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“No better life than the good life”

It was a birthday celebration Nicho-style, with a rousing hike among towering trees, plenty of guffawing, an afternoon rest in a sunny hammock with a chainsaw roaring sweetly nearby, homegrown lamb grilled over an open flame, and apple cake with cream-cheese frosting. Happy birthday to a man who truly knows how it’s done.

The celebration began early. I arrived at Kate’s at 9:30 Saturday morning in the finest in hiking grungery wear, with an apple cake, a parka, and a car. Kate and her old friend Mike (visiting from Maine) piled in, and by 10:15 we were far from the city, already among the sheep, llamas, and yelping dogs of Nicho’s family farm in Sultan. The birthday boy was (appropriately) muddy and fresh from the barn, ready to hit the trails of nearby Mount Baring. After a brief sampling of his mother’s leftover pie (“the gold standard,” he claims, although we all agreed that the Crisco crust could be improved with butter), we four squeezed ourselves and our many water bottles into Nicho’s Volvo and headed for the mountain, passing the drive with such amusements as a sign for “Cozy Cracker Day Care” and a newspaper photo of the Jackson family leaving court last week, which prompted Kate to remark that Michael Jackson’s current look (what with little glasses, white shirt, and very proper tie) is “goth Harry Potter.”

Thankfully, Nicho kept his eyes on the road, and we soon arrived at the trailhead. It was crisp—cold, even—with snow in the ditches along the road, everything brown and gray with patches of verdant, mossy green. Led by Nicho’s trusty mountain dog Index, we climbed and laughed and played our way up the trail to Barkley Lake, still, quiet, and half-frozen on this first weekend in March.

After a bit of scampering on the chilly beach, Mike did an excellent impersonation of a man being shot out of a (tree-)canon, and then, climbing over snow-covered logs and splashing across a stream on wobbly rocks, we found a small grove where we unfolded a picnic of cheese, apples, and man-sized slices of honey gold oatmeal bread (courtesy of Kate). Then, with frozen fingers and full stomachs, we returned to the car and to Sultan, to begin the slow preparations for dinner—but not without a requisite near-nap in the hammock for me and Kate, a wood-chopping workout for Mike, and a bit of chainsaw action for Nicho.

As night came on, and with the help of Nicho’s new girlfriend Nicole (who is absolutely lovely and, unlike myself or Kate, fills one of Nicho’s most important criteria for women: “she’s strong enough to drag me to safety, if need be!” he told me proudly), we grilled lamb and vegetables and reddened our cheeks over the fire. And then we sat down around the big wooden table to toast the birthday boy, friendship, and our fantastic, giddy luck for days like these. We scraped our plates; we licked our fingers; and we sliced apple cake and spooned on extra frosting.

Nicho’s family has a saying that there’s “no better life than the good life.” Some days, I know what they mean.
Happy birthday, m'dear.

Nicho’s Birthday Apple Bundt Cake
Adapted from Saveur

This recipe makes a dense-crumbed, lightly sweet cake that is full of walnuts and chunks of fresh apple. It would be delicious on its own with coffee or tea, but for a more celebratory occasion, it’s downright luscious when sliced horizontally and slathered with a filling of cream-cheese frosting. If you want to go Nicho-style, pass a bowl of extra frosting upon serving.

Butter for greasing the pan
2 cups plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup canola oil
½ cup applesauce
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 gala apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into rough ½ dice
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a standard-sized Bundt pan with butter, taking care to reach into all the nooks and grooves, and then dust the pan with 1 tsp of the flour, tapping out the excess. Set the pan aside.

Sift together into a large bowl the remaining 2 cups flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the oil, applesauce, and eggs, stirring until just combined. Fold in the chopped apples and walnuts. The batter will be quite thick.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about one hour. Set cake aside to cool for 15-20 minutes, and then invert it onto a rack to cool completely.


Blogger amylou said...

Sounds like a perfect day. I mean, a hammock? It doesn't get much better than that. One thing, though: even if I am a butter lover, I have to side with Nicho's mom on this one--I prefer the flakiness of crisco crust!

1:38 PM, March 06, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

The hammock was pretty clearly the highlight, wasn't it? I do love a good hammock--and a good dose of girlfriendy talk in that hammock. And I forgot to mention that Nicho brought me and Kate cold beers hammock-side, which really sent things over the top...

6:31 PM, March 07, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

I love your writing Molly, and the descriptions of the wonderful hours you spend with your friends. And well, I had the recipe for the cake bookmarked before the picture came up - now I HAVE to make it, it looks gorgeous!

1:35 PM, March 08, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks, Zarah Maria! Please do let me know how you like the cake...and can you get cream cheese in Denmark? Icing is an awfully nice addition...

10:25 PM, March 08, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

Now that I've seen the pictures I'm officially jealous. I gave a hammock to my dad and his girlfriend this year and it was definitely one of those "give what the giver wants" gifts.

1:35 PM, March 09, 2005  
Blogger Pusekatt said...

The photos are great and it sounds like you had an amazing day!
I love hammocks....the last time I managed to enjoy one was for 5 minutes in November...ahhhhh

6:05 PM, March 09, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Alright, ladies, I'm sensing a common need here. We should set up some sort of hammock gift exchange amongst ourselves, no?

7:07 PM, March 09, 2005  
Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Uh, icing, mmm... we do indeed have cream cheese here, I have yet to come by a nice organic brand, but Philly will have to do. Would you just do cream cheese/butter/icing sugar icing or something special? Maybe a spot of cinnamon?

2:41 AM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Zarah Maria, I made my cream cheese frosting from a formula in the New Joy of Cooking. You can replicate it by beating the following together until just blended: 8 ounces cold cream cheese, 5 Tbs room-temperature unsalted butter, and 2 tsp pure vanilla extract. Then gradually beat in about 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar, mixing until smooth and just combined. If you like, you could add a bit of lemon zest, but I left mine plain.

7:33 PM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger darlamay said...

Sultan is gorgeous country, especially in the fall.(I've got family friends there.)

3:31 PM, February 23, 2006  
Anonymous Katie said...

I just made this cake last night with some extra apples I had lying around and it is AMAZING! The only applesauce I had was raspberry flavored and while it didn't affect the taste it gave the cake a very nice pink tint!

8:29 AM, August 25, 2010  

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