Before I got married, my mom gave me a small three-ring binder. In it she had written down some basic recipes and family standards. She also included quite a few blank pages, which over the years have been filled with recipes. The now-faded blue notebook has become a culinary history of military assignments and friends.
The raspberry coffee cake I make every year on Christmas morning came from Heidi, who lived on our street at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.
Kari Ann, a friend at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, gave me her recipe for white chicken enchiladas, which make many specially requested appearances at our table.
One of the original recipes my mother wrote in the book is a family favorite: pumpkin cookies. It came from her friend, Karen, who like my mom was a military wife. I have made these cookies all over the world, adding notations in the margin about the idiosyncrasies of ovens at various assignments: 375 degrees for 13 minutes at Los Angeles Air Force Base; 180 (Celsius) for 15 minutes in our German oven in Ramstein; 350 (back to Fahrenheit) for 12 minutes here in Virginia.
My biscotti recipe includes an odd notation: “From Paige’s Mom, who got it from ‘a lovely Egyptian woman.’ ” Paige was my neighbor and good friend at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan. Her mom shared the recipe and its origin when she came to visit from New Hampshire. It was worth recording in my notebook that this European recipe came to me in Asia, apparently by way of North America and Africa.
The notebook holds one secret, shared by my friend, Gloria. She’s from Puerto Rico but we were stationed in California together. She gave me her recipe for flan, on the condition that I not reveal one of the ingredients. Unfortunately, even with Gloria’s secret, I’ve never been able to recreate her delicious dessert.
My recipe for pumpkin pie is also in my book, but it’s no secret. It’s cut from the label of Libby’s canned pumpkin and pasted on a page.
The facing page is my mom’s recipe for pecan pie, with suggested modifications from Brenda, a friend from Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
Wedged between the pumpkin and pecan pie recipes is the program for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Ramstein. The folded green paper makes it easy to turn to my holiday pie pages.
“Takeda-san’s Gyoza” is the heading for another page. I wrote out this recipe while watching Fusako Takeda make them in my kitchen at Yokota. She spoke very little English and I spoke no Japanese, but she taught me how to grate fresh ginger, and pleat the wrappers just right for these yummy little dumplings.
Some of the recipes are printed or photocopied, but many are in the handwriting of someone dear to me.
“You and Mark liked this one,” my mom wrote about one of her contributed recipes.
On another page is a comment from my friend Nancy: “Sat. morning when the PWOC was meeting at the chapel, they had this and it was so good! The ladies made copies … so I grabbed one for you.” Even if I never made the quiche recipe, I’d keep it just for the note from a sweet friend, who thought of me after she moved to McChord Air Force Base, Wash.
Dennis, an active-duty friend, wrote out his recipe for apple crisp. Dennis introduced me to my husband when both were young airmen at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. A few years later, Dennis was the best man at our wedding.
A handwritten thank-you note from another friend, Linny, is tucked into my cookbook, because it includes her recipe for butternut squash casserole. She wrote the note and the recipe after the first of many dinners our families shared together in Germany -- and in the U.S.
Whether I’m making a midweek meal or preparing for holiday festivities, when I open my cookbook, I’m reminded of the many people who have added essential ingredients to my military life.
For now and for the New Year, here’s to good recipes to share, good times to celebrate and good friends to remember.