January 15, 2011

Last week something amazing happened.  On Thursday, at around noon, I sat and had a lunch date with my husband.  In the 6½ years since we returned from London, we had never done that.  I don’t think we ever did it in London either for that matter.

The reason for the lack of lunch dates?  Randy worked at a very large company located across the lake from our house, a company well-known for a certain “culture”.  A company called Microsoft.  Perhaps you have heard of it?  Perhaps you know its reputation for asking a lot of their employees?

Randy is a self-described type Triple-A personality.  He works incredibly hard.  His trajectory since graduating from the Naval Academy in Annapolis goes a little something like this:

Go to flight school and graduate top of his class
Fly A-6 Intruders for a few years until they de-commission the aircraft
Go back to the Naval Academy to teach English
Get a Masters in Philosophy at nearby St. John’s at the same time
Go to Harvard for the MBA program
Move to Seattle to work at a start-up (this is when we met)
Get recruited by Microsoft

Basically, the guy has not slowed down since the day he was born.  Microsoft LOVES people like that.

All along, his career has afforded us a wonderful lifestyle but has also been hard on me and our family.  For the first five years of having children, he rarely saw them during the week.  Because of the commute, he was on the road before they were awake and home after they were in bed.  In the last year and a half, his office moved to the Seattle side of the lake and things got significantly better.  But then his travel schedule picked up dramatically and he was out of state 50-60% of the time.  He would come home and be exhausted from time changes plus the overall stress of travel and the job.

Periodically we would check in.  Is it worth it?  Are we ok?  Are the kids ok?  I would worry about him.  Waking up at 3am and not being able to fall back to sleep night after night because of stress is not sustainable.  To be fair, that was an extreme.  Most of the time, life as a Microsoft employee was challenging but not over the top.  He was very successful there and they recognized his hard work.  He was promoted steadily and received awards for the work he did.  And for the most part, he enjoyed his actual job, the work he did day to day.  He did not enjoy the constant “re-orging” and never being sure if the job he was doing that day would be there the next.

And then one day, Randy had had enough.  It was one request too many or one too many trips.  Maybe it was looking at Graham and thinking, “I have a six year old and I have not been here”.  Whatever it was, he reached a breaking point.  He reached out to his considerable network and started taking recruiting calls more seriously.  A company that had already approached him about a job twice re-appeared, this time with a friend of over 20 years as CEO.  Coffees, conversations, and number crunching happened.  As a family, we weighed the pros and cons.

I had always heard that term “golden handcuffs” but working through the decision, I really came to understand what it meant.  In all the years with Microsoft, we never paid a single cent for health care.  No monthly fees, no co-pays, no deductibles, no cost for drugs.  My two c-sections, Randy’s knee surgery, a herniated belly button surgery for Graham, four years of speech therapy, all the pediatric visits, and the two emergency room visits – we never paid a dime.  It is probably the best health care in the United States.  To me that was much more valuable than the stock left behind.

The fact that Randy would be taking a pay cut and our benefits would become more like most Americans (at least those who have health care) were the cons for the new job.  The pros list was less tangible and more emotional.  Working alongside two people he admires without question, an office 2.1 miles from our house, 25% travel at the most, a conscious decision to slow down – to be more present in our family.  It was that last one we really discussed.  For him to make this move, it had to be a lifestyle move, not just a job change.

I give him a lot of credit.  He was climbing the corporate ladder.  He had over 300 people reporting to him.  He had tremendous success.  And he decided that having lunch with his wife once a week was more important.  This new job is going to be very challenging.  He will still work very hard – he doesn’t know how to work any other way.  But he will go on field trips with Graham, he will be home at 6 (!) every night, he will sleep better, and learn from a trusted friend.

I have always loved the idea of sending Randy to work with a weekly treat.  But Randy has always worked in groups that were too large for it to make sense.  Now that he is at a much smaller company, the weekly treat tradition has begun.  His first week, I asked what he wanted me to make.  I knew it would either be the White Chocolate Almond Chunk Cookies or the Cowgirl Cookies, so I already had the Holly B’s cookbook in hand when I asked.  Sure enough, the Cowgirls won out.

This week, I made something new.  I was paging through my Tartine book, looking for the Lemon Cream recipe for last week’s party, when I happened upon this chocolate amazingness.  How is it that my chocolate loving self never made these?  I know they don’t look like much, but they are one of my most favorite cookies ever.  Essentially, they are a regular cocoa-based chocolate cookie to which you add a half pound of melted bittersweet chocolate.  The batter is like ganache and you pull the cookies out when they are just starting to set and the end result is like a chocolate pillow that you will want to sleep on forever.  As I was scooping them out, I thought a scattering of chocolate chips might be good for texture, but no no no!  No texture needed.  My only change is that I scattered a bit of sea salt (smoked Chardonnay if you must know) over the top of each cookie before baking and that was a good decision.

One Year Ago: Oatmeal Carmelitas

Deluxe Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 24 large or 36 small cookies

These cookies are very soft when you take them out of the oven so I would advise letting them rest on their baking sheet for a few minutes before moving them to the cooling rack.

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup + 1 tbsp. flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
Sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer.  Put the chocolate into a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the pan and place it over, not touching, the water.  Make sure the pan is completely dry before you add the chocolate and that no moisture gets into the chocolate.  Moisture will cause the chocolate to seize, or develop lumps.  Heat, stirring occasionally, just until the chocolate melts and is smooth.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a bowl.  Set aside.  Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy.  Slowly add the sugar and mix until the mixture is completely smooth and soft.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg.  Beat in the salt and vanilla, and then add the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated.  Add the milk and beat until combined.  Finally, add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.  Bake the cookies until they are just barely firm on top when lightly touched but are still very soft underneath, about 7 minutes.  They wil get firmer as they cool.  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool.  They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.


  1. So much new!
    Congratulations on change!
    How are your boys reactions?

    The cookies sound great and I am eager to give them a try.

    Comment by Annika — January 15, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  2. Congratulations on the big change! It sounds like it will be a wonderful new phase for your family. I hope that you settle into a new routine that means less stress and more time together for everyone. We had friends who worked at Microsoft and I know what you are talking about. Some would even spend weeknights in the parking lot in a motorhome so they could work longer hours on big projects. It is definitely a lifestyle commitment to work there. Here is to more lunch dates and fewer sleepless nights!

    Comment by Phoo-d — January 15, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  3. Even though I have never met and don’t know Randy at ALL, I am so proud of him for making this decision. I know it must have been super incredibly hard. I’m one of those triple A personalities to some extent and I know that’s going to make it hard for me to take a step back from my career when I have kids. Sometimes, I wonder whether I’ll really be able to do it. But it is awesome that he made this decision and I truly think you guys will be happier because of it. Cheers to you and these cookies, which are mega amounts of chocolate amazingness.

    Comment by Joanne — January 15, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  4. A weekly lunch with one’s wife and spending time watching your children grow is more important than the mighty dollar.

    Good for you and Randy to realize this and make a change.
    Stress is a killer on the individual and on the family.
    Change is good and I am happy for you both! (but I hope you will still be able to come to NYC once a year!!).
    Lots of luck to Randy in his new position.

    Comment by stacey snacks — January 15, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  5. Such wonderful news Dana! I am glad your entire family will benefit from this change of having your husband around. My lunch dates in the future!

    Comment by fresh365 — January 15, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  6. oops- more lunch dates ;)

    Comment by fresh365 — January 15, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  7. That must have been hard to make that decision. That’s why I quit working, years ago, to be with my children full time. I don’t look back and have enjoyed every minute of it. My husband still works 2 weeks on in the States and we see him 2 weeks per month but I am there for the kids. They really appreciate it. Glad you could have lunch with him.

    Comment by Helene — January 15, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  8. It makes me cry to think of what a wonderful change this is for your family. I’m so happy for you all. And those people are going to love the weekly treat tradition!

    Comment by Julie — January 15, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  9. I’m so happy for you and Randy, Dana. Thrilled is more like it. I can’t wait for you guys to get settled into a new rhythm with him being home! (PS Wish I wasn’t out of town tonight or I’d be with the boys…eating those cookies!)

    Comment by Catherine — January 15, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  10. Randy sounds like such a wonderful husband. And you, a wonderful wife. I wish you all the best through this change!!

    Comment by Sarah — January 15, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

  11. Such happy news! I’m sure your boys (and you) are super excited about this new change! Plus extra treats during the week, yum!

    Comment by Jacqui — January 15, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  12. Hi Dana, your post brought a tear to my eye. I too am making a job change this coming week and it felt very close to home. Congratulations to Randy, you, and your sweet boys. I can’t imagine how nice it will be to be together more often. That’s the most important thing.

    Comment by Steph — January 15, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

  13. As a grown child who’s dad made the same decision during my childhood, I can speak for children in that it will mean the world to them and all the difference when they begin their own careers and relationships. I am who I am because my father learned that balance.

    Not to mention, I am who I am because my mother was an incredible mother but always sought to achieve her dreams as well, just as you do with your delicious treats.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal decision, and the yummy cookies too!

    Comment by Kassandra — January 15, 2011 @ 7:31 pm

  14. What a sweet story, Dana. Congratulations to your husband for making such a difficult decision, and congratulations to you and your family for inheriting much more of him! It’s good to take a step back once in a while and think, is this what I want? Love your idea of sending him to work with treats, too! Sounds like something I’d do for my soon-to-be husband; though I don’t know how those would translate to a military base’s flight line or when he’s overseas flying in supplies. I’ll just ship them over!



    Comment by heather — January 15, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

  15. Thank you very much for a lovely post, Dana. We are working through our same career-changing dilemma at the moment. Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful time togetger. Also, what a great idea to send cookies to work. I think that might be a habit I’ll start this year.

    Comment by Adele — January 16, 2011 @ 1:00 am

  16. Congratulations! My husband made a similar decision when I was pregnant with our first child. It was daunting at first, and then even more complicated when I chose to stay home with our daughter when she was six months old, further reducing our household income. But ultimately, even though we had to adjust our priorities and make a few sacrifices as we transitioned from big endlessly-demanding corporate America to little family-friendly start-up, it was the best thing for our family, as I’m sure it will be for yours. Thank you for sharing your news. Thanks for blogging.

    Comment by Edith-Nicole — January 16, 2011 @ 3:30 am

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  18. Wow, this is such awesome news, Dana. Sounds like it will be a great change for all of you.

    I hope Randy’s new colleagues know how lucky they are that when they got him, they also got the great Dana Treat!

    Comment by Hilary — January 16, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

  19. Sounds like a nice change for your family. Just knowing that a lunch date is possible makes such a difference.

    Chocolate pillows and smoked sea salt? Perfect cookies!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — January 16, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

  20. Congratulations to you all! Enjoy this gift.

    Comment by Brooke — January 16, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

  21. Sounds like Randy made the right decision – family, time and lunch dates are luxuries that shouldn’t be put on the back burner. I love that my husband and I work with each other. We don’t have much money, but we’ve got time and lunch dates galore. Hooray for happiness!! And these cookies look pretty amazing too. They do look plain but those are the best kind of cookies. I can’t wait to bite into one.

    Comment by kickpleat — January 17, 2011 @ 12:15 am

  22. Thank you for sharing this. Having grown up in MD and known many Naval Academy grads (including my son’s father-in-law), I could identify with the sort of fellow your hubby is. My own household has always had it’s share of type A folks, and it is so important to balance having a successful professional life and a successful personal one. Families need to be nurtured–it’s wonderful to hear that you and your husband are taking steps to have more time to do so.

    Comment by Nancy Baggett — January 17, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  23. That was a nice story. I hope everything works out for the best! Money definitely makes life more comfortable, but as the old saying goes – it can’t buy happiness.

    Comment by Lisa @ The Cooking Bride — January 18, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  24. That’s wonderful! Both my hubby and I were comp sci majors and had the perfect careers when we were first married… However, two people working 60 hour weeks and attempting to adjust to marriage wasn’t going well. So, we (luckily) had the opportunity for me to pull back and start doing some part time consulting and quit my full time job. And, it was the best thing I ever did, and probably saved our marriage.

    Anyway, I’m happy for you and hope that you and your family will be much happier with the new change.

    Plus, these treats look fabulous!

    Comment by Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — January 19, 2011 @ 1:52 am

  25. having already known this story, I am still so impressed with the clear headed and committed way you guys approach your marriage, your family, and your life. The boys are incredibly lucky, as are you both…as am I since you pulled out this recipe and did the sane thing: added sea salt before baking! perfection. Can’t wait to make them, its your little bday gift to me :)

    Comment by Darcie — January 19, 2011 @ 2:30 am

  26. What a great post! I think we all struggle with this a bit – in a world that is increasingly more mobile and connected, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to an employer–even when you feel like you’re already giving 110%. That said, I’m glad your husband found a new and exciting opportunity that gives him the flexibility to appreciate what’s really important in life! Oh, and sidenote – I adore all Tartine baked goods :)

    Comment by Kasey — January 19, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  27. We are going to miss Randy at Microsoft but who can argue with his decision? I hope you share some delicious lunches together… And that you post the recipes. :)

    Comment by Erika — January 21, 2011 @ 1:26 am

  28. I totally understand this balance. I do this analysis today with my work all the time. Is it worth it, do i enjoy by job etc. etc. When i do not enjoy it more or worth it i am out! You only live once. Great post and good for you! From another Seattlite :)

    Comment by Delishhh — February 15, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

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