As soon as I got an Afghanistan address from Jonathan and thought he’d be in one place long enough to use it, I gathered all my baking prowess to prepare a birthday care package for him. He moved around so much during his first deployment that sometimes it would take him months to receive a letter I’d sent via snail mail, so it never seemed like a good idea to send him something that could potentially expire and make him vomit. Because generally my baking can make someone vomit even when it’s still fresh.
I spent some time researching “desert-safe” desserts that would make it through the mail to him and still be edible, but they all looked kind of terrible. Which is because they recommended against using anything like butter, brown sugar, honey, or fruit that could potentially spoil, melt, or mold, which also includes pretty much anything delicious that normal people use while baking. So I decided I’d use the one desert-safe recipe I found that looked tolerable, and then just improvise the rest and hope for the best. I talked to Jonathan’s friend Troy (who was on Jonathan’s team during his last deployment, and promised me he’d sing LFO’s “Summer Girls” to soothe him to sleep every night), who said that generally cookies and brownies will make it there okay, and to double-Ziploc everything, and then stick it in some air-tight containers. Which I took to mean OKAY WRAP INDIVIDUALLY IN SEVEN KINDS OF INSULATION, PUT IN A BAG, PUT IN ANOTHER BAG, WRAP AGAIN, SEAL IN GLADWARE, GET BLESSED BY A RABBI, DIP IN HOLY WATER, SECURE WITH AN UNBREAKABLE VOW, and then wrap it up in a bow or something. Because I’m a lady.
The shopping was pretty intense.
I decided to start my night with the desert-safe brownies, which were made a lot like regular brownies, but used butter-flavor vegetable shortening instead of butter. This was my first experience with vegetable shortening. I found some made by Crisco that was sold at the grocery store in little packs that look a lot like butter, but when you unwrap them they’re sort of the consistency of jellied lard. Gross.
Now if you scroll back up and study my shopping haul, you’ll notice that I did a pretty good job finding everything I needed. What you’ll also notice, however, is that I forgot one very important ingredient when it comes to making brownies.
The cocoa powder.
I did this shopping trip after work during rush hour on a Friday, and by the time I’d run through most of Falls Church and all of Arlington to find everything, there was no way in hell I was going to get back in my car. So I stared at the shelf in my kitchen trying to figure out how I could fix this but still be lazy, and I found the answer in a giant bag of chocolate protein powder that Jonathan asked me to take when we cleaned out his room pre-deployment.
If you’ve ever had a protein shake made from any kind of chocolate protein powder, then you probably know where this is going. If you haven’t, then try to imagine what it would taste like if you ground up sand into a fine powder, and then sprinkled it with some dirt and a packet of Splenda. I decided to call them “protein brownies” and dump in a whole bag of white chocolate morsels to even the score.
While the protein brownies were baking and I was cutting my losses, I moved onto the next project: monkey cookies. This recipe called for completely ignoring the internet advice I’d gotten about not using fruit, because the batter is made of mashed bananas and applesauce. Add peanut butter. Add oats. Add nuts. Add chocolate chips. And then, if you’re me, completely forget anything that’s happened in the last half hour AND GO AHEAD AND ADD A BIT OF CHOCOLATE PROTEIN POWDER. Start to question if your brain is working. Stir.
By the time I was finished mixing the cookie batter and bashing my head into the wall, the protein brownies were done! I popped the cookies in the oven and waited for the brownies to cool. Then the packaging began.
The cookie recipe called for a 30-minute bake time, but after 25 minutes they were already burned. Which at least fit nicely into how my night was going.
More foil. More double Ziplocs.
By the time the cookies were packaged, it was around 10:00pm and every part of my body hurt. Baking is like a fucking contact sport. But you know how people who run long distances get, like, a “second wind” in the last few miles and then just run on fumes until they finish? That’s kinda how I think my baking endorphins kicked in so I could pump out my pièce de résistance: Oreo pops.
Other than the protein powder, my biggest regret of the night was that this was my first time taking photos while baking, and I found it way too annoying to care about the quality of the photos. The lighting in my kitchen makes the place look sort of like the set of a “Saw” movie (actually, that’s how Jonathan described the whole apartment the first time he saw it…and it’s pretty accurate), and I was waaaaay too lazy to put my camera on manual and try to make the kitchen look not so jaundiced and frightening.
My dinner that night consisted entirely of my baking mistakes. Which, thanks to the brownies, means I probably had more protein in that meal than I used to have in a whole week as a vegetarian. Despite the thousand grams of sugar I consumed, I still managed to pass out in my bed before I could finish all the packaging, and woke up with enough time to get everything together and haul to the post office. If that’s not love, what is?
A few days after I sent the package, I found out Jonathan had left the FOB for the address he gave me, and he would be gone for at least 10 more days. TOUCHE, ARMY. So even though he didn’t actually get the package until almost a month after his birthday, I figured he’d at least appreciate the very thorough packing.
- Jonathan says that, miraculously, all the desserts were still in good condition when he opened the package.
- He actually said the protein brownies tasted good, and were his favorite of the three.
- I need to copyright that recipe.
- I resisted the urge to spend money on the new Disney postage stamps at the post office.
- I was working in a small kitchen that I share with three other girls who also had to make dinner that night, but I managed to use the clean-as-you-go technique to make sure they were all able to cook while I baked. My mom would be so proud.
Things I’ll do differently next time (or, as Jonathan would call them, lessons learned):
- Use recipes that actually sound like they might taste good.
- Don’t forget to buy the most important ingredients for those recipes.
- Get regular lollipop sticks instead of those long ones, because they look really cool but were unstable and top heavy, so a lot of the Oreos ended up breaking in half under the weight of the chocolate coating. Which I guess I shouldn’t complain about, since destroying those Oreos was basically how I cooked dinner.
- Eat dinner before baking.
- Bring my own packing tape to the post office, because they don’t care that your fiancé is overseas; you still have to buy their over-priced tape.
- Clone myself. Make the clone drive to Seven Corners during rush hour just to get candy melts and lollipop sticks from a craft store.
- Retire. Because I discovered the technology not only to clone humans, but to clone humans who are probably better drivers than I am. So I’m rich now.