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 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


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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34 Responses to “regrets”

  1. Janis — February 22, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

    I wish I knew what to say. I wish I could give you a hug. I know how it feels and I am hurting for my friend. Take care of yourself through this sweetie.

  2. Aimee — February 22, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

    I am so so sorry, my friend. Please know I am thinking of you and praying for strength for you.

  3. Sabrina Modelle — February 22, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

    I am so very sorry about your dad’s stroke. I am thinking of you and your family.
    Thank you (as always) for your honesty and raw truth on this blog.

  4. Elizabeth — February 22, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    Prayers are with you and your family.

  5. Lana — February 22, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

    MJ, your post brought me to tears. My father suffered a massive stroke last fall and no one thought he would recover. Being a tough old goat with a very strong heart, he was declared a miracle and sent home. But even though he is alive, he is not the same dignified, handsome man he used to be just a year ago. And just like you, I regret my impatience with him, my lack of time to listen to his “digressions” and memories, my selfish, silent desires that he would find someone else to bore with his interminable stories. It hurts and it will hurt for a long time.

    I wish I could give you a big bear hug and cry with you right now. Kiss your dad’s cheek for me, too. and wish him peace.



  6. Lisa @ Garnish with Lemon — February 22, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

    Merry Jennifer, many prayers for you and your family during this difficult time. It’s so hard to watch our parents suffer. Sending lots of hugs and peaceful prayers your way.

  7. Aces — February 22, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    Oh, Merry, so sorry. Being a physician in instances like this sucks. I hope for the best for your dad.

  8. Beth S — February 22, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

    So sorry to hear about your father. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

  9. Jen Schall — February 22, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

    I’m so sorry, MJ… We went through something similar with my grandfather, and reading this post brought back many memories and tears. I hope you will find some peace in all of it. Thank you for sharing something so vulnerable and beautiful. I’m sending my love and prayers your way.

  10. Macaroni Mama — February 22, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    I love how you captured this moment. One day soon, you will bake or cook and awe your food bloggers about your wonderful recipes. Love you.

  11. Jayne — February 23, 2014 @ 2:10 am

    So sorry to hear this MJ. x

  12. Steph — February 23, 2014 @ 8:51 am

    Oh, MJ, I’m so sorry to hear this. Regret is so difficult to deal with. I still harbor a great deal of it from the loss of my mom almost 17 years ago. I never got to be an adult with her, really. She died when I was still a selfish brat.
    Anyway, I am sorry for what you are enduring right now. Hugs.

  13. MJ, I don’t really know what to say but I know your dad knows he is loved and cared for and I know if he could talk to you now he would tell you want a wonderful daughter you are. He’s a lucky man. Try not to focus on what you regret, please. Sending hugs and strength, always XO

  14. Kathleen S — February 23, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    I’m so sorry you and your family have to face this. Watching helplessly is hard and horrible.

    I’ll share something that helped me last year.

    Last words are not that important, all the words he’s said before are what matter. His life with you, love for you and your family. That’s the sum of a life.

    I understand the regret from having imperfect memories. I started a Memories Journal and I put everything I can remember into it, from stories to the quiet ways we interacted.

    I hope by sharing I can make your days a little lighter…

  15. Wendy Read — February 23, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    MJ, my heart goes out to you as I have walked the road that you are on. Coming to terms with your regrets is a process as you well know, but it is very raw right now and will be until it just isn’t anymore. I wish you grace and tranquility to get through the next few weeks and to be a support for your Mom as well. Hold her hand the best that you know how and hold each other up.

  16. Lizthechef — February 23, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    Such a hard time for you and your family. My thoughts are with you all.

  17. Lynda - TasteFood — February 23, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with you, MJ. I lost my father just before Christmas. Try not to let regrets consume you at this time – you have done your utmost and he knows it.

  18. Katy — February 23, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    My heart aches with yours. May you find peace and joy in the good memories!

  19. Sharon — February 23, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    Your post brought me to tears. You gave been a wonderful daughter to your father. We can all look back and think we should have cancelled this or changed a moment (with regrets) but you were there with your father when he knew you were and he would want you to have no regrets.

  20. Smith Bites — February 23, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    It seems from the comments above as well as my own will tell you there are many of us with regrets similar to yours; and you also know that in the depths of your gut that yes, even had you been there, nothing would have changed. I also think regret is part of grieving: the ‘what ifs, what might have beens, the future, the past’ – all of it. but you are not alone and i know that leaving my comment won’t change it or make this process any less painful. but i hope it helps, even if it’s for a blip of a second, that you feel the love that is surrounding you now. (((hugs)))

  21. jacquie — February 23, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

    I’m so sorry. my thoughts are with you and your family. and though it doesn’t help hugs to all

  22. Nancie McDermott — February 23, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

    I am thinking of you up here in North Carolina, dealing with these things that cannot be fixed. I am so sorry. It means so much to me to read your words and see your photographs, when they are delightful and delicious, and also when they are poignant and profound and sad.

  23. Gail — February 23, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    Oh, MJ, my heart goes out to you.
    I felt the same way when my dad was dying. It was as though a big bag of marbles spilled on the floor, and I was scrambling to gather them up as quickly as possible. But, the more I rushed to get them, the faster they rolled away from me.

    Do not beat yourself up. Don’t be hard on yourself.

  24. Alice Martin — February 23, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    Merry Jennifer, I have known you since you were a little girl and I want you to know that your dad has always been so proud of you. I remember how happy he was on your wedding day. You filled his life with joy! I am thinking of you and your mom and brother. I love you.

  25. DrAttai — February 23, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

    So very sorry. Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts.

  26. Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — February 23, 2014 @ 11:27 pm

    I’m so sorry. You, your father and your family are in my thoughts and prayers right now.

  27. Leigh — February 24, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    MJ, I am so sorry for what you are going through. This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself. We’re here to do whatever we can. xoxo

  28. Di — February 24, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    Taking of leave of this world is often hard and agonizing work; bearing witness to it when it’s your loved one is heart-breaking. With sorrow for you and your family, I will pray.

  29. Bridget — February 24, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    I’m so sorry. I’ll be thinking of you and your family, and wishing you all the best.

  30. Paula — February 24, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    My heart goes put to you and your family, not to mention my prayers. I know that you know that your father loves you, then, now and always…without regret. Sending you heartfelt hugs.

  31. Kathy — February 24, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

    I ache for you. May you all find peace in the days ahead.

  32. Christine (Cook the Story) — February 26, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

    Oh, my friend. I am so sorry for your Dad’s illness and that you feel in any way to blame. You can’t live in the past and think what if because all the what ifs in the world can’t change it. But you can savor time together now. And I can tell that that is what you’re doing (you’re always so wise. You don’t need me to tell you anything like that!). You and your family are in my thoughts.

  33. vagabonde — February 28, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    I came to your blog from Sam’s My Carolina Kitchen and expected a merry recipe. I read your post and it really affected me. I am deeply sorry for your father, for you and your family. I also read your post A nursing Home Visit – so very sad. My husband has been diagnosed with Onset Alzheimer and reading your post – I realized this will come to pass for me too – not easy.

  34. Mary — March 1, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

    I’m so sorry to read that your dad passed. I have been reading your great stories about him and I think he was a loved man. My dad passed five years ago this year and I still cry everyday. I’m sure you will also but that’s alright. Thank you for sharing all these stories.

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