Strawberry coconut cream cakes

Strawberry coconut shortcakes

Strawberries remind me of my mother. Which you would understand if you had ever seen her kitchen. But you haven’t, so I suppose I should paint a picture for you. Of a kitchen with deep purple walls and a sink window and parquet floors and strawberries. Lots and lots of still life strawberries.

Her enthusiasm for the delicate, seed speckled berries is one of the things I treasure most about her – because every time I see one I forget about the fact that we don’t really have a relationship and am taken back to those weekends spent driving through the Indiana countryside. She’d have the music up and windows down, and she’d sing along to Hootie and the Blowfish or the Cranberries or any other band that was on regular radio rotation in the 90s. I’d sit in the back seat, captivated by her harmonic vocalization, and watch as her pretty auburn hair got tangled in the wind. Every once in a while she’d adjust the rear-view mirror and shoot me a smile or a wink, to remind me that I was loved. It was a love so massive – so powerful – that I didn’t understand it then and I can’t even imagine it now.

Eventually I suffocated the love. I smothered it with a pillow and left. Often times I find myself wondering what would have happened if we had worked harder to maintain a strong relationship; if I had fought for my mother the way I fight for Thom or my health or that homeless man who sleeps on the bench outside my house. You see, I’m an inherent fighter. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, That lady doesn’t give up. But I gave up on my mother; on our love and our seemingly symbiotic relationship. And you know what? I kind of hate myself for that. For packing up and moving across the country and shutting her out of my life for reasons I don’t think are fitting to share on the internet, but reasons 20 year old me felt were justifiable for assembling an indestructible concrete wall.

SiftingFlaked coconutJuiciest strawberriesFresh outta the oven

That concrete wall has been the bane of my existence for the past five years. And just when I think I’m ready to take it down, I hesitate for a brief moment and previously suppressed, acrimonious feelings rise up and ooze out of every pore on my body – impairing my ability to completely love my mother, and impairing my ability to reduce the wall to rubble.

But eventually I did. On Mother’s Day, no less. I spent the better part of that day in complete paralysis on the couch, drifting in and out of consciousness and dreaming of the wind in my mother’s pretty auburn hair. Every once in a while a very concerned Thom would come into the room to check on me – but he knew there was nothing he could do except pour me a bath, light a few candles, and let me be. So he did. And I laid in the water, watching as the candles flickered and my hair as it snaked to the surface, feeling completely empty and broken and so fucking lost that I decided it was time. Time to deconstruct the wall. And so with the pull of the plug I watched as the dirty bath water swirled down the drain, taking with it all of the feelings of disappointment and frustration, and the too-many-grudges I held against my mother.

I was free, at last.

WhippedStrawberry coconut shortcakes

I sat in the empty tub – arm hanging over the side, head resting on the ledge – and I sobbed. I sobbed for a good 10 minutes until I realized there was a man in the other room who would come in like a knight in shining armor and sweep me away to a land of salted almond dark chocolate if I didn’t cut it out. And so I pulled my towel from its hook and used it to muffle the sound. And when I was finished – when I felt like I had gotten it all out – I wrapped the snot stained towel around my body and emerged from the bathroom a better woman. Better because I forgave my mother. Better because in doing that, I became a better daughter.

I walked through the living room, leaving a trail of wet footmarks on the cold tile floor, and into the kitchen where I retrieved a bowl of strawberries from the refrigerator. I leaned up against the countertop and, with every last bite, I was reminded of how good it feels to completely love my mother.

Strawberry coconut shortcakesStrawberry coconut shortcakesStrawberry coconut shortcakes-6304-2

Notes: I’ve been using white (light) spelt flour lately and love the results. If you have some on hand, I highly recommend using it. If not, go ahead and use all purpose, unbleached flour. These cakes are fairly dense. If you’re not into dense cakes, omit two tablespoons of flour. I really do not recommend replacing the oil with any other oil because the unrefined coconut oil is what gives the cakes their mild coconut flavor. But if for some crazy reason you’re not into that, replace the oil with any other neutral flavored oil suitable for baking. I also recommend olive oil – definitely not neutral but it pairs perfectly with the strawberries. I haven’t tried making these cakes gluten free, but if you want to give it a whirl simply replace the flour with a gluten free flour blend and appropriate amount of xanthan gum. It probably wouldn’t hurt to add an additional 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, either.


1 cup white spelt flour
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup coconut milk

Coconut whipped cream
1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly oil 6 3.5″ ramekins or 4″ tartlet pans, then sprinkle with a good dose of flour; arrange the pans on a small baking sheet and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the flour and coconut milk into the sugar mixture, alternating in halves. Once all of the ingredients have been combined, mix on high speed for 20-30 seconds. Scoop 1/4 heaping cup of batter into each of the prepared pans and bake at 350˚F for 16-18 minutes. Allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Cooled cakes can be kept frozen for up to two weeks – just make sure you wrap each cake in plastic and store them in a freezer safe container.

When you’re ready to assemble, top each of the cakes with a spoonful of coconut whipped cream, sliced strawberries, and coconut flakes. Best consumed immideately.

Yield: 6 cakes


  • Reply Tieghan 3 June 2013 at 6:06 AM

    These are so pretty and I LOVE the coconut cream. I am strawberry and coconut obsessed these days, so naturally I LOVE these cute little cakes!

  • Reply Melissa // The Fauxmartha 3 June 2013 at 6:15 AM

    You are beautiful inside and out, my friend.

  • Reply Kathryn 3 June 2013 at 6:17 AM

    Such a very powerful piece of writing Ashlae, I’m totally in awe of your raw honesty. That metaphor of watching all those feelings swirl down the plug hole will stay with me for a long time.

  • Reply Holly @ EatGreatBEGreat 3 June 2013 at 6:29 AM

    These sound delicious! A perfect light summer dessert!

  • Reply Jess 3 June 2013 at 6:55 AM

    I LOVE coconut and these sound incredibly delicious! :)

  • Reply Sophia 3 June 2013 at 7:10 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing this Ashlae and I am glad to hear you were able to work through this. Many of us carry heavy stuff around with us unable to confront it, deal with it, get over it, you name it because it is difficult and uncomfortable and scary. But as I think is clear from your post, carrying the stuff around with is is equally difficult, uncomfortable and scary but at least once we confront it head on there is a chance we come out the other hand still standing and ready to move on, to move forward (which from the sounds of it you were finally able to). Definitely a wake-up call to not ignore that niggling inner voice and call my friend who I haven’t spoken to in far too long over what seems such a trivial reason now!

    I am still getting used to using coconut oil in baking (I once made granola with it and found the taste overpowering) but the cakes do look delightful and those strawberries look perfect – sadly Italy has had a very rainy spring so far and the strawberries are not as ripe as they should be by now.

  • Reply Anna 3 June 2013 at 7:33 AM

    What a lovely recipe, and such a brave, moving story paired with it!

    Be proud of yourself, you have every right to be.

    Love and sunshine!


  • Reply Alexa 3 June 2013 at 8:25 AM

    These are stunning. I just found your blog through House in the Hills and I am floored by all of it’s beauty and you’re a fantastic writer! :)

  • Reply sarah 3 June 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Beautiful, beautiful. Forgiveness is such a long hard road! But must come in it’s own, honest time. I’m glad you were brave enough to walk down that path.
    So much love to you, friend. xo

  • Reply ashley 3 June 2013 at 8:41 AM

    Beautiful post for so many reasons. You are amazing for so many reasons. I’m so happy for you, Ash, and I hope that things are going well with your mom. xoxo — Now pass me a cream cake.

  • Reply Abby @ The Frosted Vegan 3 June 2013 at 9:04 AM

    What a beautiful story. Much love to you my dear.

  • Reply Rosie 3 June 2013 at 9:08 AM

    These photographs are so gorgeous. You are so talented!

  • Reply The Vegan Cookie Fairy 3 June 2013 at 9:16 AM

    I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the end of the story. Uplifting, sort of happy ending. (Or hopeful, at least.) I hope you and your mum are ok now, or better than before, or getting there. Thank you for sharing your story, it can’t have been easy.

    I am so so so in love with your photography. It’s so clean and bright and always lights my day. I look forward to your posts every week. Keep ’em coming!


  • Reply Thess 3 June 2013 at 9:41 AM

    Such a strong story, and beautifully written! I love the pictures, they are like a fresh summer dream! Very inspiring!!

  • Reply dana 3 June 2013 at 10:41 AM

    so well said. such a beautiful post for the recipe, narrative and photography, as always. Loving your blog, friend, and missing you at the same time. Next time we’re in Denver…ice skating and chocolate?

  • Reply Jade Sheldon 3 June 2013 at 4:24 PM

    I’ve also had struggles with my mother. I always tell my husband how I hope to someday be able to become closer with her… but it hasn’t happened yet. I struggle with not letting our past together influence our future. While I do feel as though I’ve been able to forgive her, I don’t know if I’m ready to completely let her in to my present.

    I am glad that you have found forgiveness and have allowed that love back into your heart…

  • Reply izzy 3 June 2013 at 5:25 PM

    We are very similar, you and I. Haven’t seen my mum in three years – bad relationship throughout. This post is a beautiful one, Ash. As are the cakes – I NEEEEEED THEM ALL!! P.S. Woo for dads who rock \m/

  • Reply Morgan 3 June 2013 at 6:48 PM

    What a beautifully raw post. I admire your strength to be so transparent and envy your skills in imagery. The tub drain metaphor was incredibly powerful. Thank you for that and thank you for sharing.

    • Reply Jackie @ Vegan Yack Attack! 3 June 2013 at 9:23 PM

      Morgan totally nailed my exact feelings about this post. There was so much visual stimulation from your descriptions and story, it was very beautiful. I hope that you and your mom grow to have a better relationship when it seems right for you. <3

  • Reply Ashley 3 June 2013 at 9:17 PM

    Ashlae, this is stunning. Of course the cakes are gorgeous and I can’t stop thinking about them but it’s your words, their honesty and power that having me saying, YES! I’m learning so much about my own choices and the weight they carry and this shows the freedom of forgiveness and releasing yourself from the weight. There’s so much more to it and more to say but it’s a blog comment so I’ll stop. Thanks for writing this. Also, so incredibly glad that we got to meet. I wish we had had more time but I know that there will be, someday.

  • Reply Zulejka 4 June 2013 at 12:50 PM

    Wow, you are disarmingly honest! But let me tell you, as a new mother I felt a sort of pain from the other angle here, I was asking myself, What if I screw it up? And that makes me wish you and your mother can find your way back to one another somehow. Because she really loves you, too. I know that now, trust me;)

  • Reply Zulejka 4 June 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Oh, and the cakes are fabulous!

  • Reply Kathryne 5 June 2013 at 8:12 PM

    This is such a powerful post, Ashlae. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Reply Heidi - Apples Under My Bed 6 June 2013 at 7:46 AM

    Oh, Ashlae. What a heartbreaking, tender, beautiful post. So cleansing. & what a gorgeous recipe. Thank you xo

  • Reply Hailey 6 June 2013 at 8:35 AM

    So touched by this post. I can relate in more ways than would be appropriate to share on the internet, but I felt a kinship with you while reading this. For my mother, its eggplant. You’ve inspired me to consider letting it all go. xo.

  • Reply Yohann 8 June 2013 at 2:39 AM

    What a touching post! Thank you for sharing. You are inspirational

  • Reply ellen 8 June 2013 at 6:26 PM

    I am in tears, and I don’t think it’s just my pregnancy hormones! Beautiful writing. I’ll be bookmarking this cake for later :)

  • Reply Bronté 8 June 2013 at 8:58 PM

    Your writing is so powerful and your photography and pov is so fresh! I got lost in the beautiful and simple pictures of what must be an amazing cake and then I got transported by your eloquent story.

  • Reply sara forte 10 June 2013 at 8:54 AM

    It is so crazy how in harboring guilt/shame/regret/resentment, we do more damage to ourselves then we think we are inflicting on the other person. We choose love. Every day. And while it sounds corny and overused, I think of it after I am done being so angry at my mom I don’t want to speak with her again. I have choices in every relationship I have. Like you said, one can choose to fight. I know you’re a fighter and I love you for that. What a gorgeous and honest post, love that you shared this here. Hoping the peace in this freedom floods you for all the years ahead with your mom. Love to you, dear. xoxo

  • Reply Emma 11 June 2013 at 4:03 PM

    This was so moving Ashlae, thank you for sharing with us. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. It’s always difficult to recognize in the moment, but those bitter feelings which we hold on to always do ourselves more damage than they inflict on anyone else. I hope you feel lighter without that past burden on you and walk with new found light.
    P.S. Beautiful cakes + photography.

  • Reply Sonja 11 June 2013 at 6:41 PM

    I love how we’re on the same page with strawberry shortcake recipes, and funny how we both wrote about family along with them too! I love the way you told this story – your raw writing is just beautiful. I echo Sara’s thoughts as well, wishing all freedom and peace in your relationship with your mom for the future! xoxo

  • Reply Ashlee 11 June 2013 at 8:17 PM

    I adore your blog and the beautiful food you make, and now I can say that in some measure, I feel like I know you a little bit. Hey, we all have things we wrestle with. Thanks for sharing yours.

    And, on a lighter note, these cakes make me want to run in to your kitchen (don’t worry – I live far away) and snag a few fo’ myself. Delish in a dash.

  • Reply Imen 13 June 2013 at 8:41 AM

    So brave. I, too, have a massive mother *thing*….but I can hardly stand to admit it to even myself. It’s easier to pretend it never happened. She never existed. But, you have just bared your soul + emotions so vividly that it actually made my stomach knot up like a pretzel. Oh, Lady, you are brave. Thank you for sharing.
    The recipe looks and sounds gorgeous… Hug.

  • Reply Angela R 14 June 2013 at 8:48 PM

    Great story and great recipe I will have to try it.
    And I have to say your not the only one that doesn’t love her mother like she should for reasons in the past, I still see my mom but just can’t get over the past and will never love her like a daughter should love her mother, but we never really had a mother daughter relationship from what I remember, dont know what it will be like when she is gone but at this point in time my heart ice cold. I do keep the relationship peaceful for the rest of the family, grin and bear it.

  • Reply Abby 26 September 2013 at 2:56 PM

    Hi Ashlae,
    My story resonates completely with yours. One Mother’s Day, when I was fifteen, I was overwhelmed with these feeling of instinctual love for my mother. During the six years prior to that day, I felt an incredible amount of anger toward my mom. I hated that she uprooted my life by divorcing my father, I hated that we had to move away from my school, my friends, my childhood world, and into a new unfamiliar territory. My father took advantage of my sensitivity and naivety to all these changes by communicating to me that it was all my mom’s fault. He made me hate with all my nine year old self the same mom that taught me how to put makeup on, make the best Christmas cookies, and especially, that being beautiful on the inside is just as important as being beautiful on the outside. For six years, all of this happened, severely straining the relationship I had with my sister (my best friend), and my family. By the end, I felt exhausted of the cold bitter person I had become. That Mother’s Day, I wrote a card expressing all that I felt we had lost, and that I forgave her for everything I felt she had done to wreck my childhood. I confessed my extreme yearning to be her baby again – to sit on her lap and rest my head on her chest. And when I gave that card to her, she embraced me with those arms that held me so tight from the moment I was born. My mother is now my best friend, my most trustworthy confidante, my “life manager” as she likes to call it, and I’m thankful every single day.

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