Happy Birthday to Me: Sugar-Free Chocolate Cherry Berry Cake (gluten free, vegan, ACD)

Happy birthday to me!  Yesterday I turned 28 years old. Wow.  28.

I took the day off work and had a wonderful birthday.  My parents came to town, and we had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. I took them to my garden and I tilled between my young peas and arugula; I dug my hands in the Earth and felt the cool, damp soil under my palms. Later on, we walked through a local city garden, relishing in the beauty of an unusually early spring bloom. Our warmer than usual April temperatures have made everything burst, and Minneapolis is filled with the sweet scent of flowers, the sidewalks sprinkled with a confetti of fallen blooms.  Walking through the gardens today, I had a revelation. I've been wrong about myself all these years - I always thought I was a Fall person, but that is decidedly not true. I am a Spring person; it makes me feel alive, excited, renewed.  I see hope and promise in Spring that is unlike any other time of year.

Today I felt Spring's renewing energy coursing through me. I feel a shift happening in my life right now, and it is so exciting. For the first time in almost three years I feel confident in saying that I am truly feeling better.  My Lyme treatment is going really well and I am noticing a marked decrease in many of my symptoms. Some things that used to trouble me on a daily basis are now less frequent, and some things have almost entirely diminished. It is like a miracle. 

Writing that feels like shedding a heavy cloak; it is so liberating.  I am allowing space in my mind for healing and resisting patterns of identifying as "sick"; I am getting better with each day.  Sure, I still have bad days and lots of symptoms that are irritating and troublesome, but so much is better.  I feel a shift happening in my body that I can't quite explain in words.  Getting to this point has been hard. I've had to delay plans for my future, I've had to forgo things I love, and I've felt a lot of loss, loneliness, sadness, and pain.  But you know what? It's been worth it.  

I have learned that in life we have two choices: either give up when you come across challenges, or approach them with an open mind and a determined heart. I have chosen the latter, and it has proven to be more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.  Before I got sick, I felt stagnant and directionless; I didn't know where my life was going.  Today I feel driven, excited, and creative. I feel like I can take on anything that life throws at me. I have learned how to become more vulnerable, open, and honest with everyone I love.  I am thankful everyday for all I have, all I've learned, and all that I will see in years to come.  Most importantly, I believe in hope.  Hope is a great gift, the most important thing we have.  Without hope, what is there?  I know hope exists because I see it in the blooming of buds, the sprouting of seeds, the unfurling of young leaves. I see it in my eyes when I look in the mirror, but most importantly, I feel it deep in my chest. I warm my hands on it when I feel cold, and I let it light my way when it's dark. 

I started this blog in June of 2008, shortly after embarking on my massive lifestyle and dietary change.  It has been a valuable constant in two years of constant flux; it has been my rock, my refuge, my creative outlet.  The support and encouragement that all of you have offered me have brought a smile to my face on even the darkest, most lonely days.   I have found understanding and kinship that is worth more to me than I could possibly describe. Thank you.  Even if you don't comment, I know you are out there; I see your unique visitor count on my blog traffic reporting, so you can't hide from me.  :)

In celebration of my birthday, I decided to tackle something I've been dreaming over for ages: a chocolate layer cake.  It was a wild success. The cake is moist, dense, and rich, and is even better topped with sweet layers of cherry cashew crème frosting and fresh blackberries.  We all agreed that it was absolutely incredible; the texture was phenomenal, the flavor was amazing, and you really would never guess it was vegan and gluten-free.  I'm coming up on my gluten-free two year anniversary, and I've finally figured out how to make cake.  I served it with homemade coconut milk ice cream that I spiked with cherries, cacao nibs, chunks of chocolate fudge, and sweetened with stevia. It was absolutely decadent, but totally sinless.  It was the perfect end to a light dinner and a beautiful day, shared with my parents and close friends.  Then I met with more friends at a local German bar (they had beer, I had tea), where I shared in laughter, love, and got a baby orchid plant. I came home and ate a midnight snack of cake with another friend, and spent time perusing images from my day.   It was a perfect day. I am blessed.

Homemade cherry nut chip coconut milk ice cream and a slice of cake.

Dad wanted just a tiny sliver more; it gave me the chance to see how thinly I could slice it. Impressive.

Let's have a toast: here's to another year of health and happiness, for all of us. May we celebrate all the opportunity, beauty, and promise that each day has to offer, even in moments of struggle.  May we live honestly and openly. May we know ourselves fully and share all we can with those we love.  May we follow our hearts until the very last beat.  And most importantly, may we have our cake, and eat it too. 



Chocolate Cherry Berry Layer Cake


1 1/2 cups sorghum flour
3/4 cup teff flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
3/4 cup cocoa powder (or carob flour)
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (or guar gum)
1 3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups pitted fresh or frozen cherries
1 1/2-2 cups water
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 Tbsp gluten-free vanilla extract or alcohol free vanilla flavor
2 tsp stevia liquid (I used SweetLeaf brand) 

Cherry-Cashew Crème Frosting 

2 cups raw cashews, soaked 4-6 hours, drained, and rinsed
3/4 cup fresh water
1 1/2 cup pitted fresh or frozen cherries
1 Tbsp GF vanilla extract or alcohol-free vanilla flavor
1/4 tsp vitamin C crystals (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice)
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp stevia liquid (I used SweetLeaf brand)


1/2-3/4 cup fresh or frozen cherries, finely chopped
cacao nibs, chocolate chips, or chocolate shavings 


cacao nibs or dairy-free chocolate shavings or chocolate chips 
fresh cherries or blackberries 


Preheat oven to 375º F and prepare two round 8" cake pans by greasing and lining bottom with parchment.  Set pans aside.

Sift together flours then whisk together with remaining dry ingredients.  Set aside.  Place pitted cherries in blender with 1 cup water, pulse a few times, then blend, adding only enough additional water to bring up to 3 cups of cherry puree.  Add vinegar, vanilla, melted coconut oil, and stevia, and blend until well mixed.  Add to dry ingredients, mixing with a stand mixer or hand mixer until everything is smooth and well blended, scraping sides and bottom as necessary.  Batter will be thick.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans, smoothing surface with a rubber spatula, and place immediately in oven.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a rack to finish cooling.  Cool completely.  

While cake cools, place soaked and drained cashews in a blender or food processor with cherries and process until totally smooth and creamy, adding remaining ingredients with machine running, and stopping to scrape sides as necessary. Process until totally smooth and creamy.  Place in refrigerator until cake has cooled completely.  Finely chopped cherries for filling, and set aside, and prepare your cacao/chocolate chips/chocolate shavings. I used unsweetened chocolate and used a vegetable peeler to create little shavings - easy!

Once cake has cooled, even top of cake layer using a large bread knife or cake knife.  Place one layer on your serving tray, and place a large dollop of crème on top.  Spread evenly over the the surface of cake, then sprinkle with a layer of chopped cherries and cacao nibs. Place second layer of cake on top.  Spread sides and top with remaining frosting, then sprinkle on chocolate shavings/cacao nibs and arrange berries on top as desired. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before serving.