oh, brother

This story begins with a Tilt-a-Whirl.

It was mid-May, 1992, the weekend of the Orange Jubilee, my small hometown's yearly spring festival. I was going on twelve years old. Amy, Kasey, and I handed our tickets to the ride attendant, and my sister and I ran ahead to find an empty car. I looked back over my shoulder in time to see Amy speaking quietly with the attendant, and before I knew it, my Dad - not Amy - was climbing up the metal steps to join us on the ride. I knew right away that something was seriously off. My dad may be able to stomach steep roller coaster drops, but it's a known fact that spin-y rides - spin-y anythings, no matter how mild, even winding parking garage ramps - are not for him. I demanded to know just what the heck was going on. Dad took a seat between us, pulled down the metal bar, exchanged a quick glance with Amy and then, as the ride slowly creaked into motion, he said it:

"Amy's pregnant."

My head was spinning, and as we picked up speed, so was the rest of me. The ride tossed us from side to side, and occasionally flung us out in the direction of Amy, who was standing on the ground. When our car would whip around to face her, I'd do my best to time my "Congratu-LAAAA-tions!" perfectly, so that I could land and lean upon that fourth syllable when we were closest to her, just before the ride would lurch and swing us back in the opposite direction. Somewhere, there is a photograph of the three of us wobbling down from that ride, my Dad looking a little green; Kasey, rather dumbfounded; and me, in a Hypercolor t-shirt (remember those?), my mouth agape.

Five months later, my brother, Caleb, was born.

A brother! This was going to be good. I imagined a rough 'n tumble kid, someone I could wrestle, and play with in the dirt. I couldn't wait to meet him. My Dad, Amy, and now this new little creature, were living in St. Louis then. By the time Kasey and I arrived from Ohio, everyone was settling in back at home. I remember racing up the steps and bursting into the living room, ready to give this mud-pie eating little dude a slap on the back. With any luck, he would put me in a headlock. It hadn't occurred to me, I guess, that before brothers start looking and behaving like brothers, they're more like tiny, pink worms who peer up at their older sisters from blankets on the floor.

Seventeen years later, I am pleased to report that Caleb has come a long way since those squirmy, wormy days. Now, when I walk into a room and greet him, I don't look down. I look up. And up, and up: At six foot four (and counting), my "little" brother towers above us all. With Caleb, it's easy to focus on the physical. He's pretty much a knock-out, ladies, and a varsity soccer player, to boot. But this kid brother of mine is so much more than just a handsome face. He's a talented guitarist, an inspired photographer and, because I enjoy both laughing my head off and beating the pants off everyone else at the table, he's my absolute first-choice teammate in family games of Time's Up. If you happen to live in Columbus, Ohio, and you have a yard that needs tending, look no further than Caleb. I'm telling you: my brother works magic with a lawn mower. Take a drive through the neighborhood with the man himself and listen to his passionate front-yard commentary. There’s no denying that he’s an artist.

But wait, there's more: He buses a mean table at the neighborhood Italian restaurant, downs massive Chipotle burritos like popcorn, is a bit of a baguette snob and, when he's having trouble keeping up with his racing metabolism, has been known to ingest yogurts by the half-dozen and PowerBars by the handful in a single day's time. Best of all, Caleb calls it like he sees it, which means he's your man when you're in need of a good, smart, solid opinion on just about anything.

Caleb is also the guy who, when the going gets rough, will ask you how you're feeling and then listen, really listen, to the answer. And when you decide to tell him the truth, that you're actually pretty scared, he doesn't flinch. Instead, he tells you that he's a little freaked out, too, and then - if you're lucky - he pulls up some of his latest photography on his iPhone, and cracks you up with tales of unsavory dermatological conditions about which stellar high-school athletes know best.

Seriously, Caleb, you're such a star. You're my favorite brother in the world, and not just because you're my only. If I had another, I'm sure you'd give him a run for his money. I love you hugely.

There's one last thing that you should know about Caleb: He's just not that into cake. At birthday parties, even his own, he's been known to forgo the cake altogether and head straight for the ice cream. (Me too.) About cookies, however, he has no complaints.

Today's recipe was a wonderful rediscovery. When I was home in Ohio one year, I baked oatmeal cookies from a recipe that Amy had received from her sister, Jo. The cookies were plump, buttery, and smelled of brown sugar and cinnamon. Eli declared them his favorite cookies, and I declared the recipe one for the permanent file. Then, a couple of years ago, it went missing. I could have called Jo for an emergency, over-the-phone recipe dictation, but for some strange reason, I instead embarked on a two-year rotation of one oatmeal cookie recipe after another, and hoped that I would happen upon a winner. I never did find "the one," and so this week I finally decided to shoot Jo an e-mail and ask her for the recipe. It turns out that I had it all along, lurking silently on my pantry shelf. Jo's terrific recipe is the one right off of the Quaker Oats lid!

These cookies are high on my list of favorite cold-weather things. They're right up there with wool socks, fleece blankets, and my convertible mitten-gloves, handmade by my friend, Piera. That these cookies hold up so nicely, softening but not dissolving, when dipped into a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea, may have something to do with it. They are also perfect for folding up in a paper towel and toting along with you on marathon days of early morning workouts, classes, meetings about a certain slowly-emerging dissertation topic, CSA pick-ups and deliveries, post office runs, and doctor’s appointments. The idea, of course, is that somewhere in there you will find a moment to pull out that little wad of paper and cookie, and indulge in a cozy snack. If, instead, you accidentally forget about your provisions until the next morning, then hey, you've got breakfast.

Enjoy your cookies, Caleb. And as you begin thinking seriously about colleges, please remember that there are more where these came from. That's right, I'm bribing you with your own birthday cookies. Come to school in the Boston area, and I'll even throw in some arm scratching and back tickling. Sounds good, eh?

Oh, brother. Happy birthday, you.

[And with that, dear readers, we conclude the family birthday series here at Sweet Amandine. Mom, Dad, Amy, Kasey, Anna, and now Caleb, thank you all for playing along. You’re the best.]

p.s. – Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about that apple sauce. I’m hoping that these cookies will tide you over for another few days.

Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal (Raisin) Cookies
Adapted from the lid of the Quaker Oats canister (with special thanks to Jo)

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp salt
3 c. rolled oats (not instant)
1 c. raisins (optional; I leave them out.)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together the butter and the sugars until creamy. I use a stand mixer to speed things along. Add the eggs and the vanilla, and beat well.

Stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl. Then, add the combined dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-eggs mixture, and mix well. Stir in the oats, and the raisins, if using.

Line a cookie sheet or two with a silicone mat or a sheet of parchment paper. (You’ll need a couple of rounds in the oven, at least, to make it through all of the dough.) The original recipe calls for the dough to be dropped by rounded tablespoonfuls, for a total of about four dozen cookies. I prefer smaller cookies, and so I measure out my dough by the level tablespoon. This time around, I ended up with a little more than five dozen cookies.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack. They will be quite soft when you remove them from the oven, but will harden as they cool.


Linda said...

good morning jess,
since i am fairly new to your blog (having started my read "on the other side")...i am going back in time so i can "catch up" with you.
your writing is so lovely & heartfelt...& your recipes great (i made your pea roasted chickpeas & heirloom tomatoes..yum).
happy bday caleb!

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Oh Jess. I absolutely love opening my email and seeing that Sweet A. has a new post up. Your writing is the best possible partner to my morning coffee, although these cookies look like they'd be a fabulous addition. Thanks so much for sharing, and happy birthday to your little bro!

Rosiecat said...

I love that cookie recipe, too! For me, it tastes like childhood, as it was THE oatmeal cookie that I made over and over again. It's hard to beat the convenience of a recipe printed on the ingredient package. I also loved the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe.

thomfech said...

No one had even noticed I was pregnant, but I got busted by the Tilt-a-Whirl carny ride guy.
I second Rosiecat on package recipes.
love and kisses.

Sara said...

such a sweet series!! I know that we don't often tell our family members just how amazing we think they are. We assume they know, but everyone needs to hear it.

El said...

Jess, where do I begin? I'm definitely with your dad regarding the Tilt A Whirl. When I was 12 I spent more time sick behind the dreaded thing than on it. Thanks for the memories :>)

The tribute to your brother nearly moved me to tears. He sounds like a great guy and I've never met anyone who regretted going to college in Boston. Especially if they're into music.

Finally, I've spent the last 5 years testing oatmeal cookie recipes to no avail. Thank you for sharing the recipe...I can't wait to try them!

Jennifer said...

Once again I enjoyed reading a darling and heartwarming birthday tribute. Can you believe we’ve already experienced our first snowfall this season? This recipe is just in time!

Dolce said...

This is such a nice story. Happy Birthday Caleb!

Shannalee said...

Loved everything about this story, from the opening on the Tilt-A-Whirl to the very sweet way you talk about Caleb's character. There's a special kind of affection between siblings, I think (and I only have one)---thanks for writing about it so well.

Happy birthday, Caleb!

Char said...

oh how I love oatmeal cookies - they're right up there with peanut butter cookies. everyone else can keep the chocolate chips.

happy birthday caleb!

Frenchie said...

Thank you for your lovely story Jess. I have a brother who is 8-years younger so I can really relate to your experiences watching your brother grow up. It's so fascinating to reach that point when they are no longer kids and they become your friends. Caleb would be lucky to go to school near you, I can only imagine what good care (and food) you would give him.

Happy Birthday Caleb!

maybelle's mom said...

didnt realize you were an ohioan too. very kind birthday greeting.

Kerstin said...

Awww, what a sweet story, happy birthday to your brother!!

{kiss my spatula} said...

such a lovely post and perfect cookies to cozy up with!

Jess said...

Linda - Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to wander through the archives. I'm very glad to hear that you enjoyed the chickpeas and tomatoes.

Andrea, what a sweet, sweet note. The feeling is mutual, my friend.

Rosiecat - Yes! There's nothing like a classic Toll House cookie.

thomfech - Well, well, if it isn't the lovely Tilt-a-Whirl deserter, herself. (There has to be a deserter / dessert-er pun in there somewhere…) Hi, Amy! Love you.

Sara - Thanks. I love writing these birthday posts. There’s so much fun in the telling.

El – In my post-adolescent days, I’m afraid I’ve joined the ranks of you and my dad. No more tilting or whirling for me. I hope that when you try out this recipe, it’s the one you’ve been waiting for.

Jennifer – Thank you. Yes, this Boston weather has been quite bewildering. Though I’m not complaining today. What a beautiful afternoon!

Dolce – Thanks. I’ll pass along the birthday wishes.

Shannalee – Thank you. Lucky for me, my siblings are not only great people, they’re also great material. (And also lucky for me, they don’t mind playing along!)

Char – It sounds to me like you appreciate a “smooth” cookie. I’m that way with ice creams. Hold the chunks, please. (With the exception of Graeter’s black raspberry chip, in which case, keep the chocolate coming.)

Frenchie – It’s true. As all of my siblings get older, I feel more and more grateful that I have them in my life.

Maybelle’s mom – Yep! I moved to Ohio when I was about six, and lived there until I graduated from high school.

Kerstin – Thank you.

Kiss my spatula – Thanks, and yes, I think oatmeal cookies are the coziest cookies.

Julie said...

Wow. Can I be included in the birthday series?
Funny.. I was just pondering as my birthday hastily approaches what cake I might choose, and pondering going for a pile of brownies or cookies, because I'm not that totally into cake either. I always go for ice cream "cake", but then why not do up cookies and get a tub of ice cream? I've got too many candles to contend with anyway...

Karine said...

That is a great tribute to your brother! Happy birthday to Caleb!

jacqui | happyjackeats said...

i don't live in columbus, ohio, but next time your family is getting together, can i come?

i also really wish i had an oatmeal cookie in my coat pocket right now.

lovely post!

Jess said...

Julie - Warm cookies with a scoop of ice cream sounds like the perfect birthday dessert. Who needs candles, anyway? Happy early birthday to you!

Karine - Thank you.

jacqui - You're welcome at our table anytime. I have a feeling you would fit right in.

Rogue Unicorn said...

Brothers are awesome. I have an older one myself.
Those cookies sound so homey and comforting-like a great big hug from a sibling.

Antonietta said...

What a lovely post! This is my first time reading your blog and I will surely be back!( I'm putting you on my blogroll so I can keep up!)

bluejeangourmet said...

okay, how cute are you & your brother??? Caleb's a lucky dude. and it's clear the feeling is mutual.

being an only child, I've always been jealous of the whole sibling bit. just ended up adopting some along the way :)

Kelsey B. said...

I love these cookies, too. My father-in-law always asks me to make them for him!

Unknown said...

These are delicious. I cut out 1/2 cup of the sugar (I don't have such a sweet tooth) and used spelt flower. These are a keeper. Thanks, Jess.