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Will's Beefy Birthday Dinner

Will wanted stuffed tenderloin for his birthday dinner and I was happy to oblige. Stuffed tenderloin is easy to put together, can be made ahead of time and is out of this world delicious. It's more of an idea than a recipe— it changes based on what I have on hand and what sounds good. This birthday version had sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, gorgonzola, spinach and a sherry glaze. I butterflied the tenderloin, stuffed it, tied it and liberally seasoned it with my herb salt and pepper. Roast it in a 300 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees. Let it rest for about 10 to 15 minutes, untie the beefy bundle and slice away.

Will and I discussed his birthday cake choice, my borderline baking skills and the fact he wanted something with apples. I remembered an apple cheesecake I used to make years ago and I had just re-purchased the cookbook that had the recipe (Just A Matter Of Thyme by Roxie Kelley). It was the perfect birthday cake for Will— a little crunchy and a little sweet.

Where should I start my Will story? From the beginning when he was a blond-haired, smiling boy who loved Thomas the Tank Engine and Legos? When riding the trolley at Lake Harriet was the highlight of his summer? When he crowned himself Nana's favorite because he had colic? When he assumed the Dougherty dog wrangler role and became George's best pal? Will is a bright, inquisitive, tender-hearted and wry young man.

It was one of my greatest gifts when he discovered his love of photography— the time we spend on photo safaris, discussing technique or having Will patiently explain white balance or spot metering (again) are some of my most treasured moments with him. I love that he still takes the dogs out with me, processes life with a mixture of wonder and skepticism, discusses esoteric topics like String Theory with confidence, reads the New Yorker and watches nearly every Discovery show ever made. Watching him grow into the man he will become gives me joy beyond measure.

Apple Strudel Cheese Pie (From Just a Matter of Thyme by Roxie Kelly)

Crust 2 cups graham cracker crumbs 1/2 cup melted butter 1/3 cup sugar

Pie 16 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 tsp vanilla 4 - 5 tart apples, peeled and sliced (toss apples in 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar)

Topping 5 tbsp brown sugar 2 tbsp flour 2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Prepare Crust Combine the graham crackers, butter and sugar and press into a 9 inch spring form pan. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

Prepare Topping Combine brown sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Prepare Pie Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Blend the cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Pour into the spring form pan. Top with the apple slices in a spiral pattern and then sprinkle with the topping. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes or until set. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.