The first time I saw my friend Dylan Richie was at Burning Man in 2002 and my jaw dropped.
Long and tall, that girl could spin fire poi in intricate rhythms and extravagant angles that were impossibly graceful. Every time I saw her after that, I was like: “Oh, it’s that girrrrllll!”
After admiring her from afar for years, I moved back home to Portland and we became friends. That was when I learned that Dylan was a pastry chef at Portland’s iconic Heathman Hotel.
Last month, Dylan published her first cookbook “Baked!” and one sunny Sunday, some friends got together and made her signature recipes. I made the banana bread. The occasion was Dylan’s memorial.
Dylan grew up in southern California and moved to Portland in 1994 to attend Western Culinary Institute (now the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts). According to her mother Lois Richie, Dylan had loved baking ever since she was “big enough to stand on a chair.”
About five years ago, Dylan went to see a doctor about a persistent cough. After an x-ray, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer; it had started in her breast and had already spread to her brain, lungs, bones and liver. The best prognosis gave her five years.
Dylan had been compiling her favorite recipes for years but had never been quite sure how to go about getting them published. This summer, her friend Tanya Zumach assembled the recipes, laid them out with pictures, and on Sept. 16, announced the “Baked!” cookbook was complete and had been sent off to the printer.
The very next morning, Dylan passed away.
I can’t help feeling there’s some synchronicity that she passed right after the cookbook’s completion and in the five years the doctors had predicted; Dylan’s precise nature was such a good match for the exacting demands of good baking.
“She was a perfectionist when it came to baking,” Lois Richie remembers. “She wouldn’t put up with any messing around.”
Her Portland friends planned a memorial around the distribution of the newly minted cookbooks and of course, baking. “We need to make these recipes to honor her memory and bring her back with us,” explained her friend Marissa Long-Peak.
“Dylan loved rich food and didn’t understand recipes that didn’t call for butter,” she said.
She remembered that Dylan preferred rich chocolate, sharp cheese and was an early adopter of Portland’s now famous affection for adding bacon to just about anything. Dylan’s “sin buns” were a favorite at the Heathman.
In my own kitchen, I saw what Marissa meant; mixing bananas, vanilla, eggs, yogurt and melted butter for a fruit bread seemed impossibly rich. The recipe even made such a generous amount of dough, I ended up with enough to make an extra mini loaf.
“I’ll have a piece of this extra loaf with lunch each day this week,” I told myself as I slid the big and small loaves into the oven.
The aroma of that baking banana bread was all things comforting and good. And what came out of the oven had a texture I’d never seen in a fully baked loaf before — somewhere between bread and banana-cinnamon cheesecake.
All I can say is that inside an hour, that little extra loaf was gone.
A couple hours later, my remaining loaf of banana bread joined an assembly of other Dylan creations — pumpkin cheesecake, clove cookies, chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and brownies. Dylan’s friend Bethany arranged all the desserts on a table, while Ken and Kat got the fire pit going outside.
We ate and knitted and crocheted, and wrote Dylan messages on paper tardises (Dylan was a “Dr. Who” fan), which we then placed into the fire.
As the mild, autumn day came to a close, a spectacular sunset lit up the sky. We toasted our friend, gathered her cookbooks and headed home.
We’ll be thinking of her every time we bake her sweet words into creation.