I have never made a cheesecake. And after this shoot, I can now say: I still have never made a cheesecake but I have seen one made. Seen it right through my camera lens. I first met Isabelle at the Blue Nile (RIP). She was the friendly bartender and I was the loner at the bar, staring at my planner, eating nachos and replying to emails. She would make me a white Russian and keep me company from time to time. Since then, through various social media, I’ve come to know Isabelle as a true lover of kitchen-time…and insects, and the wonderful little trinkets of this weathered-world that go overlooked by the masses. I knew she was a perfect candidate for October’s Celebrating Life shoot.
Last Saturday, Isabelle invited me over on a chilly fall morning to help….er watch her do some baking in her adorable apartment in the heart of Harrisonburg. When she greeted me at the door it’s as if she was holding the smells of fall mornings hostage. A warm, comfortable wave of baked pumpkin hugged my face and my cheeks rosied at the latch of the door lock behind me. What a great reflection of the soul a home is. I let myself get lost in her comforts before getting down to business. I mean, pumpkin cheesecake is surrrious business.
As Isabelle measured and tossed ingredients into the mixing bowl, she told me about the glass jar of vanilla on the table. Her sister makes homemade vanilla each year as gifts for the family. When they are finished with the jar, they return it to her to refill. She also shared that she got most of her ingredients locally at the Friendly City Food Co-op which is walking distance from her place. She described that she loves to give her adored knickknacks away to spread joy because they’re just things that she’ll find joy in replacing on her next round of thrift shopping. Some of her things hold sentimental value…like the artwork on her fridge. And her cat. When I asked about her home and her style inspiration she put it simply: “it’s all about color and comfort.” And I guess she nailed it…because it all visually worked and I was dang comfortable. Isabelle loves baking and sharing the sweet goods of her efforts with local friends. On the evening of this particular day, she would head off to the Shendandoah Mountain Bike Festival to volunteer her time shuttling bikers and sharing her homemade cookies at the cookie table (<—every event needs one of those!). She talked about her dreams of opening a local, French-inspired bakery. She spoke kindly of her family and her parents and her life. I have only one wish for my time with Isabelle that day…and that is that I could’ve stayed just a bit longer. She is a joy to be around and her loving, positive outlook on her life is refreshing. And yeah, the cheesecake was dank!
I hope you find some time today to enjoy a friendly face in your community, bake something that makes the smell of your home hug someone’s face, support a local business that bakes goods with love and purpose or, perhaps, indulge in a hefty slice of pumpkin cheesecake. Here’s a recipe that look a-friggin-mazing. And here’s one that doesn’t even require and oven (and it has lovely photos too). Happy National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day!
And be sure to check out more from my Celebrating Life series!