The Weekend Dish – Brownie Cheesecake

Culinarily exploring this month’s theme of contrast, I hit upon the brownie cheesecake. It is a delicious, indulgent dessert which is a fine example when used as a study in contrasts. The white cheesecake on top of the dark brownie highlights the tonal contrast. In addition, there is textural dissimilarity between the smooth, creaminess of the cheesecake layer and the chewy, dense brownie layer. When these two components are mixed together, the result is sheer bliss.

brownie cheesecakeI had to mute my “healthy eating inner voice” for awhile and turn up the volume on the “oh this is going to be good voice”, (another contrast for me) turning a blind eye to the nutrition information as I added the 4 – 8oz blocks of cream cheese. I couldn’t help thinking of calories as I lifted the 13″ X 9″ pan taking note of the poundage. However, I can report, putting my inner turmoil aside was so worth it. This brownie cheesecake is scrumptious.

brownie cheesecakeI found the recipe on the Kraft foods recipe website but I did make a few adjustments.

Brownie Cheesecake

1 pkg. (19 to 21 oz.) brownie mix (I used Ghirardelli brand double chocolate)
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened. I used two neufchatel cheese (a lighter cream cheese)
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla (I upped this from 1 tsp)
1/2 cup sour Cream
3 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet morsels (Ghirardelli again)

HEAT oven to 325°F.

PREPARE brownie batter as directed on package; pour into 13×9-inch pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 25 min. or until top is shiny and center is almost set.

MEANWHILE, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Add sour cream; mix well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Gently pour over brownie layer in pan. (Filling will come almost to top of pan.)

BAKE 40 min. or until center is almost set. Run knife around rim of pan to loosen sides; cool. Refrigerate 4 hours.

MELT chocolate morsels in double boiler; drizzle over cheesecake. Refrigerate 15 min. or until chocolate is firm.

You may want to slice before the chocolate becomes to firm or else it pops off the top and the presentation isn’t as nice.

I especially liked the Kraft kitchen tip at the bottom of the recipe:

Balance your food choices throughout the day so you can enjoy a serving of this rich-and-indulgent cheesecake with your loved ones.
You will definitely want to share this with your loved ones. I took half of the pan to share with some friends and even though I would love to keep the other half for myself, I dare not.
brownie cheesecakeYou will find me this weekend supplementing my exercise routine by adding another day of walking and climbing an extra flight of stairs or two, also looking for loved ones to share the goodies with and. . .  indulging in a few pieces of rich brownie cheesecake myself; savoring every bite!
Indulgently yours,
~ Susan

Cacti and clouds


I’ve run away from home again in the name of love. Book love.

Sometimes this writer needs to stop using her wife voice, mother voice, daughter voice, sister voice, auntie voice, professor voice, neighbor voice to recall the voice that sounds most like her inner soul. Her writing voice.

There was a red suitcase involved, a bag of books heavier than a week’s worth of groceries, my cappuccino maker, and a short to-do list.

  • Write the last poem of THE BOOK.
  • Finalize order of poems in THE BOOK. (Yes, this contradicts Item #1.)
  • Edit all poems in THE BOOK.

On Monday, the list felt an awful lot like this:

Western Prickly Pear

The weird thing is, I chose this week, right in the middle of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference, the single largest gathering of writers in North America.  More than ten thousand writers and editors traveled to Boston. I stayed in California.  I haven’t missed a conference in five years. And yet I desperately needed to be alone and write more than I needed to schmooze and buy books and be inspired by what other writers were doing.  I couldn’t afford both a writer’s retreat and to put myself up in Boston, so I chose me.  Alone.

As the week winds down, THE BOOK has been tamed back down to all lower case letters.  Needles have been plucked, rough edges smoothed.

The new perspective comes by paying attention to the Backyard Sisters theme for March: contrast.

low tide rocks

Home. Not home.
Clay. Sand.
Dust. Water.
Omnipresent trail. Tidal path.
Warm toes. Cold bed.

Narrative moves forward, I tell my students, when that which is bumps up against that which is not. The best poetry happens, says poet Amy Newlove Schroeder, when there’s “a yoking together of the concrete and the abstract,” like “blending the perfect martini.”  Last year I had the pleasure of hearing Amy give a poetry talk titled “Concrete Abstraction” at Chapman University.  She urged poets to consider how all language is representational and the most “successful” poetry is that which can translate an experience, an idea, an aloneness, “from the tangible to the real.”  It’s how we don’t die of loneliness, Schroeder suggests.

If you’d like your own university classroom experience, you can view her talk here.  And if you’re anywhere near Orange County, you can catch her at Literary Orange, Sat. April 6, 2013, at the Irvine Marriott, a hotel. Not home.

Leaving. Returning.
Watching the sky. Waiting for tomorrow.
Missing you. Knowing I will miss this.
clouds and oceanWith a skip in her step,


The next big thing

Poet Mary Biddinger has one of those voices that feels like a long lost friend. She’s the author of several poetry books, including Prairie Fever and editor of Barn Owl Review. According to her website, in her spare time she likes “to photograph garbage.” She also has great ideas like starting an author interview series called The Next Big Thing.  This is a chainlinking of writers who are asked to divulge details of “the next big thing” they’re working on.  Sandy Marchetti, poetry editor of Minerva Rising asked me to participate. If you want to learn more about Sandy’s Next Big Thing, you can read her post here.

So here’s the project that keeps Catherine Keefe up at night…

Japan 153

Helen of Troy was here

What’s the working title of your book?
refrain: lost notes from helen’s songbook

Where did the idea come from?
I’ve always imagined all of poetry as one long interconnected verse, printed in a colossal book floating in the ether, bound together loosely with something like strips of dried moose hide. In that lyric, Helen of Troy, is a recurring undersong. Why haven’t we let her go?

This colossal book image came from visiting my grandfather who kept a yellowed collection of sheet music open on his piano. Over the years, the book’s binding loosened. Inevitably when my grandfather played, a few pages fell and slid under the couch or blew out the open front door on a gust of wind.  As a girl I wondered who might find “Que Sera Sera” on their porch and what meaning they would derive from the discovery. Would it even be intact?

As a woman I wanted to poetically play with that lost note idea. Helen of Troy’s myth offers love, adultery and war, a far more interesting story than a girl and her grandfather singing “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

refrain’s poems are framed as if they blew out of the great lyric book by accident. They’re written in conversation with poets who have immortalized Helen, as formal poetry and also as fragment poetry collaged with art reviews, museum catalogs, grocery lists, quotes from other poets, philosophers, scientists, and titles taken from drawings by A-bomb survivors.

What genre does your book fall under?
refrain is poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Someone unknown. Someone fierce.

What’s the one-sentence synopsis?
Helen of Troy abdicates role as poster girl for destruction in the name of beauty.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The typical path for first book poetry publication is to win a publication prize established by small presses or literary magazines. I’ve given myself a budget to submit refrain to poetry contests.

How long did it take to write the first draft?
The first draft tumbled out in middle-of-the- night writing frenzies during the nine weeks I spent alone in a writer’s cottage in Port Townsend, WA.  I was interning at Copper Canyon Press, reading some of the world’s best poetry by day and composing by night. Distant foghorns, buoy bells, and Helen’s voice drifted in through the open window.

That was in 2008 (I was the oldest intern.) Since then I’ve picked at refrain but mostly abandoned it to other projects. Helen started invading my dreams recently, so I’m spending time in a writer’s cottage in Laguna Beach to finish and begin to send it out on a regular schedule.  Helen insisted I return to the sea to finish her story. Who am I to argue?

What other books would you compare to this within your genre?
refrain strives for the aesthetic restraint of One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan, transl. by John Stevens.  It’s in the loose narrative model of something like C.D. Wright‘s One With Others or Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Helen’s story, ancient as it is, represents two persistent beliefs I want to test and explore. The first is that war is justified if there’s a perception of being wronged, and that once war is declared, all means to win are allowed.

The word “refrain” is a single phonetic tick from “reframe,” an underlying motif of the book. refrain picks up the challenge Alice Notley issued in Homer’s Art

Another service would be to write a long poem, a story poem, with a female narrator/hero.  Perhaps this time she wouldn’t call herself something like Helen; perhaps instead there might be recovered some sense of what mind was like before Homer, before the world went haywire & women were denied the participation in the design & making of it.  Perhaps someone might discover that original mind inside herself now, in these times. Anyone might.

The other assumption is that love is a single thing between two people, not a universal light that shines upon us all. How do we reconcile the Zen philosophy that we are all interconnected if we are proprietary about the bodies we claim as ourselves and “the one” we love?

I write to inquire. Is there such a thing as enough?  This is one of the book’s fundamental questions; I play with all meanings of “refrain” including the imperative.  Lastly, refrain is the story of yearning to go home, to a place where heroics and tragedies can be laid to rest.  But what if the home door is bolted yet two people stand on either side of the door, hands on the lock wishing to dissolve the barrier, but not knowing how. How do you suspend blame? How do you ask for forgiveness?

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You mean beyond adultery, love and war? Well, there’s spaghetti sauce, cherry blossoms, and a Helen whose voice ranges from Yeats, to Whitman, to Euripides and CS Lewis depending on whose rendering she’s mirroring.

There’s a funny story about Helen’s voice from when I read excerpts from refrain at an Iowa Summer Writing Festival author’s reading.

I stood up and said I really wasn’t going to read something I’d written, rather I was going to read something I’d found.

Scouts Honor, I’d found bits of a journal and this journal was written by Helen of Troy. Does anyone remember who Helen was?

Hands up. Nods yes.

I then read 3 short poems from refrain.  And maybe I was dressed in a long Grecian dress and maybe I added a bit of theatre technique with hand gestures – nothing too over the top, you know, just me talking with my body.

And then the reading was over and two people approached. Both of them both of them! said they very much enjoyed my reading but wondered why I hadn’t read from my own work.  But, that was my work, I said. Helen of Troy didn’t have a journal, and if she did, (and was she even real?) it hasn’t been found. And if it was, it most certainly wouldn’t be written in English.

Both of them both of them! looked at me so oddly, I fled.

Then, I chuckled in my room all night and thought, well, I guess I’ve captured a voice which isn’t my own. Thank you Helen for letting me share your refrain.


Please check in next week when Denise Cecila Banker shares her “Next Big Thing.”