It’s approximately 3:26 a.m., the day after Christmas. The husband snores. The dog twitches. The cat thinks it’s a fine time to play hockey with a bottle cap under the tree.
I stand at the kitchen door, scanning the dark windows of neighboring houses, watching everyone sleep.
It’s 3:30 a.m. and I am bone-weary. Where do you think that phrase came from? As is common at 3:30 a.m., or any other hour when sane people should be asleep, a manic investigation commences. My search quickly leads to one Robert Forby, former rector of the Fincham, Norfolk, parish from 1801 until 1825 and his untimely death while soaking in a warm bath. In his seminal work, The Vocabulary of East Anglia; an attempt to record the Vulgar Tongue of the twin sister counties, Norfolk and Suffolk, as it existed in the last twenty years of the Eighteenth Century, and still exists,(*) he states that bone-weary stems from
“Bone-lazy, bone-sore, bone-tired, adj. so lazy, sore, or tired, that the laziness, the soreness, or the fatigue, seem to have penetrated the very bones.”
Which I am, as everyone is to some degree after the intensity of the season, good or bad, joyous or not. How many times can you read that this year compounds bone-weariness to some ungodly mathematical degree of hell on wheels?
This takes me to 3:42 a.m. It’s not that I can not sleep, it’s that I can not stay asleep. If you are me, this means unkind ghosts settle in by your bedside to have a chat. Favorite conversational topics: Incompetent writer; starter of projects left unrealized; innumerable faults that played in being abandoned by once kind friends, lovers, family members; disastrous bread-making skills; proven incapable of finishing all of Proust, or any other book over a thousand pages. Mourner of dear aunt who has just left us alone at the party.
It is 3:50 a.m. A good shot of whiskey would be nice, mixed in herbal tea as a gesture toward sobriety. I once tried the husband’s remedy of drinking a cup of warm milk sprinkled with cinnamon after being told the spice is a natural relaxer. Another trick I’ve heard is to simmer a banana–unpeeled but with the ends sliced off–for a few minutes then drinking the water with a dollop of honey stirred into it.
There is no whiskey, no bananas. I’m lactose intolerant.
At 3:51 a.m. I open the refrigerator. Warm apple pie happens to cure my insomnia. If there isn’t pie, I will sometimes slice up apples or ladle applesauce in a small bowl and run it under the boiler or through the microwave. Something about the softened apple and release of warm juices batten my aching limbs and mind.
This house is bare of apples and apple sauce, as well. The only dish at hand is the remains of the Christmas dinner’s black forest cheesecake. Slouched across the counter, with only a dim cabinet light for company, I break into its denseness, forkful by forkful.
It is 4 a.m. by the time the cake returns to the refrigerator. I find my way pass the cat knocked out beside a broken red ball with his bottle cap hockey puck under his paw. A careful step is require to navigate over the stilled dog in the doorway. The husband has turned on his side in soundless slumber. None are aware dawn already splits the darkness.
Black Forest Cherry Cheesecake
The recipe, from The Pleasure of Cooking, calls for making the cake in a food processor but you can substitute a mixer.
For Graham Cracker Crust:
4 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 6-ounce canned sour cherries, drained and patted dry
9 ounces imported bittersweet baking chocolate, melted
To make the crust:
Process the graham crackers in a food processor until finely chopped, then add the sugar. Process to blend. With the motor running, pour in the butter and process about 10 seconds to blend.
Scrape the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of a lightly oiled 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
To make the cheesecake:
Place a baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of the food processor, pulse together the eggs and sugar until smooth, about 20 seconds, scarping down the work bowl as necessary. Add vanilla and process to mix. Transfer to a 2-cup measuring cup.
Process half the cream cheese with the metal blade of the processor until smooth, about 40 seconds, stopping to scarp down the bowl as necessary. Add half the egg-sugar mixture and process until blended. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
Repeat with the remaining cream cheese and egg-sugar mixture. Add to the large mixing bowl and stir to combine the two batches.
Pour 1 cup of the cheesecake mixture in a small bowl and stir in the cherries.
Whisk the melted chocolate into the remaining basic mixture and pour about three-quarters of it into the prepared springform pan, smoothing the top. Carefully spoon the cherry mixture over it, and cover with the remaining chocolate mixture. Smooth the top.
Place the pan on the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake until the edge is slightly risen and firm to the touch, but the center is still soft, about 35 minutes.
Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
* Robert Forby’s The Vocabulary of East Anglia; an attempt to record the Vulgar Tongue of the twin sister counties, Norfolk and Suffolk, as it existed in the last twenty years of the Eighteenth Century, and still exists is amazingly widely available, from Amazon to Walmart. Even as an ebook.
Banner credit: Arman Zhenikeyev, Saatchi Art