Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Bourbon & Peanut Butter

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So I was struggling with whether or not to write about the past few weeks but since the beginning I’ve always used this blog as a platform to write about whatever was going on in my life (remember the dandruff flakes? Ya well, you jut wait…) and I don’t think I want to set the precedent that I’m going to start BSing you now by being all like, Everything is great! when it isn’t, ya know? Feel free to skip to the cookie recipe if you so desire – they are amazing, and I won’t blame you, but if not, feel free to read on and you’ll understand why I’ve been a little (a lot?) MIA lately.

So it all began about a month ago when I started having these terrible abdominal pains. I thought about going to the ER but didn’t think I could get there by myself and thought it seemed a little dramatic for me to call 911, so I took some Advil and within a few hours I was feeling a little bit better and convinced myself I was fine.

Fast forward exactly one week and I find myself in the ER (yep) with my mom on a Monday (pro tip: the ER is a circus on Mondays, get sick on a Tuesday instead). We arrive around noon and it is literally a madhouse. I assume we’ll get to go in quickly, but when they finally bring me back three hours later and I realize what the people in front of me are dealing with, I feel pretty lucky. For the next few hours, in between blood tests, diagnostics, a CAT Scan and an ultrasound, my mom and I listen from our private room (thank you Washington Hospital ER) as the people around us are treated for knife wounds, chided for having doctor friends prescribe them medication without examination, and one particularly interesting character who was clearly there to detox from god knows what, who answered “Yes” when asked if he was married, but had instead chosen to bring his lovely girlfriend of one week to the ER with him, and who had some unsavory things to say about how good the needle the nurse gave him felt going into his skin. Cue my mom and I being both incredibly freaked out and laughing uncontrollably at the same time. Sitting in the ER for 12 hours will do that to a person, I guess.

So fast forward again to about 7PM, and a gynecologist comes in to my room and does a pelvic exam, and says that, looking at the tests, I’ve got some sort of mass on my ovaries. They can’t tell what it is, but its 9×6 inches. (Ladies) Did you know that your ovaries are the size of a finger nail? Because I sure as hell didn’t. So to think there’s a mass the size of a lime sitting on an ovary the size of a finger nail is insane. Then they’re trying to admit me to the hospital to have me stay overnight to monitor me and do some more tests on me the next day and I really don’t want to because I’m freaked out and I just want to go home and watch Dancing with the Stars with my mom and pretend this whole day never happened. So, my boyfriend shows up right about this time. I’d been texting him a bit throughout the day, and he finally gets here and calls his dad who is a badass doctor in Boston. And his dad says I should stay in the hospital. My mom turns to my boyfriend and asks what he thinks. My boyfriend says that he trusts his dad completely, and that if he’s saying I should stay in the hospital, then I should stay. So I stay.

MRI Pic.jpgMy sister and I right before my MRI

It all happens pretty quickly from the time I’m technically admitted to being wheeled up to my room which I’m sharing with some crazy old women (more on her later). The space is small and plain, with beeping machines book-ending me on both sides. There is a curtain to my right separating me from my roommate, and a big window to my left which takes up almost the entire wall. Even though its dark out I think that having that window there kept me sane that night. Well, that and my boyfriend who slept upright in the chair next to me and held my hand and put his noise-cancelling headphones on me when said crazy roommate started talking and moaning in her sleep.

To make a long story just a little shorter, I will tell you that I was in the hospital for two nights and three very long days, where I was monitored and tested and finally received an MRI that basically told us nothing. Luckily, the antibiotics the hospital administered made the abdomen pain virtually disappear. But the fact was, there was clearly a mass in my abdomen that shouldn’t be there, and the conclusion was that it needed to come out.

I was relieved when they sent me home, but probably not as relieved as my boyfriend who had slept on a chair next to my bed both nights, or my mom and sister who spent those three days sitting next to my hospital bed asking me to drink more juice and taking laps with me around the hospital floor. I couldn’t image staying there much longer. On day two my crazy roommate was literally and forcefully removed from the hospital after refusing to leave, during at which point there were maybe fifteen people in our room making sure protocol was being used as they lifted her to a gurney, while she cursed her daughter and the hospital, and escorted her off the premises. Then there was the guy across the hall who kept calling Nurse! in such a comedic, ridiculous way that my sister and I couldn’t help but laugh. Can’t say I’m going to miss that place but I will say the nurses were fantastic, sweet and made my stay all the more comfortable.

Then I was home, and we began the search for the perfect surgeon who could handle the procedure. I will say that the medical field is incredibly daunting if you are like me and have never really been sick before. From dealing with insurance people who kept trying to placate me by using words like “priority” and “expedite,” to researching top surgeons whose calendars were filled for months, to dealing with the awkwardness of explaining to my primary care doctor why I wanted a second opinion in addition to the kind doctor she recommended who delivered babies for a living. Healthy, beautiful babies, nonetheless, but after several pregnancy tests done by the ER and the hospital (Yes, I’m fairly certain I didn’t get pregnant in the last 24 hours since you checked), it was clear that wasn’t my issue.

I tried to take it as a positive sign that the surgeons I sought out didn’t feel the need to rush to see me, that if something was seriously wrong they would know and they’d need to see me tomorrow, and the fact that they weren’t doing that was likely a good thing. Still, when I finally made an appointment with a Stanford surgeon specializing in gynecology and oncology, and they sent me an informational packet, I will never forget opening it up and seeing “Stanford Cancer Center” on the cover page. I started laughing in that hysterical way that you laugh when something isn’t actually funny, but you aren’t sure what else to do. Inwardly, I was freaking out. I’m 28 years old. I can’t have cancer. But at the same time, I’m 28 years old, my life is good. I have a wonderful family. Great job. I’m getting my MBA and on top of that I the best friends I could ask for. Of course I have cancer. This is the universe’s way of ensuring an even playing field. It all made perfect sense.

After a lackluster meeting with the baby doctor my primary care doc had recommended (OK, she was also a surgeon but there were hundreds of baby pictures on the wall in her office), my mom and I met with Stanford surgeon Trung Nguyen on a Thursday, who specialized in oncology and gynecology. The hospital had prescribed me a pain pill called Narco when they discharged me, and I took two pills that morning for nerves. So maybe I should chalk it up to that when I say that when Dr. Nguyen walked into the exam room that morning and shook my hand, I felt an extreme sense of calm. He was incredibly professional but also very kind and genuine. He spoke with us for 2 1/2 hours, and at no point did he seem rushed or annoyed my any of our questions. At one point when he stepped out of the room for a second, my mom and I looked at each other and she said, I like him, and I nodded and said, Me, too. Just like that. When you know, you know, right?

Dr. Nguyen spent a lot of time speaking with us about all the things the mass could be. All the things it might be. He spoke about saving my ovaries if possible, and removing them if not. He used words like “hysterectomy” and “chemotherapy” and I just focused on breathing in and out, like this was any other day, any other doctors appointment, like this was completely normal. He asked what I wanted to do and I looked at my mom and I literally said – with feigned bravely and a big smile – Let’s do this. He said he could fit me in on Monday. So I sat there and I literally signed away my ovaries and my Fallopian tubes and my entire uterus, at 28 years old, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

So, I know that last paragraph was a little dark, but I promise it gets better. Is everyone still with me? OK, let’s finish this.

I spend the weekend before surgery in San Francisco with my friends. I usually like a little alone time every once in a while but this whole thing had made me crave being around people 24/7. Luckily my sister Candy has more friends than anyone I know so I spent most of the weekend with them, my boyfriend, and a few other really good friends who knew what was going on. Everyone is so nice to me, and so sweet and no one lets me pay for anything and when I protest my girlfriend just smiles and says she knows I’m fine but I should really milk this while I can.

On Sunday night my boyfriend takes me to our favorite restaurant in North Beach, where we lived separately for two years before we moved in together. We have a glass of wine and order so much pasta and pizza we don’t even finish half of it. I have to stop eating at midnight that night, so I’m trying to get as many carbs as I can. Dinner was a success in that I didn’t cry like I thought I would. We had a really nice time, all things considered. Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t really cry throughout this entire thing, until the next day.

My boyfriend drives me to the hospital the next morning. We arrive early and I see my sister for about two seconds before they take me back to surgery prep, but my mom isn’t there yet and it just feels too fast. They have me change into a gown and ask me to lay down on this bed and they give me an IV and all of the sudden I feel like I’m going to faint so I say, I’m going to pass out, to anyone who is listening and then I do. I just faint straight away and I wake up with an oxygen mask on and I tell the sweet, blond nurse who reminds me of my godfather’s lovely wife in a muffled voice to please go get my sister and I start crying. Not like beautiful, brave, glistening tear crying – oh no.  Picture ugly, out of control Kim Kardashian crying. I’m completely terrified and I don’t want to have cancer and I just want this whole stupid thing to go away and I’m tired of IVs and needles and being in hospital gowns.

And then my mom and dad are there, and my sister, and my boyfriend, but I don’t stop crying until my boyfriend gets really close to me and starts talking in this really calm voice about how we’ve done all the work and all the research to get to this point and we found the best surgeon, and now its time to let the doctor handle it. And he was right. After that, I calmed down a little and the anesthesiologist came over to speak with me and made a few dad jokes (which I have to say, I love) and gave me some medicine to calm me down further. From that point on I felt much better about everything. Kind of like I was flying above it all, and everything would all be fine. Which of course, it would be.

Mom.jpgMy mom brought adult coloring books to the surgery center. Isn’t she the cutest?

I don’t remember being wheeled into the operating room or anyone asking me to count down from ten, but when I wake up a few hours later and my mom and sister are standing next to my bed and they look so happy. They tell me that I had a non-malignant fibrous tumor and it had wrapped around my appendix. Dr. Nguyen removed my appendix and the tumor with a few laparoscopic incisions and one incision about two inches long on my right side near my bikini line. I was going to be fine. I don’t remember any of this, but my mom later told me I looked at them and smiled with my eyes half closed and I asked them, So I don’t have cancer? And they said, No. And then I just kept repeating, I’m so happy, over and over again. Which I was. High-on-pain-meds Ashley was very happy.

Blue cap.jpgMy boyfriend looking very serious just before my surgery. And me, not so much. 

I spend one night in the hospital (thankfully this time they gave me a private room and my boyfriend even got a reclining chair to sleep in which he was so excited about) and then my mom takes me home. Her home is literally filled to the brim with bouquets of get well flowers, as is our home in San Francisco. There was even a particularly beautiful one with yellow roses from my sister in New York. And throughout everything, I was overwhelmed with texts and emails and phone calls and care packages and I still can’t quite believe the way everyone in my life, including my boyfriend’s family across the country, stepped up to support my family and me.

So what’s the point of all of this? Well, I think the point is that this story has a very happy ending. But it easily could have had a very sad ending as well, and the fact that it didn’t is not lost on me.

Its only May but already its been a crazy year – and sometimes I have the tendency to focus a little too heavily on the things I don’t have or the things that aren’t quite right. The things I am lacking, the things that people around me and people in general have. We always want more, don’t we? Its just human nature and I think we can all get a little down on ourselves but if this whole situation has done anything for me, it has given me perspective in a way that I’m not sure anything else could have. At least, not in quite the same way.

I haven’t done much in the last 14 days since my surgery except ingest pain medication religiously and take painfully slow laps around the island in my mom’s kitchen. But there is a lot I want to start doing once I’m fully recovered. Like volunteering – which has been on my list since I moved to San Francisco but I’ve just never gotten around to it. I want to go visit my sister in New York. I want to stop being so hard on myself. Say “Thank you” more and “I’m sorry” less. Trust my instincts. I want to cook more. Worry less. Live a healthier life. Stop taking what I have for granted. I’m not saying I’m going to be able to make all these changes overnight but when I’m feeling down on myself I will come back to this post, just to remind myself of how lucky I am. And I’ll remind myself that I’m human and that its OK to not always get it right. The point is, I have time to work on it. Every day, moving forward. And I won’t ever take that for granted again.

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And now, cookies:

Ingredients –

1 egg
1/2 cup brown butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 tbs bourbon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup peanut butter chips

Make the cookies:

  1. Beat together the egg, butter, sugar, vanilla extract and bourbon until it is combined and creamy. I did this by hand but its easier if you use an electric mixer:)
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined.
  3. Fold in the peanut butter chips.
  4. Using a 1/4 cup or a melon baller or an ice creamer scooper or a tablespoon (you get the idea), spoon the dough into small rounds onto a cookie sheet, and flatten them slightly with your hands. Pop the tray into the fridge to chill for about 2 hours.
  5. Then move the dough onto a greased cookie sheet and bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes at 350 degrees.

This recipe makes about a dozen yummy, boozy cookies.

 

 

Comments

  1. Maria Auman (da Costa) says:

    That is a beautiful story Ashley! I am so glad you are doing well and how brave you are to share your experience with us! Good things happen to good people, and your a truly an amazing person! The cookies look so yummy! My hubby is a big peanut butter fan so I will for sure be trying these out!!! ❤️

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