Ten years ago this past Monday, I kissed AJ (or AJ kissed me, I guess it depends on who you ask!) on a street corner on a gray rainy day in San Francisco, only to have him leave the following day for a four-day cycling trip that he had previously scheduled.
It’s the sort of memory that is both crystal clear and nostalgically hazy at the same time. If it were being filmed for a romantic comedy (the sort of film that AJ and I specifically avoid watching) there would be this sort of grainy feel, with the background blurred while the camera zooms in on us, under an umbrella kissing, traffic lights and car lights multicolored specks in the background, an atmosphere of uncertainty, of what was going on, where things were going, what it all meant. There would be melodramatic symphonic music swelling (probably scored by John Williams because AJ love Star Wars) at the kiss moment. Then we would part, walking to our separate apartments alone.
We had actually dated a year ago and ended it five months later. It wasn’t very good timing and (I had thought) we weren’t that compatible. Truth was, I just wasn’t ready to go into a relationship, having gone on a series of terrible dating excursions right up to meeting him (one overlapping in fact).
Each dating experience had their own “title” – complete with a veritable stable of sitcom plots. The Busy Guy, where we had to reschedule four times until we finally connected, only to have the guy literally run away during a making out session (making me wonder if there was something I had done to him to scare him like that…was I really that bad a kisser?). The Short Guy who was described to me over and over again by the baby dyke coworker who kept on trying to set us up that “he’s really REALLY short” (which wouldnt’ have been an issue). However, this friend of mine was barely 5 ft tall, I was a bit concerned that she was trying to set me up with a midget, but he ended up being a respectable 5’7” and completely disinterested in dating me (the feeling was rather mutual). Right On Jimmy who constantly used the catchphrase “Right on!” and who took me to some new-age Sunday “church” experience called “Radiant Light” where the entire congregation stood up in a circle next to each other and passed kisses around the circle (and it was up to the newbies there to figure out what was going on…I broke the circle three times until I finally figured it out, and the entire circle could be complete and we could sit down and meditate about finding our mother within).
AJ was different of course. I won’t tell you his “title” because it’s irrelevant now, and he is no longer a random footnote in my life or a funny anecdote to tell at parties. We ended our five month relationship in a rough manner, but managed to stay friends. Seven months later we found ourselves at a party hosted by my friend’s Rita and Damon where there was us, two couples, and a single guy. The single guy had told Rita that he TOTALLY didn’t want to go to the party as the sole single guy with a bunch of couples. She told him that we weren’t a couple and he was incredulous but she assured him that we were one of those magical couples that were miraculously able to stay friends. WE were her prime example of how couples can stay friends after a break up. Afterwards the single guy totally yelled at Rita and said “They were TOTALLY a couple! What crack were you smoking?!?!” (I’m paraphrasing of course, he didn’t actually say that – but the sentiment was there).
The last ten years have been an incredible journey and I know that throughout it, AJ has taught me much about myself and about what it means to be in a relationship. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I would be a totally different person had I never met AJ or had not gone to that party that led to the kiss that led to the last ten years of my life.
We celebrated our ten-year anniversary in a very mellow way. Normally for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and pretty much any sort of excuse I can come up with, I buy him stacks and stacks of presents. It’s fairly easy as our major gift giving holidays are all evenly spread out on the calendar. I can buy presents one at time, stockpile them for a month or two and then give them to him for whatever celebration we are having. AJ doesn’t have the luxury of working downtown like I do, which is conveniently located near the third busiest shopping district of the United States, Union Square. Gift giving for him is a stressful event, trying to keep with me and trying to figure out what to get me. As I browse and leisurely cherry pick presents for him, he usually frantically runs around the weekend before to try to get me something that he feels might be worthy.
The thing is, he usually does an amazing job of finding presents. But this year we decided to not get gifts for each other. I’ve tried to curb my shopping habit, and work has been so hectic that I haven’t had a chance to run out to Union Square during lunch to find him anything. And I don’t want him to be stressed out about anything. Life is good between us, and I just want to enjoy that goodness.
Because everytime I get in bed, and lie down next to a sleeping AJ (who has to wake up earlier than me, and hence goes to bed earlier than me), he rolls over and throws his arm around me to snuggle close instinctively. It makes me happy and I can’t stop smiling. It’s a wonderful way to fall asleep, in the arms of someone you love and know that person loves you back with all their heart, awake or asleep.
So instead of a big celebration (we had talked about throwing a party for our anniversary) and loads of presents, we decided on a nice dinner (Quince) with just the two of us. And because I can’t just let our anniversary pass us by with giving him something (which I know we agreed we wouldn’t get anything for each other, but still…) I decided to bake him a cheesecake, with all the flavors that he love – Chocolate, Caramel and Cheesecake. So this dessert, well, it’s top of his list. It’s not super fancy. It’s not crazy flavors or unexpected twisted surprises. It’s just a straight simple delicious dessert. Well, as straight as two gay men who’ve been in love for ten years can be….
Happy 10 years AJ! I love you. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years brings us…
Whilst baking, I decided to listen to Madonna’s Celebration, her most recent best of album. AJ adores Madonna. I figure it was appropriate.
AJ’s 10 Year Anniversary Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake with Chocolate Wafer Base
20-24 finely ground chocolate wafer cookies (see recipe below)
5 Tbls unsalted butter (melted and cooled to room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 heavy cream
8 oz fine quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used Callebaut) chopped.
1/2 cup sour cream
3 8oz packs of cream cheese
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1. Combine the crust ingredients in a bowl and toss together with a fork. Spray a 9” spring form pan with cooking spray and dump the crust into it. Press the crust into the bottom and an inch up the side of the pan.
2. Stick the pan in the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3. Pour the cup of sugar into a large heavy stockpot and turn the heat to medium to make a burnt sugar caramel. Most recipes will tell you to use a low heat (which I suggest doing if haven’t made a caramel before – but if you have, crank it up to medium or medium high, or if you’re a daredevil, high). As the sugar melts, swirl the pan around until it goes a deep golden amber. I like to pull my caramel to a darker mahogany to get a smoky flavor, but that’s super dangerous as it can go from delicious to burnt in a matter of seconds, so do that at your own peril. Once it reaches the desired color pour the heavy cream in carefully. The caramel will bubble and boil and steam up so be careful that you don’t burn yourself.
4. Using a whisk stir the caramel until all the hardened pieces dissolve. If you need to, put it over a low heat (I usually don’t need to). Remove from heat and pour the chopped chocolate into it, and mix until it’s smooth. Then mix in the sour cream.
5. Take the cream cheese and beat it in a mixer until it’s light and fluffy. Pour the caramel chocolate into it and mix at low speed, scraping down the side with a spatula.
6. Beat in the eggs one at time, scraping the sides with a spatula. Beat in the vanilla.
7. Pull out the pan from the fridge and pour the filling into the pan. It should reach the top of the pan.
8. Put the pan on a baking pan to catch drips and bake in the middle of the oven for 55-60 minutes or until the cake sets 2-3 inches in, but the middle wobbles a bit. The cake will totally rise and look soufflé like. It’ll settle down as it cools.
9. Cool to room temperature and chill over night before serving.
Chocolate Wafer Cookies
Adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe.
1 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup white granulated sugar
2 Tbls dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
13 Tbls butter
3 Tbls heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Take the butter and cut it up into 1/4” cubes. Let it sit on the counter while you do the next step.
2. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugars, salt and baking soda in a food processor until well blended (a few pulses should mix them up).
3. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulses a few times to blend them in.
4. Mix the cream and the vanilla together and then in a slow steady stream add it to the food processor as it is on, until the dough clumps together on the side.
5. Scoop the stuff out and knead a few times with your hand and then roll it into a log about 14” long and 1 3/4” thick with wax paper or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
6. Take out the dough and slice it thin (1/8” to 1/4”) and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. If you want them crispy, bake them more on the 15 minute side. If you like them a little soft like I do, 12 minutes should be fine. They will crisp up as they cool as well, so if you are unsure, just pull them out, let them cool, and if they aren’t as crisp as you like, just throw them back in the oven for a few more minutes. They are very forgiving.
7. To make finely ground cookie crumbs for the cheesecake crust, just stick the cookies in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are crumbs.
Note 1. If you are too lazy to make the chocolate wafers (which usually I am, but this time I figured I’d go all out and just make them – hey it was our 10 year anniversary) go and buy them at the grocery store. Newman’s Own makes an alphabet cookie that is perfect (and is organic). They even have a wheat free version of the cookie – making this cheesecake wheat free.
Note 2. You’ll only need about half the batch of cookies for the crust. I suggest using the other half to make homemade oreos, ice cream sandwiches, icebox cupcakes, or just serve them milk or ice cream. They are tasty and not too sweet.