Please excuse my absence.
I’ve been in Paradise.
♦ ♦ ♦
Now I’m back, welcomed home with flowers and hummus and happy dogs. Life is good.
Viscount David Linley, grandson of a king and son of a princess, was asked once why he chose to make his vacation home on property in the middle of forests and fields. A place with spectacular ocean views might be a more obvious choice for British royalty, his interviewer suggested. Linley waved his hand at the rolling hills surrounding his home in France and said, simply, “This is my sea.”*
I get it. This is my sea.
But it sure was nice to wade in the emerald waters of the Florida Gulf coast and breathe in the salty air, knowing that my dinner had likely been swimming in the area a day or two before. I loved having an actual sea in the backyard to enjoy for a few days this week. (Thank you, R; I had a wonderful time.)
Another Florida specialty I enjoyed was a slice of Key Lime Pie at Bud & Alley’s Rooftop Bar in Seaside. I knew when I got home I’d be making this in honor of that delicious coastal classic:
Lime Cheesecake Bars, a mash-up of several different recipes that together make a sublime dessert. Freshly grated lime zest flavors both the crust and the filling. Every bite has a sweet pucker.
2 cups (8 ounces) graham cracker crumbs (Please crush your own crumbs made with about 16 whole graham crackers. That sawdust in a box offered as ready-made crumbs is a travesty of taste.)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Freshly grated zest of 1 lime (Reserve remaining lime to juice for filling.)
Pinch of salt
10 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Lightly coat a 9×13-inch pan with non-stick spray. In a medium bowl, combine the crumbs, sugar, lime zest, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir with a fork until all the crumbs are coated. Dump mixture into the prepared pan, and press the crumbs evenly over the pan’s bottom and about 1 inch up the sides. Bake until the crust is fragrant and becoming a slightly deeper brown around the edges, about 12 minutes. Transfer pan to rack to cool while you prepare the filling.
Increase oven temperature to 350°F.
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
Freshly grated zest from 2 limes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from standard Persian limes. Don’t use bottled juice or the smaller Key limes, which take a lot more work to extract the required amount of juice. I also don’t care for their floral notes, unless served a piece of authentic Key Lime pie with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Seagulls optional.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
(Note: Zest the limes first, then ream for juice. I use 3-4 limes for this recipe.)
In a large bowl, stir together the softened cream cheese and sugar. Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl and whisk into the cream cheese mixture, along with the lime zest, juice, and vanilla. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth. Scrape bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated. Pour filling evenly over the graham cracker crust, smoothing the top with an offset knife. Making sure the oven temperature is at 350°F., bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center is set. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. Once totally cool, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for several hours before serving in 2×2-inch squares.
*(Giovanni, Joseph. “The Country Life.” Architectural Digest magazine, Dec. 2005. Print.)