My family was never known for its great cooking traditions. I believe I’ve mentioned my maternal grandmother’s dried brisket and my paternal grandmother’s cranberry sauce that involved canned cranberries and strawberry Jell-O. My mother put solid, reliable meals on the table (chicken soup, chicken chow mein, and her spaghetti sauce is still my favorite), but once she went back to school (when I was six), meals didn’t have the panache they had earlier (chicken supremes, flan). But a couple family dishes stood out, notably my maternal grandfather’s chopped liver (not really a recipe, but he doctored it up deliciously) and scrambled eggs with salami and my paternal grandmother’s cheesecake. Now, I’m not a huge fan of cheesecake, but this cake she made was scrumptious. It’s lighter than most cheesecakes, not overly cheesy. Mmmmm.

But some in my family, they aren’t so big on food. My 11-year-old son doesn’t eat. This is barely an exaggeration. When he was a baby, I couldn’t get him off the super-smooth baby food. When it came time to move him to the chunky food, he’d spit it out. For his first birthday, I brought cupcakes into his daycare infant classroom. He refused to touch them. He insisted on Goldfish. He was the only kid who could go to a Chuck E. Cheese, but I still had to bring food in my purse for him. When he moved into the toddler room, the teacher assured me she’d get him to eat. “I’ve never had a kid not eat!” Alas, she hadn’t met my son. She ate those words; he ate nothing except crunchy (Cheerios, Veggie Booty) and absolutely smooth (yogurt with no fruit chunks). The boy ended up in food therapy. Yes, food therapy. Shall we discuss our first world problems here? Once a week he’d go to a group where they asked him to lick, nibble, and play with food. He hated it.

Fast forward to now. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was simply a picky eater. He eats pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers. He’s got a fondness for black beans. He will eat shredded cheddar cheese (and if he’s really hungry, non-shredded, but he’ll complain). I make him eat a fruit or vegetable a day, but the list is small: yellow pepper (but no seeds on them!), green apples, and… well, at this moment, that’s it. He’s been known to throw up if he gets too near strawberries. No, really.

Every now and then I go on a rant about how we need to find more things he’ll eat. He sent me an e-mail recently with something he found online with the subject heading of “Try this”:

I find that vegetable purees disguised in dishes I know my children will eat does the trick. The key is that these purees should create no discernible change in taste, color, or texture. You can sneak healthy foods — such as spinach, sweet potato, and cauliflower — into foods your kids already love to eat, like pizza sauce, macaroni and cheese, even brownies. Just make sure there are no lumps, chunks, specks, or flecks, and they won’t know the difference.

I said to him, “That’s all fine and dandy, but you won’t eat homemade pizza or mac and cheese.”

He thought about it a moment. “Oh, right.” He gave it some more consideration, then said, “But I’ll eat brownies!”

Nice try, buddy.

My daughter, she likes food. Just not all together. Lettuce, cheese, meat, veggies? All yum. Throw them together into a chef’s salad and she won’t touch it. But she’s a generally a healthy eater who has been known to whisper when we’re out at a friend’s house, “I don’t want to finish my pizza. Can I just have cucumber when we get home?”

But I like to cook. Or at least I did before I became a short-order cook. “Did you put onions in here?” “What kind of meat is that? You know I don’t eat chicken. Or pork. Or beef. Unless it’s a burger.” “That looks funny.” Even my husband, who does like food, has a tiny appetite, so I basically end up cooking for 1 3/4 people (me, Adam is a 1/2, and the girl is a 1/4). Not much inspiration for me to be whipping out the old recipes. My husband hates chopped liver. My daughter likes scrambled eggs and salami… but not together. The boy likes… We’re still trying to figure out what the boy likes (besides brownies).

This past weekend was the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. It’s not a holiday my family observes in any kind of seriousness, but one of the traditions at Shavuot is to eat dairy foods. So I decided to use it as an excuse brush off my grandmother’s fabulous cheesecake recipe. My daughter said, “You know how to make cheesecake?” Wait till she finds out all the other secrets I’ve been keeping from her.

Cheesecake is not a quick recipe and it necessitates a trip to the grocery store, as I don’t keep evaporated milk or bars of cream cheese on hand. The cake bakes for 1 1/4 hours and then needs to sit in the oven for another hour. It has to cool. The strawberry topping needs to be made. It’s not easy. But the girl enjoyed helping me and we were pretty proud of the end result.

Fast forward to dessert:
Me to boy: Try the cheesecake.
Boy: No.
Me: It’s cheese. It’s cake. What’s not to like?
Boy, considering: I do like cheese. And I do like cake.
Me: Great! I’ll give you a piece. I’ll scrape off all the topping for you!
I cut a piece. I remove all topping. He looks at the original cake and then he looks at his strawberry-free slice and declares: NO!
Me: What’s wrong with it!
Boy: It was in the proximity of strawberries. I can’t eat anything that was that close to strawberries.

Sorry, Grandma. But not too sorry. Because it just means more cheesecake for me.

Grandma's Cheesecake