I love baking and sharing desserts with friends, so if we were to enjoy these mini crustless pumpkin cheesecakes together, with some coffee, here are some of the topics we might discuss: books, podcasts, gratitude, and dogs (obviously). Of course, I prefer a conversation, so tell me your updates too.
I believe in salvaging old buildings, vintage pieces, rocky relationships and cake, maybe cake above all else. Three sad layers or ricotta cheesecake became a passable layer cake, and I set to smoke and mirrors trickery: dark chocolate drizzles, pomegranate arils, chocolate dipped citrus and even the pomegranate shell, which was too intricate and pretty to meet the compost bin just yet.
Most nights I harbor a little guilt for our dinnertime tv habit. I was raised at the dinner table. We conversed. We listened. We passed plates. Now, we pass judgment on the Underwoods while trying to understand Doug Stamper’s self-loathing.
Yet, as I balanced my dinner plate in one hand and pressed the projector power button with the other, a feeling of gratitude defeated the guilt. It was a time-pausing feeling, similar to déjà vu, but unlike déjà vu, this feeling of “been here before” was very identifiable.
Night after night, one of us carries out the plates or the wine glasses, and the other hits the power button. As I turned on the projector, our guilty habit filled me with comfort. This was our routine, our normal, our guilty habit (well, I may be alone in the guilt factor). Powering the projector made me realize just how intertwined we had become, how comforting normal can be. Some might cast self judgment and bemoan, “oh god, we’re getting so old,” but if age is what snaps us into the little moments worth appreciating, then let’s be old souls with a few routines!
Or, better yet, let’s have the chocolate snap us into the moment! Chocolate and cheesecake swirls take me back to elementary school, when my mom would ask me what I wanted to bring to school for my birthday. Year after year, my answer was the same- self-filled cupcakes!
Those swirls were my tradition, so when it came time to share an extra birthday treat back in January, the choice of what to make was an easy one!
Here’s to the comforts of repeated routines and recipes!
Self-Filled Mint Brownie Bars / Mint Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies
About this Recipe:I grew up calling the cupcake equivalent of this a “self-filled cupcake,” but the bar form adds a more grown-up feel and really showcases the swirls. Pure mint extract adds that coveted thin mint flavor, and sprouted spelt flour makes these a whole grain indulgence! They taste just like childhood only better for you!
My mother taught me to appreciate the beauty in the old, the stories in the vintage, and the potential in the castaway items. However, over time, I allowed too many of these stories and collections to gather around me rather indiscriminately. Clearing space, both physical and mental, took on a daily, Sisyphean feel.
In need of a compass, I turned to an expert. I began reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and immediately, I felt a shift in my thinking. Many magazines and well meaning folks will advise to divide one’s abundance into piles based on the last time an object came into use. If it was more than a year, pitch it. However Marie Kondo, the book’s author, poses this question, “Does this ______ bring me joy?” In the end, this pursuit of tidiness and clarity is really the pursuit of happiness.
If the sweater or the jeans or the book no longer brings (or never brought) joy, send it to a new life, but send it with gratitude. This last bit, the gratitude, has made all the difference in my process towards less. Thank you handmade shirt sewn by my mom. Thank you mom, for creating with your hands when I was an impressionable child, for showing me the value and joy of making something from scratch.
Perhaps this is why I gravitated toward baking. Cakes, pies, breads, all made with care and intention, are but temporal objects in our hands. Yet the gatherings, the vague memory of a flavor, the way a room smells when an oven is warm… we carry these memories and cherish the sentiments long after the plates have been cleared.
Here’s a recipe for sharing joy and gratitude deliciously, just in time for Thanksgiving!
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Oat Crust
About This Recipe: Oats, spices, ginger and dates combine to make a wholesomely sweet crust, and each layer of this cheesecake is laced with Wigle’s Landlocked Spiced. Made with local, buckwheat honey, Landlocked Spiced is the distillery’s interpretation of rum and a flavorful ode to Pennsylvania’s many apiaries. If you’re landlocked and can’t get a bottle, substitute your favorite spiced rum, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I did receive product in exchange for this post, but all opinions are my own! I love a brand that supports the honeybees!
This cake makes me think of the proper white fences, bright green grasses and rose crowns of the Kentucky Derby. Much like the horses fighting to be the fastest, my mind has been racing lately. My eyes have been bigger than my stomach when it comes to piling ambitions on my to-do lists and then I chide myself for falling short of my expectations. In reality, I find myself closer to certain goals than I have ever been, but it’s all too easy to miss the individual markers when sprinting in circles.
These are the times when adages will advise the overwhelmed, the anxious, the uninspired and the rushing masses to stop and smell the roses. However, recently I have found more relief in watching the creatures surrounding the roses- the bees.
The ceremony may have paled in comparison to the processions of real royalty, but watching The Urban Farmer release his Queen Bee felt momentous nonetheless. He had sequestered her from her subjects, allowing them time to accept her and her role. Cloaked in a mesh veil and long sleeves, The Urban Farmer opened the hives and released her from her special chamber. Her new kingdom accepted her, and all was well.
The worker bees feasted on sugar water and continued about their business, buzzing and crowding the door to their new home. Steadily, bees entered and exited the pencil-eraser-sized opening in the wooden box. Some ventured into the woods, while others returned, their legs fat and laden with yellow pollen. Sitting amongst a swarm of bees requires a certain stillness, but I found, they also inspire a certain stillness. Their buzzing patterns were mesmerizing and noticeably calming.
The Urban Farmer recently joked, “I didn’t become a farmer because I like people.” Whether farming, beekeeping, tapping maple trees or butchering a hog, these time honored traditions require just that- time and honor. We rushed and rushed to mechanize and streamline, but perhaps like energy, the rush can neither be created nor destroyed, simply transferred. After all our advancements, it seems all the rush went straight to our minds. While I’m not so deep in affectation as to shun all of our modern conveniences, I am grateful to have found this farmer who lends his peacefulness to my galloping thoughts. You can’t rush a bee, you can’t rush a seed, and you surely can’t rush a cheesecake. Nor should you rush eating it.
Roasted Carrot Cheesecake with Gluten Free Ginger Oat Crust
About This Recipe: Roasting enhances the natural sweetness of carrots, which inspired me to feature carrots in a dessert. Start with this Roasted Carrot Recipe, and then use a food processor to puree. The combination of spices yields a flavor very similar to a pumpkin cheesecake. Play with the spice combination if you want to emphasize the carrot flavor profile more.
Famed by fall and our interpretation of the first Thanksgiving (Native Americans most likely were not making relishes and chutneys in 1621), the cranberry holds an esteemed position in the realm of berries. Yet, for all its revered, bold, scarlet beauty, it’s not the easiest berry to eat. It’s tart. It has a strange texture. It’s not the type of berry you just pop into your mouth by the handfull, but sugared cranberries…sugared cranberries are magical! A quick plunge in a gently warmed mixture of sugar and water, and the cranberry transforms. It’s firm but not stalky like its original texture. It’s just the right mix of sweet, tart, firm and juicy. Like a sip of something strong, the cranberry’s little plunge takes the edge off.
As I marveled (truly marveled!) at the magic of this transforming process, I thought a lot about one of my best friends. Sandra is analytical, admirable, smart, sincere and the best sort of sassy. When I’m at my worst, she has the ability to empathize, to add reason and logic to my situation, helping me to sweeten the more sour moments of life. She knows my best and worst qualities and holds me accountable to my potential, never dwelling on my mistakes or faults. I wish we could share these heaps of sugared cranberries together (along with endless cups of tea and a bottle or two of wine), but for now, the phone unifies us.
If you’re lucky enough to share your city with your best friend, share this cheesecake as well. The written recipe may look a little daunting, but the end result is worth the multiple components. This cheesecake combines some of winter’s finest flavors- eggnog with hints of Wigle Whiskey’s Landlocked Spiced (made from local honey & similar to a rum). The sweet, juicy, sugared cranberries add just the right tart contrast to the rich, brownie crust, making for quite the layering of flavors in every bite!