Chocolate Cherry Cake… and Another Year Older!

It was my birthday this past week. Jonty and I both took the day off work, as it fell mid-week, and we both believe that nobody should have to work on their birthday! It was a beautiful day, and it was filled with many of my favourite things: we started with an early-morning climbing session at Porteau Cove, and were back in town by 1pm, just in time to trundle down on our bikes for a little mid-afternoon food-truck snack and a celebratory beverage (or two!). The evening was filled with birthday cake, tasty snacks, and Sprinter planning. All in all, a most enjoyable day!

Jonty made my birthday cake the night before, so I was able to snap a few pictures before we demolished it over the following days – a chocolate sponge cake, layered with toasted almonds and a cherry reduction, and topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and more toasted almonds. It was fantastic!! | Chocolate cherry cake with toasted | Chocolate cherry cake with toasted almonds | Chocolate cherry cake with toasted almonds

I felt very loved on my birthday, and look forward to all the exciting adventures of the coming year, who knows where we’ll be in a years time!! | Chocolate cherry cake with toasted almonds

Layered Chocolate Cherry Cake
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 1 - 8" layered cake
  • Serving size: ⅛th cake
  • Calories: 476
  • Fat: 29.4 g
  • Saturated fat: 16.9 g
  • Carbohydrates: 48.3 g
  • Sugar: 27 4 g
  • Sodium: 90 mg
  • Fiber: 1.8 g
  • Protein: 7.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 164.1 mg
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
The recipe Jonty uses is for a basic sponge cake, using the ratio of 1:1:1:1 for eggs, sugar, flour and butter. So if you have a scale, this recipe becomes very easy to make.
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 200 g caster (extra-fine granulated) sugar
  • 200 g all-purpose flour, minus 2 tbsp
  • 200 g butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp (scant) baking powder
  • 125 mL whipping cream
  • 10 - 15 cherries, pitted and chopped
  • ¼ cup almonds, coarsely chopped and toasted
  • Good-quality dark chocolate (we used Lindt 70% Madagascar Dark Chocolate)
  1. Directions:
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and line two 8-inch circular baking tins with parchment paper (this recipe also works with one 9-inch square pan).
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a stand mixer and let them come to room temperature so the sugar desolves. Whisk on high for 6 minutes (less time than this may not give enough leavening to the cake).
  4. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder.
  5. In two rounds, gently fold the flour mixture into to the egg mixture.
  6. In two rounds, add the melted (and cooled) butter and fold gently in.
  7. Divide the batter evenly into the two prepared cake tins and bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes (for one 9-inch square pan, bake for 35 minutes).
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove the cake from the pan and cool completely.
  9. While the cake is baking, pit and chop the cherries, place into a small pan with a drop of water and simmer on low until they have reduced and thickened (10-15 minutes). Remove from the heat and set aside.
  10. Chop and toast the almonds (toaster oven works well here!) and whip the cream (additional sugar is not needed here - the cherries and sponge cake are sweet enough!).
  11. To assemble the cake, sandwich the cherries and half the almonds between the two cake layers and spread the whipped cream over the entire cake (top and sides). Use a microplane to shave chocolate onto the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the remaining almonds.
  12. While this cake tastes best the day you make it, it does hold up (covered) in the fridge for up to three days.

Enjoy! | Chocolate cherry cake with toasted almonds

Pavement, Plastic, Planning, Repeat

After getting one last cycle in around town, finally we left Red Rocks on Tuesday afternoon and started the 6-hour drive to Fresno, California. We arrived there around 8:30pm and had a quick nibble at this place before crashing for the night. The following day, we had a meeting at the Sportsmobile factory (the reason that we were in Fresno!) on Wednesday afternoon, leaving the morning free; we decided to go and check out a local climbing gym.

The Touchstone Climbing Company has 9 locations across California (on our two-day trek from Vegas to Seattle, we stopped in at the Fresno and Sacramento gyms). This is what the climbing facilities in Vancouver should strive for! Both gyms we visited house a climbing and fitness centre, with 40 to 50-foot lead-climbing walls, a big bouldering area, training walls and hangboards, a full fitness gym (with running and cycling machines) and yoga studio. There are also shower facilities – really, they have everything you could ask for all under one roof! | Climbing gym, Fresno CA | Climbing gym, Fresno CA

We did a bit of lead climbing (the first time we’ve put on our harnesses since Smith Rock, back in February) and bouldering. With many of the gyms in the US, you have to bring your own rope if you want to lead climb, which makes for a nice change from using the often-spongy ropes at some of the other gyms we’ve climbed at.

After our morning session at the gym, we headed to the Sportsmobile factory for a tour and chat. Our one-hour meeting turned into 2.5, and we left with many questions answered and visions of Pearson-mobiles dancing in our minds 🙂 | Jonty at the Sportsmobile office

We left Fresno later than anticipated, drove up to Sacramento that evening, stopped here for a quick nibble and beverage, and climbed the next morning before making the VERY long trek up to Portland (sound familiar?!). | Pangaea, Sacramento CA

So, it’s been a few very long days of driving, dotted with some indoor climbing, eating and drinking, and visiting old friends. At the moment, we are en route to Leavenworth, our last climbing destination before heading back to Vancouver. Hopefully we should have the Red Rocks bouldering / summary posts out next week… stay tuned!

Who, How, and What in Hot Hueco!

We spent two weeks bouldering in Hueco Tanks State Park and Historical Site (just outside of El Paso, Texas). As for our stints in Bishop and Joshua Tree, we’re providing a little break-down of our stay in the area – what we did, what we ate, where we stayed, etc.

Time frame:

March 20th – April 3rd, 2015

Where to stay:

  • Rock Ranch: We spent one night here ($10/person/night), primarily to get a look at the guide book 🙂 It’s a 10 minute drive from the park, has showers ($5 if you don’t stay there), kitchen facilities and some WiFi if you’re sat in the main building. This is a good option if you’re an American Alpine Club member, as they get a discount.
  • Walmart Supercenter parking lot (El Paso): We spent most of our time in the Walmart on Montana Avenue (the main road heading out to Hueco). This seems to be our jam, so not much more to say about that. This one was one of the busier Walmart we’ve stayed at, so if you find yourself in the same location, our advice is to stay in the parking lot closest to the Lowes store. The other perk of staying on this side is that you can pick up the free WiFi from Lowes, if you need it.
  • Hueco State Park Campground: The places to get fresh water and an RV dump in El Paso are quite limited. The campground inside the State Park had full-service hook-up ($16/night) and a dumping station ($5 if not camping), so we stayed here whenever we needed fresh water, which ended up being about three nights in total. The scenery was fantastic, the campground was quiet, and the bathrooms and hot showers were clean. Good enough for us!

Where to shop:

  • Vista Super Market: This is a local grocery chain (maybe three or four in the city). They have a pretty decent produce and meat/seafood section and a REALLY great bakery section. They make their own tortillas (yum!), donuts, bread and baked goods. They also had a pretty decent craft beer selection. We felt pretty happy to find this place and did most of our grocery shopping here when not getting bulk items at Walmart.

Where to eat:

We talked to a few locals and consulted quite a bit with Señor Google for places to eat, drink and be merry. There is not a big coffee scene in El Paso, nor is it big on craft beer / gastropubs, so not much to report on this front.

  • Habaneros Fresh MexThis Mexican restaurant is in Las Cruces, a town about 1 hour outside of El Paso. We actually stopped here as we left El Paso, but the food was fantastic! Definitely recommended.
  • El Prado BakeryThis little bakery had great reviews on-line, and it didn’t disappoint! It was a pretty authentic Mexican Bakery (i.e. we were the ONLY non-Mexicans there, and they ensured we had the English-speaking server to help us). We pointed a bit and asked a lot of questions, and ended up with a pretty good selection of baked goods, most of which I don’t remember the names!

Where to shower:

  • El Paso Aquatic Centers: El Paso has a good selection of aquatic centers in the city, and where there’s a pool, there’s a shower! Access to the pool is only $2, so a total score! We used the Marty Robbins Aquatic Center a few times and it was just fine. The only issue is that they are closed for a few hours in the afternoon, and weekend hours tend to be a bit short, so phone to confirm they’re open. | Sunset, El Paso TX

The view across the playing field at the Marty Robbins Aquatic Center.

Where to see the strangest characters:

  • Buddy’s Beer Barn: This place was a literally a big barn, which you could drive through if you wanted to, full of the weirdest, craziest crap. It was like a looking at a garage sale in your sketchy part of town. BUT they had a really good choice of craft beer! We were also given a box of day-old donuts because we were Canadian (not sure if we should have been offended by this? A guy drove through in his car and pulled out ~10 boxes of day-olds for the owner). We tried a few… hmm, more like 3-day olds… even Jonty has limits… The owners were friendly but, man, it was weird! | Stocking up, El Paso TX | Stocking up, El Paso TX

Where to recycle:


  • This seems to be the trend on our travels. Recycling for the traveler isn’t popular here either, but is certainly better than Joshua Tree! They do have a few drop-off depots, called Citizen Collection Stations. When we drove up to one, the workers looked at us like we were crazy, asking to recycle our plastic, glass and paper, and pointed us to a big dump truck for “everything”. We’re pretty sure it all just went straight into the landfill. Disappointing, but we tried!

Where to fill-up and dump:

  • Hueco Tanks Campground: This was the easiest place to go, if you plan on climbing in the park. There were a few campgrounds within El Paso, but we didn’t bother with those. Likely needs booking in advance in prime climbing season.
  • Flying J Travel Plaza: We came across these travel stops when we hit Arizona. These are great places! You can fill up with gas and propane, empty your black/grey water, fill up with fresh water, AND get a hot shower inside! We’ve stopped at these stations a few times on the road. | Boulders, Hueco Tanks TX

Where to cycle:

  • We’ve found 35 km a good distance for us to cycle on our non-climbing days, and we made up a few routes around town, with the aid of Map My Ride and the El Paso Cycling Club websites.

Where to have the strangest conversation:

As we were driving into El Paso for the first time, we realized that we needed reservations to enter the park. Jonty finally got through to the correct phone number for the reservation line and spoke to Michelle. Now, make sure you pull out your BEST Southern accent for this conversation.

Jonty: Hi, I just phoned to make a reservation but got disconnected – I think I spoke to Michelle a few minutes ago.

Michelle: Well, ma name’s Michelle, but my co-worker is ALSO named Michelle, and ah don’ think you spoke to me, so ah bet you prolly spoke to the OTHER Michelle! There’s two Michelle’s but we have different last names.

Jonty: Ah, okay, well I’d like to confirm our reservation for tomorrow, and I’d also like to confirm the directions into the park. One website says you turn onto a road near the building that looks like a spaceship.

Michelle: Where’d ya hear that? I don’ know of no spaceship-lookin’ building! You jus gotta look for the sign! I’ve been to the park before and I didn’t see no spaceship! Which website?!

Jonty: Ah, okay, we’ll just look for the signs. It was on Mountain Project.

Michelle: Well I ain’t ever heard of no “Mountain Project”. And there’s no spaceship-looking building I know of…

The next day, this is what we saw, turning onto the only road that leads to Hueco: | The Spaceship, outside Hueco Tanks TX

The “Not a Spaceship” building.

Final Thoughts:

We found Hueco a very hard place to get started in, what with the access hurdles and guidebook hurdles, but we did enjoy our time there. We will definitely come back, as the climbing was really good. We will just make sure it’s earlier in the year, though – February / March time would have been perfect. | Jonty checking out Hueco Tanks boulders

Jonty figuring out where the heck we are!

Now for some climbing in Red Rock Canyon: Vegas, here we come!

Double-Up in the Duck!

We spent just over two weeks bouldering in Joshua Tree National Park. As for our stint in Bishop, we’re providing a little break-down of our stay in the area – what we did, what we ate, where we stayed, etc.

Time frame:

March 3rd – 18th, 2015

Where to stay:

  • Walmart Supercenter parking lot (Yucca Valley): Other than two nights spent in Riverside, CA, we made this parking lot our home for our entire stay. There was quite a collection of RV’s staying throughout our time here, all tending to congregate together! Maybe it’s a comfort thing, safety in numbers perhaps, and being surrounded with your own?
  • Black Rock Canyon Campground: This is one of the three campgrounds in Joshua Tree that has water and RV dumping (no electrical hook-up). The price was $15/night. We didn’t spend any nights here, but we did use the dump facilities. For only $5/visit, it was a good deal! There are many other campgrounds in the National Park, most for $10/night. There is no water, or power, or cell reception in the park, so it was as easy for us to drive back to Yucca Valley in the evenings.

Where to shop:

  • Vons (aka Safeway): We did A LOT of searching for smaller, independent stores but didn’t find much (no butchers, few bakeries, etc in JT/YV), but this was the next best thing and where we shopped for organic meat and produce.
  • Walmart: Avoiding the junk food/goods, the Super Centers do have the best prices for various brand items! We bought household goods here (garbage bags, sunscreen, etc) and some food.
  • Joshua Tree Farmers Market: The Farmer’s Market (Saturdays, 8am – 1pm) was a great source of local produce and food. Things we could never buy at a Vancouver Farmer’s Market? Avocados and citrus fruit! The local strawberries were in season, and we couldn’t help ourselves… more than once!

Where to eat:

Ummmm…. To be honest, we found Joshua Tree / Yucca Valley pretty limited for places that we actually wanted to eat at…

  • Natural Sisters Cafe: We had a few of their sweet treats (muffin, cookie), which were very good. They actually had a really good-looking menu selection (organic, vegan, local, etc) and it was always quite busy whenever we walked by, perhaps a bit of a tourist trap? Jonty wants to go back to try the carrot cake 🙂
  • Crossroads Cafe: The day we were going to try this place, it was closed unfortunately. But the menu looked reasonable, and peering through the windows, it always looked busy, and online reviews were favourable. Next time!
  • Joshua Tree Farmer’s Market: The cheese stand had fantastic cheese, and the bread stand was superb! With all the other fresh produce, you could get everything you needed to make a great meal. Thoroughly recommended! | Countryside, Joshua Tree CA
Where to shower:

  • Coyote Corner: This little store has two showers at the back, the “Duck” and the “Moon”, costing $4 for 7.5 minutes. On the first day, we both bought a shower token, with one of us in the Duck, and one in the Moon. However, we quickly discovered that the shower timer has a generous 7.5 minutes, and both of us could get cleaned up in that time. From then on, we shared a single shower room (thus, more like $2/person/shower). If you use these facilities, make sure to ask for the key for the Duck – that bathroom is MUCH bigger than the Moon, easy to double-up and share in there 🙂

Where to drink:

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Co: This roasting company just opened in October 2014, but they seem to have a good following already. They don’t sell any food, just make coffee, really good coffee. We had our first pour-over coffee there (tasty!) and went through two bags of their beans.
  • Ma Rouge Coffee House: This cafe had decent coffee, homemade food (the quiche looked really good…), and a nice atmosphere. On Sunday afternoons, there is live music, which may or may not be your thing.
  • Joshua Tree Saloon: Your typical small-town bar, complete with food served on red-checkered grease paper. We had one beer.

Where to recycle:

  • So, we found the same thing in JTree as in Bishop – there are many recycle bins around town for plastic bottles, aluminum and glass, but still no paper! What gives, California!?? This time, we couldn’t even find a local place to take the paper (we’re still carrying it around). We’ll find a recycling place eventually!

Where to fill-up and dump:

  • Black Rock Canyon Campground was the closest place – RV dump and water fill for $5. Good deal! | Countryside, Joshua Tree CA
Where to cycle:

  • As we said in a previous post, the cycling was just okay in Joshua Tree. We made up routes that took us up to Black Rock Canyon Campground, down around Ma Rouge cafe, and around by some golf courses. It’s just a matter of googling for streets that look reasonably quiet.

Where to get beta:

  • Nomad Ventures: This place has everything you’ll need, from books to gear. | Countryside, Joshua Tree CA

Final thoughts:

Joshua Tree / Yucca Valley was a bit of an odd community. We really enjoyed the climbing (the rock in the desert was quite mesmerizing), but the town felt a bit soulless. Given the population of J-Tree / Yucca Valley (combined) is similar to Squamish, we were expecting a community with the same amenities and atmosphere as there. Unfortunately, the amenities didn’t seem to be there, and the atmosphere didn’t feel that way for us, unlike Bishop.

So, while the climbing was great, I think we were ready to move on after our two weeks there. We will definitely be back in the future, but we’ll know what to expect next time 🙂

Now for some climbing in Hueco Tanks State Park! Texas, here we come!

Bouldering Extras From Joshua Tree

We spent all of our time in Joshua Tree bouldering; as mentioned earlier, we decided not to do much trad or sport climbing so as to retain as much strength as possible while on a long trip. The weather was starting to get quite warm by the time we left the park in mid-March, but conditions were still good; not too hot, a slight breeze most days. We spent our time at three different areas: The Outback, Planet X and Cap Rock, there was so much more to explore!

The problem we enjoyed the most in our short stay was All Washed Up at Cap Rock (for those who are interested, this is a JTree classic V6; the first ascent was by John Bachar.): | Moira bouldering V6 Joshua Tree CA

Moira working out some moves on All Washed Up, V6. It’s steeper than it looks!

On this problem, I continually tried a move that (seemingly!) should have worked but didn’t. Switching around a foot placement was all I needed to do, and suddenly the same boulder problem became easy! Try, try, and try again…

And here’s a very long reach, for a suitably named problem Lunge For It, also at Cap Rock in the same area:

We spent a few days at The Outback. Here’s Moira on a nice V4, Little Chucky:

Some of the rock formations looked like they had really neat boulder problems, but when we got up close we found that the rock wasn’t stellar (crumbling beneath our fingertips!). But We did enjoy the sunshine and the view 🙂

Unfortunately, Moira stressed her wrist near the end of our time at JTree, so missed out on finishing a couple of problems she wanted to do; they’ll be there for next time though 🙂 | Joshua Tree National Park sign