lovely coconut cake

I’ve read a number of blog posts lately written by young women who are vocal about their battles with confidence and self-esteem.  Granted, I don’t consider myself to be old, but I’m no longer twenty and reading their words made me reflect on moments of struggle in my own life and how I worked to improve myself.

coconut cake portrait dark

I’m pretty sure there is not a person on earth who hasn’t confronted doubt and fear. If Eleanor Rooselvelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you” and Ralph Walden Emerson wrote, “If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me,” we can be fairly certain that these emotions are universal.

That said, it does seem that these feelings are particularly paralyzing for women, especially younger women. Not that men don’t experience similar feelings, but they’re generally raised to handle them differently and frankly most haven’t experienced the whole weight of the culture working against them.

bite of coconut cake


Looking back, I realized that when I was in my twenties I would have loved having a  strong female role model in my life who could give me advice and help me navigate through the outside world of work, relationships, finance, etc. Sadly, I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of nice women around me, but they weren’t generally all that confident – even those who were highly educated with decent careers.

On a recent snowy day, I went hiking around Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Ironic, since this where Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden and the now beloved quote “Go with confidence in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

coconut cake with knife

When I came home, I warmed up with some cake and tea and began to think about what advice I’d give if I were mentoring someone in their twenties now. I’ve never been a huge fan of unsolicited advice but let’s face it, there’s wisdom in learning from the experience of others. Since this blog reaches thousands of women a day, I thought it would be fun if we (that’s right, women and men) could share some insight about overcoming doubt and fear.

What in your life has given you courage? What has propelled you forward? What do you tell yourself when you’re about to do something terrifying? I’m asking because I think there are many people who would love to hear your insight. I’m sure a piece of this Coconut and Chocolate Flake cake will help too.

piece of coconut cake
coconut cake and tea

Coconut and Chocolate Flake Cake

8.5 tbs (125 g) butter, unsalted & room temperature
1 1/4 c (275 g) cane sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp (4 g) vanilla
1/2 c (125 g) whole milk
1 1/2 c (185 g) all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp (10 g) baking powder
1 1/4 c (70 g) sweetened dried coconut
3/4 c (80 g) good quality dark chocolate, shaved
powdered sugar for dusting
Extra flour and butter for cake tin.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Grease and flour an 8” (20 cm) spring form pan. Set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Throughly mix in the eggs, vanilla and milk. With mixer at low speed, stir in the flour and baking powder. Just before the flour is incorporated fully add the coconut and shaved chocolate.

Pour the batter into the springform pan and bake until the center springs back to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 60-90 minutes, depending upon your oven.

Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

Bon Appetit!
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  1. I wish I knew the answer! I am terrible with decisions Not so good at conquering fear either. I seriously need help with this. Very thoughtful post.

    Gorgeous cake and pics!

  2. Gorgeous photography. I’d read Walden in high school and I’d love to visit. I’m going to chew on your question. Definitely not something I want to spew off the top of my head. I’ll be back.

  3. I’m also struggling with low self-confidence and I’m in my thirties… I feel stronger than I was 10 years ago, but I still have to work on myself. Blogging has helped me a lot.

    A lovely cake! Surely heavenly tasting.



  4. well put.
    i am definitely one of those women.
    i didn’t have much of parents in my life, was sent to boarding schools and the like.
    as i got older i craved role models in my life; i looked for those people and made them my friends, even if i didn’t fit in with their lifestyle, i made myself fit in so i could see how they got to where they are in life (aka success).
    the best thing you could do for yourself is find people you want to be like, in terms of success and hang out with them.

  5. El I cannot thank you enough for making your blog posts a platform for everyone to discuss those fringe issues that most would rather toil in privately. First, a quote from your post, “frankly most haven’t experienced the whole weight of the culture working against them.” Interesting insight. For whatever reason I never thought that our culture was working against us, but admittedly several examples come to mind as I write. My best advice to women and men is to be honest with yourself, what you want and what will make you happy. It’s hard with all of the social pressures that shove us here and there, but that first and foremost must be established. And if you don’t know what you want, that is okay too, just be honest with yourself that you don’t know, it’s a perfectly acceptable answer. Second, find a good group of girlfriends that will listen to you, can relate to you, support you and be honest with you in the thickest of times. A good mentor, if you are lucky enough to have one in your life, will make a world of difference. Third, don’t be hard on yourself when you encounter failures. Remember that failures are inevitable, the real test is how you handle them. Fourth, don’t be hard or judgmental about others, you never know what is going on in their lives. Personally, compassion has been the key in my life to having the most meaningful relationships. And always be ready and willing to help others when you can. It’s amazed me how many times over my goodwill has been returned.

    There will always be ups and downs in life but one good friend or a handful can help empower you and make this journey rich and meaningful.

  6. I follow you on Twitter. You hit on a major reason my marriage ended. My wife had debilitating problems with self-esteem. Women absolutely get the short end of the stick in this world. My advice to women is to ignore everything this society tells you. It’s bad for you. Period.

  7. This really strikes a cord with me. I didn’t understand the cultural aspect until I was over 35. I’m not sure why that is, maybe idealism. There are a lot of things that I find scary but do them because I have no choice. There are other things that I force myself to do because I know they’re good for me. Things definitely get easier with age. More experience. Less gullible. I know some will find this hard to believe but adversity builds confidence provided you take the time to notice the lesson you’re being taught.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I feel fear but I do it anyway. It’s too scary not to. Awesome cake and beautiful, beautiful photography.

  9. *Mentally sipping on a warm cup of tea and eating a slice of your beautiful cake* as I ponder your questions.

    What in your life has given you courage?
    Watching my mother take her last breath and seeing my elderly father almost drown two weeks later as he sprinkled her ashes into the sea!

    Dealing with the chronic mental illness of one of my babies over a 15 year period that came about as a result of the trauma mentioned above. Seeing my (ex) become an alcoholic as a result and knowing that if I didn’t swim away (leave) from this man and my almost 30 year marriage, I would sink.

    What has propelled you forward?
    A strong desire to simply be happy and finding joy in the good things that happen every day that I am alive. Remembering my father’s words: ‘Darling, every day is a gift’.

    What do you tell yourself when you’re about to do something terrifying?
    I breathe deeply and reassure myself that this storm will pass and that I can do the thing I fear.

    And I agree with Mary… ‘no one knows what is better for you, than you’.

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts, El.

  10. Lovely cake. The Walden photos are breathtaking. This is how I would answer your questions.

    1. Surround yourself with people who have their act together
    2. Have faith in yourself.
    3. Think logically, not emotionally.
    4. Set measurable objectives and work to achieve them.
    5. Guard you health.
    6. Put your best effort forward at all times.
    7. Conduct yourself professionally.

    Remember, there are aspects of every job that people don’t like. Don’t give up.

    Thank El. Stunning as always!

  11. Christine, It’s fun to hear from people. Thanks so much for your thoughtful input!

    Melanie, I could not agree with you more. Thanks for taking the time to think it through.

    Great comments everyone. Keep ’em coming. Thanks!

  12. A visually stunning post! With a tempting cake that mirrors the seasons colors! Your questions are thought provoking. There are no easy answers. I am no longer a “young” woman and can say that the answers change over the course of a lifetime. The constants are to believe in yourself, be kind, practice gratitude and learn to forgive. Living in the present is my antidote for fear.

  13. Sunday morning, coffee and El.

    Long pleasurable sigh!

    First, I was surprised to hear your thirties had passed. I pictured you there – as you are so, well, “fresh” and new! 🙂

    As a person that decade later than you, I have come to realize it was in my 40’s when wisdom did emerge. I did have a couple of wonderful older female mentors. Lucky me. I so valued those relationships – and still do. But, in the end, it was always the tragedies in my life that built my confidence and brought me to love myself as I found I was able to dig deep, and triumph. Somehow, I was there for me every time. Again, lucky me. O really appreciated Lizzy’s personal sharings. That took courage. Courage, persistence, commitment and belief are four very powerful words.

    What in your life has given you courage? This is too personal to share, honestly, but I went through an ordeal that was horrendous and have not only survived, but thrived. I learned that I was able to stay still and strong and steady. I never gave in. I never gave up. That is when I learned I could. After that, I have never been afraid. That is almost hard to believe, but it is true. When a huge challenge presents itself, a wave of fear will wash over me momentarily, and then I breath it out and take it on. Because I know I can. And then there is nothing to fear.

    What has propelled you forward?
    I have always set goals, had dreams, wishes, and desires. And, I am not an idle person. I am a doer. I set challenges and have found that the only person I really compete against is my past self. Always trying to do better that before, until I am satisfied I have learned what I set out to learn and mastered what I set out to do – then I change my course. I have consistently had an insatiable appetite for learning.

    What do you tell yourself when you’re about to do something terrifying? First, I don’t take silly risks. But I do take risks and am very comfortable with failure, to a degree.It is all part of the process and an important part of learning for me… however, when I do not have control of the situation and I am facing “something terrifying” I turn and face it squarely. Still. Steady. Strong. I know I can and I do. One step at a time. Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real and one of the most debilitating emotions there is.

    All that being said, I am still incredibly sensitive to interpersonal relationships and overly analytical. I still have tons of goals and things to do and work on and learn. I have lived long enough to know I won’t get to do everything I had planned “when I grow up”. That was a discerning and defining moment, too.

    As a mother, I wish sharing my wisdom was that easy. Somehow, it just doesn’t work that way, and each person needs to be sure that burner really is hot on their own. That is the hardest part of parenting. And of being a friend.


  14. I was shocked when an older woman I admired terribly in my 20s told me she had gone through a bad patch. It didn’t seem possible looking at someone so poised and gorgeous and brilliant.

    I think we all hit patches where nothing fits for us and life feels crooked and we feel like we have no worthy place in it. WIsdom is a great help during those times… can help re-orient the gyro. Good topic to discuss … cake is perfect for the job.

  15. This is my favorite blog of all time. The photography is beautiful. I enjoy your posts as well. I agree with Katrina that exercise helps. Generally, taking good care of you mind and spirit and avoid letting others dictate what you should do helps too. It’s not easy but being firm about what you want and need is important. Know your own mind. Right now I want some cake!!

  16. I love this post, El, not just because of the GORGEOUSLY peaceful wintry pictures and scrumptious cake, but because your words give me courage. When I’m scared I tell myself, “Krista, you’re not in danger.” I stop and breathe deeply for a few seconds. I write in my journal, getting out all the negative and limiting thoughts that cloud goodness. I watch movies or read books with feisty women in them (Phryne Fisher Mysteries, Women Who Run with the Wolves, etc). I try to do one brave thing.

  17. Wishing I had some of that cake about right now! Beautiful pictures and such a good idea to hike around Walden Pond in the winter. I’ve never been there and always say that I’ll go, but have focused on going in the summer. It’s probably much more tranquil around this time of year. Thanks for the winter walking inspiration!

    I’ve gotten more brave in my 40’s and wish that I had this same mindset when I was in my 20’s. But it took a bit of living to get here. My blog has made me more brave. Also realizing that we have the power to invent and reinvent ourselves. Find quotes, music, books and people who uplift you and surround yourself with them. Be kind to yourself.

  18. I think as women we struggle to find suitable role models because we are constantly confronted with glamorized and unrealistic women in the media and too few real role models in our every day lives. We spend so much time pretending to be enough while never truly feeling so. I wish that talking about our fears and insecurities were an acceptable part of society, we would realize how much we all have in common and could offer support and wisdom.

  19. First let me say “Thank you” for this lovely and insightful post! I will be making that cake for sure!

    I was very fortunate in that my mother was an amazing role model for women in business. She was one of the first female General Supervisors at General Motors. And to top that, she started as a card toting Union Member working on the line… then worked her way up to upper management. That was certainly a fabulous role model to have while growing up in an age where most women just didn’t do that nor were they even considered much for such a job. My other source of confidence building came from my music. I was very successful with my music studies, winning many awards and competitions along the way. Success is a great confidence builder! As for my self image, I’ve never been thin but always healthy. My mother never told me to “diet”, but did remind me to ease up on “the sweets”. Good sound advice. Now please pass the cake! 😀

  20. I’m making this cake for my wife. I’ll let you know how it goes. Advice? Stick to it. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.

  21. I grew up without a mom so like you I did not have a strong role model when I was younger. Nowadays I try to be that person for my 19 year old sister – I’m not perfect but I’ve learned one thing or another through the difficult life I had in the past, therefore I try to show her how special she is and try to make her see how strong and positive she can be.

    What a lovely cake (I love chocolate and coconut together). And what a beautiful post, too.

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