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Christmas is a Friggin Exhausting, Happy/ Sad Affair – You’ll Need the Best Lemon Cheesecake Squares.

December 23, 2018

Christmas thoughtfulness IS friggin’ exhausting! After writing like crazy for the past three weeks to make sure all my commercials were done at work, I leaped into frantic home decorating mode, then shopping mode, then wrapping mode, then cookie mode, then elf delivery mode. And now with about 12 cookies left and people I still want to gift, this elf is beat!

But I ended up baking with my kids the day I wrote this, because I’m nuts — and because holiday baking with my kids is what I love most! It takes me back to my sweetest memories of my mom. (Plus, it helps me perfect recipes I thought were already perfect, like my Lemon Cheesecake Squares.)IMG_2759

Christmas has been a combination of exhausted, happy and sad for me. This year,
the sad was magnified because my college roommate’s sweet father
passed away recently.  And last week, a friend was at work when he got the news that his mom had died suddenly.

He only took a few days off, then came back to work because he said it was too hard because of all the traditions they shared. He needed something to take his mind off what he’d lost.

I can understand that, although it’s the opposite of what I did when my mom passed away. I dove deep into baking and crying. I listened to Christmas songs, baked, cried, wrote a book for my family with her recipes and stories, and cried some more. I thought I was all cried out.

It’s been almost 27 years since my mom passed away, but just remembering can still reduce me to tears – partly because I have the constitution of tissue paper, and partly because no matter how many years pass, you never get over losing someone you love. And the holidays, without the person who shaped how you celebrate, can be tough.

Unless you tread boldly in their footsteps.

No matter how many Christmases I live through, I re-realize the wisdom of that line from my favorite Christmas song, “Good King Wenceslas. “Mark my footsteps my good page, tread thou in them boldly. Thou shalt find the winter’s rage, freeze thy blood less coldly.”

It’s not in blocking the memories and traditions, but in boldly embracing them, and re-creating them, as our mothers and fathers would want us to, that makes us, not only able to go on, but able to go on joyfully.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dented. Heat was in the very sod, which the saint had printed.”

Treading in those steps is hard without them at first, and then you realize that, it’s in carrying on those traditions, you feel the presence of your loved one the most strongly.

They’ve been there all along.

Merry Christmas to each of you. I am thankful for you every day. I wish you a Christmas with no expectations, only pleasant surprises and really great cookies! And now, with no humility whatsoever, here is my recipe for:

The Best, Easiest Lemon Cheesecake Squares with Buttery Crust!


1 cup + 2 TBSP flour
1/2 cup butter melted (regular butter, not unsalted)
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
Combine flour, powdered sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt in bowl until mixed thoroughly. It will be pebbly,  like pie crust starts out.  Press it into an 8×8 square baking pan. Bake the crust at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes. Then prepare the next two layers.

Lemon Filling

3 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup or 7 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. lemon extract (or 1/4 tsp Boyajian Lemon Oil)
In medium bowl, mix eggs, sugar, lemon juice and extract with mixer or a whisk. Set aside, and mix cheese cake layer.

Cheesecake Layer

8 oz cream cheese softened.
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Mix cheesecake ingredients with mixer until smooth.

(Before you pour the cheesecake and  lemon layers over the crust, be sure to lightly grease the sides of the pan above the crust.) Pour the cheesecake over the crust first. Then whisk the lemon topping once more and pour it gently over the cream cheese mixture. (Be sure to reduce oven temperature to 325) Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in 325 degree oven, or until lightly golden on top.

Then watch baking magic happen as the lemon layer goes to the bottom and the cheesecake layer is on top!

  • Reply
    Charles Burkett
    January 1, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Can’t wait to try that recipe. Hope you and yours have a happy and healthy New Year Fran. It’s so nice to be in touch with you through your blog. All the best.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      January 1, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Oh Chuck, these are one of my two weaknesses. The other is apple cranberry pie. I can’t not eat these when I make them. Enjoy and thank you for always being supportive and taking the time to read my blog! xoxoxo Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    I completely agree that they are indeed THE BEST lemon bars. And you and I have had many conversations and cups of coffee (and cookies) over the rest of the topic. I am so glad we have each other out here to share the stories and the food and the laughs … and the beautiful, bittersweet memories with. Merry Christmas, Fran. Thank you for YOU.

  • Reply
    Mary J. Tunno
    December 24, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Nice, Fran. Love your energy! Merry Christmas to you & the kids, from me & CHRISTI.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 24, 2018 at 8:32 am

      My energy is fueled by espresso, which I am going to have more of right now. I hope you and Christi are doing well. Hang in there. Christi is another reason for sadness this year, I hope her health improves. Have as good a Christmas Eve and Christmas as you can. xoxoxo

  • Reply
    Chas Madonio
    December 24, 2018 at 7:41 am

    Merry Christmas Fran! Christmas is always a little bittersweet. December has some of the best and worst memories for me. While I have wonderful memories of Christmases growing up, I am also reminded that I lost my mother, grandmother and one of my precious dogs in the weeks before Christmas. But life goes on and we make new memories every year. I wish you lived closer so I could be on your cookie delivery list. Have a great holiday.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 24, 2018 at 8:30 am

      Chas, you know if you lived here, I would so deliver!!!! I wish you and the family a beautiful Christmas, enjoying those who are here, and celebrating the legacies of those who have passed. They’re here in spirit, so I do what I can to keep up my Italian baking traditions. I’m sure our Mom, Gramma, and even your dog is smiling on you!

  • Reply
    EmilyAnn Frances
    December 24, 2018 at 12:28 am

    Best wishes!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 24, 2018 at 8:27 am

      Thank you Emily Ann. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and 2019 as well! I love your description on your gravatar. I am slowly moving in the direction of blonde as well, highlights today, who knows what tomorrow? Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

      • EmilyAnn Frances
        December 24, 2018 at 8:01 pm

        I enjoy your sense of humor interwoven with everyday matters. I don’t comment often because I am frequently doing other things while reading on my phone. I cannot type well on the phone so I leave a star when I can. Keep up your good work. Even those you don’t hear from regularly need your humor!

      • EmilyAnn Frances
        December 24, 2018 at 8:01 pm

        PS-You’ll love having the highlights. No more worries about missing a touch-up for a week (or more).

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 27, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Thank you Emily! Your response made my day! xoxox!!! And Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    JoAnn Jones
    December 23, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Sounds delicious, Fran, hope you have a wonderful Christmas 😘 And less stress too 😊

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      December 24, 2018 at 8:24 am

      Thank you JoAnn! I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas too!

  • Reply
    Fran Tunno
    December 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Awww Marianne, we are tough when we need to be, right? Thank you so much for your lovely response. I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas also, full of love of those present and those we wish were present. We celebrated ours early last night with waaaaay too much fish and Prosecco. My stomach keeps asking, “Why, why, why?”

  • Reply
    December 23, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Love this. Of course, for me reading after your words “and the holidays, without the person who shaped how you celebrate, can be tough” was impossible for a bit- it is very hard to read through tears!! Fran, that is so true, but it also true that recreating what they did makes you feel their presence the most strongly. Thank you for writing this.
    And yes, the description you have the constitution of tissue paper also aptly describes me too!
    Merry Christmas, Fran, to you and your lovely family.

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