fresh ricotta cheesecake and a love story

One week ago today, we took our cat, Fritz, to the vet for his very last appointment. He didn’t come home.

Sometime this week, we’re supposed to pick up his ashes.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Thanksgiving weekend, 1994: I was home from school for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was living in Georgia at the time, a few months into a Master’s program in psychology. I was living alone and feeling dissatisfied with the choice I had made to attend graduate school. I just wasn’t happy with where I was in life, and I was grateful to be at home with my family. My brother had not yet been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and we were getting along with each other. My parents had a beautiful cat – a Maine Coon named Tipper – who had recently had kittens. I left my family on that Sunday afternoon to head back to Statesboro with two new kittens  – Fritz and Mitzi – and a lighter heart.

Fall 1997: I was living in Miami, a newlywed for about 6 weeks, but I was alone. My new husband was finishing up dental school at the University of Florida, and I had just started attending medical school five hours south of him. Our separation was a necessary thing, and we were comforted by the fact that it was only for a year, and also by the fact that I had Fritz and Mitzi to keep me company in that tiny apartment overlooking the Miami River, in a not-so-great part of town. I studied for gross anatomy on my living room floor, with Mitzi in my lap, and with Fritz sprawled out on my copy of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy.

July 2001: Sam and I were living in our final destination, back in north Florida. I was a newly minted MD, an intern, struggling to survive during my first hospital month, learning the ropes of an academic hospital. I worked over 100 hours a week during my first few weeks, and I came home exhausted and near tears. After hugging my husband after getting home each night, I cuddled on the sofa with Fritz, trying to stay awake and have some semblance of a normal life. Two months later, on September 11th, I came home from work and hugged Fritz tightly, promising myself I would not bring children into a world that lets people use airplanes as weapons.

December 2003: Madeline is born three weeks early, jaundiced and difficult to nurse. Fritz stopped sleeping in our bedroom and began sleeping under our daughter’s bed each night.

October 2006: Oliver is born, entirely too late for my preference. He’s perfect in every way. Fritz starts sleeping under his crib, and when Oliver cries, he meows insistently.

October 2009: After Fritz begins having trouble eating and loses 10 pounds, we finally take him for a second opinion at the university’s veterinary school. We learn he has an aggressive form of lymphoma. I find this ironic because one of my specialties is lymphoma, and my grandmother has just gone through treatment for lymphoma. I also find it incredibly unfair. Fritz starts treatment, and he starts eating again, starts purring more, begins playing again. We keep going. But we start preparing. We read Cat Heaven to the children at bedtime, and I think my husband and I take more comfort in the message – that cats go to heaven when they die – than do our kids.

May 7, 2011: I’m in the middle of working a two-week stretch in the hospital. I’ve come home unexpectedly early on a Saturday and I have some free time. So, I make Jennifer Perillo’s ricotta for the first time. I notice that Fritz isn’t acting right. He begins pacing the house. He’s had an accident outside the litter box. That night we celebrate an early Mother’s Day dinner out with both sets of grandparents. When we get home, Fritz is still pacing. I decide to make cheesecake with the fresh ricotta. He walks through the kitchen and around my feet. He does this the entire time I’m baking. He won’t eat. He won’t purr. He doesn’t seem to recognize me. We make our decision.

May 8, 2011: Mother’s Day. Fritz resumes his pacing, his staring, his not eating. We know we’re making the right decision, but it hurts. I take my children to work with me and Sam takes Fritz to the vet. After an hour, Sam meets me at the hospital and gets the kids. Without Fritz.

*   *   *   *   *   *

This cheesecake (adapted from and inspired by this recipe from Redbook Magazine) is now my favorite cheesecake. I’m not a fan of the super-sweet ones that make one feel about 10 pounds heavier just after eating one slice. This has great texture – light and creamy – with the right amount of sweetness. I like mine unadorned, with perhaps a few strawberries or blueberries on top.

Yield: 12 servings

Ricotta Cheesecake

I used fresh homemade ricotta, but feel free to substitute store-bought ricotta.

Ingredients:

Ingredients For Crust

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs (approximately 20 cookies)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (packed)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Ingredients For Filling

1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan (or grease with nonstick cooking spray) and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix gingersnap crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Press into bottom of prepared springform pan. Bake 10 minutes then allow to cool on a rack.

In a food processor, process ricotta cheese, granulated sugar, and lemon zest until smooth. Add cream cheese and process just until smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Whisk in 1/4 of the cheese mixture, then fold in the remaining cheese mixture. Pour over the crust and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges rise, and the center is just set, but still jiggly. Place on wire rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

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48 Responses to “fresh ricotta cheesecake and a love story”

  1. Oh honey… I so wish this didn’t have to happen this way. I’m sure it was tough for you and your family. Thank you for sharing all of these moments (no matter how difficult I’m sure it was to do) with us.

    I’m sure a slice of this cheesecake made you feel just a little better. I know I would find it comforting.

  2. Yuri — May 15, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

    So sorry to read about your beloved Fritz. I relate to this story because I lost my first and only dog Pucca over a year ago and I still miss her… All cats and dogs go to heaven.

  3. Kimmie — May 15, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I have no words that will magically make things okay, just know that the Gabby monster and I are thinking about you guys. What a sweet story about such a sweet, sweet companion. Much love to your family.

  4. Caneel — May 15, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. ((HUGS)) I’m glad you have the memories – he sounds like a wonderful companion.

  5. Stephanie@PlainChicken — May 15, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

    We lost our beloved Marmalade to lymphoma a few weeks ago. Like your Fritz, Marmalade was my best friend – with me through thick and thin. I miss her terribly.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I think Winnie the Pooh says it best – “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever”

  6. emily — May 15, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    losing a much loved pet is horribly hard
    and there arent many words to make it better
    i’m sorry for your loss

  7. Steph — May 15, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

    What a lovely timeline tribute to Fritz. You had a lot of history together!
    I especially like the image of Fritz on top of Netter’s. Maybe he’s teaching human anatomy to cats in kitty heaven. 😉
    I am so sorry for the loss of your longtime feline companion.

  8. JulieD — May 15, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    I’m so sorry, MJ. I have been thinking about you. I know what you’re going through and I know there are no words to bring comfort to you and your family. I know with time, it will get easier. Huge {HUGS}

  9. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — May 15, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    MJ my heart is breaking for you. Fritz was one very lucky little guy. Hugs XOXOX

  10. JenniferA — May 15, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Cats are family members. It’s never easy. I hope Fritz is in heaven hanging out with my sweet Stella right now.

  11. Losing a beloved pet is so hard; we take them not just into our homes but our hearts and I know you are hurting. Your cat was lucky to have such a loving home and soon one day I pray the sweet memories will replace your sadness now. Take good care; my thoughts are with you.

  12. Isabelle — May 15, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

    Hugs to you and the rest of your family. I’m so very sorry.
    Those little fuzzbutts sure do work their way into our hearts, don’t they? No matter how long they’re with us, it just never seems like it’s long enough when the time comes to say goodbye. Thank you for sharing your memories of Fritz with us… he was a lucky, lucky cat.

  13. Macaroni Mama — May 15, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

    Such a sweet post. Fritz was very special and defiinitely the “pick of the litter”. It’s hard losing a pet because of that unconditional love pets give humans. Enjoy your cheesecake, Merry Jennifer. I love you! We all know Fritz is now feeling no pain.

  14. jaclyn — May 15, 2011 @ 7:36 pm

    i’m so sorry for your loss, MJ. losing a pet is heartbreaking and devastating, and i hope you and your family are coping with the loss of Fritz, and knowing he is no longer in pain hopefully brings you some comfort. i think this was a lovely tribute and timeline of Fritz’s life, and there’s no doubt that he was loved completely and unconditionally by you all.

    also, i’m gonna give you a big ol’ hug when i see you this week. so get ready.

  15. Janis — May 15, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

    It is so hard losing a pet. I lost my Saint Bernard on the trip from CA to NE. I am sorry Sweetie.

  16. Lana — May 15, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

    I remember coming to our family cottage in the mountains on winter break and finding out that Pippi, our pekingese, has died. The whole family was in tears for days. It’s not easy, but you will always have those memories of Fritz to comfort you. I cannot give you a real hug until Atlanta, but a virtual one is sincere and filled with California sunshine:)

  17. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry that you have lost this important member of your family. I just love how his story is so entwined with your story, and that he was there with you each step of the way. I have never made my own ricotta but I would love to attempt this cheesecake in honor of Fritz.

  18. Kristina @ spabettie.com — May 15, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

    I am so sorry the loss of your beloved Fritz… I really loved this post, how you shared the details through the years… it brought tears to my eyes, we are currently on vacation and I am missing Basil, our dachshund, even more now!

    hugs to all of you…

  19. LiztheChef — May 15, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

    They are so special that they will never truly leave us…

  20. My husband and I often say we love our pugs far too much and that’s the most wonderful yet sad things about having pets. You love them so much when they’re here, and it hurts so much when they’re gone. I’m so sorry for your loss and huge hugs to you and your family!

  21. I’m so sorry to hear about Fritz… Reading your post brought tears to my eyes. I know how hard it is to lose a beloved pet since they are such a big part of the family. *Big Hug*

    Also, the cheesecake looks lovely! I just love ricotta cheesecakes (as well as homemade ricotta)… I’ll have to give this a try!

  22. Jennifer (Savor) — May 15, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

    Oh darling – I know how much this hurts. I am glad that Fritz had such a great mommy and family.

  23. Flavia — May 15, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    Hi Merry, I am so sorry that you lost your beloved Fritz. I know the heartache of losing a pet. We lost our 11 year-old English Springer Spaniel, Dutch on Valentine’s Day. It’s never the same without them. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend reading “The Rainbow Bridge”. I printed it out and have it hanging in my office where I see it every day. It gives me comfort. I hope you and your family are comforted by all the wonderful memories you created with Fritz. Rest assured that one day you will all be reunited. He waits for you now.

  24. Gail — May 15, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    This is the most wonderful tribute to a beloved pet I’ve ever read. Truly.

  25. The Yummy Mummy — May 15, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    I’m so sorry, honey. But what a beautiful way to honor his life and friendship. What a lucky cat to have lived this life with you…

    xo Kim

  26. Liren — May 15, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    Oh, my heart aches for you and for dear Fritz. What a sweet kitty soul – he was such a handsome cat and I loved the story of his wonderful life. Hugs to you!

  27. I don’t even know the words that help lift the pain of the loss of a cherished pet. It’s beautiful the way he touched your life and the life of your children. He was there to watch over all of you during his life and I know he will still be watching over you now.

  28. Judith Klinger — May 16, 2011 @ 6:50 am

    What courage to share this story. I would have been bawling so much I’d ruin the keyboard. It’s stunning how much we come to rely on our little friends. When our son was about 8 years old and the guinea pig finally died (long story), our son walked around wailing, “I need something furry.”
    I think we all need something furry to cuddle up with.
    Our latest cat, Raffaello dello Spillo, was found in a field in Umbria. Our vet calls him “Gatto Fortunato” or Lucky Cat. Actually I think we’re the lucky ones.
    Thanks for sharing.

  29. Ken⏐hungry rabbit — May 16, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    A beautiful tribute to Fritz. So sorry for your loss. I’m sure in some way Fritz is still there watching over your family.

  30. SMITH BITES — May 16, 2011 @ 8:05 am

    it’s amazing how certain events are defined by significant markers in our lives and that our minds will remember where we lived, what was going on in our lives and those feelings we experienced. Fritz was a wonderful companion, a good friend and confidant who was also part of your life over the last 17 years and i know you miss him; it is never easy to say goodbye. writing it down helps to preserve those memories and also help us to remember those markers with joy and laughter mixed with the tears. i am thankful you had Fritz AND that you have been able to share him with us. hugs to you MJ

  31. Winnie — May 16, 2011 @ 10:22 am

    So sorry about Fritz MJ. See you soon, and I’ll give you a proper hug 🙂

  32. Sending you hugs across the miles. Have another slice of cheesecake. You deserve it.

  33. thatshowiroll — May 16, 2011 @ 11:58 am

    What an emotional post. It might have been hard to pull it all out, so many years of your life, but such a great tribute to your cat. So sorry about your lost. <>
    That is a lovely cheesecake, unpretentious, creamy and surely full of flavor. I like the accent of the lemon zest.

  34. I am so, so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels, we have lost two of our dogs over the years, and I wish I could give you a great big hug!

  35. Aggie — May 16, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    No words…just a virtual hug. Its amazing how our animals become our family. Your story of Fritz’s life is beautiful. He’s purring up in cat heaven right now…

    I can’t believe you made your own ricotta. and that cheesecake looks absolutely lovely.

  36. Leigh — May 16, 2011 @ 1:30 pm

    ***giant hugs*** I remember sitting on my steps around the age of 7 or 8, with my mom’s arms around me, as she explained that our Golden Retriever had been hit by a car and wasn’t coming home. I know it’s not any easier, whether it was sudden or long-anticipated. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  37. Jayne — May 16, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

    Oh MJ what a beautifully written post. I’m so sorry to hear about Fritz.

  38. Jennifer Hess — May 16, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

    MJ, this is such a beautiful tribute to a furry family member you clearly loved very, very much, and I still can’t read it without weeping for you all. I know all too well how hard it is to say goodbye like this, and I hope you know how much comfort your thoughts and words brought us when we lost our Kali last year. I’m hoping to give at least a little of that back to you and your family now. Thinking of you often, and sending so much love.

  39. Cheryl Arkison — May 17, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    Oh man. Such a hard story to hear. Much love to you and the family. We know indeed what you are going through.
    But this cheesecake does indeed sound fantastic!

  40. Kate @ savour fare — May 17, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

    I’ve been AWOL (work has been kicking my butt) but I’m so sorry about the loss of your kitty. We just lost our pup and it just sucks. Hugs.

  41. Catherine — May 17, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

    I actually had to put my cat to sleep on Mother’s Day as well…. choked me up to read your story. Feeling your pain.

  42. I just waned to let you know how sorry I am for your loss! I know too well how attached we get to our kitties! I had 2 that I got when I was stationed overseas in the navy (Hawaii), and the moved to Florida with me back n 1993. Pauley and Sheena were my first children, and I still loved them even when they got demoted to “pet” status. We had to say goodbye to Sheena in Jan 2007, and Pauley in Sept 2007. Hard stuff!! My thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

  43. Megan'sCookin' — May 24, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

    I’m so sorry about Fritz. It was lovely story and a terrific tribute!

  44. Pingback: for jennie, for all of us: frozen peanut butter pie | The Merry Gourmet

  45. Sarah — September 12, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    Oh my God… I had my little kitty Dish on my lap as I read your story and started bawling into her fur as she purred. I know that one day that time will come, and I hate that you had to go through that – I can’t imagine what I’ll be like. But remembering the good times, the purrs, the antics and those who shared that joy with keeps the memory alive. Thanks for being so open and honest.

    PS – props on such a great batch of ricotta, I’ve always been scared to try it!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 13th, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

      Thank you so much, Sarah. And really, the ricotta is a breeze. Just go for it!

  46. Jan Beaumont — June 28, 2013 @ 9:35 am

    It’s so hard to make that last trip to the vet. I had to take my two beloved cats within three months and also within that time my mother passed away. One of the saddest times of my life. So I can totally relate to the way it made you feel. When my little granddaughter lost her adored cat I told her the story of Rainbow Bridge where all our pets play happily until they see us coming … Then they bound over that bridge to be happily reunited with the ones they loved! It certainly gave her some comfort.

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