I thought long about whether I should post a recipe for Mother’s Day. I figured anything you prepare (or buy) for a Mom in your life is thoughtful and appreciated and I probably don’t have anything out of the ordinary to help mark the occasion. But I came across a lovely cheesecake that made me think of my Mom. If you don’t fancy a story, scroll to the end and you’ll find a beautifully pink, slightly healthier, and oh-so-light-and-delicious triple strawberry cheesecake. More than sharing the recipe though, I felt it was important to leave a story for Rice Kernel to read when he gets (much) older.
Some days it’s difficult for me to imagine myself as a Mom. I’m a fairly free-range parent. I strive to be consistently strict on certain things but, with a toddler, our days are carefree with laughter and play. At heart, I’m much more a child than I am a mother. So when Mother’s Day comes around, my thoughts inevitably shift to my Mom and my M.O.M. (“my other mom,” aka my mother-in-law).
It sounds cliche, but my mother was my best friend. Was, I say, because she passed away when I was 19. The selfish part of me still hurts that she’s not around today – that she couldn’t see me through college, graduate school, marriage, and the birth of my son. With every passing Mother’s Day, her birthday, and the anniversary of her death, my anger softens and I feel blessed that I had 19 more years than other children have with their mothers.
To me, my mother will always be perfect. She grew up with means, but lived a selfless and humble life. She taught me to be grateful, to be patient, to be generous, and to love. She had a soft temperament and never raised her voice. Through years of school, violin lessons, piano lessons, swimming lessons, etc. she taught me to work hard, but always worried more that I was enjoying what I was doing and getting enough sleep. She trusted me and, in turn, she was always my confidant. I can’t describe how I felt when she passed. Suffice to say, I cried myself to sleep for many nights, for many years. But with her passing, I gained another mom.
My M.O.M. “My other Mom.” My mother-in-law. I rarely introduce her as my mother-in-law because, for over a decade, she has been my Mom. My two Moms shared a friendship for a few years, as my husband and I attended high school together. And I know that wherever my mother may be today, she is grateful my M.O.M. is in my life.
In a period of my life where I was mourning, learning to love, and becoming a young woman, my M.O.M. was a breath of sunshine. Throughout college, she was my penpal – we exchanged long emails almost weekly. We connected easily and left no rock unturned in our correspondence. Carefree at heart, she made me laugh and taught me to enjoy the little things in life. We had lunch dates when I returned from college, shopping trips, and movie dates. When my husband and I became engaged, I leaned on her during our year-long wedding planning. Although we were cities apart, we shared the experience together. From dress shopping to venue selection, to wedding planner interviews, food tastings, flower viewings, linen decisions, cake tastings, makeup/hair trials, invitations, party favors, and yet more rounds of menu tasting… I felt so fortunate to have her. My husband was involved but it didn’t feel right without her motherly perspective. On the day of the wedding, my bridesmaids went off to the salon for hair, makeup, and nails. The salon came to me. And M.O.M. She was the only person I needed before my walk down the aisle.
Years later, when my son was born, my M.O.M. cared for me in ways only a mother can. She and my Dad spent alternating weekdays with me, making certain I was rested and fed and just keeping me company. In her calm, never overbearing demeanor, she stocked me with the essentials she knew a new mother would need. I will never thank her enough for the emotional and physical help she provided in that first year.
These days, I see my M.O.M. a couple times a week. Every Sunday we have a family lunch or dinner. We catch up on gossip and life. Inevitably Rice Kernel will tell his grandmother to stop talking to me… that we talk too much and that we should focus on playing with him. My M.O.M. and I laugh and shake our heads. But, really, I can only hope that Rice Kernel and I will have the depth of relationship and love that I had with my mom and continue to share with my M.O.M.
So to all the Moms - a heartfelt Happy Mother’s Day.
On a lighter note. This is a strawberry cheesecake. Not a plain cheesecake topped with strawberries. And not a plain cheesecake with a swirl of strawberry puree. Fresh strawberries are infused throughout this cheesecake – in the base, with an extra swirl of fresh puree, and with sliced fruit perched atop the lovely pink cake. (For serious strawberry afficionados, consider making extra puree or strawberry coulis to drizzle atop the cheesecake.) I’m crazy about this cake. So crazy Rice Kernel and I had to eat some warm from the oven. (In case you’re curious, it’s warm and mousse-like.) Tall, light, creamy, and full of freshness, it will make any strawberry lover swoon.
Strawberry Cheesecake, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake from Baking: From my Home to Yours (via The Way the Cookie Crumbles)
Rice Kernel's request: I want the BIGGEST strawberry!
1½ cups graham crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or Earth Balance, melted
4 (8-ounce) packages reduced fat cream cheese or Neufchatel, at room temperature
1⅓ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup strawberry puree, divided
- Place washed and hulled strawberries in a blender (about 1½ cups whole) and puree until smooth. Place through a fine sieve to remove seeds.
- For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the graham crackers with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add sugar, salt, and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the crust for 7-10 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack, then wrap the bottom of the pan in foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt; continue mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated. Mix in ½ cup of the strawberry puree.
- Pour the batter onto the cooled crust. Spoon the remaining strawberry puree over the batter and use a butter knife to gently swirl it. Place the wrapped springform pan into roasting pan; pour the hot water into the roasting pan.
- Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon; let the cheesecake set in the water bath for another hour. Remove the cheesecake from the hot water and let it come to room temperature on a cooling rack. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.
2 cups quartered hulled strawberries (about 12 ounces)
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Combine strawberries, water, sugar and lemon juice in blender. Purée until very smooth.
- Press through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.
- Cover and refrigerate until cold.
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