Growing up as an only child, my mother never asked me to cook, thus I never learned how. After I married, cooking became a requirement, especially as I was looking for a teaching job and my husband, Jim, was a second lieutenant working LONG hours. I made tacos the first time I cooked a meal for him in our apartment in Tacoma, WA.
I worked hard on that meal, chopping the ingredients and cooking the meat just right. I burned the taco shells in the oven, of course, but I still felt quite proud of myself. While in the midst of creating my first mini feast, Jim came home. He brought a friend with him named Schmuck. Just what I needed, a guest at the first dinner. They sat down in the chairs in front of the television and promptly fell asleep. I felt guilty waking them for dinner, but I don’t really know why. They ate, went back to the TV, and fell asleep again. I remember thinking, “So this is what married life is going to be like?”
A feast for two
For Thanksgiving, all I knew was that turkeys were big, so I bought a 26 pound turkey for the two of us. Yup, I did. I got up at early light to start cooking, and it roasted all day. I made mashed potatoes from scratch, and served the cranberry sauce with whole cranberries. We ended up inviting our neighbors over to help us eat the turkey, a wise move. Jim was disappointed that I had not made the mashed potatoes the way his mom had, from a box. He also didn’t like whole cranberries in the sauce, points I pondered for future reference. I hadn’t made the dressing the way his mom did either, but I ended up a winning on this one in the long run. That turkey survived in our freezer for 2 1/2 years before we PCS’d and threw it out. Strange things happen during military moves.
Saved by the freezer
My cooking improved after that first year, but I followed recipes strictly for a while. That meant cooking for six when the recipe called for it. Jim grew up with two brothers and a sister–there were never left overs. Jim thought he had to finish everything I made for meals. He gained a quick 10 pounds before I figured it out and would freeze half of the dinner I made before he got home. Lesson learned!
When Jim commanded DDC I took a break from teaching and met our son and daughter at the bus stop with homemade cookies, just as I had always imagined doing. One day, Jim returned home from a trip to learn about a commanders’ conference at DDC. 30 of his commanders were in town. I will never forget the phone call at 10:15 that morning, asking me if I could cook dinner for 30 people that evening. Believe it or not, I had learned a great deal about my husband over the 19 years we had been married. He had done this to me before, but not for such a large group. I had long since learned to get into the habit of cooking twice what we were going to eat that night. When we had a dinner party, I would make two lasagnas and freeze one. I always kept a cooked turkey and ham in the freezer. I would make double the number of appetizers needed for a party and freeze the rest. Thus, in my freezer I had three lasagnas and the works already made. A bag of salad, rolls, and dessert were all that was needed to complete the dinner. Never a dull moment at our house!
Re-purposed = Delicious
I also discovered that if people didn’t know what a recipe was supposed to end up looking like, it could be changed into something else entirely if it flopped. If the fudge didn’t harden, I would put it over ice cream as a topping. If the stew was runny, I would put it over rice. A friend introduced me to Potatoes Flatillo–that is when the twice baked potatoes I had made flattened out. They were still delicious, and the name gave it character. Like everything in the Army, you have to adapt, and cooking for Soldiers is no different. Flexibility is paramount in marriage. Combining marriage, cooking, and the Army is always an adventure.