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If Only We Can Be So Lucky

sunset

As you’re reading this, I’m probably in my little Volkswagon driving five hours North to visit Jean. Remember Jean? She’s my dear friend who, exactly one year ago, was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street in Brooklyn. I remember what I was wearing and doing and feeling the second I heard the news. I’ll never forget that sleepless night–looking back, I know I was completely in shock and the realization would only slowly sink in. Still today, every single time I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge I think of Jean. I’m not really sure why except maybe because of how much she loved the city and how she wanted to move here someday, have a family and settle down.


I debated for a long time about driving up and seeing Jean’s grave on the anniversary of her death. I’ve never gone to visit a grave and done the whole ‘bring flowers and hang out’ thing. I don’t really know what that looks like. I guess I’ll find out. I’m already stressed about what color flowers to bring and worried I may truly unravel. But Jean’s mom is there and her brother’s driving up, and I want to spend time there. Just being. Just sitting on her couch and chatting. I hear a rumor that we’re actually going to plant an illegal rhododendron bush by her headstone (apparently, digging in cemeteries is kind of looked down upon).

Afternoon coffee

Last week, I was thinking about Jean–knowing September 28th was getting closer and closer. I hopped over to her blog, a place where she was exploring the person she was becoming after moving to New York: a writer, an explorer, a lover, a friend. The last entry on her blog was dated September 22: the same date I was sitting there underneath my covers starring at my computer screen…one year later. This was Jean’s last blog post–the last words she had on public record for all to read. And you know what they said?

“I live in special city, I have parents who love me despite my flaws, I have friends who know all of my misgivings and we can laugh about it openly. I know I’m not perfect, I’m flawed and selfish and downright goofy at times. But underneath all that, the person I see, is someone who is doing their best, who is honest, who is nice and also very caring. I am out there, loving and learning and at the end of the day, I can respect myself for that.”

Every time I read that I get chills.  If only we can all be so lucky to have such understanding and gratitude towards the end of our lives. I wish that for everyone, and I thank Jean everyday for showing me what a life well lived really looks like.  That girl knew how to take a risk and have a good time.  She may have been messier than anyone I’ve ever met, she may have spilled bacon grease all over the stove and left uncountable trails of sunflower seeds wherever she went, but she lived the hell out of life.

So now…I’m on the road, cookies in tow. Because while I don’t really know what people do when they visit a gravestone, I do know that when you stay at someone’s house you should always bring a little something. Preferably, something sweet.

homemade oreos

Homemade Oreos
These are the perfect chocolate sandwich cookie: nice rich flavor from the cocoa powder, perfectly crisp cookies, and fluffy filling.  I use Valrhona cocoa powder and  don’t get caught up with whether one or another is dutch-process or not: just use the darkest, highest quality cocoa powder you can find/afford.  For the cookies themselves, I adapted the recipe from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It and experimented with a filling that I was happy with: not too firm and not too sweet. Just right.

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), chopped into cubes
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips or chunks, melted and cooled
2 -4 tablespoons water

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cup sifted confectioners sugar (feel free to use more to make an even thicker filling, but check the sweetness as you go)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Pour the sugar into a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Then add the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa and quickly pulse to combine. Add the butter and process very quickly just until coarse crumbs form. Blend in the egg yolks and vanilla and scrape the melted chocolate into the batter. Mix to combine.

Preheat the oven to 400 F and grease 2 baking sheets. Make sure the oven rack is in the center of the oven. Gather the dough together on top of a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a flattened rectangle. Set one disk aside and roll out the first one by covering it with a sheet of parchment or wax paper and rolling it into about a 13 by 15 inch rectangle. The dough will be 1/4 inch thick.

Cut out as many cookies as you can using a 2-3 inch round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a glass). Gather any remaining scraps and cut out more cookies. Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until the edges are very slightly darkened. The cookies may rise a little during baking, but flatten out again once cool.  Since these cookies are naturally dark, it’s easy to over bake them, so be careful. Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat with the second half of the dough. If it gets too soft, put it in the fridge for five minutes. Cool all the cookies on a rack for at least 30 minutes before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the butter and lard/shortening in a mixing bowl and gradually beat at a low speed, pouring in the sugar and vanilla as you go. Turn the mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

To assemble the cookies, fill a pastry bag fittted with a 1/2 inch tip with the frosting. Pipe teaspoon-size circles of filling onto the center of one cookie, and gently place another on top. Work all the filling evenly inbetween both cookies by pressing them lightly together.

Makes:20-24 cookies
Can store at room temperature, in an air-tight container, up to 1 week.

  1. Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Megan, this post has me wiping away tears from the corner of my eyes here in my cubicle, and I didn’t even know Jean. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but I’m glad you’ll have Oreos and Jean’s loved ones to accompany you on your visit.

    How reassuring to know she was at peace with herself and her life, even if that was taken from her much too soon.

  2. Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Thinking of you today on your trip. I grew up with a culture that visits our loved ones’ graves at least once a year. Friends and relatives meet up there, we bring flowers food, and smiles, and stories. We are there as if our dear departed were there with us. The first few years were with tears, as expected, but there was always a certain kind of peace that we were all there for them. I’m sure Jean would love to have all of you together there. Big hugs. The oreos look great! What a treat for the family!

  3. Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

    What a beautiful tribute to a great friend! Thanks for sharing. On Friday it will be my mom’s birthday – the first birthday where she won’t be around anymore. There isn’t a grave for me to visit nor am I flying home to be with my brother and dad, but maybe I’ll bake my mom a cake.

  4. Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

    What a sweet friend you are!

  5. Sarah
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Visiting graves is kinda funny, and I can understand that you debated going. I still feel strange when I visit my father’s grave, but I’ve been going anyway. It is good to just go and ‘be’ there. I’m sure you’ll find it to be the same visiting your late friend.
    Nice work on the recipe too. Food is always the sweet and constant healer of all life’s wounds.

  6. Posted September 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Thinking of you honey. What a terrible thing to lose a friend. I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life – no loss yet. I hope this will bring some healing for you and the family.

  7. Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Your friend must have been an awesome person to get a friend like you. Sorry for your loss, true friends are priceless.

  8. Posted September 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Love and strength to you, Megan. Losing a friend is excruciating–I went through it in college–but what better way to remember someone than through their own words. Hugs!

  9. Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    A lovely tribute to your friend.
    I never new Cemetery culture existed until my parents died and people started telling me all the crazy and fun things they do when they visit the cemetery.
    Mimi

  10. Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Oh, Megan. I didn’t realize that’s why you were headed up north this week. I’m so sorry. I hope you’re doing ok and that it’s comforting to be with her family. How wonderful that she’d written that post, not only because she felt that way, but because it let her friends and family know that she felt that way. If only we can all be so lucky, indeed.

    I’m thinking of you and everyone who loved Jean today.

    Also, those are some damn good cookies, lady!

  11. MomGordon
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    I was sitting here alone in the house worrying and wondering about my “little” girl up in Eureaka. Then I read your post. I’m not worried anymore- that “little” girl is going to be just fine.

  12. Pop Gordon
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Your comfort in sharing so eloquently is one of the reasons folks, and your parents, love your writing. It’s a good thing you’re doing by traveling to Eureka, spending time. These are easy things to intend to do, one’s better for having done them. Travel safely and don’t eat too many “Oreos”.

  13. Melody
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Hey Cookie – Best Oreos I have ever tasted! And so glad to learn the ‘back story’. Keep on keeping on – and like I said, I would totally pay good money for that cookie – so where’s the farmers market pop-up?

  14. Carra
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Lovely words. Hope your time spent with jean’s family brings you joy & peace. Also, wishing you a cathartic visit with your dear friend. Perhaps you should share an Oreo with her as well. Xoxo. Perhaps I’ll run into you around town.

  15. Mary
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    What a gorgeous tribute to Jean. And what a Summer Day it is – just like the poem. May we all be more like your friend.

  16. Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:41 am

    I was on the edge of tears, reading this. I don’t really know what it is to lose someone that close to me and I hope it’s a long time before I find out, but I guess we have to appreciate the moments we have with one another and live in the present. I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope this one year anniversary is full of memories and laughter, instead of sadness and wishful thinking.

  17. Lori
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Dear Megan, How lucky Jean was to have you as a friend to remember her and to keep that memory alive. How lucky Jean’s family is to have a friend like you who doesn’t push the grief and pain away but instead shows your devotion to Jean’s memory. And how lucky are you to be such a compassionate person who can experience all of this and capture it so beautifully. I know these times can be extremely difficult, but I also know the heart knows no calendar and that there are days where her loss is felt greater than others. On those days, I hope your spirits will be buoyed by the love and support of your family and Jean’s. Drive carefully.

  18. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:07 am

    Megan,
    I’m very sorry to hear about your friend. It really sounds like she was a gem, and people like that are hard to lose, especially in such a sudden way. It will be hard to drive up, and hard to be there, but at the same time, it might be very theraputic.
    I know just how hard it is when those dates, birthdays, a year from passing, start to creep closer. I’m happy you decided to be there, maybe being with all of her most important people will help in this tough time.

    Dana

  19. Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Megan, I am so sorry to hear what happened to Jean. I imagine she will be looking down at you, with a smile on her face and happy to see you there with cookies in tow! Enjoy the peace and remember the love!

  20. Jessica
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Megan, that was such a beautifully written expression of love and care for your friend Jean. I was moved to tears reading this. You are a truly gifted writer and I’m sure Jean is looking down on you now with love in her heart. I hope the trip was a good experience for you and I’m sure her family so appreciated you being there. xoxo
    Jess

  21. Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I’m so sorry you lost your dear friend. I hope you find comfort in spending time with her family. I’m sure the cookies will help (they really do look good)

  22. Posted September 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    wow… intense, i can’t deny there are tears in my eyes. i’m really sorry for your loss, it’s obvious that jean is remembered and loved. the cookies look delicious

  23. Posted September 30, 2010 at 6:56 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend on the anniversary of her death. What beautiful cookies. I know she will be touched. I am. Deeply.
    Valerie

  24. Posted October 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Reading Jean’s last blog post is a reminder of the fragility of life. Really, I’m sitting here sort of frozen, thinking of it all. I hope your journey was a good one.

  25. megang
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Joy: Thank you for sharing your nice words about the way your family commemorates lost ones. Really nice to hear.

    Jeanette: I’m really sorry to hear about your mom. You know what they say about time…I love the idea of a cake!

    Sarah, Kasey, Jessica, Denise, El Janet, Carra, Mary, Melody, Dana: Sweet comments, ladies. Seriously kept me going reading them throughout the few days I was up there.

  26. Posted October 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    What a terribly sad story, but you seem like a lovely lovely friend. Your cookies, too, look wonderful. xo

  27. Posted October 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Megan, I am sorry I am just catching up on blogs but I wanted to jump in here and say how special YOU are. Anyone who calls you their friend is incredibly lucky.

  28. Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I, too, am catching up on blogs today. I hope your visit to Jean’s grave went okay. Did you find it comforting, being there with her family? Your post was very moving–I’m crying for someone I never met. She sounds like a great person. Just like you.

  29. Posted October 4, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Jean was very lucky to have such a great friend. I know that she is looking down and is smiling at her great friend. I wouldn’t worry about how appropriate the flowers are, as from what I’ve read- Jean wouldn’t mind . . . She’d probably be glad that you were there and brought her a heartfelt gift.

    Take care!

    BTW, those oreos look absolutely lovely!

  30. Posted October 6, 2010 at 9:28 am

    How sweet you are. Reading this post gave me chills!

  31. Kristen
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Beautiful post, Megan. Losing a friend is one of the hardest things to go through. Thank you for sharing this story :)

  32. Posted December 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    After talking with you yesterday about homemade oreos I now cannot stop thinking about them. Just looking at that picture makes me want one right now!

  33. Julie
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I came across your post after seeing a link to your oreos on The Kitchn. I wanted to let you know how touching it was for me to read your post about your friend Jean. We also lost a friend at a very young age and although it was 5 years ago it seems particularly difficult this year. Your post was very moving and comforting to me. Thank you for being brave and sharing her story.

  34. megang
    Posted December 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you so much for your sweet comment Julie. I do think the grief travels in strange waves, and seems stronger around the holidays, no?

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