February is not one of my favorite months. It’s too short, too whimsical, too unpredictable, and it comes just before my birthday month of March. I am a bit vain and it is not surprising that I cannot wait for February to move over and allow the bright yellow forsythia flowers to break the winter grays. A harbinger of spring I am, having arrived on Earth at the last day of winter, just to bid it goodbye.
When I was younger, I had several winter “breaks” a year to look forward to; days spent skiing, nights spent playing games, drinking, and laughing with good friends – more than enough to speed February along and disperse the last remnants of seemingly endless sub-zero temperatures.
One year, we were cooped up in our cabin for days, unable to see above the snowdrifts. The boys worked on shoveling a tunnel to the wood shed; the girls made sure there is plenty of hearty food; together, we systematically worked through our vast alcohol stockpile, until the only bottles left were gin and maracuja syrup. We hoped it would stop snowing and we’d be able to get to a store and procure more desirable beverages. Alas, the preferans tournament lasted well into the witching hours and the stress of playing and kibitzing demanded fortification. Sweet, tropical, citrusy and exotic taste of maracuja drowned the harsh aftertaste of gin and the night was saved.
These days I don’t have to battle snow and freezing rains of February. My girls look forward to the winter breaks and long lazy weekends much more than I do, even though we had to redefine winter according to southern California.
Last year at this time my life was entangled in a pretty messy Gordian knot, and Alexander the Great was nowhere in sight. Valentine’s Day found me hurt, exhausted, wounded, and frantic. I was doing my best to keep my head above the murky waters, and each breath I took, lead me upwards and forward. I lived every day breath by breath.
A year later, I find myself in a different world. Every single time I turn the knob and enter my apartment, I smile. I cannot help it. I am giddy with the overwhelming sense of freedom. My place! My life! My future! This February can linger as long as it wants – I have finished with being impatient. And I welcome each day as an enormous gift, grateful for everything that makes my life so wonderful and fulfilling.
Even though I still have a small jar of Seville orange marmalade I made last year, there is nothing bitter in my life on this Valentine’s Day. I still take a plunge once in a while and emerge gasping for air, my mouth filled with murky water; but each time my head pops up, I smile, my gaze fixed beyond the horizon line.
When the box from Melissa’s Produce appeared at my door, I spent hours trying to figure out what I can make to celebrate the Lovers’ Day. I decided to make mini passion fruit cheesecakes, knowing that my daughters would be squealing with joy. When I cut through the tough, purple skin and separated the halves of the fruit, its aroma hit me like a hammer; in a second, I was back in the snowed-in cabin, holding cards in one hand and gin-and-maracuja* cocktail in another.
I was floating on the cloud of nostalgia, hearing the laughter, feeling almost enchanted by a vision of a wonderful life that we all experienced in those days. We were invincible and we could conquer the world. It was simple, and invigorating, and full of hope for the future. Just like my life a few decades later. Even though there is still no one out there holding a card and a box of chocolates with my name on it.
*Maracuja is a Brazilian name for passion fruit; do not attempt this “cocktail” at home; it tastes palatable only when you are in your early twenties, cooped-up in a cabin with nowhere to go, with snow drifts towering above the roof. It is a cocktail of desperation:)
- 20 graham cookies
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 16oz cream cheese, room temperature
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 passion fruits (reserve one for the topping)
- Raspberry Sauce (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Line a muffin pan with paper inserts.
- Prepare the crust:
- Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor (or mini chopper) until crumbled.
- Pour in the melted butter and stir to combine.
- Place about 1 Tbsp of cookie mixture into each muffin cup and press down.
- Bake for 5 minutes.
- Let it cool down while making the filling.
- Whip the cream cheese until creamy.
- Add sour cream and sugar and whip until combined.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
- Stir in the passion fruit pulp and vanilla.
- Pour on top of the graham cracker crust.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm at the edges and still wiggly in the middle.
- Let it cool.
- Refrigerate or serve at room temperature, dotted with Raspberry Sauce (optional)
Thanks, Robert and Melissa’s Produce for another box filled with gorgeous products!