When it comes to a Thanksgiving feast, there is only one thing more important than preparing the traditional eats: making sure everything looks perfect enough for a magazine photo shoot. Because if you can’t impress your friends and family with your impeccable food presentation and themed tablescapes, then what is the point of the holidays anyway?
At least, those were the thoughts that lurked in the back of my head a few years ago as I prepared to host a dozen or so relatives for Thanksgiving dinner. The menu was planned, extra linens were purchased and approximately 72 trips to the grocery store had been made. Only one thing could stand in the way of my perfect Thanksgiving celebration: pumpkin cheesecake. You see, there was one flaw in my cheesecake that bugged me to no end each year. Every year I baked it; and every year it cracked.
I usually disguised the crack with artistic swirls of whipped cream, but that year I was determined to make a picture-perfect pumpkin cheesecake.
I stayed up late one night researching no-fail, no-crack cheesecake baking methods. Some recipes swore by the water bath technique. Others suggested adding a little cornstarch to the batter. Whatever tricks and tips the recipes recommended, they all preached the importance of cooling the cheesecake very slowly. Whatever you do, DO NOT open the oven door while the cheesecake is baking.
So that year, with the help of my eager 3-year-old son, we put all of the advice to work. We added cornstarch to the batter as we discussed his favorite part of preschool (lunchtime). While preparing the water bath, we debated the very best superhero (verdict: Superman) and as we added the finishing touches he confided in me his future ambition (to be a toy salesman). Finally, we popped the cheesecake in the oven and shut the door with our fingers crossed.
Periodically, I peeked through the oven window. My cheesecake was progressing beautifully! I turned away to continue other preparations only to hear a little voice behind me, “Look, Mommy! Our cake is going to be so yummy!” I turned and to my horror, saw my son peering in at the cheesecake, with the oven door wide open.
I screamed. I stomped. I threw a dish towel on the floor. I may have banged my head against the refrigerator. It was not pretty. And then I saw little tears beginning to well up in my son’s eyes, “I’m sorry, Mommy, I just wanted to peek at our yummy cake.”
Needless to say, our cheesecake came out of the oven with a crack that year. Actually, it was more like a giant crater. And somehow, despite the crack, it was still delicious. In my quest for perfection I had missed the goodness in the cracks.
A perfect cheesecake is not nearly as important as the act of baking with someone you love. What is on the table is not nearly as important as who is around it.
I apologized to my son for my dramatic outburst and promised myself to never again get so carried away by cheesecake, which is no small undertaking considering the power that cheese and cake possess when they join forces. Funnily enough, the crack in our pumpkin cheesecake has become a Thanksgiving tradition just as much as the dessert itself. I no longer try to hide the crack, instead it reminds me not to focus on the imperfections, but on the beauty in the flaws.
This year, let us be thankful to gather hand-in-hand with the people we love. Let us celebrate the goodness that comes from acknowledging our shortcomings. Let us be thankful for those who love us, cracks and all.
Anna Hargett is a wife, mother and recovering perfectionist. After having three children in three and a half years, she is learning to let go and let life happen (but she may still reorganize your office supplies if left unattended). Find her at www.thisperfectmessblog.com and on Instagram and Facebook.