Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cheesecake and Mental Health

The first time I ate her piña colada cheesecake was to mark a very special occassion. I had just found out I was pregnant with my first baby. And my dear friend baked the celebratory cake.

I retrieved that recipe today, with a heavy heart after learning that my friend recently passed. She had just turned 43.

Ever since our university days, my friend struggled with depression. Waves of unconsolable despair often came crashing down. When the waves hit, I figured she just needed time to get out her funk. I didn't know anything about mental health. I didn't know that she needed much more than a sympathetic ear. How my ignorance failed her.

I have worked with highly functioning professionals who are living with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. They are journalists, lawyers, executives, athletes, television personalities, health care professionals, going about their day-to-day routines with an invisible disability. Fortunately for them, they have the help and treatment to allow them to live full and fulfilling lives.

Experts tell us that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in his or her lifetime. If that statistic bears out, someone in my family -- myself, my spouse, or one of our three children -- will need help. I need to make sure that I know the warning signs and know where to find help.

Mental health is a cornerstone of well-being and happiness. And we all deserve to be happy. I hope my friend has found her happiness.

Piña Colada Cheesecake
Serves 10 - 12
1 cup graham wafer crumbs
1 cup flakes, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup melted butter

1 can (14 oz) crushed pineapple 
1/4 cup rum (optional)
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 package cream cheese, at room temperature

Combine the crust ingredients.
Press half into a springform pan. Reserve the remainder for topping.

Drain pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup of juice.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine pineapple juice with rum.
Sprinkle gelatin and whisk until dissolved.
Remove from heat and set aside.

In another large saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, 3/4 cup of sugar, salt and coconut milk.
Cook over low heat until slightly thickened. Do NOT boil.
Stir in gelatin mixture. Beat in cream cheese. Add reserve pineapple.
Chill until thickened, stirring once or twice.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
Gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold into cream cheese mixture and pour into pan.
Sprinkle reserved crumbs on top.
Chill for 4 hours.
Garnish with pineapple chunks.  


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