Oh friends, I tried. I tried hard and I gave it my best swirl. I even got the kids involved in the making of what was supposed to be my first kosher no-bake cheese cake. I hate getting the kids involved in baking, for obvious reasons, such as the fact that there’s never anything left to bake by the time they’ve finished licking the various utensils. Speaking of utensils…You see, there was a build up to this baking event, which I intended to be the glorious kind of interim summit of my friendship with our “modern orthodox” friends from upstairs.
Almost every Friday there’s a knock on the door and then a smiling face offering us treats of Shabbat goodies; cakes, stuffed wine leaves, bread, all home made and delicious. The other day, when I had suggested we do tea together, we thought they would come down and drink tea with us but they thought we would come up and they fed us tea, cake, ice creams…in glorious manner and on a white table cloth.
That particular day’s cake caught my attention, as it was a no bake cheesecake using biscuits for a base that I had previously bought and enjoyed myself. The cake tasted like a giant fluffy oreo. It was yummy and fulfilling and I thought I could do it too and for once return the favour.
I even plucked up the courage to invite our friends and promised no bake cheese cake with kosher ingredients. The lady of the house played along with it and indulged me. She came to my door and explained that in order for it to be kosher the cheesecake would need to be prepared in their bowls and made with their utensils. So we arranged that I could use all of these, in my kitchen. After I had obtained the lot and got to work I was so proud of myself and my persuasive skills. You see, only weeks previously, her husband had said this to me with a very wide grin: “We know it’s very unfair that we never give you the chance to reciprocate our hospitality…but we really don’t care.” So this felt like the ultimate victory: They would come, eat my food, from their own plates and be my guests.
So, Shabbat came and we were all a bit giddy for our friends’ arrival and for the cutting of the massive cheesecake which is a very rare occurrence in our home.
And: it was a disaster. It started with their eldest rejecting it after the first bite. Ok, I think, fussy eater, never mind, I can pull something else out the bag. Oh, man, even just the memory of the event unravelling now is very painful. Because, wait for it, even my own son, otherwise known to devour all things edible, rejected the cheesecake. That is when I knew something was going seriously wrong. Seriously. This is the point when in a tiny flat, filled with the energy and honesty of six young children and four well behaved, but slightly nervous adults things begin to get mixed up and the hostess senses the adrenaline rush that comes with losing control. “Flapping”, a good friend of mine used to call this. But flapping I wasn’t…yet. I still had the guts to cut a piece and offer it to my friend. She asked whether I had used any sugar. I think I slowly began to realise I really couldn’t sell this particular cheesecake to anyone. Focusing back on the little people I tried to make them happy with the ice lollies I had prepared especially the day before, so they would be kosher by being frozen before Shabbat. Water melon with strawberry yoghurt. That’s ok, right? They came flocking, only to put my labour of love down after literally the first lick. My children, I’ll say it again, otherwise known to…EAT WHATEVER THEY CAN GET, dutifully followed suit. At this point I’ve got six massive ice lollies melting away and being ever the proud domestic queen, I try it all, just to make sure I’m not having my leg pulled. While also thinking frantically about what else I might be able to offer. After all, these were my best guns. That I had spent a substantial amount of time preparing. And it wasn’t going down well. The nightmare of any host.
The great thing is, it really wasn’t a nightmare. We all laughed it off, and some of the replacement food, the watermelon and nuts, got eaten. Our friends genuinely enjoyed themselves on my account. And isn’t that all that matters when you have people over?
What we figured out had happened was that I had bought “the wrong cream cheese”; quite a sour sort, which here they call Labaneh. Labneh, if you ever go and eat Lebanese. It doesn’t work for those of us with a sweet tooth. And it’s one of the bi-prodcuts of not being able to read when you go shopping.
I managed to eat a whole piece of the cake, perhaps just so I could prove to myself that all my efforts hadn’t been in vain. I would have continued to eat it the following week, but, perhaps thankfully, norovirus struck in the middle of the night. And for the first time ever, almost a whole cake I had made went into the bin.
But love was still felt between us on that Shabbat afternoon, as we went on to wander to the park together and do what friends do on a lazy afternoon. It continued to be felt the next Friday, when our friend knocked on the door, with a quarter of a cake. Mmmhmmm, more cheesecake. It went down very well and I’m learning to accept my role as guest in this country.