Ending 2020 upon a note of wishful thinking

As we end 2020, a year of “who, what, where, why, when, and how” questions that are still boggling the minds of many, consider this: “Did we learn, and did we do good?”

Personally, the meaning of life is to learn something new, and do a good deed on a daily basis.

Learn something new? Yes, it could be a craft, a talent, a book or television series, a way to do something entirely different, etc., and that includes an outlook upon something as well.

A good deed? Yes, something as simple as smiling at a person who looks absolutely miserable, then seeing a new light in their eyes as they smile back.

Perhaps someone was stranded on the side of the road. Instead of driving by, you made that U-turn, and helped change a flat tire. A new learning or good deed doesn’t have to be monumental; also, don’t brag about it, as then the meaning actually becomes nothing at all.

“Do you watch Christmas-themed movies?” is a question I am often asked since I don’t believe in the mainstream, religious meaning of this holiday. Of course I do. There’s more to this holiday than the beliefs of religion.

This is the end of the calendar year, a time to reflect back on what has occurred; the good, the bad, the “what the…?”, and ticking off of items on the bucket list. Whether you have a written or mental list, you know you’re ticking items off; we all do it.

The month of December is a month full of numerous holidays around the world, mainly surrounding love, life, laughter, giving, receiving, and most important, togetherness. 2020, of course, is putting a huge strain on togetherness, but should that truly affect all the other aspects? It shouldn’t, but I believe we’ve been conditioned to allow it to.

One of my very favorite movies is The Bishop’s Wife, based upon the novella by Robert Nathan. Released December 1947, it’s a wonderful classic. The cast includes such greats as Loretta Young, David Niven, Elsa Lanchester, and Cary Grant…oh, the oh so handsome, charismatic, multi-talented Cary Grant as Dudley, the angel.

David Niven plays the Bishop Brougham, who is determined to have a cathedral built and must beg for funding from the snobbish wealthy. Having come from a poor district, he seems to have forgotten, not just where he came from, but what the holiday season is all about.

When he prays to God, an angel is sent down to help him, not to build the cathedral, but to find his way back to himself. Everyone Dudley encounters has become a lost soul, lost to themselves, to others, or in the case of the members of the children’s choir, potentially losing themselves.

This movie is not full of sadness, but brings out the joy and happiness that once was, and now is found again. Watch the movie, put it up against what you have been encountering in this past year, and I believe you will get the meaning. Not only will you learn, but those good deeds may just pop into mind.

As the New Year comes knocking upon our doors, open up, smile, and say, “Welcome, what do you have planned for me now?” Now here comes the challenge of choices... Do we simply live, or do we LIVE?

Those good deeds that popped into mind – are they forgotten or acted upon? You don’t have to wake up and consciously say to yourself, “Today I’ll do a good deed.” just do it! Don’t think about it, just do it, keep going, and suddenly you might think about it, and that’s when it will click in – what meaning life has.

Of course, this being a food column, how could I not give you a recipe which will bring joy and cheer to your stomachs? Let’s try out a lemon ricotta cheesecake to end 2020 and welcome 2021.

Fresh lemon juice brings out the brightness of this cheesecake. The ricotta and cream cheeses blended together give a firm, yet smooth texture. Really don’t like the taste of lemon? Use orange juice. But make sure whichever fruit you use, get the fresh squeezed, or defrosted juice concentrate only.

Bottled juices are full of water and will ruin the entire cake. By the way, did you know cheesecake isn’t really cake? Due to the lack of flour used and the main ingredients being eggs and cheese, it’s actually a custard. There you go. You just learned something new!

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients: Crust: 1 package (9 crackers) original flavor graham crackers. 1/2 cup ground almonds. 5 Tbsp. melted butter

Filling: 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened. 1 and ½ cups sugar (yes, a substitute can be used, and I recommend Swerve). 2 Tbsp. lemon peel (if dried, reconstitute with warm water and pat away excess moisture). 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (squeezed or pure concentrate). 1 (16 oz.) container of whole milk ricotta cheese. 3 eggs

Garnish: Whipped cream, Blackberries, Blueberries, Candied Lemon Slices, Fruit Flavored Marshmallows (brings out the child in us all)

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottom of 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper; spray paper and sides of pan with nonstick baking spray. Wrap outside of pan, bottom, and sides, with heavy-duty foil.

Place graham crackers into plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Or use a mixer, pulse setting; add in ground almonds, melted butter and ½ cup of sugar. Mix until crumbly; press crumb mixture in bottom and 2 inches up sides of springform pan.

Bake at 350F for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crust is light golden brown around edges. Remove crust from oven; place on wire rack, cool 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

Beat cream cheese in large bowl, medium speed, until fluffy; add 1 cup sugar; beat until very soft and creamy. Add lemon peel, lemon juice and ricotta cheese; mix thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until combined and scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Pour into crust-lined pan.

Bake at 325F for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until sides of cheesecake are set and puffed, but center still moves slightly when pan is tapped. Turn off oven, open door slightly and let cool for 30 minutes. Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours (if serving same day), or overnight before serving. Run a sharp knife around sides of pan before fully releasing spring. The parchment paper will allow to easily slide the cheesecake off the metal pan bottom onto cake platter.

Cheesecake will make 16 servings; decorate with garnish, spacing out fruit used; or add dollop of whipped cream before placing fruit on top.

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