GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Baking for the Troops

Cooking and Recipes GeekMom
Have the kids help make cookies for the troops! Image: Patricia Vollmer.
Have the kids help make cookies for the troops! Image: Patricia Vollmer.

For fifteen years I always had servicemembers to bake for.

Having spent Christmas on a deployment back in 1997, I can attest that there’s nothing that brings a smile to deployed servicemembers’ faces like homemade cookies! Please trust me on this.

When I was in Bosnia in 1997, we had about 50 boxes of cookies in the corner of our already-cramped weather station. They came to us from all over the world, addressed to “Any Servicemember.” And I thought I would be spared the holiday eating frenzies over there!

In 2009, I arrived in Qatar just after Christmas. There were still piles upon piles of cookie containers all over my work center.

As a way to thank all the anonymous families who sent us holiday goodness back in 1997, I vowed to send cookies to the troops every year.

Since 9/11, it’s not as easy to send anonymous cookie packages “downrange” as it used to be. I recommend going through sanctioned charities if you don’t know of a servicemember to whom you can personally send treats. Through 2012 I always had an individual to send cookies to, hence there were specific addresses I could use. It saddens me to say that this is the first year I have no deployed friends or colleagues to bake for, so I didn’t put forth the effort I usually do…in part because of our recent move from Florida to Colorado.

Instead, I want to share the cookie recipes that I have learned will endure the trip halfway around the world. But first, a few tips about baking for your deployed family and friends:

1.) Make sure to check with the U.S. Postal Service for the recommended deadline dates for holiday delivery at deployed locations. These dates are arranged by zip code, and includes not just Afghanistan addresses, but also dates for worldwide locations and ships and submarines. As of this writing, it isn’t too late to get a batch or two into the mail for someone you might know in Afghanistan or the Middle East.

2.) Fancy, delicate cookies will NOT survive the trip! We don’t care as much about the “pretty” cookies as we do the “yummy” cookies. Frosted sugar cookies tend to show up in crumbs.

3.) Chocolate- and caramel-covered treats don’t do so well in transit either. This was particularly true when we had troops in Iraq’s climate; there were still plenty of warm days to melt chocolate-covered pretzels and hand-dipped Buckeyes. Keep this in mind if you know folks deployed to equatorial regions.

4.) Allow up to two weeks for transit, even with those military-friendly Priority Mail flat rate boxes. Depending on how busy your servicemember is, he/she might not be near a postal drop for several days. Take the perishability of your cookie recipes into account in this case.

5.) How do I package my cookies? It’s not as complicated as you might think. I’ve seen some pretty elaborate packaging jobs, but I will argue that if you bake the proper kind of cookie — a cookie that travels well in general — your packaging efforts don’t need to be much different than if you were sending the cookies across the street. I use metal tins that you can buy at Walmart, Target, or Michael’s. I layer the cookies with squares of waxed paper to separate the layers. Fill the tins as full as possible, then use wadded waxed paper or paper towels to fill the excess space.

6.) I recommend against sending really large cookies. Servicemembers have to watch their waistlines, yet will want to sample all the yummies that come their way. 2-3″ cookies will be consumed with the most enthusiasm.

Okay, you told me what kinds of cookies I shouldn’t send…what should I send?

I present two of my family’s favorite cookie recipes that have proven to ship overseas very well.

Cranberry Almond Biscotti

Image: Patricia Vollmer
Image: Patricia Vollmer

The lack of fat in this cranberry-almond biscotti makes this the absolute BEST option for long-distance mailing. If the climate is right for baking, these should be nice and dry for shipping. When I was in Florida it was a bit tricky, but these have consistently made it to their destination intact.

When I shipped these particular cookies overseas, I made them a little smaller than the recipe suggested. See cookie tip #6 above.

Another reason I love this cookie is because it’s not necessarily a holiday treat. It can be popular year-round, and I find it’s a little more sophisticated than your classic sugar cookies.

The Neiman Marcus Cookie

Image: Patricia Vollmer
Image: Patricia Vollmer

This cookie was featured in our “Eat Like a Geek” cooking series back in 2012. Like the biscotti above, it’s not necessarily a holiday cookie, but the size of this recipe is great for mass production (it makes 10 dozen!) Also, this cookie bakes to a very firm consistency that makes it good for overseas travel.

Read the linked GeekMom post for the funny story behind the cookie’s accompanying Internet Meme and how my family turned it into a holiday favorite.

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