When you have a hard time recalling what summer feels like, from the warmth of sun on bare toes to a lazy wind ruffling your hair, food will take you there. It’s the sizzle of your neighbor’s grill as he attempts teriyaki satay for the first time, or fried chicken and icebox pie on the Fourth of July. For me, it’s sunflower cheesecakes.
That sweltering July day defied normal summer temperatures in Georgia, and dared to make a mockery of delicate desserts like chocolate and cheesecake. However, I carefully packed an ice-cold combination of the two alongside my cargo of camera gear, preparing for a Sunday 2 p.m. sizzle at Coolray Field.
Working for the Gwinnett Braves, the triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, had already given me nearly three months of baseball-shooting experience, an enviable tan (excluding my white, white feet, always shoved in a pair of dust-coated sneakers) and a family of co-workers that I adored.
A week before, I had hosted the annual summer party at my house. Every year, we invite some of my closest friends over for a food extravaganza. Three days of cooking lead up to the finale on Saturday, when my friends come over and we make gluttons out of ourselves over trays and trays of savory and sweet concoctions.
My mom and I always make too much of everything, even enough to outlast all of the bags of leftovers my friends take home to share with their families.
When we whipped up too many miniature sunflower cheesecakes, we stuck the excess in the freezer. That July day, though, the little cakes were coming with me. Not only did they look cheerful, with their almond-sliver-and-chocolate-drop tops, but they tasted pretty darn good too.
Once I arrived, I strapped on my camera gear like a sports-shooting warrior and began tracking down all of the members within my “Coolray family.” I suppose the parchment-lined Tupperware looked a little out-of-place, but I was used to sweating all of my make-up off in front of these people on a daily basis.
I stopped by to see Lacie, Doug and John, ushers at the premium level seats. They had all been so kind to me from day one on the job, not to mention the countless conversations in between innings and before games.
Eventually I made my way up to the control room, delivering cheer to the video and production team. It was an unexpected delight for each of them, and soon, all of the cheesecakes had been given away.
I settled into my first inning spot, as protected from the sun as possible at 2 p.m., one camera hanging off my right shoulder and another perched on a monopod, aimed at our starting pitcher.
Heat overwhelmed me, until the little things began to appear: a cup of ice water, a wet towel, a recommendation of where to get a nice angle and escape the sun. My friends were returning the favor. Talking and laughing with them, my eye to the viewfinder, I almost forgot about the hottest day of the year.
My next trip back to the stadium, I brought a few copies of the recipe to share.
So if you’re craving a taste of summer and a little bit of sunshine, these sunflower cheesecakes are sure to make you smile. You don’t have to wait for warm weather, seasonal ingredients or even for the sunflowers to bloom.
24 vanilla wafers
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with muffin cups. Place one vanilla wafer in the bottom of each cup.
In a large mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into each cup.
Bake 15 minutes, or just until set but not browned. Cool in pans on wire racks.
In small bowl, place chocolate chips and butter and microwave on high 30 seconds to 1 minute or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred.
Drop teaspoonfuls of chocolate mixture onto the center of each cheesecake, letting white show around edge. Place almond slices around chocolate mixture to resemble petals. cover, and refrigerate.