“Momma,” my daughter, Polly, calls up the staircase, “Can Sue and I eat the cheesecake in the fridge for breakfast?”
I pause as I rinse my face with cool water. Hmm. I wonder: what kind of nutrition does cheesecake give seven- and nine-year-olds with a full day of school ahead?
“Mom?” she calls, a little louder.
“Wait. I’m thinking,” I reply squeezing moisturizer onto my palm, then gently apply the cream as I consider Polly’s question. Eggs are good protein; cream cheese is decent; cheesecake is low in sugar. I think that combination could sustain a whole morning of schoolwork. I walk to the top of the curved wooden staircase in our century-old farmhouse.
“Okay, go ahead,” I say, smiling at the wide, dark eyes that look hopefully up at me. I know she and Sue will be thrilled, though I still feel a bit doubtful.
“Yippee! We can have it, Sue!” Polly shouts happily.
Breakfast is a delight that morning and cheesecake is the main reason. Then, our morning routines complete, we walk down the hill, get into my car, and drive to town, where my daughters hop out to wait with neighbor children for the school bus. When they step up into the bus, I hold up my left hand in the universal sign-language sign for I love you. They grin and return the sign. I begin my twenty-mile drive to work.
Cheesecake for breakfast, I ponder, intrigued. Everyone loves cheesecake, after all; the real problem is fat and I don’t want my girls starting their day with just a lot of fat. Can I create a cheesecake food that would be nutritionally sound for breakfast? I wonder. The late-winter, quiet, Catskill mountain miles pass nearly unnoticed as I continue thinking. I can cut down the fat and still keep good protein but I need to add some healthy carbohydrates.
Hmm, what about granola? I make my own granola each week and quickly tick off the ingredients: old-fashioned oats, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, slivered almonds, and wheat germ, mixed lightly with a little honey and oil, then baked until golden.
Yes! My heart excitedly beats a little faster. I could sprinkle granola on top of the cheesecake mixture and bake it. Or I could make the granola into a crust and bake the cheesecake in it. This idea is starting to come together! I know I’m not quite there though and think of the food pyramid. Of course! It needs fruit… cheesecake with strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and, well, any fruit, when you think about it. Nothing’s in season now, but there are those dozens of Georgia peaches quarts on the sagging wooden shelves in the basement.
Soon we try out an experimental recipe. My daughters watch and help with great interest. I swirl ingredients in the blender then pour the cheesecake batter into four oiled brown earthenware bowls. We arrange peach slices on top and liberally sprinkle granola over each.
Finally, taste time arrives. We love it! The following weekend we change things a little by patting granola into the bottom of the bowl, pouring batter over it, and placing peaches on top. We love that variation, too, and decide it really doesn’t matter if the granola and fruit are on top or bottom. The girls are delighted to eat cheesecake for breakfast and I’m happy because we’re eating a healthy breakfast.
A few months later our daily newspaper advertises their annual cooking contest. Shy though I am, I nevertheless send in my entry and am thrilled when Breakfast Cheesecake is selected a finalist.
On bake-off day Polly comes with me while Susan goes to her basketball game. As Polly unpacks supplies, three of the four bowls I pre-prepared so they can be tasted chilled, fall onto the pavement and shatter. Polly looks up at me with eyes flooded by tears.
“It’s okay, Polly. You are more precious than any bowl of Breakfast Cheesecake,” I say, hugging her. She smiles, wiping away tears with her forefinger knuckle, as I tell her the one remaining bowl will surely be enough.
At day’s end Breakfast Cheesecake places third of twelve places, with a lovely set of Noritake china for eight as my prize. Today, more than three decades later, its value has skyrocketed yet, in my heart, the true gift of the day is the nurturing moment that followed broken earthenware between my daughter and me.
Ingredients: 1 pint plain Greek yogurt
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 – ½ cup fruit for each bowl
4 – ¼ cup granola for each bowl
o Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
o Place all ingredients except fruit and granola in blender. Swirl briefly to mix.
o Lightly oil 4 ovenproof cereal bowls or an 8×8-inch baking dish. Pour cheesecake mixture into bowls, then sprinkle ¼ cup granola over peaches.
o Bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden. Serve with 1/2 cup of fruit.
o Serves 4.
(This story was published in the Kitchen Table Stories anthology, edited by M. Jane Ross and published by the Story Circle Network on their tenth anniversary in 2007. The original recipe used cottage cheese; here I’ve substituted Greek yogurt and like it even better.)