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In military life, cooking commands attention

I love food.

The military has fueled my love of food because so many functions involve eating. Formal and informal occasions. Large and small get-togethers. Day and evening gatherings. Brunch, luncheon or military ball, there is always an appetizer, entree or dessert that I enjoy eating.

Of course eating and cooking are two different things. Everyone can eat, but not all can cook.

Natural cooks can go in the kitchen and whip up delicious dishes from memory. Trained cooks follow recipes, cooking step by step.

Unfortunately, I fall into the second category, unlike my mother who never looks at a cookbook or measures ingredients. Cooking is definitely not hereditary.

Throughout our travels, I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful cooks who probably fall in the first category. Mostly spouses, but more than a few were in uniform, too. I remember a few lucky friends whose husbands not only did all of the cooking, but also did not mind grocery shopping at the commissary, too.

My family has the Army to thank for their sustenance. Although the thought has crossed my mind, I do not feed them MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat). MREs are packets of food usually given to soldiers when they are on a training exercise or deployed and unable to eat in a dining facility.)

Were it not for the military cookbooks I purchased at each post we were stationed, we would probably have relied on fast food, pizza deliveries and dinners from a box every night.

These cookbooks taught me to prepare simple family meals. After a while I graduated to entertaining and planned battalion parties, coffees (monthly get-togethers for spouses) and dinners with friends. I also keep a few "tried and true" recipes on hand whenever the theme is potluck.

Potlucks are a popular military pastime. My goal is usually to sample each item brought by all of the seasoned cooks. (Someone always brings a chocolate dessert that makes my day or night.) Also, potlucks have been another reason to encourage my repeated attempts at cooking. Going empty-handed is unthinkable and bringing chips or drinks is usually reserved for bachelors.

In fact I have been so (surprisingly) successful in the kitchen that I now have a few favorite recipes (borrowed from friends from past assignments) that I like to call my own. I have even submitted recipes to different cookbooks. This is very amusing to my five siblings who remember how clueless I was in the kitchen.

For all my successes, there have been failures. I remember one or two "recipes" that went directly from the stove to the trash can. Now, sometimes when I receive a compliment on a dish I prepared I am honestly so surprised that I forget to say "thank you."

Although I will never feel as comfortable in the kitchen as many of my military sisters, I do feel confident enough to prepare meals for my family, friends and guests.

Even though I am usually the first person to suggest dinner at a restaurant, I have learned to like my own cooking. And that is a testament to how much I love food!