This weekend, Jesse and I drove to West Virginia, where my parents and grandmother live half the year. We were dropping off our dog and cats to stay with my parents for two months. A week from today, Jesse and I will be on a plane bound for China, where we will stay until July. I’m co-leading a study abroad for a month there, and the rest of the time Jesse and I are going to wander around, seeing the sights, eating the food, making memories. I’m thrilled and terrified in equal measure.
We drove to West Virginia on my birthday. We got in too late for any celebration, but the next day, Saturday, my sister and niece drove over to see us, and we had a lovely day of food and laughter and a walk by the lake.
Instead of a birthday cake, my mom made these cheesecake cupcakes that were my absolute favorite when I was a kid. I used to invent reasons why I simply had to eat three at a time. One was never, ever, sufficient. And now that I’m thirty-one, I still can’t eat just one. They’re creamy and sweet and the cherries on top are tart and perfectly wonderful. Not gourmet, not fancy, and yes that’s canned cherry pie topping, but there’s something unmistakably delightful about these cupcakes. They taste like my childhood. They are the same taste I relished when I was seven years old and nothing bad had happened that I was that aware of, and everything seemed simple and straightforward.
Though I was raised in Florida, I was born in West Virginia. My parents were born in West Virginia. And so were my grandparents. Our stories are rooted there. We are rooted there. And when I go back, I smell the same clover and dogwood and fresh sweet grass that I smelled as a child. I can feel the pulse of the mountains, the deep seams of coal that run through our family like marrow.
And as I prepare to take off for the exact opposite side of the world, it felt fitting to return once more to West Virginia, to the mountains, to my parents, to the place and people who are forever part of me. Part of the thrill of travel is discovering who you are apart from your everyday environment. And part of the thrill of going home is remembering who you have always been and always will be.
The Old Lady’s Cherry Cheesecake Dessert
(I swear that’s the title that was typed–with an actual typewriter–on the index card recipe)
- Vanilla wafers
- 2x 8oz. cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- Cherry pie filling (canned)
Line cupcake pan with paper cups. Place one vanilla wafer at the bottom of each cup. Mix cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice to make the “dough” and place dough 3/4 of the way to the top of the cup. Bake 15-20 minutes at 375 degrees until done. Top with cherry pie filling once cooled.
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