Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life, Liquor, and Cheesecake

Over the years, my concept of death and the way in which I understand the life cycle have changed.  Four years ago today, I lost my best friend, Kurtis, to suicide.  In the four years since Kurt's death, I have lost several other friends and both my grandparents.  I don't want to say that each progressive loss has been easier, but I believe I became more mature in the way I handled each one.  I am coming to terms with the fact the death, even in it's most surprising and tragic forms, is part of life.

I don't really connect with how Western society deals with death anymore.  I don't believe in Heaven, and I don't really believe in putting people in metal boxes in the ground to preserve their bodies forever.
Crying in bed and consuming nothing but black coffee for days does not bring anyone back, nor does it make us feel better.  (If this your personal way of mourning, I am not knocking it, because I definitely gave it ago four years ago.  Please continue to mourn in whichever way you see fit.)  For me, personally, however, I don't want to cry as much anymore.  Spending my time commiserating over "what ifs" and "should haves" is doing a disservice to those that are no longer here.  We are fortunate enough to still be here, and so we should spend it out living.

Each year, I bake something (usually cheesecake, since Kurt was a cheesecake master) for this anniversary, and each year, the symbolism of my doing so changes.  At first, it was a way for me to stay at home and cry and cope.  The next year, it was a way for me to honor his memory.  Last year, I used it as a reminder to be grateful for the friends that still surround me.  And today, I made a cheesecake to celebrate life in general.  I am celebrating Kurt's life, my life, your life, and the life of my Hawaiian volcano plant, Viv, that is sitting on the counter next to me.  Life, as hard as it is, is still beautiful, and sometimes it takes death, or the memory of one, to remind us of that.

Over break, my housemate, Greer, had a birthday while she was in Georgia babysitting coaching a teenage crew team.  I decided to bake this celebration of life cheesecake in honor of Kurt and in honor of Greer's birthday.  Because really, what better way is there to celebrate life than with a birthday?  May I present to you the very lively:

Honey Whiskey Cheesecake
Recipe VERY adapted from the new baking book
Yield: 1 large cheesecake (16 servings)

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Crust Directions:
Whisk together dry ingredients, then stir in melted butter.  Press ingredients into the bottom of a springform pan.  I used my favorite 10"glass-bottomed springform.  Set aside to make filling.

Filling Directions:
Filling Ingredients:
2 8oz packages full-fat cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 8oz package reduced-fat cream cheese (at room temperature)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup + 1 Tbs honey
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
slightly less than 1/2 cup whole milk
3 Tbs good-quality honey whiskey

Beat the cream cheese on high until smooth and fluffy
Add in the sugar, honey, flour, and vanilla and beat just until incorporated 
Beat in eggs, milk, and whiskey all at once just until smooth.  DO NOT OVERBEAT.
Gently pour filling over crust.
Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes (less time for a smaller pan).  I used a 1/2" water bath, but I think the water seeped into the bottom of the springform, because it looks rather soggy.

See? dark and mushy...
I would recommend creating a seal with aluminum foil around the bottom the pan to prevent water leaking into the cheesecake.  I guess it's the trade-off we make for having a crack-less top...

Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, then loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan, but do not remove the pan.
After 30 minutes, release the sides of the pan, and allow to cool for another hour.
Cool at least 4 hours in refrigerator before serving.  Immediately before serving, pour a drizzle of extra whiskey over the cheesecake.

Happy Birthday, Greer!  And Kurt, wherever you are, (I am still not sure I have that figured out just yet), please know that you are missed.

Love, happy memories, and cookies,

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