In between editing these photos the last few hours, I have been listening to Django Reinhardt on repeat, made my second cup of coffee for the day, and impulsively signed myself up for the Portland Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon less than two weeks away. Caffeinated or not, I am literally jazzed.
Spontaneity is something that I’ve become better at over time. To me, it’s like a tightly wound muscle I have to consciously remind myself to relax. I’m such a type A planner–I love scheduling events well ahead of time and knowing exactly what to expect (or at least close to it). Years ago when I identified that this anxiously tight OCD personality trait of mine was one I wanted to abolish, I realized that the solution was to go with the flow more, getting out and doing more things that I didn’t have planned on my calendar. At first it was a little scary, the lack of structure, the lack of control. Of course there are still the days where I have absolutely nothing planned and I freak out a little inside, worried that I’m lacking productivity in my life and that I won’t accomplish anything “worthwhile”. But in those moments, I have to work with myself and talk to myself as I would a good friend, or to my younger child-self. Those lack of structure days to relax are what I need the most after a whirlwind week, to really listen to myself and what I need. To do whatever I feel like, whatever feels good. I’m learning to lean into that.
That being said, the moments where I decide to go for something I hadn’t planned out weeks, months or years in advance, are frequently the moments where I feel that rush of endorphins, almost like doing something dangerous, but in a good way. When you go with your gut and say hell with it, I’m just gonna go for it. It’s strange but literally quite thrilling. Yes, signing up for a race less than 2 weeks ahead of time is still technically “planning” but to most runners that have a mapped out training schedule well in advance and signed up months ago, I’d say that’s pretty spur of the moment. And I’m so excited.
I’ve always been a consistent runner–this will be my fourth half marathon in 5 years. I love running more than any other form of exercise. It keeps my sanity in check and I wouldn’t be a very nice or happy person if I didn’t have two strong legs that enable me to run far and hard. Just having gratitude toward the fact that not only can my heart keep up with how far and hard I run, but that I actually have two healthy legs is motivating enough to get me out the door on those more “challenging” days. I just completed 11.3 miles trail running over the weekend in less than 2 hours so I feel fairly confident I’ll be good to go for this. I thought to myself over the weekend that I wanted to sign up for this race next year, but I just so happened to check their site this morning and registration was still open! Yippee! The course is way more interesting than the Portland Half Marathon I completed last October, plus there will be more aid stations and music. Runners will actually run through Portland, not just pounding the pavement up and down a parkway. I’ve got some new sneakers (these are seriously the best and they’re not ugly), a positive outlook and a happy heart. Sometimes that’s really all you need.
But let’s talk cheesecake, shall we? It’s no secret I want to infuse practically everything I can get my hands on with lavender. With lemons being in season, everyone loving lemon in cheesecake, and the fact that lavender and lemon are a wonderful marriage of flavors, I decided to test this out. My initial visualization of what I wanted included a swirled lemon curd topping and I didn’t have to look very hard after finding this recipe pretty quickly (just read the reviews!). Tried-and-true, with a few subbed ingredients and infusing in the lavender, it’s everything I hoped for. I used honeyed Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, finely processed the lavender in a coffee grinder, and used neufchâtel cream cheese instead of regular. I’m totally in love with it.
Before I embarked on my cheesecake expedition (it really was an all day process, since you have to allow time for cooling), I researched some cheesecake troubleshooting tips because cheesecake can be finicky. This article on Food52 was the best one I found and recently published. I followed the advice in combination with the steps of the original recipe and it turned out wonderfully: bake on low heat, not over-beating the batter, re-greasing the sides of the crust after baking, taking it out of the oven while the center was still a bit wiggly, and let it cool at least 2 hours before chilling in the fridge for another 4. The middle came out a bit more creamy than I expected, so next time I’d bake it for an extra 5 minutes or so. Somewhere between 45-50 minutes is the sweet spot, depending on your oven.
Top this with some fresh whipped cream and blueberries and you’ve got a perfect Spring time dessert.
And may you have a prosperous, spontaneity-filled season.
To make ground lavender, place dried lavender buds in a (clean) coffee grinding, pulsing for about 20-30 seconds until it's processed into a fine powder. Sometimes dried lavender can be a pain to hunt down in stores, so I just make it easy and use Amazon as my go-to. You can purchase dried lavender here.
You will also need an 8" or 9" springform pan.
- For Lemon Curd:
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (about 1 medium lemon)
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 3 medium lemons)
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- ½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- For Graham Cracker Crust:
- 1⅓ cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs (5 oz)
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- For Filling:
- 3 (8-ounce) packages neufchâtel (reduced fat) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1½ Tablespoons dried lavender buds, finely ground in coffee grinder to make powder
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- ¾ cup full-fat honey Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For Lemon Curd: In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and eggs. Add butter and cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently until curd is thick enough to "hold marks" of the whisk, and first bubbles appear on surface, about 6-7 minutes.
- Pour lemon curd through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer into a wide shallow dish until just the remaining bits of zest are left in the sieve. Cover surface with wax paper and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
- For Graham Cracker Crust: Position oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare your springform pan by coating in cooking spray, lining with parchment paper fit to the circle of the pan, and coat again with spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, stir the ground graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter together, then press into bottom and 1 inch up side of springform pan. Place springform pan in a shallow baking pan (ie. a square brownie pan slightly larger than the springform pan) and bake 10 minutes. Cool crust completely on a rack while you prepare the filling. Re-grease the top half of the cheesecake pan above the edge of crust before you add the filling.
- For Filling: Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
- In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add ground lavender. Reduce speed to low, adding eggs 1 at a time, beating until just incorporated. Beat in Greek yogurt and vanilla until just combined (don't over mix).
- Pour two thirds of cream cheese filling into crust, then spoon half of lemon curd over filling, gently swirling curd into filling with a small butter knife (avoid touching crust with knife to prevent crumbs lifting into filling). Repeat with remaining filling and curd.
- Bake cheesecake until filling is set 1½ inches from edge but center trembles when pan is gently shaken, 45 to 50 minutes. The center will eventually set as it cools.
- Transfer springform pan to cooling rack and immediately run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen. Cool completely, 2 hours, then chill uncovered, at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove side of springform pan before serving.
Crust (without the filling) can be made 1 day ahead, covered at room temperature.
Cheesecake can be chilled, loosely covered, up to 3 days.