Cheesecake

This evening I baked a cheesecake. Cheesecakes are one of my favourite things.

Since I was little my Savta (grandma in Hebrew) has made me cheesecake pretty much every birthday. And not just my birthday – ANY birthday that we are both attending! And any other occasion worthy of a cheesecake.

Savta’s cheesecake is renowned for being the Best Cheesecake In The World. Everyone that tries it says something along the lines of ‘Oh my god! This is the best cheesecake!’ A couple of years ago I realised that Savta wouldn’t always be around to bake – yes, bake – me her cheesecake. That was not a happy prospect. A world without Savta’s cheesecake is no world at all. So I asked her for the recipe. It was an awkward moment for me. We both knew that I was asking her for the recipe so that when she passed away the recipe wouldn’t pass away with her. Thankfully it didn’t go unspoken, like an elephant in the corner of the room that no one wants to mention. Instead, we arranged to bake a cheesecake together so she could teach me.

Over the Easter break Savta and I baked a cheesecake. Boy is her recipe simple!! I shared the cheesecake with some friends who all said ‘Wow! This is the best cheesecake!

I have been slightly smug about the fact that I can now bake a Savta Cheesecake.

However, it is not as easy as it seems. I should have been like Sir Ken Robinson when he cooks (see his TED talk on how schools kill creativity below. The whole talk is great but if you just want the cooking moment head for 13:40 – 14:30).

I baked my cheesecake because a 10 year old girl I coach gymnastics to claimed that her mum made the best cheesecake. Obviously I had to set her straight. We arranged a cheesecake bake-off. Yes, a cheesecake-off at the gym!

However, I didn’t heed Ken’s advice, I didn’t remain focused on the task at hand and I let myself be distracted by a phone call from my good friend James and I think I left the cheesecake in the oven a bit too long. This is bad. I could be beaten by a 10 year old girl.

The bake-off is on Wednesday so I’m considering making another cheesecake tomorrow night but I don’t think I’ll have time. I guess I’ll just have to accept whatever shameful fate comes my way.

Either way, whether I win or lose, I have a deeper respect for Savta. Her cheesecake is perfect every time.

But I’ll keep on practicing, perfecting my own cheesecake, so when the time comes, and I have to take up the mantel of Family Cheesecake Baker, I will be ready.

Post-Bake-Off Update

Three gym coaches and one gymnast entered the bake-off. One coach was away (and has promised to bake a cheesecake at a later date), one thought it was the following week. The head of General Gymnastics forgot. (She was going to make caramel slices anyway so she wasn’t really a contender.)

One coach, Ilona, made a white chocolate cheesecake with blueberries. It wasn’t baked. It was a bit like goo. Tasty, tasty goo.

The other coach, Mirela, baked a cheesecake that had so many eggs in it I’m surprised we didn’t all turn into chickens. Or get Salmonella poisoning. It was good, but not that good.

I baked Savta’s cheesecake (which was obviously awesome).

The gymnast, Libby, baked a cheesecake with vanilla and cinnamon in the base. But the base didn’t stick.

Around a dozen people ate the cheesecakes and voted. Some liked the sweetness of Ilona’s (unbaked) chocolately gooiness, some liked the strong flavours of Mirela’s. But the winner by far was my Savta’s cheesecake. Because it really is that good!

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James writes his excellent blog ‘Jesus Is My Homeboy’ here.

Circus Schools, Circus Shows

Over the past four days I’ve been to two different circus schools, one circus training space, and seen three different circus shows in two different cities. It’s been a busy few days.

Over the past year my cousin, Stephen, has been attending Circomedia in Bristol. Circomedia is the second biggest circus school in the UK after Circus Space. (Interestingly, Bim Mason, who founded the school, describes it as a Physical Theatre school that teaches circus rather than a Circus School. No one else I know describes it that way. We all think of it as a Circus School.)

The two show’s I’ve seen were Circomedia’s end of year show, Touch & Go, by their first year students on the Foundation Degree, and Circus Space’s end of year ensemble show by their second year students. The two shows couldn’t have been more different, although I didn’t enjoy either of them particularly. Don’t get me wrong, each show had some great moments, and each show had some great skill, I just didn’t really like the shows overall.

On Thursday, Circomedia’s show, staged at the Bristol Old Vic, was mostly solo acts or duets, some distracted by a cast of performers surrounding them. The trouble was that there are around 25 students in the year, some performing in more than one act, leading to a show that was far too long – nearly three hours including an interval!

With one or two exceptions, the students’ skills were not of a high standard. Feet were lazy and unpointed or sickled, legs were bent, timing was out, double lunges were necessary, comedy wasn’t funny, dancing was scrappy, and more than a few drops were made. It strikes me as odd that after one year, with the school focusing on physical theatre rather than circus skills and technique, Circomedia would stage such a lengthy ‘solo’ show rather than an shorter, tighter ensemble.

It seemed to me that the best performances were either physical-theatre-based (Dare Devilina and many of the links) or were done by students who had come to the school with a high skill level to begin with (such as the jugglers and beat boxers – both highlights of the show for me) or were the performances that kept things ‘nice and neat’ such as the doubles trapeze.

The next day, Steve took me on a tour of Circomedia’s two sites, the school and the training space, and then also the Invisible Circus, an amazing venue based in an old fire station. That evening I returned to the Invisible Circus for ‘The Last Resort’ which was great fun. The event was part party, part event and part cabaret show and was in stark contrast to the previous night’s student show. It was a slickly produced affair with some sharp acts (including some Circomedia graduates) and a big dose of fun. I’d strongly recommend their next event, The Swing Thing, which will combine classic circus with lindy hop and swing dance.

Then last night came the Circus Space second year ensemble show, ‘I came to live out loud’. The show was short, tight, and had some nice skills (I enjoyed the Chinese Pole the most) but lacked something. Maybe it’s just that I don’t really care about any of the student shows apart from their solo acts in their third year, maybe it’s that I don’t really get to know any of the students and have no personal connection to them. But I don’t think so. I think it was really lacking in it’s direction. The comedy wasn’t funny, the drama undramatic, and the romance flat. I was left bereft of any personal connection to any of the characters. And even though it was far better (and shorter) than the Circomedia show, I just wanted it to be over.

It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about it. I haven’t seen any of the second year Circus Space student shows in a few years so, with the exception of the Touch & Go, I don’t have anything recent to compare it to, and I feel it unfair to compare a first year Circomedia show (where their focus is on physical theatre) with a second year Circus Space show (where the students’ focus is on skills).

What I do know is that with 40 – 50 students at Circus Space and Circomedia every year, and with the growing number of circus schools, circus clubs, circus workshops, circus shows, circus seasons, circus classes and circus courses, things can only get better.

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Adam tweets as CircusBoy1 on twitter here.

My Hero, David Huddie

Today is the Forth of July. It is Independence Day. A day to celebrate freedom. It is also the anniversary of the death of my hero and friend, David Huddie, who died of cancer when he was 23. Dave was the freest person I have ever known.

Dave was always the least likely candidate for cancer. He didn’t smoke, hardly drank, never took drugs and was about the most active and healthy person you could imagine; always out surfing, walking, cycling or snowboarding. And had often done all that before anyone else had woken up!

I used to go windsurfing whilst everyone was studying in the library for their finals and handed in my final-year project four days early so I could go surfing and hiking in Cornwall

I’m not going to tell you the story of Dave’s death. It made the papers so you can read about it here and here.

Dave and I met in the spring of 1999 at my dad’s 50th birthday party. Dave wasn’t supposed to be there. He showed up with Anthony, along with his twin sister Jo, who would soon become my girlfriend. Although my dad knew Anthony as well as Jo and Dave’s mum I’d never met any of them. But Dave, Jo, Anthony and I instantly became best friends. It was as if we’d known each other for ever. A year or so later Anthony would tell me I “was the missing piece of their puzzle”.

Dave was cremated on 20th July 2004. Following the cremation there was a celebration of his life at which a letter written by Dave in his final days was read.

“By the time you hear this I will no longer be with you. I have no idea how long from now that will be but that is not for me to ever know. I really wanted to just say my bit and let you know what you all meant to me.

When I think about dying it doesn’t scare me too much. I think you are not really aware of it until it has happened or that if you choose not to resist death and accept its inevitability there is nothing to fear. I believe that when the time comes it is most powerful to choose death as what is happening to you to have it be a peaceful event.”

Dave’s acceptance of his situation, his peacefulness about dying, and his unrelenting care for those around him continues to inspire me.

It is all too easy not to confront our own mortality. It is all too easy to sweep things under the carpet to ‘deal with them later’. The anniversary of Dave’s death is reminder for me that life is precious and that life is now. The people around you are important and you have a far bigger impact than you will ever know.

The most upsetting thing is not that I will die but what I will leave behind. The number of friendships I have built up and the amazing family I have who I will never get to speak to again. That is what I find hardest to come to terms with.

  • I will never see any of my close friends get married
  • I will never get to hold any of Jo’s children
  • I will never get to be a father
  • My Mum and Dad become parents of one not of two
  • The unbreakable bond between my twin sister and I will be broken

I miss you Dave and I’m glad you were my friend.

Don’t be sad, celebrate having known me when I was alive and the fact you still have each other.