I know what you’re thinking. Cheesecake? On a Wellness Wednesday? Girl, you crazy. But I promise I’m going somewhere with this. As far as I’m concerned, cheesecake fits right into a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and here’s why.
When I started this blog, I decided that I wanted my personal brand to be focused on enhancing all forms of wellness. I think that, often times, people associate the term “wellness” with a green-smoothie-drinking, yoga-on-the-beach-doing, no-coffee-no-alcohol-no-fun lifestyle, but that’s definitely not what wellness means to me.
Now, buckle up, because I’m about to whisk(!) you away down story lane once again.
When I finally lost all the weight that I had gained two years ago, I felt physically better, but mentally, I felt stuck. My relationship with food had been flipped upside down, and I began viewing food as a thing to fear. I never starved myself. I never developed a DSM-IV eating disorder. But I did restrict myself, and that led to several months of heightened anxiety and unhappiness.
I counted calories religiously (a practice that I now consider an enormous waste of time and energy, but don’t necessarily regret—more thoughts on that later) and beat myself up when I went over my minuscule 1,200-calorie limit. I couldn’t even look at a cheeseburger or a doughnut without feeling drawn to it, and then feeling a jarring pang of guilt immediately afterward.
I developed a fear—a certain disdain, even—of all the foods that I blamed for my weight gain and unsteady body image. It stems from my long, rocky history with health anxiety. Because I have such an overwhelming fear of chronic illness or disease, it can be difficult for me to grapple with foods I view as “unhealthy,” for fear that they might adversely impact my health later in life. It feels as though I’ll immediately lose 2 years of progress if I eat a single french fry.
This is still a problem that I struggle with occasionally, especially when I find myself at restaurants. It’s notoriously difficult to find healthy, sustainable options at most American restaurants, so I usually end up taking one of two routes:
- I order the single “healthier” option that they have, which usually just means an iceberg salad with no fried things on it. Sometimes they even throw in quinoa, if they’re feeling generous. It almost always leaves me feeling unfulfilled.
- I decide that today is a day to ~treat yo’self~ and go big, ordering something wildly unhealthy. It’s usually fried and covered in ranch. It always—always—leaves me feeling unfulfilled and with a vague, lingering sense of self-loathing for days afterward.
This is a struggle that has followed me for years, and at times, it can make having a “normal” life seem impossible. And because we live in a society that bombards us with health claims, conflicting food-related headlines, and sugar-salt-fat bombs masquerading as healthier options, it’s a problem that a lot of my peers have, too. Health and nutrition are confusing topics, which is why I’ve made it my goal to help you find your balance and cultivate a healthy, fearless relationship with food.
Recipes like this one are my way of challenging myself and making peace with hearty, sweet, satisfying, not-that-healthy soul food. Because life is for celebrating, not for living in fear or punching calorie counts into an app. Even though I eat mostly whole, plant-based foods on a day-to-day basis, I still love baking, and that’s just a part of who I am. And yes, I do eat everything that I bake, but I usually eat one portion and the pass the rest on for family and friends to enjoy. So, let’s talk cheesecake, shall we?
This is my great-aunt Dorothy’s recipe, passed down to my grandma, my mom, and now to me. I’ve modified it a bit; Auntie’s recipe called for a simple graham cracker crust and no strawberry topping. I love her recipe, though, because of the sour cream topping. Anyone can make a cheesecake, but that zingy topping is what makes this cheesecake hers. It reminds me of my childhood every time I eat it, which is, I think, why I love it so much.
I hope you fall in love with this cheesecake too. It’s decadent, fresh, and perfect for summer celebrations. You could even try it with a regular graham cracker crust, too, but I highly recommend the Oreo crust. It was a challenge for me, but I’m happy to report that I tested a slice (for quality assurance, duh) and thoroughly enjoyed it. No negative self-talk, no regrets, no binging kale immediately afterward. I’m still learning how to live freely, but I’m getting there, and I hope that my stories can help you all get there, too. Have any of you struggled with your relationship with food? Let’s talk about it.
Classic Cheesecake with Oreo Crust & Strawberries
Prep Time: 20 minutes + >4 hours inactive | Cook Time: 40 minutes | Yield: one 8- or 9-inch cheesecake
- 1 cup Oreo crumbs, from 20–25 cookies
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1 tsp vanilla extract, divided
- 8 ounces sour cream
For the topping:
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp corn starch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp cold water
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 8- or 9-inch round cake pan with foil, grease lightly, and set aside.
- Stir together Oreo crumbs and melted butter, then pack into prepared cake pan, pushing some up around the edges. Set aside and prepare the filling.
- In a large bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream together eggs and cream cheese until smooth. Add in 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and beat well. The mixture should be creamy, with no lumps of cream cheese.
- Pour filling evenly over crust and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until top is set and just beginning to darken.
- While cheesecake is baking, prepare the sour cream topping. In a large bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together sour cream, 2 Tbsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract until smooth.
- Remove cheesecake from oven, spread sour cream topping evenly over top, and return to oven for 8 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool in pan for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Once cheesecake is refrigerated, prepare the strawberry topping. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and corn starch slurry. Cook over medium-low heat, mashing with the end of a wooden spoon or a potato masher, until strawberries have dissolved and the mixture is a thick, chunky liquid.
- Place strawberry mixture in a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl, and push through with a rubber spatula until all of the liquid has been extracted. Discard solids and allow strawberry sauce to cool to room temperature.
- Once strawberry sauce is cooled, pour over the fresh strawberry layer, slice cheesecake, and serve!
- I use a food processor for my Oreo crumbs, but if you don’t have one, you can put the cookies in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and smash them with something heavy, like a rolling pin or a cast-iron pan. This is also a good option if you have some anger you want to get out 🙂
- You may need to add more or less sugar to the strawberry sauce, depending on how sweet your strawberries are. Start out with 2 Tbsp, taste, and add more only if needed. I like mine to be a little less sweet to contrast with the in-your-face sweetness of the cheesecake.