14 February, 2010


It all started mid-January when I spotted boxes of Christmas-themed brownie mix at Big Lots for $1 each.

Take regular brownies, add a pack of read and green sprinkles and suddenly you have Christmas Brownies! Or rather, remove the pack of sprinkles and you have regular old, delicious brownies perfect for any time of the year at $1 a pan. I had a USO shift at the airport the next day, so it was the perfect excuse to bake without the danger of brownies laying around the house for a week--as if they'd last that long!

And then I had a brainstorm... I took the box of plain old brownie mix and threw in a few tablespoons of sipping chocolate and a handful of walnuts. Oh my!

Well, once I start baking it's hard to stop. So that same night I made Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies. I couldn't resist a little change there, and threw in some nutmeg. And then I made Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies. I actually followed the recipe on those! Oh, they were good!

The next day at the USO, the director took one bite of the fudgy, chewy brownies and looked at me in astonishment before realizing his reaction wasn't necessarily a compliment.

"You bake?" he asked. I reminded him that I'd brought sugar cookies to the USO Christmas Party.

"Well, I knew you cooked, but... These are amazing! Do people know you can make things like this? I mean, that you cook so well?"

I shrugged with a bit of amusement. "I guess so. I mean, it's not a secret, or anything... I like to cook and bake and I'm pretty good at it."

He jumped in again, his reactions once again ahead of his brain. He looked me up and down appraisingly and said in a thoughtful voice, "You really need to make sure people know about this. You know, guys li--- I mean, umm... It's true what they say about... Umm... Wow, you really are a great cook!"

I laughed as I realized what was going on in his head. This was the same retired Marine who two weeks after meeting me had asked with genuine curiosity, in the middle of a conversation about combat psychology, why I hadn't found myself "a good Marine officer to marry," and whose wife offered to set me up for the next party the local general threw.

"Men's hearts and stomachs, huh?" I said sardonically, trying to let him off the hook. He's a good man, and rather fatherly toward me in a usually light-handed way.

He had the grace to look a little chagrined, but plowed ahead. "It's true. You have no idea how much that means. This is a valuable skill you've got."

We walked out of the kitchen together as I thanked him for his compliments and he blurted out after a moment, "I really don't understand why--" Fortunately his brain caught up with him, but we both knew what he had been about to say. I lightened it up by joking, "You know what the problem is? I'm a vegetarian; I don't cook meat. Can't get a man's attention without a some steak on the table, you know..."

You'd think that would've let me off the hook, but no. As a Southerner, he then proceeded to insist I was wrong and list all the yummy foods made without meat: grits, hush puppies, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, etc, etc.

What can you say? I just laughed and rolled my eyes at him.

We got to the desk and my fellow volunteers informed me all the guys were talking about the brownies and cookies I had brought. "See?" the director said. "I told you."

"Yeah, and they're all 10-15 years younger than me. My talents obviously are wasted here," I said with a prima dona air. "I never should've made them." That brought a laugh all around, and finally put a merciful close to the conversation.

Well, it's time to take the last batch of cookies out of the oven for tomorrow. Chewy Molasses Spice again. I already made the brownies.

Maybe I should consider becoming a cougar...