Chocolate Chip Sea Salt Cookies: Love and Grief

For the sweet K Family P, T, E, and Baby E – forever in my heart


Friends of mine lost their baby and asked me to speak at their baby’s memorial service. These are my words.

*****

There is a strange, dreamlike quality that comes over parents the moment they discover they are pregnant — such hope and elation and promise of what will come in nine months. They are excited and desire to tell people, but hold onto their secret until things are “safe” and things from a medical perspective are secure. Only then do they tell people who are overjoyed for them, and many who also suspected all along. And I, along with so many others, enjoy these happy revelations of babies to come.

But my first news about Baby E was not to be as such. TK came to me for some thoughts and possibly words of comfort and hope I could offer, based on my own experience with my brother, who also had challenges with not so positive news about his twins. And the pain in her voice as she she shared Baby E’s diagnosis of Trisomy 18, and while she asked the questions and asked to hear my own testimony, weighed on me. I had no right answers, no words to take her pain, but I did tell her something that pressed on my heart at the time — God didn’t want her and PK to have to have the burden of choosing what to do with Baby E. That instead, she and PK could wait, if that seemed like something they wanted to do — to simply wait.

The decision to not terminate the pregnancy, one that PK and TK made after lots of soul searching, website reading, pastor talking, information gathering, ultimately was a decision that went against the advice of many around them, but I know it was a decision they came to with fervent prayer and consideration. This was a decision they were leaving to God, and in the wait, they discovered things about themselves and demonstrated to those around them character that encouraged and challenged. The subsequent six months of waiting would reveal to them their own personal courage and strength to trust God when the circumstances were against them. And most importantly, the wait gave them an opportunity to love Baby E, in a way that maybe doesn’t make sense to some. This love of Baby E, very much a powerful love, is ultimately an imperfect reflection of God’s love. To love a child not yet born, is very much how God has loved all his children.

There are a few images that I keep in my head, to remind me of specific words and emotions that I may want to capture in words at a later date. There is one that I have in my head of the first time I saw Baby E, which was in a hospital room at Stanford, this tiny little wisp of a body, in the arms of his dad, who had all of his many, many biceps bulging at various angles, holding him. It is an image of grief, which I’ve come to understand as a form of extreme love when it confronts death. As an observer to this grief and love, I was left breathless. As TK lay in the bed, responding to our mundane questions about her operation and recovery, I was distracted by PK holding Baby E. I could not take my eyes off of them, together, PK rocking his son, proudly showing us his child, and all the while tears were in his eyes as he tried to process what had happened to his hope to hold his child alive, and his hope to see his love for Baby E returned. It’s an image of unrequited love — not of the kind that we are used to thinking of, but this love of a child so powerful and so pure, to not have returned back, in the form of cries and gurgles and beautiful eyes staring back.

PK asked all of us if we wanted to hold him, and we all took turns. When mine came, I looked down at Baby E, noted his perfect head, his hair like his sister’s, his nose shaped like TK’s, his 10 fingers, his ears, and his body, light because it had not Baby E’s spirit. And I confronted a little bit of that grief in the room in that moment — I had a chance to see what was lost, and the smallest sliver of understanding of their grief. I also know that there was a day when they had to leave Baby E behind, to say their final goodbyes to the physical representation of the waiting and hoping they had done, and I don’t have the words to capture what I don’t think I can fully understand. Because after their wait, PK and TK had to leave their son behind.

But I know Baby E has left his mark on this world and being this accidental outside observer to his life has taught me some things.

While PK and TK waited, they loved courageously and they loved fearlessly. They loved fully, even while knowing the risks, and just loved Baby E unconditionally. They did not know what was to come at the end of their waiting, but just opened their hearts to love him. It’s the way God has told us to love, the way God loves us, but a way that is hard to do in a world where we love with condition and love while measuring risk. I am challenged to love people better after witnessing this kind of fierce and wild love.

I’ve also learned that my brain is teeny tiny compared to the vastness of God and His purpose. As much as I’ve questioned God, tried reasoning with Him, and asking WHY, I’ve come to a place where I know that I cannot minimize God’s design and make it possible for me to understand. I don’t have to understand God completely to know that God loves PK, TK, EK, and Baby E. There is perfection in His love that defies feeble human understanding.

Baby E has also taught me that even if time is so short and brief, we can make an impact on those around us, and that should be first and foremost our desire on this earth: to touch lives, to create change, to leave our own fingerprints on others by sharing love and goodness.


Thank you PK and TK, Baby E, for allowing me to witness, record, and share your great love, your sacrifice, and your lasting impact.

*****

Many of you ask, why this post with this cookie? Because in life’s beautiful way, after a heart-wrenching memorial service, the mourners gathered in the home of the K family, to share food, to laugh, to soak in that spirit of love in the face of grief. Even in this sad moment, humans have the endurance and strength to laugh and remind themselves of the hope that still exists after death. Life continues — a different color certainly, but the days continue to pass all too quickly. And in this space, I ate a chocolate chip cookie from a bakery (Neighbor Bakehouse in Dogpatch), and I went up to PK and I said, “THIS COOKIE IS AMAZING! and NOW I WANT TO BEAT IT!” because it tasted so good. And PK laughed and said, “You like that? I’ll be happy to judge.” For a brief moment, grief subsided and there was the reminder that my competitive nature still rears its ugly head.

This is, of course, a chocolate chip cookie – a fine one, if I might brag. It does have some special ingredients (chocolate disks vs. chips), a touch of special technique (brown butter), and the requirement of a bit of resting time (at least 6 hours).  And after making it, take a moment and relish the life we have and the life we get to live, in all its many shades of grief, love, and joy.

Chocolate Chip Sea Salt Cookies
(adapted from Rage and Bake)
Makes 20-24 cookies

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup Heath Bits o’brickle

1½ cups chocolate disks (I like Guittard – experiment with different levels of sweetness in their disk offerings to find the best balance for your taste)
Flaky sea salt

Method
Oven will need to be preheated to 375, but due to the resting period involved in these cookies, there will be no need to preheat until after mixture has been made and rested for at least 6 hours.

Cook butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until it foams, then browns, 5–8 minutes. Scrape into a mixing bowl and let cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, add both sugars, baking soda, salt and mix these dry ingredients well.  Add browned butter. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until mixture lightens and begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour and beat just to combine. Remove mixer blades. The rest of the mixing will be done by hand.

Mix in toffee pieces and chocolate wafers with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Cover dough well, and refrigerate, allowing the flour to hydrate. Dough seem runny at first, but will thicken as it sits.

Allow dough to warm up at room temperature about 30 minutes. Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375. Scoop and shape 6 to 8 ping pong ball-sized dough balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 3″ apart. Leave plenty of room as these cookies spread. Do not flatten. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake cookies until edges are golden brown and firm 9–11 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Printable recipe

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