I arrived home yesterday evening to an empty house, parents both out and about and Yusra off with friends. I didn't expect anything different, really, and so took my suitcase and backpack upstairs to a room that's been vacant for weeks, freshly cleaned for my arrival. After gracelessly dropping my things haphazardly in the space next to my bedside table, I put my hands on my hips and looked around, letting the breeze wafting in through the half-open window chill my bare arms, still adjusting to the new house. A deep sigh, closing my eyes for just a moment to let everything sink in, breathing out the stresses from a semester of constant work, and then back downstairs for a glass of water and, perhaps, a piece of fruit.
And it was then that I noticed that almost every inch of counter space was covered in gift baskets and fruit bowls, obligatory gifts from drug reps and secretaries at my father's office. [It's Christmas season, after all.]
And then I grinned.
As mundane and predictable as most of them are, full to the brim with boxes of stale pretzels and commercially-cloned milk chocolate truffles, the odd basket or two is full of delightful surprises. A small bottle of olive oil, caramels wrapped in colorful foil [the ones that only seem to make an appearance this time of year and virtually disappear from existence for the remaining eleven months], a wheel of chevre, a tin of cranberry-cinnamon tea.
I horde all of these for myself, naturally, as the rest of my family is content with the chocolate and crackers [which, admittedly, I enjoy quite a lot as well] and have little interest in odd teas and cheeses. It's bizarre, but it's the little things from gift baskets that really solidify this time of year. The end of a semester. A break from academics. A time to spend the day away in pajamas and a sweatshirt, lounged upon the sofa with a book, iPod plugged into Aine Minogue and Dean Martin, perhaps a mug of cranberry-cinnamon tea at hand.
And occasionally, a Christmas party or two.
Matt's parents graciously invited me to their home this evening for a small party, which was in and of itself one of the most delicious events I have ever attended. There is never a shortage of incredible food whenever Matt's family is involved, particularly when smoked brisket, turkey and cranberry, and the most diverse selection of homemade cookies are at one's fingertips.
When I was first told of the party, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to bake something as a thank-you, to which Matt's parents happily accepted. And so, for days I pondered about what would be worthy enough for individuals which such impeccable taste, and eventually decided on these: apple pie cheesecake bars, which I dedicate utterly and unconditionally to Matt's incredible family.
There's really nothing pie-like about these, save that I made them with apples and it's currently autumn, but the name has a rather nice ring to it. Plus, with his face muffled in my shoulder in an enormous, snuggly hug, Matt mumbled that they tasted like apple pie wrapped in a cheesecake. The contented grin on his face when he pulled away and dove into his second bite was inspiration enough for the title.
Matt's mother was thrilled, Matt's father thought they were delicious, the other guests loved them, and my heart soared. More than anything, I wanted to give back a small bit of the kindness Matt and his family have shown me for over a decade.
Hopefully this was a little victory, but above all, a big thank you.
"Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal"