Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cheesecake Faith

I recently made my first visit to a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. I enjoyed my entrée—Hibachi Steak (certified Angus hanger steak with shiitake mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts, wasabi mashed potatoes and tempura asparagus)—very much.

Since one cannot—or at least should not—go to a place called the “Cheesecake Factory” without eating cheesecake, my good wife and I set about perusing the massive cheesecake menu. We finally settled on the White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake (WCCMNC) because, I mean, why not? We did have to give it some thought, though—they had around forty different varieties of cheesecake on the menu and most of them looked quite delicious. The WCCMNC was, I must say, marvelous.

Usually, though, if I’m going to eat cheesecake, I want plain old cheesecake—nothing extra on it, nothing extra in it—just cheesecake. I am at heart a simple man with simple tastes.

The truth is, though, that I was in college before I ate “real” cheesecake. According to that reputable culinary source Wikipedia, “Cheesecake is a sweet dish consisting of two or more layers. The main, or thickest layer, consists of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese, eggs, and sugar; the bottom layer is often a crust or base made from crushed cookies, graham crackers, pastry, or sponge cake.” Sponge cake? Anyway, “real” cheesecake is a tad heavy.

At least it’s heavy compared to what I grew up thinking of as cheesecake.

You see, my mother served us a “cheesecake” that was not heavy; in fact, it may not have even been cheesecake, although, to be fair, the recipe that she cut out of a newspaper (we still have it) is entitled “Cheese Cake.” Here it is:

Maybe the whipping made the difference. (Mama sometimes seemed to think it did, but I digress.) Anyway, for some reason, her cheesecake was simple and light and fluffy and delicious. It was not “real” cheesecake, but it was good cheesecake. And thankfully, since we have the recipe, it is a cheesecake to which I can sometimes return. I have learned to like the heavier and more complicated versions, but I still like to go back to the simpler cheesecake of my mother and of my childhood. It is foundational for me in my experience of cheesecake.

As I have lived--sometimes thriving and sometimes surviving--I have developed a heavier, more complicated, more informed and more nuanced faith. It has been necessary and helpful. My experience has been deepened and enriched by different ways of thinking about God, about faith, and about life.

A story—one that is too good not to be true—is told about the influential Swiss theologian Karl Barth who, while on a speaking tour of the United States in 1962, was asked by a University of Chicago student if he could summarize his theology in one sentence and Barth replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

That White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake was amazing; I look forward to trying other varieties. I am glad that my tastes have matured.

But I never stop going back to Mama’s cheesecake …

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