Summer strawberries are the perfect way to brighten up a simple cheesecake. This Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake is vegan, gluten- and grain-free, requires no baking, and satisfies alllllll the sweet tooth cravings. Get it before the summer is over!
I have a gym buddy! (I’m not sure how down he is to have his name on the blog, so I’ll keep that to myself.)
We don’t actually go to the gym together, but several handfuls of times over the last three years, we’ve been side by side on the stationary bikes, silently and sweat-fully cheering each other on. He works his butt off, and he’ll say the same thing about me. That’s kind of how we bonded - we both noticed each other’s dedication and drive at the gym. We’re there by 6:30 AM and pushing ourselves as soon as we get through our warm-ups.
Since my freshman year - when I’d call my parents on the phone, crying about how lonely I was feeling - my mom has been telling me to make friends at the gym because that’s, like, my place. Yeah of course I get out to places other than the gym. I go to the grocery store, too! But, really. I’m at the gym most mornings because it reflects my values and movement is one of the daily activities that keeps me smiling on the good days and the not-so-good days.
However, despite Mom’s well-intentioned suggestion to make friends at the gym, I never did throughout college. And I was okay with that because I personally don’t like when my workout is interrupted. It’s a rule I have. Boys, please don’t hit on girls when they’re sweaty and in the middle of an interval workout. Don’t break my rule. Maybe some girls like that, but most of the ones I know do not. I always just leave people be at the gym. Headphones are an indication to me of “leave me alone, please and thank you”.
My gym buddy broke that rule and at first, yeah, I was like “Umm hello, sir. What can I do for you.” But I could see the kindness in his eyes and I could see something else, too. Even in just that first interaction we shared, I could see that he could see me. At that time, three years ago, I didn’t know that I’d hold that so close to my heart right now, three years later when I’ve spent so much time and effort digging through so many thoughts, emotions, and experiences to remember who I am.
He acknowledged and praised my hard work. I knew it wasn’t just based on the amount of sweat dripping from my body, and not just based on the fact that it was 7 AM. I knew it was because he has the same dedication and drive. He holds the same value in this place, this movement, this act of self-care. That was the first of many quick early-morning gym conversations we’d have over the next three years. My gym buddy is the only person I’ll remove a headphone for, slow down on the bike or pause an interval mid-workout for. I remember calling Mom one day and saying, “Mom! I made a friend at the gym! Finally!” She was, of course, a bit skeptical that it was an older male, but I assured her it’s nothing to worry about.
This year, we started getting to know each other beyond our morning workout routine. We’d meet in coffee shops and chat nutrition, school, family, friends, etc. He’s older than me, so he’s experienced a lot of the life I’m experiencing right now. Still to this day, I’ll help him with some nutrition things and he’ll offer, in return, his best life advice. We cherish that.
One morning, a few weeks ago, we ran into each other at the gym and he asked how I was doing. I had to be honest, but I didn’t want to spill all the life beans and start crying on the stairmaster at 7 AM, so I gave him a short and sweet rundown - “my grandpa passed, my boyfriend broke up with me, and… yeah I’m just having a rough time.” He gave me his most sincere condolences for my grandpa’s passing, and as for the boyfriend… he looked me straight in the eye. I’ve never believed someone other than myself so much when they’ve say “You deserve better. You have it all. You deserve someone who will see that, pursue that, and cherish that every single day.”
To hear him say that meant so much to me because, for a reason I can’t describe, I know he sees me - the me I am every single day, the me that only a few others see, and the me I aspire to be. I believe him with my whole heart.
Dear gym buddy (you know who you are, if you’re reading this), thank you from the bottom, top, middle, inside and outside of my heart. Our friendship is one of a kind, and so are you.
Disclaimer: boys, this story does not justify approaching a hard-working, sweaty girl at the gym. If you’re bold enough to do so, you do you, but I advise you to be careful. My gym buddy is the exception, not the rule.
Makes 1 8-inch cheesecake, 6 slices
For the strawberry jam:
2 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries
1/2 cup coconut sugar
juice from 1/4 lemon
2 tbsp. flaxseed meal
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates
2 tbsp. tahini (or other nut butter)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups cashews, soaked in boiling water for at least one hour
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
Prepare the jam. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the strawberries, coconut sugar, and lemon juice. Use a potato masher or a fork (potato masher is easier) to gently mash the strawberries until only a few small chunks remain. The strawberries will release their juices - let this come to a rolling boil, then reduce heat until it reaches a simmer. Let it simmer for 7-8 minutes. Stir in the flaxseed meal and simmer for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a heat-safe airtight container (without the lid) and allow the jam to cool completely.
Prepare the crust. In a high-powered blender or food processor, combine the walnuts, chopped dates, tahini, and sea salt. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground with only a few larger chunks and a sticky dough forms. Press this into the 8” round pan - cover the bottom and about 1” up the sides of the pan. Use your hands and your best judgment to press the crust into a flat, even layer and to smooth out the rim of the crust. Refrigerate.
Prepare the filling. Rinse the blender well. In the blender, combine the soaked, drained, and rinsed cashews, almond milk, maple syrup, lemon juice, and ground ginger and blend on high until smooth. Be patient - this process can take several minutes, but you want the filling to be as smooth and creamy as possible. Pour the filling over the crust and use the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to smooth the top.
Next, drop tablespoons of the jam onto the cheesecake and use a toothpick to pull swirls from the jam around the cheesecake. It will not do so easily if there are larger strawberry chunks in the jam, but I promise it will still taste delicious and look pretty in the end! Store the leftover strawberry jam in the fridge to use for other purposes.
Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 4-5 hours until firm. Cut into 6-8 slices and serve immediately. The longer it sits outside of the freezer, the softer it will become - keep that in mind. It stays in the freezer for 2-3 months.