“I think I will go get a bucket of donuts. Might as well now” I reasoned aloud.
“No!” came my husband’s horrified response “Cancer cells feed on glucose, you should limit your sugar intake.”
Fantastic – I’ve got cancer and I can’t even eat cake. If I wanted proof life is not fair, this is it.
My appetite is swinging, like my moods, but once I force myself to eat, I am happy to. My surgeon, who actually swears by a vegan diet, gave me some written guidelines on how to keep myself healthy while I wait for my surgery (and after): plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, no processed meat and little meat in general. Not any different from what I usually eat but, by keeping solely to these staples, I would lose weight rapidly, something I cannot afford to do. So I sneak in a whole-wheat pizza here and there, and extra pasta.
Aside from the donuts urge right after my diagnosis, I haven’t been craving sugar at all. It’s amazing how I couldn’t shed the three pounds resulting from my mother’s three months of cooking but, in the two weeks after I learnt I had cancer, they melted away like butter in the sun – stress and adrenaline eating my fat. So when I came across a vegan brownie recipe that is supposedly “fantastic” in “you will never know the difference” way, I decided to give it a try. Don’t fret – I won’t bore you with this recipe: in years of experimenting I did have garbanzo flour, xantham gum, flax seeds and other vegan accoutrements in my pantry but you probably don’t.
Let’s just say the brownies do look the part but, despite the flavored chocolate and a load of dark chocolate chips, my tongue can still discern the taste of vegan butter and chickpeas. They are still sitting on my counter, while I am plotting who might enjoy this sad dessert.
In the same week, on the occasion of a birthday, I was asked to make a New York-style cheesecake, at the very opposite end of the spectrum of the vegan brownies. Now, this is something I can enjoy making, I thought, even if I wouldn’t have any.
New York-style cheesecake is dense, very dense, with a slightly overbaked quality to it and has many fans. With a dark cup of coffee, it’s delicious and a little goes a long way. So, here I give you my simple recipe, as a prelude to my (hopefully) upcoming trip to New York.
This tall cake serves six American portions but twelve regular sized ones is more like it.
For the crust
6 1/2 oz graham crackers (150 g) – you can use very dry plain biscuits instead
5 T butter (70 g), melted
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
- Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Place all the ingredients, but for the butter, in a food processor and pulse until combined, resulting in a fine texture. Transfer to a small bowl and pour in the butter. Using your hands, distribute the butter all over the mixture.
- Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9”/23cm baking dish (if possible, with removable bottom) and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Remove and set aside to cool.
For the cheesecake
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened (1kg 100g) – Philadelphia cheese if outside US
1 3/4 C sugar (350g)
a few drops of vanilla extract
grated zest of a small lemon
3 T flour (45g)
1/4 C cream (62ml)
pinch of salt
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy (this can also be done by hand).
- Combine the sugar, flour, salt and lemon zest. Add gradually to the cream cheese on a low speed.
- Add the eggs and yolks, in three stages, and vanilla extract. Add the cream. Beat until well combined but not too fast – you don’t want to incorporate too much air. Scoop the bottom with a spatula to make sure none of the cream cheese is stuck to the bottom of the bowl.
- Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 475F/250C for about 20 minutes (the edges of the top will brown a bit). Lower the temperature to 200F/100C and bake for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until completely set. Let cool at room temperature then refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.