Do you ever feel like you didn’t know how much you needed something until you got it?
In early June, Aaron, Ansel, and I spent a weekend with friends out on the Oregon coast. Our friend Zach was turning 40 and hosted a birthday weekend for a group of us at Rockaway beach in a huge Airbnb that essentially had an arcade in the basement.
The entire weekend was really blissful. There were four families there – 8 adults and 6 kids (ages 3 months to four years) – and we sort of all cooked for each other and laughed and talked and took care of each other’s kids.
All of us either knew each other from college or shortly after college, so we all have a strong past together and have seen each other grow and change over the years. One of the gifts of having long-time friends is seeing different versions of them as time goes on. The same people who once held my feet up during keg stands were now reading the Berenstain Bears books to a tribe of toddlers and discussing child food allergens.
We retold stories of our boisterous youth in the midst of family-oriented activities. Jokes about drinking-related embarrassments were inter-mingled with reminders to toddlers to use the potty. The story about Aaron shooting Zach in the ankle with a blowdart gun in the middle of the night was told amidst a sleeping baby and toddlers playing with cars in the corner.
My friend Zach is one of those people that could start a cult following. Or at least a commune with a reasonable following. Since Zach taught me how to play Dungeons and Dragons, it’s probably appropriate to describe him through D&D terminology. He’s definitely chaotic good, he’s a rogue who thinks he’s a paladin, he has high dexterity, and he has super-high charisma (like at a 20). A natural-born leader, he also routinely serves as the Dungeon Master.
Translation: Zach is a very engaging and charismatic person with a stunning ability to bring people together, facilitate group collaboration, and problem-solve. It’s no wonder that his professional career has led him toward group facilitation and collaboration.
I met him in the summer of 2004. Aaron, our friends Michael and Kelda, and I were all planning on living in Portland together and – I’m still not straight on the story – somehow Zach got roped in to living with us. Or rather we got roped into living with him?
Befriending Zach is like adopting a rescue animal: you’re left wondering “who saved who?” His good-hearted nature and dorky interests (e.g., the Dune series, crystals, cutting melons with swords) make him easy to make fun of. And he welcomes that. But at the end of the day, it’s also easy to remember how he is someone who brings people together, has a huge heart, and cares deeply about his friends.
He had asked me if I could make him a cake that was both gluten-free and dairy free to celebrate his birthday. I immediately thought of one of my old favorite vegan cakes from this incredible vegan cookbook from the 90s.
The cake is called “Chocolate Almond Midnight” and it’s perfectly delicious. It starts with a cashew crust (made with gluten-free flour) as a base.
After baking the crust, you make this magical dairy-free concoction of silk tofu and melted dark chocolate. I know this sounds gross, but after baking it, it tastes just like dark chocolate cheesecake.
Then you boil up maple syrup with slivered almonds to make the most addictive praline almonds (adding a pinch of sea salt, of course) to cover the torte.
It’s finished with a fresh raspberry sauce to make an unbeatable vegan and gluten-free dessert. I promise you that this one is primo!
I also made Zach a Dune-themed cake. If you are a Dune fan, you will appreciate this. If you are not a Dune fan, this is supposed to be Zach wearing a “stillsuit” (i.e., a suit that allows a human to survive on the desert planet Arrakis) riding a massive sandworm AKA “Shai Hulud.” Sandworms protect the spice mélange and are super-dangerous. So riding a sandworm? Well, that’s quite ballsy.
Anyway, in Dune-speak, this cake depicts Zach as a total badass.
I came away from our weekend at the coast filled up to the brim with love and affection for my good friends and their sweet families. My life has been hectic as of late and I hadn’t had the chance to really slow down for some time, and this gave me the opportunity to relax, enjoy our friends, and listen to the ocean waves.