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