hot lips onto his gingerbread house is so much more valuable than getting him a bunch of crap.  

We made some pretty fun donations this year and I encourage you to do the same.  Thinking of how we can give in a way that meaningfully reflects on our year is pretty fun.  We bought an infant blood oxygen monitor for the hospital we delivered the Wonder Twins at.  We donated once again to Applegrove Community Complex, which provides an awesome drop-in space and parent resource centre for the Big Yam, in addition to serving seniors and teens in the community.  We also donated to Oxfam to help with the Philippine relief efforts, during the time frame when the federal government was matching donations.  

Another favorite moment from this holiday season - the advent calendar told us last night to "Read a Holiday Story" so I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas and then, because I am trying to fight against the forces that would have us believe that there is a "war on Christmas" I pulled out The Story of Hanukkah, which I bought this year so that the Big Yam would be a well-rounded individual.  I'm reading it and it's pretty grim.  Then I get to page 3: "For a long time the Jews lived in peace, although they did not rule their land.  Then a Greek, Antiochus IV, became king. He tore down the walls of Jerusalem.  Thousands were killed.  Anyone who lit Sabbath candles, studied Jewish law, or refused to bow to Greek idols was put to death."  At which point the Big Yam utters: "UGGGGGGHHHH" *exasperated sigh*  LOL!  So good!  He was so put out!  I ended up cutting the story short because he wasn't having it.  

On Sunday we had Dr. Rei and Hanbo over for an ultra fun visit that featured excess in the form of pizza delivery from two different places.  BEST IDEA EVER.  I made us the cheesecake that JJ & S always make which is the best cheesecake in the world.  Hands down.  I've never had better.  It's the creamiest, smoothest, richest thing balanced with the slight tang of sour cream and lemon.  The key is to under bake the s**t out of it so that it's all gooey still and not dry.  Dryness is the enemy of deliciousness, which is why I've never really loved New York style cheesecake.  Too dry!  I'll post the recipe below, so that I never, ever, ever lose it.  

This weekend is similarly light.  The Dotytron family Christmas party got cancelled, so we're hoping that one of us can take him to the Studio Ghibli retrospective showing at the Bell Lightbox theatre and then we're having lunch with Nany and that's it.  The Dotytron is off for the holidays as of Friday and I for one can't wait for more of everything we had this past weekend:  more couching, movie watching, quilting, knitting, skating, tobogganing, shovelling, present wrapping, cookie baking, and hot chocolate drinking with my family.  


Ultimate Cheesecake 
serves 12-16 (or 1 person if you're me)

2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
6 T. unsalted butter, melted

4 8oz packages cream cheese, room temperature (I left mine out basically all morning)
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 T. flour
4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 c. sour cream, room temperature
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. salt

- mix all the crust ingredients together until the crumbs are thoroughly moistened.  Press on the bottom and halfway up sides of a 9" springform pan with at least 2" sides
- bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Wrap the outside of the springform pan in two cross layers of foil (I use the extra-long barbecue foil to ensure that no water from the water bath seeps in).  
- in the bowl of a stand mixer beat the cream cheese with the sugar until the mixture is smooth and a bit fluffy, about 2-4 minutes.  On low speed, beat in flour.
- add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of mixing bowl.  Be careful not to over beat the mixture though, you don't want to aerate it.
- mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, and salt on low speed.  
- pour the cheesecake batter in to the prepared crust.  Put the springform pan inside of a larger roasting pan and pour water around the springform pan until it comes approximately 1" up the side.  
- bake the cheesecake in the 350F oven for about 45 minutes - 1 hour, 10 minutes MAX.  You don't want any browning on top, and you want the centre to be just barely, barely set.  Even better, if the whole thing jiggles as one when you gently shake it (instead of the centre being really soupy and jiggly and the outsides set) that's the best.  Or like, a 2" radius in the centre being extra jiggly is fine.  
- take the cheesecake out of the roasting pan and cool on a rack.  Chill in the fridge for about 8 hours or overnight.  
- unmold the cheesecake by running a thin knife around the outside and releasing the pan sides.

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