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Home is where the heart is

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Heart-shaped patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Today’s post is not about food or recipes. It is not about one of my silly stories either. Today’s post is about something important that recently happened to me.

You see that little blue book with the golden eagle on the cover? Yup, it is mine and the big news is… I’m proud to say that I’ve recently become an American citizen!

We have called the East Coast of the United States home for many years now and it has been a wonderful, caring and nurturing home to all of us. I’m very excited that I can now fully take part in the country’s political life by exercising my right to vote and give my contribution, no matter how small.

My family and most of my friends are very excited for me. A handful of friends who have never lived here asked me what all the fuss is about since there are so many other beautiful countries (including my native one) where one can live in.

Oh well, let me tell you in a few words what all the fuss is about.

I think that every country is beautiful in its own, unique way.  Every country has wonderful things to offer and each one has its own, peculiar problems and issues that need to be fixed. Italy is not an exception and neither is the US.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

However, speaking of the US, the following are two of the most important reasons that, in my view, make this such a great country.

Firstly, this is a country where you feel and are truly free to be whoever and whatever you want to be without being judged or categorized. This is a country where freedom in terms of religious beliefs, sexual orientations and race are not just beautiful words on an historical piece of paper preserved behind a sheet of glass! Of course, this is a generalization because for starters the US is a huge country and your mileage may vary depending on where in the US you live. Also, there is no country on earth that is immune to intolerance and ignorance. Those are vicious diseases that afflict the entire humanity and it is up to any decent human being to give their contribution to contain them as much as possible. Let’s just say that, since we moved to the Eastern Coast of the US, we have been lucky enough to live in places and communities where human beings peacefully coexist and respect one another no matter where they come from, what they do for a living, what their religion or shade of skin is and regardless of whether they are straight or gay and – this – my friends, is a true blessing.

Secondly, the US is known as a land of opportunity. This is not just a promotional catchphrase. It is the sacrosanct truth. This is a country that values and fosters talent and skills above all and whose educational system and work environment are based on meritocracy and reward intelligent, honest and hard working individuals. If you are smart and willing to work hard and with integrity, the Star-Spangled Banner’s land will give you an opportunity and then it is up to you to seize it and make the best of it. Of course, this is once again a generalization, but I can talk only from experience and so far ours hasn’t proved me wrong.

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Patriotic cheesecake with raspberries, blueberries and mini marshmallows

Now, bear with me a little longer, if you will, and let me give you a brief account of the oath ceremony, which is the last step in the process to become a United States citizen at the end of which a judge of the competent local court hands you your certificate of naturalization. It is a very beautiful and touching ceremony.

That morning Stefano, Her Majesty and I along with 55 other people and their respective families showed up in court in a state of excitement mixed with mild apprehension since we didn’t know exactly what to expect.

The court staff was professional and courteous and the “check-in” formalities were carried out in an organized way. Once we were all accounted for, the judge showed up and gave us a beautiful speech about this country which made me feel proud to be about to become one of its citizens. After reciting the pledge of allegiance and being sworn in, each of us was called and delivered their certificate of naturalization. The judge was cheerful and patient and at the end of the ceremony he took the time to pose with each family for multiple photographs.

During the ceremony, I kept looking around me and I saw people of I don’t even know how many nationalities. At the beginning, I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with most of them. However, by the end of the ceremony, I realized I was wrong. All the people in that court room had something in common with one another. Not just something, but a dream that was about to come true for all of us and our families at the very same time.

Later that morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee with a friend. She is relatively new to my life (even though letting new people into my world is not exactly my forte) and she had been supportive all the way – she is the one who gave me the beautiful white, red and blue flower bouquet to celebrate the outcome of my English/History interview that I previously published photographs of.

That morning she surprised me with the work of art that you see in the last photograph of this post. It’s a heart-shaped map representing the three places on earth that I love the most: Rome, my hometown, New York, where it all began, and Fairfield, the place I now call home. It was so unexpected. And so thoughtful that it left me speechless and, believe me, it doesn’t happen often. I love this present more than I can say and I will always treasure it – along with the heartwarming thought of the friend who gave it to me.

I wish you and your families a wonderful and happy holiday season.

Francesca Xx

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

Cheesecake, as promised

I promised that with Francesca’s Prosciutto and Fennel Salad and the Asparagus Baked Pasta that you had a dinner party.  Well, almost. In my humble opinion, no dinner party is complete without dessert. Francesca would say fruit, but I think dessert. I promised a cheesecake and so you will have one. This is one has two layers and isn’t in need of anything else but if you like, you can serve it with some macerated strawberries or the Melba Sauce shown in the photo. (Francesca will follow this post with a recipe for the Melba Sauce)   You do need to bake this the night before you want to serve it.

I wouldn’t be me without an opinion or two.  Stop laughing, Francesca!  Springform pans: I don’t like them coated with non-stick finish, I don’t like dark ones, and I especially I don’t like the ones with the elevated bottom and big one inch foot on the outside as you can’t put them on a cake stand and they take up a lot of room in the fridge.  I like them shiny, with a bumpy bottom that sits in a groove inside the bottom of the ring.  Treat them right by washing gently so as not to bend them and drying them right away and reassembling and they will last a long time.  If you let them air dry, they will pit and rust.

Ingredients – Graham Cracker Crust:

1 & 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
6 TBS butter, melted

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and toss until thoroughly moistened. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 10″ springform pan with a spatula.  Set aside.

Ingredients – Cheesecake:

(4) 8 oz Packages of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature
1 & 1/3 cups granulated sugar
(6) large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp almond extract

Ingredients – Topping:

1 pint of sour cream
6 TBS granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set rack in just below the middle of the oven.

Place the first package of cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and cream on low speed.  Add remaining packages of cream cheese, one at a time, creaming until soft.  Turn the mixer up slightly and slowly add the sugar. Beat until the sugar is dissolved (Note: don’t beat at too high a speed.  Incorporating air will cause your cheesecake to fall and crack later on.) Scrape down the bowl as you need to.

Turn the mixer up to about medium and beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl in between.  Pour in the almond extract and give it one last mix.

Pour the cheesecake mix into the 10″ springform pan with the graham cracker crust. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Cheesecake should be set with a slightly jiggly center. Remove from oven and maintain oven temperature.

In a small bowl mix the topping. Wisk until sugar is dissolved.  Pour over cheesecake and bake in oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Allow to cook until the pan can be handled (it will still be warm).  Cover with an inverted 12 inch dinner plate or a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The cheesecake will set up in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve it, run a thin knife around the perimeter of the pan and release the sides.  When serving, cut two slices the first time and serve pull one out with a pie server or spatula.  You should end up with a good result.