Impromptu Carob Raspberry Coconut Gluten Free Birthday Cake

I’m not celebrating anybody’s birthday this week. But sometimes it’s nice to remember a special occasion, or pretend there is one when there isn’t. It conjures up those feelings a special occasion brings, the ones that make us feel grateful for each other and for how we have made it through good times and bad.

Special occasions are often meticulously planned in advance, but my favorite ones are unlikely and spontaneous. I consider it a special occasion when the ocean, possessing the power of several thunderclaps with each set of waves that break, leaves a tiny translucent shell that fits on the tip of my finger in full and perfect form, amidst millions of others shattered to smithereens:

A special occasion happened just this morning on our walk when I looked across a driveway we were about to walk past and saw a blur of something dark brown gently waving a golden shield. Taking a few steps closer revealed it was actually a little ground squirrel intensely nibbling on a mushroom cap so big it covered his entire body.

"Squirrel Nibbling Mushroom," quick memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Squirrel Nibbling Mushroom,” quick memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Oh, how those little jaws worked! The dogs and I were quite close but it was so busy it only continued on eating its “giant potato chip” as we walked by. I laughed my way up the hill, thinking about how much fun it will be to tell my neighbor who warned me not to leave my mushroom finds outside overnight because the squirrels will come and snack on them that I serendipitously caught one in the act.

A special occasion is also when it’s almost midnight on my son’s 33rd birthday, but it isn’t midnight yet, and he’s driven out at the last minute (since my daughter-in-law had to be away) to celebrate the end of it with me, and he’s waited to eat until he arrived, and now, standing before a cake lighted with 3 candles, I  get to watch him carefully consider a wish in silence before blowing them out, and my heart gets so full it could burst.

My Mom always had a song for everything, and one of her favorites was “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake,” She loved to burst into this goofy song when she was happy to see us or she wanted to make us laugh about making a big deal out of something. I didn’t sing this song, but I did call him the morning of his birthday, following another of my Mom’s family traditions, belting out “Happy Birthday,” before saying hello. We had a nice talk, and I read him a poem from my first book about the day he was born. Later on, I just had a feeling, so I messaged him that if he felt like it after work, he was welcome to come out to the coast for some  flatbread pizza and cake. I knew I could throw together some  flatbread pizzas and put this cake in the oven in the two hours it would take him to get here if he decided to take me up on the open invitation. That dewy eyed moment watching his heartfelt private consideration of a wish came after he’d made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get through singing happy birthday while holding the cake. I’d asked him earlier, with comical eagerness,  if anyone had sung happy birthday to him at work, and he said (with his characteristic dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye) “Yes, Mom, every single person in the company called me on the phone and sang me happy birthday!” The thought of my eagerness to know if anyone else had sung to him and the ridiculous fantasy image of everyone doing exactly as I had done made me laugh so hard I couldn’t get through the song again, which he thought was so adorable, he filmed me nearly peeing my pants trying to get the song out and not drop the cake and set the kitchen on fire.

This cake is an adaptation of The Full Helping’s Vegan Dark Chocolate Pear Cake;  somewhere along the way, based on what I had on hand and other dietary requirements I follow. it became Vegan Carob Raspberry (or Huckleberry) (or Blueberry) Coconut Cake.

If you can eat chocolate in large amounts and you don’t mind using oil, I highly recommend the original recipe. But if, like me, you need to keep chocolate to an absolute minimum even on a special occasion, you shouldn’t eat gluten, you don’t have a pear, avocado oil or even a springform pan in the kitchen, you can still make a great tasting oil free cake, and create your own special occasion.

Vegan Carob Raspberry Coconut Cake


  • 1½ cups gluten free flour blend (I used 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour and 1/2 cup potato starch or tapioca starch)*
  • ½ cup carob powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (or even just a pinch)
  • just a sprinkle of ginger and a small sprinkle of clove—to add body to the carob powder
  • maple syrup, about ½ cup plus a tbs or 2—to taste– or 1/2 cup homemade date paste
  • ⅔ cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup of plain cashew yogurt. I have used Forager brand, which is very good and not sweet– or a mixture of ground golden flax and coconut milk to equal 1/3 cup
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • additionally, I put a sprinkle of vanilla extract in—all these little adds give depth to the carob
  • about ¼ cup of cooked Japanese sweet potato, which I mashed into the liquid ingredients
  • and about ¾ cup of frozen raspberries, defrosted for top in place of pears
  • I used about 2 tbs of Enjoy Life vegan chocolate chips and a sprinkling of dried coconut
  • about two tbs of coconut
  • optional: a sprinkle of coconut sugar (I’ve forgotten it many times and it’s fine without it)



  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and rub a pie plate with a little peanut butter.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, carob powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and other spices.
  3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the syrup or date paste, water, yogurt or flax meal and coconut milk mixture, and vinegar. Add in the mashed Japanese sweet potato to the wet ingredients, then add that mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk or mix to combine thoroughly.  You should have a fudgey, spreadable batter. Pour/spread the batter into the pie plate. Top with the frozen berries,  coconut and chocolate chips
  4. Transfer the cake to the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is rounded and set. Remove it from the oven. Allow it to cool for at least an hour before serving.


*You can use the same amount of a trusted GF, all purpose flour blend. If you’re mixing your own, remember the rule of thumb is 2 parts gluten free flours and one part starch (potato, tapioca, arrowroot).

To make date paste, simply pit dates and let them sit in the required water for about 15 minutes, then process water and dates in the food processor. This might mean you need to add a little more liquid to the batter if it ends up too thick. Orange juice is also nice in place of the water or for part of it.

The reason I did not use carob chips: they are made with palm oil, and alas, that is an oil Dr. Swank has written is bad for those of us with MS. Plus it’s not often sustainably produced. And I had the Enjoy Life chips in the freezer from some cookies I made last summer. The ingredients in them are all okay for me, so a little chocolate in that form is not devastating. And plus it was just expedient. I’m sure you could make an all chocolate version of this with cocoa powder, but I wanted to be able to eat the cake comfortably and too much chocolate gives me restless legs at night.

You may have noticed the instructions for making this cake are a bit improvisational. It’s about getting it sweet enough without sugar if you opt not to use the maple syrup (the dates and Japanese sweet potato help with that) and rich enough without oil. Play around. If you don’t have raspberries, blueberries or huckleberries work well, and cinnamon goes well with them–or pears, as in the original recipe.

You may also notice if you look closely that there are a few huckleberries in with the raspberries on top of the cake in the recipe photo. They grow on my patio and I couldn’t resist. You may also notice that there’s no picture of the whole cake.  That’s because we’d eaten a third of it before I thought to take one, but on the bright side you can see the dense texture of the cake.

A long long time ago one morning in April when I was ten years old, I tried wishing Christmas into our living room. I crept slowly down the hall, willing with all my might to see a tree lit up and decorated with tinsel and ornaments, presents underneath. But when I got there, my vision had not materialized. In the 52 years since that disappointing morning, I’ve learned that making an ordinary day a special occasion doesn’t have to be so impossible. I’ve come to think of the process of baking itself as special. I call it the cake making zone–a place in which I take just enough time to immerse myself in the alchemy of creating a treat. Even if you don’t have a birthday coming up or it isn’t Christmas, you can still make an occasion of trying this adaptable, forgiving cake.  Maybe light some candles on it when you’re all done, just because, or invite a friend over to share it–and make a heartfelt wish.

Maria (moonwatcher)



Turning the Tide

by Maria Theresa Maggi on October 18, 2018

“Late Afternoon Almost Monotone Tide,” charcoal pencil and conte crayon life sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

I am working on a blog post about a gluten free cake recipe I want to share with you, but this is not that post. This is something else, again, like the last post, about my human experience I was given to know suddenly, and which I feel compelled to share here. For any of my readers who don’t share my political or ethical views and so would rather wait for the cake recipe, this is your provisional advisory.

I provide this advisory because when I put my last post, “On The Verge,” up on my blog’s Facebook page, I got the first hateful comment I’ve received in 6 years. Apparently the poor man thought he was on a group page for plant-based eaters, and excoriated me to drop the “moronic leftist hate” and get back on topic. I had to smile at his confusion; I even can relate to it, since I can easily get turned around on the internet, especially when it comes to logging in. So I replied to him that this wasn’t actually a group, it was my blog’s Facebook page, and that I had created my blog to express my opinion on many things. I also wrote that I did not hate him, or anybody else, and he was certainly allowed to disagree with me respectfully or go elsewhere if the content did not suit him.

His reply still sometimes makes me burst into laughter, the good kind, when I know I’m in my truth and am gifted a lightness of heart to see the funny side of things. He said, “OK. Fair enough. But you’re still a leftist moron. And I will gladly excise you from my online transactions.” I smile ear to ear as I retype this, since I may be many things (absent-minded, full of new age fluff at times, stubborn, even judgmental) but one thing I am definitely not is a moron. I know this term gets bandied around on both sides of the divide all the time, but the literal inaccuracy of it in my case just made me laugh out loud off and on for an entire day. And I admit I also felt just a little wistful that this guy could not stick around. I am fascinated by someone who can use the word “excise” with such precision, but can’t see past their erroneous use of the word “moron.” I have to like him just a little for how well he used that first one, and I wish him the best. I left the whole exchange up on my blog’s Facebook page so folks can see how I handle that kind of thing.

And so, here I go, expressing something I consider a profound experience, however “woo” or “out there” or politically unpopular with some it might be. It’s a story about how our humanity connects us through the most unimaginable sorrow and evil.

I follow a broadcast called “Resistance Live” produced by Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, founder of The Gaia Project for Women’s Leadershipm which you can find on Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, or Patreon. This morning she ended her broadcast with a commentary on an energy shift she and others who “feel the ‘woo’,” as she put it, having sensed an energy shift toward lightness in the last 24 hours. (For those of you who have never heard the expression “woo” it refers to those of us more intuitively inclined, who get feelings or follow practices that don’t seem to add up in a strictly rational worldview. I first came upon that term in my time close to environmental activists in Moscow, Idaho, and it is often used with humor and affection, as it was here, as far as I can tell anyway. We “woo” folks and snowflakes are pretty prone to laughing at ourselves so what the heck.) As she was speculating about what this might mean without locking anything in and keeping the faith that those feelings are to be honored, I realized I had had quite a few of those moments myself in the last 24 hours. But two of them really stuck out to me. So I shared them in a comment, and I’ll share that comment here now, because I believe it’s every so important to be open to such experiences in these volatile and often terrifyingly destabilizing times.

“Thank you. I began to feel that woo shift yesterday. It’s so important to acknowledge it, in whatever form it occurs, and help hold its space. Here’s two ways I felt it: yesterday, just moving around my kitchen, I was almost overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and well being for my home, for my place in the universe, and all the unsolvable mystery of it. And then, late last night before turning off the computer, I was gifted with this article, a collection of Jamal Khashoggi’s articles written for the WP, posted by a teacher/writer/activist friend of mine, saying “this is why they killed him.” This killing is a horror beyond comprehension for most human beings, and the silence and inaction of our government is another horror on top of it. And so, I thought to myself, I will read this man’s words in honor of his life. As I went down the compilation, I came upon one about women getting the right to drive in Saudi Arabia that I had actually read back then, not happening to notice at the time the name of the author who had written it. But as I read the words I remembered how good it was, how it had made me think, and it gave me a much more human and intimate connection to this man who has died in such a horribly grisly way. And in honoring his memory so spontaneously, as I recognized his words came a feeling of profound healing, both for him and for myself. In focusing on the beauty and truth of a piece of his life’s work, the work for which he died, I was affirming his life, and the work he would no doubt want to be remembered for over the details of his grisly murder. It felt, in a small way that is also infinite, like the gesture of laying Matthew Shepard to rest in the National Cathedral feels after all these years of his parents searching for a safe suitable burial place for his ashes. And it came to me with a quiet certainty that all gestures, whether small or large, public or private, that honor the humanity and largesse of spirit and courage of anyone who dies a terribly cruel and unjust death, raise that person’s life to its true essence, beyond the horror we want to choke on. It was a moment of grace given to me to see this, and I felt even more grateful for it when it was still with me when I woke up, despite feeling alongside it the very real situation that with this, if we do not seek redress, as a nation we may have turned more actively into a terrorist state, and other countries will know and probably say that. Both the saving grace and the horror are true. And yet when I align with the saving grace of how to remember Jamal Khashoggi, through the way his writing shaped my understanding and compassion, I help, in some infinitesimal way, to give him some rest in peace. And my own soul can go on, learning to shine in the service of love over fear.”

It takes each drop to turn the tide. Every. Single. One.

Maria (moonwatcher)






On The Verge

October 4, 2018

As I begin to write this, there are things I should be doing. The dogs are waiting for their food. The food I bought for the little art reception for the neighborhood art show I’m in tomorrow evening is sitting in the fridge waiting to be transformed into tofu cream cheese and 3 ingredient oatmeal […]

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I Meet My Golden Self

September 27, 2018

  I’ve long held that the real test of anything I undertake to heal or help myself comes at especially trying times. It’s easy to stay on track with walking, eat whole plants, or doing my yoga every day when nothing is getting in the way. But it’s most important to do such things, and […]

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Vegan Versions: Gluten Free Flatbread Pizza Party

September 3, 2018

One of my favorite things about whole foods vegan eating is the creativity. It suits the inclination of that question I asked myself more than two decades ago, upon first learning the results of an ELISA test: what can I eat? With that question I embarked on a long fascinating voyage through the ups and downs […]

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We Are Of The Ocean

August 21, 2018

Last Friday afternoon I had settled on the couch with the dogs for my afternoon rest, completely unaware that space and time were about to open a gate into the phenomenal and timeless. Although I call it “Nap Time” in an older post, my afternoon rest does not always mean I fall asleep, although often […]

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Finding The Recombobulation Center

August 16, 2018

  I’ve always liked the word discombobulate. When I say I feel discombobulated, I’m injecting humor into saying I’m not sure what to do next or why, or which is the best next step, or I’m feeling disoriented and tired. It helps me through, and makes me giggle just a little even to say it, […]

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Vegan Versions: A Tribute to Clara’s Pasta with Peas

July 30, 2018

When I was growing up I had two Italian Aunt Anns. One was my Dad’s little sister; she lived  in upstate New York with her kids and my Uncle Vince, and she sent beautiful presents for my birthday, like a pair of jade earrings I rarely wore but still cherish. She is still alive,  and […]

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A Few Notes on Mars Retrograde

July 25, 2018

I’m not a person who is easy to anger. On the way to anger, I’m likely to get distracted or fascinated by focusing on how to solve the situation that’s leading me down the road to an outburst, or even more likely, I might have an outburst in private and then laugh at myself, and […]

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Compulsion and Instinct

July 13, 2018

The other day a dear neighbor stopped by on her way to the beach with her dog. We had waved at each other through my window and she came up my drive to the door, smiling and saying, “How are you today, Honey?” and “I need a Maria hug!”  She also said that she would […]

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