Backlog Pt. 1

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Well, it certainly has been a while. But fret not, not much has changed – my food photography skills remain as questionable as ever.

So first off, I suppose it’s worth addressing the elephant in the room. Why did I stop posting, and why am I now returning?

For me, this past school year can generally be divided into a “before” and “after.” A before when I was still pretty okay, and an after when everything seemed to be imploding in an almost-comical tweenage “end of the world” kind of way.

In the beginning, I would start to write posts, then realize they were freaking depressing, and while great food is metaphorically made with “blood, sweat, and tears,” no one really wants to read a sob story when all they were looking for was a cookie recipe. So I’d delete and start again and the post would take another down and dispirited route. I tried to write about movies I’d seen, places I’d gone, about my friends and my family. I discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to write about superficial joys – and not-so-surprisingly difficult to write about people when you’re ignoring their calls (sorry family members!). Every post I tried to write sounded artificially saccharine and after a while, I stopped trying.

Eventually, I reached the elusive “rock bottom.” At that point, I’d been living off almonds and dried cranberries and packages of dried seaweed and not much else. I felt as if I had lost everything that had been my identifiers – my innocence (which is the nice way of saying gullibility), my deep connection to classical music, my love for food, my confidence in my intellectual capabilities, my tendency to be easily excitable and inspired.

While this was all happening, I’d sometimes wish that I could just “wake up,” that I could sleep off the weariness and the insecurities and the nothingness. Looking back, I have no idea why I thought waking up was easy – the number of times I’ve slept through really important alarms (e.g. that one time I was five hours late for my flight) is, well, alarming. I finally recognized that I could not just wait to wake up one day and feel fine.

I am returning now to this blog, and to the life that I put on hold during these lost months, as part of my reclamation of my ‘self.’ I refuse to ever again fall victim to the names I have been called and the rumors that have been spread behind my back.

I’ve chosen to post this recipes because first of all, it is one of my favorites – an airy, ricotta-based lemon cheesecake that is delicately sweet with a tangy kick. It’s also my dad’s favorite dessert that I make, and if there’s one thing I’ve (re)learned from all of this, it is that my family unconditionally loves me, which I somehow forgot along the way. Finally, spring took it’s sweet time arriving in New England, but I can finally pack away the sweaters and proudly display my lingering “insulation” from the winter in tank tops and shorts, and what better way to celebrate than eat lots of (kind of healthy) cheesecake?

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Biscotti Crust (adapted from Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini) 

For the candied lemon slices (which I am ashamed to say I have never made UPDATE: I made them and they really do make this cheesecake all fancy and special):

3 lemons
6 cups sugar
Combine 3 cups sugar, 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Slice the lemons as thin as possible. Add them to the syrup and cook at low simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, let rest for 10 minutes, then strain the lemon slices. Discard syrup.

For the biscotti crust:

12 plain biscotti (~2 cups biscotti crumbs)
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325F.

Process biscotti to fine crumbs in food processor, then add sugar, and melted butter. Mix until incorporated.

Line a 9-in tart pan with mixture, pressing down with your fingers. (There will be leftover crumbs and batter, which you can bake in a ramekin or muffin tin.)

Bake until golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Let cool.

For the cheesecake:

1 1/2 cup ricotta (whole milk makes for a smoother cheesecake)
1 cup cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tbsp heavy cream
Zest of 2-3 lemons (sometimes I use zest 2 lemons and 1 orange)

Combine ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, heavy cream, and zest in food processor and mix until combined. (I usually beat the cream cheese a bit first to get the lumps out before adding everything else.)

Fill cooled crust with cheesecake mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes. An inserted knife should come out clean.

Let cool and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. (I’ve eaten it at room temperature and it’s still delicious, but the flavors really do “bloom” with time.)

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