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.