The Best Darn Cheesecake You’ll Ever Have

Mama’s made her 1st Cheesecake (hey, we’ve gotta have our own milestones, too, right?)!

Cooling, all pretty and stuff 🤤

I won’t bore you with a lot of jibber jabber about how this recipe is a family secret and Grandma Mae used to make it every year (I don’t even have a Grandma Mae, and I concocted this recipe from a few different ones on Internet). But I will tell you this is the perfect seasonal dessert to bring to *any* gathering or eat all by yourself in one sitting. Either way, it’s divine.

This whole process is super simple and family-friendly for the kitchen, but it does take about 7-10 hours from start to finish. Just a heads up that this miiiiight be the perfect winter break activity to do with your kids ALL DAY LONG. So, preheat your oven to 350 now, so you don’t forget later 😜

Interior shot of the best darn cheesecake ever

Crust:

1 3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 15 full crackers)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, granulated sugar, and salt together evenly. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of 9-inch springform pan (or a thin, pre-made pie pan if that’s what you have – it’s what I worked with!)

Pre-baked apples

Apple Filling:

4 apples (peeled & sliced)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water or apple juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sea salt

1/3 cup sugar

Mix it all up, and bake at 350 until desired softness and juices have turned into a thicker syrup like consistency.

Cheesy coconut filing:

16 ounces of Cream Cheese, room temperature (I prefer whipped cream cheese for a lighter, fluffier cake)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut milk, room temperature

1 teaspoons vanilla

1.5 eggs, room temperature

Mix cheese and sugar at a medium speed with a flat mixing spoon or mixer attachment. Then lightly beat in the rest of the ingredients.

Ready to bake!

When the apples are done, bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set the cooled apples in the bottom of the pie pan, then cover with the cheesecake mixture. Make sure the bottom of the cheesecake pan is tightly sealed, then place it in a larger, deeper pan of hot water (so that the water never actually touches the pie tin, and only surrounds it).

Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until top has become a slight golden color. Take it out and cool it for an hour. After it’s cooled, tightly wrap it and place it in the fridge for anywhere from 6 hours to the whole night to set. Then ENJOY because this is the best cheesecake you’ll ever have 🤤

Hubby’s serving suggestion

Confidence & Other Insecurities

“Do you like it?” I ask, spinning in a full circle to give her a good look.

“It’s beautiful… I wish I could wear something like that,” she replies. “But bright colors are for the confident.”

She ducks away as I digest her words.

Is it true, do I make bold choices because I’m confident?

Surely, no. I grew up with an abusive older brother who gave me daily reminders why I should second guess everything I do. My nose makes me cringe, and the way my stomach rolls when I sit makes most of my pants uncomfortable.

No, I couldn’t be confident. Could I?

******

“But what if they think I’m an idiot?” she worries aloud.

I cannot help but jump in: “Oh, come on, what do you care what people think? No one’s opinion of you has any say over how you feel about yourself, unless you let it.”

“I wish I was as confident as you,” she sighs in response.

There’s that word again.

She’s right: my words are that of a confident person’s. Am I really s-s-secure? No. It can’t be. I’m too short, and not nearly as successful as I’d hope to be by now.

*******

“What kind of kid were you in school?”

“Oh, I had my head in the books and I wore orange camoflauge pants on the regular. I couldn’t care less what people thought; I had more important things on my mind than other people’s opinions of me.”

Holy shit. I can’t be confident, can I?

That would mean I have to love myself as a whole, including all the flaws. Wholeheartedly accepting my moles, embracing the hyperactivity of my mind, loving my generally sweaty state.

Right?

Wrong.

Sort of.

The thing about confidence is that it’s insecure.

It is never quite fixed and has the potential to vacillate and change, just like its owner.

When I’m forced to look at things, I’d say I’m a pretty confident person. I know who I am and the importance of what I stand for; others views don’t sway me easily. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t misjudge or devalue myself at times. There are moments I question my abilities, or pause and give thought to my efficacy.

See, ‘confident people’ are insecure at times. And ‘insecure people’ can feel confident, too.

I’m willing to bet my life even people like Oprah and the Dalai Lama have had to stop the self-sabotaging talk at times.

There is no one on this planet that has gone without inconsistencies or insecurities altogether.

What I’m getting at is, confidence is so much less about the labels we allow ourselves and so much more about the habits we adopt. It is not a measure of our worth, but the volume of our doubt.

So, when you hear that voice telling you aren’t good enough, stop and think:

• Where is it coming from?

• Why do you listen to it?

• What if it’s not telling the truth?

• How can you make its mantra more positive?

Because the only thing truly keeping you from feeling confident is your inner monologue.

Lessons From Mom

As performed in the live show Expressing Motherhood in May and June of 2018

There are things our parents choose to do that stay with us forever. These actions, good or bad, teach us the lessons we carry into adulthood and especially parenthood.

Like the time my older brother found a wallet filled to the brim with cash. I was four and he was seven, but as children of a single mother in the eighties, we already knew the value of a dollar; Mom was never one to shelter us from our reality. I remember my brother handing her the leather square in the narrow aisles of a pharmacy. Mom had just tearfully admitted to the clerk she had only enough money for one antibiotic regimen, but two sick children. After she grew a bit sharp with her tongue, as she sometimes did, she was given back the prescription slip and turned away. Only moments later the Universe delivered her a wallet full of money.

I remember Mom looking around, then stuffing it deep underneath her arm in one swift movement. When we arrived home, she unearthed it from her purse, then began counting out the bills onto our hand-me-down coffee table. When she finished at just over a thousand dollars, she pulled out the Driver’s License within the plastic protectant and picked up the phone beside her. We waited with baited breath, unsure of what her next move would be.

“Operator? Yes. Can I please be connected with a ———– from Studio City?”

Moments later she was chatting with a very worried man who wanted to know the whereabouts of his wallet and missing mortgage payment. She offered him her work address and told him to pick it up the next day, but not before confirming how much dough he expected to be returned to him.

When she had replaced the receiver in its plastic cradle, my brother asked, “Why didn’t you return the wallet to the pharmacy if you weren’t going to take any of the money yourself?” To which she replied, “I don’t know if they would have returned it with everything inside. But, I knew I would. I don’t take what’s not mine, because that would be assuming we need it more.”

And at a very young age of four, I learned what my mom’s credo was: honesty must come before anything, including my own needs.

Speaking of Mom’s honesty, I’ll admit it wasn’t always my favorite. She had little filter, and people were often made uncomfortable by her. For example, she once wrote a letter that would be read to my entire sorority at a graduation-related event, which she knew when set out to write it. Despite this, she described in the note how I matured early, as well as that by the age of five, was already concerned whether I’d “get my period by college or not.” See? You’re uncomfortable. So, yeah, I didn’t always enjoy her openness.

But if Mom’s actions taught me anything it’s that the world needs honesty, even if people have trouble digesting it. There was the time she beat me to picking up the phone, and Corey Feldman was on the other line. At the age of seventeen I began running his website, and over the next four years would help him a great deal with local appearances. But, in this moment, he was my boss, and Mom was my very uncool parent who I obviously still lived with.

When Mom realized the gruff voice on the other end belonged to Corey, she was thrilled. She cooed,”Hey Corey! We actually just finished watching one of your films.” She hit the speaker phone and winked at me playfully.

“Oh, yeah?” he replied. “Which one?”

“Amy? What was it called?” Meanwhile, I have turned a ripe shade of red and was silently begging for the phone. But I whisper my reply nonetheless, “Edge of Honor.” She repeats me, and for a moment things seem O.K. because, hey, she hasn’t embarrassed me. It’s a miracle! Then she concludes, “You looked really drugged out in it.”

My heart fell into my stomach, and I instantly tasted bile. I held my breath as my recently exciting social life flashed before my eyes.

Corey waited a few beats. Finally, he replied, “Well, that’s because I was.” And with that, the floodgate opened. He talked about his difficult childhood and former addictions, and Mom listened. Just before Mom finally disengaged the speaker and handed me the phone, Corey asked her to attend an anniversary screening of The Goonies as his date. Much of the cast would be there, and he was inviting her to sit with them.

And, in all my years as one of Corey’s assistants, this would be the most Corey ever opened up. Thus, driving home Mom’s point that transparency is the most healing policy.

Mom’s emphasis on honesty was the most recurring lesson I ever received from her, and I suppose it is what led me to this point. To being a mother that strives to create children who are fair and thoughtful. And to pursuing a career that is intended to inspire mental health and a more accepting world. But, every parent leaves their children with indelible memories that turn into life lessons.

Maybe my children will be up here in a few decades talking about me, and with any luck, it’ll be positive. Maybe your children will be up here narrating what you did with your time as a parent. What will our actions teach our children? I wonder what sort of world they will create together with these lessons.”

To listen to this via Podcast, click here, but please pardon my opening night jitters.

Freckles & Perspective

She hunches over, furiously scribbling on the paper taped to the floor. It is there to catch excess paint from the ceiling, but the men have packed up for the day, and I see no harm in decorating the barely marred surface.

“Why not draw on the floor?” I had proposed when her tiny body got antsy after dinner and before bath.

I’m not sure any idea has ever sounded better. “I’m going to draw Daddy!” She proclaimed proudly. “He’s one hundred handsome,” Her voice tapers as she doodles and day dreams about the first man to steal her heart.

Moments pass, and I peer over her shoulder to see her work. Daddy’s rectangular body isn’t accurate, but it sure is adorable.

“Wow, great job,” I encourage her.

She smiles, “Thanks. Oh! I almost forgot.” The cap of the pink marker raps against her lips as she ponders aloud, “Does Daddy have freckles?”

“A couple, sure, but not too many,” I reply.

Chock full of gumption, she retorts, “Well, this is my drawing and I like making freckles. So, he’s gonna have a lot.”

Her arm works quickly as her marker dots the paper, and I cannot help but promote her artistic spirit, “There’s no arguing with that logic.”

“Don’t worry,” she adds, “I won’t give him as many freckles as you. You’ve got one million freckles.”

“True,” I once again agree.

“But, Savta Dasi (the Hebrew word for grandmother combined with my mom’s nickname) had INFINITY freckles. More freckles than anyone on the planet!” I watch her tiny face brighten as her reflections revive my mother’s memory. A silly grin spreads across my face.

In the midst of my grief, I have found my greatest sadness over memories Mom and I never got to make. I suppose that’s the biggest pain in all grief: time lost.

But, then life has this beautiful way of reminding you (even in conversations about freckles) that your ultimate merit is not found in how long you live, but how long your your sweet memory persists. For Mom will be gone eleven years this September, and my daughter only turned five in June.

It is moments like these that surely define our lives. That remind us it is less about how long we live, and more about the weight of our impact on the world. 💓

Reflection, not Resolution

So often we begin each new year with a laundry list of resolutions: lose weight, gain funds, eat less, exercise more, etc. And it’s a widespread joke that by February these steadfast decisions become nothing but empty promises and proof of failure.

Ironically enough though, resolution actually means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” It can also mean “the action of solving a problem.” In other words, we start each new trip around the sun ruminating on the previous year’s failures and binding ourselves to start fixing them as of the very first day of the year. No wonder why we all screw up. It’s too much pressure. If it was all that easy to fix our shortcomings don’t you think we’d change without resolving to do so?

So, here’s my proposal: forget resolutions. Instead, let us reflect. What can we learn from the past year? Think back on the time, revel in its joys and garner strength from their positivity. Then consider the downfalls, because there are even more lessons to be drawn from those. Finally, try to plan how you can employ those lessons in the next year.

See, the truly greatest gift of humanity is the ability to learn and see new perspectives. So, let us reflect and learn from our past, and then move on in to the new year with positivity. For it is our responsibility to live in the moment as much as possible, and it is a privilege to be happy doing so. Remember, the present is the surest thing we have, and it is painfully fleeting.

Balloon Animal BFFs

Our Florida trip is in t-minus three weeks and the nerves have already set in. This will be our first time flying with the kids, and Charlotte has been saying “I’m scared of heights” on repeat. I’ve tried to sweeten the deal time and time again: “But we’ll be landing and going to DisneyWorld!” “You won’t even notice you’re in the air!” or “C’mon, you’ll be able to watch movies the WHOLE time.” I’ve even offered her cool flight swag (a captain’s hat, an iPad, etc) to assuage her fears. Nothing has worked.

Until, that is, we watched Home and Family on Hallmark Channel – our new mother and daughter ritual – and saw Orly Shani‘s super fun balloon animal pillow project. She made the cutest snowmen, unicorn, and puppy dog! Charlotte’s eyes lit up and she shouted, “That’s it, Mommy! That’ll be my nap time pillow for the plane. I can cuddle it if I get scared! Can we make twoooo?” How could I refuse a family craft time that’s simple and super cheap?!

IMG_8251

To watch the full video from Home & Family click the link here, or keep reading for step-by-step instructions!

ballanimals
Photo courtesy of littleinspiration.com

All you’ll need to make these super duper cuties is*:

– A pair of opaque tights or stockings

Pillow stuffing (as white and fluffy as possible!)

– *Optional supplies: needle and thread matching the tights you choose, as well as extra decoration if desired (see the video above or extra project ideas below for inspo on how to use them)!

        Directions:

       Simply slit the tights in two at the crotch (see video above).   Then start stuffing! When you want to create a bend in the material, simply tie a knot. Or, to maximize neatness and eliminate floppiness, you can even sew a tight twist in place with thread that matches the hue of tights you’ve chosen to work with. Then continue stuffing! For easier manipulation, you may follow the instructions for creating a “dog” below. I’m always  confused watching the balloon artists anyway!

balloon animaldirections
Simple step-by-step instructions to folding a dog balloon to model your pillow

Do not stuff the pillow until you manipulate each step of folding. If you fold after stuffing, you may not have enough room to manipulate the tights into the shape you prefer.

After creating your base animal, it’s time to get creative! To add the extra details, simply purchase things like these awesome unicorn horns or “hair” tassels!

I can’t wait to post photos of how our own pillow pets turn out – make sure you’re following my Instagram to see! Also, follow my blog for more DIY inspo and family fun!

Let’s Make a Deal

*As Seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope and Miracles*


“There’s a story behind everything… but behind all your stories is always your mother’s
story…because hers is where yours begins.”
~Mitch Albom, For One More Day


      “You know, your aunt was always jealous I was picked that day,” my mother would begin. A smile would spread across her face, ever the competitive little sister. “I was no more than twenty-one, and I had on the cutest bunny costume!” Her face would shine even brighter. “I made it myself, you know. I even had a tail. That day I won a year’s supply of Reynolds Wrap and Super Glue.”


She was speaking of her early 1970s appearance on the ever popular Let’s Make a Deal. This tale was one of her favorite memories of all time, and I had heard it throughout my childhood far too many times to count. I never minded though; I loved to see her smile so radiantly.


It was now early October, five years and one week since I had last seen my mother smile. As I often did around that time of year, I spent much of my time reminiscing and flipping through family photos. This year in particular though, I desperately missed seeing her face light up and hearing the heartiness of her laughter. For the billionth time, I searched for family videos, but nothing new surfaced. My mother had hated to set foot in front of a still camera, let alone allow herself to be videotaped.


As I was flipping through a scrapbook I had just applied the finishing touches to, it dawned on me. I could search the web for old Let’s Make a Deal clips. I mean, there are stranger things on YouTube, right? I grabbed my iPad and swiftly typed in “1970s Let’s Make a Deal clips.” Hundreds of options popped up, mostly boasting 1970s cars (which I knew my mother had definitely not won). But one bold blue line caught my eye.


Let’s Make a Deal Tickets.” Tickets? Huh? I didn’t know they were still filming.


I clicked the link and found information for tapings in the Los Angeles area. I read through, and as the moments ticked by, I grew giddy and excited. Tickets! I entered my information, requesting tickets for a date a few weeks from then. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband when he got home!


A few hours later, as Danny and I were sitting down for dinner, I heard my phone ping, alerting me that I had received an e-mail. I would usually disregard the noise during dinnertime, but for some reason I was drawn to the phone. I picked it up, and immediately saw the subject line, “Let’s Make a Deal Tickets for Friday!” Friday? Tomorrow? Tomorrow! I checked my Google schedule and lo and behold, I had the day off.

“Babe, Let’s Make a Deal, tomorrow! Let’s make it happen!” I shouted.


“What?” he called from the kitchen. “I wish! I have to work. Are you serious?” I had told him about my previous search and he was as excited as I had been.

      I forgot all about dinner and ran upstairs, searching for my newly acquired Halloween costume that would have to work for the next day. I slipped it on and looked in the mirror, finishing off my rather convincing pirate getup with an “Arrrrrg!” 

      “Verrry nice,” Danny said, coming up behind me. He spun me around and hugged me. He held me gingerly for a minute and then said, “Something tells me your mom is responsible for this. I know it in my heart. Just you watch, you’re gonna win. I know it.”


The next morning found me standing on the back lot of the studio, waiting in line, dressed as a pirate, surrounded by a gorilla and a Greek goddess. There was nowhere else I’d rather have been. In what felt like no time at all, we were herded into our seats and the cameras were rolling. The music, the people, the lights—it was beyond overwhelming, in the best possible way!


Everyone was encouraged to dance, and that we did. I moved with the music and waited for Wayne Brady to make his debut for the day. Within moments he appeared, and after some more silly moves, he quieted us down and got us into our seats.

      “Alright, who’s ready for our first game?” he asked after his hilarious introduction. Of course, we all screamed our heads off. Pick me, pick me!


“Alright, you,” he said, pointing to a brunette woman dressed in bright yellow.


“And… you!” he shouted, pointing at me. Me? Me!

      I ran down the steps to join the two of them on stage. My ears were ringing, my face was flushed, and my heart felt like it was about to leap out of my chest.

      “… you got it?” Wayne asked. I snapped back to reality. My head may have been nodding up and down, but I sure didn’t catch the rules. Everything was going so fast. “Go ahead, which door would you like?” he asked, facing my opponent.


“Door number one!” she replied enthusiastically.


“Alright, Amy, that leaves you with door number two,” he explained to me. Thankfully I now had some idea what was going on.


“Now, I’m going to offer you five hundred dollars for your doors, but you both must decide to sell or stay, even though you are ending up with different doors.”


‘Okay, I’m getting it now,’ I thought.

We looked at each other and decided to stay
right where we were. “We’re not selling!”

       He offered us more money, but we weren’t interested. Give us our doors! Wayne revealed my partner’s door. Behind it was a… ZONK! A cactus-shaped something or other, who knows? What was important was that was not my door! She took a seat, which left Wayne and me all alone.

     “Amy, how are you feeling?” he asked me.
“I’m feeling great, how about yourself?” I quipped.


“I’m wonderful. I’m just hoping to give you something amazing like a brand new
car.”

He smiled.


“I hope so too. I’m going to keep the door. Can I keep the door?”


“Well, you have to,” he paused, laughing.

      I blushed, but then I saw an opportunity. “You know, my mom was on this show almost forty years ago, and today I know she’s with me, watching from up above. Thanks Mom.”

Tears filled my eyes and the back of my throat. I choked on my words and Wayne continued seamlessly.


“I’m sure she is. Now, do you want to see what’s waiting for you behind door
number two?”


“Yes!” I exclaimed.


“It’s a… brand new car!”

       My heart stopped. Or did it speed up? I’m not sure what happened. All I know is that my knees turned to jelly, yet still they helped deliver me into the driver’s seat of my brand new Honda Fit. I gripped the steering wheel tightly, thanking the powers that be, and most especially my mother. I may not have seen her smile or heard her laugh that day, but I sure do know she was doing both in the purest and happiest of ways. 

 

Why I Blog

When I first entered the blogging world, my goal was to simply create an online diary. I had felt so isolated during those first few months of motherhood; the majority of my days were spent with no social interaction beyond my infant daughter and a few groups on Facebook. But I had so much to share, so many feelings and thoughts about this new, amazing, terrifying adventure. So I started a blog. I had no plan for it. I just wanted a place to vent.

As time went on and I wrote more, my emotional load became much lighter. I realized that when I share my feelings, the thoughts that normally just circulate endlessly through my head are given a different place to be: online. Which is scary. Scary as shit, if you ask me. Putting your unabashed thoughts and feelings into the hands, hearts, and minds of others is terrifying. But, the beauty (and danger) of making your feelings public is the ability to receive feedback. And I will admit not everyone always understands what I do.

But then there are those people who reach out to me to say that knowing my struggle is helping them with their own. That knowing that they’re not alone changes everything. And that’s why I blog. To share my stories (whether serious or light-hearted, silly or sad) and hope they help someone. To read other people’s stories and know that I have a community. To learn and share, to love and understand.  To be inspired…

So, with that said I’m taking my thirst for inspiration to the road (well, just a couple freeways actually) and am joining a slew of other wonderful BlogHers at #BlogHer16 ! I’ll be sharing the process on my Instagram (@house_of_love24), Twitter (@chesler_amy), and Snapchat (@thishouseoflove – wtf?! sooo many apps to keep up with!). In fact, you can even find me on the BlogHer16 app. I want to be inspired by all of you and look forward to the fun and knowledge I will leave with! Join me, won’t you?