My husband Paul was born on Valentine’s Day. He once told me his mother wanted to name him Valentino. I’m so glad she changed her mind!
The first time I made dinner for him was to celebrate this double occasion. I wanted it to be extra special so weeks before his birthday, I started planning. First, I consulted my Aunt Lil. She was an excellent cook with an extensive collection of cookbooks. She suggested I come over and she would help me comb through some of her recipes.
I focused in on a cookbook that was written by one of her close friends. It was full of authentic Chinese food recipes that would challenge my culinary skills. I was also hoping the end results would impress my future husband.
I practiced each recipe the week before using some of the spices my Aunt gave me. I shared my experiments with my roommate Shirley who thought the Kung Pao Chicken was to die for. She ravaged the dumplings filled with shrimp and Napa Cabbage. I was delighted! I was anticipating kudos from Paul too.
Shirley was spending the night at her boyfriend’s so I decided to get a bit adventurous. I placed a table runner on the long coffee table in our living room thus avoiding eating in our tiny kitchen. With candles on either end and large throw pillows on the floor, I set the stage to serve my elaborate meal.
When Paul arrived he brought me roses and a lovely bottle of wine. I showed him to the living room and suggested he make himself comfortable. I went off to the kitchen to finished dinner.
When I returned to the living room, Paul had turned on the TV. I assumed he wanted to stay entertained while I finished preparing our meal. I brought out each dish and set it on the table before us. I held a match to light the candles, opened and poured the wine and sat down to join him.
He briefly commented on the food before him and ate with obvious enjoyment. But all the while his eyes were glued to the TV. I’d lost my man to a re-run of Star Trek. Captain Kirk was clearly the winner of Paul’s attention that night. He never even picked up my gentle hint, “Don’t you think we could do without the distraction of the TV?”
I think of that evening often with a smile on my face because it taught me a valuable lesson. It took me a while to figure it out but I realized that my gift to Paul was more about what I wanted to give him than what he would have liked. He appreciated my effort but I would have struck gold if I’d given him with something related to Star Trek. (Or even Dr. Who!) That’s what he loved. My gift was more about showing him I was a great cook. It wasn’t about his something he desired or needed as it should have been.
When we honor those we love, we should keep that in mind. Even if we don’t quite understand the appeal, if our goal is to make our loved one happy, that shouldn’t matter. Gifts should reflect our loved one’s taste, not our own.
Fortunately, I’d also made him a Cherry Cheesecake for his birthday. He was pleased that I’d remembered one of his favorites! He devoured the cheesecake I’d presented with a single candle on top. That and a bottle of Glenlivet had his rapt attention.
New York Style Cheesecake
- 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (12 whole crackers)
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter (melted)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 10 oz frozen cherries (on package)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 32 oz cream cheese room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp lemon zest (packed, from 1 lemon)
- 2 tsp lemon juice (fresh, from 1 lemon )
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup sour cream
Instructions for making the crust
- Wrap a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure to cover the bottom of the pan so it extends all the way to the top and there are no seams on the bottom or sides of the pan.
- Repeat to ensure there are absolutely no gaps.
- Spray the inside of the springform pan with cooking spray.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Place the oven rack in the lower middle position.
- Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Using a spoon or spatula, press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F.
Instructions for the cheesecake batter
- Set a kettle of water to boil. This will be used to create a water bath for the cheesecake.
- Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and flour together on medium speed until just smooth — approximately one minute. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Add the vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt, and then beat on low speed until just combined.
- Add the eggs one at a time, and mix on low speed until completely incorporated.
- Mix in the sour cream. Do not over-mix.
- When your oven has cooled to 325°F, pour the batter on top of the graham cracker crust.
- Place the springform pan full of cheesecake batter into a large roasting pan.
- Place in the lower middle rack of the oven.
- Pour the boiling water into the large roasting pan. It should come about one inch up the side of the springform pan. (This is why it is important to use heavy duty aluminum foil and wrap twice to prevent any leaks in the water bath.)
- Bake until the cheesecake is firm. (1 ½ hour to an hour and 45 minutes.)
- Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Cool the cheesecake in the water bath for about 45 minutes.
- Remove the springform pan from the water bath. Discard the aluminum foil.
- Run a knife around the edge of the cake to prevent sticking.
- Refrigerate cheesecake covered in plastic wrap 4 hours or overnight.
Cherry Cheesecake Topping
- Bring cherries, water, sugar, and corn starch to boil in a large saucepan.
- Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes or until cherries are thawed and the mixture is syrupy, stirring frequently.
- Add lemon juice and almond extract.
- Simmer 3 minutes or until mixture is slightly thickened and shiny. Remove from heat and allow to cool 15 minutes