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.


every last word

Yesterday's news about the demise of Gourmet magazine left me shocked, saddened, and speechless. I'll miss the many talented voices of Gourmet not only in the kitchen, but also in the living room, where I would do my first pass each month with sticky tabs in hand; at the table, where I'd flip through several issues at once, and plan the weekend's dinner party; and in bed, where I'd read every last word of every (last) issue, and often quote a few lines out loud from a particularly moving article to Eli before turning out the light. To mark the passing of this magazine that is about so much more than food, I'd like to share some images of the various corners of my home that it inhabits.

Dear Gourmet writers, photographers, editors, stylists, and recipe testers: Thank you. Truly. My thoughts are with you all. It's going to be a lot lonelier around here without you.


gourmet stack







a quick hello

Good morning, friends. I just wanted to pop in for a quick hello.

Eli and I are packing up the car this morning and driving to New York to spend the weekend with his family. We've got molasses cookies, cherry almond chocolate chunkies, and a pluot cake in tow, and several hours of old This American Life episodes for the ride. Which is not to say that I didn't also pack the requisite changes of underwear, a toothbrush, and a couple of sweaters, pulled just last night from our winter storage bin.

On our way to Eli's parents' house, we'll stop for a visit with my friend Maya, and her two little girls who, their mother reports, have a delightful muffin gnawing habit that tends to kick in when they're at the local zoo, and talking about owls and skinks.

We're just about out the door, but I thought I would leave you with a couple of photographs for the weekend. They're from our Labor Day trip up to the North Shore. It's hard to believe that it was almost a month ago.

We picked apples.


And ate fried things.


Clearly, I was focused on the onion rings. (Forgive me, but a pun that spans two media, photography and the written word? I was powerless to resist. Take a look at this shot big for the full effect.)

No recipe today, but take heart: A sizeable portion of the two pecks of apples that we picked ended up in a very special apple sauce, which I promise to tell you about next week.

Until then, enjoy the weekend. See you back here soon.