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Harrington: Baking At Bagram

10/05/10 5:55PM By Elaine Harrington
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(HOST)  Commentator Elaine Harrington's neice is an Army officer with a serious mission in Afghanistan -- but she also wants to bake cookies for her unit.  Her family has become involved in that effort.

(HARRINGTON) Recently First Lt. Elizabeth Waite succeeded in baking fresh cookies.  They were fragrant, oatmeal chocolate chip with coconut.  They came hot from a toaster oven and were instantly devoured by her friends. It wasn't the easiest baking she'd ever done - across the world from her parents' comfortable kitchen in Clarendon - but it probably was the most rewarding.

My niece Betsy is a 2008 West Point graduate, who’s been stationed at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan since April. Her job in this war is that of a busy civil engineer, managing supplies, working with local drivers. Her attitude is inspiring - making the abnormal tolerable - especially for those around her.

She’s a strong young woman - a Black Knights parachute jumper and softball pitcher for Mill River High School - who now lifts weights and runs 10Ks at the perimeter of the Soviet-built base. But she also likes the homey things of life - remodeling kitchens, sewing evening gowns, and baking cookies.

Once she was deployed, our family - like those of the many Vermonters serving in Afghanistan - began the flow of packages. First, I sent almond-scented lotions and lavender cleansers - the womanly products that wouldn't be available. Betsy said that the next package of green teas had a side benefit: masking the smell of the place.

Conversations with my sister Anita focus on how we can help her daughter during this difficult time - rather than on news from the war.

"She's gotten hold of a toaster oven," her mom said, in early August, "and wants to bake cookies." Cookies? In a war zone? So her parents shipped baking supplies, and I sent healthy cookie mixes.

Two weeks later: an urgent call. "Can you find powdered eggs for Betsy?" Anita asked. "The mixes are nice, but she wants to bake real cookies." Always the generous leader, during her limited time off Betsy was working on brownies for her people.

Powdered eggs are hard to find. I tried outdoor gear shops, groceries, and health food stores - without success.  Betsy somehow procured a few eggs - and made those first oatmeal chocolate chip coconut cookies. Not a secure supply, though, so my quest continued.

Finally, I found canisters of what Betsy calls "the infamous powdered egg whites" in South Burlington. One teaspoon of powder to one tablespoon of water equals an egg - perfect for wartime toaster oven baking. I’ll be a steady customer.

I mailed out the egg whites, and someone sent a jar of peanut butter - so her next project is peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Uneven baking from the toaster oven is a problem. "But none of the guys," Betsy e-mailed from Bagram, "seem to ever notice these flaws. They'll eat pretty much anything."

It's impossible for me to fully appreciate the sacrifice that so many Vermonters are making - and I hope for their quick and safe return home. In the meantime, I'm grateful to be part of baking at Bagram.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Elaine Harrington at VPR-dot-net. 
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