“Refuge is always elsewhere. I fled Egypt for the United States, and the United States for France, which I will leave as well one day, and in Paris I longed for New York and a liberty lost… and in New York I longed for Egypt, and in Egypt my only wish was to escape.” –Jacqueline Kahanoff
Is this how I’m destined to feel? Feet in one place, and as I set down furniture, hang paintings, choose a coffee table, measure the space between the fridge and the doorframe for a bar-cart to fit just so, picturing a colorful abstract painting with hints of pink to place above, my heart wanders, pulling me away.
Is this how I’m destined to live, my heart wandering? Is this, then, the pleasure in traveling? Your heart wanders, not tied down to possessions, to a fixed place. Maybe this explains why my trip to Zanzibar- the furthest of my wanderings, the most exotic and researched and romantic, was also the one where I felt the least free. We rented a house, and right away, I was cleaning and stocking the pantry, and planning dinner and my heart pulled nervously, frantically, outwards, onwards. I sat there, opposite an ocean of gradient blues, the horizon soft and far; and my heart wandered.
I’m one of those people who are always thinking about home improvements (the distinction between thinking and doing being paramount here), always organizing, nesting, thinking about menus and dinner. If I have a free moment, while waiting in line, while on the subway, while in the shower, my mind makes a smooth, barely perceptible turn, flowing into that place where items come into my mind and then clamor to come out of it, onto paper. Sometimes, I feel as if my mind pulls away to be set free to fly, to float, to roam, but instead comes down, bogged down by these little, inconsequential things. Are they inconsequential?
Where would my mind go, in those moments when I let go of control, and enter that cul-de-sac where items pop up to be added to one of many ongoing lists? Is this really me letting go of control? Or would letting go of control be a place beyond this space, this space merely a security blanket, a safety net, beyond which lies something else altogether?
I wish I could be easy-going, breezy and soft and light. I’m not. My mind turns quickly to lists and ifs and doubts, and I often lose steam, overwhelmed by a list that is too long and has gathered too much dust. Or else, I stop short, right at the threshold, my feet lined up right behind the starting line, too scared to continue, but with just enough of a view of the action, of what I’m missing, for guilt to gnaw away at me from the inside.
I ache with hunger. A lifetime of confusing this raw, existential hunger, with a more immediate one for a tangible form of nourishment, makes me reach for sweets when my soul aches. I reach for a slice of chocolate cake, yielding softly under my fork, rich and fudgy and moist; a pint of coffee ice cream, beads of sweat gathering on its sides as I dig in slowly with a small spoon, leaving a wet puffy ring on my wooden desk. In the moment between placing that morsel in my mouth, swallowing, and realizing it’s not going down further, the hungers twist into each other, and seem, for an elusive instant, equally satiable.
On one of those days (and I have many), when hunger was calling from deep within, I followed my instincts into the kitchen and made this cake. I find combination recipes to be best on days like these- they pack a double punch of decadence, and keep you from having to make additional decisions: caramel-swirled brownies, cheesecake brownies, chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches, this cookie dough cheesecake. This cheesecake also has speed going for it, as well as a very low commitment factor: the cookie dough component comes together in just a few minutes, and you could always decide, then and there, to go no further. Otherwise, you can retreat to the couch with a small bowl, as I did, and give yourself a few minutes to gather your thoughts, and yourself. When you’re ready to continue, you’ll press half of the cookie dough into your cake pan, and lower it into the oven to bake into a golden, chocolate chip-studded cookie dough crust. Next, you mix the cheesecake ingredients by hand, and as you whisk, some of that energy comes out of you, and you feel a bit invigorated. The cheesecake mixture is then poured over the crust, in a thick stream of white, and dotted with spoonfuls of cookie dough, scattered haphazardly, because now is no time for perfectionism. While the cake is in the oven, you can feel your body begin to relax, to soften at the edges, the promise of a freshly baked cake whispering softly throughout your home.
Cookie Dough Cheesecake
from Maya Marom// Bazekalim
For the Cookie Dough:
150 grams (5.5 oz) butter, softened
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips
For the Cheesecake:
500 grams (17.5 oz) cream cheese
200 grams (7 oz) sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour
Begin with the cookie dough: Preheat your oven to 180C/ 350F. Beat the butter with the sugar for two minutes, until light and airy. Add the egg, and beat until creamy and well incorporated. Add the salt and baking soda, and mix well. Add the flour and chocolate chips, and mix until just incorporated. Finish incorporating with a spatula, being careful not to overmix.
Spread about 1 cup of the batter on the bottom of your pan, creating a cookie base about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until slightly golden. Remove from the oven, and set aside. Lower the temperature to 160C/ 310F.
Now, for the cheesecake mixture: In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and lemon juice, whisking until smooth. Add the salt and flour, and whisk until the mixture is free of lumps.
Time to assemble!: Pour the cheesecake mixture onto the cookie dough crust. Using teaspoons, scoop little dollops of the remaining cookie dough onto the cheesecake. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the cake jiggles gently in the center. Let cool and refrigerate.
The cheesecake tastes best cold, and is even better the following day.