Three Year Pride: Raw Cheesecake with Cacao Crust

Raw Cheesecake with Cacao Crust

I’m really proud right now.

In theory, that’s because Tuesday marked my third official quitiversary: that’s three years of life after smoking. For those of you who are new to CR, here’s the deal: I was a heavy smoker for about 8 years. I loved cigarettes, and I still miss them. I started writing CR about a year after the day I quit, and I wrote a long post about it, which you can read here. It’s pretty hard to believe that three years have gone by since I broke the habit. Fortunately, my pangs of longing have grown very faint indeed. Quitting smoking is without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I feel that my life is richer, healthier, more frugal, and probably a lot longer because of it.

I wish I could say that I haven’t touched a single cigarette since I quit: that’s not true. There have been a few. I had a couple on Chloe’s wedding night, for example: some people crave booze on special occasions, some crave cake, I craved a smoke. And there were some odd ones in the last year, like the one I bummed from an undergrad on Columbia’s campus—a hotbed of smoking memories for me—when I started to grasp how challenging this post-bacc business would be.

I’m not telling you this because I’m proud, or because I don’t think it’s a big deal. I tell you a) because I don’t lie to you, and b) because I want to demonstrate the old proverb that to err is human. I’m human, and one piece of proof is that in the three years since I quit life as a smoker, I’ve been occasionally tempted to taste cigarettes again. What I like to focus on, however, is the fact that I haven’t felt the impulse to pick up my smoking habit again—not even a little—in the moments where I did yield to temptation. One cigarette did not beget more. They still tasted good, but I now value my health more than I value the pleasure they offer. And that’s the crucial difference between where I’m at today, and where I was three years ago.

I often find myself telling clients not to let one bad day turn into two, or assuring them that one moment of regrettable food choices matters far less than how they handle the moment after. Food and smoking are different things, and I don’t want to overstate the comparison, but maybe you see my point: one setback does not undo years of effort, just so long as you can identify its potential harm. Acknowledge how dangerous more setbacks might be, and to move forward without letting bad habits form anew. Today, I’m three years past life as a smoker, months past that anxious campus puff, and fully dedicated to a smokeless future.

And I celebrate that fact with cake.

Yes, cake. We all know I’m not the best with dessert in general, and even less so with raw ones. But this week, to celebrate, I made a raw, vegan cheesecake, and that’s the REAL reason I’m so proud.

IMG_6056 (525x350)

Raw Vegan Cheesecake with Cacao Crust (raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)

12 Slices

For the crust:

2 cups almonds
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1 1/4 cups pitted, packed dates
Dash salt

For the filling:

2 1/2 cups cashews, soaked 2 hrs or more
Juice of 3 lemons
Dash salt
3/4 cup agave syrup/maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla (or 1 vanilla bean, scraped)
1/4 cup coconut butter
1/3 cup water (more if needed)
1 tbsp chia seeds

1) To make crust, place almonds and cacao nibs in a food processor and process till very crumbly. Add dates and salt, and process till mixture is holding together well.

2) Press crust into a regular sized pie or tart shell, and store in fridge while you make the filling.

3) Blend all filling ingredients together in a high speed blender till absolutely smooth and creamy. Add more water than the 1/3 cup if necessary to achieve a thick, yet blendable texture.

4) Pour filling into pie shell, and transfer to a freezer for 30 min to set. Transfer to fridge, and cover with a layer of saran wrap. Decorate with berries if desired.

5) Serve, and savor every bite!

IMG_6063 (525x350)

Let’s be real here: there’s nothing particularly healthy about this cake, aside from the fact that it contains no processed junk. It’s about 100% fat and sugar (plant fat and sugar), and it is totally delicious. So, eat it with discretion, and allow yourself joy from every bite. The nicest thing about raw desserts—at least in my experience—is that a very small amount can be very, very satisfying.

IMG_6062 (525x350)

IMG_6058 (525x350)

This is, believe it or not, my first real raw dessert. Ever! Aside from chocomole and Ani Phyo’s famous raw donut holes, this is the the inaugural raw, vegan dessert. And again: I’m pretty proud.

This weekend, take some time to consider what changes you’ve made for the better in your own life in the last three years. What are they? Did you start to eat healthier? Did that mean eating more? Eating differently? Eating more consciously? Did you ditch a habit that wasn’t healthy for you, or perhaps change the terms of a relationship that was causing you pain? Whatever it was, give yourself a moment to be thankful for the improvement.

And then, if necessary, have some cake.



This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Visit my privacy policy to learn more.

Categories: Gluten Free, Raw

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I’m so behind, as usual, but since I no longer blog in real time I suppose it is fitting that I no longer comment in real time! In any case, I wanted to squeeze in my own congratulations on your 3-year quitiversary, because it’s a milestone that should not go unnoticed by people who care about you. 🙂 It’s a huge accomplishment, along with that cheesecake! You make me want to revisit my own raw dessert experiments.

  2. Oops…first attempt to comment failed- apologies if this ends up being a double comment.
    Well done!!! I admire your honesty and great attitude! Even though we have never met in person, I am so proud of you! I quit 6 years ago (actually sort of accidentally ), but during the first year I definitely had the occasional cigarette, usually of an evening with a glass of wine- damn those neuro associations 😉 On my 1st quitiversary I smoked two in a row and felt sooo sick and nauseous…very unpleasant. Ever since that day I have not touched cigarettes and have not had any cravings. I don’t miss it at all. I call it my ‘accidental aversion therapy’ 🙂
    The ‘cheesecake’ looks scrumptious- I will make it at the weekend!
    This is my first time commenting on your blog, but I have been reading your blog for a long time. It’s in my Top 5 favourites! Thanks for putting so much thought and effort into your always so eloquently expressed posts!

  3. Congrats on your quitiversary. Mine is sometime in fall of 2007 (I finally figured out the date – it was the Tuesday after Thanksgiving that year), but there were a few more in Spring 2008. None since, and I still miss it often, so I so appreciate your post. And love the cheesecake recipe 🙂

  4. Congrats!!! I love your honesty and love the adage to not let one bad spur mutiple bad days. I really need to remember that! And also remember that one poor choice doesn’t need to lead to an entire day of them!

  5. That is a gorgeous pie…..Wow….I want to make it like NOW!!

    Congrads on quitting for three years. As a reformed smoker who tried to quit eight years ago…it took me five years to stop bumming cigs from others (it was infrequent but it wasn’t 100% w/o smoking) on special occasions and stressful times; but it has been almost four years since I quit 100%…like no cravings. it is possible….I never ever need cigs now…. It takes years but it is so worth it…

  6. Congrats!! My 2 year quitiversary is next Thursday, and you were actually a huge inspiration in my quitting! I emailed you waaaaaaay back then to ask you more about your story. 🙂

  7. Congrats on the 3 years! Thanks so much for this post! I have made a lot of changes in the past 2 years, including quitting smoking, becoming vegan, and most recently quitting drinking. I’m so glad that you admitted to the occasional smoke. I too have had moments where a cigarette is an indulgence. I’m happy that you write about these incidents of your own and without beating yourself up about it. I often struggle with being too hard on myself and can be obsessive about one slip up. It’s nice to read a post with such clarity that reminds me to look at the big picture of my life and the many positive changes I have made in the last couple years. Thank you and congratulations again!

  8. Congrats on 3 years, on the cake, and thank you for reminding us to keep things in perspective when we have a small setback! Its not even close to being a comparison, but I am DIet Coke free for 2.5 years now and all otehr artifial sweeteners followed. I still have some clean up in my diet to do but those were 2 huge milestones for me!

  9. Congratulations!! I’ve never been a smoker, but mostly because I know that I would get quickly addicted. I love the feeling of smoking, the movements and rituals, even though all I’ve ever done is the odd one late at night, perhaps 3 years apart. It’s amazing that you’ve quit and stayed quit(ted?!)

    I’m also so very very excited about the dessert recipe! I have a sweet tooth, but often find that raw vegan cheezecakes are too strong in coconut oil for my tastes. 1/4 cup sounds perfect!

  10. You rock.
    But not (just) because you celebrated your third anniversary as a non-smoker.
    You rock because you are former smoker that owned up to having cravings and the very occassional once a year cigarette. I think MOST former smokers can relate to this though not many will admit to it.
    It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right? So we’re always exploring and testing, and learning.

  11. When I read that you used to be a smoker, it absolutely baffles me. Your writing style and belief in food is so pure. It is amazing how one can rebound from such extremes! I respect your honesty. No one is perfect, no matter how beautiful of a picture we often paint of ourselves.

  12. congrats on your 3 yrs and as for a few random “cheats” who cares about them when you haven’t picked up the habit again. we’re human! you have a great deal to be proud of, that’s quite a hard habit to break! for me, i jumped off the fat free/sugar free train 4 yrs ago and it was the best decision i ever made. i’ve never felt better!

  13. I love raw desserts for that very reason… it is almost impossible to overeat them they are so filling and rich!

    Congrats on the smoking thing. I quit for good back in 2002… I had stopped and started several times before that… and honestly, I still crave cigs… especially when I’m stressed. In fact, I was even tempted to try the filterless cigs recently, but I didn’t.. it was too hard to quit the last time and I don’t want to go back!

  14. I heart your honesty! And you’re amazing for sticking with it even when times got tough or stressful.

    As you know, my life changed dramatically for the better when I became a vegan, and it wasn’t just better health, but also a better life, a more conscious one, and even a slower, less stressful one. I’m always grateful for that, and I often celebrate with a tasty raw, vegan dessert, which is usually banana soft serve. But if you can make such a beautiful dessert, so can I!

  15. Well done on the three years. As someone who has quit drinking for three years, I feel the same way, it’s an urge when I get into those stressful times. And I’ve lapsed a few times only later to get back on track again. It’s an ongoing battle because the craving and urge doesn’t go away easily.

    Congrats on an amazing raw vegan cheesecake! I would argue there is some iron in there with the nuts and cacao and the berries are for sure healthy. 🙂

  16. Congratulations on staying quit! I’m an on-again/off-again smoker. I’m great at quitting but not great at staying quit, and it kind of helps me to realize that even someone who is as committed to healthy living as you are has struggled with such a difficult habit. Not that I am glad you struggled AT ALL–hope it isn’t coming off that way–but because you have managed to apply your wonderfully healthy attitude toward food to cigaretts as well. That’s very encouraging to me, and if I could make that leap myself, I think I would feel a lot more confident about going “off-again.” 🙂

  17. THANK YOU, gena, for this post. i’ve been reading your blog for almost a year, but somehow missed that you used to smoke. i so appreciate your honesty, and confessing that you still get the urge.
    i have had a love/hate relationship with diet coke for a few years now. right now i am *off* – gave it up for lent – but sooooo really really want to “drink” again! so i really thank you for sharing the examples of where you’ve indulged in a smoke, since giving up the practice.
    i’ve never smoked – addictive personality, hello, it’d not be a good road to go down! – but this diet coke thing is my vice.
    thanks for the great recipe, too. it may be indulgent but with all-natural, all-real ingredients, it’s a great choice for a treat.
    thanks again, gena!

  18. Congratulations, three times over! Quitting smoking is no trivial thing. My dad quit and lapsed several times through my childhood, and only quit when he got emphysema. But one of my best girlfriends, back in CA, is a former smoker and quit successfully years ago, despite the fact that her husband still smokes. She’s inspiring to me–like you.

    Congrats on the cheesecake too: it sounds like a delicious one, and a good way to celebrate.

    I had a teacher once who would say every so often “Look at where you came from, not just at where you’re trying to get to”–your advice today reminds me of that.

    Have a beautiful day!

  19. Three years is quite a mile stone. I know that the last three years for me have been very much about me finding out who I am and developing who I am as an individual. In the last three years I have gone from an unhealthy, overweight vegetarian to a healthier vegetarian and eventually made the transition to vegan (still working on being as healthful as I would like to be). And in those three years I finally found my voice and found the courage to leave a neglectful marriage. I think that my transition healthwise has really helped me to start the journey to a healthier emotional life.

  20. I agree with you that with raw desserts a little goes a long way, but I do seem to need a little a lot. A few times a week at a minimum. I love dessert. So much so that I have a life long and very bad habit of substituting it for dinner. Because the desserts I prefer are so ridiculously over priced, I don’t do too much damage, anymore. But I once spent an entire week in Vienna eating only cake. And drinking wine. Not kidding. (How I lost so much weight on that trip still baffles me.) I don’t expect I will ever repeat that experiment, but neither do I expect I’ll ever be living a life without frosting. I am a big believer in occasional indulgence. I console myself knowing raw desserts are less unhealthy than cooked desserts, but I don’t kid myself that they are in any way good for me. But just because something’s not good for us on a physical level doesn’t mean it’s bad for us. I think desserts fall in the category of “soul nourishment.”

    • I love the idea of soul nourishment, E!

      I think I would define that as any food that affords real joy, no matter how healthy. Desserts have never really fit that bill for me because I’m not very attached to them, and they don’t tend to satisfy me (eating a dessert simply makes me crave a real “meal”). But hot coffee? A bowl of soup with crusty bread, and avocados eaten with a spoon all nourish my soul.

      An superficial guess would be that all of your activity in Vienna, coupled with perhaps less calories in places other than cake, made you lose weight!


      • Soul nourishment is not just food, of course: it’s music, and poetry, and hand made soap. It’s the things that connect us to our essential self. In my case, soul nourishment always has something of the character of “dessert” in that it’s always a bit of an indulgence, never anything I can justify as a necessity. Now I don’t believe in indulging every whim, but my tendency to “restrict” goes beyond food, so my longings for little luxuries are, I think, reminders of my essential worth. And splurging on a really nice shampoo, or a new book of poems, are ways of keeping my soul nourished. One thing Louise Gluck said has stuck with me and that is we don’t choose what feeds us. I think this is especially true of soul nourishment. So, in my case, it’s not Bach fugues (much as I appreciate classical music on another level), it’s Emmylou Harris! My point being, we deny who we are at our peril. And even if my history is one of “under indulgence” I think, maybe, over indulgence has a similar root cause, only instead of denying the need for nourishment outright, it’s trying to feel what is a soul need with a substance that cannot meet that need. So, in my case, if I were to try and meet my soul’s longing for something sweet, and decadent, with soup, I could eat the whole pot and not be satisfied, whereas a few bites of raw cheesecake will do the trick. Similarly, if the soul is longing for human touch, food won’t do it at all, but a massage might. And if the soul simply wants to be heard, acknowledged, music, or poetry, or a trip to the museum will give you access, whereas food, or wine, will simply shut it out. It sounds like an impossible exercise in parsing a simple thing like hunger, and maybe it takes some practice to 1, acknowledge “hunger” and 2, to determine what for. But eventually feeding ourselves, body, mind, and spirit, becomes a way of life.

  21. Wow! Shocked. Hardly pegged you as a smoker, but I’m not in the business of pegging people as anything anyway. So glad you quit. I like you way too much to watch you die of something as preventable as lung cancer. Sorry to be that blunt about it! Again, so glad to hear that you quit.

    Your cheesecake could win a prize at the county fair!

  22. Gena- congrats and congrats! You should be really proud, especially about the smoking, because I’m you havd plenty of history and chemistry (double meaning there) working against you. That cake is stunning. It reminds me of one of my favorite foods, my mom’s strawberry cream cheese pie. I want to make your cake with thin layers of strawberries and cheesecake, or maybe just one thin layer of cheesecake and then cooked strawberry filling above. That would dilute the fat a bit, and give me more of my favorite ingredient!
    In the past two years I’ve made a lot of progress giving up some rules that were overly restrictive, and moving towards overall greater health in my relationship with food. I’ve also by and large avoided all out compulsive eating. Maintaining my weight is full time work for me, and I’ve stayed within a 15 pound range in the past 2 years, all within a healthy BMI, which is quite significant for me!

  23. Congratulations, Gena. I’m very proud of you and I know how much strength it has taken to reach your three year quitaversary. You are an inspiration!!!

  24. Congratulations, Gena! It is so admirable of you to be so honest to your readers.

    Love the cheeseecake–it looks delish–and I can’t believe this is your first raw vegan dessert! You’ve really set the standard, and I can’t wait to see what else you have in store :).

  25. Oh, and that dessert looks insanely delicious. It actually looks baked! I must give this a try. Such a simple recipe. Well done, Gena! xo

  26. Congrats to you!! I had no idea you were a smoker. Last year at Easter was the last time I ate meat, and so far I have every intention to continue with that path. Also, almost exactly 3yrs ago, were really started to clean up our foodie act. It all started with my masters thesis in architecture…weird correlation, I know. Food + Architecture..more in common than you think!!

  27. congrats on three years, gena – you have every reason to be proud of that accomplishment. my three years is this august! also, i really appreciate your honesty with regard to a few stray cigarettes since you’ve quit. i’m guilty of the same, but the same way i don’t beat myself up for food decisions these days, i recognize that one moment of weakness doesn’t mean a lifetime. like you said, we’re all human, and we are imperfect.

    and a belated thank you for linking to my passover and yom kippur posts from last year! i’m happy to say that the holiday is going swimmingly this year (though i am, of course, happier when i can eat beans and peanut butter and hummus and bread!), and your thoughts from last year remain in the back of my mind. it’s always nice to realize how intuitive food-related holidays have become with each one that goes by. i took a cue from you when i ate a whole batch of guac over a salad for lunch yesterday, and your zucchini hummus is a key player in today’s. raw recipes make passover a lot tastier (this dessert you’ve created is proof of that!).

  28. Thank you for this post—and the gorgeous recipe. I’m inspired to celebrate my own April milestones.
    Congrats on the 3 years!

  29. I love this post a) because of your honesty b) because it’s true we’re human and sometimes things just happen and we don’t always make the best choices and c) because your raw cheesecake recipe looks delish. Congrats on your Three Year Quitiversary!

  30. Congrats on no smoking for 3yrs. It’s without question that you needed to celebrate with your super yummy cheesecake!!!!!!!!!! Quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I ever did but when I did I felt so much better. It’s been 2yrs. for me:)And my fiance has even finally quit….6 months for him now. I, like you really enjoyed smoking, but I was always ashamed and embarassed around others. It got to the point for me, where I’d wait until I got home alone to smoke so no one would see me……… That’s when I realized……ok it’s time for this yucky habit to go!!!!

    Hooray for you girl!!!!!!!

  31. always proud and inspired by you! It’s amazing that three years later you still miss them, but still commit to your health!

  32. I made a commitment to givenup dieting and learn to eat intuitively. I’m still working on it every day, but it’s the best decision I ever made for my health!

  33. Congratulations on 3 years without smoking. I know how strong the lure of smoking can be, so it’s a great accomplishment. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer 4 years ago (after 30 years of heavy smoking) and even after brain surgery, lung surgery, chemo, and radiation, she still is tempted to smoke.

    Your cake looks simply amazing. I can just imagine how delicious that crust must be.

  34. Love this post and though I was never a smoker, per se, I think that smoking translates really well to quitting any unhealthy habit. I have recently discovered your blog, and I have to say, I adore it. You and I are very similar in many ways, most notably, our eating habits. Just wanted to say hi and please keep writing – it’s a fabulous, honest, beautiful blog space!

  35. Congratulations, Gena, on both quitting smoking and on the beautiful cake! Three years really can make a huge difference; maybe you’ve even heard those commercials about how your lungs begin to heal after only one day without a cigarette. And I’m sure all the healthy food you regularly consume is helping the process too.
    I’ve made quite a few strides in three years as well – moving away from a serious alcohol and what was definitely going to be a serious drug problem as well. I was vegan throughout this time, but after hearing some sobering (ha! no pun intended) and sort-of scary news from my doctor, I’ve tried to eat even more healthfully, including beginning to take a daily vitamin.
    The only thing I’m still struggling with is working out more often, since I’ve both lost energy and gained weight since quitting drugs.
    Everyday is a struggle, you’re right, so one or two cigarettes here and there over the past three years can be forgiven when you look at overall how much you’ve done for your health! Again, congratulations.

  36. Congratulations! That’s such an accomplishment.

    Out of the many changes I’ve made to my diet in the past two years, I think quitting coffee was the best decision. I used it as a meal replacement and drank it far too frequently throughout the day. Sometimes I crave the taste of it but often just simply smelling freshly brewed coffee at a cafe takes care of that!

    And your cheesecake looks professionally made!

  37. This is my favorite kind of raw food. I know it’s a lot of work but when you’re left with a cheesecake at the end it’s hard to care about that work. It looks delicious; I’d definitely try to convince myself it’s “healthy” and perfect breakfast food.

  38. Congratulations on the quiaversary!! I’ve never had a cigarette, in large part because I love the way they smell (they remind me of my grandfather) and I know I’d probably like them too much for my own good. In the past three years I’ve made huge strides with my healthy living in general, and I’m really proud of that. There are absolutely moments where I make unhealthy choices, and oftentimes that extends into an unhealthy day of eating, but I know that those days are a blip on the radar and don’t mean I’m not a healthy person. We all have our weaknesses 🙂

  39. Congratualations on the achievement. That’s definitely something to be proud of. As far as the few cigarettes you have had, it’s not anything shameful or weak. After quitting any habit, the urge may always still be there – the same rings true with eating disorders. I didn’t wake up one day and magically never purge again or never have another restrictive thought…it’s just about learning to move past them!

  40. Beautiful! Look at you, baking and raw dessert making. You really can do it all! Congrats on your 3 year quitiversary. I think it’s great that you’re so open with your readers about your old habit. Nothing like a success story to inspire others to make a change. 🙂

  41. Congrats on 3 years!! I have friends who smoke and I try to get them to quit, but it has to come from them.

    YAY for raw dessert! And yes a little goes a long way…just wish my taste buds remembered that. haha

    Things I have done to improve my health is eat more wholesome foods and staying away from foods that I finally realized my body does not like.

  42. Congrats, Gena, on 3 years of not smoking!! That’s such a milestone and so awesome. And thanks for keeping it real and honest and telling us about a couple here-and-there random times you’ve had a smoke. Makes me have such admiration for you that you didnt just bury that, as you easily could have and never blogged about it.

    And what…your 1st real raw dessert?! That can’t be! But what a great start you gave it…holy delish looking! My raw vegan cheezecake is pretty similar to yours except that I have never added cocoa to the good does that look!

    And chia seeds in the filling…clever! I bet they make it even thicker and richer. Yum!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  43. Awww I’m so proud of you, Gena! We always have days when we feel tempted/will relapse into old habits, and like you said, it’s totally normal. For me, something that I have changed is my ability to make friends. I had no friends in high school, because I was so wrapped up in my ED, but since being in college, I have been able to open up to others and now I have a core group of friends who love me just the way I am!

    This cheesecake looks scrumptious! I made a similar version last summer, I think it was from a cookbook, but it was a favorite for my family! I think it’s better than real cheesecake anyway–something about the real stuff creeps me out.

  44. Congrats to you! I had my last cig on Halloween night last year. I feel you on still having the urge on occasion, but I keep reminding myself how much better I feel now. It’s amazing how negatively it affected my body – I especially notice a difference in the morning. So much more refreshed and ready to hit the ground running now!

You might also like