This past weekend we celebrated my brother’s birthday at a delightful, surprise summer celebration at a private wooded area in Napa Valley. My contribution to the spread was this Sicilian Ricotta Cake. If you are a cheesecake fan, I think you will especially appreciate this Italian version.
It was nice to celebrate Ross, who holds a very special place in my heart as my loving, older brother. As the eldest of the four siblings, he has sort of morphed into the patriarch of the family despite only being a couple years older than me and my other two brothers. Like many oldest siblings, he naturally carries that authoritative, leader kind of character which makes him a perfect and protective big brother. It is also what contributes to him being one of the best pastors and teachers I’ve ever met. Ross also goes by Pastor Ross as senior pastor of Calvary The Rock in Santa Rosa California. His sermons can be accessed online if you ever feel like a refreshing and relevant (for today) look at the bible.
The celebration included family members and close friends from his church who have grown to love Ross as a person, and a pastor. A few people talked about how he has positively impacted their lives, including heart-warming words from his daughter Jordan, who recently discovered in her twenties that she has a rare disease called Kabuki Syndrome. Jordan has had lifelong physical struggles including issues with speech, hearing, muscles and joints – and was relieved to learn there was a reason with this diagnosis. She’s been sharing her discovery, struggles, and even blessings of the disease in her Kabuki Unfiltered blog. The girl who struggled with social anxiety, hearing and speech is now becoming a spokesperson for families with Kabuki kids, sharing publicly and even speaking at conferences. Isn’t God amazing?
I can write a book about the love I have for my brother Ross, and my other brothers Darien and Judd, but I’ll share one memory of Ross that goes back 34 years when I was struggling as a single teenage mother. I was living alone, trying to navigate my way around both becoming an adult and being a mother – not an easy feat to accomplish at the same time. Although Ross was only 20 at the time, he had the wisdom and nurturing to assign himself as my “secret pal” who regularly sent me cards with words of encouragement that sometimes included hand-written scripture quotes. I recall one day being completely broke, only to find $20 tucked in a card in my mailbox; just enough to buy a couple bags of groceries. After some time I learned my secret pal was my very own brother, which confirmed in my heart that he would always play the role of protective brother to me throughout my life. And that is true to this day.
Two nights ago, he stopped what he was doing a pastor’s conference to take the time to talk me through a very difficult thing I’m currently going through. I thank God for him and can only hope that everyone can find a Ross in their life.
About the Ricotta Cheesecake? It’s the easiest cheese cake you’ll ever make – and people will love it!
- 32 ounces ricotta cheese, drained
- 1 orange (for 2 teaspoons orange zest/grated rind)
- ⅓ cup flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 18 graham crackers (2 packets from a 14 ounce box)
- 1 stick (or 4 ounces) butter
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (for dusting)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Generously grease a 10-inch springform pan with butter.
- For graham cracker crust, crush graham crackers in food processor until consistency of bread crumbs; stir with melted butter until mixture holds shape when squeezed. If needed, add a little more melted butter.
- Firmly press graham cracker “crust” into bottom and along bottom sides of spring form pan; set aside.
- Sift together flour and sugar in small mixing bowl.
- In medium bowl, stir together ricotta cheese and orange zest. Slowly fold in flour mixture with spatula until well blended and smooth.
- Add eggs, one at a time, continuing to blend with spatula. Stir in vanilla extract.
- Pour batter into spring form pan and gently smooth top with spatula.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes at 350 until cake is firm all the way to top center. Cool completely and refrigerate for 2-3 hours to set.
- Dust top of cake with powdered sugar.