Academics After the Academic Life & Low Sugar Cheesecake (Guest Author)


Guest Author Alicia Murphy

Outdoor Recreation Planner at Yellowstone National Park

So, Denzil asked me to write something for this blog months ago.  She did everything right.  She didn’t pressure me, but she gave me a deadline.  She suggested some topics she thought I’d be able to write about, but let it open for me to choose whatever I wanted to do.  This is a dream, right?  To be able to guest post on a smart, up-and-coming blog alongside some of my dearest friends and intellectual stimulants.  Amazing! And then…I couldn’t. My brain froze.  I started to get panicky when I even thought about writing.  I could write one smart sentence…and then completely fizzle out.  I couldn’t even think of the fun part—providing a recipe to do along with my post—and I’m a food-obsessed freak.  So, basically, the classic case of writer’s block hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and I crumbled under the pressure.

I think part of the reason I am still feeling muffled by those darn bricks, is that I’ve been out of academia for…3ish years now.  That means that instead of spending a large portion of my day thinking about abstract but fascinating topics (Do animals have agency?  Do I like/understand Foucault?  Do my hours of research in the archives add up to anything worth writing about?), I’ve been doing something that most people do: I’ve been working for The Man in an office job.  I’m a planner for the National Park Service, and my day is filled with committee meetings, calculating square footages, writing government policy, and sneaking looks at food blogs.  In other words, the majority of my waking life is pretty…mundane.  Oh, there are challenges, and I’m making positive changes for a place that I care about.  I dreamed of having a job here and what do you know—I have it!

But…and there’s always a but, isn’t there?  But…I think I’ve lost my nerve.  My academic nerve.  I’m intimidated by my company on this blog.  I’m scared I’ve “lost it.”  “It” being that magical spark lets you write something interesting, thought-provoking, even…sometimes…brilliant.

I’ve lost my nerve before.  When I was a teenager, I worked at several horse barns, riding and training high-spirited show horses.  Then I fell off one day.  And again a week later.  And then I fell off during a show for no apparent reason.  And then I really hurt myself going over a jump.  And I quit riding.  I missed being around horses so much, but that yearning came with an even bigger dose of fear.  Fear of pain and failure.  I’d lost my nerve and I didn’t get on a horse for more than a few minutes for almost twenty years.  Until this summer.

While I’ve been fretting about losing my academic nerve, I’ve been working on getting back my “seat” as we say in the horse world.  I have friends who have a ranch in the Montana mountains and plenty of horses for me to ride and I have slowly but surely, over the last few months, been getting my confidence back.  Yes, I did fall off the first time I rode.  But I got back on.  And now I get in the saddle with a smile and only a small twinge of fear.  Last weekend, I helped move cows up the mountain and then went on a long cross-country trail ride and I knew my horse wanted to buck, but damnit if I didn’t stay on and make that horse do what I wanted it to do—it was not going to lose me that easily.  My nerve is growing, baby!

So, this is my first effort at getting my academic nerve back.  I think this affliction is probably common among people in the Arts who then become worker bees.  We fly high on the joy of thinking and creativity and sharing daring ideas, and then we somehow leave it behind and wake up one day unable to write a single sentence without fear.  At least, I hope I’m not alone in this.  I know some people are really good about incorporating creativity with their everyday lives, but I’m not one of them.  But, if my summer in the saddle has taught me anything, it’s that you can get your nerve back given the right tools and opportunity.  So, I’m glad to have this opportunity—this three-year break is way better than twenty.

Last weekend, I jumped another hurdle, so to speak—I made a low-carb cheesecake.  I’d gotten it stuck in my mind that they’re impossibly difficult (and I’m a bit of a perfectionist) so even though I had a special spring-form pan, I was uncertain if it would turn out.  Luckily, I bit the bullet, and made this for my boyfriend’s birthday.  We loved it and I hope you do too, especially if you have to go easy on the sugar like we do.

Celebrating the Nerve Low-Sugar Cheesecake

Adapted from

2 tablespoons Splenda sugar subsitute
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs Note: I put a sleeve of crackers in a bowl and ground them with a mallet.  I’d advise using a blender or something, but my boyfriend’s kitchen is a bit…lacking.

1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cup Splenda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 cups sour cream


½ pound fruit of your choice, macerated

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375F.

  1. In a small bowl combine Splenda, butter, and graham cracker crumbs. Use a fork or your fingers to mix ingredients together and sprinkle evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and press the crumbs down lightly. Place into pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.
  2. In a medium bowl (or mixer bowl) put cream cheese, Splenda, and vanilla. Beat until it’s fluffy and free of lumps. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until they just combine, add sour cream and mix until smooth. At this point you can add in any other ingredients (ie. Nuts, chocolate chips, etc…)  Note: I just did this by hand and it worked, but I wish I’d had my mixer for this.  But see above note about the boyfriend’s kitchen.
  3. Pour the batter into the springform pan with the prepared crust, place in pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes. Refrigerate overnite before serving. Note: I am not that organized, so I let it cool on the counter for a bit and then refrigerated for a few hours and it was fine.
  4. For the topping, combine the fruit, sugar, and water in a small saucepan and let cook on medium heat until the sauce thickens, stirring often.  I could have tried this with Splenda, but I figured a small bit of sugar wouldn’t kill us.  I used cherries, which turned out really tasty.

Guest Author Alicia Murphy

Outdoor Recreation Planner at Yellowstone National Park

Eat Know Sing Organizing Voice. Academic. Everyday person. Fellow curious soul. PhD Candidate in History, University of British Columbia.

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