“Someday girl I don’t know when
we’re gonna get to that place
where we really wanna go,
and we’ll walk in the sun.
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run …”
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” played on repeat throughout the entirety of our 6-day cross-country road trip. If not from the car’s actual speakers, then most definitely inside my head. It seemed a befitting soundtrack to what I was sure would be a grand adventure. Lucas and I packed up our belongings and crammed them into my small silver Hyundai (the “diet coke can on wheels” as I often called it) and we set out for the West Coast. This six-day road trip across the country bookended our 3-month stay in Portland (three days getting there, three days getting home) where we lived with my most hospitable and ever-welcoming family so Lucas could do some research and I could do some exploring. From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters, we were just a couple of kids setting out on the long, open, American roads to see what this great country of ours had in store. That was the idea, at least. Romantic. Spirited. Admirable. However, such was not the case for us on our cross-country adventure. We explored no forests, swam in nary a body of water, took zero photos in front of “the world’s biggest ball of twine” – none of that. Thanks to some miscalculations, unpredictable Montana forest fires, and some strict deadlines, Lucas and I made it all the way across the US of A and back without seeing much of anything – at least not the “supposed to’s” – those bucket list places that you’re just supposed to see before you die.
Save for a quick but highly successful stop at Mt. Rushmore, we zoomed along and eventually became impressed with ourselves for how bad our planning had been. It was so bad, it was actually impressive. We pulled up to Yellowstone just as things were shutting down for the day, stopping long enough to use the restroom near the park’s entrance. At least I can say that I’ve been to Yellowstone National Park, though. My claim might be based purely on a technicality, but I’ll take it. We flew through the entirety of the Idaho portion of our trip when it was too dark to see anything. I hear it’s a great state though; a real stunning place. I even had my “Idaho? No You Da Ho!” shirt on just for the occasion. That flashback brings with it a hint of embarrassment, I’ll admit. Oh, the things we think are great when we’re in our early twenties …
I never even got to enjoy playing, “Badlands” in the actual Badlands, which was a silly yet unquestionable must-do for me on our road trip. The Diet Coke Can on Wheels transported us swiftly through that most intriguing section of our country in the dead of night. Seriously?!? I remember thinking. We couldn’t see a thing. What a couple of morons. Still though, Bruce belted out the tune and I opened my window to breathe in the fresh Badlands air as we passed through them. Better luck next time, I suppose. We’ll be back someday.
This road trip of ours wasn’t a total loss though. We’ll always have Rushmore! I thought this, as we pulled into our Norfolk, VA neighborhood on the last day of our trip. We had a fantastic time, enjoyed great weather throughout (almost) the entirety of our journey and listened to a better-than-average book on tape. Oh, and I won the lottery. There was also that.
The wind that whips across the vast, desolate open plains of Western Nebraska is a vicious kind. My cheeks, and perhaps most notably, my hair had yet to make the acquaintance of such a gusty breed prior to my afternoon spent in that small corner of the country. Lucas and I had pulled over at a gas station to re-fill the Coke Can, grab a few bags of junk food, and stretch our legs. Nebraska is a lengthy state and carries with it a certain brand of monotony that I’m wont to believe is highly specific to the Plains states. If you’ve ever driven across it, you probably understand one’s need to take a bit of a breather by the time you’ve reached its westernmost portion.
I uncurled my legs and arms and stepped outside of the car, happy to have pressed the “pause” button on our frenzied road trip for a bit. Immediately, I was taken with our surroundings, or lack thereof, as well as the incredible amount of wind that was blowing and throwing everything around, having its way with the scenery. My hair, namely. The lovely “up do” I’d attempted to create during the height of my boredom in the car had been obliterated as soon as I exited the car. Formidable, that Western Nebraska wind is. It seemed to be fighting everything else for our attention, and it won. While Lucas filled up the car’s tank I hopped right back inside to get out of the wind. After paying, Lucas emerged from the gas station, requisite snacks in hand (beef jerky and giant chocolate cookies), and presented me with my very own lottery ticket.
“Oh gee whiz, you really shouldn’t have.” I quipped, laughing at his random choice of purchase. “I never win things. This was a waste of money … you probably should’ve just gotten a couple things of Tic Tacs or something.” I scratched the crumbly gray coating off the ticket, and lo and behold, I’d won. I think it was something like $12, maybe less. But it was a winning ticket, and that was cause for excitement.
“Oh great! That’s perfect … such good timing …” Lucas snatched the ticket from me, a pleased look in his eyes, and he marched right back into the gas station. Not five minutes later, he returned holding two rather large sandwiches – the stuff his dreams are made of. I’ve yet to meet anyone who adores a sandwich quite like my husband, so I guess I shouldn’t have been at all surprised that he opted to take my winnings and spend them immediately on a couple of multi-layered, cold cuts-filled, cheesy, carby, stacked sandwiches. I didn’t even have time to revel in the fact that I’d won the Nebraska Lottery before we were forging on toward our destination once again, double-decked sandwiches sitting comfortably on our laps. Oh well, I thought. Twas fun while it lasted, that whole “winning the lottery” feeling.
Cheyenne, Wyoming was just up ahead, and if we booked it, we’d make it there before nightfall and actually get to see the place. With that, we clinked our Diet Coke cans and toasted to Nebraska, its lottery and two very winning sandwiches.
Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies
My favorite version of a triple chocolate cookie. Made with a batter rather than a dough, these cookies are soft and pillowy on the inside and crinkled and slightly crisped around the edges. A very popular treat in my household. (adapted from Chef Tom Douglas)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa powder typically, but regular is just fine)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon molasses
1 cups white chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler (a bowl) set over a small pot of simmering water until melted and smooth. Cool for 10 minutes before using.
Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until crumbly. Add the eggs into this mixture, one at a time, beating well after each is added. Continue to beat this mixture until it is light and creamy, about 3 – 4 minutes. Add the lukewarm chocolate, vanilla, and molasses and beat just until blended. Fold in the dry ingredients and then the white chocolate chips.
Drop the batter by heaping soup spoonfuls (about 3-tablespoons per cookie) onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart (they spread). Bake the cookies 1 sheet at a time, until the tops are evenly cracked but the cookies are not quite firm to the touch, about 11 – 13 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheets before transferring.
Smoky “Barbecue” Club Sandwich
A club sandwich, in its pure and classic form, is merely a double-layered sandwich of ham and turkey, cheese, lettuce of some sort, bacon, fresh sliced tomato, and mayonnaise all layered between three slices of toasted bread. For a solid, how-to guide, check out this easy recipe from Serious Eats.
To achieve the smoky barbecue version that I like to make sometimes, I just alter a few of the sandwich’s components a little. I use:
- Smoked cheddar cheese (or smoked gouda)
- Smoked turkey and smoked ham
- Barbecue mayonnaise (recipe below)
- Barbecue-spiced bacon (recipe below)
for the barbecue mayonnaise: I simply stir together equal amounts of mayonnaise and a good smoky barbecue sauce – that’s it. Makes a great sandwich spread and sometimes, for a little extra tang, I’ll add a splash of apple cider vinegar.
for the Barbecue-Spiced Bacon:
INGREDIENTS (adapted from Bobby Flay)
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
2 teaspoons dried ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1.5 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
12 slices of bacon
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a baking rack on top (if you don’t have one, that’s okay. You can just lay the bacon directly on the foil).
Combine all of the spices in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Coat all of the bacon slices with an even layer of the barbecue spice rub and lay them on the baking rack (also in an even layer). Roast the spiced bacon for 11 – 13 minutes (varies depending on the size/thickness of your bacon), or until crispy and cooked to your liking. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain a bit before using.