Saturday, November 18, 2023

Where is your cheesecake?

 

    "Do you have cheesecake?"
    Asked my older boy, over the telephone from New York.
    Thanksgiving approaches. The nuclear family, scattered across the continent, is primed for their transit back home, like comets, trailing stardust, sweeping back toward their ancestral planet. A son working in Phoenix. Another in Washington, D.C. Bolstered by a fiancĂ© in New York. A second fiancĂ© in Hyde Park (for the younger boy; can't have you thinking the older boy has two). Packing bags, calling taxis, boarding airplanes. While my wife and I scrub and fret and fill the freezer with hors d'oeuvres. Their last Thanksgiving as single men. 
     "Do you have cheesecake?"
     Starting at ... 12 midnight Tuesday, when a certain individual, aka me, will be at O'Hare International Airport for the final leg of the ferrying home process. Sure, I could ask him to take an Uber. Just as we could serve frozen turkey TV dinners on Thursday. ("The frozen is just as g-g-good as good as the real" stutters one of Woody Allen's guests at the mournful end of "Broadway Danny Rose." "And the frozens are much cheaper than the real ones," he agrees.)
     "Do you have cheesecake?" 
     Asked only once. But a question that resonated, being posed, not by a child, any longer. Not by the radiant boy curled up in my lap, being read Harry Potter. But by an adult, a professional, a lawyer, who might appear in court someday, an assistant U.S. attorney, zeroing in for the kill, leaning over the mahogany rail, staring intently at the cringing witness, another malefactor. "Please answer the question with a simple 'yes' or 'no.' Do you ... have ... cheesecake?"
     We will not be serving frozen turkey dinners. There will be a fresh roasted turkey and a deep fried turkey. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, challah stuffing and green bean casserole. Homemade cranberry relish and canned jellied relish, because some people prefer the canned, like the little rounded rings the can leaves on the relish. Countless cookies and pies and flans and brownies and what have you. Sweets galore.
     You would think, with all that high quality homemade grub barrelling down the pike, that store-bought cheesecake would be the last thing on his mind. 
     "Do you have cheesecake?"   
     A question demands an answer. 
     "Umm...no," I muttered, guiltily reflecting on the fate of the once considerable amount of cheesecake in the freezer. The boys ... they weren't there. But rather, far away, out in the real world. Making their own lives, separate and apart from us. Gone gone gone. "Gone like yesterday." But the cheesecake ... it was there. Not gone. Here. Available. Delicious Eli's cheesecake. Right here. What would you do?
     "Umm, no," I said quietly. "I ate it." Not all at once. Not even a slice at a time, necessarily. A half here. A big forkful there. The whirligig of time takes its revenges.
     My son did not growl, "Then you better frickin' get some, huh?" He did not say, "Then what the hell am I coming home for? You? Bah!" 
     We raised them to be better than that, kinder than that. He did not say it, aloud. Only thought it. Of that I am certain. I could almost feel the thoughts, fluttering around his head like luna moths. You mean I have to put up with days of you, you stupid old coot and your endless self-agrandizing stories and your off-point garbled quotations and your decaying, cluttered, dusty old house and I don't even get a slice of CHEESECAKE out of the deal? Fuck you, I wish you were dead!
     No, he didn't say that. What he did do — his beloved was also on the line; they often call together, which is so sweet — was reflect on a visit to Eli's Cheesecake World about a dozen years ago. He and his brother toured the plant, met the great Marc Schulman, who showed them the gold wristwatch that Frank Sinatra gave his father, Eli, the man whose trademark "The Place for Steaks" (on the site of what is now the Lurie Children's Hospital on Chicago Avenue) lives on in the cheesecake company his son created. (And, I should point out, has advertised on EGD since its inception, not that my impartial high calibre journalism would ever be affected by something so trivial as a boatload of money, and cheesecake, passing from one party to another).
     My boy explained how he and his brother donned white coats and hairnets, like scientists, and were permitted to decorate their own cheesecakes.
     It was immediately decided that, during their Thanksgiving visit, a trip to Eli's Cheesecake World is in order. Nor do you have to be related to a plugged-in, big-ass newspaper columnist to get a look behind the scenes. Anyone can arrange a tour. Or just stop by — Eli's Super Sweet Thanksgiving Sale, the biggest of the year, ends today, if you're reading this on the 18th.
     The only difficulty was finding a free morning, which in our case was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Which led to a problem — what to do about any cheesecake needs that should arise among our houseguests beforehand? Luckily, Eli's delivers, and an Original Favorites Sampler — four slices each of plain, chocolate chip, strawberry and Heath Bar — arrived last Thursday, packed in dry ice. I thought I should take the plastic off, to make a better picture, and then realized if I tore open the plastic, purely for aesthetic reasons, in the service of professional photojournalism, the cheesecake within might not make it to midweek, certainly not in its pristine, complete condition ("Hey kids, welcome home! Who feels like sharing a slice and a half of strawberry cheesecake? Wait, where are you going?")
     I carefully slid the cheesecake, unopened, into the freezer to await their arrival. Our home is now ready for guests. Is yours?




13 comments:

  1. Good to hear how the "boys" are doing and yummy cheesecake indeed.

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  2. I love their cheesecake but haven't had a bite since leaving Chicago. The cost including shipping is just too high for my budget.

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  3. No! Not ready/not even close. I've been working on restoring my aging, cluttered, dusty old house for months, so, there are boxes everywhere adding to the clutter. The newly made front door is expected to arrive after Thanksgiving. Thus, we are heading to my sister's place. Phew! Christmas here, fingers crossed.

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  4. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your incoming boys and girlfriends and your cheesecake!

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  5. Sweet column. If I dare say.

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  6. I hope the boys (and you) realize that once they’re married, a lot of Thanksgivings will be at their in-laws.

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    1. If your lucky the kids will host you all.

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  7. Your holiday plans sound wonderful, though your 'readiness' instills a bit of anxiety in me. Despite shopping for many items in advance (I have the turkey!) I'll still probably be one of the goofs searching for a parking space on Wednesday.

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  8. Had to check the Eli's website to see the turtle cheesecake freshly in stock. It is. There's a button to directly email the president or Eli's but I dare not press my luck. So many choices: blueberry, lemon, vegan, much more with Eli's Basque (uncut as advertisered) cheesecake getting my attention and taste buds for the holidays.

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  9. I'm pretty sure the frozen cheesecake you can get at Aldi is also made by Eli's, as the packaging is identical & so are the flavors.

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  10. Cheesecake is comfort food and a tradition in your family.Enjoy your family and a slice or 2 of delicious Eli’s

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  11. Neil, he doesn't want the cheesecake. He wants everything besides the cheesecake.

    That is, he wants to recreate the annual experience of gathering for a special family event that only comes around once a year and only for so many times in your life before something changes and you don't get to do that anymore.

    There is a quote by Robert Frost that perhaps doesn't totally fit here, but I think comes pretty darn close: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Regardless of whether you're a huge success or have messed up in some major way, you eventually want to come home, at least for a while, and find what you remember there.

    He doesn't want the cheesecake. He wants everything that comes with it.

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    1. Andy, your comment is a beautiful sentiment. It makes me remember my brothers and my returning to our parents' home for holiday visits with our varied girlfriends, boyfriends, and spouses over the years, as well as various single and couple friends who no longer had family to return to, being invited and happily welcomed by my folks. All four bedrooms were full of returning children and their plus 1s (my parents were very progressive for their generation), the living room couch was the bed for a single friend and the family room pull-out sofa accommodated a couple. It truly was a full house and we had fun...and yes, we had NY style cheesecake baked by my mom. Many in those groups have passed on, as have my parents, and some of us are now alone in our memories and the feelings of love and welcoming that accompanied those visits, but we are grateful to have them...and not just for the cheesecake! Thank you for evoking my walk down memory lane. My heart is full of love and my eyes are full of happy tears! Sandra S.

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