Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Milestones and Memories

The Setting: A slightly overcast but much appreciated day off, spent reading, writing, exercising, and tending to (some of) the needs of the apartment.

The Soundtrack: The dishwasher...sexy, yes?

Steaming up the Oven: Cowboy Cookies.

The Scenario: Reflecting on recent milestones and memories; wondering what the future will hold.

For Hoosband's recent spring break, the Bifecta traded the heat of sunny South Florida for the crisp, cool beauty (and intense concentration of SEC spring-break-ers) of North Florida's Gulf Coast, driving 10 hours to meet my mom and step-dad at our family's condo in Destin.

Peering out over the glistening, green golf course and distant ocean view from the condo's rickety porchswing, we nestled up to each other and sighed contentedly, amazed that more than two years had gone by since our feet last grazed the splintery deck, perhaps more amazed by all that had transpired since then.

It was January 1, 2009. The view was the same from the porchswing, altered only by the dim glow of dusk, as Hoosband waited for me to emerge for our dinner date.

When I approached him on the deck and asked if I looked okay, he told me I was missing one thing.

I left for dinner with a shimmering engagement ring and a smile that has gotten very little rest since then.

Never ones to delay a good thing, we made it official with a party and a preacher in May.

Hoosband had been accepted into a prestigious program that places high-performing individuals as teachers in low-performing schools. Immediately after the honeymoon, it was off to a married-housing arrangement in Atlanta for "institute," an intense, summer-long training session, prep for a two-year teaching commitment in Miami.

"Married housing"  translated to a two-bedroom dorm at Georgia Tech with a twin bed in each room and a fountainously leaky air-conditioning unit...but we made it home.

After institute we drove to Miami and stayed in a hostel for a week, paying by the day, while we desperately sought a place to live.

It took us a while to find our new home, and much, much, longer for me to find a new job, but by the grit in our nails and the grace of God, we made it work.

November 2010 we found out we were having a baby.

February 14, 2011, while Hoosband and I feasted on conch fritters and fried seafood on our second consecutive Valentine's-Day date at the divey Southport Raw Bar, I felt the first fluttering kicks.

March 17, 2011, Hoosband and I felt the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick's Day in the Destin condo when Hoosband felt his baby kick for the first time. The look of surprise and joy on his face made me as happy as the night he proposed.

We're both still full of joy, but nervous, too, as we consider what's coming.

Hoosband's two-year commitment is almost up, and WE'RE ABOUT TO BE PARENTS.

It still sounds surreal.


I can't think about it too much.

But I can think about the things I enjoyed the most with my own parents, which brings me to Cowboy Cookies.

My mom was (and is) a decent cook--aside from the occasional carrot loaf, of course (I grew up thinking meatloaf was supposed to be orange and despised it for most of my childhood, thank you, Weight Watchers)--so we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together in my formative years before she went back to work.

For Christmas we made sugar cookies from Pillsbury dough, but sometimes, for occasions like "just because," we made Cowboy Cookies from scratch.

My grandmother would always tell me, "Oh, your mother just loved to make those Cowboy Cookies. She'd drive all the way home from school (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), throw her bags on the floor, and have a batch in the oven before she'd done anything else. She sure loved those cookies!"

So when I was included in the process, I felt like I was part of a long tradition of something special.

I asked my mom where she got the recipe, and she couldn't remember. She said she had it written down someplace, but I couldn't wait.

I Googled "cowboy cookies," and even though most people I have encountered over the years have never heard of them, the Internet is lousy with recipes. Everyone from Martha Stewart to Laura Bush has their version. This one is mine.

It's hard to say what the future will hold, but it will most certainly be full of love and cookies.

Cowboy Cookies
Most of the recipes I perused online included coconut; mine does not. When my mom and I made them, they were essentially oatmeal-chocolate-chip. I'm adding walnuts 'cause I've got 'em.

8 oz unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
6 oz light brown sugar
6 oz granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 oz bread flour
4 oz whole wheat flour
4 oz quick-cooking (not instant) rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse sea salt
dash (about 1/8 tsp) cinnamon
12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
6 oz walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Lightly butter your baking sheets.
3. Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium speed till light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat on med-low speed just until well-blended.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating on low speed till just blended. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if you want puffier cookies that don't spread as much, chill the dough for at least 30 minutes before proceeding).
5. Drop rounded spoonfuls (about 2 T) of the dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about two inches between each mound.
6. Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes or until just golden brown. Cool up to 5 minutes on baking sheet before using a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Makes about 36 cookies.

Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. Extra dough can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or up to two months in the freezer.

Note: This dough makes excellent sheet cookies as well. Just make sure you under-cook the dough slightly so that it is golden-brown around the edges but light golden and not-quite set in the center. This translates to about 20 minutes for a 7"x11" pan with about an inch-depth of dough (this would use about half the recipe). Cool completely in pan, placed on a wire rack to increase air-circulation, before cutting into bars.

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