Who ate my blueberry cheesecake?

Last week Juliana and I baked blueberry cheesecake from scratch.  It was delicious. And beautiful, if I may say so; so beautiful my husband even took a picture of it for posterity. I have just been very busy but soon I will print it using my newest scrap-booking and crafting toy, the Canon Selphy. I will post it on my desk as a sweet, gentle reminder that despite the many times I have failed in the kitchen, I can always hope and look forward to days when I can be quite the queen.

Of the maybe thirty and eight things I have tried to bake my whole married life, this blueberry cheesecake was one of the 14 that I got right. Although the recipe was a random choice from the web, it wasn’t one of those easy no-bake ones. This one definitely did not allow short cuts — the three whole eggs we used had to be added slowly, one at a time, like a baby’s first few steps, and we had to bake the crust, and then bake the whole cake in a tender water bath, too. Two things made me choose it from over a hundred others — it was the eighth recipe I saw (and I’ve always liked the number eight ever since I was in second-year college) and when I read the reviews 94 percent of those who tried it said they would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Make that three because I was also kinda drawn to the whole idea of a water bath. It did feel so old-fashioned, so meticulous, all these little steps, and it was all worth it in the end.  I’m thinking now that perhaps that is where I went wrong so many times in my baking/cooking past: I always chose the easiest recipes, my mind totally conditioned that I would not go wrong with them.  But I did — boy, I majorly did — and I am now discovering that the opposite can be quite true.

Juliana and I are going to bake a jellyroll next. My brother’s nanny, Yaya Juling, who was as funny as she was domestically talented and who now lives in Australia with her Australian husband used to make it all the time while we were growing up. We had a service tray in steel and brown laminate and Yaya Juling would roll it in my mom and dad’s bedroom. As she regaled us with her brand of storytelling she would assemble the cake, quite a showgirl herself.  She would do it in the kitchen most of the time but when mommy or any one of us four children were not feeling well, she took it upon herself to cheer us up. She knew we all loved watching her prepare the jelly roll, almost as much as we all loved eating it. I remember the smooth, flat cake and her fingers rolling it slowly, carefully. I remember her curly hair, her bright eyes and the hearty way she laughed. I can still taste the mango jelly she used, the same brand all the time, and I wish someone from the family or some of our old house help could tell me the brand name of that mango jelly.  Nobody seems to remember. I need to ask Yaya Juling if it is okay to use jam instead of jelly, if choosing one over the other will make any difference at all in the finished product. Juliana has decided on strawberry as our filling, and when we went to S&R yesterday she chose two big fat jars of strawberry jam. I remember how I loved strawberry preserves when I was her age (I still do, although I now also love orange marmalade with butter just as much) and how I used to scoop them out of the jar and eat them like I would ice cream. No crackers, no bread: just unadulterated, juicy pink pleasure. When we finally get to make our jelly roll, I will tell you how it goes, and how it tastes, of course.

With summer approaching and the days stretching out much longer there is no other time in the year more than now that I wish Mang Ben, Richard’s sailor friend, were here. He works as a chef on one of those big, lonely cargo ships that sail in the ocean for months on end and he comes home only once a year, usually appearing at our doorstep during the balmy “ber” months. He stays with us, baking fresh bread almost daily and making pizza and spanakopita from scratch, but by January-February he is gone again. Much too soon, always. His departure from our home also always means less activity in the kitchen. The honey puffs and the shakoy (the latter is called bicho-bicho here and the only difference is that Mang Ben dusts it with white sugar) no longer make as many appearances on our kitchen table as they do when he is around. So, slowly we have learned to tuck those sweet little treats in our memories as something we miss from time to time, yes, and especially at summertime, but that we can only enjoy abundantly when our dear sailor friend comes home from sea. The last time he was here he baked orange cake, and only because he saw one lonely piece of the citrus fruit hanging out in our refrigerator, unwanted, unnoticed.  He is that kind of baker/chef: he refuses to let anything go to waste.  He used that lonely little fruit to make the kind of orange-flavored butter cake that can be likened to the ones that tumble out of local, provincial bakehops — nothing fancy, just pure, unadulterated homey goodness. There is one more thing about him that amazes me — he bakes by feel alone. He does not follow any recipe and he just tosses everything in without really measuring anything. Is that not a cardinal rule in baking, to follow measurements precisely? But then again, how did people of old do it? I’m pretty sure they just went by feel, too, at least in the beginning, and the measurements that seem to be standard in this day and age and that we often take for granted are but products of the trials and errors they did back then. The orange cake he baked came out very dense, almost dry but not quite, and it was refreshingly delicious. Richard cut it into very thick, fat slabs and stiffened it in the oven toaster. It was very good with tea or coffee but I loved it with milk.

The summer wind is here and I look forward to reading yet again Barbara Holland’s Endangered Pleasures (a perfect summer read), eating sineguelas sprinkled with rock salt, and spending more time with Richard and our not-so-little one especially with school out of the way. She wants to take drawing lessons, continue her dance and violin lessons, and on the side we will bake dozens of cakes and cookies and pies. Just like when we dip our toes in the ocean or the pool to check if the water’s temperature is to our liking, we shall dabble in this and that, every now and then, discovering new hobbies and recipes, loving and perfecting even more of our old favorites, all the time enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

It is my summer hope, along with Juliana, to be able to learn to bake really well. I do not have to be as good as a pastry chef who can whip up anything from scratch but I would love to have in my arsenal even just a dozen sweet treats that I can do really well. I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

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The Philippine Center for St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Inc. headed by its president Ramon Rodriguez and pilgrimage officer Chito Bertolis is organizing a St. Pio and Holy Land Pilgrimage from May 15 to June 1, 2008. Included are stops at the following: the Nazareth shrine of the Annunciation of Christ Basilica, St. Joseph’s Work Shop, Church of the Transfiguration, Sea of Galilee, Renewal of Marriage at Cana,  Garden of Gethsemane, Bethlehem-Birthplace of Jesus, Stations of the Cross, Room of the Last Supper, Calvary and more. From Rome the group will proceed to The Vatican, admire The Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, the Roman Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain.

The pilgrimage of Santo Pio of Pietrelcina starts with a visit to his birthplace of Pietrelcina, San Giovanni Rotundo, the Shrine of St. Pio, Our Lady of Grace where he received the stigmata. It will be a wonderful time on this pilgrimage, especially because just recently Sto. Pio’s body was exhumed 40 years after his death and they discovered it to be incorrupt and his hands even look like they were “newly manicured.”

For details, please call Tez at 0921-9554410.

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